December 18, 2021
"Nobody does me better than me."
– Eddie Van Halen
I first met Helen McAllister at a Spirit Wind meeting at the local Community Church and we have been friends ever since. Helen isn't just your average senior lady. She is a conglomerate of resilience with a strong core of beliefs and a skeleton of steel, coated over with talent and wisdom that just drips off her. She continually gives back to the community, always thinking of others and taking no credit for herself. She doesn't speak of her accomplishments but always steps back and wants to know yours. Helen McAllister is more than the sum of her parts. She is an eclectic mixture of all things artistic, creative and spiritual. She might appear fragile when you first meet her. Don't let that fool you. This is one lady you don't want to mess with. Her strength and independence are a definite inspiration to all of us.
"I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art." –Madonna
Helen McAllister – An independent woman
Helen McAllister is no stranger to small towns. She was born and raised in Oak Forest, Illinois, a family-oriented community with long-term residents and small-town charm, surrounded by picturesque forest preserves but just twenty-four miles from downtown Chicago. Her childhood played a major part in who she is today.
Helen's mother worked at Oak Forest hospital in Akron, Ohio. She always carried a picture of Helen in her wallet. One day she walked up to George Espezito and said, "You want to see a picture of a pretty girl?" George said, "Yes and I want to meet her."
Helen was 20 years old at the time. She and George fell in love and were married soon after. They were married for 18 years and had three beautiful "Italian" daughters. The oldest is a social worker for L.A. City School District, and is now writing a book on co-parenting. Her middle daughter teaches 7th grade. She lives in Florida with her two boys. Helen's youngest daughter is currently getting a master's in nutrition.
Helen said, "My favorite memory about raising the girls was just keeping them from fighting with each other. And they're still doing it too!"
After 18 years, George and Helen parted ways. Several months later at a local club, Helen saw Melvin dancing.
She said, "I don't know what he was doing with his legs. I took him off the dance floor and never let him dance again because I didn't approve of what he was doing. That's how I met him. We were together 8 years before we got married. I remember we were having dinner one night. I had a mouth full of chicken, and he said, 'If you want to have health insurance we're gonna have to get married Monday.' I said yes. We were married in 1989. He was a little bit like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory because he was very intelligent and had a great sense of humor."
When they began looking around for a place to purchase a home they found Tehachapi.
Helen said, "I loved the small-town feel. That's what I was used to. I loved the people, the mountains, the flowers, the feel of the community. Tehachapi reminded me of my home town of Oak Forest."
Helen and Melvin were married 24 years.
She paused a moment, thinking back, "One thing that I think is important to mention is that I was asked one day, 'During the pandemic what was your strength? What got you through?' I told them I had been the youngest of six. My mother referred to me as a change-of-life baby. She was quite old when I was born. Later on, if I asked her a question she told me, 'Oh go away and do whatever you want.' This is the way I was raised. I did whatever I wanted. Because it was a small community I was safe and could go to the forest by myself or sit by the water alone for hours. I was raised to be independent. That independence is what got me through the pandemic."
Helen's father had been a cartoon artist, and her older brother was a commercial artist. They often took her to visit the Chicago Art Institute. Art became a significant part of Helen's life. She earned a degree in art therapy, worked with developmentally challenged clients and those with dual diagnoses for many years, and continues to share her art with the community to this day.
When asked to give advice about life to others, Helen said, "Check in with your unconscious mind often." She went on to explain that when you are in tune with your unconscious thought, it helps you see that important matters become more important and unimportant matters become less important. Knowing and listening to self helps you make better decisions.
The following is a fun exercise:
A note to yourself
You will need blank cards, envelopes, stamps, markers, pens, scissors, glue sticks, magazines.
Brainstorm one to four realistic ways to find a peaceful place or a source of joy to tap into during the month. This can be as simple as sitting quietly somewhere, looking at favorite art work, doing a puzzle, going to a museum. Whatever you choose, the purpose is to provide the opportunity to check in with your thoughts, your innermost needs, and to replenish yourself.
Put one idea on each card using symbols, pictures, words, colors, etc. This card is a gift note to yourself to remind you to take some self-care time.
Address the cards to yourself and put stamps on them. Mail one card each week during the month. Once you start receiving your cards in the mail, take the time to do the things you illustrated. Remember: "Don't forget to be good to yourself!"
"The Wisdom Keepers, Tehachapi Women of Substance and a Few Good Men" is a book in progress by Judith Campanaro, Tehachapi artist and resident. Judith's love of sharing inspirational stories of others prompted her to highlight amazing locals that make Tehachapi special. Each edition of The Loop newspaper will feature an excerpt from the book to give you a taste of our fabulous residents. The complete book will be published in late December/early January. If you would like a copy, please contact Judith at email@example.com. In the meantime if you'd like to recommend a local person for an interview send their name and number to Judith at firstname.lastname@example.org or (646) 896-4434. She will contact them.