The Glendoran - Mar/Apr 1992
Every Town Needs a Castle
Part I By Dwayne Hunn
Every town needs a castle.
But maybe one built by those
Yet often history has hinted
Maybe some of that is the life good castles breathed in days of yore. The strong arms of its granite walls were there to hug the huddled peasants and small villagers when danger sneered at them in their humble homes. The muscled shoulders of its bulging walls were there to shelter the needy from the harsh realities of the outside world. The castle's good lords raised their wine glasses often and had wonderful feasts and flings. They wrote decrees with common sense and simplicity. They could laugh, sing off key and weep. To those who passed through their castle walls with warmth and honesty, the doors remained open. For those who blanketed good castles with the gloom of their lives or broke a bond of old world integrity, the heavy gates soon slammed closed.
It wasn't long before nuclear arms outdated hugging castle walls. Castles became relics. Museums.
Today benevolent lords live in apartments, houses and estates, usually trying to raise a couple of okay kids. Curators dust the relics inside the towering wails that once inhaled and exhaled knights who righted wrongs or flailed at windmills.
Is this the gospel as it is and should be? Not necessarily.
Every town's castle should be built by that spirit that pulls kids into a patch of woods to slap together a tree fort. It need not be an elaborate, ornate, fancy, expensive centerpiece. It should be richly built from old ideas, recycled things scraped together and sparks of creativity nourished by sweaty work.
I think I know about this need for a castle, not because I might have been Robin Hood in a previous life, but because I lived in one in this life. Now it may be hard for today’s suburbanites to relate to the need for castles or to stories of its errant, childlike knights. But please try to bear with me, even if just to assure yourself that Robin I not be.
Married with Children may be television fare that most Americans find easier to bear than words and stories of twentieth century castles. Dungeons and Dragons may be the passtimes that young folks find more enticing than slapping together tree forts and funky castles in the remaining orchards of today’s outdoors.
But imagine what would happen if all the American hours spent watching Married with Children and playing Dungeons and Dragons were uncorked… The bottled, youthful, dreaming spirits, now entrapped by “Jawaba the Couch” — unleashed building junky tree houses and fields of play forts.
Imagine the condition of our national psyche? How many more hearty laughs and happy smiles among adolescents and adults would sprout if they built their own brand of renaissance castles rather than mirrored a pillow on a couch or traipsed down a dungeon on a coffee table in search of some make-believe dragon?
It ain’t easy to build a castle in every town. The spirit it takes to build a good castle probably exists in most American communities. Whether the power structure of each American community has the sagacity to allow those spirits to build castles, determines whether castles are built. And castles built by good spirits don’t all look the same. What they probably have in common more than the face of a castle with its towers, turrets, gates and moats, is freedom to pursue healthy fantasies… To ponder realities while sheltered from the increasingly regulated, bureaucratic regimented forces of the progressively civilized world outside.
Sometimes these castles come in the form of houses, perhaps with different gardens, uniquely hand crafted living designs. These places are inhabited by persons so different and good that people look forward to gathering there in order to nourish themselves on the tasty morsel of life the hosts always serve them. Sometimes these places may be farms –organic, communal or otherwise where a sense of community is fashioned by honesty, integrity and long hours of work close to the soil. Sometimes they may be store fronts, community centers or gyms where the good fashioned from those seeking, learning, or sweating inside, offsets the scars of life out on the outside. Sometimes they may be non-traditional schools or classrooms where the heartfelt beliefs of the teachers inside make their lessons much more golden than the publicly endowed school run so narrowly and uninspiredly in the sick or dangerous neighborhood outside.
Every community needs these castles. The more such castles a community has, the more its people will see, understand and do.
Glendora has more than one of these kind of spirited castles. There was one on Foothill in that big old house with the giant oak outside and dolls collected on its windows and mantles inside. There was one near Finkbiner Park with that backyard filled with a desert replicated garden where kids hitting the drug scene could be listened to and turned on to more natural highs. And from the shaded valley and orchards, blessed old timers passed on insights and right-living messages so wise that they had to have been learned in previous times.
Glendora also has America’s answer to the real castles of yore - a real adolescent/adult built castle. Michael Rubel’s Castle, however, is a bit more rebellious than today’s tamed European castles of yore.
When Harry Reasoner did his 1974 Reasoner Reports show titled Castles in the World, he juxtaposed two European castles alongside his choice for America’s castle - Rubelia. The European curators lamented that their castles were “expensive” to maintain. The head janitor of Rubelia, however, responded, “No, the castle was cheap to run. When I’m hungry I skin one of the ‘Pharm’ chickens and pull something from the garden… Burn old wood when I’m cold. When the wind blows, windmill works. Turns the washing machine and washes our old clothes. Nope, ain’t too expensive.”
The European curators pleaded with Harry to mention the location of their castles so “tourists” would come. Rubelia’s head janitor reminded Harry, “You won’t say where we are if you put this place on TV? We got enough people riding by wanting to come in. We gotta keep the gate closed almost all the time. Can’t pile rocks and railroad ties with all those people comin’ by and botherin’.”
The European curators showed off their old castle stuff but realized the ease of using their modern conveniences at the end of a day’s public relations work. When Harry asked how the castle hands got around all the old stuff, the head janitor replied, “Oh, but they use it all. It all works.” Yes, from the 90 year old cast iron, gas fired water heater for the shower to the wood burning stoves to the 10 gallon glass bubble top gas pump and 13 antique cars and trucks - it all worked.
It is often said that Merlin the Magician, from King Arthur’s Court, retired because “rationalists” were beginning to rule the world. What do you think Merlin would say today if he were immersed in the stories of life that wash over the airwaves of our two shores? Every town needs whimsy, magic, irreverrence and the hard work that lets those wonderful ingredients of life succeed in standing the rationalist on their head.
Rubelia has lots of the whimsy, magic and irreverence and the hard work that turns people around or upside down. Some lose their sense or cents, when stood on their head and seldom come back to drop more on the floor. Many get a kick out of being stood on their head. Some of them enjoy continually coming back for more. Some of them depart the castle having untapped their hidden reservoir of whimsically flavored common sense. They go away with this time spent to getup from the couch back home and perform their own little magic show so they too can stand the rationalists on their heads.
Rubelia has stood a lot of things on its head - the Harley partially cemented almost upside down in one of its walls; to the tunnel winding upside down three levels below ground; to Crazy Bill capturing John in his string trap to hang him upside down in his dungeon bedroom. And yes, Rubelia has stood quite a few upside down from the asylum directors, who after two days of visiting really believed that Rubella was a walled in “funny farm” for fairly hapless and harmless inmates, to the Zio’s Pizza delivery boy who quit after his first night and first delivery to a spooked ‘Pharm’ guarded by helmeted soldiers carrying vintage firearms; to the Dating Game chauffeur who believed yours truly ran an internatinal trading corporation from the Tin Palace’s Round Table.
The dozen wheelbarrows that lifted rocks two, four and seven stories high may not be needed for rocks as much anymore. Some day they could be used to cart around the chronicles of magic, whimsy and irreverence that happened or were passed within those walls. Mrs. Friezner (see the Glendoran, Nov/Dec. 1991) was one of those who helped create the magic. There were many others and if space allows, I’d like to tell a tale or two about them.
Why? Because you can’t understand twentieth century castles or anything else unless you understand some of the characters who are foolish enough to make them.
Rubel turned over the place to the Glendora Historical Society last spring after he took ill.