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Happy Birthday, Matilda

January 24, 1988|DICK RORABACK

They had a little party in Pomona on Wednesday for Matilda Green. Birthday celebration. Asked some of her family, too, which was a nice touch.

Not all of the family, mind. They couldn't get all of the family into the Golden Age Convalescent Home. Or in Greater Pomona, for that matter. If you want to count cousins and grand-nieces, in-laws twice removed, that sort of relative, they'd number in the thousands, easily. Direct descendants alone come to 212, give or take. Of Green's 14 children, six are still living. There are 75 grandchildren, 70 great-grand-children, 61 great-great-grand-children, and still counting.

Matilda Green, born in Paris, Tex., in 1879, put in full days picking cotton until 1948, when she moved to California: 69 years in the fields. She's 109 now, and slowed down some--in a wheelchair since 1987--but "she rolls herself around the activity room," said Angela Beck, administrative secretary at Golden Age. "She talks to everybody and slaps the guys on the hind end. . . ."

Beck is kind of Green's spokesperson ("Matilda's not crazy about the telephone," Beck said) and she has the answers to what we want to know. "Her long life? It's at least partly because of her nourishment," Beck said. "She puts sugar on ice cubes and sucks them. Never takes a sleeping pill, but she does take her shot of gin--two or three a day."

"As for her own secret of longevity, you don't want to hear it," Beck said. Sure we do. "Well, OK. It's 'Good men and good whiskey.' "

Remembering the Old Hometown

He was just a sprout of 40 when he arrived in Los Angeles, and "I guess I'll stay here till the roll is called," said Marvin (Bud) Low, 71. "Home," though, is Boone, Iowa--always was, always will be--and when Low and about 150 of his hometownsfolk meet Saturday, it will be the 74th continuous annual meeting of the Boone Society of Southern California.

The Boonites (not Boonies) are a remarkably faithful group, an offshoot of the band of four who first met in 1914 after the demise of the annual Iowa Picnic in Long Beach. These days, the society meets at Knotts Berry Farm over one of Mrs. Knott's chicken dinners and does what any respectable Iowan does: talks about back home, past and present, "to keep the memory of Boone alive in California. . . ."

Claims to fame? "Well, the town was named for Daniel Boone's brother, a trapper," said Low, current society president. "And it's Mamie Doud Eisenhower's birthplace. Used to be a railroad town, though the railroad has ridden off into the sunset. We still celebrate it though--the annual Puffer Belly Days. It hasn't changed much, really, except the recent bad times.

"And oh yes, we do have what's probably America's only distillery of banana wine. My wife and I still go back every year, for the railroad celebration. And maybe every hour or two I visit the winery's tasting room. . . ." Memories are made of this.

Slipping Into an Avocation Fit for a Fruit

Apropos, good news for those who have traveled great distances, sometimes even miles, to the world's largest banana museum only to find it closed. The museum, in Altadena, was leveled last September by a runaway county fire truck (you could look it up).

The latest skinny, though, according to Ken Bannister--creator of the museum, curator of its 13,000 exhibits and chieftain of the International Banana Club ("Well, Top Banana, really")--is that the landmark will reopen in February. Meanwhile, said Bannister, an Arcadia photographer, the club's educational program has continued uninterrupted. Master of Bananistry degrees as well as Ph.B's continue to be awarded according to accumulation of Banana Merits (BMs), earned mainly by contributing items to the museum. What sort of items?

"Anything to do with banana lore," Bannister said. "We have a petrified banana sent by a gal in Kentucky; a stained-glass banana; a Michael Jackson banana sequined by a little old lady in Pasadena. . . ." The photographer--who's seriously considering a legal name change to Bananister--embarked on his avocation 15 years ago "just to keep people's spirits up." He's happy to welcome visitors; happy about a lot of things in fact. "Hey, thanks for the call," he tells a reporter. "Thanks a bunch."

Time Out for a Christmas Story That's In the Bag

Christmas Eve, 1987. Joseph Bywater, manager of a Mormon specialty shop in L.A., bags the day's receipts--more than $3,000--which he lays atop his car while he reaches in for a jacket, then drives to his bank's night depository. Horrors! No bag!

Frantic, Bywater drives aimlessly, loathe to go home and face his wife. He fetches up back at the store, to think. Inside, the phone is ringing.

"This is the police. Have you lost some money?"

"Y-y-yes."

"How much?"

"Exactly $3,028.14."

"You'd better come down here right away."

At the station, the sergeant asked Bywater whether he's in the habit of spreading money around Santa Monica Boulevard: "A thousand cars must have run over it. . . ."

The light comes on. ("What I must have done," Bywater confessed this week, "is put the receipts on the car roof, reached in for my jacket, forgotten the canvas bag on the roof. . . .")

At the station, Bywater asked, "Where's the person who found the money? I'd like to thank him."

"You can't," the sergeant said. "He made me promise I wouldn't tell you. You left a deposit slip in the bag with the store's address and telephone number. When he counted out the money, it was all there except for the 14 cents, so he reached into his own pocket.

"As he left the station, he turned, smiled and said, 'Just tell him Merry Christmas.' "

"It's kind of embarrassing to admit it," Bywater said now, "but the hand of the Lord must have been working with me.

"Incidentally, I lost my personal checkbook the same evening. It was returned by mail on New Year's Eve."

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