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.

The Brothers Sparrow Road Trip

by Bob Sparrow

The famous Alturas Railway station

This week, on Thursday, Brother Jack and I will embark on a road trip that was borne out of some nonsense that Jack uttered years ago.  He and I like to bet on football, both college and pro; when we’re in Vegas we make actual bets, but most of the time we just make imaginary bets – granted you don’t win much with those, but you don’t lose much either.  One Monday after a not-so-good imaginary weekend of football betting, I called Jack to discuss our poor results.  After my reporting all the bad news, he said, “Maybe we should just go to Alturas and open a turkey farm” He then asked me, “Do you know how to make Turkey Pot Pies?”  What?!!!  I didn’t know where that came from, I didn’t know where Alturas was and I sure as hell didn’t know how to make a Turkey Pot Pie.  Jack explained that Alturas was a small town in the northeast corner of California and that he had never been there, but it sounded like a nice little town.  And so, Alturas and the prospect of getting into the Turkey Pot Pie business remained the butt of many of our jokes in the ensuing years.

At the end of last year, we decided, since we’re both California natives, and neither of us had not only never been to Alturas, but we didn’t even know anybody who had ever been to that booming metropolis; so it screamed, “Road Trip!”  So, earlier this year, we planned a road trip that would include some of the places in the state that are near and dear to us while also checking off Alturas, a town that surely is on most people’s bucket list to visit.

So, here’s what we’ve learned, and I’m sure you’re dying to know, about Alturas:

Fisherman’s Wharf . . . or Sausalito?

Alturas is Spanish for “Heights”, as it is at an altitude of 4,370 feet above sea level With a population of about 2,700 people, albeit one of the largest cities in the region!  It is located at the confluence of the south and north forks of the Pit River.  I’m sure that helped you pinpoint it’s exact location!  We searched for the possibilities of Alturas having a fairly large turkey populations, but to no avail.  We’re not even sure the concept of a Turkey Pot Pie has ever been introduced to the fine people of Alturas!  We shall see!

The trip will start with me driving to meet Jack at his home in Santa Maria.  The next morning we’ll head north and decide while driving through San Francisco, if we want to stop.  It was such a wonerful city when we were growing up in Novato, and we have many fond memories of ‘The City’; but given what we’ve heard, we’re just not sure what we’ll find.  If we don’t stop at someplace like Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, then we’d probably head over to Sausalito and grab a bite.  We’ll then continue up to Novato, the town where we were both born and raised.  We’ll do some drive-bys of the houses we used to live in and Novato High School, as well as cruise down the main drag, Grant Avenue, which, I’m sure, we’ll bring back lots of memories.  We’ll then head over to a classmate and football teammate of Jack’s, Pete Ferrarese, where he has offered us lodging for the night.  It’s the only night were we have secured accommodations, as we’re not sure how long we’ll stay in any one place.  We may even end up sleeping in the car!

Lake Almanor

We’ll then head up through the ‘Wine Country’, perhaps stop for a taste, then drive up to Willows, the small town that our father was born in.  We’ll keep heading north to Mt. Shasta, and then head east to Alturas.  Once we’ve looked for any turkey farms and quizzed the local barkeep about all there is to know about Alturas, (perhaps two drinks worth) we’ll hopefully find some adequate lodging.  We will then head south to Lake Almanor.  A lake that neither of us have ever been to.  We may connect with some friends of mine from Yorba Linda County Club, who summer in Lake Almanor, if so, we’ll stop and say ‘Hi’ and learn all about the lake.  We’ll continue heading south to the town of Quincy, where we spent a few summer vacations as kids.  We’ll then head to some familiar haunts of Lake Tahoe, where Jack lived for 14 years and owned a restaurant, and where I owned a cabin and where our family went every summer from 1952 to sometime in the ‘70s and beyond.  We’ll spend time at both the north and the south end of the lake possibly doing a bit of gaming at one of the casinos at the south end.  After a day or two at the lake we’ll connect to Highway 49 and visit California’s ‘Gold Country’.  We’ll visit one of the most famous towns there, Angel’s Camp, where, in 1865, Mark Twain wrote, ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’.  From there we will head home.

That’s the plan, but there will be much left to how we’re feeling at the time, so nothing is carved in stone.  But I can guarantee you this . . . we will get to Alturas!

 

 

THE CELEBRATION OF A LIFETIME

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Jack and Bob

Last weekend our family and a few friends gathered together in our home for a Celebration of Life for Alan.  Which meant a lot of celebrating occurred and I’m operating on little sleep and lots of emotions as I write this.  The invitation to the event included a photo of Alan teeing off on his favorite hole on his favorite course in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Relatives came from far and wide.  In fact, I’m not even sure I’m related to some of these people.  To get the party started we had a family BBQ on Friday night, which involved a lot of laughter, some good-natured ribbing, loud singing (mostly on key), and some tears.  It was also an opportunity to celebrate my niece Shelley’s milestone birthday. 

Shelley and family

 

I had decided more than a year ago that this might be a good birthday for me to pass down the family diamond to her.  The diamond was originally given to my great-grandmother in 1892 and has normally been passed down upon the death of the owner.  But I believe that it’s good to give things away while you’re still alive to see the person’s reaction to receiving it.  She was genuinely surprised, and seeing her reaction was a moment I would not have missed. I know she will wear the diamond in the tradition of strong women in our family.

          The cookie

Alan’s Celebration of Life party on Saturday was everything I could have wished for.  Usually after an event I’ve hosted I find some flaw – something I could have done better or differently.  But not this.  As I went to bed Saturday night, I honestly thought the night had gone perfectly; I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Even the weather cooperated as the predicted strong winds didn’t occur.  The flowers were phenomenal, the food was outstanding, and everyone enjoyed the special touches of napkins and cookies that reflected the theme of “Until We Tee It Up Again”.  Of course, what made the day most special were the wonderful tributes paid to Alan by his children, Colin and Wendy, son-in-law Steve, and my brothers, Jack and Bob.  Everyone depicted Alan accurately.  He was funny, a prankster, enjoyed music and the outdoors, and was a master cheater at board games.  But most importantly what came through in those tributes is their love for him and their knowledge that he returned that love in full measure.  I wrote a eulogy that touched on his humorous antics, his remarkable achievements, and the wonderful times we shared together.  The event was filled with love and laughter, and I know that is exactly what he wanted.

        The family

I have been asked why it took me so long to have this Celebration of Life.  After all, Alan died July 28th, so it’s been a long time as these things go. What I didn’t realize before I became a widow is that the loss of a spouse shakes the very foundation of your life.  Everything – absolutely everything – is changed, from the moment you awaken in the morning to the moment to go to sleep at night.  I’m sure I could have arranged a Celebration directly after his death, with a lot of help from family and friends.  But it wouldn’t have been the same.  All of us family members have now had eight months to reflect on him and his life.  All of us who spoke about him were able to do so with some humor – which was his hallmark trait – and that would not have been possible in the first days after he died.  Now, we are all able to put his life, and death, into some perspective.  I chose a date close to his birthday and actually enjoyed planning the event and thinking about what he would have liked, right down to having pineapple upside down cake, which was his favorite birthday cake.

So, to all the people who questioned why I waited so long I say this: good things come to those who wait.  Should you ever find yourself in the unenviable position of having to plan a Celebration of Life, do what YOU feel is best.  Throw tradition and what is “normally” done out the window, unless that fits with your desires.  I’m so glad I did, and I know that Alan is looking down, happy that his Celebration was such a fun – and funny – gathering. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

 

He Could Do More Than Just “Play Ball”

by Bob Sparrow

Williams, throws right, bats left

I have heard that baseball season is well underway.  I must admit my interest in baseball has waned over the years, not unlike most Americans, who haven’t voted baseball as America’s #1 Pastime since 1960!  But I do like the history of the game and particularly some of the stories of the great characters of the game.  One of those characters is Ted Williams, a southern California boy from San Diego, whose life was quite interesting.

His real name was Teddy Williams, named after Teddy Roosevelt, but he later legally changed it to ‘Theodore’ so he could just be called ‘Ted’.  He was 6’3” and 205 pounds and nicknamed. “The Splendid Splinter”.  What most people don’t know about him, is that his mother was Hispanic, a fact that he kept from the public as he knew he wouldn’t be offered the same opportunities, if they knew he was part Hispanic.

He was a great high school baseball player and had offers out of high school from the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, but his mother thought he was too young to leave home, so he signed with a local minor league team, the San Diego Padres.  After one season with the Padres, he was pick up by the Boston Red Sox at 19 years old . . . and the rest is history!

Marine Corps Captain Ted Williams

In his first four seasons (1939 – 1942) at age 20-23, he made the All-Star team three years and had two second place finished for the MVP of the league and one 4th place finish.  On the last day of the 1941 season, he had a batting average of .400 and was asked by his manager if he wanted to sit out the last day of baseball, a double header against the Athletics, so he could remain at .400 for the season; he declined to sit out and went 6 for 8 in his final at bats and finished with a .406 average – which was the last time a major league player hit .400 or over!  As a point of reference, only 11 players in the 2023 season hit .300 or better!!

After his fourth season, America was involved in World War II, and although at the time a college degree was required to become a pilot, and Ted had only a high school diploma, during WWII exceptions were made, so Williams was allowed in the Navy/Marine Corps pilot training program.  His tremendous reflexes and hand-eye coordination (he had 20/10 vision!) made him an outstanding pilot (as well as an outstanding hitter), so they made him an instructor, and by the time he was eventually sent for combat duty, the war was over.

After the war, he rejoined the Red Sox and became the MVP in the league in his first year back.  For the next six years he was on the All-Star Team every year, won two MVP Awards and had a batting average of .339.

F-9 Panther

In 1950 the U.S. was once again at war, this time in Korea, and Ted was recalled by the Marine Corp and sent to South Korea where he flew the F-9 Panther jet in 39 combat missions where he was asked by future astronaut, John Glenn to be his wingman.  His plane was hit by enemy fire on three occasions and on one of those he had to make a crash landing.

He returned to full-time baseball in 1954 and spent the next seven years compiling a career of award:

 

  • Three-time American League Most Valuable Player
  • Eight-time Golden Glove Award (for best defensive player at his position)
  • Six-time American League batting champion – the last two at age 39 and 40.
  • 19-time All Star Team
  • Two Triple Crown Award (best batting average, most RBIs and most Home Runs in the league)
  • Lifetime batting average of .344
  • Only Hall of Famer to serve in two wars

All that after missing nearly five full seasons due to military service.  Now, that’s a baseball player!

 

GREED IS … AN ARMONICA

I love it when a confluence of interests come together, and such was the case for me last week when I learned something new about Benjamin Franklin that also involved Ludwig van Beethoven.  I wrote about Franklin last July 4th, not only due to his involvement in the founding of the country, but also because he was a peculiar, but talented, Rennaissance man.  Last week I began watching the new Apple TV series, “Franklin”, starring Michael Douglas.  I wanted to fact-check something I saw and that led me down the primrose path that I’m writing about this week.  First, I have to say, I’ve only watched the first episode of the series and it appears to be quite well done.  That said, whenever I see Douglas on screen, I can’t help but think of Gordon Gekko and his famous, “Greed is good” line.  I find it very distracting.  Secondly, much of the dialogue is sub-titled.  I’m all for authenticity (which is why they all speak French), but when you’re trying to do something else, in my case, knit, I hate it when I miss the gist of what’s going on because I missed reading the subtitles.  Anyway, it you don’t mind subtitles – or you don’t knit – you may thoroughly enjoy the story.

Franklin’s armonica

In doing my fact-check I discovered that among the items Franklin invented is the armonica.  No, not harmonica, like Stevie Wonder.  The armonica consists of a series of glass bowls that make different sounds.  Franklin got his inspiration after he saw an Englishman, Edward Delaval, playing water-filled wine glasses.  And haven’t we all done that at a dinner party? Franklin worked with London glassblower Charles James to build his new instrument and it had its world premiere in early 1762.  His armonica consisted of 37 glass bowls of varying sizes, arranged concentrically to eliminate the need for water and mounted on a rounded rod. The rod was moved by a foot pedal, and the glass bowls were played by rubbing one’s fingers along their edges. It was meant to produce tones similar to “singing” glasses. Franklin wrote from London in 1762 about his musical instrument: “The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressure of the finger, and that the instrument being well-tuned, never again needs tuning.”

The armonica was an instant sensation. Marie Antoinette took lessons, Thomas Jefferson was a fan, and Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both composed music for the novel instrument. As I recounted here in January, one of my goals for 2024 is to learn Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” by the end of the year, so I’ve been studying a bit about Beethoven as well.  He only wrote one major piece for the armonica (and thank God it wasn’t “Moonlight Sonata”.  But I do enjoy learning that two historical people that I admire also admired each other.

Despite its initial popularity, the armonica fell out of favor by the 1820s, due in part to its purported negative effects on mental health — attributed at first to the instrument’s ethereal tones, but later thought to be due to lead poisoning from the paint applied to the bowls. There was never any scientific proof of lead poisoning, but even without the sensation of social media, false stories spread about it and in some cities, it was banned as a safety precaution.

Franklin at his invention

Today, the armonica is used by some niche musicians, a second life that would surely please Franklin, who said the instrument had brought him “the most personal satisfaction.” An original Franklin armonica is in the archives at the Franklin Institute in Philidelphia, having been donated in 1956 by Franklin’s descendants after the children took great delight in breaking the bowls with spoons during family gatherings. It is only placed on display for special occasions, such as Franklin’s birthday.

I walked away from learning about this with two thoughts: first, I’d like to think that Ben and Ludwig are somewhere rocking out together on the armonica and second, I think the Franklin family gatherings might have been a lot of fun.