PASSED TIME

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

I was thinking the other day about how quickly time seems to be passing.   My brother (the real Jack Sparrow) turned 80 last week and next week we will celebrate our youngest grandson’s high school graduation.  Where did that time go?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were at Tahoe celebrating Jack’s 50th birthday?  Wasn’t our grandson just asking me for tickles and a grape popsicle?  Time really does seem to be flying by and almost everyone I speak with observes the same phenomenon.  So I decided to find out why time seems to go so quickly as we age.  The answer is way above my pay grade and my hair hurt trying to understand all the scientific research about it, but here goes.

First, the feeling of time going faster as we age is a universal one.  The studies on this syndrome conclude that almost all older people perceive time to pass more quickly than younger people.  But why?  There are a couple of theories.  One has to do with memory as a percentage of our age.  For example, one year in a ten-year-old’s life represents 10-15% of their conscious memory, which is a pretty significant amount.  But one year for a 50 year-old is only 2% of their recallable life.  And for the very old, say 80-90 year-olds, it obviously represents far less.  This explains why children think of summer as endless, while adults perceive a summer as going quickly.  Unless you’re in Arizona and then the summer drags on and on.  But that’s a subject for another day.

The second reason for the difference how we sense time as we age seems intuitively backwards to me, but then again, I majored in English, not Physics.   Adrian Bejan, a researcher at Duke University, believes the discrepancy in how old and young perceive time can be blamed on the ever-slowing speed at which images are obtained and processed by the human brain as the body ages.  He explains that the experience of time is always a backward-looking process, reliant on memory and, more importantly, reliant on visual memory.

Like frames in a movie, the more frames one sees in a second, the slower the image appears to pass. The fewer frames one sees per second the faster the image seems to move. In other words, slow motion reveals many more frames-per-second than normal motion or fast motion. Bejan asserts that as we age our brain’s neurovisual memory formation equipment slows and lays down fewer “frames-per-second.” That is, more actual time passes between the perception of each new mental image. Children perceive and lay down more memory frames or mental images per unit of time than adults, so when they remember events—that is, the passage of time—they recall more visual data.

This is what causes the perception of time passing more rapidly as we age. When we are young, each second of actual time is packed with many more mental images relative to our older selves.  Children’s brains are like a slow-motion camera that captures many more frames per second than a regular speed one, and time appears to pass more slowly when the film is played.

After all the reading I did I still don’t quite understand it.  It seems to me that the slow-motion camera would capture fewer frames.  But again, I can barely remember what happened yesterday so maybe my brain is in super-slow mode.  And you probably hoping by now that you can forget you ever started reading this post.  Don’t worry – if you’re old enough, you’ll have forgotten all about this by tomorrow.

70 SHADES OF GREY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Bob, me and brother Jack

My brothers and I have been fortunate in many ways, not the least is we have never harbored any jealousy of one another.  We have always supported one another’s accomplishments and offered support during rough patches.  But I have to admit, I have always been a bit envious of their beautiful hair.  Both of my brothers have shiny, thick, silver hair that requires little effort and provides them with a distinguished look.  On the other hand, I’ve been covering up my grey hair every 5-6 weeks since my late-30’s.  I discovered that I’m not unusual: 75% of women in the U.S. color their hair.

Part of the reason so many women choose to cover the gray is due to our cultural bias that gray hair is aging.  While studies show that men are perceived as more distinguished with gray hair (it is called the “George Clooney effect), women with gray hair are perceived to be old, dowdy and uncaring about their looks.  There is even a phrase for women who let their hair go gray:  Gray hair, don’t care.  I’m calling baloney on that.  Maybe we’re just tired of all the upkeep and expense.  I hate to think about the money I’ve spent on hair color over the years.  I’ve ranged from golden blonde to light brown to auburn but regardless of color, I’ve been a slave to the gray.

But something changed earlier this year; I began to re-think coloring my hair.  After all, I’m 70 – who am I trying to kid by not having a gray hair on my head?  One would only need to look at my crepey arms or wrinkled neck to know that I’m way past the point of being carded at the liquor store.  During the 2020 lockdown it was all the rage to transition to gray hair because the salons were closed.  Of course I didn’t do it then, when I wasn’t going anywhere or seeing anyone.  That would have made too much sense.  Instead, I donned my hazmat suit and kept every salon appointment all year long.  But earlier this year I decided enough was enough and vowed to join my brothers in the Sparrow silver hair.   I had silver-blonde streaks put in to help with the transition.  I have a visions of looking like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I will probably end up looking like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out that I have very slow-growing hair.  It sure didn’t seem that way when I was traipsing to the salon every six weeks.  It will probably take the better part of a year for the silver to grow all the way out.  Oh well, I’m almost past the point of caring.  The gray hair I worry about these days is on Dash the Wonder Dog.  When I look at his sweet face I see all the gray hair around his eyes.  It’s a horrible reminder that he is getting older and won’t always be with me.  Now THAT is gray hair to worry about.  So I’m going to spend my time thinking less about what color my hair is and more time sitting next to my best pal, who loves me no matter what color is on top of my head.  We’ve made a pact that we’re going gray together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY AUNT, THE COUNTESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

As our regular subscribers know, I am our family’s historian.  I joined Ancestry.com ten years ago and was instantly hooked.  I’ve always loved studying history; I find the personal stories of the famous and not-so-famous are intriguing.  Over the years I’ve found some good relatives –  Mayflower passengers, President John Adams and, my favorite, Marilyn Monroe – and some less desirable discoveries – insanity, murder, and horse-thievery.  Regardless, I find myself sucked into the black hole of Ancestry at least once a month, usually on the day I receive my monthly bill.  Each month I question whether to renew my subscription, but then I discover an interesting fact that keeps me going.  It makes me wonder if Ancestry is making this stuff up just to keep me renewing.  This month, I stumbled across a doozy so I’m sharing on the off chance you have nothing better to read this fine Monday morning.

Grandpa Sparrow

The story starts with my paternal grandfather, who died before I was born.  He was a straight-laced, sober-sided man who was born to English immigrants.  The best illustration of his “Englishness” is a story my grandmother loved to tell of the first time her brothers asked my grandfather to go fishing.  He rose early in the morning and ducked into the bathroom to get dressed.  When he emerged, he had on a suit, tie and vest!  My grandmother burst out laughing but my grandfather failed to see the humor.  Anyway, as stuffy as he was, he was a bit of a family outcast from the beginning because he had been divorced prior to meeting my grandmother.  That fact was never a secret, in  fact, I remember my grandmother telling me about it when I was a little girl.  But what she failed to mention – and what I eventually found out in my family history research – is that he had a daughter, Beverly, with his first wife, Corinne.  I discovered Beverly’s existence in 2011.  By then, my dad had died but I asked my mother if she knew anything about dad having a half-sister.  She casually said, “Yes, he knew about her but never met her.” WOW!  They were born just five years apart and lived within 20 miles of each other for most of their childhood, but my grandfather never introduced them to each other.

Passengers in lifeboats on USS Washington

I set out to learn more about Beverly but was never able to gather much information.  This week Ancestry sent me a hint about her and before I knew it, I was deep into researching my elusive aunt.  I could tell from census records that she grew up in San Francisco.  But after the 1920 census there is no further documentation on her until 1940.  But that document is a wowzah.  At some point after 1920, Beverly and Corinne moved to France, where Corinne’s grandmother lived.  They lived in peace until World War II broke out.  On June 1, 1940, with Hitler bearing down on France, the U.S. State Department issued a warning that all American citizens who wished to flee France would need to board the  U.S.S. Washington in Le Havre or remain in place for the duration of the war.  It was the last civilian ship to leave Europe.  On June 8, 1940, Corinne and Beverly boarded the Washington, bound for New York.  Their timing was exquisite; just six days later the Germans invaded Paris.  But as it turned out, they were not yet out of danger.  Three days out of Le Havre the Washington was stopped by a German submarine.  The Germans signaled that the Washington had 10 minutes to abandon ship before it would be blown up.  The crew sounded the alarm and the 1787 refugees scrambled into lifeboats.  After some skillful negotiation, the Germans eventually signaled the Washington to continue on.  The captain surmised that the vision of all those civilians in lifeboats gave the German captain pause.  In any event, on June 21, 1940 Corinne and Beverly landed back in the United States.

The trail of Beverly’s life went dark until 1946, when a Pan Am manifest shows her passage from Bermuda to New York and lists her profession as “actress”.  I searched records for actresses by her name but came up empty. How or why she was in Bermuda to begin with is a mystery.  Then in 1949 she left New York for Ecuador, only to return the next year, this time with a fiancé in tow.   She married Louis de Reiset, a French citizen living in Ecuador, in 1950 in New York.  The mind boggles at what a Frenchman was doing in Ecuador or how Beverly met him.  Was it a long lost love from her time in Paris?  Was he a German collaborator during the war that used one of the ratlines to get to South America?  This is the stuff of novels…or my overactive imagination.

Beverly’s last immigration form

There are no records on Beverly and Louis until 1956, where the log of the S.S. Liberte indicates they traveled from France to New York City.  Again, there is a long period of silence but I think there was trouble in paradise because her next record is an immigration form from 1961 when she entered Florida from Ecuador.  By then, Corinne had moved to Winter Park and it appears from phone book listings that Beverly moved in with her.  In 1963, Beverly filed for divorce from Louis in Florida and she remained there for the rest of her life.   Louis died in Ecuador in 1996.

Beverly died in 2001, ironically, the same year my dad died.  There are no photos of her that I can find, including in her obituary.  But her parting shot did provide a new dimension to her personality.  Her obituary in the Orlando Sentinel, read in part:

BEVERLY S. de REISET, 92, Lakemont Avenue, Winter Park, died Friday, July 27. Countess de Reiset was a member of French nobility. She was an actress and real-estate agent. Born in San Francisco, she moved to Central Florida in 1959. She was a member of Town Club. 

WHAT?  A countess?  A member of French nobility?  Her dad was born in New Jersey and her mother in Missouri.  Sure, she had a great-grandmother in France, but a quick search of the noble names of France does not include her family name.  Who knows? Maybe it goes back generations.  What is astounding is that Beverly styled herself as nobility when it was clearly a distinction tied to her short-lived marriage to Louis.  Regardless, I have an image of her swanning through the Town Club, asking everyone to address her as “Countess”.

I wish that I had met Beverly.  I’m thinking a visit with her over a few martinis would yield some really good stories.  All I know is, Ancestry is definitely worth the price.  Where else can you find this level of intrigue for twenty bucks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2021)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys 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 home towns or, worse, their families. 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 on 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 year books 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 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 and 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 who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, 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.

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 same sorrow 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 brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother 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.

LESSON #1: DON’T BE A JERK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life. We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t.  Robert Fulghum

You may remember Robert Fulghum as the author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“.   In 1988 he published that best-selling book in which he outlined many of the lessons we learned as young children – share everything, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours – and he beseeched us to apply those principles to our adult lives.  Among the most salient points he made was: “When you go out into the world watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”

I was drawn back to Reverend Fulghum’s book this past week for two reasons.  First, I am reading The Rise and Fall of 9/11, written in 2019 by Mitchell Zuckoff, a former Boston Globe reporter.  The book is an in-depth account of the people and events of that horrible day.  At times it has been painful to read, learning about everyday people in the air and on the ground, knowing what their ultimate fate would be.  But it has also been inspiring, a good reminder that people are generous and giving; there are plenty of people who look out for their fellow man, even to the detriment of their own well-being.  Reading about so many selfless acts reminded me of Fulghums’ advice – there were many examples that day of “holding hands and sticking together“.

Much has changed in the ensuing twenty years.  Technology has changed our lives for the better, and occasionally, for the worse.  The tech boom has altered almost everything we do, and in the process has created a super-wealthy class, rich beyond what any previous generation could dream of, much less achieve.  Unfortunately, for some, their wealth brings with it a sense of entitlement.  Which brings me to the second reason I pulled out Robert Fulghum’s book this week.

Each year since the mid-1980’s my husband and I have visited Sun Valley, Idaho.  We love it for it’s beauty, but also because of it’s “laid back”, mountain town vibe.  Although the city was founded by a wealthy man (Averell Harriman) and has historically attracted movie stars and business titans, it has still maintained a low-key, respectful culture.  So I was distressed this past week to read an article in the local Sun Valley paper about changes to the friendly ethos.

Like many rural areas, Sun Valley saw a significant rise in population as a result of the COVID pandemic.  In fact, real estate sales hit an all-time high last year, with prices increasing as much as 52% in some neighborhoods.  Most of the new residents and visitors are coming from Seattle and Southern California and, unfortunately, they have not taken the time to learn about the town and how its citizens are expected to behave.  City leaders said the growth has fostered some negative changes: trash and dog waste left on trails, aggressive driving, speeding cyclists who don’t yield to others and rude treatment of restaurant workers.  The owner of one local eatery decided to close on Saturdays because of weekend customers’ poor treatment of staff.

The city council is now pondering a new marketing campaign to “school” new residents and visitors alike on the expected norms of this peaceful little valley.   The current proposal is, “Don’t change Sun Valley. Let Sun Valley change you.”  I think that’s a fine start, but maybe the city leaders should consider distributing copies of Rev. Fulghum’s book as people enter town.  It would appear that a lot of people have forgotten what they learned in kindergarten.

CHEERS TO 80 YEARS!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

This week marks a milestone birthday for my husband – 80!  He’s in pretty good shape – still able to play golf, walk the dog and shout at the TV while watching hockey.  I’ve been thinking about his birthday a lot this month, mostly because he is impossible to shop for since he has very particular taste and, let’s face it, at 80 years old he already has everything he needs.  The other reason I’ve been thinking about his big day is I marvel at the longevity of his family.  As many of our subscribers know, my husband, his parents and his older brother we interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for about four years during WWII.  Suffice it to say that food and medical care were in short supply.  Yet his father lived to 90, his mother to 96 and his brother is still going strong.  You would think that their experience would shorten their lives, but obviously they have some tough genes in the Watson tribe.

Our great, great grandmother who died at age 87 in 1925

My side of the family has also lived long lives. In fact, when I researched our genealogy I discovered that the women on our mother’s side of the ledger have lived way beyond the average lifespan of their time for hundreds of years.  The furthest back I can go is 13th century England, when our 20th great-grandmother, Sybella deLea, lived to be 65! Our dad’s side isn’t so fortunate but even he lived to be 87 and the only gym he ever came into contact with was Jim Beam, so his long life definitely wasn’t attributable to healthy lifestyle habits.  So I got to wondering…why do some people live longer? The answer wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected.  First, it’s good to know that after a small decline in the mid 2010’s, the average lifespan in the U.S. increased over the past couple of years and is now 78.93.  Eighty years ago the average was 62.81 which, among other things, is why our Social Security system is on the brink of bankruptcy – we’re all living a lot longer.  The increase can be attributed to a number of factors – vaccinations and antibiotics greatly reduced deaths in childhood, workplace safeguards improved work-related injuries and illness, and finally, smoking went out of fashion, almost to the point of extinction today.

Happy men in Sardinia

But since those improvements tended to benefit industrialized populations equally, why are some people and indeed, whole families, living longer than others?  Researchers estimate that about 25% of the variation in lifespan is due to genetics, but which genes, and how they contribute to longevity, is not well understood.  Most of our ability to live to an old age is due to lifestyle habits –  a healthy weight, a good diet and none of the vices (cigarettes, alcohol and drugs).  So, in other words, you may live to a ripe old age but be prepared to be bored as hell.  Scientists are studying a handful of communities in parts of the world where people often live into their nineties and older—Okinawa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece), and Sardinia (Italy). These three regions are similar in that they are relatively isolated from the broader population in their countries, are lower income, have little industrialization, and tend to follow a traditional (non-Western) lifestyle. Unlike other populations of the very old, the centenarians on Sardinia include a significant proportion of men. Researchers are studying whether hormones, sex-specific genes, or other factors may contribute to longer lives among men on the island.  I’m thinking it has more to do with limited exposure to the internet but that’s just my theory.

In a study published by the NIH, scientists in the United States noted that long-lived individuals have little in common with one another in education, income, or profession. What they do share are common healthy lifestyle habits.  Jeez – there is just no getting away from people advising us to diet and exercise.  But here is the great part for those of us who had long-lived ancestors:  these same scientists concluded that if you get to be age 70 without major health issues, and you have a family history of longevity, you are likely to live a very long life.  What I’m taking away from this research is if you get to 80 you can begin to smoke, drink and loaf because you’ve already outlived the averages and deserve that big piece of chocolate cake.  So…happy big birthday to my husband – the odds are he’s going to be around for many more years!

 

WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Those of us who have lived in Arizona for any length of time have noticed a recent trend – there are a LOT of people moving here.  Usually we have an uptick in population from January through April, as “snowbirds” leave the wintry climes of Chicago and Minneapolis to soak up a little sunshine.  In addition to the weather, we offer exotic car auctions, the Phoenix Open golf tournament, Arabian horse shows and Spring Training games.  So, we’re used to snarled traffic and impossible restaurant reservations during those months.  But this year?  Holy smokes…the traffic congestion started last summer and has only gotten worse.  Trips to the grocery store that used to take 10 minutes now take 15, and once we’re in the store, the line at the bakery now snakes all the way back to the vegetable section, which somehow seems just plain wrong.  In our small community we’ve seen firsthand the effect of the influx.  In the first quarter of 2020 we had 9 home sales; this year we had 9 closings just in the month of January, and 38 total for the quarter.

COVID, of course, accounts for much of the movement into Arizona.  First, many of the recent transplants stated that the lockdown caused them to re-assess their priorities and retire earlier than planned.  Second, once people were able to work from home, they concluded that their home could be anywhere, so why live in an expensive, high-tax state?  According to the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Business, more than 60% of the immigrants to Arizona are coming from California, followed closely by Washington and Illinois.  Notice a trend?  Third, our job market is booming, with many Fortune 500 companies relocating here due to our lower tax rates and abundant workforce. As a consequence of the population boom, housing prices in Arizona have already increased 8% in 2021.  Each Sunday the Arizona Republic newspaper publishes the top five homes sales, based on price.  Up until this year, the most expensive home was usually $2-3 million, with the other four somewhere between $1-1.5 million.  Now, the top five are all $4-5 million.  If you buy a million dollar home you are apparently living somewhere near the poverty line.

The downside of all this, other than the traffic, is that it’s become harder for people to buy entry-level homes and next to impossible to find a rental home.  Affordable apartments are also hard to come by now.  Young couples are moving farther and farther away from metro Phoenix, or moving out of state, in order to afford the lifestyle they assumed they would have in Arizona.  And the housing market is not the only commodity benefiting from recent transplants –  expensive cars are selling like hotcakes.  Someone asked me recently if there had been a fire sale on Bentley’s, because they are now ubiquitous.  One of the luxury car dealers noted that people moving from California can sell their home there, buy a bigger one here, and still have plenty left over for a $200,000 car.

So in an effort to slow the population growth, here is my countervailing list for anyone thinking of moving here:

  • Rattlesnakes – they are everywhere and will spring out at you with little notice.  You will go on walks as if you were traipsing through a minefield.
  • Javelina – perhaps the ugliest animal on Earth, they will not only charge you, they will eat every beautiful bloom on your (expensive) cacti.
  • Coyotes – no, not the hockey team, the real thing.  They are sneaky and plan their attacks in groups.  If you have a small dog you will never be able to let them outside alone again.  Owls also fit into this category.  A neighbor just had their Yorkie picked up by an owl and whisked away.
  • Heat – this is the big one.  Don’t believe it when people say it’s a dry heat.  So is my microwave, but you don’t see me living in it.  In 2020, we had 144 days over 100 degrees.  ONE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR!  Believe me, it can take the starch right out of you…and anything you’re wearing.

I’m waiting with anticipation to see what the “move out” rate is come summer.  My guess is that a lot of people who found our warm weather so charming in January will head back to wherever they came from by July.  Hopefully by August I’ll be able to wait in line for cake without having to stare at the broccoli.

A TRADITION UNLIKE ANY OTHER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

There was some talk a couple of weeks ago about moving The Masters golf tournament out of Georgia.  For those of us familiar with the game and the course, we could only shake our heads at such tomfoolery.  You can’t move The Masters from Augusta, The Masters is Augusta.  Sure, you could move the tournament to Poughkeepsie, but then it would have to be the Pepsi Cola Poughkeepsie Open, or some such thing.  What the “move The Masters” people didn’t understand is that the tournament played at Augusta National each spring is, as Jim Nance dubbed it, “a tradition unlike any other”.  It would be like taking the Boston Marathon out of Boston or the Kentucky Derby out of Churchill Downs.  Sure, you may have an event, but it would lack the prestige and history that we’ve come to love.

I was rooting for Jordan Spieth to win The Masters this year.  I love a good comeback story and from all accounts, he is a really good guy.  Unlike Bryson DeChambeau who, by those same accounts, is a real jerk on and off the course.   Unfortunately Jordan didn’t win, but he had a good showing, and kept it exciting to the end.

No matter who wins, The Masters holds a special place in the heart of every golfer.  It’s all about tradition, and it’s defined by a set of odd rules and customs that just don’t exist outside of Augusta National.  Here are just a few:

  • Food prices are ridiculously cheap.  A cup of coffee, for example, is $1.50.  Starbucks could learn something from those folks at Augusta National.
  • Cows at Augusta!

    During WWII, when manpower was short and the course was closed for the duration, they set 200 cattle loose on the grounds in hopes that they would “trim” the grass by eating it.  The plan was that once the cows were fattened, the club would sell them for a tidy profit, since meat was being rationed.  However, the cows, not realizing where they were, continued to devour azalea and camellia bushes at an alarming rate. Finally, they were sold and, instead of a profit, a loss of $5,000 was recorded in the Augusta business ledger.

  • Caddies must wear white jumpsuits, which make them look like a parking attendant from the 1950’s.
  • TV commentators are required to call the spectators “patrons”.  Man, that is some high class crowd.  Makes me think of frequenting a posh salon or uber-expensive tasting room.  But there must be some truth to it because it is the one tournament where you don’t hear some yahoo screaming, “You ‘da man!” after every tee shot.  Augusta National also forbids patrons from wearing their caps backwards.  In other words, it is the polar opposite of the Phoenix Open.
  • Another tradition is that cell phones are banned.  Instead, there are banks of payphones for “patrons” to use, which means there are very long lines of people waiting to use one.  The millennials must gaze at these “antiques” and wonder how their grandparents posted selfies with them.
  • You can be arrested for selling tickets to The Masters.  A few years ago 24 people were arrested for doing just that.  One must understand, that to be a patron you don’t buy a ticket, you apply for a ticket.
  • In another move that is sure to irritate somebody somewhere, the bunkers at Augusta aren’t filled with sand, they are actually composed of waste product from the mining of aluminum.  The byproduct of the waste is a really white quartz, which sure looks like sand but is much more expensive.
  • Hamilton Tailoring Co. of Cincinnati is the exclusive maker of the green jacket, awarded to every winner.  But don’t even think about trying to order one for yourself… Hamilton Tailoring does not accept orders from the general public.  Even the Master’s winners are forbidden to take the green jacket from Augusta, except for the first year after their win.  Sergio Garcia was so thrilled with his win that he wore his green jacket during his wedding reception.

And finally, not to crush your illusions, but there are no birds allowed at Augusta National.  No one knows quite how they manage to keep the birds out.  Personally, I have visions of Tom Skerrett in “Steel Magnolias”.  In any event, the chirping birds you hear on the telecast is a “sweetener” from the sound people at CBS.

All of this makes for a very special tournament, one I hope to see in person one day.  That is, if I can live up to being a “patron”.

 

LUCKY LOUIS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

These days it’s easy to believe the worst in people.  Every time I turn on the TV there is some new horror.   I’ve lamented previously that the “neighborhood” feel that I grew up is a thing of the past.  But last week my faith was restored – mightily – by a lost dog.  Jennifer and Joe Veres took their dog, Louis, to the groomer.  A pretty ordinary errand, except that the groomer let Louis loose while taking him out for a potty break.  Louis is a small poodle-mix who was on a leash, so it makes one wonder just how attentive the groomer was watching over her charge.  A runaway dog is bad enough, but this grooming shop sits at one of the busiest intersections in Scottsdale.  The city estimates that 38,700 vehicles per day drive that road.  Louis was lost around 4 p.m., a very busy time of day.  The grooming shop closes at 5 p.m., but once Jennifer arrived there she told the owner she was going to stay all night if necessary in case Louis found his way back.  The owner said he had to go home to feed his animals, but would return to unlock the restroom for her and check on the progress of the search.  He never did.

Jennifer immediately took to Nextdoor, an app that is normally used by people to find a plumber or throw shade on a restaurant.  But Jennifer knew that it can also be a useful tool to broadcast information about a lost dog.  Just that week, another dog had been found through Nextdoor, and that gave her reason to hope.  Once she posted about Louis on Nextdoor, including his cute picture,  the community stepped up.  Literally HUNDREDS of people saw Jennifer’s story and came out to help.  Families got in their cars to traverse the area, bicyclists checked all the trails, and businesses pitched in as well.  The Off Road Jeep Adventures company is in the same shopping center as the groomer and they looked out for Jennifer as she waited.  Not only that, they sent their vehicles out with their high-powered headlights to aid in the search.  The valets and patrons at two nearby restaurants heard about Louis and began searching, as did Jennifer’s workmates.  Later that day a woman reported seeing Louis on the grounds of a nearby church, but when she tried to catch him, he was frightened and scampered away.  After that, the church allowed Jennifer and Joe to place clothing and food on their premises in an effort to lure Louis to the scent of his owners and a good meal.

As nightfall came, the search for Louis became more frantic.  The Sonoran desert can be a dangerous place, filled with rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats and very sharp cacti.  It’s not a great place for anyone at night, much less a poor, defenseless dog with a leash trailing behind him.  Jennifer took the advice of several people on Nextdoor and called on HARTT (Humane Animal Rescue and Trapping Team).  HARTT is a volunteer-based nonprofit here is Arizona that helps in capturing lost family pets, and homeless dogs and cats who are severely injured.  It’s a very specialized service, staffed with volunteers to understand the behavior of scared pets.  HARTT relies on volunteers to immediately begin searching when a lost pet is reported.  In Louis’ case, they worked tirelessly to find him, and to instruct everyone looking for him what and what not to do in case they spotted him.  According to HARTT, most lost animals do not stray more than a mile from where they were lost, so the fact that Louis had been spotted at the church meant he might still be nearby.

Jennifer, Joe and hundreds of others stayed out all Thursday night looking for Louis, with no luck.  Just as with lost people, time is not a friend.  Friday was a very hot day so it became more distressing that Louis had no ready access to water.  As the sun set on Friday night and darkness descended, a determined band of neighbors, the Jeep Adventures guys, and HARTT volunteers did not let up the search.  The Veres’ neighbor brought their dog, and Louis’ best friend, Teddy, to help find him.  And that did the trick!  At 8 pm on Friday night, 28 hours after Louis went missing, they spotted him near a playground next to the church.  Teddy’s scent must have let Louis know that he was near “safe” people because they were able to keep Louis there until Jennifer and Joe arrived.  Once Louis heard and smelled Joe he came out from under the brush and ran into Joe’s arms.  The guys from the Jeep company filmed the happy reunion.  As you night expect, everyone cried tears of joy.  I’m sorry that I can’t load the video here, because to hear Joe exclaim, “Buddy, there’s my best friend and buddy” as Louis jumped into his arms, is beyond heartwarming.

Louis’ body and paws were covered in cacti stickers so the Veres took him immediately to the local emergency vet, where he had to be sedated while they removed all of them.  It was truly a miracle that he had survived all.  For the record, the groomer did volunteer to pay the emergency vet bill.  It was the least they could do, so they did the least.  As of last week Louis is still a little traumatized and does not want to be left alone.  Luckily, Jennifer works for a great company.  They not only helped look for Louis but agreed that he could come in to work with her so she is always in his sight.  Jennifer and Joe have finally caught up on sleep and as for me, I am making HARTT Arizona my designated charity on my Amazon Smile Prime purchases.  I hope to God that Dash the Wonder Dog never goes missing, but if he does I now know exactly who to call.

So, the next time you think the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, think of the story of Louis.   People are really good.  Your neighbors are really good.  We all want to help each other out.  Remember that.

‘TIS A FINE WEEK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Surely, ’tis the best week of the year, is it not?  St. Patrick’s Day is not until Wednesday but some of us have begun celebrating early.  I am personally contributing to the festivities by drinking a pint of Guinness every day. Guinness is the mother’s milk of Ireland, and for good reason.  Three years ago I had the good fortune of spending time in the Emerald Isle with four of my girlfriends.  On the first day of the trip I ate something that didn’t agree with me.  Our driver suggested that I “take a Guinness”, extolling it’s virtues as a cure-all for most any ailment.  I gulped it down and, sure enough, I began to feel better.  He went on to explain that when he was growing up, doctors were scarce – and unaffordable – so Irish mothers gave their children a nip of Guinness whenever they were sick, as it was believed to be chocked full of vitamins and minerals.  Sort of the Irish version of Children’s  One-A-Day.

Once back home I began to research the miracle of Guinness.  Was it really a health food?  Should I be drinking more?  Turns out that back in the 1920s, when the “Guinness is Good for You” slogan was introduced, the claim was based on market research that found people felt good after they drank a pint of the dark and foamy stout.  Okay, but substitute “stout” for almost any form of alcohol and you’d probably have the same result.  Soon after the slogan gained popularity the flimsy claim was bolstered by the discovery that Guinness contains iron. A ha!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Even pregnant women were advised to have an occasional pint. Of course, it would take something like a dozen pints a day for a woman to get her recommended daily allowance of iron, in which point the alcohol and calories would cause more harm than good.

But in 2003 researchers at the University of Wisconsin found a truly redeeming feature of the beloved Guinness.  Turns out that stout beer like Guinness (as opposed to lager and other light beer) is high in the antioxidant compounds called flavonoids—similar to those found in red wine, tea and chocolate—that can reduce the risk of heart attack from blood clotting.   The researchers carried out laboratory tests on dogs with clogged arteries, comparing the effects of Guinness and Heineken. Only those dogs fed Guinness had reduced clotting.  Wow – red wine, chocolate, dogs and Guinness.  The gods have come together to link all of my favorite things together into one healthy bundle!  I should live to be 100.

My brother and I share a love for Ireland, even though our DNA results show our Irish heritage to be somewhat limited.  I am 12% Irish and he is 8%, which doesn’t seem fair because he has frequented a lot more Irish pubs than I have.  In fact, he has a unique ability to find an Irish pub everywhere he travels.  When he hiked Machu Picchu,  he fortified himself beforehand at Paddy’s Irish Pub in Cusco, Peru, which holds the distinction of being the highest elevation pub on the planet at over 11,156 feet.  I recently watched the Amazon Prime Video movie “The Irish Pub” and it became clear why we cling to our small but powerful Irish ancestry.  The documentary highlighted pubs all over Ireland, interviewing the owners and customers.  Charming doesn’t begin to describe it.  Yes, some of the pubs were dark and possibly had not been cleaned since 1947.  But the owners and customers alike took great pride in their establishments and their welcoming of strangers.   Anyone who has visited Ireland can attest to that – the Irish seem to be universally good-natured and friendly.  The film made it clear that the local pub provides a gathering place for people to chat and get to know one another and many customers remarked that they would rather do that than watch television.

I think what we can conclude from all this is that America would be a far better – and healthier – place if we all gathered down at the local pub for a good conversation and a pint of Guinness.  Throw in a dog by the fire and that’s about as close to Heaven as one can get.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and…Slainte!!