THE END OF AN ERA IN MAMMOTH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

                        Horseshoe Lake

We just spent two glorious weeks in Mammoth Lakes, California.  Glorious because a) the house we were in was recently refurbished, which was a welcome relief from our TurnKey Nipomo nightmare, and b) Mammoth is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Just ask the Europeans – who were everywhere we went.  We thought we had outsmarted the crowds by going when school was back in session but we forgot about August being the “holiday” month for Europeans.  We met some delightful people from England, Germany and Holland but the downside was every restaurant, hiking trail and lakeside was packed with people shouting in a cacophony of languages.  Still, it is one of our favorite places to visit.  My husband has been going there since 1960, when the mountain only had five ski lifts and we’ve been going there together for 30 years.  The majesty of the steep mountains and peaceful lakes never fails to make us gape in awe at the gorgeous scenery.

 

                      Kittredge Sports

Over the years Mammoth has retained a small town feel.  Some might think it too rustic.  Mammoth is known for outdoors activities – fishing, mountain biking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.  Unlike many other mountain resorts in the West, it has had problems attracting and retaining high-end businesses.  For many years the local outlet mall was home to a Polo and Coach store, but both of those establishments have now closed and their spaces remain vacant.  The only new store this year was a sporting goods place that had the audacity (or bad luck) to open up directly across the street from Kittredge’s – an outdoorsman’s paradise that has been in business for 44 years.  We’ll see how long they last.  The largest employer by far is Mammoth Resorts, which runs all activities on the mountain and in the Mammoth Village complex.  The rest of the town’s population is made up of small business owners and those who are employed by them.  So one does not go to Mammoth to “see and be seen” or to rub elbows with the rich and famous.  Frankly, one of my favorite aspects about the town is that I only have to bring a pair of jeans and a casual shirt and I’m dressed to go anywhere.  In other words, it’s been a great place for slobs like me.  But all that is about to change.

On August 4th a deal was completed for the sale of Mammoth Mountain to the Aspen Company.   In addition to Mammoth, Aspen will now own Big Bear, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, as well as some smaller ski resorts in the Sierras.  They have big plans for Mammoth, although exactly what changes they’ll make have not been spelled out.  We were curious as to how the local population felt about the acquisition so we engaged in some conversations with people who have been around Mammoth a long time.  The opinions could not be more diverse.  For those who work for Mammoth Resorts – whether on the mountain, the Village stores and hotels or the golf course, they look forward to the infusion of money from Aspen.  They cited broken toilets, outdated facilities and general equipment that needs to be replaced.  Of course, they acknowledge that all of this “fixing” is going to come at a price and that price is going to be paid by the consumer. But hotel rooms and lift tickets are not the only thing that will be going up.  Since the announcement last spring that the deal was being struck, the housing market has gone berserk.  Normally one can find a plethora of deals on second homes that owners want to unload.  No more.  It’s a seller’s market in a big way.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin – the average person who wants to work and raise a family in Mammoth Lakes.  Rents have skyrocketed, forcing many people to find housing elsewhere.  One guy who manages the pet store said he felt fortunate to sign a three year lease, even if it was for a lot of money.  Many workers now are living in their cars.  Mammoth has pledged to build more affordable housing, but the sheer geographic limitations make that a remote prospect. We found many people worried about the effect of Aspen marketing to the “rich and famous”, driving out the very people who have made Mammoth such a relaxed and low-key place to visit.  It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

                  Schat’s Cakes

I’m hoping that some of our favorite “haunts” will not be affected.  Burger’s Restaurant offers the best burger anywhere – it’s always our first dinner when we arrive in town.  The Stove is a wonderful place for breakfast – assuming you can get in, as the lines are always long.  It’s the type of place that serves your water in a jelly glass and has wooden benches for seating.   And then there is Schat’s Bakery.  I don’t know how long they’ve been in business but I first salivated at their goodies 30 years ago.  They are renowned for their Basque Sheepherder’s bread and the fresh turkey sandwiches they make, carving an average of 19 large turkeys every day.  But somehow I’ve always been more attracted to their desserts.   To enter their pastry area is to enter Heaven itself.  The photo I’ve included is only one of six display cases.  I can gain weight just standing in line.

I don’t know how Mammoth is going to change in the coming years but I’ll say this: if they do anything that results in the closure of Schat’s they are going to have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Tahoe Family Tribute

by Bob Sparrow

pm

Dad’s Martini and Mom’s Gin Ricky

Part of our annual ritual is to bring cocktails to Mom and Dad. The drinks sit on the rock that their ashes surround. The drink on the left is for Dad, a great Martini lover (processed olives compliments of Don Spradling), the drink on the right is for Mom, who loved a Gin Ricky.

Jack and Barbara Sparrow lived in interesting times. They were born at the start of and at the end of WWI respectively, lived through the Roaring 20’s, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Psychedelic 60’s, the Viet Nam War, the Gulf War (Gosh we’ve been involved in a lot of wars!), the ‘dot.com’ boom, a new millennium and 17 presidents. They fortunately have not had to endure the election process of our next president! Throughout the majority of their married years, they were a harbinger of future married couples to come, as they both worked outside the home.  When they bought the Novato Advance in 1940 they were the youngest (26 and 21) newspaper publishers in California.  After they sold the paper Dad started his own commercial printing business and Mom became the executive secretary for the superintendent of school.  They were alway very active in a variety of charities in Novato and throughout Marin County – AND they managed scan0105 to raise three pretty good kids, even if I do say so myself. OK, two out of three!

Our annual Tahoe tribute trip in October, which unfortunately Suzanne and Al were unable to make this year due to their travel schedule, is a time to visit North Lake Tahoe when most of the tourists have gone home; it’s a time to revel in the beautiful fall days and cool, crisp evenings and it’s a time to enjoy family in a place that has so much history for us. It is also a time to reflect on our Mom and Dad as we pay tribute to them at their final resting place with such a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe. Dad’s ashes have been there since 2001, Mom joined him in 2014.

 

calneva

The ‘Rat Pack’ at CalNeva

The connection to Lake Tahoe came from Dad’s best friend, Dick Schieck, a life-long bachelor, who adopted our family as his own and who was like a combination of another father and older brother to us. He bought a cabin at the north end of the lake in 1951 for $4,600 that became our primary summer and winter vacation destination for the next 20 years. In the early days the trip from Novato to Lake Tahoe on a two-lane road took about 6 hours, longer if you got behind a P.I.E. truck going over Donner Summit. It was when the gambling resort, CalNeva, where Frank Sinatra was once a part owner, drew the top entertainment in the land. But the classiest place at the north end of the lake was The North Shore Club where Dad and Dick would dress in coat and tie (minimum dress standard; tuxedos were not uncommon) and Mom in a formal cocktail dress on a Saturday night and go there for a night of gambling, dining and dancing to a live band.

sunnyside

Classic Chris Craft in front of Sunnyside

Our parents introduced us to what is now a trendy destination for haut cuisine and designer martinis, Sunnyside Resort & Restaurant, but was just a house with a liquor store and a bait shop attached to it when we first started going there as kids to fish off the pier with a drop line. We were also introduced to Squaw Valley, when it had only one chair lift, several years before it was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic. Dad and Dick also introduced us to the best way to get rid of a hangover (a malady we were introduced to later in life) – go jump in that ice-cold lake!

To continue the legacy, over the years we have introduced ‘the Lake’ to our kids and grand kids and I’m sure have bored them with endless stories about ‘the good old days’. The Lake, while a lot more populated, is still beautiful and the memories we have of it going from a remote mountain get-away to the popular summer and winter destination are simply magical. Thank you Mom and Dad . . . and Dick.

THE LYRICS OF OUR YOUTH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

45's - remember those?

45’s – remember those?

T.S. Eliot once said that April is the cruelest month.  Perhaps that is so, but this year it seems that January is vying for that ignominious honor.  In addition to the cold winter storms hammering both coasts, and the plummeting stock market, we also seem to be losing icons of the entertainment industry at an alarming rate.  Pat Harrington, Dan Haggerty, Alan Rickman, and Wayne Rogers to name but a few.  Perhaps the greatest loss has been experienced in the music world – most notably Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and David Bowie of, well, David Bowie.   For those of us of a certain age, it seems that with each death a bit of our youth gets taken away.  I got to thinking about that the other day as I was listening to a tribute to Mr. Frey.  The radio host played “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and I was instantly transported back to 1972, remembering exactly where I was living and the beat up record player on which I played their LP.

Summer Place

I don’t know about you, but I can bookmark my younger days by the singers and songs of the era.  In 1964, I was standing waiting for the school bus when everyone’s transistor radios began playing a song from a new group: the Beatles, singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.  Just to illustrate why I never became a record producer, I remember turning to my girlfriend and saying I thought the lyrics were stupid.  So much for my ability to spot a trend.  But somehow that first exposure to the world’s most successful quartet is forever etched in my memory.  In the summer of 1966 I was at a party with a young man by the name of Greg Susser.  When the 45 of Percy Faith’s “Theme from A Summer Place” dropped on to the turntable Greg and I went out to the dance floor.  Mid-way through the song, under the starry skies, he leaned down and said to me, “For the rest of our lives, when we hear this song, we should remember this moment”.  Quite a romantic play for a 17-year-old with chin stubble.  But the fact is, for the past 50 years, every time I’ve heard that song I do think about that party.  It would be a more sentimental story if I said that we went on to have a great romance but actually I never saw him after high school.  Still…the moment is cemented firmly in my memory because of that song.   And in 1973, after a day skiing at Squaw Valley, I was in the bar dancing with a ski patrol member who was a new arrival from Germany.  The song “It Never Rains in California” came on and he whispered to me – “Do you mean to tell me it never rains here?”.  It seemed like such a ridiculous question, given that we were surrounded by several feet of snow.  Every time I hear that song I think about him and wonder whether he was smart enough to figure out how to get back to Germany.

A Legend

Legendary Glenn Frey

With the passing of Glenn Frey and David Bowie every media outlet has played their songs in tribute.  For the most part, I could place where I was when their songs were hits and miraculously, I could remember most of the lyrics.  Yet, if you threatened me with my life, I could not tell you the name of the book I read last month nor could I quote any passage from it.  I gave this some serious thought – why can I recall lyrics from 50 years ago but not remember anything I read last month?  I did some quick research (meaning I Googled the phenomenon) and found several interesting articles addressing the issue.  Clearly, I am not alone in my selective memory.  It mostly comes down to this: repetition and rhyme.  It turns out that our old piano teachers were right – the more we hear something the easier it is to memorize and ingrain that “muscle memory” into our brain.  Part of the reason that we recall songs from our youth is that we played them over and over.  Remember when your mom yelled “Turn off that darn record player, I can’t hear that song one more time!”?  Well, turns out, we were actually imprinting the song in the deep recesses of our memory.

The second reason we remember is due to the rhyming nature of most songs (think “American Pie”).  Our brains anticipate a rhyme, thus making it easier to remember the whole phrase.  For example, in the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb” the first two lines are ‘Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow’, so your brain anticipates not only a word that rhymes with ‘snow’ but one that can also be joined to that sentence in roughly the same amount of syllables or ‘beats’. This greatly reduces the number of available words your brain has to consider and so helps you remember the whole lyric more quickly.  Since we are programmed to remember song and rhymes better than prose, we can hum our high school fight song well into our old age.

At least now I understand WHY I remember old lyrics.  But I can’t recall the name of that nice appliance repairman that was here in October.  Perhaps if he’d sung a song I would stand a better chance.

 

 

A Tahoe Tribute to Mom

by Bob Sparrow

two glasses

Cheers to Mom & Dad in their final resting place

     This past week was an occasion for another family gathering; our ‘mostly annual’ trip to Lake Tahoe in October. We go in October to miss the tourists, even though we are technically tourists, we really don’t think of ourselves as such, since we’ve been going up to ‘The Lake’ since 1951. That was the year that dear friend of the family and lifelong bachelor, Dick Schieck, or ‘Uncle Dick’ as he was known around our house, bought a cabin about two blocks from the lake in Pineland, 4 miles south of Tahoe City. In those days it was a pretty sleepy resort area, the Winter Olympics had not yet come to Squaw Valley and the Silicon Valley dot com-ers had not yet arrived in droves to drive up prices.

     From 1951 on, every summer vacation and nearly every long weekend was spent at Tahoe, except maybe a few in the winter when Donner Pass, then a two-lane road, was closed due to snow. A few years after I graduated from college, my college roommate and I bought the cabin right next to Uncle Dick’s and in 1979, brother Jack bought a restaurant in Tahoe City and lived there for the next 15 years. Needless to say, ‘The Lake’ holds a very special place in our family history, which is why our parent’s wishes were to have their ashes spread there when they passed.

Tahoe Tavern

Tahoe Tavern – built in 1901

      Our dad passed away 13 years ago and Jack found the perfect spot for his ashes, in the rocks in front of a place we rent, high on a ridge overlooking the entire lake – it’s the most spectacular view of the lake I’ve seen. Our mom passed away last year, but because of various travel conflicts, we did not get to Tahoe last October, so we took her ashes up with us this year and placed them with our dad’s. Dad would have turned 100 this year, so he is celebrating his centennial by being joined once again by his wife of what would have been 77 years.

Mom 1939

Mom’s high school graduation picture

      As you may have picked up from our blogs over the years, our father was one terrific human being, kind and gentle as could be, always having something good to say about everyone and possessing a great sense of humor. He could make people laugh in virtually any situation. He also knew his way around a good martini. Mom was always the ‘straight man’, more serious, lots of attention to detail, a great businesswoman and the disciplinarian in the family. So of course her personality paled compared to Dad’s – everyone’s did. Her role was always having to be the ‘bad cop’, who could never threaten us with, ‘Wait ‘til your father gets home!” We knew he wouldn’t harm a fly. But she knew how to have a good time as well – she loved music, gin rickeys, and could party and dance with the best of them, and our dad adored her. They had such great times at ‘The Lake’, hitting old haunts like the classic Tahoe Tavern, sitting on the deck at Sunnyside Resort, before it was chic, and going over to ‘The Line’ (California-Nevada border) to dine and gamble at CalNeva, in its heyday, when Frank Sinatra was an owner and the ‘Rat Pack’ made guest appearances. Mom always dressed to the nines on those occasions, especially if they were dining at the very-posh-at-the-time, North Shore Club. But most of the time was spent just sitting on the deck at Dick’s cabin with the BBQ going and a gin and grapefruit juice in hand, enjoying the tranquility of this extraordinary place.

M&D

Together forever

     I always felt that I got my dad’s sense of humor (thank God!), but my fondness for music, writing and the arts came from mom. They made a great team and they made three pretty good kids – if I do say so myself! The three of us can look back and be thankful that we grew up in a wonderful time and place and in a wonderful home, thanks to both Mom and Dad.

It took too long, but their ashes are finally together in a place with an incredible view of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and a place filled with great family memories. They indeed are now resting in peace together.