Yesterday in San Diego By Arthur Ribbel. San Diego: Rancho Press, 1990. 163 pages. $8.95 paper.
Reviewed by Evelyn Kooperman, reference librarian, San Diego Public Library. Author of San Diego Trivia.
Do you long for the “good old days,” when times were less complicated and life was simpler? Arthur Ribbel’s book Yesterday in San Diego wafts you back to just such a time. It’s not the idealized nostalgia of the author’s imagination; life really was simpler when Art Ribbel arrived here in 1916 as an eight-year-old boy. In those days San Diego had a population of under 40,000, with none of the problems that plagued the large industrial cities. As the city grew, Ribbel grew up with it, and with his keen memory, doubtless aided by skillful research, was later able to re-create clearly what life was like here many decades ago. He wrote a column for the San Diego Union, and forty-five of the best pieces from it have been gathered into this book, published shortly after his death in 1990. Each vignette is illustrated with an ink wash by his wife, Virginia.
What long-time San Diegan doesn’t have fond memories of shopping at Marston’s Department Store, dancing at the Mission Beach Ballroom, or riding the ferry to Coronado? This book helps you reminisce. And if you weren’t one of the lucky ones to have lived here, no matter; you won’t feel like an outsider. Many of the recollections will strike a familiar chord to anyone who grew up in an American town in the early and mid-1900s. Just reading his sketch on “Aromas of Yesterday” will transport you back to the neighborhood barbershop or lumberyard. By reading “The Soda Jerk” you will recall delightful afternoons spent at the corner soda fountain.
Memories can be selective, and sometimes we blot out the bad moments. Well, why not? Ribbel concentrates on the pleasantries, but also includes the wild times in Tijuana, as well as some black market dealings. Somehow, however, they don’t seem as bad by today’s standards.
His journalistic background gives a polish to his writing, and he has a pleasing way with words. His style is chatty, as though he were talking to you as an old friend. He turns a nice phrase, and can quickly whisk you back with him to the San Diego he remembers. When describing the young girls of yesteryear he notes that “Most girls were giggles, kisses on the cheek, blushes, smiles, a hop, skip and a jump, a whispered secret, a passing fear and a passing tear.”
This is an ideal book of remembrances for all those who lived through the early decades in San Diego — or wish they had.