Peach Pits at My Door
And Other Adventures
Peach Pits At My Door is a Southern California book. But it's not about the frenetic congestion of Los Angeles or the glitz of Hollywood. Forty miles east of metro downtown is a string of smaller cities loosely called the Inland Valley. It is here that author John Jopes fulfilled a life-long dream to be a "newspaperman." Starting as a cub reporter, Jopes rose through the ranks, eventually becoming editor of what was to become the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
Along the way he encountered people from all walks of life that either passed through or made the Inland Valley their home. Most of them went about their ordinary lives-working hard, raising children, experiencing successes and failures, some abiding by the law, some not. In one way or another, they all made an impact. This book is about these people, their lives and a celebration of the human spirit.
Jopes tells the stories behind the scenes, about the people, like the little girls selling peach pits door-to-door, who don't make the front page.
With the observation of a journalist but the skill of a storyteller, he reveals an insight, not just of life in the Inland Valley, but of life in general.
Some stories are an exploration of the past-others suggest a bright future. Some are nostalgic, some are touching and poignant while others are outright funny. Peach Pits is a great bedside book. Read one or two of the stories each evening and you'll find yourself sharing them with others in the morning.
When John Jopes was seven years old his parents gave him a $2 toy typewriter for Christmas. The Great Depression was in an agonizing state, and the youngster thought the gift was the most precious he had ever received. With that typewriter, the new owner introduced a single-sheet, neighborhood newspaper, and endeavor that lead to a 58 year career in journalism.
Discovering his gift for writing at an early age, John Jopes perfected his craft during a lifelong career as a journalist. His journalistic skills of observing people and writing about them were at their finest when he wrote the stories contained in Peach Pits At My Door as a newspaper columnist.
After serving as a military news correspondent during the Korean War, Jopes then worked for 39 years for The Daily Report and its successor, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, California. At the time of his retirement in 1994, he had been associated with that newspaper longer than any other journalist in the publication's history.
He worked for The Daily Report as a reporter, city editor, columnist, and for 13 years was its editor. For 17 years, he was the director of news services, overseeing the Washington, DC News Bureau for Donrey Media Group, the fourth largest newspaper chain in the nation.
It was noon, we were sitting in a comfy outdoor restaurant, waiting for our hot turkey sandwiches to arrive. He was showing me the discoloration on his forearm, a large splotchy contusion, the result, he said, of mis-hitting a golf ball the day before. Being an inveterate hacker myself, I pressed him for details: could he remember the mechanics of that particular shot, the precise moment of his backswing or follow-through when whatever it was that went wrong ... went wrong?
No, but he could recall with buoyant clarity the blueness of the sky that morning, and an earlier, almost magically-struck six-iron that sent his ball fluttering to the putting green like a pigeon to a park.
Clearly, John Jopes the golfer would have to concentrate harder.
We ruminated a while on the mysteries of the human body, and the greater mysteries of the ancient game of golf. Modern medicine had banished smallpox from the planet, but the scourge of the weekend slice remains pandemic.
This was just my second encounter with John - my second hot turkey sandwich - yet already I felt a deep kinship with the man. To begin with, we were both writers, though of vastly different stripes: he from journalism; I from Hollywood. A good journalist, we agreed, must tell the truth, while a good screenwriter must only seem to. He thought my job was harder.
We were meeting to discuss the details of a publishing project - this one - and as writers do, we digressed. Soon we were back to golf, considering its endless provocations and the curious way it reveals the true (and not always flattering) character of a player. John said that while he could still play the game, he’d lost some distance off the tee and now prefers the more forgiving company of retired golf partners. It is a brisk walk and a fair day in the sun he seeks, not combat. He confessed to not even mind seeing his ball plop into the middle of a lake now and then, there being a certain elegance to such an event.
My guess is that even in his more competitive days, John was never unduly concerned about sailing off into the rough or going out-of-bounds, for it was there, deep in the tangled thicket and out of view, that he was apt to make some important discovery, like a snake hole or a hawk’s nest or a four-iron bent in two. And this in turn might lead to the one thing he was endlessly in search of—not a golf ball, but a story.
And so it has always been for John Jopes, journalist and storyteller. His aim was to take you, his guest/reader, off the main highway and down a narrow road and through a small doorway and onto an old sofa and into the heart of a complete stranger who just might teach you something. And when you’d come to the end of a piece with a Jopes byline, you felt you’d rediscovered a truth you’d always known. He made it that easy to learn.
A good writer is never at rest. Every passing person, place, and thing holds the promise, sometimes the obligation, of a story. Like the death of a steel plant, or a car that only makes left turns; like the irresistible charm of a blonde named Ginger, or the poignant demise of a town’s last resident. Triumphs and tragedies. Laughter and tears. With a few left turns.
Golf has a handicap system designed to equalize players. The rest of the time, we rely on poets and artists to provide that perspective, to reveal the little things in a big story, and the big things in a little story. No one ever did this better than Jopes. With economy of style and wit and warmth, with respect for all whom he encountered, he wrote so that we might see ourselves in our neighbor’s struggle, making us more alike than not.
Our lunch was over, our plates picked clean. As we were leaving, he casually mentioned another interest of his, gardening, a subject about which I knew next to nothing. He said the older he gets the more he enjoys it, like a brisk walk on a fair day. As I drove home I imagined him out in his garden, down on his knees planting and weeding, digging and digging, turning the earth over and over, for that is his way.
Barry Morrow is the Academy Award Winning Screenwriter of Rain Man.
If I live long enough, and the peanut brittle holds out, kids will no longer roam the streets. Public tranquility will prevail.
Street gangs will disappear from the earth and, as the dinosaurs did, dissolve into mystery.
There will be peace in the valley.
How do I know this? Because eager young people who call at our door tell us so. They implore us to purchase their peanut brittle.
“It’s to help keep me off the streets and out of gangs. And if I sell enough I get to go to Six Flags.” They all say the same thing.
I will not assert here that the line of these peddlers of sweet sin is unbroken, but the gaps in it are relatively short. By my count, I have already kept a small regiment of young people off the streets. And I assume most have gone on to theme parks somewhere.
My neighbor and ol’ buddy, Schumway, came over last weekend to help me overcome the weariness of a two-week business trip. We were watching Michael Jordan play basketball while nine other guys on the court looked on.
The doorbell rang. It was a brittle salesman. I cannot deny these fresh, young people. Their pitch, somehow, seems to me to be earnest, not forced.
The magic of youth looking to older folk for help does its work on me, and I see a genuine need there. Right or wrong. So I buy.
I also sadly wonder if the salespersons are Oliver Twists working at the will of some Fagin hidden away counting the kids’ dollars before he fetches more peanut brittle for them to sell.
“Maybe if enough people in this world would just buy this stuff,” I told Schumway, “there wouldn’t be any kids on the street at all.”
“I know,” he said, “They’d all be up at Six Flags.”
Better than being into mischief, I thought.
The next day three little girls called at the front door with their own measure of magic and a different product to sell. They stood there looking up at me with smiles as wide as happy jack-o’-lanterns.
They appeared to me as if none of them had used up more than a half dozen years. Seven at the most. I looked In the background for parents hovering nearby as protective agents. I saw none.
Perhaps they were there, but out of sight. Each of the kids carried small Ziploc baggies, and in each bag were a few peach pits.
“Mister, how would you like to buy a peach seed?”
“What would I do with it?”
“Take care of it, and it will turn into a tree.”
That is considerably less than the $5 I pay for peanut brittle that I never eat, I thought.
I suspected these salesladies were not particularly interested in staying off the streets. Or even going to Six Flags. I guessed they just wanted to experience the thrill of the sale.
And, of course, the quarter that would go with it.
“Maybe I should buy three,” I said.
“You only need to buy one. We sell as a group.”
Ah, a partnership, I thought. That’s nice.
I wanted to ask their names and where they live, but I calculated by their ages, their fathers were probably young hunks who are 6 feet 13, and when they’re not pumping iron are paying calls on old guys who have asked the names and addresses of their daughters.
“These are really nice seeds,” said the child who appeared to be the youngest.
“I’ll take one.”
One of the bags was quickly unzipped, and I was handed a scrubbed and dried peach pit.
“And don’t forget—you need to water it three times a day,” said the littlest one as the trio turned to leave. “It’s like magic.”
Later, my wife asked, as she stood by the kitchen sink, “What’s this peach seed doing here?”
“If I water it three times a day it will turn into a tree.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Magic,” I said, “just magic.”
There is a young member of our family whose birthday falls precisely one month after December 25.
That festive occasion evolves into something of a bumper crop of Yuletide joy for her each year. Sort of Christmas revisited.
She collects a number of presents similar to what she receives in December, but the red and green decor of that season give way to more conventional colors.
Her birthday, of course, renews the need for the rest of us to shop for presents.
Settling on what gifts are proper for girls and women has always challenged my judgment and good sense.
Having grown up with no sisters, and fathered only sons, my knowledge of just what type of presents appeal to women is critically lacking.
Shopping for my mother had seemed easy enough, but buying for other women has always been vexing.
I fear I will botch it somehow by giving them something too personal, too feminine, not feminine enough, or something only a man would appreciate.
Power tools are out.
I sought help from my wife, asking her what I might purchase for the January birth child.
“Why not a fragrance of some kind?” she said. “A nice cologne, perfume, eau de toilette or something?"
She mentioned a particular scent, the label of which was in the French.
The language element could be trouble, I thought.
“How can I possibly buy something I can’t even pronounce?” I asked her. “Here, write it down,” she said, handing me a slip of paper.
She spelled it out for me and I jotted it down on the paper.
“Just hand it to the saleslady, she’ll know what it means,” my wife said.
When the time was right for me to make the purchase, I was, by no particular design, in a strange town in a strange store.
I wished I could have talked to Cheryl Garcia, who lives in San Dimas and nurtures shoppers of fragrance at Nordstrom’s in Montclair. She has helped me before. But I wasn’t in Montclair.
With questionable courage, I walked up to a clerk at a counter where an abundance of aroma was for sale.
I set down the slip of paper on which I had written the French word that described the cologne I was to purchase.
The clerk looked at it for a moment, then lifted her head. She had the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. Then quietly she wrote on a piece of her own paper, “What price range are you interested in?”
Obviously this extremely nice and thoughtful person assumed I was unable to speak, very possibly unable to hear. Her compassion and sensitivity were touching.
What to do? I was reluctant to speak, because I was fearful of embarrassing her. I didn’t want that.
I turned the piece of paper around and wrote, “Some size in a mid-price range would be fine.”
She removed a container from the case, set it before me and inscribed the price on the piece of paper, which we were, by now, sharing.
YIKES, I nearly blurted out, not realizing how much the price of good smell had escalated since I last bought perfume.
My “yikes” exclamation would have ruined everything and shattered our silent world. But the gods were with me, and instead of speaking, I returned to the pencil and asked to see a smaller size.
Finally, I decided on a sensible amount. The scent was especially beckoning.
“I’ll take it,” I wrote.
“Would you like it gift wrapped?” came the written response.
We were on a third piece of paper by now.
I just nodded. And smiled.
When she gave me the handsome package, she took the extra time to write, “Have a nice day.”
I drew a happy face on the piece of paper and wished her well, too.
Later, I proudly announced to my wife that I had found the French scent.
“How did the slip of paper work?” she asked. “What did the clerk say when you handed it to her?”
“Actually, she didn’t say much at all,” I responded, figuring it would be best to leave it at that.
"John Jopes' witty wanderings amid children, family and animals describe an enormously satisfying life with the charm of an evening's reminiscence with an old friend."
President and CEO
The Associated Press
"Cynics should indulge in at their own peril."
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
"With John Jopes' book, you are there. Whether standing at the sweep of a eucalyptus windbreak, talking to the foreman of a dead steel mill, or succumbing to the blandishments of a little girl selling peach pits-Jopes takes you into real people, writ both large and small. Reminiscent of Steinbeck's vivid love of California humanity."
T. WILLARD HUNTER
The Spirit of Charles Lindbergh
"Exhaustive research and articulate presentation. Is a beautiful and informative contribution for collectors and admirers of a unique artistic and creative metallurgical format."
Midwest Book Review
"An excellent history of the commercial decorative arts covering the 30s to the 90s on several levels' artistic, the evolution from architectural decoration to collectors."
"The first fully researched history of the company that introduced this uniquely American art form."
"His stories linger like good friends and abide within the heart."
Chief News Executive
Donrey Media Group
"John Jopes' stories about life in the valley make the reader grin, pause and reflect very often all at the same time. His writing is like a Rockwell illustration - it offers a picture of the place where we live, who we are, and what it is we value in life."
Pioneer Valley Family
"John Jopes is a writer of the first rank. Enjoy!"
California State University, Los Angeles
Back to the Top