When looking back over childhood memories, some people wax poetic. Lanita Bingham, 82, wrote a poem as a teenager lamenting what she did not have as a child.
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One line says that she wished for a square of concrete where she could skate and talked about dreams of an indoor bathroom. That way, she wouldn’t have had to go out in the cold, rain and pitch blackness to the outhouse. It was scary for a young girl, with fears of falling in or finding spiders under the seat.
“It was all dirt and dust,” Bingham said of Ten Mile, the logging camp where she spent her formative years. It was a long way to Fort Bragg, the closest town.
Her teenage poem says she wished that there were store windows to gaze in, rather than the railroad tracks, where huge logs were transported on flatbeds.
To go to Fort Bragg, this dainty girl jumped onto the caboose of the train and even learned to jump from coupling to coupling.
Jump, skip and hop
“When we jumped off the train, we had to jump, skip and hop through all the logs on the ground, and I could do that, too. But it wasn’t that easy,” said the charming, feminine artist, poet, art-aficionado and antique collector.
Those early years were lonely and the work was grueling; there were no girls Bingham’s age in the logging camp, and she was wedged between three brothers, two older and one younger. A little sister did come along later, but imagination was Bingham’s best friend in those days.
It was a long way to school on a bus, clearly another hardship in a time and place when household chores were nearly insurmountable, and Bingham shouldered much responsibility. Bingham picked wild berries, found beauty, and learned never to waste anything.
Bingham narrowly escaped tragedy as a young teen during a huge flood (probably in about 1938). “The trestle was billowing about in the wind … we just barely made it across.”
Looking back on it now, though, Bingham also remembers the beauty of her surroundings. In a memorial poem about her late husband Warren “Papa” Bingham, wrote: “Maiden hair ferns in a beautiful white Grecian Urn … take me back to Ten Mile, where I belonged when I was tender, young and loved such lacy loveliness and all the mosses that lived in the shaded forest …”
Conditions were hostile for this sensitive little girl who sought gold among the fallen leaves, pine needles, ferns and mosses of the logging camp. In the fall, the leaves were golden, but the true gold, according to Bingham, was found in her imagination and in her heart.
Growing up tough
Growing up tough gave Bingham some gifts and strengths for which she is eternally grateful.
“I can do just about everything,” Bingham said without bragging, her deep blue eyes shimmering in a classically beautiful face. Among other things, she can sew, cook, garden, can fruits and vegetables, decorate, do housekeeping, paint pictures, sing beautifully in her alto voice, write prose and poetry … and even do things like plucking feathers and skinning a deer.
“We had plentiful, good food; we had our own vegetable garden. And we had plenty of meat … we had venison, but we had to work like devils to clean up the meat,” Bingham recalled.
Her mother, she said, was sickly, with asthma and bronchial problems exacerbated by the dampness, trees, dirt and dust of Ten Mile. Her mother was also a very personable woman who chuckled and laughed a lot.
As a young girl, Bingham helped with everything, but she seemed to do it with a cheerful heart, imagining better things and finding beauty and joy despite some childhood tragedies that rocked her psyche.
Her father exhibited excellent craftsmanship in creating exquisite works of art. After working hard all day, he spent much of his spare time making uniquely beautiful wood carvings. He transformed simple pieces of wood, carving out rocks, trees and other scenes, and then polished them lovingly.
A passion for beauty
Perhaps this legacy did stir Bingham’s heart, or was simply inherited. For Bingham’s passion is beauty and all its forms. Little did she know that her obsession with beauty would be indulged so graciously in life.
“I had absolutely nothing as a child; I think I imagined this, but I didn’t think I would ever be able to have all this,” Bingham said graciously, her arms reaching out to indicate a home chock-full of paintings, Tiffany lamps, vases and graceful objets d’art.
Many homes would appear cluttered with such a profusion of paintings and collectibles. Clean and tidy, Bingham’s home is appealing and engaging. She has placed every object and every painting with such a precise, artistic eye that the effect is endlessly pleasing. Contrary to contemporary decorating ideas, one does not find wall space. Walls not covered with paintings (original and purchased) have windows and/or mirrors.
Growing with art
Each painting that Bingham displays, including her own compositions, is beauty to behold. Many of them were painted by Bingham’s dear friend, the late Lenore Beran.
While most pieces appear to be oil-based paint, Beran also used mixed mediums, including one made with thousands of pieces of colored paper, then apparently lacquered. At first glance, it looks like a very fine, golden-glowing multi-dimensional painting. It depicts a Native American in indigenous garb against an mountainous autumn background, and it has a golden glow. Upon closer inspection, one sees the intricate attention to detail and skill that it took to create such a marvelous work of art.
An early marriage culminated in divorce, and Bingham was a single mother for a time with two children, Cindy and Steve, to nurture. Coincidentally, Steve is the name of her son, and her son-in-law is also named Steve. Her son, Steve, lives in Southern California, but Cindy and Steve live in El Dorado Hills, close enough for Bingham to enjoy and cherish her grandchildren. Like many grandmothers, she has a special, spiritual bond with her beautiful granddaughter.
Bingham often worked as a fine seamstress to make ends meet, and is especially proud of a wedding dress she designed and the fine sewing she did to make the masterpiece. Over the years, she sewed many special garments that she recalls with fondness and pride. Bingham was a star in her home economics class in high school; not only could she do everything, she could do it well.
While she supplemented her income with her seamstress skills and talent, she credits and applauds her first husband Clarence for providing for the family. Not only did Bingham get the house in Glendale, her estranged husband supported the family well, taking on the responsibility of alimony and child support without hesitation or acrimony.
“When I look back on it, I realize that I divorced because I was unhappy … big deal,” Bingham commented, implying that if she had been older and wiser she would have tried harder to work things out.
Growing with love
But one never knows what life has in store. For when Bingham met Warren, there was an instant connection, which turned into some 30 years of bliss. They were truly in love until the very end, and his death in 2002 left Bingham bereft, but grateful for their years together.
The Binghams moved to Pleasant Valley in 1969, then relocated to Placerville some 20 years ago, thereby reducing the stress of having acreage. According to Bingham, she and Papa were very much in love, enjoying antique shows and collecting art together. One of Bingham’s heartbreaks when Papa died, besides her own loneliness, was that their dog, Chryss, was left bereft as well.
In a poem Bingham wrote for Papa, she says: “Chryss mopes and lays silently, comforted only because I’m close by. He’s eating again, but plays only with his bones, hiding them where I pretend not to see. He was so loyal and knew before I, that this was the final illness and rarely moved from his watch. He jumped off and ran to alert me when Papa’d waked and waited anxiously till I’d lift him up again to his vigil …”
Little Chryss has died also, after having been Bingham’s loving pet and constant companion for some 12 years. “I still miss him,” Bingham said.
Growing up in Paradise
By the time Bingham was a teenager, her stepfather had been killed in the woods (apparently a logging accident) and her mother sold out everything in Ten Mile.
“There was no longer any reason to live there. I was glad when we moved to Paradise. It was paradise,” Bingham said with a glimmer of irony. “It really was.”
Though Paradise was also a small town, they had amenities they never had in Ten Mile, including nearby stores. Bingham went to high school in Chico, requiring a long bus ride every day, but one that was worth it.
“I was always very popular. People relied on me to do things,” Bingham remembered.
With Bingham’s language arts, writing skills, charming personality and home economic talents, her high school experience was stellar. It raised the esteem level and confidence of the young girl who had felt so trapped in the psychological and physical forest of her youth.
Bingham also became a majorette, which changed her life.
“I’d go strutting with that baton,” Bingham joyfully recalled. “It was so important in my development, to have other people acknowledging me, to feel I was somebody. It meant a lot.”
By the time Bingham met Clarence, she was a poised and graceful young woman, despite her humble roots. She knows, now, that one can overcome humble beginnings. With the wisdom of the ages, she encourages young people to follow their dreams and to use their talents, to get out there to develop their social skills and to exploit their natural abilities, thereby increasing their self-esteem and worth. Capitalizing on her own abilities and growing in confidence helped Bingham to have a life she could have only imagined back in Ten Mile.
She has helped young women to become more confident.
Growing with grace
Like most people who have reached their 80s, Bingham is dismayed, and grapples to accept of the limitations of diminishing energy. She was always accustomed to accomplishing so much and being able to do many things well, but now she is just not as active as she was in the past.
For example, she loves to cook, and even published a cookbook of the wholesome, simple, yet delicious food she learned to cook as a child, enhanced by her natural ability and adventures in experimenting with gourmet recipes. Her beautiful, well-appointed kitchen is stocked with the tools of her passion and fine, beautiful china she no longer uses, now that Papa has passed away. But her cookbook, like her journals, poems, paintings and art projects, is an awesome legacy to the art of cuisine and the art of a life well-lived.
Bingham used to be a member of the Bonzai Club with its beautiful, serene headquarters on Newtown Road and is sad about its demise. For many years, she cultivated bonzai with the care, precision and dedication required of the craft. She still has bonzai, and she has one she is trying to restore and nurture for friends, but she has largely let go of that time-consuming hobby. “It’s a lot of work,” she said.
Ever the gracious hostess and bon vivant with kind, sparkling eyes, Bingham dresses with extreme care, good taste and flair. When she goes out, she usually looks like an fashion plate. She recently weeded out her wardrobe (having run out of closet space) but she kept many of the fabulous clothes and dresses that reflect a life of elegance.
“I always believed that everyone should present themselves at their best. Of course, it isn’t necessary in the grand scheme of things … people shouldn’t be judged by their attire, but … it’s just better for yourself to look your best,” Bingham asserted.
Growing with words
Between poems and journals, Bingham has recorded her life.
“I had a life worth recording,” Bingham said joyfully. She has some 25 notebooks filled with her daily meanderings. Now they reside in her closet in secure plastic containers, harboring the thoughts, feelings, adventures and memories of a lifetime. The journals are filled with both joy and sorrow, but Bingham’s optimistic, serene countenance seem to betray that happiness and hope far outweighed the tribulations.
Her journals and poems reveal the path of a seeker, one who has traversed many different philosophies.
“If you follow anything religious, and uphold the ideals, you’re OK,” Bingham asserted, indicating that the morals and conventions of most religions, many of which she has studied, have a moral code that governs good, compassionate behavior if followed.
Bingham firmly believes that meditation, Yoga, her Christian faith, her art, her poetry and her journals helped to keep her disciplined, whole and balanced.
“Sometimes my journal was just a diary of events, sometimes I spewed out angry thoughts. Some days I just wrote basic, uninspired prose. But I used to write all my thoughts,” Bingham explained. “Between meditating and writing down my thoughts, I acquired some knowledge, but of course I don’t say I know everything. But I have learned and experienced a lot.”
With her journals, Bingham has tangible evidence of a life well lived, and if she can’t remember something, she can look it up, if she remembers the time period when the event occurred. Her diaries are labelled from year to year.
It has been in poetry, though, that Bingham has reflected her spirit with beautiful words that mirror the dimensions of an eloquent, searching soul.
“I love writing poetry … It’s a spiritual gift … it comes from your soul. If I felt poetic, I would write it down,” Bingham said, thumbing through a folder brimming with pages of poetry.
Bingham reads her poetry with feeling and dramatic timing, which highlights the beautiful thoughts and images of the graceful language she harnesses.
Bingham lives surrounded by beauty in her home and in her soul. But like her late June birthday, it seems to be warm, hopeful summer sunshine that graces the smile and charm she shares with the world.