“I slept in the desert a lot. If I was tired, I’d just lay down where I was. I loved when it rained. I would run in front of the rushing water when there’d be flashfloods and try and find a place to jump out before the water got me. One time I wore myself out so bad, I fell asleep right next to the water. My mom called the police that time. They tracked me down, and when they found me, they thought I was dead because I was just laying there, sleeping in the rain.”
When asked if there were any other kids around to play with, Noonan answered, “There was a little girl, Missy. She’s in the picture with me and Red Dog, who was named after the saloon. Harriet and Harriet’s granddaughter know her.”
“Wasn’t it hard growing up like that, Jerry,” I asked?
“I loved all this stuff. It was a great way to grow up… you know, if you didn’t die,” he laughed. “On my 7th birthday I got a rifle. I was over the moon. I was going to be a hunter. But then I shot a lizard. I felt so horrible, that I never did it again.”
“That couldn’t have sat well with your stepdad,” I responded. “Did you tell him?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“What did he do?”
“Well, he tried to toughen me up. Here was a guy who had a collection of guns from people he’d hunted down and brought back from across the border, and ‘Little Jerry’ couldn’t even kill a lizard.” Changing subjects, he inserted, “Did I mention he was an amazing blues harmonica player? I remember he’d be playing it behind the bar, Pappy’d be on guitar, my mom would be singing, Harriet would be singing, and people would take turns on the piano… That’s what it was all about. If you just wanted to roll in, you could be entertained or do the entertaining. When Pappy and Harriet moved to the Old Cantina and turned it into Pappy and Harriet’s, all of that moved with them.”
Noonan is a dad to two teenage daughters now. His mom has long since passed, after pulling her life together heroic way following the drinking years. But the hole in Little Jerry’s heart is still evident. He misses his mom.
I asked Noonan, “What was the biggest lesson you learned from all of this.”
He answered without hesitation, “You never know what is going to be the lasting impression or memory you leave with other people, especially in a child’s mind, so be conscious of what memories you make for other people. That’s all I want to do with my restaurant – bring good people together over good food.”
It’s always impressive when someone makes a conscious choice to choose a positive path from all the examples put in front of them as a child. Noonan has chosen to hold on to, with hopes to recreate, those special times when music and food brought everyone together, and everyone was happy. They ate, they sang, they all watched over him, and they gave a young boy a lesson in something very powerful amidst the madness, the power of connection.
Noonan’s love for cooking clearly began with Harriet. He went on to train in Italy at the Culinary Institute of Tuscany, and hopes to open Sky High Pizza in Joshua Tree. It is destined to be a happy and unique experience, but you’re going to have to leave your guns at home.