The great birthday 2012 birthday surprise: Cora Johnson (left) pops into the Alabama Hills.
Some years ago Dick pulled off a nifty surprise for my birthday. In July 2012 we took a driving trip down Highway 395, along the back side of the Sierra Nevada range, overnighting in Lone Pine, which is the perfect kickoff spot for, among other things, the Alabama Hills. Beginning in the silent movie era, Hollywood folks migrated north to film movies in the Alabama Hills, gentle contours of rock set against the rugged peaks of the Sierra.
The morning of my birthday we were in our hotel room in Lone Pine when we heard a knock at the door. I opened it to see our dear friend Cora Johnson, who had driven up from her home in Southern California just for the day to surprise me. That’s the kind of friend she is.
Cora surprises Jan on her birthday, 2012
The set for “Gunga Din” in the Alabama Hills, 1938, standing in for the hill country of India
We spent that lovely July 30 driving around the Alabama Hills, looking at spots where old movies were filmed, including “Gunga Din” and Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy cowboy film, and later “The Lone Ranger” and “Bonanza.” We also toured Manzanar, the former World War II relocation camp, where some 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated. Then Cora aimed her car south and drove home to Cerritos.
Cora, of course, and her BFF from college, Connie Raub (both of whom have known and loved Dick for more than a half century), were the two angels who literally flew to his side in January. They mother hen’d Dick for two weeks on Oahu after his surgery to help him regain strength and confidence before flying home with him to Sacramento. In mid-February. Since they both live in snowy places (Cora now lives in Minden, Nevada, and Connie many years ago moved to Colorado Springs), getting home from Sacramento proved to be tricky. Cora ended up spending some extra time in Sacramento at the home of Dick’s sister and brother-in-law Marge and John Thompson. Then the Thompsons drove Cora halfway up the mountain where they met one of Cora’s Minden friends who delivered Cora home at last.
I often remind people who think that Cora and Connie had a lovely two-week vacation on Oahu of these two things: (a) They were taking care of a man recovering from heart surgery, monitoring his medications, blood pressure, exercise and food intake, and (b) They all froze in the little rental house Pearl City, Oahu, in the clouds (no heat in those houses), far from the ocean. In other words, it was not easy duty, but they were a superb example of longtime friends and the things you do for love.
Cora boulders in the Alabama Hills, July 30, 2012 (Photo by Dick Schmidt)
I say all this to explain that Dick and I have been trying for years to figure out a way to surprise Cora. This year we had even more reason to do so. We finally managed it a few days before Cora’s birthday by arranging a dinner at the Chart House overlooking Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. What Cora didn’t know was that Connie was coming to Sacramento to see relatives a couple of days before our scheduled dinner, so we sneaked in a Special Guest Artist just for the occasion.
And it worked wonderfully. We drove into the Chart House parking lot to see Cora waiting for us. Dick and I got out of the car first to greet Cora as Connie hunkered down in the back seat. “I need to get something out of the car,” Dick said, and he opened the back door with Cora standing by, and Connie popped out, stunning her former roomie.
The big reveal for Cora’s birthday 2019
Much laughter, many hugs. We had gotten the band back together for the first time since mid-February. We had a lovely dinner—peach-bourbon glazed scallops and shrimp for Dick and Cora, summer vegetables and shrimp for Connie, and macadamia nut-encrusted wahoo for me. And for all of us for dessert two plates of the Chart House’s famous hot lava cake (ooooo! not on anyone’s heart-healthy diet).
And a lovely bottle of Reata chardonnay, 2016, from the Sonoma Coast (photo by Dick Schmidt)
We have so much to celebrate this year—not just our three summer birthdays (Connie’s in June, mine in July, Cora’s in August) but more than a half century of friendship between Cora, Connie and Dick. And though I am newer to their group, they have made me part of their tribe, as we consider each other family, or, as they say in Hawaii, ohana.
Once again we are grateful for our ohana… these two here and all of you out there who have been cheering Dick on since January. Mahalo nui loa to you all!
(And haouli la hanau… happy birthday, dear Cora!)
Cora, Dick and Connie, Aug. 7, 2019