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Chromosomes, The Cup and a Correction

by Bob Sparrow

Chromosomes: Like Suzanne’s last blog stated, we were both excited to compare and contrast our DNA. I would say she was right on with the comparisons of personality traits and ethnicity. I would add that the Irish and Germans , which made up nearly 60% of my DNA, have had a fairly friendly relationship over the years, perhaps a little too friendly during the Nazi regime. I would add that while the Irish and the Germans both make and like good beer, but they differ dramatically when they’ve had too many – the Irish start singing and the Germans invent a sensor for the automobile that will automatically turn on your windshield wipers when it starts to rain, or they’ll start a war. No wonder I’m constantly confused.  As to not having much of a ‘stiff upper lip’, (only 6% British) they say that’s the second thing to go. I will amend one statement that Suzanne made, that being that our DNA tests affirmed “one of us wasn’t a product of mom and the milkman”. However, there still remains the possibility that both of us are – as I recall we did have the same milkman for many years!

World Cup: The subject of my blog a couple of weeks ago was about how little America knows or cares about the World Cup, especially since we couldn’t even get in the tournament. Here’s what I’ve subsequently discovered over the last month:

  1. Several diagonal runs behind the defense can be effective with a third man, not a mid-fielder or a forward, but a defender breaking for the goal
  1. A quick give-and-go, both static and moving opens up the defense
  1. Switching the field of play gives a player more time and space
  1. Many goal scoring opportunities occur as a result of a good counter attack
  1. ‘Overlaps’ create opportunities for crosses

I have no idea what I just said; but I must confess that I ended up watching the final game between France and Croatia with my nephew, Gene, who along with wife Denise, was visiting from Minnesota, and actually understands soccer, saying he got into it when their son got into it . . . on video games.  Gene was up at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday to watch all the pre-game ceremonies. I joined him at 7:30 and became interested in some of the back-stories of the players especially several of the guys from Croatia, who were refugees from their war-torn country.  So with some personal information and Gene at my side to answer the multiple questions I had about the rules and strategies as to what was going on out on the ‘pitch’, I ended up actually enjoyed watching the final game. Of course I was rooting for Croatia, who ended up losing the game 4-2.   I am making a mental note to get involved earlier in the games next time in Qatar in 2022; perhaps in four years the U.S. can find a way to earn a spot in the tournament.

 

Correction: In the interest of never publishing ‘Fake News’ and correcting errors in a timely manner; in my blog in April 2015, I predicted that L.A. would never have a professional football team. They have one.

 

 

WHEW! BOB REALLY IS MY BROTHER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

             Bob, me and brother Jack

You faithful readers may recall that I had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry a few months ago.  Last week, brother Bob got the results from his Ancestry “spit” and, much to our relief, we actually are brother and sister.  Since we like each other so much we were praying that one of us isn’t the product of mom and the milkman.  But while our DNA proves we’re siblings, it also offered an interesting insight into how different we are.  If you’re like me, you may have assumed that siblings would have the same exact DNA since they have the same parents.  But as I explained in the blog about my test, that’s just not the case.  As a refresher, here’s the explanation:

According to Stanford genetic scientist, Dr. Barry Star in “Stanford at the Tech” website, it logical to assume that brothers and sisters should have the same ancestry background since they both got half their DNA from mom and half from dad. But DNA isn’t passed down from generation to generation in a single block. Not every child gets the same 50% of mom’s DNA and 50% of dad’s DNA, unless they are identical twins. So it’s possible, really probable, for two siblings to have some big differences in their ancestry at the DNA level. Culturally they may each say they are “1/8th Danish” but at the DNA level, one may have no Danish DNA at all.

And that, dear readers, summarizes exactly the results that Bob and I got.  While he is 22% German, I am only 3%.  I am 41% British but he’s only 6% Stiff Upper Lip.  I am immensely jealous that he is 36% Irish/Scotch, while I’m a paltry 19%.    And while my DNA is 21% Scandinavian, he is just 11%.  We also both have a smattering of French, Russian and Iberian Peninsula (which I learned while in Ireland is a result of the Spanish Armada invasion of Ireland in the mid-16th Century).  In actual fact, history would tell us that our Scandinavian DNA is also due more to invading marauders in Great Britain and Ireland than to ancestors from those countries.  I’ve researched our family tree back hundreds of years and the closest Scandahoovian relatives we have go back at least 15 generations.

                           Happy Irish!!

Given our differences I got to wondering what part, if any, our DNA plays in our personalities.  Turns out, that’s a controversial topic, with scholars on both sides arguing divergent facts to prove their point.  So I decided to Google what the generally accepted traits assigned to our ethnic backgrounds are to see if I could discern if our inherited cultures influence us in any way.  Bob is mostly Irish/Scotch – they are known for strong family values, penetrating wit and laid back lifestyles (which I think is a nice way of saying they spend a lot of time at the pub).  I couldn’t describe him more accurately if I tried.  He also has a strong German component and they are known for being punctual, efficient and well-organized.  The study I read also said they were known for their sense of humor.  Wow.  Not sure I have met any Germans with a great sense of humor.  Then again, Bob is one of the most humorous people I know so perhaps if we can overlook German behavior over the entire 20th Century we can find their funny bones.

          Greta Garbo

My mostly British DNA did not surprise me since we have several ancestors who came to the US directly from England.  In fact, I’m more surprised that Bob didn’t have more British DNA.  The British are known for good manners, witty sense of humor (I think it’s an acquired taste), pride of country, love of a good gin, and friendliness.  I think that could describe me pretty well except for when I flip off weaving, texting drivers.  Not sure all my British great-grandparents would approve of that.  My Scandinavian heritage is the yin to my British yang.  Although they also love to drink, Scandinavians are not social, they are in love with “middle of the road” for any decision and their home is their temple.  They are perhaps best exemplified by Greta Garbo’s quote, “I want to be alone”.  Fits me to a “t” on any given day.  I can be a real homebody, perfectly content to curl up with a book, my knitting, a good movie and, of course, Dash the Wonder Dog.

I found our results illuminating.  Whether DNA really makes a difference in our personalities may never be conclusively determined in our lifetimes but it’s fun to speculate.  Now all we need to do is get our brother Jack to spit into a tube.  If he comes back as our sibling at least it will let mom off the hook for any rumors about her fooling around with the milkman.

Backyard Bucket List

by Bob Sparrow

Bridge to Nowhere

Summer brings me this year’s edition of Westways Backyard Bucket List just in time, as I was running out of places to take you. So let’s see what new and exciting things there are to do in SoCal this summer.

-‘Bungee Jump off a Bridge’ – It starts off with “Hike 5 miles into the Angeles National Forest (and you thought there were only freeways in Los Angeles) to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, which presumably inspired our governor to build a ‘Bullet Train to Nowhere’.  In the photo shown, due to recent droughts, the bridge no longer spans any water, so if something should go awry with the bungee, you don’t just fall and get wet, you hit the granite riverbed and die. I think I’ll pass on this one.

Visit the old abandoned zoo at Griffith Park – This zoo has not been operational since 1966, but we are told that it once attracted millions of guests. That’s great, if you were here in 1966, but what is there to do now? ‘Visitors can climb behind graffiti-covered metal cages and hike up deserted rock enclosures’. Yeah, that would be so much more fun than going to a zoo that has actual animals?  While you’re at it, since it’s not too far, maybe you could stop by Dodger Stadium when the Dodgers are out of town.  Check please!

Experience the Bakersfield Sound – I thought Bakersfield was in Texas; I guess it just wished it were. I am informed that there is nightly live music at Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace, but there’s more, you can see Buck’s red, white and blue guitar. Really? No way! Yes, way and there’s still more, you can see Buck’s ‘watermelon suit’ on display. Gosh, I wish it were closer, I’ve always wanted to see a watermelon suit. Honey, go start the car!

-Stop for a ‘Bucket List Burger’ – What better way to take a break from completing my ‘bucket list’ list than to visit ‘Bucket List Burgers’ in Riverside. I checked out the menu on line (the New Year’s Resolution Burger looks awesome, I’m getting it, even though it’s the middle of summer), I got directions and with my mouth watering, noticed that it was . . . closed for good! Apparently they weren’t on very many bucket lists.  Scratch.

-Visit Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway – The Palm Springs Modern Tour highlights some of the area’s best midcentury modern architecture, including the ‘House of Tomorrow’ where Elvis and Priscilla lived for a year, until Elvis’s nightstand was completely covered with half-eaten peanut butter, banana and pickle sandwiches. Elvis rented the house for a year in 1967 and the lease is framed and still hangs on the wall. The home went up for sale 3 years ago for $9.5 million, it didn’t sell and is now back on the market for . . . $5.9 million – guess those peanut butter, banana and pickle sandwiches are getting a little crusty.  No thank you very much!

-And speaking of bananas, here’s something I never knew even existed, the International Banana Museum, and it’s right here in southern California, well not exactly, it’s out in the desert in Mecca, which isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from there. This museum has over 20,000 banana-related items, some to eat. The photo at the left just makes you want to don an outfit and . . . go bananas!  Or not!

-Visit the Original McDonalds – the magazine says “the ‘unofficial’ McDonald’s museum is located on Route 66 in San Bernardino and provides a nostalgic peek at Golden Arches memorabilia.” Which begs the question, ‘Where is the ‘official’ McDonald’s museum?’   I don’t really care, since I haven’t visited a McDonalds ever, I’m not sure what would draw me to anything McDonalds now, unless I could get one of those plastic life-size statues of Ronald McDonald to put on my front lawn.  Super size this!!

To be fair, the magazine did offer some destination that I’ve either already visited or will visit, but my real ‘backyard’ bucket list, would start with a cool drink, some music, a spot in my own backyard while imagining I’m on a tropical island – it’s so much cheaper this way!

Happy Independence Day!

WITHER COMMON SENSE?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about common sense, mostly because there seems to be such a staggering lack of it.  So I decided to take a closer look at a phrase that is ubiquitous but not really well understood.  As far back as the early Greeks philosophers people were trying to define behavior or reasoning that society in general could agree was “common”.  But as Voltaire concluded, “Common sense is not so common”.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” Thus, “common sense” equates to the knowledge and experience which most people have, or which the person using the term believes they do.

And therein lies the problem –  the words “most people”. Until the past decade or so our society has been able to broadly agree on behavior or actions that would be acceptable to “most people”.  A few months ago I read an article (author’s name has escaped my memory) arguing that the divisiveness that we are experiencing on a grand scale these days has eroded our common sense because we have less and less in common.  I think about that article when I turn on the news at night. I sure don’t know how we got here but I did receive an email the other day called “An Obituary for Common Sense” that’s been around a while but I found some portions worth sharing:

“Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). Its health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

It is survived by his 4 stepbrothers:

I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I’m A Victim

Not many attended its funeral because so few realized it was gone.”

I thought this article was pretty entertaining, but there are a few trends I’d like to add:

Participation trophies

No income verification mortgage loans

Low flow toilets

“If it only helps one person…”

“Safe spaces” preparing students for real life

Tattoos.  One look at Lady Gaga’s arm tattoos and one can only imagine those arms at 65.  I hope I’m alive to witness it.

Clearly Common Sense, if not dead, is on the decline and I have a theory why.  For generations Americans worked hard to figure things out –  using logic, reasoning and common sense to make decisions.  Now, every answer is literally in our hands.  Too many of us aren’t learning how to gather facts and come to a logical conclusion because Google does it for us.  Too many people rely on social media for their research and news, following the herd right off the end of the cliff.

I’m not sure I’d get a lot of support for this but maybe we should give up the phones and go back to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World What???

by Bob Sparrow

This past weekend started the biggest sporting event in the world, and you very well might not have even had an inkling that it was even taking place. No, you didn’t miss the World Series, the Super Bowl or March Madness, you missed the start of the World Cup. It usually doesn’t get much play here in the U.S. and it particularly won’t this year as the U.S. didn’t even qualify for the tournament, which seems almost impossible given that countries like Morocco, Iran, Croatia, Serbia and Senegal did make the top 32 teams in the world.  A good analogy might be as a kid, this would be worse that being the last guy picked on some pick-up ball game in the neighborhood, it’s like being sent home to practice the piano while the rest of the neighborhood played the game.

So, why are we so bad? Possibly we have a hard time getting grown men to run around on a big field for several hours hitting the ball with their feet and heads all resulting in a score of 1-0. But the rest of the world loves football, what we call soccer, so one wonders, ‘what are we missing?’.  World Cup history is filled with stories of fights and even deaths over a team winning or losing a World Cup match. World Cup fans make the Oakland Raider faithful look like they are attending a Shirley Temple birthday party.

Victoria Beckham. Not really interested in what David looks like!

I’m a bit conflicted on this year’s World Cup. Again, I’m not a big fan of soccer, sorry I still can’t call it football, but I haven’t really taken the time to understand the nuances of the game. For me it’s a bit like hockey, where at least I know most of the rules of the game, but none of the intricacies or strategies, and even though there is not typically a lot of scoring, I’ve grown to like hockey. So maybe there is hope this year for me to enjoy the world’s most-watched sporting event along with the estimated 3 billion fans that are expected to watch the tournament this year.

If you’re like me and a) weren’t aware that the World Cup was even going on, and b) do not really understand or care to understand the nuances of the game, and c) aren’t exactly sure what ‘Bend ’em like Beckham’ means, but you’d recognize Victoria Beckham in a Groucho Marx disguise, then perhaps you’ll enjoy some things I learned over the weekend from my local newspaper and the Internet regarding this year’s World Cup that may pique your interest . . . or not. Just think of it as focusing on lady’s hats and mint juleps instead of the horses at the Kentucky Derby.

This year’s World Cup, in Moscow, started last Thursday and continues until the finals on July 15! Yes, a nearly month-long tournament. Since Vladimir Putin’s Russia is the host, it might be important to know some of the history of the host countries. The host gets to pick a lamb for their first opponent – already Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 (yes, they qualified for the World Cup!) on Thursday in the opening round. In 1934 Mussolini’s Italy, which didn’t have a particularly great team, magically won the tournament!! Same thing happen in the ‘70s when a post-Juan Peron’s military junta insured that a less than stellar Argentina team won it all in 1978. So don’t be surprised if a below-average Russian team does something spectacular.

Still don’t care?  OK, here’s some World Cup trivia that you’ll need to know if you want to pretend that you’re the least bit interested in the biggest sporting event in the world:

  • The World Cup tournament started in 1930 and has been played every four years except 1942 and 1946 due to that skirmish going on in the world at the time.
  • Brazil’s team is the most expensive team in this year’s tournament with a worth of approximately $1 billion!
  • Average age of the top players in the tournament – 24
  • 66,000 Iceland fans (yes, Iceland made the tournament too!) wanted tickets to the games in Moscow meaning that 20% of the population of that country wanted to go to Russia to watch the games.
  • Next World Cup is in 2022 in Qatar – yes, they have a team too!
  • If you can catch NBC Latino tv/radio, after a goal you’ll be entertained by renowned soccer announcer, Andres Cantor’s when he calls out his famous Goooooooooooooaaaaaaaaal!

Andres Cantor

You’ve already missed the Egypt-Uruguay thriller (yes, they both have teams in the tournament), but check your local listing for Tuesday’s game between Nigeria (Really! They’re in it and we’re not?!) and Argentina, the over-under on total points is 1.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

 

 

 

THE MYSTERY WORKOUT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

reading on treadmillI’ve never loved exercise.  Gym class in high school was an ordeal, made worse by having to wear a “onesie” that rode up on my rather sizeable thighs.  The wearing of the outfit only got worse as the school week wore on.  By Friday, when we were required to take our gym clothes home for washing, it was so odiferous that it would have repelled a magpie off a sewage truck.  That said, all through my life I’ve endeavored to do some sort of activity to stay in reasonable shape.  And, to be honest, so that I can consume the occasional piece of cake.  After my recent indulgence in Guinness I knew that I had to figure out a way to drop the three pounds I’d gained in Ireland.  It being summer in Arizona, long walks or hiking up the nearby mountain trails was just not an option. Then I came up with a novel idea – reading on the treadmill.

Oh sure, I’ve been reading on a treadmill for almost 25 years – usually either a magazine or whatever novel I was reading at the time.  It became infinitely easier in 2010 when I bought a Kindle, which eliminated the necessity to break the spine of every book just so it could lie flat.  But usually my mind would wander or some tidbit of news on the TV screens up on the gym walls would catch my attention and my workout either slowed down or stopped altogether.  Again, I am not a committed exerciser.  At a friend’s suggestion I tried listening to audio books but that only led me to discover that I might be suffering from a slight case of attention deficit disorder.  Every shiny object diverted me away from the story and by the time I was actually listening again I had completely lost track of the characters and plot.  I find this true of audio books in the car as well.  Every time I get distracted by a three-legged cow or a giant ball of string I completely lose my “place” in the book.

working outIn any event, three weeks ago I once again committed myself to losing weight and eating well.  At the time I was reading a good mystery novel that was hard to put down.  When I began reading it on the treadmill 45 minutes passed without me realizing it.  Maybe I was on to something.  I repeated it again the next day and have now done it every day for the past three weeks.  Since I’ve read most of what’s been written by the most popular authors of the genre I have been seeking out new ones. I love authors who write a series of books with the same protagonist and have found several. For those of you who also like mysteries or want to spend more time on the treadmill the authors are Melinda Leigh,  Scott Pratt, Robert Dugoni and Matthew Fitzsimmons.

I think the secret to the “mystery exercise program” is that I don’t allow myself to read these books except when I’m on the treadmill.  So if I want to find out who murdered Colonel Mustard in the Library I have to haul my butt up to the gym to find out.  And as an unintended consequence, my arms are also getting some exercise these days. When I’m not on the treadmill I’m reading “Hamilton”, the 817 page tome that inspired the Broadway hit. I always buy history books hardbound so the simple act of lifting “Hamilton” has done wonders for my biceps.

I think I’m on to something. I wonder if LAFitness would be interested in a partnership?

Another Side to D.C. – Fractured Fotos

If we didn’t laugh at some of the nonsense coming out of our nation’s capital we’d probably cry, so here’s some photos of our last trip that might at least put a smile on your face.

 

 

We couldn’t have asked for better weather . . . well, we could have, but it wouldn’t have done much good – it rained every day!

 

 

 

This is how close security let me get to the White House

 

 

 

 

This suspicious looking lady was posing as a concierge at our hotel, but after reading the Red Sparrow trilogy I was fairly proficient at spotting Russian spies and she was one.  I let management know of my discovery.  They weren’t amused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orangutang at the National Zoo: “Can you get me out of here?  I think I’d fit right in with the rest of the monkeys in D.C.”

 

 

 

 

 

I’m getting the latest Republican strategy straight from the elephant’s trunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a professional photo of the four of us after we snuck into the Oval Office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Sides of Washington D.C.

by Bob Sparrow

Co-Editor’s note: Yes, I’m still part of the Sparrow-Watson writing team and no, Suzanne did not restrict me from getting near the blog for the last three weeks, it’s just that . . . OK, maybe I was told to stay home and get rid of this virus. As usual I only half-listened, I got rid of the virus, but I didn’t stay home.)

Most of our readers have been to Washington D.C., so telling you about my trip and how cool the Air & Space or Spy Museums were or how I could spend all day in the Natural History Museum is a waste of time, so I’ll tell you about my top four emotional experiences in our nation’s capital and environs.

     1. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Top line, Panel 13 E

To those around my age, the Vietnam War happened when we were in college and the years shortly thereafter, which was a time of great social conflict in our country. So seeing all the names on ‘The Wall’ was a sad reminder of that horrible time in my young adulthood. Suzanne does a great job of honoring fallen soldiers from our hometown of Novato each Memorial Day. Among those honored is Allen Joseph Nelson Jr., who was one of the only people I knew personally who was killed in action in Vietnam. Allen and I played high school football together as well as a year a Marin J.C. I knew his sister, Joanne, who was in my class at Novato, and is no longer with us, but I believe the younger brother, Steve, who was in Suzanne’s class, is.  I would ask that anyone who knows him please pass along to him that I located Allen’s name on the wall (Top line of panel 13E) and said thank you and a silent prayer.

 2. The Holocaust Museum

Confiscated shoes in the Holocaust Museum

First opened in 1993, this museum is relatively new to ‘The Mall’. The tour through it is detailed and emotional. Upon entering you receive a passport-like document of one of the victims of the Holocaust, which traces their country of origin and their life prior to being incarcerated as well as what ‘death camp’ they were in, and the date they died or were freed – it really personalizes the tragedy of it all. The museum is filled with photos, artifacts and videos of events leading up to and through the loss of the war by Germany and the subsequent release of the surviving prisoners from the concentration camps. The exhibit that shows hundreds of victims’ confiscated shoes is particularly gut-wrenching.  While most people are generally familiar with the story of the Holocaust, the museum does an excellent job of bringing home the sheer brutality of this heinous crime against humanity. It still seems incredible that it even took place and how many people it affected and particularly how an entire country could let this happen within their borders.

   3. Gettysburg

Overlooking part of the battlefield at Gettysburg

At the suggestion of a friend, who said that if you’re going to D.C. you need to get up to Gettysburg, we rented a car and made the hour and a half drive to this famous Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania.  The information center there is filled with all kinds of memorabilia and ways to learn about one of the bloodiest and arguably the most pivotal battle of the war.  We chose the in-car CD version which allowed us to stop for as long as we wanted at any particular site.  The battle field, which was much larger than I thought (over 9 square miles) is dotted with over 1,300 memorials, markers and monuments.  Being there and listening to the narration, some stories about brother fighting against brother, gives you a real sense of how and where things were taking place.  In the 3-day battle on July 1-3, 1863, the total of casualties for both armies was approximately 50,000. I was astounded to learn that while we have had approximately 1,264,000 casualties in all of our wars up until now, nearly half, 620,000 were casualties of the Civil War.

     4. Arlington National Cemetery

Changing of the Guard

Just across the Potomac River from The Jefferson Memorial, on property once owned by Robert E. Lee, our national cemetery is a tearfully beautiful place. While the tour through the cemetery talks about all the famous people who are interned there, you cannot help but be struck by the total number of simple gravestones all in a line, “like soldiers at attention”, that are there representing fallen soldiers from every one of our nation’s wars – there are over 400,000 in all buried there. We witnessed a changing of the guard at the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, a classy and somber ritual that occurs every half hour this time of year. The grounds offer  hundreds of amazing stories that go with the brave service men and women who make this their final resting place.

While we really didn’t appreciate the rain that fell everyday we were in Washington D.C. and Gettysburg, it seemed to particularly lend itself to the atmosphere of these four historic landmarks that reminded us that our freedom is not free.

Thursday: A few photos to finish our visit to the capital

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2018)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys from my high school who died in the Vietnam war. After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their home towns – or worse – their families. So this weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict.

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So on my trip to Washington D.C. last month I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”. To refresh my memory I pulled out my high school year books and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so shortly after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see a color television. I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50 year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

 

Robert Johnson

Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give them both something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

 

 

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah, also attended NHS. Mike was very smart and participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He lead by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January, 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed and I thank you for not forgetting.”

 

 

 

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July, 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for 16 year-old kids to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day and face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966 was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin

Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team and very active in school clubs. His brother, Dennis, and I were in school plays together and my mom and his mom, Molly, were friends. Jim was well-liked by everyone who knew him. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited. (Update 2018: to read about a wonderful tribute paid to Jim this past March on the date of his death you can read my post about it here: http://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111 )

 

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January, 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

 

Jerry Sims

Update from 2017: In April, 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS I assumed Jerry was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he nevertheless was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 13, 1968 he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

 

A Kingston Trio memento

I found all of the boys from Novato on “The Wall”, each name etched in granite. I thought about all of their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow had been replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album (pictured left), along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without him. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours

CASTLES, CUISINE, AND A CAUTION

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

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Muckross House

All good things must come to an end, as some wise person once said.  But that doesn’t mean that they can’t come to an end in style.  As we departed Killarney we headed off to Dromoland Castle, where we planned to live like the princesses we are on our final night in Ireland.  Dromoland, however, was not the only castle that we saw on our trip.  In fact, like most countries that have a long history, Ireland is full of castles.  Most of them are ruins and we saw many instances of crumbling rock.  But there were a few exceptions worth noting.  First off, is Muckross House, which technically is not a castle but did house Queen Victoria for a couple of nights in 1861.  It has spectacular grounds and gardens, sitting right on the lakes of Killarney.  Our guide, Jack told us that in the late 1850’s the owner of Muckross House, Henry Arthur Herbert, spent a fortune prepping the house for Queen Victoria’s visit on the implied agreement that he would receive a Dukedom for his efforts.  Unfortunately, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died just three months after her visit and she forgot entirely about Herbert.  By 1897 the estate was in financial ruin that is partially attributed to the money spent on the Queen’s visit.  I guess even then it paid to get things in writing.

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Bunratty Castle

On our way to Dromoland we stopped at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.  The ‘folk park’ part of the title should have been our first clue that the fine people at Bunratty have figured out how to make a buck.  I wonder if they’re Americans?  The original castle was built in 1277 but the structure that still stands is a relative newcomer, erected in 1455.  It is said that William Penn‘s father defended the garrison in 1646 as William lay in his crib inside the fortress.  Who knows where Pennsylvania would be today if his father had been defeated?  The folk part consists of many structures that were chosen from many different areas of Ireland to form a collection of typical 19th century buildings including the School, Doctor’s house, Pub, Printworks, Grocery, etc.  It was enlightening to see how primitively they lived – two rooms for a large family with more room for the horses than the children set aside within the house.  The gift shop at Bunratty is a money-maker – really one of the nicest gift shops we saw so we all were calculating just how much more we could squeeze into our suitcases.

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The bar at Dromoland Castle

Finally we arrived at Dromoland Castle, our lodging for the night.  The castle grounds have been the home of castles for centuries but the current structure was built in 1800.  It has been preserved with little change since the mid-19th century. In 1962, Donough O’Brien, the sixteenth Baron Inchiquin, sold Dromoland Castle to American Bernard P. McDonough who converted it into a luxurious hotel.  The luscious green gardens and golf course line the entry and we looked forward to exploring the pathways that meander throughout the property.

Dromoland dinner

The Last Supper

Unfortunately our Irish luck on weather that had blessed us all week let us down – it was pouring rain.  The weather, coupled with the fact that our room wasn’t ready, led us to repair to the lounge where they provided us with coffee and pastries.  Once settled into our beautiful room we hoped for sunnier skies but, alas, it was still raining so…what’s a girl to do? We checked out the bar.  It was everything an elegant bar should be and was the perfect setting on a gloomy day to continue our lager/Irish whiskey taste testing.  Dinner was in the Earl of Thomand dining room, again elegant and intimate with service beyond compare and delectable food.  What a way to end the trip of a lifetime – beautiful scenery, wonderful cuisine and lasting friendships.

The next day we left for the Shannon airport at 6 a.m. and from there flew to London.  Twenty-one and a half hours later I was greeted at my front door by Dash the Wonder Dog.  Ireland was great, but so was coming home.

I know several people going to Ireland this year so in the spirit of sharing, here are my recommendations:

The Killarney Park Hotel:  This hotel is the only five-star hotel in Killarney and it’s easy to see how they gained their reputation.  The friendliness of the staff is beyond any I’ve ever experienced.  By our second day there they knew us by name and always went out of their way to help us.  The food and grounds are also magnificent.  You cannot go wrong at this hotel.

Killarney Tour and Taxi:  Jack Hayden is the owner of this business and his five stars on Trip Advisor are well deserved.  He is humorous, knowledgeable and a native of Kerry so he really knows his stuff.  He figured out very quickly that we did not want to see every church and cliff so he would slow down, we’d open a window, snap a photo, and off we went.  At times he insisted that we visit some historical sites and afterwards we were always glad he had. Besides his knowledge and humor, how can you go wrong with a guy who played “Red Solo Cup” so we could sing along?

Guerin’s Path to Cliff Walk:  As mentioned in my first Ireland post, Martin Guerin is a farmer who owns land that includes the visitors path at the Cliffs of Mohr.  Read my first post to learn more about it, but all I can say is his personal tour beats the Visitor’s Center hands down.

The Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder and Sheehan’s Pub are both terrific places to visit.  If you are lucky enough to be in Sheehan’s on a Saturday night you will most likely experience several “hen parties”, which only add to the experience.  Irish people are friendly and like to drag us into their shenanigans!

Mobile Passport App:   We were advised by our travel agent to download the app and it was some of the best advice we got.  We had pre-loaded it with our passport information and once we were taxiing to the gate in Phoenix we activated the passport clearance feature and we were through Passport Control in less than a minute.  It also came in handy as we passed the Gestapo agent at customs.

Diet:  Okay, not really a recommendation but more of a caution.  I was horrified when I got on the scale the day after my return.  Unfortunately, my eating and drinking in Ireland closely resembled the hog we saw at Bunratty Castle.  Oh well, I’ve got all summer to work the Guinness off my thighs.