Have you ever met someone who you know right away is a special person, one who exudes such an aura of sweetness and kindness?
That’s our Novie.
She’s never changed her persona since I met her 17 years ago.
Novie’s family moved to Venice in 1915 when she was six months old.
Earlier in 1910, Arthur Reese encouraged his cousin, Novie’s father Charles Tabor, to come west because there was a lot of work going on in Venice at the time.
“My dad came out to see what it was all about,” says Novie. “He loved the weather.”
His five sisters and five brothers — including Irving, who would make a name for himself as Venice founder Abbot Kinney’s chauffeur and confidant — followed shortly thereafter.
So as not to be left behind, Novie’s mother’s parents, sisters and brothers soon joined them.
“At one time there were 30 grandchildren living and going to school in Venice,” she says.
Novie still lives in the home on Westminster Avenue that her father purchased in 1914 for his family.
Have you ever wondered about the names Tabor Court or Reese Court, both renamed in the ’90s, in Venice?
Now you know where the names come from.
Novie has fond memories of her childhood.
“It was great to be raised in Venice,” she says. “We had everything.”
Favorite places were the canals — Abbot Kinney’s that were filled in after the annexation of Venice to Los Angeles — and the pier.
“We would paddle the network of the canals,” she says. “When we got tired of that, we’d go on the pier.
“We didn’t have to pay to go on the rides because we knew all the people who owned the concessions.”
She also remembers jumping on the miniature railroad and the trams going to Santa Monica after they started up.
“We would crouch down so they couldn’t see us,” she says laughing.
Silent films were fun too.
“Black kids always had to sit upstairs,” Novie says. “We had our limitations but never missed anything. What difference does it make? We had fun.
“We didn’t feel anything, of course, until after you’re grown and then you see. It might hurt your feelings some.”
While Novie was the first black female student to graduate from Venice High School, it was a bittersweet celebration.
“At graduation I couldn’t go to the skating rink in Culver City,” she says. “We went with our class to skate and they wouldn’t let us in.
“So we came home and the folks had a big cake for us. We didn’t feel too bad. It was just their ignorance, that’s all.”
Discrimination followed Novie after graduation in 1933.
During the middle of the Depression, she was paid a dollar a day doing housework, chauffeuring and taking care of children.
“I couldn’t get a job in a five and ten cent store or anything like that,” she says. “But I wasn’t home. I was independent.”
Ah, here’s the “I” word, independence.
While Novie is one of the sweetest and nicest people you will ever meet, she is nobody’s fool.
Her independent streak has been with her through the decades and has served her well.
Novie started working for Douglas Aircraft in 1950 as an electrician installing junction boxes.
She became interested in nursing while taking care of her parents.
“My uncle saw an ad in the paper that said you could go to nursing school and it wouldn’t cost you anything,” she says. “I gave notice at Douglas and quit.”
Novie tried to retire from nursing at 62.
“They kept calling me back and I worked part time until I was 67.” She says.
“When you walk into a room and an old person lights up when they see you, that gives you a good feeling”
What did retirement mean for Novie?
It meant more traveling.
“My father told me, when he was sick, ‘I always wanted to go back to Louisiana just to see how things have changed. I kept putting it off and now I can’t go. Don’t wait like I did. Whenever you get a chance to go somewhere, go.’ So, as soon as he closed his eyes, I was gone.”
Novie’s first airplane ride, at the age of 50 in 1964, was a 29-day around-the-world trip offered by Douglas.
That was just the beginning.
Since then, she has island-hopped six times in the Caribbean, taken her grandson to the Far East and cruised the Mediterranean, South America, the Panama Canal and Alaska.
Where does Novie go when she’s not traveling the world?
Closer travels every two to three months to Laughlin, Las Vegas or Indian reservations to gamble.
“Whatever I can afford to lose, that’s what I take,” she says.
“Sometimes, we break even, sometimes we lose, sometimes we win.”
When asked about bringing gambling even closer to home in Los Angeles, she replied, “People will be using their rent money or kid’s food money to go. We just go for the fun of it.”
While at home, Novie keeps busy.
She has been a member of the Oakwood Recreation Senior Group since the late ’70s.
She goes there for lunch and bingo every day, Monday through Friday.
“Six years back we had more activities going than we have now,” she says. “We had a pool table, sewing class and would go bowling.
“It’s a different class of people now. I guess some of them don’t want to be senior citizens. Or they don’t want to be seniors until they see all the freebies we get.”
On Saturdays, family and friends are welcome to stop by for dinner.
Novie is a wonderful hostess.
There is always more than enough delicious food.
She has also, very graciously, allowed the Venice Historical Society board of directors to have its monthly board meetings at her home.
Meetings aren’t always fun, but she makes them appealing by offering fabulous munchies, including her wonderful deviled eggs and, as a real treat, her killer lemon meringue pie.
Novie has picture-packed albums, old and new remembrances of her life.
If you’ve seen photos of the filling in of Abbot Kinney’s canals with the trucks, those trucks belonged to her father’s business.
The feature article in The Argonaut issue of February 14th, 1991, was “Blacks Who Helped Build Venice.”
On the cover is a 1915 photo of Novie as an infant with her parents, sister and brother.
She is as adorable today as she was as a baby.
Novie is still healthy.
She did give us a scare a number of years ago when she was in the hospital.
“I didn’t think I’d make it, but I’m here,” she says laughing. “I live from day to day.”
Novie also reminds us to enjoy life as it comes, do everything you can do, do what you want to do.
“I think of my dad all the time,” she says.
Also, there seems to be a lot of truth in positive thinking resulting in a longer life.
That’s what Novie has always done, ignore the unpleasant and focus on what is good.
Happy Birthday, Novie.