THROUGH MY FATHER’S EYES

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The “muscle man” at Tahoe

This Sunday is Father’s Day, a day where dads the world over are supposed to put their feet up, crack open a cold beer, and be catered to by their spouse and offspring.  For those of us whose fathers have gone to their great reward, it’s a day that can be bittersweet.  For our family that is especially true as we think about how much our dad would have rejoiced in the addition of Addison last week.  I’ve thought a lot about my dad these past few days while reading articles by authors extolling the virtues of following their dad’s words of wisdom – “be thrifty, finish college, don’t hit your sister”.  Okay, I made that last one up.  I thought about things my dad said to me that were lasting – life lessons, if you will.  Sadly, the only lesson he sat down to teach me was how to order the money in my wallet.  I remember the day, as I stuffed bills into my purse in a slap-dash manner, he took me aside and told me that I should always order the bills in sequence, by increasing denomination.  So the one’s went first, then the five’s, etc.  Actually, I don’t think we got past the five’s because I was 17 and had no money.  To this day, when I put bills in my wallet, I always think about my dad and the lesson he taught me that day.

But lest you think that was the only lesson I learned from my dad, believe me, he taught me more about living a good life than I can possibly relate.  He just did it by his actions, rather than words.  He was incredibly kind, hysterically funny and a joy to be around.  I met a rather new friend of his once and she commented about how great dad was, to which I replied, “Yep, everybody likes my dad”.  She gave me a startled look and said, “Oh, no.  Everybody LOVES your dad”.  But why?  A few examples come to mind, examples that have stuck with me all of my life.   I recall a time during my first year in college I had a friend whose parents were transferred across country.  She was lonely and missed their comforting presence.  One day when she came to visit she and I escaped to my room to catch up.  When we emerged an hour later Pop was walking in the front door with her car keys.  He handed the keys over to her and gave her a big hug.  After she left I asked him what he was doing with her car and he told me he’d taken it down to the local service station, filled it with gas, and had the mechanic top off her oil.  “Why?”, I questioned.  “Because”, he said, “I know that if it were you in that situation I’d like someone to be looking after you”.  In that moment he taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes – it can make for a kinder world.

Wearing one of Bob’s hats…and entertaining the crowd

Pop also lived his life with the utmost optimism.  He greeted every new acquaintance as if they were a long-lost friend.  Partly his demeanor came from being a small businessman in a small town, where word would travel quickly had he been rude or difficult.  But his happy persona was just natural – in any crowded room people always wanted to be around him because he always had a funny story and anecdote to relate.  My brothers loved this aspect of his personality, especially as everyone got older and my dad, well into his ’70’s and ’80’s, would continue to attract new friends, especially women.  When my brothers were with him in a bar neither of them could pick up a chair, let alone a date, but Pop always had beautiful women gathered around him.  He would laugh and joke with them, as my brothers tried to nudge their way in.  They soon nicknamed dad “The Chick Magnet”, but really he was the People Magnet.  He showed me that if you greet people in an open and friendly way, you will never want for friends.

A happy man with his favorite drink

I also learned a lot about giving back from him.  I cannot remember a time that he did not volunteer in the community.  For over forty years he served as a volunteer firefighter in Novato.  He was so revered that when he died the current fire chief drove a big hook and ladder up to his funeral.  He was involved in the school board, water district and the Rotary club, just to list a few.  When he retired and moved to Sonoma he decided that he wanted to help kids so he volunteered as a reader at the local grammar school.  Every Friday he took his classroom a big plate of treats (obviously well before the current allergy phobias).  He loved his “job” and they loved him.  One day he came home beaming because a 6-year-old girl had handed him the following note: Mr. Sparrow, When I grow up will you marry me?.   He taught me that sometimes the best reward you can get in life is giving to others.

I miss my dad, not only on Father’s Day, but every day.  We kids were so blessed to have him as a dad, to have grown up with someone so inherently funny and supportive of us in every way.  While I don’t have many “pearls of wisdom” to remember, I have plenty of actions to emulate.  So on Father’s Day, and every other, I do my best to live life through my father’s eyes.

 

 

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.

THE “OTHER” WINE COUNTRY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Beautiful Central Coast

The Beautiful Central Coast

Each year we spend some part of the summer in the Central Coast region of California.  It’s beautiful beaches, oak-studded hills and temperate climes make it the perfect place to escape the heat of Scottsdale in July and August.   Well, let’s face it, anyplace that has temperatures less than 105 is the perfect place.  But literally, the Central Coast has been designated as having the most consistent weather in. the U.S.  In the last dozen years it’s also become known for something else – wine!   The San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county wine-makers are giving their northern brethren a run for their money.    They have a long way to go, but having grown up in Northern California, I can remember when Sonoma and Napa were best known for dairy farmers and ranchers.  The Gallos were the biggest wine makers back in the day, generating their huge bottles of Italian reds that were cheap even then.  Once the Mondavis and Beringers began cultivating serious wine grapes, well, the rest is history.

On the Central Coast our ventures out to the wine trail usually take us to the vineyards of Santa Barbara County for reasons that will become evident later.  The first recorded wine-maker in the area was none other than Junipero Serra, who planted the first vines back in 1872.  I must say, between founding missions and exploring the El Camino Real, Father Serra was a pretty busy guy.  In any event, over the following 100 years the area gained  sixteen more vintners and grew to over 260 acres of grapes.

Sadly, during the Depression the Prohibition buzzkills burned many of these historic vineyard sites and mostly put an end to winemaking in the Central Coast.  Fortunately,there are always those that find their way around any ridiculous law so the passion for wine making was carried on by a group of scofflaws.  From that small seed, or vine as the case may be, grew the abundant grape-growing region that exists today.  In large part, the recent popularity of Santa Barbara County wineries can be attributed to the wonderful little movie, “Sideways” which was filmed in and around several of the local venues.  The popularity of the movie turned out to be a boon for tourism and local wine, especially the Pinot noir that the region is famous for.  (For those of you who have seen the movie I can attest that it is possible to get a bottle of Merlot here too!).

Fess, in his Davy Crockett days

Fess, in his Davy Crockett days

So why do we frequent the Santa Barbara County wineries? Because our brother, Jack Sparrow, works for the Fess Parker Winery.  Lucky?  You bet!  But we have a long history in our family of having fun retirement jobs.  When our dad quit his day job he worked at Sonoma National and then his local golf course as a starter until he was in his early 80’s.  Our mom, who was rivaled only by the Queen of England in her love for jewelry, retired from the local school district and worked at a jewelry store until she was 90.  Brother Bob helps people, which is his passion, in both volunteer and part-time jobs, and as a life-long fiber enthusiast, I have been lucky enough to work part-time in a knitting shop for 13 years.  But it is brother Jack who really lucked out.  He spent most of his career in the restaurant business, even owning his own place in Tahoe for a few years.  So he knows his way around food and wine (as opposed to the rest of the family that just consumes lots of both).

Jack, displaying his wares

Jack, displaying his wares

Ten years ago when Jack and his wife Sharon moved to the Central Coast Jack went in search of a fun retirement job.  He was hired at Fess Parker Winery and soon met “the man” himself.  For those of a certain age, we remember him best for his portrayal of Davey Crockett.   Jack spent many hours with Fess, hearing about his days in Hollywood and with Disney.  But it was Fess’ love of wine-making that captured Jack’s attention.  He absorbed all that he could until Fess died in 2010.  Now, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday you can find Jack behind the bar in the tasting room, regaling customers with stories about Fess, the winery and the wines.  Jack’s great oratory skills (we have another name for that in the family) are evident in the rapt attention that his audience gives him. Seriously, although I’m the one working in a knit shop, it is Jack that spins a good yarn.  My husband says that the most fun he has is sitting quietly in a corner of the tasting room, watching Jack work his magic.  It is no coincidence that he has been the top seller of wine club memberships for several years running.

The Fess Parker Winery

The Fess Parker Winery

By the time you read this we will be home inspecting our remodeling project and, thus, drinking lots of wine.  If your travels take you to California I highly recommend a stop in the Central Coast.   Just one warning:  if you go to the Fess Parker winery when Jack is working, reconcile yourself to walking out of there a wine club member!

 

 

 

 

 

PERFECTING “THE POPPINS”

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Martini

The Original

Those of you who follow my brother or me on Facebook know that last Friday would have been our dad’s 100th birthday.  For those of you who don’t follow us…it still would have been his 100th birthday.  He was a much-loved man, affectionately known as “Poppins” to one and all.  Whenever our family gets together we tell funny stories about him and do “The Poppins”.  What is that, you ask?  Well, whenever Pop’s martini ran dry, he would set the empty glass on top of his bald, round head, signifying that a refill was necessary.  He did it at home, of course, but also in restaurants, bars, and airplanes.  It never ceased to get a laugh…and an immediate refill.  So now that he’s gone, anyone who puts an empty glass on their head is doing “The Poppins”.

Last Christmas as the family was gathered at Bob’s house we talked about how we might turn “The Poppins” into a marketing tool for a liquor company.  We agreed that we first needed to make it a “thing” – kind of like Miley Cyrus and her twerking, only funnier and not disgusting.  We had a fun conversation about it and plenty of laughs and then forgot all about it.  But last week, on what would have been his 100th birthday, we posted a picture of him and requested that everyone  hoist a glass in his honor.   We got some amazing toasts but also received pictures of people doing “The Poppins”.  We thought it might be fun for everyone to join in so, really as a public service, herewith is a primer on how to do “The Poppins”.

1.  Start Simple – and Unbreakable.  This is critical.  No one thinks it is funny or cute to have broken glass and red wine spilled on their white carpeting.  So startphoto (4) slowly.  A plastic cup is perfect.  In fact in my opinion the Red Solo cup people ought to be jumping on “The Poppins” bandwagon.  Next, a little bit of liquid adds weight and makes it easier to balance.  Trust me on this.  At our dad’s memorial service I took a plastic cup up to the podium so I could demonstrate “The Poppins” to the SRO crowd.  I knew I was on thin ice to begin with and didn’t want to further annoy the minister by having the cup tumble all over the altar.  So I filled the cup half way with water.  It worked like a charm, although I think I am still going straight to hell after that stunt.  In any event, as pictured right, our good friend Marge Dunn sent us a picture on Friday of her doing “The Poppins” and she has done everything right – plastic cup for outdoors, still filled with liquid, and grinning from ear to ear.  Perfection!

 

Jeff doing the Poppins2.  Improvising is Key .  Sometimes, it is not just a martini or wine glass that needs filling.  As you can see from the picture at left, Bob’s son Jeff chose to do “The Poppins” at work.  Since pretty much every workplace frowns on consuming alcohol during working hours, he chose to improvise.  Smart boy!  A coffee mug is a perfectly acceptable tool and is also good for beginners.  My husband has been putting his empty coffee cup on his head for years now.  Long ago he figured out that whenever I saw him do that I would chuckle and think of my dad.  So instead of saying something like, “Gee, dear, why don’t you get up and pour your own cup of coffee?”, I gingerly pick it up off his head and toddle off into the kitchen.  I suspect he is secretly teaching the dog how to balance his bowl but I can’t be certain.

 

3.  “The Poppins” Masters.  Eventually, with enough practice, you will be able to graduate from plastic cups and coffee mugs to fine stemware.  This gets tricky and should be done with some amount of judgement (assuming that anyone who is putting a glass on their head has some judgement).  For example, if you’re going to your new boss’ house for the first time, I wouldn’t try doing “The Poppins” with their Waterford wine glasses.  However, I once was at a corporate retreat (“retreat” meaning 10 minutes of business and 5 hours of golf) followed by a small cocktail party, where I demonstrated “The Poppins”.  We then repaired to the hotel’s snobby dining room where the waiter apparently thought we were in a gulag.  No water, no bread, no service.  But…at the slight encouragement of my teammates, I put the very fine wine stem on my head and VOILA! the waiter came rushing over to our table.  So…”The Poppins” really does have some practical applications.  Two of the best practitioners of “The Poppins” in our family are daughter Wendy and brother Bob, pictured here.  You can only aspire to be this good.

photoBob doing The Poppins

It is truly a skill worth learning.  You will have fun, make people laugh, and get your glass refilled at record speed. What could be better than that?  So help us popularize “The Poppins” at your next outing and let us know how it goes.  Disclaimer:  Breakage, dry cleaning bills and humiliation are to be assumed by the trainee.

FULL CIRCLE

by Suzanne Sparrow Watson and Bob Sparrow

Barbara Sparrow

We are not able to write our usual blog this week.  We won’t be able to start your day with a chuckle, either laughing with – or at – our writing.  Last Tuesday, our mother passed away as a result of a fall that broke five of her ribs and …well, simply being 94 years old.  In a twist that makes you believe in fate, she was transferred from the community hospital in Sonoma to Marin County General.  When I heard that news I thought that maybe her life was coming full circle.  It was in Marin County that she grew up, met and married our dad, and then raised us three kids.  So it was only fitting that Marin County is where she would spend her final days.  And in another twist of fate, she died just one day shy of the anniversary of our dad’s death.  They were both huge 49er fans and we are now comforted in knowing that they were together to watch their favorite team play in the Super Bowl.

In tribute to her we are posting her obituary:

Barbara Whitman Sparrow, resident of Sonoma, California, passed away on January 29, 2013, just two weeks shy of her 94th birthday.

Barbara was raised in San Anselmo, California and graduated in 1936 from San Rafael High School.  Barbara attended secretarial school in San Francisco after graduation and over the years made good use of her education.

Barbara met her future husband, Jack Sparrow, at San Rafael High and they were married in 1937.  They moved to Novato in 1939 and in 1940 they bought the Novato Advance newspaperAt the time it made them the youngest newspaper publishers in California.  Together they performed all of the jobs necessary to write, print and distribute the Advance.  Barbara learned to use a linotype machine to help out, but her greatest contribution was her reporting of the town’s social events in her columns “A Little Bird Told Me” which was subsequently re-titled “A Bird’s Eye View”.

After Barbara and Jack sold the paper, Jack went into business for himself and Barbara pursued her own career.  She held positions at Crocker National Bank and the Novato Unified School District.

Barbara was very active in Novato civic organizations.  She was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Novato Community Players, and in 1950 was a co-founder of the Novato chapter of the Sunny Hills Guild.  She was a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, serving as the Northern California President for two years.  In addition she led Boy Scout troops and volunteered at Novato General Hospital.

In 1977 Barbara and Jack retired in Sonoma.  But retirement was not in the cards for Barbara.  She took a part-time job at Vineyard Jewelers and worked there well into her 80’s.  Barbara was active in Sonoma activities, joining the Sonoma Valley Women’s Association and the Sonoma Swingers golf group.  She was also a member of the  United Methodist Church in Sonoma.

Barbara is survived by her son Jack Jr. and his wife Sharon of Santa Maria, son Bob and his wife Linda of Orange County, and her daughter Suzanne and her husband Alan Watson, of Scottsdale, Arizona.  She is also survived by her five grandchildren Shelley Watson and Matt Sparrow of Tucson, Arizona, Stephanie Shomer of Glendale, Dana Borelli of Monrovia, Jeff Sparrow of Orange County. step-grandson Colin Watson of Walnut Creek and step-grandaughter Wendy Watson Topalian of Leawood, Kansas.  Additionally she was blessed to have great grandchildren Katie and Abby Watson of Tucson, AZ., Jackson and Madelyn Sparrow of Tucson, Dylan and Emma Shomer of Glendale, and step-greatgrandsons Matthew and Jake Topalian of Leawood.  Barbara is also survived by her brother Neill of Sonoma and sister Geraldine of Sun City, Florida.

Private services will be held by the family.  Memorial contributions may be made to the Sunny Hills Children’s Garden, 300 Sunny Hills Drive, San Anselmo, CA. 94960.

Welcome to ‘A Bird’s Eye View’

     Yes, you’re in the right place; you don’t have a virus; well, maybe you do, but that’s a whole different subject.  This is Morning News in Verse and you are either receiving this in your email (thank you subscribers, we love you) or are getting it through Facebook (we love you too, but it’s more like a puppy love).  Due to an increasingly diminishing number of requests, we’ve made a decision to change our format from mostly verse and some prose to mostly prose and some verse.  Our number of ‘hits’ tell us that it’s what you would prefer as well.

     We’ll still make fun of the Headlines, Money, Sports and Life, but only occasionally; rather, we’ll proffer samples of ‘A Bird’s Eye View’ of life-observations.  Sometimes our observations will be from the road, usually the one less traveled, and sometimes they will be from just around the corner.  Sometimes we’ll write about insignificant, Andy Rooney-kinds of things and other times we’ll offer observations on this process of growing older, but not necessarily up.

So let’s start with our new name, ‘A Bird’s Eye View’; it is, of course, a play on words of the name Sparrow, but it also has some family history to it.  In 1940 our parents moved to Novato, a small, northern California town, where our father, Jack (yes, Jack Sparrow, but no relation to Johnny Depp) bought the Novato Advance, a local, weekly newspaper, and at 26 became the youngest newspaper publisher in California.  It was truly a ‘Mom and Pop’ business – our dad hand-set the type and operated the printing presses while our mom, who could also operate a pretty mean linotype machine, attended the town meetings to gather the local gossip, or news as she called it.  She also spiced up the paper by chronicling the comings and goings of Novato’s social elite, such as they were.  Those familiar with small town newspapers know what we’re talking about.  Jim and Mabel Cranston were visited on Sunday by Mabel’s sister, Iris from Ukiah; she brought an apple pie – Jim had seconds.  Our mother originally called her column, A Little Bird Told Me and later changed it to A Bird’s Eye View.  When we recently asked her about why she changed the name, she first said, “Who are you two?”  At 93, we forgave her for not remembering the details of a newspaper column from nearly 70 years ago.  Our theory is this: etymologically speaking, ‘A Little Bird Told Me’ sounds like second-hand information, like we’re not sure if this is true, but we heard from someone that yadda, yadda, yadda. ‘A Bird’s Eye View’, on the other hand, seems to suggest more of a first-hand, optimum perspective of things.  Our mother could neither confirm nor deny our theory.

However the name came about, we’ve decided that it’s ours and we’re bringing it out of retirement.  We hope you enjoy our new direction.