She was frail, a bit humped over, but very fashionably dressed for a Christmas Eve morning stroll along the cliffs overlooking Dana Point harbor.

Her lipstick was bright red, and her make-up subdued and tasteful.  She wore her age well, her youthful soul informing her smile, eyes, and speech.  She sat down at a bench looking out over the ocean.  I stood some distance away, aware of this little figure who walked slowly into my view.  “Good morning” she said brightly.  “Good morning!” I replied as brightly.  It was Christmas eve, and a time to be friendly. I walked over to her, and stood there a while, speaking of the beauty of the day.  “I come here often,” she said, “It make’s me feel good to be here.”  I love to converse with older people, because I love learning their stories.  I knew this woman had a story.  She was too alive, to energized, and too engaging not to have adventures to tell.  Little did I know the story was ongoing, and wonderful.

I will spare you of my journalistic inquiries.  I am an incorrible interrogator. It is part of my training as a lawyer, but also, just a penchant for being nosey about things that interest me.   I learned that my little humped over acquantance was Sonia Neil, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  She had memories of growing up along the coast, always close to the ocean, and never happy away from the sea.  She shared wonderful memories of childhood, and  mother who loved her. She married, and a daughter was born.  Her daughter wished to pursue the performing arts, and so Sonia left everthing behind to give her that opportunity in the United States.  They managed to first locate in Houston, where there were some Argentine friends.   Eventually, she came to live in San Clemente California.

She mentioned that she had given up her own dreams to give her daughter that opportunity.  “What dreams were those?” I asked.  “I sing.” she stated with a calm confidence. “I have always sung.”  I was stunned.  She spoke as one fully present, and excited.  “Tell me more.”  “Oh, I recently gave a recital.”  “Who arranged the recital?” I asked.  “I did!” Sonia responded, a little indignant.  “Did you sing in Spanish or English?”  I asked, assuming as an Argentinian, she might prefer Spanish.  “Italian.”  she answered.  “I sing opera.” she answered.  “You presently sing opera?!”  “Of course.  The woman who hosted my recital wants to be my manager.”  She paused.  The moment was perfect.  A light warm breeze wafted our skin.  The sun felt good–an incredible Christmas Eve day in Calfornia.

After a moment, she added that she studied under a master at the El Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, or as she called it for my uneducated sake, “the famous “Colon Theater.”  I confessed my ignorance.  It is like the “Metropolitan Opera” at the Kennedy Center in New York, she graciously explained.  Life it seemed had taken her away from her dream to support the dreams of others, but she continued singing.  For a time she lived in Houston, she said, and would sing with accompaniment of retired members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra each month in the large concert hall of the symphony.  She sang because singing was who she was.

I was about ask her to sing for me, and hesitated.  The time and place was not ideal.  To my delight, she did something possibly better.  She wore a little purse about her neck, one possible made by or for her especially.  She opened  a little zipper, perhaps two inches long, and pulled from the purse a little square of paper, and upon it was handprinted her name and “YouTube.”  “My nephew recorded me.” She explained. “I don’t really know anything about the internet.”  “Have you seen the YouTube videos made of you?”  I asked.  “Oh yes.”  she answered.  “Are you pleased with the results?”  “Very much.” she replied without hesitation.  I placed the little paper in my billfold carefully.  We said goodbye, and I drove to the nearest coffee house to gain access to an internet host.

So it is, I am sitting here at the Coffee Bean in Dana Point, writing this story of Sonia Neil.  I could continue with my story, but what a waste when I can give you her gift directly.
Here is the link to Sonia’s singing, who at age 83 demonstrates that youth is a very relative term.

Sonia Neil on YouTube. “Fighting for the Little Guy”