By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Wouldn't this taste good about now?

Wouldn’t this taste good about now?

Well, here we are again.  The week between Easter and taxes.  I trust that you all enjoyed your holiday, whether it was Easter or Passover.  As our dad used to say, “I hope the Easter bunny leaves all his eggs in a Ramos gin fizz.”  I’m on a diet this week so I’m hoarding all my chocolate bunnies until I lose these last three pounds.  Then I will dive into them like a six-year-old on crack, regain the three pounds, and the cycle will begin again.  Those three pounds are as inevitable as next week’s “holiday” – Tax Day.

I’d feel a whole lot better about writing that check if I felt that my money was being managed by people who understood their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.  A couple of years ago a book was published about tax waste which did nothing to bolster my confidence that public servants are shepherding our monies in any sort of rational way.  Here’s just a few examples:

$30 million to help Pakistani Mango farmers: This was part of a four-year, $90 million effort to boost hiring and sales among Pakistani businesses.  During a time, by the way, in which millions of American businesses were going under due to the recession.

$765,828 for pancakes: Generally, I’m all for ANYTHING to do with pancakes but in this instance federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corp to build an International House of Pancake franchise (and train its workers) in an “underserved community.” The underserved community, however, turned out to the a toney area of Washington D.C. – Columbia Heights, which is termed “one of Washington’s more desirable neighborhoods.”


$10 million for Pakistani “Sesame Street”: Again, giving money to Pakistan, where we have trouble distinguishing the good guys from the bad and a country that somehow missed the fact that Osama bin Laden was living within spitting distance of a Pakistani military base for years. Because, after funding the Pakistani Mango farmers, the government felt it needed to spend $10 million of our money remaking big bird and the other Sesame Street characters into a show called “SimSim Humara” for the Pakistani market.


So, you can see why I might be a bit wary about turning my money over to people who make drunken sailors look like pillars of the community.  This confluence of bureaucratic incompetence and taxes came to the forefront for me this week.  As you faithful readers will recall, my best friend from childhood, Leslie Sherman, died last November.  Unfortunately, she died in San Francisco, which, as it turns out, is the worst place in America to die.  Her family has been waiting more than FOUR months for the results of the autopsy.  If you think that seems an excessively long time, you’re right.  The average time it takes to complete an autopsy and secure a final Death Certificate in major U.S. cities is 60 days.  Ellen Huet of Forbes did an expose on the Medical Examiners office in S.F. which uncovered the fact that they were operating under “provisional accreditation”.  In other words, they’re totally inept.  As a result, the city has hired a new ME who hopefully can provide answers to the untold number of families awaiting autopsy results.

Picture-of-Last-Will-and-TestamentTo compound matters, Leslie died without a will or other important documents in place.   When we were kids she never cracked a book or crammed for an exam and still got straight “A’s”, graduating from high school and college with honors.  Unfortunately, however, financial planning was not her strong suit.  So her family is struggling to sell her two homes, close out bank accounts, and take care of all other financial issues without either a will or a completed Death Certificate.

So, why am I bringing this up today, on this bright Spring morning?  Because there are some lessons to be learned from all this and really, as a public service, I’m going to point them out for you.

1.  Do NOT, under any circumstances, die in San Francisco.

2.  Get your financial house in order.  Write your will or trust.  I know, it’s hard to think about a world without you in it, but believe me, it’s the best gift you can give your heirs.  Do whatever your personal situation dictates, especially if you’re single, whether it’s ensuring your bank accounts have a Payable on Death provision to your beneficiaries or that you complete Transfer on Death  documents for your investments.

If you don’t do these things the government is more than willing to step in and claim your hard-earned cash.  In which case, don’t blame me if your money ends up going to Pakistani mango farmers rather than your kids.

A Tribute to the Tribute Writer

By Bob Sparrow

record breaking     I want to sincerely thank my sister for writing such a wonderful blog last week; it was ‘record-breaking’ – the most hits in a single day (nearly 400), the most hits in a week (700 and still counting at press time) and the most comments ever on one post (21 and counting); plus 3 more people subscribed to our blog!  Which we love!  And I’d also like to thank her for putting me in the position of having to follow that masterpiece!

     After reading and seeing the reaction to that post, I immediately realized that my blog ideas for this week, ‘Is that Grandma that got run over by a reindeer covered by Obamacare?’ and ‘Is the Grinch really retired and living in Palm Beach?’ seemed a bit trifling; plus I think my sister deserves to bask in her success a bit longer; so as any ace reporter would do in my position, I called her for an interview.  She agreed.

BS (that’s me): Why do you think this tribute to Leslie was so widely read and commented upon?

SW (that’s her): First of all, it is a reflection of Leslie and the great esteem people had for her.  Once she was your friend, she was your friend for life.  I think she found people inherently interesting and “collected” friends throughout her life.  She was always fascinated by people – what they did for a living, their interests, and their political beliefs.  She was never judgmental, even if she disagreed.  I think she absorbed everyone’s information and gleaned some portion that she could relate to and then built a friendship on that.  As someone said, she had a knack for making everyone feel that they were her best friend.92730032

The second reason I think people responded to it is that, at some level, people can relate to losing someone special.  We got a lot of comments and they ran the spectrum from “I also have a childhood friend that I cherish” to “I haven’t talked with my childhood friend in a long time and this has prompted me to call.”

A third reason is that friends and family members ‘shared’ the blog on social media with their friends, something we’re always happy about when our reader like or appreciate what we’ve written.

BS: What is it about the special relationship you had with Leslie that you remember the most?

SW: I think that the first friends you make outside of your family are ones that make the greatest impression.  Remember,tribute Leslie and I met when we were seven years old.  Now it seems like we were still babies, although she was smart enough to swindle me with the soap!  We became part of each other’s family.  Both of our mother’s took to praising – and correcting – us as if we were her own daughter.  As kids, there weren’t a lot of distractions so our time was spent in each other’s bedrooms playing games, running around outside in the open fields, or our weekend walks to the Five and Dime.  I couldn’t tell you what we ever talked about but what sticks with me is the closeness that we had.  We told each other everything and even into adulthood we were always very honest with each other – there were no pretenses or “putting a good face” on anything.  She had my back and I had hers, so we really were like sisters.

BS: You’ve written several tributes and they’ve all been well received; why do you think they resonate so well with our readers?

SW: I think that often times we don’t get the full picture of someone from an obituary.  Obituaries, which are more factual in nature, typically tell what the person did; a tribute conveys who the person was.  Plus, with the advent of social media, a tribute can be seen by far more people than an obituary in a newspaper would allow.  I started doing tributes a few years ago when a friend died and did not have any survivors.  I thought it was important that her life be recognized in some way and that people get a full picture of who she was.  I always like to tell stories and include pictures so that anyone reading them, whether they knew the person or not, comes away with an appreciation for how special the person was.

Tahoe_1965 (2)

Leslie & Suzanne, both 15, with Mom & Dad at Tahoe

BS: You make a good point about the difference between an obituary and a tribute. Have you ever written a tribute about someone still living? The reason I ask is that Linda put together what amounted to be a ‘living tribute’ for her father last year, who was turning 90. The idea was to gather family and friends together while he was still alive to show and tell him how much he was loved.

SW: Yes, I’ve written several tributes for people still living and I agree, I think Leslie would have been blown away by the wonderful comments that people have made about her.  I wish that she was here to read them. I think a ‘living tribute’ is a way to let people know how special they are when they are still around to hear it.

BS: I’ll ask this next questions with some trepidation; now that our readers have confirmed that you are one terrific tribute writer, do you think they’ll be asking you to write their next tribute?

SW: I do this because  I love it, almost as much as my dog, Dash.  We’ll see what the future brings.  For now, I’m just happy that Leslie’s family and friends were able to get a better insight into her early life.

BS: Well said, thanks for the interview Sis

SW: You’re most welcome; does this mean it’s my turn again to write next week?

BS: Maybe.  Merry Christmas!



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In the spring of 1957 a housing development rose like an oasis in the field across from our parent’s home.  Twenty mid-century homes were built, complete with aqua appliances and pink tile bathrooms.  I was the only girl under age 10 in our neighborhood so I anxiously awaited their completion, hoping that a girl would move in.

Leslie, at age 10

Leslie, at age 10

For months I watched new families arrive in the neighborhood, but, alas, there were no girls in sight.  Then one summer day a 1956 Studebaker station wagon pulled into the driveway at 48 Madeline Court and it was filled with children.  I dashed over to the car and saw a girl my age.  She was leaning out of the rear window so I ventured up and introduced myself to the person who would become my lifelong friend … Leslie Sherman. She seemed friendly enough, explaining that they had driven across country from New Jersey.  Then she suddenly whipped around, picked up a small bar of hotel soap and asked if I’d like to buy it for a nickel.  Would I???!!!!  I was so excited to have a potential friend move in right across the street that I would have paid a whole dollar!

Before I could fish a nickel out of my pocket, Leslie’s mom discovered her daughter’s entrepreneurial scheme. Naturally, she was mortified that the Sherman’s introduction to the neighborhood consisted of Leslie hawking free hotel soap to anyone foolish enough to buy it.  Like me.  But that first transaction, when we were both 7 years old, became the basis of our friendship.  We laughed about it in almost every conversation for the rest of our lives; I always chastised her for trying to swindle me, while she chided me for being stupid enough to actually pay for free soap.

Despite that rather shaky beginning, from that moment on we became fast friends.  Each day on our half-mile walk to school and back we shared secrets and plotted adventures.  In retrospect, we really couldn’t have been more different. She was as bright as a penny, excelling in every subject.  Let’s just say … I did not.  Social skills, however, were not her strong suit, while I was gregarious and outgoing  She liked cats, I liked dogs.  She was a Camp Fire Girl, I was a Girl Scout. My idea of a fun game was paper dolls; she liked to play in the dry creek bed with bugs. She was book smart, clear-headed and logical; I was street smart, emotional and impulsive .   But somehow, it just worked.  I think we both admired in each other the traits we didn’t possess.

We became inseparable, sharing all the silly things that young girls do.  The high point of every Saturday was getting our twenty-five cent allowance and walking a mile to the Five and Dime at Nave Shopping Center.  We would spend an hour poring over our choices of candy bars and comic books.  Even there we differed; she would read about the adventures of Superman and I would laugh with Archie and Veronica.

As pre-teens we enjoyed our annual summer trip into San Francisco with her dad.  He would take us to lunch at the Cathay House in Chinatown and then to Blum’s on Union Square for hot fudge sundaes.  Looking back, his tolerance knew no bounds, for in later years he also took us to Peter, Paul and Mary concerts in the City two years running and patiently waited for us in the car while we listened to what he referred to as “yowling”.

1967 - the year of the Vietnam discussion at Tahoe

1967 – the year of the Vietnam discussion at Tahoe

My parents took her on every family vacation to Lake Tahoe, where we made memories in sunshine and snow.  We loved it when my parents would go out to dinner and leave us at the cabin with Swanson’s TV dinners and a television set with rabbit ears that got ONE station from Reno.  We would lie in bed, watching that old TV and laugh until our stomachs hurt.

As we got into high school we accumulated more friends, but never to the exclusion of each other and her trips to Tahoe with our family continued.  In the summer of 1967 we were on the beach in Tahoe City (Leslie reading TIME and me perusing Seventeen) when two boys wandered over.  I was thrilled – until Leslie launched into a discussion of the Vietnam War, the “domino theory” and stemming the tide of communism in Southeast Asia.  Needless to say, the boys were quickly overwhelmed and made a speedy exit. I just shook my head – there was no changing her.

Later that year she suffered injuries that would plague her for the rest of her life.  She was spending the night at my house, listening to the Beatles and eating junk food.  We ran out of potato chips and TAB so she decided to walk to the corner store for more provisions .  When too much time had passed and she hadn’t returned, I ran down the block.  The street was cordoned off  and police lights were flashing.  She had been hit by a car, catapulting her into the windshield, injuring her head, back and hips.

After high school we went off to college and our paths varied.  As the years passed, we both rounded off our edges.  She became more social and I became smarter.  We both had good careers and were lucky enough to work in San Francisco and would occasionally meet for lunch. Without fail, we always contacted each other on birthdays and at Christmas.  Although we didn’t see each other often, we kept up enough to know what was going on in each other’s life.

Leslie, at our 20th high school reunion

Leslie, at our 20th high school reunion

Last August, she called on my birthday only to discover that I had chickenpox.  She burst out laughing – “How could you not have had them when I did?  We were together every day!”  She made me laugh too, just listening to her hearty guffaw. She updated me on her recent activities – she was full of plans for the future.  Then she began to reminisce about the good times of our childhood.  For some reason, she just needed to talk that day.  We spent more than an hour on the phone, laughing and remembering. I am grateful that we each ended the conversation by saying “I love you”.

Because on November 21, suddenly and without warning, she died of a massive internal infection.   I did not find out about it until last week because, true to form, the passwords to the address book on her computer were in Greek and Latin.  I have had a difficult time reconciling myself to a world without her in it. Certainly it is a dimmer place without her dry wit, keen intelligence and loving nature.  Personally, my life will now be different.  She was the touchstone to my childhood, the only person with whom I could share memories about the neighborhood, our teenage pranks and our early hopes and dreams.

I’ve made a lot of friends since that first fateful meeting in 1957, but no one ever replaced my first best friend.  Now she is gone and the space in my heart where she once resided is empty. I take solace in knowing that she is free of pain, undoubtedly somewhere hawking soap to the unsuspecting masses.  And laughing.  Definitely laughing.