Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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A Christmas Carol of Olden Day, 1959
The stockings are hung, the scented evergreen gaily adorned and the eggnog's about gone, so gather 'round the hearth, children, while I tell you a Yuletide tale of yore.
It happened in the olden but enlightened year of 1959. Christmas came to the small California village of La Puente. And the spirit of giving abounded.
My tale begins on the crisp, clean evening of Dec. 13, when neighbors of a neighborhood motorcycling club were holding their weekly meeting. They decided then, without a dissenting vote, to forgo their traditional Christmas exchange of gifts, and instead, to devote their monies and energies, to helping some poor children or a family in true need. Toys, clothes -- whatever was lacking -- that's what they'd try to supply.
The resolution duly made and applauded, the group adjourned, leaving two of its number with the simple task of locating a family which, without their assistance, might be passed by.
The two appointed members, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bunch, wasted no time in beginning their search. That same night, they called a community newspaper in their area to seek the whereabouts of a family in need. A recording machine which takes messages answered their call, so they outlined their plan to the machine, requesting that someone contact them the following day.
No one did, however, so the next evening they called again. This time they talked to a human being and were given the name of a lady- a welfare case worker -- whom they were told could put them in touch with a needy family.
Two times during the evening they tried, without success, to reach her.
Once, nobody answered. The other time a small boy informed them that he didn't know when she'd return. So, rather than wait, they contacted the sheriff's substation in San Dimas. The deputy who answered knew of no needy families, but suggested that they check back the next day.
Instead of waiting again, Mrs. Bunch called another community paper. She was given the name of a different social worker. She called that lady. That lady referred her to still another social worker. And that social worker was very enthused. She said she would call back the following morning with a family.
But the following day, no call came.
They tried the social workers again, but nobody was home then. They called the Sheriff's Department for the second time and were told that if they wanted to leave toys, they could. They'd be turned over to an agency.
The Bunches considered this, but decided that their club would rather give to fill a specific need, and give with the knowledge that their gifts would be received by children or a family in the general area of La Puente.
By now five days had passed, Christmas was nearing, the 14 club members were awaiting word on what to buy, and no needy family was in sight.
So Mrs. Bunch tried again to reach Case Worker No.1 This time she succeeded. But immediately, the lady suggested that proper procedure would be for the club to work through Case Worker No.3.
When Mrs. Bunch explained that she had already contacted Case Worker No. 3, and that nothing came of it except an unfulfilled promise, the lady sighed.
"I'd give you a family," she said, "but actually your club belongs in the other lady's territory. We don't like to infringe on each others areas.
"We don't," she added, "like to hurt each others feelings."
It was along about this time that Mrs. Bunch blew her top.
If she didn't get a family within 10 minutes -- she threatened- she'd call up the city, the county, the state, every newspaperman she could think of, and, if necessary, the president himself to let the world know about the runaround she was getting.
On this note, the conversation ended, but within the allotted 10 minutes two social workers had called her back with needy families.
The motorcycle club selected one with 10 children, got their names and ages, bought them a couple of dozen very nice gifts, and everybody had a very, very merry Christmas.
That's my story, children. Now, say your prayers for the poor and off to bed with you. There's a big day ahead tomorrow.
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