AGED TO PERFECTION

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

John Goodenough

There’s been a lot written lately about the age of our President.  “Too old to run” is the prevailing theme. They are wrong – age has less to do with it than cognitive ability.  I have some insight and experience with this issue and what I’ve learned is that age cannot be generalized.  I’m tired of hearing age 81 referred to as “elderly”, as if that means that all people of that age are ready for “the home”.  There are people in their 80’s and 90’s who can run circles around people of any age.  And generally, they possess common sense – something that is a rare commodity these days.   As recently as 2019 the Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to John B. Goodenough, (who certainly was) for his work on lithium batteries.  He was 97! Is he an outlier?  Of course.  But then again, so are most Nobel Prize winners. He died last year at age 100, still working to improve the all-solid-state battery.

Over the next few weeks the Olympics will showcase young people at the peak of their physical strength and endurance.  They are the very antithesis of “too old”, although Simone Biles, at age 27, is jokingly referred to as the “grandma” on the gymnastics team.  But to prove that age is just a number, I went in search of octogenarians who exhibit that same Olympian standard of excellence. I didn’t have to look far.  Here are just a few:

        David Blaylock

David Blaylock – age 80 – won the USA Track and Field 100-mile Championships in his age group in a time of in a time of 29 hours, 47 minutes and 29 seconds.  I’m assuming that did not include any time for a nap.  His closest competitor, “Fast Eddie” Rousseau, of Minnesota, is 83.  Blaylock attributes his endurance to mental toughness.

Flo Meiler

Florence “Flo” Meiler – in 2022, at the age of 87, Meiler broke two American records in the High Jump and the Hurdles events at the USA Track and Field Masters Indoor Championships.  Meiler was not always an athlete, in fact, she admits that she used to indulge in French fries on a regular basis.  But at age 60 she began to work out and found her passion.  When asked how she works out six days a week and competes in events, she says, “You can do whatever you set your mind to.”

 

Johanna Quaas

Johana Quaas – has been certified as the world’s oldest gymnast.  Born in 1925, Johanna started in gymnastics at the age of 9, but then quit after WWII. She picked up gymnastics again at the age of 57. At the young age of 91, she impressed the crowds at Berlin with a stunning performance and flawless moves. In her words, “If you’re fit, it is easier to master life.” I think she’s right.

The Over-80 US Hockey Team – The U.S. men’s team won the Canada 150 Cup tournament in February of this year.  The team, led by 84-year-old coach Ken McKinnon only came together in the fall of 2023.  McKinnon loves to compete and encourages other older athletes to get in the game.  He says, “You can challenge yourself to get better and keep up for a number of years. It takes effort to go out there and do it, but once you get out there, you’ll have fun.”

Gladys Burrill

Gladys Burrill is sadly no longer with us.  She died in 2019 at the age of 100, but she is worth mentioning because she ran her first marathon at the age of 86 and then went on to complete 5 more marathons. At the young age of 92, she became the oldest woman to run the Honolulu Marathon. She credited her success to eating healthy and exercising.  Shoot – I’m out of breath walking from the bedroom to the kitchen!

There are many more examples I could cite, but you get the point.  In reading about these master athletes I noticed one common trait – mental toughness.  I think all of them believe that despite their age, they can do anything.  The narrative about age needs to shift, so we assess cognitive ability and dispose of the age-old canard that someone is “too old” to be successful in their endeavors. As for me, I plan on eating cake until a ripe old age.

Hawaiian Cruising & Golf Adventure

by Bob Sparrow

View from our room at Hylton Hawaiian Village Hotel

I’m coming to you this week from Hawaii.  Linda and I, along with long-time friends and neighbors, Mark & Kathy Johnson, departed for our 50th state on July 4th.  We are on a ‘golf cruise’, called Golf Ahoy on Norwegian Cruise Line; the cruise includes time in Waikiki and golf on Maui, The Big Island and Kauai.

We arrived on Oahu on the afternoon of July 4th, and headed to the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach, where we caught some Independence Day fireworks.  It was the first time Linda and I had spent any time on Oahu since our honeymoon nearly 45 years ago.  We enjoyed a great 4th of July dinner at Aoki Teppanyaki, with a most talented and humorous chef, then stopped at the Tapa Bar for a night cap, which is conveniently located crawling distance to the elevator to our room on the 14th floor.

Friday morning Linda and I were picked up for our tour of Pearl Habor (the Johnson had already been there, done that).  As expected, it was an informative and moving experience, starting with our bus driver/tour guide, who was full of amazing facts surrounding the events leading up to the Japanese surprise attack.  Once on-site, we saw a short movie on Pearl Harbor, toured the museum, and then I went on a separate tour on site (Linda’s claustrophobia prevented her from joining me) that was of the USS Bowfin, a submarine stationed in the Pacific during WW II that sunk 44 enemy vessels – amazing how tight those quarters were!  We then got on a boat and went out to the Arizona Memorial.  You only get to spend about 15 minutes at the memorial, where 1,177 men are interned in the Arizona, where you can still see oil leaking up to the surface.  An interesting fact is that 25 crew members of the Arizona that survived the war and have since died, asked that their remains be taken back to the USS Arizona, where they can join their fellow crew members.

USS Arizona

In the afternoon Linda and I went to the Hale Koa Hotel, a military hotel right on the beach where I could show my Veterans ID card and get a discount on our lunch and drinks.

Friday night we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Bali Oceanfront restaurant, noted for it’s great steak and seafood, where, during the middle of our dinner, we left our table and went outside on the beach to watch the five minute ‘Every Friday Night Fireworks’ on Waikiki.  Awesome!!!

Yes, Waikiki was a little crowded on this holiday weekend, maybe a lot crowded, but it’s easy to see why, it’s amazing!!  I don’t know how many times I said, “I love Hawaii’, but I love the people, I love the vegetation, I love the weather, I love the sunsets, I love the tropical drinks, I love the feel, I just love Hawaii.  I know Linda gets tired of hearing it, but . . . it just gets me!  And I get it!

Saturday morning, we had time for a nice breakfast, I had to haave the macadamia nut/banana pancakes; we were then picked up and taken to the ship, the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ ‘Pride of America’ to start our Hawaii-Golf adventure – and with my game, it’s always an adventure!  All Aboard and stay tuned!!

Bali Oceanfront Restaurant – Waikiki

Waikiki Beach fireworks

NCL Pride of America

 

 

HAMBURGERS, HOT DOGS AND SHOOFLY PIE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Here we are…the week of the 4th of July where thoughts turn to our country’s independence.  Right about now I’m guessing most people desire some independence from our politicians, but this being an election year I think we’re stuck with four more months of campaign ads and robo calls.  Hopefully no more debates.  But that’s a subject for another week.  This week I want to focus on an important part of any July 4th celebration – the dessert.  Last week I was looking for some ideas for a 4th of July cake and found most every food site suggests a cake with fruit on it – ideally in the shape of the American flag.  Fruit on cake???  Pies or tarts, yes, but not cake!  Cake and frosting should contain sufficient amounts of sugar and butter that you stay just this side of diabetes and clogged arteries.  I went down a rabbit hole looking for unique dessert ideas and discovered that people are quite weird – or desperate – when coming up with a proper dessert.  Here’s just a sampling of what I found:

              Shoofly pie

The Shoofly Pie – this cake actually has a tie to the 4th of July.  Shoofly pie is a molasses-based pie with a crumbly, streusel-like topping. No one knows for sure how the pie got its name, but it might be from the fact that its sweet and sticky surface tends to attract flies.  Now there’s an appetizing thought.  It might also, and more likely, be named after an early brand of molasses called Shoofly Molasses. According to some sources, the recipe for shoofly pie dates to 1876, originating with a crust-free molasses cake called centennial cake that was served to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Other sources attribute the recipe to the German immigrants of Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who may have used molasses in a variation of an older British recipe known as a treacle tart. This sweet and crumbly pie is still popular among the Amish and Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Well, I say let them have it.

The Tomato Soup Cake – this is wrong on so many levels.  The recipe dates back to 1922, and some accounts say the dessert was popular among Irish immigrants in New England. Personally, I think they should have stuck with Guinness. It is said that the tomato soup produces a moist red-orange cake that doesn’t taste like tomatoes at all, thanks to the cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in the mix. I’ll take their word for it.  The cake was popular through the 1930s and 1940s, when Depression-era and wartime shortages called for culinary creativity. People sought out affordable substitutes that could stand in for pricier ingredients (such as tomatoes) without sacrificing flavor. In the 1940s, the Campbell Soup Company began experimenting with variations on the tomato soup cake recipe and, in 1960, printed a version on its tomato soup label — the first recipe to appear on a soup can. I don’t know who thought of putting tomatoes, fresh or in soup form, in a cake, but I would venture it was someone who never had a slice of Death by Chocolate.

Carrot Pudding – first, the word pudding is used in the British sense, loosely meaning dessert.  Carrot cake has been around for a while and in a pinch, it isn’t bad (especially if there is pineapple rather than raisins).  But before there was carrot cake, there was carrot pudding. A recipe in the 1591 English cookbook describes carrot pudding as a savory pudding made of chopped liver, breadcrumbs, spices, dates, and sugar that is then stuffed inside a hollow carrot. By the 18th century, carrot pudding had evolved into a sweet dessert baked in a pastry shell, similar to pumpkin pie. Another variation, called steamed carrot pudding, was made with shredded carrots and potatoes and steamed in a gelatin mold. In my opinion no good dessert contains the words “gelatin mold”. Regardless of its preparation, carrot pudding sounds like something you might serve to people you never want to come to dinner again.

After reading about these odd alternatives to cake, I decided that fruit in a cake might not be such a bad alternative.  Still, as it turns out I’ll be going to our club’s BBQ on Thursday and we have an awesome pastry chef.  While he may get cute with a berry 4th of July cake, I can guarantee he won’t be slipping any chopped liver into the mix.

Happy 4th of July to everyone!

 

Family Matriarch Celebrates 98th Birthday

by Bob Sparrow

Phyllis with kids Dale, Linda, Starlet

Phyllis (McMillan) Barnes was born on June 11, 1926.  She celebrated her 98th birthday in Rochester, Minnesota with her three children and their extended families.  The event took place at daughter and son-in-law Starlet and Donnie Brummer’s home.  A quick review of Phyllis’ achievement-driven progeny is always interesting.  The party included two of Starlet’s daughters, Denise, who is an Advance Placement Calculus and Trigonometry teacher, and Debbie, who is a Doctor of Pharmacy in Minneapolis, her other daughter, not in attendance, Melissa, is an architect in Houston.  Denise & Gene (who works in computer information systems) Cobb’s kids are Garrett, who is in a doctorate program in Huntsville, AL for aeronautical engineering; his girlfriend, Sydney, has a degree in Industrial Engineering.  Daughter, Lindsay works in Washington DC for the United Nations Foundation, and son, Will, is at the University of Wisconsin in Electrical Engineering.  Debbie and Paul (who has a degree in Architecture and Environmental Design) Klein’s kids are Anna, who graduated from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut with a Biology and Chemistry degree and was captain of the ice hockey team, and Ella, who is completing her degree in Biology and Chemistry at St. Benedict.  Son, Matt, who was not in attendance works in finance for Edward Jones in Denver.  Donnie’s son, Dan Brummer’s family was also in attendance, Dan also works in finance.  How did I respond to all these ‘brainiacs’ around me when asked about my education?  I whipped on my glasses (they make me look smarter), looked them straight in the eye, and said, “I am a college grad-u-ate – I have a degree in P.E.”, hoping that they would think those were initials for Physics & Engineering.  Then I remembered how smart they were and also remembered an old Abe Lincoln quote,  “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”.

OK, let’s get back to Phyllis, who started all this!  Before I tell you about my ‘interview’ with her, you need to know this about her: Most people who spend any time with her say, “I hope I’m that sharp when I’m her age”.  I’m going to amend that by saying “I wish I was that sharp NOW!”

I sat down with my delightful mother-in-law, who is surely one of the sweetest people you would ever meet, while in Rochester to have her talk about her long life:

Sydney, The Cobbs: Gene, Will, Garrett, Denise

The Brummers: Andrew, Jacob, Dan, Nicole, Lauren and Donnie

She was born in a farmhouse, not a hospital, in Lanora, MN, weighing 12 pounds – quite large for someone who now weighs less than 100 pounds!  Her mom and dad owned a farm that had pigs, chickens and cattle.  Their house had no electricity, as light was provided by kerosene lamps. They also had no refrigerator and not even an ice box, they cooled their food by putting it in a jar and putting the jar in cool water.

She started school at four years old; the school was called the ‘Cigar Box’ and had 12 seats, although there were only five students.  She graduated from nearby Canton High School and after graduation went to ‘Teacher Training School’ and became a teacher after one year.  She met and married Warren Barnes in 1945 when she was 19.  Their house had no inside toilets, that wouldn’t come until 1954.

After Warren filled his military obligation and got out of the service in 1946, they moved from northern California, where he was stationed, to Minnesota and bought her parents’ dairy farm which they worked for the next 25 years, milking 20 jersey cows twice every day, 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening – weekend, holiday . . . everyday!  They were involved in the church and many local community activities with their three kids, Starlet, Dale and Linda.

At five years old, Linda, sang at the county fair and a few years later, was asked to be a square dance caller at the Texas National Square Dance Convention.  Ultimately, her older siblings joined her to form the Barnes Trio, who sang all over Minnesota and won many singing contests.

After selling the farm Warren & Phyllis moved to Minneapolis and Phyllis worked 16 years for Controlled Data putting circuit boards together and Warren worked 20 years for International Paper.  They then retired and spent winters in Arizona for the next 24 years.

The Kleins: Anna, Paul, Debbie

Phyllis now resides in Homestead ‘Assisted Living’ Facility in Rochester, where she plays cards (500 and cribbage) every day, she also goes to exercise class, sometimes leads it!  Additionally, she goes to ‘coffee & chat’ and plays bingo twice a week, and enjoys the outside entertainment that comes in twice a month.

I asked this incredible lady what the secret was to her long life.  She said, “Great family, great friends and a positive attitude!”

Favorite quote: I don’t know if this is her favorite quote, but it’s mine.  When she was jokingly asked which son-in-law she liked better, Donnie or me, she replied: “I don’t like one any better than the other!”

 

 HAPPY BIRTHDAY PHYLLIS, AND MANY MORE!

 

THE NEW SCHOOL: NAKED ZOOM

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’ve been reading several articles about how to keep your brain engaged as you age.  Apparently playing endless games of Candy Crush aren’t doing anything to fire up my brain cells.  Knitting is good, as I have to use mathematics, but not often enough to make a difference.  So, I set out to find a way to stave off “mush brain” and quite happily discovered the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).  OLLI is a branch of The Bernard Osher Foundation, an organization that makes grants and endowment gifts to colleges, universities, and other non-profit organizations in four areas, among them lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults.  Almost makes us sound like a rack of ribs. Nevertheless, I began to look into their programs.  First, I learned that OLLI is found on the campuses of 125 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. The class offerings are wide-ranging and are specifically developed for adults aged 50 or older who are interested in learning for the joy of learning. As a bonus, there are no tests and no grades.  Luckily for me there is a branch of OLLI at Arizona State University, so I signed up for the summer session.  Unfortunately, “summer” was defined as the month of June.  Well, who can blame them?  No one wants to be here in July and August.  Due to the brief length of the term, the classes are one-shot seminars, each lasting 90 minutes.  Some are in person, but most are on Zoom.  Zoom can be perilous – but more on that in a moment.

Will Ferrell, if he’d taken quantum physics

Since I was only committing 90 minutes of my life at a time, I decided I would sign up for some classes that are outside my wheelhouse.  First on the list – quantum physics.  The professor was an amazing young woman, who had a wonderful sense of humor and knew that she had a challenging – or challenged – audience.  After the first 30 minutes I was glad we were on a Zoom call, as my attention began to lapse, and I found myself drifting into thoughts of what I’d have for lunch.  I was not the only one – several people at the end volunteered that maybe they weren’t cut out for a career in quantum physics.  Still, it was interesting, and I only invested 90 minutes to learn that I need to stick to the social sciences.  I took an in-person class from a retired physics professor (can’t seem to avoid physics) who lectured on the history of Stonehenge.  He was fabulous – 90 years old and a testament to lifelong learning.  I participated in a Zoom class conducted by an ex-newspaper reporter who followed the Rolling Stones on their very first US tour back in the 60’s.  He had some wonderful insights and opinions about the music of the time and how it changed the recording and radio industries.

Next, I took a Zoom class on the life and works of George Gershwin.  This is where things got interesting.  At the beginning of the class the ASU administrator cautioned us that we must put our computers on mute, and that if we planned to walk around, eat, or do anything else that might be distracting, we needed to cut our video feed as well.  Almost everyone chose to cut the video, so that only our names appeared in the box.  About a minute after her cautions ended, a new person joined the call.  Her audio was silenced but her video feed was on.  She was clearly in her bathroom, with her closet in the background.  All we could see was her head, which was wrapped in a towel.  I thought maybe she was running late and had just ducked out of the shower.  That was confirmed a couple of minutes later when she stood up, revealing that she only had a towel wrapped around her.  What could possibly go wrong?  A few minutes later she went off-screen, only to return walking across the screen – NAKED.  She casually walked into her closet, obviously trying to decide what to wear, all the while showing us her assets.  Literally.  She then turned around and proceeded to put on her undergarments.  Finally, she donned a blouse, much to our collective relief.  She then sat down and proceeded to blow dry her hair.  I guess that was the gesture that sent the administrator over the edge, as she sent a private message to this woman to let her know her video was on.  In the group chat the woman replied, “Oh no.  Sorry!”  Well, it was too late for sorry.  I will never unsee what I saw.  To her credit, the woman blacked out her video, but she stayed on the call. I would have immediately packed my bags for Argentina.

I have five more seminars to attend this month, on subjects ranging from a Vietnam retrospective to Woodstock to the establishment of the 13, 14 and 15th amendments.  Luckily for me, OLLI at ASU added a true summer session, each class lasting six weeks in July and August.  I’m taking two classes: one on the great films from the 1920’s to the ’60’s and one on the automobile’s impact on society.  I highly encourage you to check out OLLI – the classes are wonderful, you might gain a brain cell, and it’s fun to learn with other people who are “seasoned”. But I must say the most important lesson learned so far: cut the video feed on a Zoom call.

The Road Trip: The ‘Mother Lode’ Country and Back Home Again.

by Bob Sparrow

Murphys Hotel

With Dennis at Murphys Hotel Bar

We left Lake Tahoe around 8:00 a.m. on a beautiful Thursday morning heading south; we took Highway 50 to Highway 49 heading into the ‘Gold Country’.  We drove through a good deal of burned forest, caused by the fire in 2021 that scorched more than 346 square miles of the Sierra Nevada Forest, destroying 1,000 structures, with over 50,000 residences being evacuated.  A real blight on an otherwise gorgeous drive.

We eventually hit Angel’s Camp and Sutter’s Mill, the place where gold was first discovered in California, leading to the gold rush of 1849.  We fortunately arrived one week after the famous, Calvaris County Frog Jumping Contest, made famous by Mark Twain, so the place was not overcrowded with tourists, like us!  I had called an old friend from Yorba Linda Country Club, Dennis Despie, who had relocated to the Mother Lode County, and we agreed to meet him at Murphys Historic Hotel ‘Queen of the Sierras since 1856’; in downtown Murphys for lunch.  It is a classic old hotel, with a great bar and bartender, Kurt, where we sat and had a delicious lunch and a cold beer and heard about the history of the place.  It was so good to see Denise again as he told us all about the area and how he and his family were doing.  After lunch, Jack and I took a walk around this quaint little town and we had to buy a T-shirt.

Don & Barbara Stutzman back in the day

Susan (Stutzman) Scarth (Remember her from our Novato visit!) had set up another meeting for us in this area with Barbara Stutzman, Don Stutzman’s, second wife and widow, she owns and operates a wedding venue site that we understand to be one of the premier wedding venues in America.  It’s called Union Hill Inn, you can check it out online.  We met and talked with Barbara for about 30 minutes in her cottage on the property and then she asked us if we wanted a tour, we said yes and got in a golf cart parked near by, and went about 50 feet and then the battery died.  That was the end of the tour, so, like you, we’ll have to check it out online, but it looked spectacular!  We headed into the quaint downtown of Sonora, where we walked down the main drag and found, of all things, a bar, The Iron Horse Saloon, where the bartender liked the story of our road trip so much that he bought us a drink, maybe two.  We spent our last night on the road at the Hotel Lumber Jack in Sonora.

A five-hour drive the next morning got us back to Santa Maria and, just like our journey’s beginning, we had dinner with Sharon and Deb & Steve Rau, but this time at their newly remodeled home – beautiful!  I spent the night at Jack & Sharon’s and drove home early the next morning.  Happy to be back home to Linda and my own bed, but filled with some extrodiary memories.

Days on the road: 10

Miles covered: 1,987

Number of counties visited: 32

Number of clouds seen during the 10-day trip: 3

Spending 10 days with my brother visiting friends and some of the most beautiful and iconic places in California: Priceless!

 

 

The Road Trip: Lake Almanor to Lake Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Don & Marjie on their deck on Lake Almanor

Our drive from Alturas to Lake Almanor was magnificent on this perfect-weather day, although I must admit that part of the excitement was knowing we were leaving Alturas.  We have never seen so many pine trees, both standing and being hauled by the many logging trucks we passed along the way.  We headed south on Highway 395, following the South Fork of the Pit River.  The road weaved through beautiful pines and incredibly large green meadows.  We could have stayed on 395, but, hey, this is a road trip and we saw that by detouring just a few miles out of the way we could go by Eagle Lake.  So we did, . . . not worth the detour.  We arrived and drove the main drag of Susanville, which didn’t excite us too much, so we got back on 395 South and were shortly in Lake Almanor.  We stopped to have lunch in the lakeside town of Chester and were given all the scoop on the area from Kathleen, the bartender at The Mt. Lassen Club.

Don & Marjie’s home from their dock

We were not prepared for what was to come next, we had arranged to meet friends and fellow Yorba Linda Country Club members, Don & Marjie Fryer.  They gave us directions to their home in a gate-guarded community on ‘the peninsula’ of Lake Almanor.  Before entering ‘the peninsula’ we drove past a most beautiful golf course, Bailey Creek, of which, Don & Marjie are members.  We drove almost to the end of the peninsula driving past beautiful home after beautiful home, until we reached the beautiful home of Don & Marjie.  The photos don’t do it justice!  They welcomed us with open arms and a mango margarita, and then we got on their boat and cruised the lake on this beautiful afternoon, looking at all the spectacular homes on this perfectly sunny, cloudless day. We came back to the Fryer home and sat on their deck and probably, I can’t remember now, had a drink or two.  We went to dinner at a local Italian restaurant with the Fryers and their friends Rex and Jan.  We sat outside, told stories, and laughed all the way through dinner.  Back at the Fryer Estate, we had an after-dinner cocktail as we watched the sunset behind Mt. Lasen.  What an awesome day!!!!

Sunset over Lake Almanor

Sadly, we leave the Fryer home the next morning and head to Quincy.  We wanted to visit Quincy on our way to Lake Tahoe because we used to vacation there when we were kids.  Jack, who has an amazing memory, told me to drive seven miles out of town, tuned down a dead-end road that had a store on the corner and low and behold, we found the old house that we used to vacation in, which was owned by the Schieck family.  After a drive down a long, dirt driveway, we tried to get the attention of anyone inside the cabin, but to no avail, so we headed back on the road to Tahoe.

When getting to Lake Tahoe we were going to visit the site of our parents ashes on Rocky Ridge, but the road was partly closed, so we decided to go to lunch, first at Sunnyside, closed until 4:00; then Jake’s on the Lake, closed, We looked to see if there was still water in Lake Tahoe!!  There was, lots of it!  So we went to an old haunt, Pete & Peters Bar, which turned out to be the best choice, as Jack, who lived and operated a restaurant at Tahoe for 14 years, ran into four people he knew and talked to a fifth person on the phone.  I just quietly drank my beer.

Jack at Pete & Peter’s Bar & Grill in Tahoe City with old cronies Yates and bartender, Dana

After lunch and a couple of beers, we headed down the west shore of Lake Tahoe, and drove by the cabin that was owned by our parents’ best friend, Dick Schieck, where we vacationed every summer for many years, we also checked out the cabin right next to it as that was owned my college roommate Ken Poulsen and me.  As we drove along the west side of Tahoe, we passed familiar spots like Rocky Beach and Meek’s & Emerald Bay, finally arriving at Harrah’s at the south end of the lake.  We got a nice room with a view of the lake and headed to the casino, which was rather dark and dingy.  After a quick donation at the craps table, I joined Jack at the only black jack table in the casino, but it wasn’t really black jack, the dealer was still in the game if he got to 22!!  After the slow torture from a hot dealer, and $150 later, we decided that luck was not with us today in the casino.  A quiet dinner and to bed early.

We woke up early the next morning (another perfect day) and looked forward to our trip to the ‘Mother Lode Country’, home of Mark Twain’s, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calvarias County, which was just the weekend before.

Next blog: Road Trip: The Gold Country and Back Home Again

 

The Road Trip: Mt. Shasta City & Alturas

by Bob Sparrow

Snow and ice-covered Castle Lake

We left Novato fairly early on a beautiful Sunday morning, leaving Pete a note of thanks for the great hospitality, and headed north.  We found Highway 37 North closed, so we were detoured through Sonoma, which happened to be where our parents last lived.  Heading east, we connected to Interstate 5, and eventually hit the bustling town of Willows, which we wanted to get off the freeway and drive through as it was where our father was born.  It hasn’t changed much in the 110 years since then, but I did get a photo of Willows ‘International’ Airport (below).

We continued up Interstate 5 and amazingly we could see our destination of Mt. Shasta from 100 miles away!  Awesome!!  The landscape changed as the large Oak and maple trees outside of Redding gave way to majestic Pines, Firs and Spruce trees as we neared our destination.

Bartender Sharynne at the oldest bar in Mt. Shasta City

We arrived in Mt. Shasta City and were told we could not check into our hotel until later in the afternoon, so we went into town and found the Vet’s Club, ‘Mt. Shasta’s Oldest Bar’.  I thought I could get cheap drinks as a veteran, but it wasn’t an official Veteran’s bar, it was just started by a veteran many years ago, but the beer was great!  We surprisingly, somehow befriended the bartender, Sharynne (that’s how they spell Sharon up here), who told us about the history of the bar (it used to be a house of ill-repute), and she wanted to sign up for the blog.  We ended up meeting all the guys at the bar and having a great time.  We were told about a lake that we should see while we’re here – Castle Lake; so, we drove out to the mostly covered with snow and ice lake to take in this beautiful winter wonderland scene.  We knew we had a long road ahead of us tomorrow, and it was a long day today, so we went back to our hotel, checked in, had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and crashed.

McArthur-Burney Falls

We awoke the next morning to a cloudless, cool morning and started a drive that has got to be one of the most beautiful drives we’ve both ever taken, as the road is cut out of the towering pines, which ultimately give way to beautiful vistas of mountains and expansive valleys.  The Big Valley is indeed one of the biggest and most beautiful valleys we’ve ever seen.  We stopped at McArther-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and checked in with Ranger Mike at the gate and got all the info on seeing the park and the water falls.  Amazing!!  I seem to be saying that a lot this week!  It occurred to both of us that this drive alone made the trip worthwhile – the beauty is indescribable, so I’ll quit trying to describe it!

We ultimately arrive at our destination – Alturas, which was a little bigger than we had imagined, but a little deader than we hoped.  We cruised down Main Street, which seemed to be empty on this Monday afternoon.  We checked in to our hotel and asked the hotel manager, who was born and raised in Riverside, where we could get lunch and a beer.  He really couldn’t come up with much, but finally offered up the Desert Rose Indian Casino.  We drove through town to get to the Desert Rose and saw that many of the shops were shuttered.  We arrived at the Desert Rose Casino to find that it was like a boxcar in a wheatfield.  Luxurious it was not!  We had lunch and beer at the bar and found out the bartender was born in Orange, which was about the most interesting thing about the place.  We thought that maybe people come to Alturas because they are running or hiding from someone or something.  And, disappointingly, there were no turkeys, turkey farms or turkey pot pies to be found!

Our guide book on Alturas, OK, maybe just a small paragraph on Google, told us we should visit the historic Hotel Niles, so we did, but the restaurant and bar were closed and we saw no one in the hotel – although it looked like it might have been pretty nice in its day.  We were told the population of Alturas has been declining over the years.  We now understand why.  Most people come here not to live, but to hunt or fish and then leave town.  We got up very early the next morning and got out of town.

Willows ‘International’ Airport

 

Mt. Shasta from our hotel room

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alturas Main Street commute traffic

One of the only signs of life in Alturas

 

Alturas’ Glitzy Desert Rose Casino

Next Road Trip post: Thursday, June 6 ‘Beautiful Lake Almanor and Beyond’

 

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE AND YOUNG (2024)

This annual Memorial Day post is written in remembrance of the soldiers from my high school who died in the Vietnam war.  I first published this in 2014, and each year since then I hear from people who relate similar stories about the losses suffered in their hometowns or, worse, their families. 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 when I planned 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 yearbooks 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 soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. 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 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
Bob 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 very nice, quiet guy. Before he enlisted, he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – they wanted 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 their Senior 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 in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah also attended NHS. Mike was a good student, who 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 led 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 played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class in high school 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 his 16-year-old friends 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, to 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 graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team, very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone he met. 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. When he died in 2011, he requested that he be buried in Jim’s grave, 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.

In 2018 I was contacted by a woman in New York who signed up for a grueling physical event that honors Vietnam veterans.  She chose to represent Jim and wanted to know more about him. You can read my post about her and the event here: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” 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

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 was 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 he 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 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”. After some research I learned that after Jerry left Novato in June 1966, he joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 6, 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.

Jim Wright

Update May 2022: Each year this annual tribute receives a lot of viewings around Memorial Day.  This year I was fortunate to hear from Bill Sauber, a 1966 graduate of NHS, who told me of another NHS connection: Jim Wright.

Jim celebrated his 18th birthday in January 1966 and was drafted into the Army shortly thereafter. I suspect that he had dropped out of school, as he was in his sophomore year in the spring of 1966, so would not otherwise be eligible for the draft.  After basic training he was sent to Vietnam in May as part of the 27th Infantry, known as the Wolfhounds. On November 5, 1966, he was killed by enemy gunfire in Darlac province. He posthumously received a Silver Star. His official records indicate that by the time Jim died, his father was not living in Novato, his mother could not be located, and he had married a woman named Linda.  It is hard to imagine that in the space of one year Jim celebrated his 18th birthday, was drafted, married, and ultimately, killed.  As with Bob Johnson and Jim Gribbin, he lies at rest in Golden Gate National Cemetery. I am hopeful that someone reading this post knew him and can provide more insight into his time at Novato High School.

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that 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, 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 our family without his presence all of these years. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brothers’ heads; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brothers 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.

Road Trip – Novato, Our Home Town

by Bob Sparrow

The Road Trip – Novato, Our Home Town

Spinnaker in Sausalito

I left Orange County mid-morning last Thursday, hoping to miss the L.A. traffic . . . NOT!  So, the three-hour drive to meet up with Jack in Santa Maria took four hours.  I spent Thursday night at Jack & Sharon’s where they invited Sharon’s daughter and son-in-law, Deb & Steve Rau over for dinner; a very fun evening.  Jack and I embarked on our road trip the next morning around 8:00, getting us to San Francisco in time for their commute traffic.  So, my first road trip accomplishment was to be stuck in both L.A. and San Francisco traffic within 24 hours.  Check.

Jack & I both enjoyed visiting San Francisco while we were growing up in Novato, however, we’d heard not-such-good things about it over the last several years, so we were afraid to see for ourselves what ‘The City’ looked like.  We took major streets through town, Van Ness and Lombard and we were very pleasantly surprised – we saw not one homeless person on the spotless streets and The City sparkled on this beautiful, sunny Friday morning.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went into Sausalito where we had lunch at The Spinnaker, a restaurant right on the water.  The last time I was at The Spinnaker was for dinner before my high school senior prom, just a few years ago!  We had a window seat which offered us a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay and the many boats out sailing on this perfect spring day.  I don’t think I’ve ever taken a photo of a meal I was eating, but this one looked and tasted so good, that I just couldn’t help myself.

After lunch, we continued into Novato and to the home of Pete Ferrarese, a former high school classmate and football teammate of Jack.  He is living in the house his parents owned and that he grew up in.  He invited his brother, Paul, who was a classmate and teammate of mine in high school, over for dinner as well as semi-retired lawyer and classmate, football teammate, George Gnoss, who brought a very nice bottle of wine.  Needless to say, the before-dinner conversation in Pete’s beautifully flowered backyard, the dinner conversation over delicious barbequed steaks, and the post-dinner/wine conversation was filled with stories about, “Do you remember when . . .”  A most entertaining and fun evening!

Saturday morning, we met the family of a dear friend of both Jack and mine, Don Stutzman, who passed away several years ago.  We met, Gwenn, Don’s ex-wife and two of his three children, Susan and Mark.  This trip is just beginning, but having the two-and-a-half-hour breakfast with the Stutzman clan will unquestionably be one of the highlights.  The conversation never stopped about adventures that we had with Don.  Gwenn looked great at 84 and the kids were chips off the old block, very nice looking, delightful and totally entertaining.  After breakfast Mark invited us over to his house to see his ‘Man Cave’.  It is unbelievable!  A large room, separate from the house, with a full bar and filled with 49er memorabilia.  The stories continued as we had a cold beer and a toast to Don.

Jack, Paul, Bob, Pete, George

Pete’s garden with 70 foot redwood tree

The Stutzmans: Mark, Jack, Gwenn, Susan, me

Saturday afternoon we visited all the houses (4) that we lived in while growing up in Novato as well as cruised down the main drag of town, Grant Avenue, saying, “That’s where (fill in the blank) used to be”.  We also went by Novato High School and sadly watched part of a soccer game being played on the football field – where Novato no longer has a football team.  We then visited ‘our brick’ at Novato City Hall.   Pete, Jack & I hit a very good Mexican restaurant on Grant Avenue for dinner, then called it a night.

The ‘Brick’ at Novato City Hall

Next week, Suzanne will post her traditional ‘Memorial Day’ blog paying tribute to the Novato men who lost their lives in Viet Nam.  I will return the following week with the rest of the ‘Road Trip’.

Mark’s 49er Man Cave!

Jack & my first home – upstairs on Grant Ave.