<

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.

 

God’s Waiting Room is Empty

by Bob Sparrow

God’s Waiting Room

‘God’s Waiting Room’ is the euphemistic phrase for where people 65 and over used to go to live while they were waiting to die. But the ‘Baby Boomers’ have done it again! They’ve changed everything. They’ve emptied the waiting room.   Now 65 year olds are summiting mountains, jumping out of airplanes and running marathons. From the time the 78 million ‘Boomers’ were born (1946 -1964) they’ve had it their way. They were the first generation to be raised in the presence of television, which gave marketers easy access to millions of people who were now no longer just compared to the people around them, they were exposed and compared, to the entire world. So what did the Boomers do? They raised their game, they wanted it all, they demanded the best. They couldn’t always afford the best, so, unlike their parents who always saved before they purchased an expensive item, they popularized the credit card. Now, as the first of the ‘Boomers’ turned 70 last year, they are changing the ‘Golden Years’.

Previous generations looked forward to finishing their 30-year career with the same company, retiring at 65 with a gold watch and living maybe another 8-10 years before cashing in their chips. Today at 65, we find Boomers starting their own companies, buying their own Apple watch and heading to the cashier’s window to buy more chips. They have literally changed the way to do almost everything; certainly they’ve changed how we think about aging.

Boomers are ‘all in’

But to be fair, and just to help keep the Boomers humble, there have been some pretty successful ‘senior citizens’ throughout history. The following accomplishments are true, the parenthetical comments that follow are mine and subject to not being true.

  • Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 70 (He actually thought he was picking up the lunch tab for a few of his cronies)
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt didn’t buy his first railroad until he was 70 (He then gave it to his son for Christmas along with a track that circled Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree)
  • Omkali Singh is the oldest woman to give birth at 70 (Her baby was 46 when he was born)
  • Clothing designer Calvin Klein, cast Lauren Hutton in an underwear ad when she was 73 (They actually cast her when she was 70, but it took her three years to get the underwear on).
  • At 77 John Glenn became the oldest person in space (He was the one that left his right-hand turn signal blinker on as he orbited the earth)
  • 80 year old Yuichiro Miura is the older person to summit Mt. Everest (I had to use oxygen just to type that!)
  • At 92 Paul Spangler finished his 14th marathon (He finished both first and last in his age group)
  • When George Burns was 94, he performed on the New York stage where he first began his career (He told the same jokes at both performances without the risk of anyone having heard them before)
  • Nola Ochs became the oldest person to receive a college degree – she was 94 (She’s currently looking for a job)
  • Retired Lt. Col. James C. Warren is a former navigator of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviator in the U. S. armed forces. At the age of 87, he became the oldest person in the world to receive his pilot’s license  (However, Harrison Ford, 74, holds the record for oldest pilot to crash 3 times and still keep his license)
  • At 91 and 103 respectively, Doreen Luckie and George Kirby became the oldest newly weds (Rumors were unfounded that they had to get married)

Makes you want to quit reading this and get out of that easy chair and go do something, doesn’t it?  (But don’t have a baby!)

Still not Wastin’ Away

There have clearly been some outstanding accomplishments by those supposedly ‘past their prime’, but with Jimmy Buffett, who turned 70 last December, as their Pied Piper, I’m certain the Boomers will continue to show us a whole new way to ‘play the back nine’.

Post Script: If you find errors in this post, please blame it on my sister’s arthritis remedy – who knew gin was health food?!

 

THE AGE OF RAISIN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each decade in life brings new discoveries, experiences and, let’s face it, challenges.  As a teenager absolutely everything is life-altering and of utmost importance.  Parents are so unreasonable and if Johnny doesn’t ask Mary to prom she will just die.  In my case I wondered which college would overlook my mediocre grades and focus on my sparkling personality.  And it seems everything – and everyone – is embarrassing.  Unfortunately I had a truly embarrassing incident when I got a ride home from a boy whose affections I coveted.  I had just finished gymnastics practice so  I jumped in his car and sat – speechless – clutching my bundle of street clothes, waiting for him to ask me out.  He didn’t.  And to further my humiliation, when I got home I discovered that my garter belt was missing (yes, I lived before pantyhose were mass produced).  I panicked, sifting through my pile of clothes time and time again but to no avail.  The belt was missing and the only place it could be was in the car of my “crush”.  My  horror only increased as I imagined him driving down the main drag, my garter belt flowing in the breeze atop his antenna, signifying some sort of trophy.  The next day I walked warily through the school parking lot but mercifully his antenna was unadorned.  I never did find out what happened to it but my guess is that I dropped it somewhere between the gym and the parking lot, prompting the janitor to wonder what exactly had been going on in the senior quad.  At the time I was certain that my life was ruined.  Such is the angst of the teenage years.

College and early adulthood bring their own set of challenges to most of us, from drinking too much to careless career moves.  I remember quitting a job once because I was working for one of the all-time jerks.  My friends were appalled that I could have such reckless disregard for my next rent payment.  But with the confidence of youth, and a robust job market, I went out and found a better job.  As a bonus, the jerk was fired a few months later for embezzlement.  But it’s middle age when the glow of youth begins to fade and one realizes that things aren’t working exactly as they used to .  Infallible memories begin to falter, your chin begins to look like Jabba the Hutt, and everything becomes a blur … literally.  I maintain that poor eyesight is the greatest health hazard in America.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve misread the instructions on medicine bottles and directions on maps.  I have 11 pair of “cheaters” strewn about the house but when I’m out in public I can never lay my hands on a pair from the depths of my purse.  The grocery store is the worst since I do try to read the nutrition labels.  I invariably can’t find my glasses so I end thrusting my jar of Hersey’s Fudge sauce in a young person’s face to read the label for me.  I buy it anyway.  I swear sometimes I think that millennials are designing packaging with the smallest font possible so they can amuse themselves watching us Senior Citizens move our arms back and forth trying to bring the type into focus.

Now in the third phase of life a new “fun” experience is upon me and millions like me: arthritis.  That creaking I hear is no longer the floor but the joints in my back and knees.  After confirming the diagnosis in my spine, the doctor said, “Well, you know at your age, everyone gets this”.  Don’t you just love hearing that?  In any event, after a few years of trying to find some relief a friend suggested that I try gin-soaked raisins.  I thought she was kidding but what the heck, I’ll try anything that a) might help and, b) contains alcohol. So I did a little research and sure enough, there are whole websites devoted to the subject.   Dr. Oz even did a segment on its benefits.  The theory is the combination marries the anti-inflammatory properties of the gin’s juniper berries with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of golden raisins.  Yes, before you run to the pantry for your regular old raisins, apparently only the golden variety contains the right chemicals.  On my next trip to the grocery store I bought the ingredients and made up a batch.  It takes about a week for the raisins to completely absorb the gin.  Then, per instructions, I eat 8-10 a day.  Of course, there is the matter of “eating” gin first thing in the morning.  You may get some odd looks at the PTA meeting and, I’m not sure, but it seems my dentist was looking askance at me when I had my teeth cleaned last week.   But it’s been about two months since I started this regimen and my back and knees are pain-free.  Who knows?  Maybe my next discovery will be that zucchini and rum fix blurry vision!

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  In the mean time, I’m going to buy some more cheaters for my purse.

My ‘HOLLYWOOD’ Story (the hike)

by Bob Sparrow

Whoever said getting there is half the fun, never had to drive from Orange County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles during commute hours. Griffith Park, where my hike to the HOLLYWOOD sign would begin, is only 42 miles away, but it took me exactly two hours to get there. Yes, that’s an average speed of 21 miles per hour . . . for two hours!!!  I arrived with little time to spare before the hike began and with a little bit of road rage.  It was a harbinger of things to come.

Not our group!

Our small hiking group was made up of a couple in their 60s, we’ll call them Jim and Wanda, because I can’t remember their names, who just arrived the night before from England and planned to ‘do’ LA, Disneyland and San Diego in the next 10 days. Another younger English lady, Leanne, a videographer, who didn’t know Jim & Wanda, also arrived from England the day before and was headed to Vegas in a couple of days to video a wedding. Nice blokes all.  Our hiking guide, from the company of Hikes & Bikes, was Ryan, a 20-something aspiring actor from New York, who expressed his disappointment that Bernie Sanders isn’t our president.  Not a good start.

Our group

The hike started at 10:00 a.m. outside the box office of the Greek Theater; it was already beginning to get warm and the first part of the hike was all up hill. So it made it harder to realize that the tour itself was already rapidly going downhill.  We observed a humming bird close by and Ryan told us that its wings were flapping at a rate of 70 times per minute.  Not wanting to embarrass him, yet, as we continued up the trail, I sauntered up next to him and whispered that the hummingbird’s wings flapped closer to 70 time per second.  He was amazed!  As the trail meandered up the hill, the L.A. skyline came into clear view. OK, not clear view, this is L.A. but the air was not quite something you could sink your teeth into yet. I took a few photos of the L.A. skyline and as you can see, it looked a bit . . . hazy (the word ‘smog’ is not allowed within the L.A. city limits).  I went on Google Images to get a clear picture of the L.A. skyline for a comparison, but soon realized that there are no photos of a clear L.A. skyline!

L. A. skyline

The group was actually very fun, other than the fact that they were mildly interested in ‘Hollywood things’, (why else would they fly all the way from England to go on this hike?) so, once Ryan told them that he was in ‘the business’ the narration of the hike turn into the history of actors in Hollywood. Ryan was happy to field their questions as he handed out his business card with his ‘head shot’ on it and talked about his auditions and the encounters he’d had with famous actors and actresses, as well as how agents of actors source their talent and what certain movie stars were really like. This is stuff you typically won’t find when you search information about the HOLLYWOOD sign, and stuff that I wasn’t really interested in, but the Brits were, so I pretended to be amused that one of them told a story about seeing Tom Cruise get into a car.

The hike continued to the Griffith Observatory where we learned about the eccentric Colonel  Griffith J. Griffith. Yes his parents obviously had little imagination giving their son a first name the same as his last, and later he gave himself the title of Colonel as he was never in the military, much less earning the rank of Colonel.  To say the least Griffith was a ‘bubble off plumb’ as his history included a small incident of attempted murder of his wife.  One night while drunk, he shot her in the head.   She lived, although lost one eye, and after he served two years in prison (yes, that’s it, but don’t get any ideas about shooting your spouse, the laws have changed), she was there waiting for him when he got out and remained with him until his death 16 years later.  So her elevator didn’t exactly go all the way to the top.  But he made a fortune in the mining industry and gave the land for the park away with the condition that a bronze statue of him would be erected on the grounds – a small price to pay for the nearly 4,000 acres that now include the Griffith Observatory, Greek Theater and the HOLLYWOOD sign.

Griffith Observatory

During our brief walk through the Griffith Observatory we came upon a map of the LA area, where Waldo, er Ryan indicated some points of interest. Unfortunately being from New York and not really familiar with the territory, he moved Newport Beach somewhere between L.A. and Santa Barbara. I was going to correct him, but he was on a roll, and the Brits didn’t really care where Newport Beach was.

The entire hike took a little less than 3 hours and covered about 6 miles and if you were asking me for a recommendation, I’d say, do a little research – if you read Monday’s blog you already know as much as the guide – and do the hike on your own. The main reason is that this hike never really got very close to the actual sign. I thought it would be interesting to get a little scale of just how big the letters are.  The picture of our group above (not the one with no clothes on!) shows us at our closest point to the sign – if you squint and look closely into the upper right hand corner of that photo, you’ll see the sign.

At the end of the hike the English couple needed a ride back to their hotel, which I was happy to provide and even happier to turn the car towards Orange County and head home albeit through commute traffic.  The things I do for you readers!

If you like our blog please ‘share’ it on social media, if you don’t like it, mums the word

My ‘HOLLYWOOD’ Story

By Bob Sparrow

The acting bug bit me early in life. I remember as a child telling my parents stories with great enthusiasm that were totally fabricated. I remember just for fun pretending I was someone else and telling strangers that I was lost or abandoned by my parents, just to see their reaction. Basically I was a really good liar. I remember getting into my mom’s make up, but hey that’s another story. So from an early age I felt that I was a natural-born actor. After all my older brother, Jack Sparrow was destined to become a famous big-screen pirate and sister Suz, well, everyone said she was a drama queen, so it was in my blood. As a child I remember my parents discouraging me from acting; they wanted more for me. They wanted me to have the things in life that they could never have, they wanted me to be the first in our family to graduate with a degree from Truck Masters. I knew early on that I was going to end up in Hollywood; as a senior in high school, I remember sitting in my microbiology class or was it my molecular biology class? Whatever. I remember raising my hand to be excused to go to the bathroom . . . and I never returned.  I went down to the railroad yard and hopped on the Burlington Northern heading south to Hollywood and never looked back. It wasn’t easy for a kid in tinsel town in those early years, but after a lot of rejection and a few years of living under the freeway, I finally got my big break. The rest, as they say, is history.

OK, perhaps I’ve taken a little too much license with the ‘Bird’s Eye View’ philosophy of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, but I do have a HOLLYWOOD story, or more precisely, a HOLLYWOOD sign story. Last week I did the hike to this iconic landmark, but first a little history.

First put up in 1923

The sign rests on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains; the original sign spelled out ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’ and was erected in 1923, with the letters being hauled up the mountain by mule, as an advertisement for a new housing development. It was only going to be up for a year and a half, but with the Golden Age of Cinema and the movie industry booming in Hollywood, the sign, with the ‘LAND’ removed, remained in place.  In 1978, with the sign in need of much repair, the Chamber of Commerce got a number of Los Angeles celebrities to each pay for the restoration of a single letter. Donors included such luminaries as Hugh Hefner, Gene Autry, Andy Williams and singer Alice Cooper, who donated in the memory of his good friend Groucho Marx. The sign was restored with the letters increasing in size to 45 feet tall and all together 350 feet long – about the length of a football field.

As you are probably aware there have been a number of ‘alterations’ to the signs over the years, some authorized, most not. The sign has read, ‘GO UCLA’, ‘GO NAVY’, ‘CAL TECH’, ‘OIL WAR’, ‘FOX’ and several more, but the most recent was ‘HOLLYWEED’ which occurred in January of this year and was the second time the sign was changed to read like this, both commemorating passage of marijuana laws here in California.

It was time for me to see the HOLLYWOOD sign up close, so I booked a guided hike.

My HOLLYWOOD Story (the hike), continued on Thursday.

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

No, I’m not confused.  I know it’s not the first Monday in September.  Today is May Day.  A day that marks the unofficial beginning of Spring and, I believe, the time when weeds start outnumbering plants.  But in modern times May Day has taken on a completely different meaning and is now more closely associated with the rights of workers.  As with most things these days, my naïve memory focuses more on the former than the latter, with recollections of romping around the May Pole when I was in elementary school.  Actually, in Novato, California in the 1950’s we didn’t really have a May Pole.  I’m not even sure we had a Pole.  But each May 1 our rather imaginative teachers would festoon the tetherball post with crepe paper streamers and balloons and we thought it was magical.  We learned to dance around it, weaving under and over each other’s streamers, until we had completely smothered the post with our efforts.  Then we were supposed to reverse ourselves and unwind the streamers but instead it always ended up in a snarled mess.  Somehow through the years, at least in the U.S., we don’t celebrate the traditional way anymore.  Instead, over the past several days I’ve been reading about the “May Day” demonstrations planned for today so I got to wondering how we went from sweetness and light to tear gas.  In our continuing effort to shine some light on these burning questions today’s post is all about that journey.

As with so many of our holidays, May Day began as a pagan festival to celebrate the beginning of summer.  Yes, summer!  Spring started in February so by May everyone was ready to slap on some sunscreen and begin the summer festivities.  As Europe became increasingly Christian, the pagan holiday was dropped but May 1 was still celebrated.  Depending on the country, celebrations included either religious overtones (Catholics devoted the day to the Virgin Mary) or more secular observances, such as the Maypole dance, singing, and…CAKE!  I knew I liked this holiday.  Up until the late Twentieth Century it was also common to celebrate with May Baskets, which would be filled with flowers and perhaps some sweets and left on a neighbors doorstep.  In some cultures,  mostly in Britain, they also crowned a May Queen or the Queen of the May.  I can recall my mother asking me, “Who do you think you are…Queen of the May?” on more than one occasion so I assume the “queen” received very special treatment and probably didn’t have to dry the dishes after dinner. The crowing of the May Queen continues today in most British towns, with young girls donning flower garlands and leading the local May Day parade.  I’m guessing that gives her first spot in the cake line too which would be an added perk to the title.

But now on to the other May Day – commonly known in most parts of the world as International Workers Day.  The two days became intertwined in the late 1880’s.  On May Day 1886,  200,000 U. S. workmen engineered a nationwide strike for an eight-hour day.  The strike in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned violent when police rushed into the peaceful crowd and a bomb was thrown at them.  Seven policemen died and four of the protesting workers were shot by police.  It was subsequently known as the “Haymarket Affair”.  In 1889 the International Socialist Conference declared that  each May 1 would be observed as a day to honor labor in  remembrance of the workers lost in the Haymarket Affair.  Thus, in many parts of the world today is International Workers Day, or Labor Day, a day of worker solidarity and protest.  Over the past century there have been many protests around the world and in the U.S., most notably in Seattle, which has apparently become famous for coffee and rioting.

No doubt there will be many demonstrations today and hopefully they will all be peaceful.  As for me, I’m going to do my best Queen of the May impression and eat some cake.

Speaking of Elephants

by Bob Sparrow

An American tradition that has lasted more than 146 years comes to a close next month. On Sunday, May 21 at Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus ‘Big Top’ will come down for the very last time. And with it goes the threat that any of your children or grand children will run off and join the circus.

It was called The Greatest Show on Earth, of course that was before Tiny Tim or Charo created their shows, but it was indeed a great show. I can attest to that personally, but first a little history. The circus as we know it today started in 1875 when Phineas Taylor Barnum (‘P.T.’ to his friends) was convinced to lend his name and his money to an existing circus that soon combined efforts with James Bailey’s circus and purchased the first elephant born in the United States and later purchased ‘Jumbo’ which was advertised as the ‘world’s largest elephant’ – a fact they couldn’t prove, but no one could disprove it either. That’s sort of the way old P.T worked. You may remember P.T. Barnum as the person that said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Actually it was never confirmed that he said that and in fact, he was known to be very courteous to his suckers . . . er, customers.

‘Jumbo’

P.T. died in1891 and Bailey purchased the circus from his widow and continued to tour the east coast, until 1897 when he decided to take the act to Europe. A few years before that, five of the seven Ringling brothers had started a small circus in Wisconsin and when they heard that Bailey was taking his circus to Europe, they decided to head east, which apparently was circus-crazy. When Bailey returned from Europe he discovered that the Ringling Brothers were dominating the east coast, so he moved his circus out west in 1905. The next year Bailey died and a year later the circus was sold to the two remaining Ringling brothers.

As the circus gained in popularity and size, a train was needed to move the circus from city to city and it became a popular spectacle to see the train pull into town and watch the workers set up the tents and work with the animals.

In 1950 the train pulled into San Francisco when the circus was no longer performing in tents, but rather large permanent structure, so it set up shop in ‘the City’s’ Civic Auditorium. Our Dad and his Mom took brother Jack and me to the circus. I suspect that our Mom stayed home because she was pregnant with my co-writer. I remember a lot about that day and when I called Jack, who has the memory of an elephant, to ask him about his recollections, he happily filled in some of the details. We started recalling the things that we saw, the high wire act, the clowns (Emmett Kelly, the famous hobo clown was among them), a lion tamer, the ring leader in his top hat and of course, the ‘dancing’ elephants. We were amazed. To us, it was indeed the Greatest Show on Earth. You have to keep in mind that we didn’t have a television until a few years later.

The 5 Ringling Brothers

Through world wars, the Depression and various other wars and recessions, the circus endured and became part of our culture, part of Americana. But it’s easy to see why they are closing their doors, or tent flaps, now, what with their rising costs and dwindling attendance. With all the entertainment literally at the fingertips of today’s kids, the circus is too mundane, doesn’t move fast enough, too analogue in a digital world. I get it, but it’s still sad to see it go.

To Mr. Barnum, Mr. Bailey and to the five Ringling Brothers, you had an amazing run. Thank you for a great childhood memory.

If you like our blog, please ‘share’ it on social medial, if you don’t like our blog, mums the word.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Stephanie, Dana and Kristin

My brother has a backyard that should be the envy of every tropical resort in Hawaii.  No further proof is needed when you see his new profile picture on Facebook.  There he is, sitting under his palapa, amid lush greenery, holding a drink that has an umbrella on it.  Perfection!  I know that he and his family enjoy their back yard immensely (and why wouldn’t they?!) but last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a baby shower there that was, by far, the best celebration I’ve attended in the “Sparrow Tropical Gardens”.  Bob’s daughter, Dana, is eight months pregnant with her first child.  For those of you regular readers, you may recall that Dana is the one that has had multiple heart surgeries.  Three, to be precise.  So this baby was not easily come by and is all the more precious for it.   Last weekend Bob’s other daughter, Stephanie, and their best friend Kristin, hosted a baby shower for Dana and turned that verdant backyard into a pink, white and gray elephant-themed wonderland that should be on Pinterest.   The theme for the baby’s room is elephants. I didn’t realize that elephants were so popular until I went shopping and discovered that they are a thing.  There are elephant diaper bins, pacifiers, wash cloths, murals and pretty much everything else imaginable.  In my opinion, the best elephant in the room last weekend was the cake, a magnificent confection of fondant and icing.  It was truly a work of art and I worried that no one would want to cut into it.  But luckily Stephanie is  a girl after my own heart, who knows that good cake always takes precedence over art, as she sliced right through it.

                The Elephant Cake

There is something about baby showers that is so positive and up-lifting.  Not that wedding showers aren’t also full of hope, but I have the say the last one I attended had a group of women off to the side taking the over/under on how long the marriage would last.  Babies, though, are their own little miracles so we are all very excited about the new baby girl that will be here in a few weeks.   I love these family events, especially because we don’t get together all that often.  Certainly not as much as we’d like.  I loved watching Stephanie prepare everything with so much detail and Dana laugh and have fun with each of her guests.  It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating them coming into the world.  How did they get older when I didn’t?!  The whole event was spectacular, and true to form, I celebrated by eating TWO pieces of the elephant cake.  Just to be polite, of course.

I suppose every family enjoys these milestone rituals, where we all stop to take stock of where we are in the circle of life.  Which brings me to the other elephant in the room – the realization that my brothers and I are now at the top of the heap, generationally speaking.  I’ve heard people describe this as being in the family “penthouse” or at the top of the escalator.  No matter how it’s described, being the oldest generation brings with it lots of memories and a great deal more sentimentality.  So between my heightened status and all of the comments I received last week about getting rid of things, I had a revelation.  It dawned on me that I would be seeing all three of Bob’s  children over the weekend.  I thought about the family heirloom jewelry sitting in my safe deposit box, earmarked for them upon my death.  How silly!  Why wait until I’m gone to pass these things along?  So I traipsed down to the bank, pulled it all out, and then wrote each of them a letter about the provenance of each piece, the oldest dating back to 1892 and the newest to the 70’s.  So once the shower was over and it was just family and a few very close family friends, I read each of them the letter as I gave them their pieces.  Although there was not great monetary value to any of them, the sentimental factor was very high and they all appreciated knowing “the rest of the story” behind each one.  On the flight home I felt such a sense of peace – seeing their reactions to receiving these family touchstones was a highlight of my life.  Their tears and smiles made a lasting memory that I will treasure forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nationally Parked

by Bob Sparrow

Is that finger pointing at me?

Based on its popularity with our readers, Suzanne’s blog last week obviously got a lot of you thinking about antiques you have stuffed away somewhere that you inherited from your parents and haven’t yet tossed. Or you may be thinking about all the stuff you have that will become ‘antiques’ that your kids will stuff away somewhere until they get tossed. That old spinning wheel lamp of Mom’s got me to thinking about an old antique that I’m not quite sure what to do with . . . me!

You may have noticed that I’ve changed my photos on Facebook because I looked at them over the weekend and thought to myself, “Who is this guy?” He looks like a real adventurer, a regular Indiana Bob”. I think I vaguely remember someone like that, but lately he congers up California Fats. That person in the old pictures used to go on hikes to exotic places and travel to the far corners of the globe. Not so much anymore. As I sat and perused my previous blogs this year, I noted that I’ve written about bank robbers, sitting in the desert, watching the Oscars, walking (not running) on the beach, pontificating on heroes, eulogizing Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and proffering a ponderous philosophical tome on New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t gone anywhere!  I’m surprised I didn’t write about going to Nashville again, an adventure I wrote about last year, but didn’t actually go on. So I regrettably changed my photos.

Il Volo

Two weeks ago I did venture into Los Angeles, which in fact can be an adventure in itself, to see the singing group Il Volo. They are a trio of nice-looking, mid-20s Italian tenors, who made their U.S. debut on American Idol in 2011, not as contestants, but as guests, where they sang O Sole Mio. Their concert was awesome, possibly the best that Linda and I have ever seen, but the adventure to Los Angeles was without any muggings, murders or even traffic delays, thus my adventure consisted of simply sitting in a venue in another city.

My adventurous instincts were buoyed last week when I read that April 15-23 is National Park Week.  During those two weekends one can get into all National Parks for FREE. The 16th is Easter so there will be lots of tourists that day hunting for bear eggs and the 22nd is Earth Day, where we acknowledge . . . the earth . . . or something. The old me, or perhaps I should say the former me, which is the younger, thinner me, would have booked a hike in Yosemite or Yellowstone, but the new me is looking to Nationally Park my butt in an chaise lounge and watch the grandkids get frustrated trying to find the Easter eggs that I was too lazy to hide this year. I haven’t yet quite decided how I’m celebrating ‘Earth Day’, perhaps I’ll purchase a globe; on Amazon of course, so I don’t have to leave the house.

My newfound pastime of sitting also takes place when I’m plying my trade of selling Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (the old reverse mortgage, which I’ve heard had a bad reputation and my mother always said to stay away from things with bad reputations – I thus missed out on a lot of good times!) I really do enjoy working with my fellow seniors to help them with retirement financing when I can, although it seems to be making me heavier, but I’ve rationalized that it’s for a good cause. I have found that rationalization goes hand and glove with idleness.

The latest insult occurred recently when I stepped on one of those scales that print out your ‘fortune’, mine said, “One at a time please!”

But alas, summer is coming and my hip is fully healed (it’s actually been fully healed for about 5 months, but I’ve relied on it to limit my physical activity), so there are some adventures planned of which you’ll once again be coming along vicariously.   Once I’m feeling better about my increased activity level, I’ll post some more adventurous photos on Facebook as I’m not quite ready to go the way of that old spinning wheel lamp yet!

 

If you like our blog please ‘share’ on social medial; if you don’t like our blog please keep it to yourself.

NO ONE WANTS OUR STUFF

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Mom’s 1962 spinning wheel lamp

Four years ago when our mother died we had the task of cleaning out her one bedroom apartment.  We were so naïve we assumed that five of us could wrap it up in an afternoon and then spend the rest of the weekend partaking in some of Sonoma’s great food and wine.   After all, she lived in a retirement home where she received all of her meals – thus no laborious kitchen utensils, pots or dishes to pack.  We figured we’d just clean out her personal effects and arrange for someone to haul away the furniture.  Piece of cake.  Two days later we had filled 55 huge black garbage bags with stuff.   Our mom, who never struck us as a pack rat, had held on to every piece of paper she received and every photo ever taken.  Her five-drawer filing cabinet was crammed with both necessary documents and complete trash, the most striking of which was a drawer half-filled with address labels listing her former address.  She kept photos of undocumented scenery, made worse by fuzzy Polaroid technology, along with old pictures of relatives who were completely unrecognizable to us.  When the last of her 1962 maple furniture was mercifully taken away by her church thrift store, we fell into an exhausted heap and vowed to go home and immediately clean out our closets.

           Dust Collectors

Apparently we are not alone in this endeavor.  According to articles in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and several other publications, Baby Boomers are now dealing with getting rid of their parents’ possessions and simultaneously trying to downsize their own households.  The problem is…no one wants our stuff.  Our parents, shaped by the Depression and war, held on to everything.  They passed on those same values to us – to be grateful for anything that comes our way.  Especially if it’s free.  My first apartment was completely furnished with my grandmother’s furniture and I was thrilled to get it.  Now, the Gen X’ers and Millennials can cheaply outfit their living spaces with furniture from IKEA, Target or Walmart and achieve the clean, uncluttered look they desire.  Collectively they are rejecting knick knacks, sterling silver tea sets, figurines and power tools.  Instead, they take a picture of the item with their iPhone and keep it in the cloud.  Digital images don’t take up the space that old mahogany breakfronts do in a lifestyle that is mobile and  transient.  As a result, one of the fastest growing businesses in America is junk-removal services.  I shudder to think how some of my friends who collect things will react when their kids finally inherit their treasured accumulation of clowns, thimbles, and Corning Wear.  I hate to tell them that it’s all going to end up on eBay.

   Lenox Tuxedo for $5

So, back to my own resolve to keep the house clutter-free.  Last year I finally threw away my childhood scrapbook, a Junior Miss trophy, and my wedding dress.  I realized these items held sentimental value to me but were totally worthless to anyone else.  I’d rather throw them away myself than make someone else do it.  My latest idea is to get rid of my china, crystal and silver.  After all, my “good stuff” requires I cook a meal commensurate with its formality.  About a year ago I dragged it all out and had a sophisticated dinner party – beef tenderloin, hasselback potatoes, green beans almandine – the whole nine yards.  Between setting up the table and cooking the dinner, I ended up practically asleep in my soup, or wine – it all became a blur.  It was a bad night.  Clearly my formal entertaining days are over.  I contacted Replacements, the huge company that buys and sells fine china, about selling my Lenox Tuxedo.  They informed me they aren’t even buying the cup and saucers anymore but would give me $5 for the dinner, salad and bread/butter plates.  Not each – $5 TOTAL!  In turn, they are selling the same 1974 version of my pattern for $110.  That’s a profit that might even make the bankers my brother wrote about last week feel a bit like, well, bank robbers.  As for the crystal, a good friend just tried to sell hers and she told me not to bother.  She contacted a company that sells fine crystal on consignment and they admitted to her that they hadn’t sold ANY crystal in months.  “Nobody wants this stuff anymore”, he explained.  She’s now decided to use it everyday, figuring that if it gets broken or chipped it really isn’t worth anything anyway.

I do worry a bit about our collective valuables being so easily discarded by future generations.  I think the stories and family histories that are connected with these items should carry some weight.  I love that I have some of my grandmother’s crystal and think of her every time I see it.  But my brothers and I are the only people who remember her so the value to the next generation is not as dear.  I don’t know where it will end up but I will take a page from the millennials and capture it in a photo before I give it away.  After all, I love looking at the photo of our mom’s precious 1962 spinning wheel lamp, thinking about how proud she was the day she brought it home.  On the other hand, I’m glad it’s now in the cloud and not in my living room.