Topanga Canyon Saturday Fair 1968

Topanga Canyon was home in the late 1960s. From age 7-9, my best friend was Stephanie. I only got to see her part time; with divorced parents, she mostly lived with her dad in a distant town; she and her brother flew from the Bay Area down to Burbank once a month to be with their mom. Just one weekend a month, I always felt this was unfair. I adored Stephanie’s mom. She was hippie chic. And she had a career, “I’m an RN,” she offered once, when we were out and about and a need for medical assistance arose. She was part of then emerging awareness of holistic health, advocating supplements and natural foods. She wore beautiful bracelets that jangled. With long dark hair, she wore the lower half down and upper half in a wide bun, tied round with thin woven belts, a weave of color that trailed behind her when she walked. It amazed me how she transformed from her nurse white self, including white hat, white nylons, white shoes–into her hip mom self by un-pining her hair, slipping on hip-hugger bell-bottom jeans, sandals, and jewelry. Her name was Nawanda, she’d changed her proper mainstream name to one that suited her new life. But at work, she was probably still called Claire. Both of Stephanie’s parents had re-married, so she had two step-parents. Another admirable aspect of Nawanda’s self determination in the Sixties is that she married a black man, Jay. We all called him Jaybird. He wore sandals and African batik shirts. I loved his deep slow laugh, sounding like brook water babbling over rocks.

On Saturdays during the summer, there was an open-air arts and crafts fair beside the Topanga General Store in a large lot shaded by sprawling oak trees. It was like an everyday Renaissance Pleasure Faire right in our own small town. Hippies sold pottery, handmade soap, patchouli oil, tie-dye and hand-sewn clothing, health food, herbs, beads, jewelry and other hippie supplies. Jaybird had a ginseng booth. Chinese medicine was being more widely appreciated and accepted through the syncretic hippie movement; Nawanda and Jaybird were early adopters and, though their work, proponents of the holistic health practices movement that was powerful component of the overall counterculture movement. Stephanie and I loved to hang out in their ginseng booth, decorated bohemian style with Persian rugs and giant pillows. Creativity and all forms of the arts were highly encouraged with counterculture kids; Stephanie and I took to finger crochet. We made small things like bracelets and rings with yarn and beads. Emulating the grownups, Stephanie and I decided that a small triangle of space between the ginseng booth and its neighbor would be just right for us to set up our own mini-booth to sell our jewelry. We stacked a few wooden fruit crates for a display stand, and taped up a sign made from a round paper plate, reading: “Finger Croshay, 5 to 25 cents.” We carefully laid out our creative endeavors: colorful, wearable art from yarn and beads. Mostly people stopped and marveled at how adorable we were, admiring our simple fare, someone snapped a photo, yet we sold nothing. People commented on how cute our sign was, as if we couldn’t hear them, I was so embarrassed when a passer-by pointed out “crochet” was misspelled on our sign.

Enter the Mime. All hippie gatherings had music and movement; Topanga’s Saturday open market was popular for strolling minstrels and performers, as if a Chautauqua wagon loaded with Renaissance actors rolled into town. Working the shaded fair ground, the Mime had the requisite white gloves, beret, and white face paint, updated with a tie-dye t-shirt. On his rotation past our tiny booth, he stopped. With mime exaggeration, he approached and admired every piece of yarn jewelry we had on display, attracting a crowd. On another circulation, the Mime bought a ring for a nickel. Rolling it onto his gloved pinky he held his hand out to admire how the purple yarn looked on his gloved hand, as if it were a diamond ring. Throughout the day, when the Mime circulated by, we whispered to each other, “Look, he’s still wearing the ring!” Eventually, he was a return customer. Buying a bracelet, he placed it dramatically around his wrist. His attention generated sales! We sold most of our inventory and got busy making more.

Toward the end of the day, the Mime returned to our booth. The way he smiled kindly at us, I could see past his greasepaint and into his eyes. Of course without words, I knew he genuinely adored us, wanted to encourage us. He had spent long moments throughout the day admiring each piece, bought a ring and bracelet. Admiring our new round of merchandise, he dug dramatically deep into his mime pocket, and pulled out a nickel and presented it to us as if it was a gold coin. He dug into another seemingly bottomless pocket and produced a quarter, and then he found a nickel behind his ear, and from thin air, a dime, until he bought every yarn adornment. The drawn-out transaction drew a huge crowd to watch the Mime, our tiny booth morphed into his performance space. The event was so magical that I recall it vividly to this day–the mime whose white gloves with multi-colored stripes of bijoux made of yarn.

At the table of our wooden crate, Stephanie and I counted our quarters, dimes, and nickels. We stacked the coins by size, like pyramids. How gratifying it felt to have made something by hand and sold it. We earned our very own money! Money we could spend however we wanted. We didn’t have to report it to anyone. We put our booth away, then skipped over to the Topanga General Store and disappeared, re-emerging with ice cream bars in colorful wrappers. We quickly found a shady spot and delightfully devoured the cold sweet treats forbidden by our natural food mothers.