THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2017)

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.  This year I have updated it with new details learned after last year’s post, including a surprising addition.  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

Robert 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

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

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

Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966.  I knew him pretty well – 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.

 

Ed Bethards

Wayne Bethards

Wayne 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 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

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.

 

WE PLAN, GOD LAUGHS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This blog was supposed to be about Santa Fe.  I had planned a trip there last weekend to attend a birthday bash for one of my closest friends.  I planned to eat a lot, drink too much and soak in the sites.  I planned to roast her with a birthday tribute and re-connect with old friends.  Those were my plans.  But on the Tuesday prior to the event the honoree’s 45 year-old daughter died of a pulmonary embolism. Suddenly, our plans changed.  Instead of flying off for a fun, celebratory weekend in Santa Fe, we were boarding a plane to Chicago to attend funeral services.  Oh, how quickly our lives can change.

As we reach “senior status” it becomes more common to experience loss.  In the last five years both my brother and I have lost our mother and our childhood best friend.  Numerous friends have lost spouses or are supporting them through life-changing illnesses.  Somehow we expect to encounter these events as we grow older.  But losing a 45 year-old, in the prime of her life, happily married and with a 12 year-old daughter just seems so wrong.  It is wrong.   And it is a good reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

That notion was hammered home to me many years ago when a friend lost her husband to cancer at an early age.  After his diagnosis she lamented, “I think about all the hours I stayed at the office doing busy work when I could have gone home.  I wish I had those hours back.”  Her sincere regret about her prioritization had a profound affect on me.  After that I never spent more time at work than I needed to.  I resisted the “how late did you work last night?” competition that seemed to pervade every workplace.  I had seen first-hand the downside of that game.  It was a good – if painful – lesson on making sure those around us know how important they are.  It’s why, as sappy as it sounds, I never leave the house without telling my husband that I love him and I end each day by telling Dash the Wonder Dog how much I appreciate all that he does for us.  Dogs don’t live nearly as long as they should.  But then again, neither do some very good people.

My friend’s life is forever changed and those who care about their family are also struggling to make some sense of it.  I think most people when faced with these horrible events take some stock.  It’s a good reminder that we can’t take anything for granted.  All of our checklists, day planners and to-do lists can be just wishful thinking.  And it’s a wake-up call (at least for me) on how we spend time.  It’s too easy to get sucked into surfing the internet on the iPad or watching dog videos.  It’s also worth remembering that not all things – or all people – are worth our time.  We need to make each day count, spent with people and activities than enrich, rather than detract.  For me the only small way that I can think of to pay tribute to a life lost too soon is to cherish every day I’m given and live it to the fullest.

Rest in peace, dear Staci D’Ancona Levy.

 

SMALL MOMENTS – A 9/11 TRIBUTE (2016)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I am posting the memorial I wrote on the 10 year anniversary with updates on a surreal encounter and a promise kept.

melissa harrington hughesHer message was my wake-up call.  She inspired me and changed my life forever. Yet I never met her.

Melissa Harrington Hughes died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She didn’t work there; she was on a business trip for her San Francisco-based technology firm. She was an extremely accomplished 31-year-old, who had traveled the world and had been married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes, for the past year.

On that fateful morning she was attending a meeting on the 101st floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck just 6 floors below her.  Many people remember her for the harrowing voicemail that she left Sean minutes after the building was struck.   In that voicemail she said, “Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I am stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit or a bomb went off – we don’t know, but there’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know I love you always.”

The first time I heard Melissa’s voicemail, Sean was speaking to Chris Jansing on MSNBC and played the recording on air.  Ms. Jansing completely broke down upon hearing it.  Clearly, Melissa’s final words resonated with a lot of people.  The internet site dedicated to Melissa filled with posts from people who were touched by her story.  I was among them. When the buildings collapsed I thought about all of the people that worked for my company in those towers.   Three of our employees died that day but Melissa was the one that stood out. Somehow, amongst the overwhelming tales of tragedy, her story elicited the strongest emotions from me.  But why?

I suppose that, in part, I could relate to her on some level.  I was also employed by a large Bay Area-based firm and had spent most of my adult life working in San Francisco.  At one point I made several business trips to NYC to meet with staff housed in the North tower at the World Trade Center.  I remember navigating the unusual elevator and escalator systems in that building as I rushed to early morning meetings, just as she must have done.  I was also struck by Melissa’s beautiful wedding picture taken up in Napa, California, close to where I grew up.  I knew that she had appreciated what a special part of the country that is. But it was more than the similar business trips and her picture that stayed with me; it was her voicemail to Sean that was seared into my brain.

MHH North Tower (Medium)

In her voice I could sense so many of her emotions: fear, panic, bewilderment.  But mostly, in her final minutes on earth, she wanted Sean to know that she loved him.  I thought about her, and all of the people that died that day, who went off to work as they normally did.  Kissing a spouse or child good-bye, grabbing a cup of coffee, making plans for the weekend ahead.  And none of them came home.  Plans and hopes and dreams were gone in an instant.  Sean Hughes said that he and Melissa were excited about their future and talked about all the things that newlyweds do: moving to a new home, getting a dog, having children.

Her final words to Sean started me thinking about my own life.  My husband had taken early retirement in 1996.  He wanted to travel, spend time with our new grandson, and enjoy time with friends.  I had wanted to continue working.  But I kept thinking about Melissa’s message.  What if that had been me?  Is that how I would want my life to end, without ever having enjoyed what my husband and I had worked so hard to build?

The weeks following September 11 were frightening and incredibly busy for me.  My division of the company had locations throughout the United States and for weeks after the twin towers fell we received bomb threats in our major office buildings. Of course, all of them were false but that didn’t lessen the hysteria of my employees who were in those buildings.  I understood – my office was on the top floor of our Los Angeles headquarters and I jumped every time I  heard a plane or helicopter go by.  After a month or so, I began to hope that the turmoil would pass and that my life would get back to “normal”.   But then I thought about Melissa.  Life doesn’t get scripted.  I knew that the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack might be low, but there were no guarantees that I could escape a car accident or a terminal illness.

So the first week of November, after the initial frenzy had died down, I told my boss that I wanted to resign.  We negotiated that I would stay until March 1, which I did.  I have never regretted that decision and would not trade all of the memories and experiences I’ve had since then for any amount of compensation I gave up.

The author Judith Viorst once wrote that it is the small moments in life that make it rich.   Melissa made me realize that I needed to grab the small moments while I could; that sitting with my husband every morning, sipping coffee and watching the news, is a gift not to be squandered or go unappreciated.

So to Melissa Harrington Hughes: thank you.  Someday I hope to get back to the new September 11 Memorial where I will touch the steel engraving of your name.  And in the hollows of those letters, we will finally be connected.

2016 Update:  This past March I went to New York with my niece and her two daughters.  Visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was one of our highlights (I wrote about it in The Museum of Sadness and Strength post).  I read that buying tickets in advance was key so on February 24 I went on to their website to order ours.  On that same day I received an email that someone had commented on my original post about Melissa.  I thought that was a coincidence – that maybe something that I had typed in the computer had caused an old comment to be recirculated.  But it wasn’t an old comment  – it was this:  “I came across your blog after my son and I just prepared an required oral presentation for his English class about a life event of mine that had great impact. I think of Melissa almost every day –  I was her best friend since childhood.  She was a shining light and people were drawn to her. I miss her and the memories are still clear with detail. Thank you for seeing how her passion, love for life, and love for her husband and family was that shining light, even if it was her last words. She called her Dad and Mom and Sean from that burning building because she loved them deeply. She is well remembered and will never be forgotten.”  I still get chills when I read this note and think about the timing of it.  There are no coincidences in life, of that I am sure.

2016-03-30 12.06.05 (Small)On March 30 I was finally able to fulfill the promise to myself that I would visit Melissa’s engraving at the Memorial.  Her name is carved into Panel N-22 on the large reflecting pool that stands in the footprint of the former North Tower.  I put my hand on her name and thanked her once again for all that she has meant in my life.  May she rest in peace.

The Turntable That Turned Back Time

by Bob Sparrow

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The ‘Time Machine’

I took a most unusual and sentimental journey this past week and never left my house. My trip was facilitated by my new ‘record player’. My old turntable, that I had purchased in Japan in 1968, had become inoperable many years ago and with the arrival of first, the CD and then the iPod, I never saw a need to replace it. So my 75 or so 33 1/3 LPs remained silently tucked away in a closet for many years.

There was a time not too long ago when you couldn’t even find a turntable to buy, but in recent years it was discovered that turntable fidelity equaled or surpassed many of the digital-age playing systems, so they’ve made somewhat of a comeback. A new turntable would not only allow me to once again play my old albums, but it would enable me, for the first time, to play the record collection of my departed, best friend, Don Klapperich.

DK

Lt. Cmdr. Klapperich

After Don was done flying F-4 Phantom jets for the Navy, he took a job in Saudi Arabia working for a U.S. company that was contracted by the Saudi Air Force to teach them how to become better combat pilots. When Don left for Saudi Arabia in the late 80s he did not want to take with him his rather large record collection, which include both LPs and 45s, so he asked if I would hold on to them for him.   I stored them with mine in the back of the closet and had not thought much about them . . . until now.

Linda, having read my letter to Santa Claus last year, got me a turntable for Christmas. I decided that I would set up an ‘entertainment center’, such as it is, in my office in the upstairs loft. I built some shelves and started the process of moving records from the downstairs closet to the newly built shelves upstairs. I took them a handful at a time, not because I couldn’t carry more, but because I wanted to reminisce as I flipped through each one as I brought them to their new home.

'Entertainment Center'

The ‘Entertainment Center’

There were many duplicates among Don’s collection and mine, as both of us were part of the ‘Folk Scare of the ‘60s’ and were thus big fans of the Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four, Bud & Travis, The Limeliters and Peter, Paul and Mary. But after that, our collections took two very divergent paths, mine was more pop, things like Neil Diamond, The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt; Don’s reflected his personality: eccentric, esoteric and genius. Classical masterpieces, Broadway musicals, Classic rock, Gregorian chants, pop, flamenco guitar, bluegrass, opera – you name it, he had it. It was an unbelievable collection of eclectic music. Looking through these albums was like exploring the many facets of Don’s complex personality. He may have been the only white, 16-year old in America who owned every one of Ray Charles’ albums. As you might guess, it took me quite a while to move 200+ albums upstairs, as with each handful I had to use my new turntable to hear at least one song on each trip. Then I found it.

Radio Record

The ‘Radio Show’ Record

Wedged between the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Don’s personal favorite) and Janis Joplin’s Farewell Songs was a record in a plain paper sheath, no album cover, no label, no markings of any kind, just uneven grooves cut into a black vinyl disc. I was delirious with anticipation as I gingerly placed it on the turntable and eased the stylus onto the first cut.

In 1961 when Don and I were seniors in high school we, The ‘Neverly Brothers’, were asked to sing on Hugh Turner’s radio show, ‘What’s Doing in Novato’, on KTIM, which was broadcasting from Pini Hardware on Grant Avenue in downtown Novato. Don’s parents recorded the show from home by putting a small tape recorder next to their radio – which is the excuse I’m using for the way we sounded. Don’s dad then took the recording into San Francisco and had it ‘pressed’ into a record. I had only heard the record once, shortly after his dad brought it home.

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The ‘Neverly Brothers’

I remember that day like it was yesterday; it was bad enough that we were nervous about singing on the radio, but through the window in Pini Hardware we could see a most-attractive girl, Carole Garavanta, who was definitely out of our league, sitting in her parked convertible in front of the store watching us through the window and listening to us on her car radio.   She was probably waiting for us to stop singing so she could come into the store and buy some wing nuts.  We sang three songs and were interviewed by Hugh Turner, answering questions about ‘our music’ and what we planned to do after we graduated in June from Novato High School.

I sat motionless, mesmerized by the spinning record as it took me back to that time and place.  We sounded like . . . a couple of naive high school kids.   As the record came to a scratchy end and I was brought back to the present, there was a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.  It was great to hear Don’s voice again.

Just a few days away from the four-year anniversary of Don’s passing, his record collection has helped me understand a little bit more about my enigmatic best friend; and discovering our ‘radio show record’ was a gift that he probably didn’t even know he left me . . . or maybe he did.

Buffett Philosophy

M Casino & ResortNo, this isn’t about how billionaire, Warren would invest your money, but rather about another Buffett, one who has a decent net worth himself – somewhere north of $450 million – and invests so little in his concert attire that he doesn’t even wear shoes.  Yes, I’m talking about Jimmy.

I got a chance to see Mr. Buffett for the umpteenth time two weeks ago in the Hollywood Bowl and once again came away totally entertained by this man whose voice has been likened to that of a carnival barker.  So what is the attraction you ask?  A little history is probably in order . . .

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———–Don———-

I was turned on to Buffett’s music by my late, great best friend, Don Klapperich, back in the 80s when he was in Saudi Arabia, and prior to the common use of the Internet, we regularly  communicated by exchanging cassette tapes filled with music and patter.  Like most casual fans of music, I was familiar with the songs Margaritaville and Come Monday, but probably couldn’t have told you who sang them.  Don sent me a Buffett song called Somewhere Over China, a song with interesting lyrics that I asked him about, which apparently was his cue to start sending me more Buffett.  He did, and implored me to listen to the philosophical lyrics.

Philosophical lyrics?!!  To me, and perhaps to most casual fan of Jimmy, philosophy and Buffett didn’t seem to go together – what deep meaning or life lesson was I supposed to garner from “wastin’ away again in Margaritaville” or “having a cheeseburger in paradise”?  But between the songs Don sent me and the ones I subsequently purchased, I started to learn and appreciate the ‘Buffett philosophy’.  Now don’t get me wrong, he’s no Confucius or Descartes, but he is a fairly accomplished individual.

Serious Jimmy

Businessman Buffett

fun Jimmy

Balladeer Buffett

At 68, Jimmy not only still plays over 20 U.S. concert dates and several foreign locales each summer, but he is the head of a juggernaut business enterprise.  He has turned the brand ‘Margaritaville’ into resorts, casinos, restaurants, clothing and record labels, tequila and more.  You can thank Jimmy if you’re ever had a Landshark Beer in a Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant. He’s written numerous books and appears frequently on TV and in movies, and does a ton of charity work.  He’s a veteran pilot who occasionally ‘buzzes’ his concert parking lots, which are filled with partying Parrotheads, prior to his concerts in his seaplane, the ‘Hemisphere Dancer’.

So here’s a primer of his philosophy from the songs and books of this Renaissance man . . .

On a general philosophy of life . . .

“Searching is half the fun: life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party. ”

Hemisphere Dancer

‘Hemisphere Dancer’

On staying young and living life in the ‘now’ and not worrying about how you’re thought of after you die . . .

“I’m growing older, but not up, my metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck, let those winds of time blow over my head, I’d rather die while I’m living than live when I’m dead”

On self-inspection . . .

“We are the people our parents warned us about”

On keeping a good attitude when life brings changes . . .

“It’s those changes in attitudes, changes in latitudes, nothing remains quite the same.  For all of our running and all of our cunning, if we couldn’t laugh and if we weren’t all crazy, we would all go insane”

On being in the right place with the wrong person . . .

“The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful”Landshark

On birthdays . . .

“It’s just another trip around the sun”

On why you should travel . . .

“You do it for the stories you can tell”

On looking back at a full life . . .

“Through 86 years of perpetual motion, if he likes you he’ll smile and he’ll say, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.

On rationalizing a drink before the cocktail hour . . .

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”

104.3 WOMC partied with Parrot Heads at The Loungin On The Lagoon Beach party before the Jimmy Buffett concert at Comerica Park on Saturday, July 28th 2012 (Photo by Steve Wiseman / 104.3 WOMC)

Pre-concert parking lot party

From the mouth of Buffett . . .

“We’re all somewhere over China, heading east or heading west.”

“Yes I am a pirate, 200 years too late.”

“If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me.”

I will admit that most of his philosophical stuff gives way to Fins, Cheeseburgers, Volcanos and Margaritas during his concerts, and that’s OK, as having a good time is a very big part of Buffett’s philosophy, but in a rare quiet moment, I still enjoy putting in an old cassette tape and listening to Don introduce a philosophical Buffett song.

Fins up!

The Incredible ‘Earnie’ Earnhardt

by Bob Sparrow

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‘Earnie’ Earnhardt

     The window on being able to sit down with World War II veterans and hear, first hand, about their combat experiences is closing very rapidly (They are passing on at a rate of about 600 per DAY!). The window on sitting down with WWII vets who are as sharp as ever and remember everything is significantly smaller. I had that rare opportunity last week when friends Jack and Chuck and I traveled to the small, California high desert town of Llano (pronounced, Yon-oh), outside of Palmdale, where I was introduced to the incredible, unassuming Adam ‘Earnie’ Earnhardt. Earnie is 88 years old and is in amazing shape, both physically and mentally. He plays golf four days a week and has 8 Hole in Ones to his credit . . . so far! He makes award-winning jams (He just won 7 blue ribbons out of 8 entries at the recent Antelope County Fair) and gives them away – the three of us walked out of there with over a dozen jars of ‘blue ribbon jam’! He makes lots of other stuff too; he greeted us with some delicious homemade zucchini bread. When he’s not putzing around in his kitchen, he is an avid reader – he just finished reading Killing Lincoln and is now reading Killing Kennedy. He loves working on jigsaw puzzles (difficult ones), and he proudly displays his large collection of Playboy Magazines (He used to have every edition ever printed, but some were mistakenly thrown out when he moved). He laments, “The one with Marilyn Monroe in it was in the group that got thrown out. Damn, it’s worth about $5,000 today, not that I would have ever sold it!”. His younger years were spent growing up first in North Carolina and then in Pennsylvania; he is related to the famous Earnhardt car racing family.  He explains his leaving the south this way: “I had to move out of North Carolina to keep from marrying someone I was related to.”

B-24

B-24

     He was drafted right after high school in 1943 and was asked what service he preferred. “I told them I wanted to go into the Army Air Corp, so they stamped my papers and said, ‘You’re in the Navy’!” He lights up when you ask him about his military experiences. He fetched a couple of old scrapbooks for us to look through and talked about his time as a belly gunner in a Navy B-24 bomber. While he did on occasion fire the two 50 caliber machine guns from his bubble turret on the belly of the aircraft, mostly he was on unescorted reconnaissance missions taking photographs of enemy territory. His base pay was $21 a month. Flying out of Wake, Okinawa and Kwajalein, he flew missions over China, Korea and mostly Japan and in fact was in the air and personally witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. He attributes his inability to have children on the radiation he was exposed to that day. But in salty language, befitting a sailor, he says he never sought compensation for any disability and has little time for today’s whiners or those concerned with political correctness.

Honor Flight

WWII ‘Honor Flight’ attendees

     After the war he became a carpenter, but when it was discovered that he was an expert at reading blueprints, he was recruited to help build hydroelectric dams all over the world, which he did for the remainder of his working life. He was married for over 50 years; his wife died 17 days short of their 51st wedding anniversary, and although he lives alone, he has a constant stream of friends calling or stopping by his home that overlooks the vast Antelope Valley. He says back in the days of the Space Shuttle, he used to sit on his back patio and watch them land at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

Jam

‘Blue Ribbon’ Jam

     When asked about the secret to his long, active life, he says, “My wife said that grocery bills were cheaper than doctor bills, so we always had 3 good meals a day”. Of course I used to drink a lot of scotch and I smoked for 45 years, so I guess I’m just lucky.” It was noted that while the three of us sat for about a hour and half asking questions and listening to his stories, he was always moving, getting something for us to see – he never sat down! How remarkable to be active, relevant and so engaged in life at 88. Last summer he was flown back to Washington DC as part of the ‘Honor Flight’ that recognized and thanked the surviving heroes of WWII. Aside from being a hero, he’s just an all around good guy – a Great Ambassador for the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Thank you Earnie for your service to this country, for your example as a great American and for some damn good jam.

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A VISIT TO 1919 WITH A GIN RICKEY

by Bob Sparrow

1919 – 2013  First, let me thank all those who sent their condolences to our family for the passing of our mother; she was an iconic lady who, with our Dad, created an incredibly close and loving family. Sister Suzanne did a great job of writing a fitting tribute last week, as well as the accompanying obituary. As we went through our mother’s effects at her apartment in Sonoma, I was struck by all the things she experienced and the changes that she saw during a life spanning nearly 94 years.

Woodrow WilsonShe was born in 1919, only three months after the end of ‘The Great War’ – it wasn’t called World War I until we had another World War and started ascribing Roman numerals to them.  Let’s hope we see no more Roman numerals. Woodrow Wilson was president – she had seen 17 different presidents in her life, well, not ‘seen’ them, but . . . you know what I mean. The unusual thing about Wilson’s election was that he was the only presidential candidate to run against two previous presidents, incumbent, William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt who was president before Taft and wanted to try it again – Wilson beat them both.  Old ‘Woody’ got elected to a second term promising to keep us out of war, which he didn’t – hard to believe that a politician wouldn’t keep his word. 

Mom was born a month after the ratification of the 18th amendment – that’s the one that prohibited the consumption of alcohol. It wasn’t appealed until she was 24, at which time she immediately went out and ordered a Gin Rickey – a popular ‘highball’ at the time. A year after she was prohibitionborn, the 19thamendment, which gave women the right to vote, was ratified; never mind that it was introduced into congress in 1878, so it only took 42 years to get through that bureaucratic ‘good ole boy’s club’ – and you thought we have a ‘do nothing’ congress today. OK, we do. And speaking of ‘tools’, the toaster was invented in 1920, but sliced bread wasn’t created until 1928, which makes one wonder what they put in those new toasters.

model T Railroads were still the most common way to get around, but Henry Ford was changing that with the introduction of the Model T in 1908.  In 1919 you could buy one for about $350 – a goodly sum of money in those days. The Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk took place only 16 years before mom was born and the very first commercial flight in the US took place only 5 years before. It’s mind-boggling to think that mom could have met both Orville Wright and Neil Armstrong.

College football’s top team in 1919 was, are you ready for this? Harvard. There was no NFL or NBA; hockey did play for the Stanley Cup, although they didn’t play for it in 1919 due to a flu epidemic.  People spent their leisure time roller skating, playing pool, dancing or going to the movies.

Mom probably went to the movies before she was 8, if so, they were silent movies; ‘talkies’ didn’t happened until 1927. Vaudeville was still a popular form of entertainment and as a teenager I’m sure mom didn’t talk on the phone much, OK not at all; telephones were very expensive anddepression not even available in rural areas; most folks still relied on the telegraph to get a message to someone.

Mom was raised in the ‘Roaring 20s’, lived through the Great Depression, traveled from Marin County to San Francisco on a ferry since the Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t built until she was 18.  She was married with a 5 month old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

gin rickeyNo wonder mom used to just shake her head when she’d see a ‘smartphone’, a self-parking car or a wireless printer, about the only thing that hadn’t changed over the years was the Gin Rickey and maybe that’s why she loved them; it took her back to a simpler time and reminded her of all that she had experienced in a lifetime full of wonder. She did live in interesting times.

 

 

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THE DEATH OF A SAN FRANCISCO ICON

20130120-115021.jpgBy Suzanne Sparrow Watson

San Francisco icons generally come in steel (the Golden Gate Bridge) or concrete (Coit Tower). But sometimes they appear in flesh and blood and that is certainly the case of Vivian and Marion Brown, otherwise known as “the Brown Twins”.  The picture at left, in their bright red suits and trademark leopard coats, shows them at the height of their fame, when the world had discovered them.  But those of us who “knew them when” had known they were special for a long time.

In 1977 I started a job in the Financial District of San Francisco. It was a fun time – before über traders and panhandlers took over the streets. And, let’s face it, it is one of the best cities on Earth to experience quirkiness.  One particularly nice day I took a walk from my office on Montgomery Street up to Union Square.  Somewhere on Post Street I spotted two middle-aged women, identical in looks, dress and cadence. I did what most people do when first confronted by the Brown Twins; I did a double take, watched them as they walked the rest of the block, and then grinned from ear to ear.

Turns out that the Brown Twins came to San Francisco in the 70’s from Kalamazoo, where they were born and raised.  They were co-validictorians of their high school class and both went on to earn a teaching credential.  After three years of “that low-paying job” (as they described it), they moved to the City and became secretaries.  Except for six months of their life, they dressed identically every day.  They always lifted their forks in unison and always walked in lockstep.  Neither of them married, although they did date twin brothers they met at a twin convention back in Michigan.  The romances fell apart when Vivian and Marion unilaterally decided to switch dates.  The twins would spend the rest of their lives together – the pleasure of each other’s company was more than enough to provide them with satisfying lives.

Over the next 25 years I worked on and off in the Financial District and in all that time I never lost the thrill of seeing the twins out for their stroll.  Some people thought it brought good luck to catch the twins walking down the street.  Part of the fun of seeing them was watching other people spot the twins, usually for the first time.  The result was always the same – big smiles, looks of bemusement and sometimes a request for a photo.  The Browns never refused a request.  The picture below beautifully captures the typical “what the heck was that?” double-take that the Browns elicited:

 

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They eventually became so well-known that they were included in all things San Francisco: socialite parties, grand openings and civic celebrations. Everything except “Beach Blanket Babylon”.  The producers said they never included an act depicting  the Brown Twins because no two actresses could ever pull off on stage what the Browns did every day on the street.  The Browns hit the jackpot in 1988 when they were featured in a Reebock commercial.  After that they became frequent guests on talk shows and were featured in commercials for IBM, Payless Drug, AT&T, Dell, Apple and Joe Boxer shorts.  Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, was so enamoured by them after they shot the commercial for his airline that he flew them first class to London for a shopping spree at Harrod’s.

But like all things in our fast-paced world, the public lost its infatuation with the Browns.  They still strolled the streets of San Francisco, in their leopard coats but they slowed down.  Finally, last July, Vivien fell and was taken to the hospital.  The doctors discovered that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  Marian, ever faithful to her sister, had been trying to care for her on her own.  The sad truth was, like many elderly people, they simply didn’t want to be apart and didn’t have the money for adequate care.  The residuals and appearance fees had dried up long ago.

True to form, when the citizens of San Francisco heard of the twins’ plight, they came to the rescue.  Money poured in to help pay for Vivian’s care, from rich and poor, famous and not famous, literally from every part of the city.  People sent money for Marian’s daily pizza, some offered to drive Marian to visit Vivian each day, others organized fund-raisers.

But in the early hours of January 9th, Vivian succumbed to her illness.   She was 85.  Which means that for the first time in 85 years, Marian is all alone.  It’s hard to imagine how hard that must be for her, literally losing a part of herself.  I hope that she can take some solace in knowing that for many years she and Vivian brought joy to anyone who saw them.  For me, the Brown Twins will always be a part of what made working in San Francisco a cherished memory.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL

by Bob Sparrow

holiday car    No, this isn’t the counterpoint to my last post on all that is good about air travel.  In fact one of the reasons I have such a positive attitude towards air travel is that I don’t travel during the holidays.  Whoever created the phrase, ‘holiday travel’ took the fun out of two of my favorite words.  I love the holidays and I love to travel, but together you’ve got the beginnings of ‘the nightmare before Christmas’.  If you’re trying to fly somewhere the nightmares feature things like delayed flight, missed connections, lost luggage, sitting on an airplane next to a guy with reindeer breath and practicing your ‘Just what I wanted’ expression when you get that battery operated recycled toilet paper dispenser.  If you’re driving, the nightmares are about jammed freeways, road rage, kids screaming “Are-we-there-yet?” and the practicing of, “They just fit” when trying on those new glow-in-the-dark plastic socks.

     Gone are the days when we could just go over the river and through the woods toover the river grandmother’s house and enjoy some of her homemade Chocolate Chip cookies.  Today grandma lives in a downtown, high-rise condo, six hours away where parking is limited and expensive – and the cookies are gluten-free.

     Holiday travel, indeed.  Shouldn’t there be a term for ruining two perfectly good words by juxtaposing them?  I’m sure there are lots of similar two-word combinations that shouldn’t be joined.  Here’s one that immediately comes to mind; the word ‘love’ is one of the best words around and ‘child’ is also a great word, but put them together and you’ve got . . . a bastard!  Shouldn’t there be a name for these kinds of words, I mean paired words like ‘Civil war’ or ‘jumbo shrimp’ are oxymorons, so maybe we name words like ‘love child’ and ‘holiday travel’ oxybastards.

     How could they do that to two such beautiful words?  Etymologically speaking, the word holiday is derived from the words ‘Holy Day’, so the term originally had religious connotations, but today it seems that the closest any holiday comes to religion is when Travelersomeone says, ‘Thank God I don’t have to go to work today” or “Can you believe this god-awful traffic?.”  Holiday actually is a . . . never mind, what I really wanted to talk about was ‘travel’, because today in the mail I received the National Geographic Traveler magazine featuring their 2nd Annual Best of the World – 20 Must-See Places for 2013 – great reading for a raining Sunday afternoon where I can reverse the aforementioned oxybastard and dream about and plan a ‘travel holiday’.  There now, doesn’t that sound much better?

     I rarely think of those two words, no matter what the order, and not think of Bob Hope traveling half way around the world every Christmas to entertain our troops.  He started during World War II when he island-hopped throughout the south Pacific in 1944 to the tune of some 30,000 miles while performing over 150 USO shows.  He travel to KoreaBob Hope troops during that war (Sorry, conflict) and did shows in Viet Nam every Christmas from 1964 to 1972.  He also did Christmas performances during Desert Storm (1990-91) for the troops in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.  Bob Hope was a ‘holiday traveler’ for 50 years, going wherever our troops were stationed.  Now it wasn’t all toil and drudgery, he typically traveled in a troupe that included the likes of Ursula Andress, Anne Margaret, Carroll Baker and Raquel Welch, which for those too young to remember those beauties, today it would be like  having to spend Christmas with Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron and Salma Hayek.  Hope was known to crack, “I bring them along to remind the boys what they’re fighting for.”

 christmas-afghanistan-2011    There is no place like home for the holidays, but those who will travel and perhaps experience ‘holiday travel’ nightmares before Christmas, might be well-served to remember when you’re flight is delayed or the traffic is backed up and even when you receive that re-gifted fruit cake, Bob Hope’s amazing sacrifice during a time when he most wanted to be home and today’s service men and women all over the world who will be home for the holiday only in their dreams.

The Palm & The Pine – A California Story Part I

by Bob Sparrow

      I was recently made aware of a physical and symbolic boundary that screamed, “Road Trip!”.  It is a ‘landmark’ of sorts that I believe most Californians, much less those who live outside our state of ‘fruits and nuts’, don’t even know about .  It is simply two trees in the meridian of a highway that represent the mythical dividing line between Northern California and Southern California – and trust me on this one, there is a division.   As a matter of fact there have  been no less than 220 official initiatives, 27 that have been considered, ‘serious’, to separate California into, sometimes multiple pieces, but mostly in half.  It seems this ‘sometimes-less-than-civil’ war has been going on in California since the very beginning.

      The first secession effort was in 1854, just four years after statehood.  That attempt was a ‘tri-state-ectomy’ where the southern counties were going to be called Colorado, a name not being used at the time, but one that a group from the Rockies had called ‘dibs’ on.  The middle counties would retain the California name, and the northern counties would be called the State of Shasta – the State of Canada Dry had apparently already been taken.  That initiative lost momentum when everyone was more interested in finding gold than defining boundaries.

      The next secession attempt was five years later in 1859, but lost traction when all the paparazzi headed to the South covering another secession attempt, the beginning of the southern state’s attempt to break from the union and that pesky conflict that ensured.  With that, the California state-ectomy soon became back page news and Californians didn’t want to waste time on political posturing when there was a good war going on.

      Ironically, it was another skirmish that got in the way of yet another effort by Californians to subdivide the state in the twentieth century.  In 1941 individual counties from both northern California and southern Oregon were seceding, one each week, to form the State of Jefferson – a name probably inspired by the television show of the same name, but, alas, the Japanese were planning some sub-dividing of their own that year, which gave those in the entire country, and particularly those on the west coast, more important things to worry about.

      There was another major state-ectomy initiative in the 1960s – of course, what wasn’t going on to interrupt the status quo in the sixties?  Sorry, I don’t remember.  But hey, there was another war going on then too, so it must have been time to look at separating the state.

      The nineties offered up another tri-sectomy with a proposal of the states of Northern California, Central California and Southern California, which died in the state senate; I’m thinking it was because no one wanted Bakersfield.  As recently as mid-2011 the latest attempt to create the State of South California was laughed at by most politicians in the state; which was an ironic twist since we’re usually laughing at most politicians in the state.

     The reality is, over the last 150+ years, destiny, providence circumstance and various wars have prevented us from even getting close to bifurcating California.  So the trees have come to symbolize, at least to some, the cultural divide between Northern California and SoCal – see, even these two terms typify the different cultures.  So, you say, “Enough with the history lesson, what’s the story behind the trees?’

 Coming in: The Palm & The Pine – A California Story  Part II