By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

For the past ten years Alan and I had an ongoing discussion about our house.  He loved it and never wanted to move.  I sought out smaller homes with less maintenance.  I told him that if he died before me, I would sell the house the very next day.  Not because I don’t love it – God knows I do – but the maintenance is a killer.  Fast forward to reality.  Shortly after Alan got sick, I decided that I don’t really want to sell the house.  We bought the lot twenty-five years ago and built our dream house. Now, it is a place of comfort for me.  But lest I give you the impression that it’s all sunshine and unicorns, I need to point out that I was right about the maintenance.  I have become the female equivalent of Tim “Tool Time” Allen.

First, two days after Alan died, the air conditioner went out.  This is not a good thing during the hottest July on record. The first technician told me that our condensation line was blocked, and the only fix was to run a new line over the roof.  Ka-ching! Luckily our regular guy was assigned a few days later to do the work and he determined the line could be blown out with nitrogen.  So… first home crisis averted.  Five days later I drove two miles to the UPS store to mail some documents and picked up a flange and bolt in my tire.  For those of you who are thinking, “Hey, cars have nothing to do with houses”, you are wrong.  Cars are house-adjacent. First of all, they are under the roof so that counts.  Second, the only time you love spending money on them is when they’re new.  After that it’s just a long string of “un-fun” money: oil changes, major tune-ups, tires. Just as with a house, once the rosy glow of the purchase is over, it’s just a lot of maintenance.  Anyway, I got the tire patched and went on my way.

I can see the pool again!

Next, a tree next to our pool obviously got ahold of some steroids because it grew exponentially over a two-week period of time. I watched our pool guy have to duck under a huge limb just to sweep the pool, not to mention the debris the tree dropped in his pristine waters.  So, I had a tree trimmer come over to cut off the offending limb.  The pool guy thanked me the next week.  So did the bank account of the tree guy.  The following Monday I watched our landscapers as they “worked” in our yard.  I’ve never paid much attention to them because Alan loved taking care of the landscaping. But on that Monday, I watched one crew member use a blower in the front yard while the second guy sat in the truck on his phone for 20 minutes.  When the first guy moved with his blower to the back yard, the second guy got out of the truck, strapped on a blower, and proceeded to re-blow what the first guy had just blown.  Clearly, something had to change, and I wasn’t hopeful that it would be their work ethic, so I fired them.  I hired a new landscaper, but that landscaper doesn’t work with the irrigation controller the old company used so I had to buy a new one.  Ka-ching!

The very definition of “unfun” money

The following week an icon on the refrigerator began to flash and I discovered it needed a new air filter.  Another day, another technician.  He also told me the panel on my oven needs to be replaced.  The price is the cost of a small car.  I’m waiting on that one.  The next day I went out to our patio and saw that the cushions on the furniture were fraying.  No use having a patio if you can’t sit out there. Not exactly home maintenance, but close enough. I called the Cushion King to get them recovered. I think he is a “king” because of his vast holdings. During this time I noticed that the air pressure in the tire that was patched was consistently lower than the other three.  After consulting my son-in-law, who knows a lot about cars, he told me I was borderline for needing new tires and for peace of mind I should just go ahead and get new shoes for the car.  Ka-ching, Ka- ching!

I’ve discovered that animal husbandry is also part of home maintenance. In the past two months I have had to dispose of two dead birds that did Kamikaze maneuvers into our windows.  I’ve picked two scorpions up off the bathroom floor. But the real challenge was, for the first time in 23 years, a Colorado River Toad appeared in our yard – in the dog run, no less.  These toads are very dangerous for animals, as their primary defense system is glands that produce a poison potent enough to kill a dog.  I wasn’t going to let that toad anywhere near Dash the Wonder Dog, so I got a shovel under him and hurled him over the wall.  I like to think of it as my version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Finally, last Wednesday I went to take a shower and there was no hot water.  The water heater is less than two years old so I couldn’t believe it had already given up the ghost.  After five minutes the water finally got hot, at which point I remembered that the water heater is connected to a circulation timer gizmo (not sure that’s exactly what it’s called).  Sure enough, a power outage the previous day had knocked out the timer and the programming.  I was not about to call another tradesman.  So I did what any reasonable person would do: I looked up how to program it on YouTube.  Admittedly it took three attempts to figure out the timer, the on/off programming, and the mode, but I did it! Plumbers must hate YouTube.

Who knows what is next?  I do know this: it will be something and that something will be expensive. In all the years we’ve lived here we’ve never had this many issues in so short a period of time. I’ve had thoughts that Alan is orchestrating this to prove to me that I can take care of this house.  I have reflected that we were both right – the house is a keeper, and the maintenance is a killer.  But I’m going to keep plugging away.  I’m not going to trade it in for a smaller version unless that house comes with a built-in handyman who can make a mean margarita.


It’s been twenty-two years since “that day”.  September 11 is a date that remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of those of us who watched it unfold. I can still remember almost every minute of “that day” – watching the aftermath of the first plane crash and listening to the TV announcers speculate that it was an errant private plane.  Shortly, of course, we knew it wasn’t an errant plane, but a deliberate attack.  It is still difficult to think about the people who perished that day – people who left home for work on a bright, blue-sky Tuesday morning and never returned.  The very notion of that was – is – frightening.  I don’t think we can collectively sleep quite as soundly ever again.  We learned on “that day” that there are people in the world who wish us harm.  My brothers and I grew up benefiting from the goodwill America garnered from the Second World War.  The notion of being hated was unthinkable.  But September 11 showed us that we can no longer assume that we are perceived as the “world’s good guys”. Now we live in the shadow of “that day” and the impact it has on us continues, especially when we travel.  Before September 11 we could book a flight at the last minute, run through the airport to our gate, and hope the door didn’t hit us on the rear as we boarded our flight.  Now we have to get to the airport hours early, remove our shoes as we enter a security check, and limit the amount of shampoo we carry.

Socially, it brought on a lot of change too. In fact, I’m not sure we yet fully understand the toll that it took on us. Surely our national mindset was altered after watching all of the carnage and grief of “that day”. In the immediate aftermath of September 11 we managed to put our differences aside, but that fraternity has since dissipated.  Contentious elections, warring political extremes and social media have altered how we behave.  The COVID-19 pandemic placed even more strain on our psyche, and it shows no sign of abating.  Just this morning I read about people arguing over vaccines and mask mandates at a local forum.

As someone who recently experienced loss, I have a new appreciation for all of the September 11 families, who, without warning, lost a loved one on “that day”.  None of us can truly understand the void they were left with when their loved one perished so suddenly and in such a violent manner.  But I do know this: we all suffer some residual grief from those attacks.  The losses and changes from the pandemic have only added to it.  So many people now are short-tempered and it’s showing up in our everyday encounters.  Last week the local news reported that 81% of Arizonans have been the recipient of road rage.  That is a huge number, but based on my personal observation I suspect it is correct.

Lifting a middle finger on our roadways, or getting angry at a store clerk, or making demeaning comments on social media is not a sustainable construct for our society. So, what do we do?  I don’t think we throw up our hands and say it’s too large of a problem to solve.  My suggestion is we each try to make a small dent in the problem. If we acknowledge that we all have all experienced trauma since “that day”, then we should treat everyone we meet as we treat someone in grief: with kindness. 

Today the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is airing a documentary featuring first-person accounts of the attacks and their aftermath.  One of the survivors said in her interview, “It’s important that we remember the kindness, and that we take care of ourselves and other people, as we did that day.”

Kindness.  What a wonderful legacy of “that day”.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Finally, it is college football season once again.  I have waited almost eight months for the season to begin, and yet, it is tinged with some sadness.  The conference realignment – and the collapse of the Pac 12 – has made this season bittersweet.  Almost all of the traditions and rivalries will end this season and the Pac 12 teams will scatter to the winds.  Or the Midwest.  The advent of NIL (name, image, likeness) has forever changed the landscape of college sports.  The notion of a “student athlete” has been reduced to a money grab.  A few months ago I suggested to a friend that the major colleges stop providing academic scholarships to the big-time sports stars so that deserving students who actually want to attend college for an education might use those slots.  The major conferences in football and basketball could develop semi-pro programs, intended for the sole purpose of providing a pipeline of players for the pros.  No pretense of attending those pesky classes would be required, just play ball and collect the money. Regardless of how all this shakes out, college football has changed forever and we either go with it or give it up. I’m not ready to give it up.

Last week, buried in the headlines about conference realignments, was an uplifting story about Sister Jean, the team chaplain for the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball team.  The sister turned 104 on August 21 and she is still going strong. The Sister was born Jean Dolores Schmidt, in 1919, the same year as our mother.  She was raised in San Francisco, so I like to imagine that Sister Jean and our mother crossed paths at some point, although I suspect Sister Jean was much more serious than our mom, who loved a good gin rickey when she saw one.  Sister Jean attended St. Paul’s High School in the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral in SF and played on the girl’s basketball team.  After graduation in 1937 she entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary convent in Iowa.  She eventually returned to California to further her education, earning BA and MA degrees.  She taught school in California until 1961, when she moved to Chicago to teach at Mundelein College. She was hired by Loyola in 1991 when it merged with Mundelein.  She planned to retire in 1994 but was asked by the administration to stay on as the team chaplain to the men’s basketball team to help student athletes keep up their grades so they could maintain their eligibility to play. Imagine that.

Sister Jean cheering on the team in 2018

She steadily provided counsel to the students and cheered on the basketball team without fanfare. In 2018 she became a household name when the team made a Cinderella run to the national semifinals — the farthest Loyola Chicago has made it in the NCAA Championship Tournament since 1963. Sister Jean’s spirited antics on the sidelines attracted national media attention and won over the hearts of viewers across the country.  Afterwards she quipped, “It only took me 98 years to become an overnight sensation.” In March 2021, after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, and at the age of 101, Sister Jean traveled to Indianapolis to watch Loyola beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and eventually make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Sister Jean celebrating her 104th birthday

Today Sister Jean still keeps the door to her office open for students to drop in and chat. She is still active as the team chaplain, emailing scouting reports, encouragement and advice to each of the players after every game. And she still opens every home game with a prayer, in which she urges the refs to make good calls, the players to share the ball and God to nudge the Ramblers to a big W. Last year, at the age of 103, she published a book, Live with Purpose!,  filled with her trademark sense of humor and good-natured observations about her century of life.  On her birthday last Monday, she celebrated with the students and CAKE!  I love this woman!  Today she will throw out the first pitch at the Cubs’ game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field and on August 31, Sister Jean will be honored with a block party at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus.

What’s not to admire about a woman who lives her life with joy, cheers on college sports teams and eats cake?  She is my new role model.





By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

My dear husband, Alan, passed away on Friday.  He has had a tough year, diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, tongue cancer, c diff, COVID, hospitalization for a second bout of c diff, and heart rhythm problems.  Yet through all of that he kept an upbeat attitude and his wonderful sense of humor. In February he had successful surgery on his tongue, but oral cancers are usually aggressive and by mid-July he began having problems swallowing.  On July 19th a scan showed the cancer had recurred and there was wide-spread metastasis.  No further treatment was possible.  He went into Hospice on July 25th and died July 28th.

Indulge me in writing a bit about him.  He was born in the Philippines just prior to the outbreak of WWII; his father was a Scottish businessman stationed in Manila.  When the war broke out, Alan, his parents and brother were all interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  It was as grim as you might imagine, in the end living on one cup of rice for the family and sheltered only in a lean-to shanty. They were rescued in February 1945 and chose to immigrate to the United States.  They settled in Pasadena, California, where Alan grew up and was involved in sports, achieved Eagle Scout rank and according to his mother, excelled in creating general mayhem.  He always had a twinkle in his eye and an ability to schmooze that served him well over the years.  His profession was in marketing for large commercial insurance companies, and he was well-suited to the job.

Alan had two children he adored: a son, Colin and a daughter, Wendy.  He considered Wendy’s husband, Steve, to be like a son. Alan loved being a “Grandpa” to Wendy’s two boys, Matthew and Jake.  They held a treasured place in his heart and they had him wrapped around their tiny fingers from the moment they were born.

He explored many hobbies over the years, but in 1990 began playing golf and in it he found his passion.  When he retired, he spent a lot of time playing, but he also enjoyed practicing.  He was a true “range rat”.  He visited the PGA Superstore so often that I once suggested he get a job there. He loved watching hockey, particularly the Montreal Canadiens and the Washington Capitals.  But mostly he was a rabid USC football fan.  And I mean a fan.  Every fall he asked me to mark the SC games on the calendar and woe be to me if I scheduled any social engagements that conflicted.  Our friends would gently suggest that there was such a thing as a DVR, but Alan insisted (and I kind of agreed) that nothing beats watching sports live.

He was a loving, devoted dog dad to Dash the Wonder Dog.  In fact, I coined the “wonder dog” name because for 20 years Alan did not want a dog.  When he finally relented and we got Dash, Alan became putty in his paws.  In almost every photo I have of him he is holding Dash.  They created a special bond and Dash turned an indifferent pet owner into a complete sap.  Dash truly did wonders for him, especially during his trials this past year.

This is a very sad time for our family.  Dash is confused and keeps looking for him, which breaks my heart.  I know our lives will never be the same.  But I have tried to look for bright spots along the way these past few days.  First, and most importantly, the whole family was able to fly here the weekend following his diagnosis to spend time with him.  They were able to tell him how much they loved him, and he could do the same in return.  He told Matt and Jake how proud he was of the young men they have become, and that is a gift they can treasure for the rest of their lives.  He and I were able to spend time saying all the things we wanted to say to one another.  He knew how much I loved him, and I know his wishes for me as I go forward.

The second gift was the friends who gave me support and comfort this past week. My friend Debbie brought me support in innumerable ways, not the least of which was being here when the hospice transport came, and Alan left the house for the last time.  My friend Marge drove down from Idaho in hopes of saying goodbye to Alan.  After a two-day drive she arrived at our house at the exact moment they were transporting Alan to hospice.  She went with me to hospice each day and to the mortuary to make final arrangements.  My niece Shelley came up from Tucson for a day to spend time with me and give me a much-needed hug.  I am so blessed to have such a loving family and friends, all of whom have offered support and love, both in person and from afar.

I know I have a difficult road ahead of me, but I am trying to be grateful for the time we had together.  Next month we would have celebrated 36 years of marriage.  Many years ago, someone asked me why I thought Alan and I were so happily married, and I told her that he made me laugh every day.  I think that was our “secret sauce”, as no matter how irritated we might get over something, we always ended up making each other smile.

I am also grateful for the way in which he passed.  It was not sudden, nor was it drawn out.  He had the opportunity to tell all of us how much we meant to him, and he heard how much we all loved him.  Not everyone gets that experience at the end of their life.

I stumbled on this phrase from Ram Dass a few months ago that struck a chord then and has resonated a lot this week:

Sharing our love and our gifts
With any who join us on our roam,
Enlightenment comes to let us know
We Are Just Walking Each Other Home.

Rest in Peace, my sweet angel Alan.  It has been my privilege to walk you home.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

While my brother’s post last week was about his adorable grandchildren (and, yes, they are that cute and talented!), I was drawn back three generations to do more research on our great-grandfather, John Hoever (pronounced “Hoover”).  My interest in him was renewed last week when I read an article originally published in the Napa Valley Marketplace magazine about the history of the Napa State Hospital.  In 1900 John Hoever died there for reasons yet to be discovered.  Napa was no ordinary hospital; it was more commonly known as the Napa State Asylum for the Insane.  Well…that goes a long way in explaining our family peculiarities. Like many of you, I have passed by the hospital on my way through wine country, but never knew its history…or how dangerous it is today.

Napa Hospital at the time of John’s residency

The hospital was opened on November 15, 1875.  The original main building known as “the Castle” was an ornate and imposing brick building. By the early 1890s, the facility had over 1,300 patients which was more than double the original capacity it was designed to house.  A majority of the patients were foreign born, like my grandfather.  He left Germany in 1875 and immigrated to San Francisco.

The Napa Asylum treated patients for a variety of ailments; many of the early residents were admitted due to alcoholism or homelessness. This was a time in Europe known as “The Long Depression” when many people immigrated to the United States in search of a better life.  But the U.S. was also in an economic downturn, so one can speculate that some of the immigrants ended up without work and homeless.  Women admitted at the end of the 19th century were often diagnosed with acute mania, melancholia, or paranoia. The hospital treated everything from epilepsy, paralysis, and syphilis, to jealousy, masturbation, and even disappointment in love.  Pretty much covered the gamut of social ills of the time.  

In the early years of the hospital, work therapy was used as a common treatment for patients. The routine and predictability of asylum life were thought to aid patients. The grounds contained a large farm that included dairy and poultry ranches, vegetable garden, and fruit orchards that provided a large part of the food supply consumed by the residents.  Growing their own food and using patients for labor also kept the costs down – and the profits up – for the directors of the hospital.

         Napa Hosptial today

Over the years this bucolic site changed, as did the residents.  Up until the 1920’s, patients were either self-admitted or sent there by their families.  Slowly, as psychiatric care became more sophisticated, many of the ailments that confined people to the hospital were able to be treated on an outpatient basis.  The facility was re-named, Napa State Hospital, and served as a traditional psychiatric hospital until the 1990s when it started taking court referrals. Despite being filled with perpetrators of violent, often heinous crimes, it was still considered to be a hospital, not a prison.  The patients were committed, but not locked up. Police officers were posted at hospital entrances, but uniformed guards did not patrol the halls of even the highest-risk units. So, over time the most violent patients were left to terrorize the others freely, with only doctors and nurses to stop them.  In 2010, a nurse was murdered by an inmate, which prompted the hospital to hire more police officers and the staff were outfitted with personal alarms so they could call for help if they felt threatened. So, today it is safer, but about 90 percent of the patient population is funneled into the hospital through the criminal justice system. I don’t think Napa State Hospital is going to make anybody’s “Top Ten Places to Work” list, no matter how many improvements they make.

Annie, with her three children. Our grandmother is on the right.

As for our great-grandfather, I still have no idea why he was committed to Napa.  Perhaps my great-grandmother, Annie, kept the reasons to herself, as neither my grandmother or father ever indicated they knew anything about his time there or manner of death.  In the July 1900 census, he was listed as having been in Napa Hospital for 12 months.  Annie gave birth to a daughter in February 1900, so he must have gone in shortly after she found herself pregnant.  He died in September of that year and his obituary said that “his funeral had the largest crowd ever seen in town, which bore testimony to the esteem with which this good man was held.”  So, I don’t think he had been the town drunk.

As for Annie, she was a remarkable woman for her age and time.  After John’s death she took over managing the jewelry store they owned and was described in “The History of Colusa and Glenn Counties” as someone who had “demonstrated her ability as a businesswoman and won great success through her own efforts”.  That was quite a compliment to be given a woman in business in 1918! I have inherited the diamond from her engagement ring and whenever I think I’m having a hard time I look at it and know that I have it easy compared to her.

I’m not sure I’ll ever find out why John was committed to Napa.  Several years ago I wrote the hospital asking if they had any records of him, but I never heard back.  Now that I know more about the current situation, I think the staff has enough on their hands just to stay alive without having to answer emails about someone who died in 1900.  All I know is I will never pass that hospital again without thinking about him and vowing that if I’m ever up on a violent crime charge, I’ll plead guilty rather than risk going to Napa!
















By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

As I have previously mentioned, probably ad nauseum, I am a committed Anglophile.  Give me a good BritBox mystery show and a cup of Earl Grey and I’m in my element.  I have often wondered what side I would have chosen in the Revolutionary War.  One can’t assume that the people who resided in “the colonies” were automatically revolutionaries, or “Patriots”, as they were known.  It is estimated that 15-20% of the British people living here remained loyal to the crown.  Thus, they were known as “Loyalists”.  Probably most notable among them, ironically, was William Franklin, the son of Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin. Many families at the time had divided loyalties, but none were as prominent – or as interesting – as the Franklins.

Flying the kite

William Franklin was born in Boston in 1730 and was Benjamin’s acknowledged illegitimate son.  He was raised by Franklin and his common-law wife, Deborah Read. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall when Franklin had that discussion with his wife?  In any event, Franklin saw to William’s schooling and taught him the printing trade. William helped Benjamin publish Poor Richard’s Almanac and also assisted his father with many of his scientific investigations including his famous kite and lightening experiment.  Benjamin obtained a military commission for William during the French and Indian War, and later used his influence to help William be appointed to positions such as Controller of the General Post Office and Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly. In other words, he was a nepo kid. When Benjamin’s government role took him to England, William accompanied him and formed many relationships with the British aristocracy.  When George III became King, William was appointed Royal Governor of New Jersey in 1862 and Benjamin could not have been prouder.  However, in the more than ten years that William served in that position his views diverged from his father’s, leading to a rift that would never quite heal.

Benjamin, sometimes referred to as a ‘reluctant revolutionary’, hoped at first that differences with the British could be resolved. When he did join the revolutionary cause, though, he was fully committed. He expected William would do likewise. In August 1775 Franklin traveled to New Jersey to convince William to join the rebellion. He told his son he would be accepted with open arms by those opposing the King and could easily win a generalship in the army forming under George Washington. But William believed America’s best chance to succeed lay in remaining with Britain. He firmly believed most Americans would not support the rebellion. He gave his famous “two roads” speech to the New Jersey legislature urging them to refuse to endorse the newly formed Continental Congress and take the road to prosperity as part of England rather than the road to civil war and anarchy. His efforts were to no avail.

A Loyalist being tarred and feathered

Ever a Loyalist, William secretly informed the British of revolutionary activities. Unfortunately for him, a packet of his letters was intercepted by the rebels who passed the information to the Continental Congress. They requested William be exiled from New Jersey. He was sent to Connecticut where he was jailed and placed in solitary confinement in a cell for prisoners about to be executed. Shocked at his harsh treatment, he wrote to Governor Trumball of Connecticut, “I suffer so much in being buried alive, having no one to speak with day or night…that I should deem it a favor to be immediately taken out and shot.”  Being shot was actually more humane than the normal punishment for Loyalists, most of whom were tarred and feathered. William’s wife became gravely ill and died while he was imprisoned. During all his travails, Benjamin exerted no effort on his behalf, leaving William to face the consequences of his decisions. In 1777, suffering from ill health, he was exchanged with another prisoner and allowed to go to New York. From there he departed for England where he would live in exile for the rest of his life.

William attempted to reconcile with Benjamin while the latter was in Paris as one of America’s peace commissioners, but Benjamin rebuffed William’s overture. The two would never mend their differences, each remaining true to his convictions.  They never saw each other again.

So, tomorrow, if you find yourself with family or friends with whom you have divergent views, don’t be the Franklins.  Find a way to compromise…or just chug another beer and agree to disagree.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

For a variety of reasons, we will not be taking trips to our usual summer haunts this year.  The primary reason is that Dash the Wonder Dog cannot be at an elevation above 7,000 ft.  We love spending time in Mammoth Lakes each year, but at a whopping 8900 feet, it is out of the question.  So, I’ve been spending time looking for some alternative destinations and during my quest became fascinated with the nicknames people have given states. Each of America’s fifty states has multiple nicknames that have been adopted over the years, though the origins aren’t always clear.  As I read some of the more unique nicknames, I began to wonder how they came about and if there is any logic to them.  We humans usually get a nickname based on something about our physical being – “Stretch” for a tall person or “Lefty” for a left-handed person or a golfer who gambles.  And while it is true that many states developed nicknames based upon things that they identify with or that set them apart, some of the names are so quirky that no one can agree on how they came into being.  I’m looking at you, Indiana. What exactly is a Hoosier?

As it turns out, some of the state nicknames are just like their human counterparts, based on a physical or historical event.  For example, Maine is known as the “Pine Tree” state, while Delaware is known as the “First State”.  Many states adopted animal names that are common to the state, such as the badgers in Wisconsin or the Hawkeyes in Iowa.  California is known as the “Golden State”, not for the Warriors, but for the gold rush.  Today the slogan might be the “exodus state”, but hopefully they can turn that around.

Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State.”  I knew the name was coined when an abundance of men volunteered to join the army, but I assumed it was during the Civil War.  Turns out it stems from the Mexican American War from 1846-1848 when the Tennessee governor asked for 2,600 volunteers and over 30,000 volunteers responded!  Today, the University of Tennessee claims “Volunteers” as its nickname but since 1956 it has used a Bluetick Coonhound dog as the official mascot.  I don’t know how they went from army volunteers to a dog, but anything with a dog is a good thing.  Maybe they wanted to compete with “Uga”, the bulldog mascot for their arch-rivals, the University of Georgia.  If the football teams stink at least they have cute dogs to watch.

Some state nicknames are a bit harder to pin down.  Florida can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be called (insert joke here).  Over the years it has been known as the “Sunshine State,” the “Peninsula State,” the “Alligator State,” the “Everglade State,” the “Flower State,” the “Gulf State,” and the “Orange State.” The official nickname for Illinois is the “Prairie State”, but the state slogan, “Land of Lincoln”, is the more popular moniker and is on their license plates.  That probably reads better than “Murder Capital of the US”.  Some names are bit more derogatory in nature.  Missouri’s nickname, the “Show-Me State”, is not official, but it’s widely used and has a unique origin story. In an 1899 speech, Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said: “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” This became a self-deprecating shorthand for Missouri stubbornness, which can be a somewhat endearing quality – until it becomes toxic.

As for those Hoosiers, while many people think of the wonderful 1986 movie by that name, there are no definitive answers as to how the nickname originated.  Among the theories are a popular greeting to an unexpected knock on the door with “Who’s yere?” turning into Hoosier.  Another theory is that it came about from the nickname of Indiana rivermen – “Husher”. The Indiana Historical Bureau says the prevailing theory on its source is that Samuel Hoosier, a contractor, preferred to hire laborers from Indiana. So we’ll probably never know exactly what a Hoosier is.

My own state nickname is rather boring – the “Grand Canyon” state.  And while it’s beautiful, I think a more apt name might be “Hotter that Hell”, “Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk”, or “It’s Like Living in a Microwave Oven”.  I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce will be calling me anytime soon.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This annual Memorial Day post is written in remembrance of the soldiers from my high school who died in the Vietnam war.  I first published this in 2014, and each year since then I hear from people who relate similar stories about the losses suffered in their hometowns or, worse, their families. This weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict. 

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So when I planned my trip to Washington D.C. last month, I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”.

To refresh my memory, I pulled out my high school yearbooks and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see color television.

I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks, I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50-year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So, on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

Robert Johnson
Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a very nice, quiet guy. Before he enlisted, he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – they wanted something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated their Senior prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah also attended NHS. Mike was a good student, who participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He led by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed, and I thank you for not forgetting.”

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class in high school and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for his fellow 16-year-old friends to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day, to face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966, was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin
Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team, very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone he met. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces, where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII. When he died in 2011, he requested that he be buried in Jim’s grave, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited.

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

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 he was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. After some research I learned that after Jerry left Novato in June 1966, he joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 6, 1968, he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

Jim Wright

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

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

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that sorrow had been replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway, I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album, along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine our family without his presence all of these years. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brothers’ heads; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brothers should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo, I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age, I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours.


I. Magnin and The City of Paris – 1950’s

As a young child, and through high school, a trip from my small hometown into downtown San Francisco was a special treat.  I’m old enough to remember that in the very early days I had to wear my “Sunday best”, including gloves, and my mother always wore a hat.  The twenty-two-mile trip to The City landed us in a foreign land of glamour and sophistication. We would wander by the storefronts, my mother drooling over the dresses in the windows at I. Magnin and the City of Paris, while I patiently waited for the moment we could go to Blum’s.  Blum’s was a restaurant adjacent to I. Magnin, famous for its confectionery.  A sundae from Blum’s was a sight to behold.  Portending my future relationship with desserts, my eyes were never bigger than my stomach.  Not a drop of ice cream or fudge ever went to waste.

The Nordstrom escalators

In 1978 I began working in the financial district of The City.  When time permitted, I would walk up to Union Square at lunch, and found myself as mesmerized by the shop windows as when I was a child.  This was especially true at Christmas, when the City of Paris erected their giant Christmas tree under their rotunda and Gump’s was a treasure trove of exotic (and expensive) gifts from around the world.  I loved working in The City, and considered myself lucky to work in an environment that was both professionally and personally rewarding.  In 1988 a new shopping experience was added to downtown San Francisco when Nordstrom opened a five-story, flagship store on Market Street.  To enter the store, one had to navigate a series of escalators that wound through the center of the building.  If you were going to the top floor, you were treated the whole way up to lavish displays on each floor, designed to make you stop and buy.  Or at least gawk.  I worked for a woman who was obsessed by Nordstrom – it was not unusual on any given day to see her wander back into the office clutching one of their signature silver boxes.  She performed more than one of my performance reviews in the Nordstrom Cafe, which was fine with me except there was no wine.

People camped out on Market Street

So, with this backdrop I hope you can appreciate how disappointed I was to read of Nordstrom’s decision to close their Market Street location.  They cited the “dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market” as factors that contributed to the decision.  In other words, there is too much crime and not enough foot traffic to justify keeping the store open.  Nordstrom is not alone.  In April, Whole Foods announced the closure of its downtown San Francisco location – a location that it opened just last year.  But it isn’t only Whole Foods and Nordstrom that are closing shop. A slew of other big brand stores are closing due to the street conditions and rampant crime.  In fact, 20 retailers have announced closures in the Union Square area just since 2020.  The companies that have chosen to stay (for now) have taken almost absurd precautions to protect staff and inventory.  The Target store in the Mission District has locked down entire sections due to rampant shoplifting.  Imagine having to find a store clerk to unlock the toothpaste.  I read an observation that I fear may come true – that the hassle of having to get everyday items unlocked before you can purchase them may lead to more store closures, as people will find it easier to have items delivered by Amazon.

I believe this is a problem that will not go away soon, as there is no simple answer.  The tech exodus certainly has hurt the downtown area, as has the trend toward online shopping.  San Francisco also enacted a law that allows minor crimes to go unpunished, which has led to an escalating level of more serious offenses.  Add in the homeless and drug problems, which have garnered so much publicity of late, and the result is the average visitor is reluctant to stroll downtown.

Many of the people who work in the financial district don’t remember when the heart of The City was glorious and safe.  They now see walking downtown, maybe from Montgomery Street up to Union Square, as an obstacle course to be endured, with a destination that has been decimated.  I feel sorry for them, for there was a time when that walk, and the city itself, was truly magical.  I hope it can regain its former glory.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is quite a big week for us unabashed Anglophiles.  The coronation of King Charles will take place on Saturday, with all the pomp and circumstance of…well, a royal coronation.  Realistically, this may be the only coronation I witness, although Charles doesn’t look all that healthy. Then again, I’m not so hot some days myself.  So, although I would love to live long enough to see William crowned (and observe whatever high jinks Prince Louis might provide), I’ve decided to immerse myself in this coronation.  I’ve read about people in the U.S. who are throwing coronation watch parties, where attendees are required to dress for the occasion, including an appropriately outrageous hat.  I don’t think I could attend one of those parties – I don’t have a pair of sweatpants or baseball cap fit for the occasion.

According to my Ancestry DNA profile, I am 70% English, with another 20% of my make-up from the other UK countries.  Even Dash the Wonder Dog has British lineage and clearly, he is the real King Charles, so I’m all in for the spectacle of the coronation.  These are my people.  Of course, “my people” may very well have been horse thieves or scoundrels of some other ilk who were barred from attending any coronation in their day.  But still, there is something in my blood that stirs at the very notion of a royal event.

For those of you who are also interested, or at least mildly entertained, I’ve dug up some fun facts about the event.

  • King Charles will be the 40th sovereign crowned at Westminster Abbey, where every sovereign has been crowned since 1066.  In fact, before the Abbey, coronations were held at whichever location was most convenient, including Bath, Oxford and Canterbury. However, the religious ceremony has remained largely unchanged for more than 1,000 years.
  • More than 2,000 guests will attend the coronation, which is just slightly under the total seating capacity.  In contrast, more than 8,000 people attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, many of them in special (read “uncomfortable”) specially built grandstands. A small railway track had to be built through the church to transport the scaffolding needed to build them – which, laid end to end, would have reached from London to Paris.

  • Charles and Camilla will have a tricked-out ride – the Gold State Coach. Since it was built in 1762, the Gold State Coach has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821.  Actually, it is not really gold, but wood painted gold.  Still, it weighs four tons, and is so heavy that the horses can only go at a walking pace when pulling it.  Queen Elizabeth was not a fan of it.  She said it was quite uncomfortable due to its lack of suspension and cushioning.
  • The coronation ceremony includes the anointing of the new monarch. The anointing oil has been perfumed with the essential oils of sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin and amber and orange blossom.  Wow – sounds like something you’d find at Bath and Body Works.  There is a royal family connection to the oil.  It was consecrated in Jerusalem, produced from olives that grew from groves on the Mount of Olives, at the Monastery of the Ascension and the Monastery of Mary Magdalene, the burial place of Charles’ grandmother Princess Alice of Greece.

  • The King will be wearing St. Edward’s Crown. The crown weighs 4 pounds and 12 ounces and is made of solid gold. That’s heavy.  To see just how heavy, I put a five-pound sack of flour on my head and marched around the house.  Let’s just say I won’t be trusted with valuable jewels anytime soon. The crown was quietly removed from the Tower of London in December to be resized for the King. It was initially made for Charles II’s coronation to replace the medieval crown parliamentarians melted in 1649 after King Charles I was executed.  Fact is that the history of kings named Charles is mixed. While Charles I was beheaded, his son, Charles II (the king who the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is named after) was by all accounts an effective ruler.  I’m hoping Charles III ends up with dogs named after him, not with his head perched on Tower Bridge.

It’s going to be a fun weekend watching all of the festivities.  I’ve taped hours of coverage and plan to watch with my King Charles, who, undoubtedly, is cuddlier than the real king.