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December 2023...Milestones, Reflections and Celebrations

By Annie Bowler, Vol 10: January 15, 2024

December was quite the month! It was full of fun and special moments, as well time for reflection and milestone and celebrations. 

I attended the funeral of my lifelong friend, John Ballentine. For many years, John, his

wife, Mary Lou and their three kids lived across the street from my family in Manhattan

Beach, California. 

The big gang of kids on our street lived charmed childhoods. As soon as school was

out, we gathered, then rode our bikes, roller skated, played kickball, tag and fooled

around on our street.  With backyards the size of postage stamps and a wide, beautiful

beach just 3 block west, we headed there as often as we could to play, swim, and body


Though my parents were wonderful people, they were older, more intellectual types.

The Ballentines the other hand, were younger, outdoorsy people. They were always

heading off to go camping and water skiing on the Colorado River or skiing in the

mountains. I was always jealous when they took off on their trips in their camper but

especially when they came back, tanned, happy and full of stories of their adventures. I

admired John’s sense of adventure and his athleticism from as early as I can remember

and longed to be more like him.  

I got to go with them on a few of their adventures. While skiing with them in Mammoth,

there was a storm. Us kids and Mary Lou quit early and were all enjoying the warmth of

their camper, cozy as bugs in a rug. When John arrived at dusk, I was astonished to see

that that his beard and mustache were filled with long icicles. You would think that he

would’ve been freezing, but no, not John! He had a huge grin, and his eyes were


When my brother Tom was a teenager, my dad was very hard on him and Tom, in turn,

had little patience for our dad’s haggling. Things were not pretty around my house

during those years. Lucky for us, John and Mary Lou took Tom under their wing and

their house became Tom’s refuge. They often played pool and I’m sure they talked over

what was going on with my dad. John and Mary Lou were there when Tom needed a

friend and he, and all my family, have been forever grateful for their kindness. 

John´s sense of humor and smile were infectious. Growing up, I considered John and

Mary Lou, my second parents. For 90 some years, John Ballentine lived an amazing

life. He and Mary Lou were married for 66 years. John was lost after Mary Lou passed

away last year; he died just six months later.

At John’s Memorial, family and friends shared the good times and remembered that

together, John and Mary Lou built a beautiful life filled with love, laughter, fun and

shared moments. What more could one ask for?

John and Mary Lou Ballantine

John and his oldest daughter, Mary Beth John and Mary Lou have three children, eight grandchildren

who is my best friend and five great grandchildren.

John and I recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. How has time passed so

quickly? I feel too young for this milestone!

We married young and honestly weren’t at all ready for marriage. But we were

headstrong and independent, so no one was going to deter us once we decided to be


We were each other’s best friend through much of high school; I believe this has been a

key to the longevity of our marriage. We have always been able to talk about just about

anything; we continue to be each other’s best friend to this day. Here’s to many more

happy and healthy years together!

John and I have been very lucky to spend the new year with some of our family and

friends in Radda in Chianti, which is a renown grape-growing region of Tuscany, Italy.

Radda is a small village of about 1,600 people that was founded around 1,000 AD. The

center of the village looks much as it did centuries ago; in fact, the entire Chianti

Classico region has extremely tight building and development regulations in an effort to

keep its old-world charm. It is fantastic to walk through the stone streets of this region; I

feel like I’ve been transported to an long-gone era.

Well almost! Radda believes in having its share of modern-day fun. We watched a

circus-magic show in the town square that was lots of fun. The next night, we attended

a grand, town-sponsored New Year’s Eve party including a wild Disco dance party.

Italians know how to party! Even better, the folks from Radda couldn’t have been more

welcoming to our group, the only out-of-towners at the party. All in all, it was a fantastic

way to bring in the New Year!

Our year is off to a fine start. We hope yours is as well! More of our Italian adventures

in next month’s blog. Ciao!

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Jan 17

Always a wonderful read hearing about your travels! Looking forward to next months edition! Happy Forever Day to the 2 of you! ❤️

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