Written by Bryan Finnigan
“I was about 14 years old when my friend David and I decided to take his fourteen and a half foot outboard boat over to Catalina Island. Nobody goes 26 miles into the ocean with just a tiny outboard! But we were young, crazy, and needed to take some chances. So we decided to lie to our parents about what we were up to and off we went…..”
Lois Giardino’s insatiable curiosity started at an early age. She and her sister were brought up in a close family of mixed heritage in Southern California and Lois was influenced by the diverse group of relatives all living on the same farm in the San Fernando Valley. Even as a child Lois had a strong sense of appreciation for different cultures as well as a deep wonder for the world around her.
“My Grandmother owned a very successful Mexican restaurant in Long Beach. I remember being 6 and watching the crowds of people waiting in line…She had the best recipes….I never did learn to speak Spanish though, which is strange because my Grandmother spoke Spanish all the time… I wish I had. I think other cultures are interesting. We can all learn so much from one another. ”
One of the biggest learning experiences for Lois came later in life when a friend she met in beauty school got her a job at a local nightclub where she became more than just a waitress and bartender to the customers who frequented the popular music venue.
“I got such an education working there. I loved meeting new people. They would tell me about their lives… and problems. I never gave out advice. You can’t tell people what to do. I would just listen and sometimes say, ‘What do you think you should do about it?’ Sometimes that’s all people need… is someone to just listen to them.”
In between counseling patrons at the nightclub, Lois’ attention was drawn to the club’s owner Frank, with whom she’d eventually live a fulfilling life as a wife and mother; even though Frank didn’t share her enthusiasm for travel.
“I got him to go to London once. It was a really nice trip. But driving on the left side of the road…. (Lois laughs)…. Frank eventually pulled over and we got in a taxi. He didn’t like to travel. Frank was very intelligent. We never had a fight. We never argued – we disagreed. The rule of the house was to sit and talk it out. He was a very gentle and caring man. When he died I took it hard. But it’s the hard times that make us who we are. ”
“…David and I were getting close to Catalina Island when suddenly we see a fin pop up out of the water. It was a shark. And it swam right up to us and took out one of the motors. There we were in the ocean with one broken motor. I was scared as hell but I was also concerned for the poor shark…..”
After Frank’s death, Lois took time to learn more about herself during a period of introspection and self-analysis. Despite the flames of pain and uncertainty, she was eventually able to find herself with the help of close friends and the bond she has with her son, John.
“I’m so proud of John; he just got his Master’s degree! He lives in Portland now, with his wife and She likes to travel. John is such an important part of my life. I read books to him every day when he was little and I taught him how to read. One time at preschool the kids were working with clay on some newspaper and the teacher told me that John was reading from the newspaper! Very intelligent. He’s also such a kind and gentle person. But he can stand his ground if he needs to – just like his father.”
Lois’ natural gift for empathy and kindness has followed her through her life’s journey. But out of all her learning and discovery it’s her time working with children that has brought her the greatest joy.
“Children are wonderful. I used to volunteer at the preschool and I loved working with the kids. I loved watching them play. Children need to be free to express themselves and to explore.”
“…We finally made it to Catalina and slept on the beach overnight while the motor was being fixed. We had just enough money to get by. The next day the motor was fixed and we got back in the outboard and headed home. A large ship tried to give us a ride but we said ‘no’ and made it back home safe. My parents were pretty upset. They grounded me for life.”
Lois continues to feed her curiosity and has a steady stream of book titles on her reading list. From mystery novels to a thick biography on the life of Albert Einstein, Lois still enjoys learning about people and the world around her.
“Life is just a process of learning. We’re all doing our best. Teach your children to be kind to one another and not to be prejudiced against anyone. I wish there were all colors of people living together. It all goes by so fast – enjoy it.”
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