THE LONGER ROAD HOME

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Before I begin my tale about the second half of our visit to Sun Valley, I have to acknowledge our sharp-eyed subscriber (and childhood neighbor), John Thomas, for pointing out that in my description of our drive up to Sun Valley I said we traveled on Highway 95.  I don’t’ know why I was confused, we’ve made that trek at least 20 times.  Anyway, it was Highway 93 that took us through the lovely town of Ely, Nevada.  93, 95…I never was any good at math.

Marilyn at the North Fork

When I left off last time the snow had begun to fall in Idaho, dusting the mountain tops and causing the trees to begin turning luscious shades of gold and orange.  We decided to venture a bit north, up to Redfish Lake, which is always a serene place in which to observe nature.  Redfish is 60 miles north of Sun Valley and you would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful drive in the United States.    The first landmark one encounters is less than 10 miles north of town – the North Fork Store.  That may not sound too exciting, until you learn it is where Marilyn Monroe filmed “Bus Stop” in 1956.  It is still a going concern, with a café and gas station, and remains popular with film aficionados.

             Galena Overlook

Half-way through our journey north is another spectacular spot, Galena Summit.  If you stop at the overlook turn-out you can see views of the Sawtooth range to the northwest and the headwaters of the Salmon River.  At a whopping height of 8,701 feet, the view is simply unbeatable.  The Sawtooth Valley below is approximately 15 miles wide and 30 miles long…and you can see all of it from the overlook.  It’s hard to imagine as you spot the headwaters of the Salmon that after the river leaves the Sawtooth Valley it will then travel 900 miles to reach the Pacific Ocean.

             Redfish Lake

Finally, we reach our destination, Redfish Lake, and it does not disappoint.  Somehow all our ridiculous little problems melt away in the presence of such spectacular scenery.  We were surprised by how many people were there, although given how crowded Sun Valley had been we should have expected it.  There is a lodge and small restaurant, along with an outdoor grill and they all seemed to be at capacity.  Still…as we walked the trail that wends around the lake we were reminded of why we keep coming back every year.  I love Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes in California, but there is nothing like the serenity that comes from viewing Redfish.

                 Downtown Kanab

After our visit to Redfish we ventured back to Sun Valley for a few more days before heading home.  We decided to drive the interstates most of the way.  That was my bright idea and as much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong.  It wasn’t a drive home, it was a death march.  First, we drove down to Twin Falls, Idaho, just 90 minutes from Sun Valley, to get a jump start on the long stretch ahead of us the following day.  That required an additional night in a hotel, with all the joys that go along with uncomfortable pillows and people banging doors at midnight.  What was I thinking?  The next day we drove from Twin Falls, through Salt Lake City, down to Kanab, Utah.  Kanab is a beautiful little town, but after TEN hours in a car, I couldn’t really appreciate anything except terra firma.  Finally, on the third day of our trek home, Dash the Wonder Dog decided to make life interesting by getting sick.  We took him to the vet when we got home and turns out he picked up a bacterial infection, plus the vet said that she sees some dogs get very stressed out from very long car rides.

Mom, please don’t make me get back in that car

Well, guess what?  I also get stressed out from long car rides.  I told my husband when we arrived home that he could not use the words “car” or “ride”, especially if they were in the same sentence.  I’ve already started looking for places to visit next year that are less than five hours from home.  So we may have seen Sun Valley for the last time, but who knows what next year will bring.  One thing I’ve learned from the COVID pandemic – don’t plan too far ahead.

 

Water, Water Everywhere, But . . .

by Bob Sparrow

I take you back to the world-wide ‘Great Horse Manure Crisis in 1894’.  Yes, the proliferation of horse manure and the inability to remove it from the streets was considered the greatest obstacle to urban development at the turn of the century.  An article in the London Times stated,

“In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”

 Having the luxury of hindsight, we now know that technology, in the form of the proliferation of the automobile, solved this problem.

Why, you ask, I am writing about horseshit?

It seems to me that we have a similar problem today.  Not with horseshit, but with water. Particularly in California where we are experiencing severe drought conditions and devastating fires.  It occurred to me, on my flight to Hawaii last month, that there is a hell of a lot of water in the Pacific Ocean, and if my geography serves me, California has over 800 miles of coastline that abuts to this salty water supply.  I know I’m not breaking news here and there have been attempts at ‘desalination’, but for my money, and I pay a healthy amount of taxes in this state next to the Pacific, we’re literally doing nothing serious to prevent the horseshit from piling up.

Several of today’s solutions seem to be akin to how people were looking at the horseshit problem in 1894.  They are:

Desalination process

Desalination – costly, increases fossil fuel dependence, increases greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbates climate change, threatens marine life, blah, blah, blah.  Change the process!

Pipelines – We get oil to California from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Africa (not by pipelines, but by ship – I’m simply making the point that if we really want something we’ll go anywhere in the world to get it); today we import most of our oil from Canada and over 90% of that oil comes via a pipeline.  So why isn’t there a ‘pipeline’ sending some of the excess water we get in Washington and Oregon, to California?  The simple answer is that today, water does not have the same economic panache as oil.  Oil keeps most of our vehicles and industries moving, water only keep us moving.

Seed the clouds – expensive, requires the use of potentially harmful chemicals, could create other weather problems, depends on atmospheric conditions, unknown long-term effect.  Stop wasting your time!

Making water – it’s just two elements, right? Hydrogen and oxygen, which are both plentiful in our atmosphere.  So why not just ‘make water’?    Because just mixing hydrogen and oxygen together doesn’t make water – to join them together you need energy – lots of it.  So, if we solve the energy problem have we’ve solved the water problem?

To be sure, this is not just a California problem, it’s worldwide, in fact we already have a horseshitesque quote from another country that is surrounded on three sides by water:

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today”   

Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Aarhus University, Denmark                                                             

So you’re telling me that we can put people on the moon, create driverless cars, get stuff we ordered from Amazon delivered the next day, but we can’t find a way to effectively use a resource that covers two-thirds of our earth?!!!

Horseshit!!!

And speaking of horseshit, if we only used a small percentage of the money our government wastes on really stupid stuff (possibly my next blog rant) to solve our ‘water problem’, we’d have it fixed by Christmas.

 

THE MUSEUM OF SADNESS AND STRENGTH

Note:  I am publishing this post from 2016 in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2016-03-30 09.01.50 (Small)There is a quietness about the September 11th Memorial and Museum.  Visitors appear to be lost in thought as we wait for the doors to open.  Trepidation is etched on everyone’s face – do we really want to re-live that horrible day?  And yet we all file in, bracing ourselves for what we know will be a difficult and emotional visit.  The museum offers three options for viewing the exhibits; we chose a guided tour led by one of the volunteers.  Our guide was a young man from New Jersey who lost neighbors in the terrorist attack, so for him, this museum is personal.  I reflected that we are fortunate in our generation to be guided by such people; future generations will experience it from a more distant perspective.

Our guide started the tour at the bottom of the museum, in Foundation Hall,  where the famous “slurry wall” stands.  When the Trade Center was built in the mid-1960’s,  the slurry wall held back the Hudson River, which lapped at the side of the building.  After the attack on 9/11, when the site was being excavated, the workers were astounded to find that the slurry wall had survived.   Daniel Libeskind, the architect who led the redevelopment of the site, pushed to keep a portion of the slurry wall in place.  He proclaimed that it was a testament to the determination and resilience of a nation; a document “as eloquent as the Constitution itself”.

The Last Column

Also in Foundation Hall is the “Last Column,” a 36-foot girder that was the last to be removed from the site, marking the end of the recovery effort.  During the excavation it quickly became a makeshift memorial, plastered with Mass cards, rosary beads, flags, photos of missing innocents, and patches from fire and police units.  When it was finally cut down, it was laid on a flatbed truck, draped in black, with an American flag over it, and escorted by first responder honor guards to a place of safekeeping.  It now stands in Foundation Hall as a physical reminder of our resilience and hope.

There are many displays that feature recovered portions of the buildings – bent beams, the only remaining glass window and the “Survivor’s Staircase”, used by many to escape the burning towers.  But I suspect that the main reason most of us come to the museum is to pay tribute to the people who were lost that day.  After seeing massive beams bent and misshapen by the impact of planes and the heat of the fires, it gives new perspective to what the people trapped in those structures experienced.  I recall one of the shell-shocked firemen who survived the collapse of the towers saying, “How bad must it have been up there that people thought jumping out of a window from the 100th floor was the better alternative?”

          The Dream Bike

One particularly poignant display is of the motorcycle that belonged to Gerard Baptiste, a firefighter with Ladder 9 in Lower Manhattan.  Two weeks before 9/11 he bought a broken-down 1979 Honda motorcycle off the street for $100.  It wouldn’t start so he had to roll it to the firehouse.  The guys ribbed him endlessly about buying a worthless piece of junk.  Baptiste died at the Trade Center and shortly afterward, the surviving members of his firehouse decided to restore the bike in his honor.  With the help of Honda, some motorcycle shops and private donors, they were able to transform it into what is now known as “The Dream Bike”.  The bike was auctioned, with proceeds donated to the education fund for the children of firefighters from Ladder 9 who were lost on 9/11.  The winning raffle ticket, selected by Baptiste’s mother, went to a woman from California who donated the bike to the museum so everyone would know its story.

                The Wall of Faces

There is a room called “The Wall of Faces” filled with pictures of the victims.  It is hard see their smiling faces, knowing that their lives would end so tragically.  They are the faces of people who, on a gloriously sunny Tuesday morning,  kissed a loved one good-bye, walked out their front door, and were never seen again.  Down the hall from the “Wall of Faces” is an alcove, a small space with black walls and four benches.  On each of the four walls is a projection of video remembrances of the victims.  Each person who died is remembered with a picture and a bit of personal background information.  For most of them there is also an audio remembrance from a family member or friend.

I sat in the video room for a while, as the images and voices streamed past.  It was heartbreaking to hear a young woman talk about how much her children miss their dad and a father describe how proud he was of his lost son.  One woman remembered her husband through the story of a Thanksgiving dinner when they got into a spat because the gravy was missing from the dinner table.  They argued and both stalked off to the kitchen.  She said they imagined that all of the relatives thought they were in there fighting but, in fact, they were kissing.  She said “that’s just who we were”.  Some voices were very emotional as they described their loved one, some sounded wistful, and others like the woman with the gravy story, chose to remember a lighter moment.  No matter the emotion, the remembrances brought the victims back to life, and made the violent nature of their death all the more jarring.  Our guide told us that if we saw a guide wearing a tan vest, that person is a family member of a victim.  Some of them come every day as a way to work through their grief and talk about their loved one.                

I should note that there is a small portion of the museum that describes the rise of Al Qaeda and the planning of the 9/11 attacks.  There are photos of Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers, along with a video description of how they carried out their plot.  The photos of the hijackers are placed very low on the wall, much below eye level, so you can easily walk past them without having to look at their faces.  After what I seen prior to that exhibit, my instinct was to give those pictures a swift kick.  I questioned why we had to acknowledge them at all in a place of reverence and dedication.  But on further reflection, I realized what the museum designers intended – future generations will not recall the events of 9/11 from personal experience, they will need to learn about it from history books and places like the September 11th museum.   So the “who”, “why” and “how” need to be included to present a complete picture.

Someone's birthday  We finished our tour of the museum and went outside to visit the memorial plaza and the two reflecting pools, where the names of the victims are carved into the steel that surrounds them.  The pools are built on the former foundations of the two towers and are symbolic of the sadness one feels there.  One person has described the water cascading over the four sides of the pools as the endless tears shed over the victims.  Perhaps the most touching site I saw all day was the single white roses stuck sporadically into the carvings of names.  I had assumed that family members laid those flowers on the names of their loved one.  But in fact, each morning the staff of the museum places a white rose on the name of any victim who would have celebrated a birthday that day.  I found that to be such an elegant gesture and thoughtful beyond words.
The Freedom TowerWe left the museum and went for a very long walk back to our hotel, reflecting on the gamut of emotions we experienced on the tour.  I picked up a copy of USA Today in the lobby; the front page headline blared “US Military Families to Evacuate Turkey” due to possible attacks.  Sadly, the beat goes on.  But thankfully, so do we.  The new One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, is now complete and other buildings are going up where once the ground was but a scar.  Would I recommend going to the 9/11 Museum?  I guess that depends on your perspective.  One of the guest services workers at our hotel said he couldn’t go – that it is still too soon.  For me, it was well worth the visit; it is a place where we can reflect, mourn and vow to move forward.

SMALL MOMENTS – TWENTY YEARS LATER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This week, as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I am posting the memorial I wrote on the 10 year anniversary with updates on a surreal encounter and a promise kept.

melissa harrington hughesMelissa Harrington Hughes died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She didn’t work there; she was on a business trip for her San Francisco-based technology firm. She was an extremely accomplished 31-year-old, who had a passion for life and adventure.  Melissa married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes just a year prior to her death.

On that fateful morning of September 11 she was attending a meeting on the 101st floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck just six floors below her.  Many people remember her for the harrowing voicemail she left for Sean minutes after the building was struck.   In that voicemail she said, “Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I am stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit or a bomb went off – we don’t know, but there’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know I love you always.”

The bank where I worked had several divisions housed in the World Trade Center; three of our employees died that day.  But somehow, amongst the overwhelming tales of tragedy on September 11, Melissa’s is the one that stood out for me.  I was not alone.  Melissa’s final words resonated with a lot of people; thousands wrote on her memorial website.  Her phone message to Sean was played on news casts numerous times in the weeks following 9/11.  Each time I heard it I teared up .

In her voice I could sense so many of her emotions: fear, panic, bewilderment.  But mostly, in her final minutes on earth, she wanted Sean to know that she loved him.  I thought about her, and all of the people that died that day, who went off to work as they normally did.  Kissing a spouse or child good-bye, grabbing a cup of coffee, making plans for the weekend ahead.  And none of them came home.  Plans and hopes and dreams were gone in an instant.  Sean Hughes said that he and Melissa were excited about their future and talked about all the things that newlyweds do: moving to a new home, getting a dog, having children.

There were thousands of sad stories that day about love lost and children orphaned, but somehow Melissa’s story, above all the others, resonated with me.  I think that was partially due to some life experiences we had in common.  I had also made business trips from San Francisco to the North tower at the World Trade Center.  I remember navigating its Byzantine elevators and escalators as I rushed to early morning meetings, just as Melissa must have done that morning.  Melissa’s wedding photo also brought back memories for me; she and Sean were married in Napa, California, close to where I grew up, so I knew she also appreciated that beautiful part of the country.  But it was more than the similar business trips and her wedding venue that stayed with me; it was her voicemail to Sean that was seared into my brain.

MHH North Tower (Medium)

Her final words to Sean started me thinking about my own life.  My husband had taken early retirement in 1996.  By 2001 he was anxious to travel, spend time with our new grandson, and enjoy time with friends.  I wanted to continue working.  But I kept thinking about Melissa’s message.  What if that had been me?  Is that how I would want to die, without ever having enjoyed the life my husband and I had worked so hard to build?

The weeks following September 11 were frightening and incredibly busy for me.  My division of the bank received bomb threats in our major office buildings around the country and we were constantly on alert. Of course, all of the threats were false, but that didn’t lessen the hysteria of my employees who were in those buildings.  I understood – my office was on the top floor of our Los Angeles headquarters and I jumped every time I heard a plane or helicopter fly by.  After a month or so, I began to hope that the turmoil would pass and that my life would get back to “normal”.   But then I thought about Melissa.  Life doesn’t get scripted.  I knew that the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack might be low, but there were no guarantees against a car accident or a terminal illness.

So the first week of November, after the initial frenzy died down, I told my boss that I wanted to resign.  We negotiated that I would stay until March, which I did.  I have never regretted that decision and would not trade all of the memories and experiences I’ve had since then for any amount of successful projects or compensation I gave up.

The author Judith Viorst once wrote that it is the small moments in life that make it rich.   Melissa made me realize that I needed to grab the small moments while I could; that sitting with my husband every morning, sipping coffee and watching the news, is a gift not to be squandered or go unappreciated.

So to Melissa Harrington Hughes: thank you.  Someday I hope to get back to the new September 11 Memorial where I will touch the steel engraving of your name.  And in the hollows of those letters, we will finally be connected.

2016 Update:  This past March I went to New York with my niece and her two daughters.  Visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was the highlight of the trip.  When I was planning our visit I read that it was preferable to purchase tickets in advance,  so on February 24 I ordered ours from their website.  On that same day I received a message that I had a new comment on my 2011 post about Melissa.  I thought that was a coincidence – that maybe something that I had typed when researching the September 11 Memorial had caused an old comment to be recirculated.  But it wasn’t an old comment  – it was this:  “I came across your blog after my son and I just prepared a required oral presentation for his English class about a life event of mine that had great impact. I think of Melissa almost every day –  I was her best friend since childhood.  She was a shining light and people were drawn to her. I miss her and the memories are still clear with detail. Thank you for seeing how her passion, love for life, and love for her husband and family was that shining light, even if it was her last words. She called her Dad and Mom and Sean from that burning building because she loved them deeply. She is well remembered and will never be forgotten.”  I still get chills when I read this note and think about the timing of it.  There are no coincidences in life, of that I am sure.

2016-03-30 12.06.05 (Small)On March 30 I was able to fulfill the promise to myself that I would visit Melissa’s engraving at the Memorial.  Her name is carved into Panel N-22 on the large reflecting pool that stands in the footprint of the former North Tower.  I put my hand on her name and thanked her once again for all that she has meant in my life.  May she rest in peace.

Note: On Saturday, September 11, I will publish my piece about the September 11 Memorial and Museum.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Burial of First Cavalry troops at Santo Tomas

In February 1945, over 3700 Allied civilians were held captive by the Japanese in the Santo Tomas prison camp in Manila, Philippines.  General MacArthur knew of their existence and feared that the Japanese would execute them, as they had other prisoners under their control.  MacArthur faced multiple obstacles in attempting a rescue: the Japanese had a stranglehold on the city, the monsoons had brought drenching rain to the area, and his troops were unfamiliar with the territory.  Still, he devised a plan to rescue the civilians and charged the First Cavalry to carry it out.  Just 66 hours after landing in the Philippines, the First Cav tanks broke through the gates of Santo Tomas and liberated the prisoners.  Once the civilians were safe, the military fought the Japanese for over a month, before securing the city.  I am very familiar with this piece of military history, as my husband and his family were among the 3700 who were saved.

The line-up in Kabul, August 21

It was impossible to watch the events in Afghanistan last week without wondering, “where is our modern-day MacArthur?”.  Our exit from Afghanistan has been a debacle, seemingly without intelligence or a plan.  It was always going to be messy, and we were never going to be able to extricate all of the Afghan people who helped us, but it didn’t have to be this bad.  As I write this on Sunday there are still thousands of U.S. citizens trapped by the Taliban, along with untold numbers of Afghani people who helped us and were promised safe passage out of the country.  The President’s message on Friday was filled with untruths.  One only had to juxtapose his comment about Americans’ ability to get out of Kabul with the live reporting by CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who reported that same hour that it was almost impossible to safely get inside the airport. Biden also claimed that there was no rift with our allies over our exit from Afghanistan.  Earlier that same day the Germans, French and British had blistered the U.S. for the way in which we were exiting, exposing not only our own citizens to harm, but those of our allies.  Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Biden’s plan “imbecilic”.   To be sure, there is plenty of blame to be placed on all three of Biden’s predecessors for the problems of the past 20 years, but the way in which we leave Afghanistan is squarely on his shoulders.

We are used to politicians covering their backsides, so Biden’s remarks weren’t that surprising.  What was striking were the actions of Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley.   Or more precisely, their inaction.  There are a lot of people calling for their resignations over the fiasco in Kabul, but under the Constitution, they answer to the Commander-in-Chief, and must carry out his orders.  At their press conference last week they exhibited the same enthusiasm for their mission as would a private ordered to empty latrines.  Assuming they disagree with the strategy and are just following orders, I don’t believe they should be fired.  I think they should resign.  When General “Mad Dog” Mattis disagreed with Trump’s policy on Syria, he resigned rather than carry out orders with which he vehemently disagreed.   That’s what people with principles do.  Instead, Austin was asked a question about rescuing all of the Americans and his response was, “we do not have the capability to go in (to Kabul) and get large numbers of people”.  Yes, General, we do.  In fact we have one of the most capable armies in the history of the world.  So clearly t’s not a matter of capabilities, it’s a matter of will.  Can you imagine any of the great U.S. Generals – Grant, Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton – making that statement?  Had MacArthur taken that approach, my husband might very well have died in the prison camp.  There is a report that a U.S. Army general called his counterpart in Britain, asking him to stop the rescue missions for their citizens because it was making the U.S. look bad.  The Pentagon denies that report; the British are standing by it.  My fervent hope is that this blog is rendered obsolete by Tuesday and that the generals have Special Ops teams at work getting people out.

             Women in Kabul, 2001

No matter the events of the next few weeks, we are a long way from knowing how all of this will play out.  In the short term, it’s safe to say that women and girls will have a very difficult time under the Taliban.   There are already reports of women who were turned away from their places of work and young girls denied entrance to their schools.  Young girls are being “married” to Taliban members.  God help them.  In the long run, we can only hope that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists bent on destroying us.

Ultimately, the fate of the Afghanistan lies with its people.  Perhaps the younger generation, more educated and aware of the broader world than their counterparts 20 years ago, will spark a rebellion against the barbarians now in charge.  Only time will tell.

Afghanistan has long been known as “the country where empires go to die”.  We are now one of them.  The shame lies not in our exit, but that the manner of it was not befitting the brave people who fought there.

 

 

 

 

THIS IS A SPORT???

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Caleb, with his wife and dog, Jane

My name is Suzanne and I am an Olympic-olic.  Yes, I admit it.  I had many Walter Mitty moments while watching Olympic games these past two weeks, fantasizing that if only I had practiced more I could have been an elite athlete.   That’s preposterous, of course.  I was on a swim team in high school and the coach only put me in when we were either so far ahead or trailing so hopelessly that my entry into the water was not going to affect the outcome.  Still…I remain fascinated by all Olympic sports and swimming in particular.  During the games that just ended I rejoiced in every race that Caleb Dressel swam.  In addition to being a very admirable athlete, I have heard from someone connected to the team that he is also a really nice guy.  Plus, I saw an interview with him in which he said that he tries to be better in anything he does so that he can be better at everything he does, including being a good dog dad.  Wow.  How can you not like a guy whose aspirational goal is to be a better dog dad?

Although I focus on the swimming events, I also like gymnastics.  Again, in high school and college I took classes in the balance beam and uneven bars.  Just like in swimming, my gym career was not destined for anything but bruises.  At least in the water I had buoyancy going for me.  The pads on the gym floor were not so forgiving.  Still, the experience left me with a keen appreciation for what the gymnasts are able to do.  Tim Daggett, the former Olympic gymnast who was an announcer for the events, kept reminding us that the balance beam is only as wide as the average cell phone. I bump into walls around my house on a regular basis so I’m pretty certain that the balance beam is outside of my wheelhouse these days.

I found myself watching at least some of every sport over the past two weeks – Argentina vs Turkey in fencing,  Slovakia in the race walking, and the U.S. in everything.  Some of the sports have been around since the first Olympics and some made their debut this year.  I consider myself pretty open-minded when it comes to sports but I had a hard time wrapping my head around one of the new entries: street skateboarding.  The official description of the sport describes it as a competition held on a straight street-like course, featuring stairs, handrails, curbs, benches walls and slopes.  I watched the women’s final of this event and could hardly keep focused on it.  The competitors would jump onto a handrail and – most often – crash to the ground.  It got me to wondering how people ever get good at this sport.  First, most places now ban skateboards from shopping centers and malls.  So I imagine that unless the competitors have one of the new skateboard parks nearby, they improve their skills by terrorizing people wherever stairs and benches exist.  Second, from the litany of broken bones they talked about, I would think they don’t have much time to practice between hospital visits.

I guess I just have to learn to go with the flow.  If the young kids like these sports then I’ll just sit back and watch them participate.  My Olympic dreams are now reduced to getting out of the recliner without falling over.  Who knows?  If they ever have a Geriatric Olympics that includes Recliner Acrobatics, I could be a contender.

ON…AND OFF…THE ROAD AGAIN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Two weeks ago my husband and I packed up for our first road trip in two years.  Not just any road trip…a trip to see our family in Denver.  COVID has taken a big hit to family gatherings for everyone and we were no exception.  So while we were very excited to make this trip, we discovered that we were woefully out of practice in preparing for it.  I recalled that old adage, “take half as many clothes and twice as much money as you think you’ll need”, and then totally ignored it.  I could have been away for months given the clothes I brought along.  Oh well, at least I remembered the important things like Dash the Wonder Dog’s food and  plenty of oatmeal cookies.  Oatmeal cookies are a must,  They not only serve as a treat, but in a pinch they can fill in for breakfast.  As with most of our long trips, we rented a car so as not to put wear and tear on ours.  This time we got a Nissan Armada with enough cargo space to move an army.  We filled every inch of it.

Our first day we drove to Santa Fe.  Not the artsy, fabulous, interesting part of Santa Fe, but a Hyatt Place hotel near the freeway next to a gas station.  Importantly, there was no restaurant within walking distance and we discovered the hotel no longer stocks any food.  We settled on an Uber Eats delivery from Applebee’s that was pretty much inedible.  After a very long day (and plenty of oatmeal cookies to tide us over), we crashed.  The next morning we took off, stopped for gas and a Starbucks, and hit the road.  We were a half mile down Highway 25 when the tire pressure indicator popped on.  The tire pressure indicator on any car can be wildly inaccurate, but we were just starting a 400 mile trip, much of which is through pretty desolate country, so we didn’t want to take a chance. We stopped at two gas stations for help but the best they could offer was a Slurpee.  We finally drove to the rental car office, where they told us they were out of cars so they couldn’t give us a new one.  They directed us to the local tire store.  A very kind worker checked the tires, filled them all, and sent us on our way.  Luckily, we made it to Denver without incident.

We had a wonderful time with family.  What did we do?  Pretty much nothing – and that was perfect.  We have seen all the highlights of the area on other trips.  This time, we simply wanted to enjoy the time with family after such a long time apart.  COVID has been, and continues to be, a challenge but one of the silver linings is that it has honed our appreciation for the more simple things in life.  Being able to talk with our grandsons and catch up on their lives and plans for the future was pure joy.  As you can see from the photo, my husband was in Heaven with his two boys.

The trip was all too short and soon we were packing up for home.  Just as we finished loading everything in the car, our son-in-law decided to check out the tires just to make sure they were safe.  They weren’t.  There was a nail stuck in the right rear tire.  Long story short, he drove the car to the Denver airport, transferred all of our stuff to a new car, and came home with a large Infiniti SUV.  It’s only July, but he has already won the 2021 Son-In-Law of the Year award.  The next morning we drove to Cedar City, Utah.  Yes…that is a roundabout way to get to Scottsdale but the drive through the Rockies is so beautiful we decided to take the long way home.

Finally, on our last leg of the trip, we embarked on the 430 mile trip home.  We were feeling pretty lucky.  We had not run into any bad weather or freeway construction – a miracle when you’re traveling in the summer months.  Fifteen miles from home my husband decided to stop and get a bit of gas.  As we pulled out of the gas station the car started to sputter.  We made it out onto the Carefree Highway and it began lurching and making a sputtering sound that I’m not sure a car is supposed to make.  My husband was able to steer it over to the side of the road, whereupon it promptly died.

So, there we were, in 101 degree heat, no A/C and Dash the Wonder Dog in the back seat.  Luckily, we were still within walking distance of the gas station and it was attached to a small convenience store.  The kind manager took us in and even allowed Dash to enter her “no dogs allowed” establishment.  You gotta love people who take care of dogs.  I called the rental car company and they said they we were too far out for them to come get us.  I begged him not to abandon us to the vagaries of a towing company.  He finally relented and 40 minutes later showed up with another car.  He helped us transfer everything to the new car while he waited for the tow truck to take our ‘dead’ car away.

A half-hour and three cars later we arrived home – it has never looked so good.  It was great to be away but it is also great to be home.  The lure of the road has somehow lost its appeal.  We’ve cancelled our road trip for August and will wait until September to take our annual trek to Sun Valley, Idaho.  We’ll be driving our own car.

 

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?