HAPPY 4TH – SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

John and Abigail Adams

Happy Independence Day!  We’ve been celebrating this day for a long time – 245 years to be exact.  The first Independence Day celebration took place in Philidelphia on July 4, 1777 — one year after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.  It was none other than John Adams who wrote to his wife, Abigail, that he hoped the anniversary of independence would be marked for years to come by “guns” and “bonfires” and “illuminations.” Because the first July 4th fireworks display happened in the middle of the Revolutionary War, some historians believe they were supposed to be a morale booster for the troops.  The celebrations at the time would have also included the firing of cannons, adding to the explosive nature of the festivities and, no doubt, innumerable cases of hearing loss. When the war ended, coinciding with an increasing concern for public safety, those “big guns” were phased out and replaced almost entirely by fireworks. Major cities and towns often sponsored the fireworks displays, in the hope of drawing citizens to public celebrations instead of more dangerous private firework shows.  I’m not sure even 245 years later that we have cracked that nut.

                          Tahoe fireworks

As I have said in previous years, when I was growing up, I thought the 4th of July was one of the greatest holidays.  Each year we went to our cabin at Lake Tahoe to watch the glorious fireworks display.  The fire department was in charge of setting off the fireworks, which were placed on a barge in the middle of the lake. It really was magical to watch the lights from the fireworks reflect on the lake.  It was almost as if there were two shows at once – one, clear and crisp against a dark, night sky and the other echoing those lights over rippling water.  I was mesmerized by it each year and fireworks “on the lake” continue to be one of my most treasured memories.

               A laser light show

So, it was with some sadness I read that when the Lake Tahoe fireworks resume tonight, after a two year pause due to Covid, the traditional fireworks display will be replaced by drone laser lights. According to the north Lake Tahoe civic group sponsoring the show, the shift aligns with the region’s commitment to sustainability and stewardship, and addresses community concerns related to fire risk and environmental impacts. In addition to eliminating the risk of fire and environmental pollution, another significant benefit is the reduced audio impact on domestic pets and local wildlife. It will be a 15-minute show, incorporating over 100 drones, and choreographed to music.

         Happy 4th of July

I’m sure the kids of today will think those lasers are magical too.  I certainly understand the need to reduce the fire risk and Dash the Wonder Dog would appreciate the lack of booming noises that scare the bejesus out of him. But I’m just old school enough to think a laser light show is to fireworks what Cheez-Whiz is to Camembert.  So, this will be the first year that I’m not longing to be at Tahoe on the 4th of July.  Instead, I may resort to something I did for several years in my misspent middle age – light up a cigar and celebrate our wonderful country.  Happy 4th!

A Tale of Two Sittings – A Fish Story

by Bob Sparrow

Sitka, Alaska

I have readily admitted that I do not understand fishing, not because I’ve failed at it every time I’ve tried it, which I have, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.  I’m told that fishing is a sport, and if it is, it is one of the very few sports that does not require one to be in shape, unless you consider ‘round’ a shape.  While most athletes consume energy drinks or water during an athletic contest, the main beverage of fishing is beer.  At best, fishing is an activity, not a sport, and I am reluctant to even call it an activity, given that there is not much of that going on either.

It was my love of travel and a trip with my son that had me excited about visiting a place I’d never been before, Sitka, Alaska, even though I’d have to fish there!  Flying into Sitka is breathtaking; as the snow-capped mountain, thickly forested woodlands, and thousands of little islands in the Alaska archipelago unfold below you prior to landing.

So far, so good, maybe fishing here won’t be so bad after all.

Totem Square Hotel & Marina

Captain Mike meets us at the airport and says ‘Hey’ (We’ll learn later that that’s a long conversation for him), throws our gear in the back of his van, and we pile in and head to the Totem Square Hotel & Marina – right on the water.  A quick walk through the quaint little town of Sitka to get something to eat and then it’s early to bed for a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.

As I crawled into bed it was still light outside, but, as I was to learned, it was always going to be light outside . . . it’s Alaska, in the summer!!  As I lye in bed, I  wondered why I was here.  I hate fishing, I’m no good at fishing, fishing is boring – it’s baiting a hook, dropping it in the water and then reeling it back in, mostly with nothing on it.  It’s really mostly sitting; sitting in the van to get to the boat, sitting in the boat for about an hour to get to where the captain thinks the fish are, sitting with your line in the water and sitting around complaining about why the fish aren’t biting.  So, you sit around and have a few beers.

Me, Capt. Mike and the cod I had to throw back because it was too big

Day 1: I understand that a big part of fishing is about the experience – our first day experience had most everyone sea sick, due to the rough seas on a cold and windy morning.  What am I doing here?!!  Some of us, including me, threw their breakfast into the ocean – and not in a good way.  It was extremely rough seas which was apparently occupied by only a few fish.  At one point, after endless rough seas and hours of catching nothing, I looked at my watch assuming that we’d be thankfully headed in shortly – it was 10:30!!!  I had made up my mind right then that I was going to take tomorrow off – I could not see me doing this three days in a row.  I wanted a day where I my breakfast would stay in my stomach.  To add insult to injury, the only fish I caught was a ling cod that was TOO BIG, yes, too big, and I had to throw it back!  So, I learned that there were things about fishing that I hated that I didn’t even know I hated.  Throwing back a fish that was too big was one of them!  At the end of the day, we were all a little green in the gills and had only a couple of fish in the cooler to show for our days’ torture.  A delicious dinner at Mangiare’s, a great Italian restaurant in town, somewhat soothed an otherwise dreadful day.  I was reminded how much I hate fishing!

Day 2: Today we had calm seas, warm weather, little wind and thus a much smoother ocean, plus we all took Dramamine to start the day.  Fishing is really a great sport and I’ve discovered that I’m not that bad at it after all.   By early afternoon we had caught our limit of salmon and ling cod and had also bagged several halibut.  You know, when you feel at one with the ocean and you’re outsmarting the fish, you learn that there is a mental side to fishing.  And anyone who tells you that fishing is not physical, hasn’t spent 15-20 minutes with a fish fighting for its life on the line, trying to make sure you’re pulling and reeling at the right times to make sure you don’t lose him.  Fishing is mental, physical and you can have a beer.    I love fishing!

Day 3:  Day three was thankfully closer to Day 2 than Day 1, just not as fruitful.

Jeff with big salmon catch  and fishermen, Matt, Mark, Larry, Jeff & Chase

     

All in all this trip provided some great memories of spending time with son, Jeff and friends Mark, Chase, Larry and Matt, catching some great fish (we each brought home 27 lbs. of fileted salmon, halibut and ling cod) along with having a few beers and experiencing enough fish stories to last a lifetime.

 

 

 

IT’S A GRAND OLD FLAG DAY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week was Flag Day, our annual celebration of the stars and stripes.  Did you miss it?  I almost did but my Google calendar conveniently reminded me. I’m not sure the day gets its due, given that it falls between Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  In fact, I’m not even sure how Flag Day got its start or how we are officially supposed to celebrate it.  Unlike the two aforementioned holidays, I don’t see people laying wreaths on graves or barbequing hot dogs on Flag Day.  So, in preparation for next year, I decided it was high time for me to find out what the day is about and whether it will require a trip to the grocery store to properly prepare for it.

Betsy, showing her handiwork to Washington

President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed June 14th as Flag Day in 1916.  June 14th was chosen because the original adoption of a national flag was June 14, 1777.  In 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.  That could possibly be the last time Congress passed anything on a non-partisan basis.  In any event, it was good to have a national flag.  Up to that point, states had their own flags and George Washington felt it was important to rally the troops around a single flag.  History books tell us that he approached his personal seamstress, Betsy Ross, to sew the first flag.  Note, she is not credited with designing the first flag.  In fact, it has since been confirmed that Francis Hopkinson, a delegate from New Jersey who signed the Declaration of Independence, designed the American flag. But when charged with bringing the design to life, Betsy did make one significant change.  The original plan was for the thirteen stars, representing the original colonies, to be six-pointed.  However, Ms. Ross, being efficient and most likely anticipating her future workload, decided to make the stars five-pointed because she could fold the fabric in half and cut them out in one swath.  I like to think of her action as the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Bernard Cigrand

In any event, once our freedom from the British was secured, we didn’t pay much attention to the flag itself.  It wasn’t until 1885 that the flag got its own day.  That year, Bernard Cigrand, a small-town Wisconsin teacher, originated the idea for an annual flag day, to be celebrated across the country every June 14. That year, he led his school in the first formal observance of the holiday.  From that point on, he devoted his life to promoting the observance of Flag Day.  He became president of the American Flag Day Association and later of the National Flag Day Society, which allowed him to promote his cause with organizational backing.  With that backing, many cities and towns organized parades and picnics to celebrate the day.  I’m sure food was involved but I don’t think there is anything official.  I see an opportunity to declare cake the food of choice for Flag Day.

Another interesting fact about Flag Day is that it has to be proclaimed by the President each year.  Seems rather odd that they just can’t issue a permanent requirement to observe it every June 14.  Then again, isn’t it perfectly fitting that the government works in such an inefficient manner?  I checked on this and, sure enough, President Biden issued a proclamation for Flag Day 2022 on June 10. People may have been too distracted by inflation to notice.  Plus, I think the flag gets a bad rap in general these days.  Too often people confuse patriotism and love of country with politics.  People employ the flag to signify how patriotic they are, even when they are really just trying to send a political statement.

“Captain America” no more

This conflation of patriotism and politics is often seen in the sports world, by both players and fans.  Perhaps no better example of someone who “uses” the flag is the golfer, Patrick Reed.  He was so over-the-top patriotic at the Ryder Cup a few years ago that he was branded “Captain America”.  That was then.  This is now: Reed signed on with the new LIV golf tour, sponsored by the Saudis, for a lot of money. So much for his patriotism.  Or maybe he just needed gas money. Regardless, I doubt we’ll see Mr. Reed sporting the red, white and blue when he tees it up in his first LIV tournament next week.

So now you might know a bit more about Flag Day.  You’ve got plenty of time to go buy a flag, organize a parade, or better yet, bake a cake in preparation for next year.

Road to Utopia

by Bob Sparrow

Me at the Giggling Marlin

You might not have noticed, but over the past eleven years of writing about my experiences, you’ve not heard a lot of ‘fish stories’.  Just one in fact, which sort of sums up my fishing acumen – my trip to Cabo back in July 2012.  Here’s the link in case you’re in need of a good laugh!

https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=712

Yes, that’s me hanging upside down at the Giggling Marlin in Cabo, the penalty for being ‘skunked’.  And in a ‘father-like-son’ moment, Jeff experienced the same fate.

Jeff at the Giggling Marlin

Now, 10 years later, we’re off to try fishing again, this time to Alaska with neighbors, Mark Johnson, Larry Affentranger and our three sons/sons-in-law, Jeff Sparrow, Chase Johnson and Matt Paul.  Mark and Larry are experienced fishermen, why they invited us along, I’m not sure – other than comic relief.  Or maybe they just didn’t believe how bad a fisherman we were and wanted to witness it firsthand.

When Jeff was growing up, I felt obligated to take him fishing. Isn’t that what dads and sons do?  So, I took him to Big Bear Lake – we caught a boot, Mammoth’s Lake Mary – we caught a lady’s undergarment, Lake Tahoe – we caught a cold.  We’ve NEVER caught a fish!  When I sent Jeff the flyer about this Alaska fishing trip which ‘GUARANTEED’ us to catch fish, he called me after he’d read the brochure and said, “They may have to change their guarantee after the Sparrow boys’ visit!”

We’re headed to Sitka, Alaska, which is on the ‘Alaskan Panhandle’ on the island of Baranof in the Gulf of Alaska between Juneau and Ketchikan– I’m not sure if we can see Russia from there or not.  I’ll let you know.  Sitka was actually under Russian rule from 1799 – 1867.  So, it may be on Russia’s list to re-take at some point – hopefully not this week!

While Sitka is the 5th largest city in Alaska, it has only a population of about 8,500.  If you want to get a real ‘feel’ for the city, you can watch the Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal, which was shot there.

On my ‘check the box’ list, I can tell you that Alaska is one of only five of the United States that I’ve never visited.  Additionally, I’m getting another check the box – some of you more senior, seniors will remember the old Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour ‘Road movies’, which took them to various exotic locations around the world.  Even though, as my wife continually reminds me, the movies were shot in the back lot of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, I still credit them for giving me the ’travel lust’ that keeps we wanting to visit more and more places.  The seven ‘road movies’ included the following destinations: Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Bali, Hong Kong, Rio and Utopia (Utopia in the movie is Alaska).  So, this will be the first ‘road movie’ destination that I’ve visited.  I want to visit them all and I’m not getting any younger!

Sitka, Alaska

Back to Alaska, the plan is to fly up there on Saturday, fish on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and fly back on Wednesday.  I’m sure Mark, Chase, Larry and Matt will be bringing back large packages of flash-frozen Halibut, Salmon and whatever else is swimming around up there.  Jeff’s and my bag will be filled with dirty laundry, Band-Aids to cover hook gashes and soggy shoes.  The weather prediction as of now is ‘rain’ every day!   So, it will be cold, wet and probably fishless, but I’m still guessing we will have a good time!

I’ll let you know.

 

The Bubble Machine is Still Wondaful ah Wonderful

by Bob Sparrow

The name Lawrence Welk calls up one of two thoughts:  If you’re of a certain age, you’re thinking, bandleader, who had an accent, a TV variety show, a ‘bubble machine’ and played ‘champagne’ music (Because his music was smooth yet bubbly, like champagne); and everything was always “Wondaful ah Wondaful”.  If you’re not of a certain age, you’re thinking, “Who the heck is Lawrence Welk, and why are we even talking about him?”

Because Linda and I spent last week at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido, CA, now, just called the Welk Resort, as Lawrence has passed, but not without living the quintessential American dream.  He was born in the German-speaking community of Strasburg, North Dakota, to parents who had emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine.  He left school while a 4th grader, to help work on the family farm and did not learn to speak English until he was 21.  He loved music from an early age and convinced his parents to buy him an accordion for what would be today between $5 – $6,000!  His love of music, business acumen and focused drive, got him on the radio, then television, then into creating resort destinations – the one in Escondido, his first.  In all, he ended up creating eight, up-scale resorts in places like Lake Tahoe, Cabo San Lucas, Palm Springs and Branson, Missouri.  He ultimately sold them to Marriott for $430,000,000.  Not bad for a guy with less than a 4th-grade grade education!

After checking into the Welk Resort on Saturday, I took Linda up to the Temecula Creek Inn on Sunday, to meet up with daughters, Stephanie and Dana to do a wine tasting that they had given her for Mother’s Day.  Dana brought daughter, Addison, with her so I could babysit her for the next 24 hours.

Addison and I drove directly from the Temecula Creek Inn to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (the old Lion Country Safari), which I hadn’t been to in many, many years, and was pleasantly surprised at what a great facility it had turned into.  But before we could see the elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffes, apes, birds, etc., Addison had to have her face painted and visit a few of the gift shops.  After 3-4 very fun hours with the animals, we then went back to the Welk and found the pool with the giant water slide that Addison showed no fear in going down – feet first and head first!  After a full day of zoo and pool, we drove to the city of Vista for Addison’s favorite dinner – sushi!  And on the way home we saw the ‘Blood Moon’ and I explained to Addison what an eclipse was.  I asked her the next morning if she remembered what it was and she told me that this was a lunar eclipse where the earth passed between the sun and the moon – so the lesson was learned, as I imagined it would be!  We met the girls in the morning for breakfast back at the Temecula Creek Inn – as I gave Addison back to Dana, I told her it wasn’t really like babysitting, it was like hanging out with a very fun young lady!

For the next several days, Linda and I played three rounds of golf, two on the Welks property, one at the Oaks Course, a short par 3 course (not recommended), one at the Welks Fountains Executive Course (recommended), and one round about 30 minutes away at Mt. Woodson, or what I’ve renamed it, “Mt. Bring-A-Lot-Of-Balls”.  It’s a beautiful course in the hills of Ramona and I would highly recommend this one – just bring plenty of balls!  On our way home from Mt. Woodson, we just happened to go by Harrah’s Casino (I should have known that if I left the navigating to Linda that we’d end up at a casino!)  We had a great dinner in the casino at Fieri’s Steak House and felt good about the contributions we gave to our Native American friends at the casino.

The night before we checked out, we went to the great little theatre (seats about 350) on the Welk property to see a performance by Fortunate Son, a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band – great songs, great show!!

Excellent facility, fun time, and close by – good enough that it could be on our ‘annual trip’ list.  Perhaps Addison will want to join us for a day or two!!

 

 

 

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2022)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the soldiers from my high school who died in the Vietnam war After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their hometowns or, worse, their families. Readers have also let me know of two additional casualties that attended NHS. So, 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 quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give them both 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 very smart and 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 lead 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 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 16 year-old kids 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 and 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 who knew him. 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. A complete stranger paid tribute to Jim in 2018 on the date of his death. You can read my post about it 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 were 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 Jerry 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”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 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 just yesterday of Jim’s passing.

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 of 1966, 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 (pictured left), 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 what our family would have been like without him. 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.

HITTING THE BULLSEYE OF FRIENDSHIP

I learned this week that I have enough friends.  Well, that’s a relief! Apparently, they might not be the right type of friends, but the number is spot on.  Not that I socialize with cheats, liars and thieves, but there are categorizations of friendship that I was previously (blissfully) unaware of but now can’t get out of my head.  I don’t know why there is such a focus on friends lately, but in the past two weeks both The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have run articles about analyzing friendships. If two newspapers as divergent as those pick up on the trend, I think there’s something to it.

The notion of analyzing how many people we can maintain friendships with started in Britain in the 1990’s with a study done by anthropologist Robin Dunbar.  He suggested that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.  The number he came up with is 150.  His theory has stood the test of time and is now referred to as “Dunbar’s Number”. In typical British fashion, Dunbar synthesized his theory down to the local pub so that people like me could understand it. His definition of identifying your closest 150 friends is that they are people that you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar. Man, when I think about it that way, I’ve had a lot more than 150 friends at some points in my life.  I’ve struck up conversations with perfect strangers if they looked like they were having fun – or would buy me a drink.  But I get his point.

 Bob definitely makes my Top 5!

Mr. Dunbar published new research last year, written just before the pandemic, that seems to winnow down, or perhaps better define, what we need from friendships in today’s world.  As I noted, it was written before the pandemic but seems to foretell our need to limit our social interactions.  In his recent book he writes that friendships sift themselves into concentric circles, like a bull’s-eye. The innermost ring comprises our closest friends and family members. This “support clique” numbers around five people and is so named because it consists of all the people who would unstintingly give you support or help if you needed it. The next ring, at 15 people, forms what he calls the “sympathy group,” which he defines as “the people you invite round for a quiet dinner or an evening at the pub.” Then comes a circle of 50 “good friends,” and on and on in multiples of three, with 150—his famous Dunbar’s Number—marking the upper limit of how many friendships you can realistically maintain. Eventually we reach the ring of 500, which he said comprises acquaintances you know through work or a social group, but who are “unlikely to bother turning up to your funeral.”

The gist of both the WSJ and NYT articles was that the past few years have diminished our tolerance for uncomfortable or unfulfilling social interactions; the ones that excessively drain our social battery. Both articles highlight the idea that we have scaled down the number of people who are in our “good friends” circle because at first, we had to, and then we wanted to.  I think that I had already started to think about relationships and friendships before the pandemic hit.  Maybe it’s an age-related phenomenon. I realize that I’ve rounded third base, so I have become a lot pickier about how – and with whom – I want to spend my time.

Not my knitting group, but it could be

I’m not close to becoming a hermit – although if I watch much more nightly news it might become a distinct possibility. I still enjoy socializing and being with friends.  I have coffee with one of my closest friends every two weeks.  We enjoy an hour of catching up and solving world problems. My knitting group is an especially close group of women.  When I mentioned the friendship articles to them, we started a discussion about why we have formed such close ties.  We concluded that each week we spend hours together simply talking.  We aren’t hitting a golf or tennis ball, or choosing the next card to play at bridge, we simply spend time talking with each other. Over time, that has caused us to know a lot about each other’s lives, families, opinions, and every once in a while, we even talk about knitting.  We have formed a close bond because we have had the time to develop them because it is uninterrupted quiet time to simply enjoy being with each other.

Of course, Dash the Wonder Dog is still my #1 friend.  If you have the love of a dog, you don’t need much more. But I am lucky to have my close 15. I even think they would show up to my funeral.  Especially if there is good food and an open bar.

 

 

A New Sign of the Times

by Bob Sparrow

The age-old sign of insolent ill will

No, not a remake of the Harry Styles hit, ‘Sign of the Times’, and, no, I’m not going to pontificate on how times have changed, how we’ve become so polarized or why people don’t want to go to work anymore.  This is much more important than all of that.  As you regular readers know, and even those who aren’t regular (Sorry, they have medication for that), I mostly like writing about travel, and struggle with blog topics when I’m not preparing for a trip or on one.  With Covid and unrest in various parts of the world, my travel has been a bit restricted.  Oh yeah, I still work, so sometimes that gets in the way too.  Given the environment we are currently in, I look to find travel stories wherever I can. This one takes place less than a mile from my home – so technically it’s a ‘travel story’.

I’m driving my car and I do something that I don’t normally do, something we’ve all done, but try to avoid; I cut off a person as I was making a turn.  It was a two-lane, right turn and I was in the right-most lane and as I turned, I didn’t see the car to my left, also making a right turn, and I drifted into his lane and cut him off.  He saw me, honked, swerved and sped by me, as I’m sure he was thinking he wanted to get as far away as possible from this idiot.

As he drove by and gave me that ‘Where’d you get your license, K-Mart?’ look, I wanted to apologize and tell him that I was genuinely sorry; while I knew I couldn’t speak to him, I wondered if there was some gesture I could make that would convey an apology.

Several gestures came to mind:

  1. A wave and smile – It kind of says, “Hi, not sure who you are, thanks for letting me borrow your lane for a while.  Have a nice day.  I’m an idiot!”

 

 

 

 

 

2. Thumbs up – this sort of acknowledges that you understand what happen, but a thumbs up is a ‘positive’                                 gesture’, so you’re really saying, “Pretty cool that I cut you off, huh?  I’m OK!”

 

 

 

 

 

3. Peace sign – This really says ‘peace’, don’t kick my ass, ‘you lived, I lived, it’s all good, brother’

4. Hang loose sign – this says, ‘Don’t sweat it man, this happens all the time, just relax and accept it – chill.’

5. I even thought about saying I’m sorry in sign language, which is a fist rubbing circularly on your chest over your              heart. Aside from the fact that he couldn’t see that, the odds are he wouldn’t have understood what it meant                          anyway.

He sped away pissed off, and I continued on my journey, frustrated, a bit more cognizant of the boundaries of my lane, and wondering if there was a hand signal that says ‘I’m sorry’.

I Googled it.  No such animal.  So, I saw this as an opportunity to invent one.   It’s got to be a hand gesture, something easy to do and visible to a passing car.  It’s got to be the opposite of the middle finger or the shaking fist.  I’ve got it! Open the hand up and spread the fingers.  The open hand is the opposite of the fist and all five fingers is not the single middle finger.  The five fingers could stand for five words, like:

I’M SORRY!

1. I’m the one to blame

2. Sorry I cut you off

3. My mistake, I’m so sorry

4. Thank you for being alert

5. Please accept my sincere apology

 

 

Now it will be up to you as one of our readers to get the word, or the hand, out.  This could be a movement and you could say you were on the ground floor.

OK, I’m traveling this week, we’ll see if my travels are blog-worthy, although this one probably lowered the blog bar!

 

 

THE GREAT POTATO CHIP CAPER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, by now I’m assuming everyone has not only heard about the food shortages and supply line problems but has experienced them first-hand.  We’ve seen empty shelves since the pandemic started, but I sensed it was easing a bit until a few weeks ago.  Now, once again, going to the grocery store has all the certainty of placing a bet on the crap table.  Pundits on TV have blamed the war in Ukraine, but it seems to have started long before that.  This morning when I perused the pasta aisle I was met with a lot of blank space.  I grabbed the last bag of sweet potato fries and cinnamon graham crackers from their respective shelves.  I secretly applauded myself as if I had won the lottery.  But still, I haven’t been able to get the sugar-free wafer cookies that my husband loves in almost a year.  I think they are imported from Canada so I’m sure there is a customs problem at the border.  Too bad they don’t come from Mexico so they could sail right through.

In any event, the other item that has been very hit and I miss are Lay’s Baked potato chips. They are the brand that my husband’s cardiologist recommends (well, to the extent he recommends potato chips at all) but they have been impossible to find.  Obviously, I scour the shelves at our local Safeway once or twice a week, but I’ve been skunked at all of the other local markets as well. I’ve tried Target and CVS pharmacy – no dice.  Finally, last week I was in Walgreen’s when the Lay’s rep had just been there.  There were four bags on the shelf.  I furtively looked around, hoping no one was watching, and put all four bags in my cart.  I normally would never take the last of something.  Our mother always taught us that you never take the last cookie or the last piece of cake.  Advice which seems ridiculous.  Of course we wanted the last piece of cake! She never said, “Don’t take that last Brussel’s sprout!”.  Upon reflection, I realize that there was never just one sprout left.

Anyway, as I walked around Walgreen’s picking up the rest of my necessities, I ran through what excuses I might offer the check-out guy as to why I was depleting their entire stock of Baked Lays.  A graduation party?  Or, more appropriate for my age, a celebration of life? In the end, I just put my goods on the counter and proceeded to check out.  I didn’t look the check-out guy in the eye, lest he pose the dreaded “why?” question.  I felt guilty as I drove home, certain that a seven-year-old somewhere is Scottsdale was going to be deprived of potato chips in his lunch pail.  But when I walked in the house with my ill-gotten gains my greediness was rewarded.  My husband looked at me like I was Olivia Newton-John (his girl crush).  I can’t remember the last time he looked at me that way.

I’ve heard that we’re in for even more food shortages this summer.  What’s more, because fertilizer may be in short supply, they are going to spray manure on the crops, including potatoes.  Perhaps I need to tell my husband that, thus reducing his desire for the chips.  And, unfortunately, me.

 

When NFL Scouts Get It Wrong

by Bob Sparrow

NFL scout career path

Last week Sis gave a great history of the NFL Draft as well as some interesting sidebars.  As luck (not sure if it was good or bad luck) would have it, I was in Las Vegas last week during the festivities, although far enough from ‘The Strip’ to avoid most of the hoopla, but close enough to feel the vibe.

Suzanne mentioned the embarrassment of quarterback, Brady Quinn (or most likely the draft organizers) who was put in a very visible spot, thinking that he was going to be drafted in the first or second round, when in fact he wasn’t picked until round 22!  So, he surely entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder.  Unfortunately, that chip was probably on his throwing shoulder as his NFL career was less that sterling.  He ‘played’ in the NFL for 7 years, was on 5 different teams, only played in 24 games in his total career, and had more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (12).  So, the NFL scouts got that one right.  But before you feel too sorry for Mr. Quinn, he currently works for Fox Sports as a football analyst at a salary of $715,000 a year and has a net worth of over $10 million.

Giovanni who?

But many times, in fact more than you’d think, the scouts get it wrong.  I say more than you think, because the process of hiring an employee in the NFL is very different from most businesses.  Employers, rather than looking at resumes that most likely have a few hyperboles in it, and having an hour-long interview with a potential hire, NFL scouts have several years of game films to look at, doctor reports, work outs at the NFL Combine and extended conversation with a potential employee’s last boss (college coach).  So, getting the draft wrong would seem highly unlikely, but it’s not.

The quintessential “NFL Draft Oops” was in the 2000 draft when Tom Brady, now arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, was picked in the 6th round, making him the 199th player selected – six other quarterbacks were drafted before him – you’re not alone if you don’t recognize any of their names, Spergon Wynn, Tee Martin, Chad Pennington, Chris Redman, Marc Bulger and Giovanni Carmazzi.  I’m not making these names up!!

NFL’s biggest flop

Other notable ‘Oops’ are Shannon Sharp, drafted 192nd in the 1990 draft, who became an All Pro tight end and was ultimately inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Joining him in the Hall was Joe Montana, drafted 82nd in the 1979 draft and lead the 49ers to four Super Bowls.

The scouts get it wrong the other way as well.  Ryan Leaf, was the 2nd player picked in the 1998 draft behind Payton Manning.  In his NFL rookie year, Leaf threw 2 touchdowns and 15 interceptions; and that wasn’t the worst of it, he was a jerk who was despised by both his teammates and his coaches.  He played four uneventful seasons in the NFL and threw for 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.  But, apparently being a ’NFL Quarterback Bust’ is a career path to being a football analyst for a major network, as that’s what Leaf is doing now for ESPN.

I’m guessing that some of those scouts involved in the aforementioned draft picks are now working for Fox or ESPN . . . as janitors.  With the NFL draft now over, football season cannot be far off – can’t wait, especially for the colleges!  Go Utes!!!