Cambrian: Slice of Life

Traditions and mirth for nation’s birth

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

As we approach Independence Day 2014, I realize I have a question and a quirky memory, totally unrelated.

First, the question: We’re in a severe drought and rationing water. Lots of people will visit over the holiday weekend. We really hope they’ll all join us in helping to conserve whatever water is left in our aquifer, so our taps won’t go dry before the next rains arrive. Whenever that is.

So, why aren’t there big, bold, professionally done signs up all over town asking our guests to help us save water? Like the Cambria Fire Department signs warning people that using ANY fireworks in Cambria is illegal.

Sometimes, the best defense is a friendly but firm offense that explains the problem and asks for help. Visitors can’t help if they don’t know the situation.

And why didn’t the Cambria Community Services District use something more compelling than tacky little computer-paper signs on the doors of Cambria’s public restrooms — the only publicly posted notices I could find about the drought — to explain to visitors why those facilities have been temporarily replaced by portable potties?

Morro Bay has signs asking everybody to help conserve water. Los Osos, too. Little San Simeon has them.

Why not Cambria?

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox (for now), and dive into the memory banks.

Yes, Independence Day is about honoring our heritage of freedom, past and present. But it’s also about making memories — be they significant, sentimental or snippets of the outright quirky.

For instance, I’ll always remember Husband Richard and our bakery buddy/employee David Mercer cautiously sliding a heavy, slippery 4-by-8-foot strawberry shortcake into the back of our van on July 4, 1984.

David flashed a mischievous grin and said, “Now I know what it’s like to load a hearse!”

That laughter-filled moment, shared 30 years ago, topped months of communitywide planning.

I was vice president of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce board, a hard-working group that, among other diligent and crazy people, included the equally busy Del Clegg of Cookie Crock and Doug Wagnon of Bob & Jan’s (now the owner of The Spirit of San Luis restaurant at the SLO airport).

We made one heck of a team.

The board knew Cambria’s July 4 festivities were firmly rooted in history, back to the deep-pit barbecues of the 1870s, with picnics in the pines, big crowds, and parades of wagons, floats, carriages, bands and men on horseback. We just couldn’t let tradition die. We had to honor Cambria heritage and all those memories.

We planned a big Independence Day bash at Shamel Park. We’d reinstitute the town’s annual Independence Day fireworks display. We organized everything from food, music and dancing, to sack races and other kids’ games. There’d be a waiter-waitress race and, oh yes, the shortcake.

We planned for a family-friendly celebration, without the drunken brawls and other mayhem that often kept parents and kids away from July 4 festivities in other areas.

We knew of some potential flash points: a long day, tired people, limited parking space, exit traffic after the fireworks that would try everybody’s patience.

As part of our homegrown, plan-ahead defense/offense strategy, every committee member and volunteer wore matching white straw skimmer hats.

The chamber then promoted the concept that if people had questions or problems during the celebration, they should just “look for someone wearing a white hat.”

Every “white-hatter” was on duty that day and night, soothing tempers, cracking jokes, calming troubled waters and generally trying to keep a lid on any conflicts.

It worked!

Cambria’s tradition was back (shortcake and all), and trouble-free memories were made.

A few years later, American Legion Post No. 432 took the July 4 lead. Members have done a remarkable job of maintaining the quality and happy ambience that starts again at 11 a.m. Friday, July 4, at Shamel Park.

As usual, we hope Independence Day celebrators have a wonderful, mellow, festive day that provides them with many happy memories.

’Twould also be lovely if the fog stayed away until the fireworks are done.

We also hope that everybody, visitors and residents, will please, please, use as little water as possible to help us weather our watery crisis.