About Sandra CH Smith
I grew up in Northern California before all the crazies showed up and we had to destroy our beautiful peaceful landscapes to create super highways for them to race up and down our state. As a kid, I never could figure out why these intruders were always in such a hurry…and they still are!
Every end of summer, my mother took me and my twin brother up to San Francisco to buy school clothes. I remember when I was 12, wearing a little hat and sporting white gloves. San Francisco was a formal elegant place and you never went there without your hat and gloves. When I was about 10, I heard on the radio they were wearing bikinis into restaurants in Los Angeles and decided from that moment on that the lower half of our State no longer existed! Anything south of San Luis Obispo was weird and no longer counted. My father was from Germany and my mother from Scotland. They were both adventurers, themselves so I guess “adventure” is in my DNA. Dad had been the iceboat champion of the North Sea, an Alpine hiker, had canoed down the Amazon, all before he came to NYC to escape Hitler. Mother had come across the “herring pond” by herself when she was 17, just to see what America was like.
They believed in raising my twin brother and me on the “trust system” — if I went where I was supposed to go, came home at the right time, and accomplished what I set out to do, they would let me go a little farther afield the next time. So when I rode my bike up to the corner store to return the coke bottles and came back with the right number of pennies, the next time I could ride up to the bigger store a little farther away. Under my parents’ brilliant trust system, I was given the chance to do things many others in our high school were not allowed to do.
One day, the year before I got my driver’s license, while riding my bike around the neighborhood, I discovered Perry Lane behind Stanford — an enclave of bohemian artists and writers, mostly Stanford grad students. Ken Kesey and his wife lived on the Lane and I soon became the Lane’s mascot. Not wanting to hide anything from my parents, I had Ken and two of the other “Laners” come over to meet my father. If, of course, dashed out the door after I introduced them to my dad…I didn’t want to be there in case there were fireworks. Ken promised my dad he would take good care of me (read: no pot, no drugs, no alcohol, but maybe a little nutmeg tea). When I finally had the nerve to go back to the house, my father greeted me at the door, invited me to join him in the living room, and I didn’t know what was coming next. In his very stern German voice he said, “Sandra, I want you to know I have just spent the most interesting two hours since I can remember. Your intellectual friends are very inspiring and responsible and you have my blessings to spend as much time as you wish with them.
With my father’s approval, I got to go up to North Beach on weekends with the gang, hang out with Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and others, wearing my Beatnik garb. I got a fake ID so I could get into the S.F. jazz clubs with them. I fell in love with progressive jazz, listening live to all the jazz greats in small smokey clubs. My fave was always Miles Davis, but there was also Cal Tjader, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Charlie Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, and of course, Coltrane and oh, so many others. I was in the hungry i when the Kingston Trio did their first gig with that crazy comic professor, and somewhere buried I have their autographed album. On other weekends, we’d go over to Palo Alto to hang out with that new singer, Joan Baez and some guy named Dillon. Then once a month, we’d have a pig roast on the Lane. I learned a lot from these incredible times and actually ended up taking classes at Stanford during high school as part of a special program for gifted students. Thirty years later I would be taking Ferlinghetti sailing around the S.F. Bay on my 35-foot sailboat and having dinners with him at old familiar haunts, most of which are now gone. I felt like the queen of North Beach, strolling around the old Beat neighborhood.
My entire life has been one big adventure from spending one year in school in Scotland as a kid (I had to beat up the school bully to stop them from calling me a damned Yank!), to cruising all around the Greek Islands at age 18, dancing Greek dances and singing Greek songs in all the tavernas where I became known as “Cassandra”. When we docked at one small island, a man came running up to ask if I was Cassandra and when I said I was, he said he would open his taverna and give free food and drink to all who entered if I would just dance for them. Naturally, I complied and I think the entire village showed up.
That same year I took an amazing trip on the very last journey of the original Orient Express from Greece thru Bulgaria, former Hungary and all those scary Baltic countries to Trieste, Italy. I was the only American on the entire train which was constantly stopped by soldiers rifling everyone’s bag (except mine when they saw my U.S. passport) with bayonets, tossing camera out onto the train tracks, and taking men off into the woods for target practice. Our car and another was left stranded in the middle of no where for two days, no explanation.
Next, a year at L’Universite de Grenoble, France, where I arrived pretending I was Greek and couldn’t speak English.I wanted to force myself to learn French like a native and after 90 lonely days, mastered it without a trace of an American accent and dreaming in French. 50 years later, I still speak French fluently.
Over Christmas break from Grenoble, I met a fellow on the Canary Islands when I had taken a banana boat there from Barcelona. He was from Philadelphia and had just finished his tour of “spying” for the ASA and spent two years walking from Cairo to Capetown. I ended up going to Philadelphia and a year later, married him. For the next 16 years, I was a newspaper reporter, feature writer and eventually editor covering the Philadelphia and suburban scene. I also spent much of my time serving as cultural do-goody maven and mother of two gorgeous kids.
I then left that marriage and my illustrious career to spend several years as an urban guerilla in Center City Philadelphia where I became a lobbyist for the Arts. Ended up buying a 35-foot sailboat, taught myself how to sail and took off on a seven-year spiritual odyssey from San Francisco to somewhere off Easter Island. I handled the boat sometimes single-handed, other times short-handed, and for the voyage down the Baja with my teenaged daughter. (You’ll have to read my books to find out about the daring sailing adventures!)
I am currently playing the duel role of innkeeper and writer. In 2010, married a neat fellow from St. Louis who now helps me at the inn and I and have never been happier!