By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Whenever our late dad was asked how long he’d been married, he would jokingly respond,  “I’ve survived 43 years of indentured servitude”.   He was the type of guy who could get away with such a statement, with a twinkle in his eye and a hearty chuckle.  My husband tried it once and received an icy stare.

But icy stares aside, this week we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  Where in the heck does the time go?  It seems like only yesterday that we were standing before the minister thinking, “What in the heck have I gotten myself in to?”

A few weeks ago a young person asked us how long we’ve been married.  When we told him we were sneaking up on 25, he asked us for the secret to a long marriage.  We were stumped for an answer.  Commitment, enthusiasm, insanity?  Probably some combination of them all.   I actually like the late Erma Bombeck’s assessment of marriage. She wrote that it isn’t the big things, like money and sex, which ruin a marriage; it’s the small annoyances adding up that suddenly made one spouse take a pick axe to the other in the dark of night.  She used examples of putting empty ice cube trays back in the freezer and refusing to walk across the room to change the TV channel.  I guess today it would be not charging the iPad or deleting a favorite show from the DVR listing.

Regardless of the era, her point is well taken.  I think a jury of my peers would have found me perfectly justified in strangling my husband for repeatedly leaving dirty dishes on top of the dishwasher, placing empty milk cartons back in the refrigerator and assuming I’m his personal secretary.  And although I’m almost sure I’ve been the very essence of human kindness over these years, perhaps he might have a thing or three to cite me for as well.  But we’ve never let the small things get in the way.  The real secret to a happy marriage?  A very short memory.

It also helps to have the same metabolisms.  How many couples have divorced because one spouse is ridiculously cheerful in the morning and the other needs six cups of coffee before grunting “Hand me the sports section.”?  We know a couple who only have about 10 waking hours when their lives intersect.  Who knows, maybe those 10 hours are enough. Especially when you’re both retired.

All I know for sure is that this week will will commemorate 25 wonderful years by going to a fine (and by “fine” I mean expensive) restaurant.  But what I’m really looking forward to are all the days that follow.  As Judith Viorst once said, “Recognize joy when it arrives in the plain brown wrappings of everyday life”.  My joy is found when the two of us are alone on our sofa, laughing and chatting.  And in those moments I am confident in the knowledge that he’s still going to put an empty milk carton back in the refrigerator.  After 25 years you learn to choose your battles.

Stardate: 1968 – John Lennon and the Sawdust Festival

by Bob Sparrow

     My road trip last week utilized time travel and took me back to the 60s, not age-wise, I’m already back in the 60s age-wise, thank you; I’m talking time-wise, like in the 1960’s – you know hippies, free love, smoking banana peels and that kind of thing.  My time travel vehicle was the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival – not a celebration of sawdust as the name might imply, but rather the annual arts and crafts festival showing off the wares of artist from Laguna Beach.

     When it originally started in 1965 it featured things like macramé dream catchers, hand-crafted turquoise peace medallions, ceramic mushrooms, guys with long hair and sandals singing anti-war songs and art work from various mediums.  Today, it features macramé dream catchers, hand-crafted turquoise peace medallions, ceramic mushrooms (pictured below), . . .  Yep, pretty much the same stuff, but the exhibitors never intended it to be another stuffy art show.

     In fact they were originally part of that ‘stuffy art show’, the Laguna Festival of Arts, when they broke away in protest of something (remember protesting anything was very popular in those days) to form their own, not-so-stuffy festival, they wanted to make it, in the parlance of the day, a ‘happening’.  The media tagged this new exhibit ‘The Rejects Festival’.  Thank goodness they used sawdust to cover the mud and dust of their new home as it provided a less-negative, albeit somewhat obscure, name for their annual show of arts and crafts.  In spite of, or maybe because of, the name, it’s been going strong ever since.

    The festival grounds are in a Eucalyptus grove less than a mile from Laguna’s Main Beach, so the sea air, the stand of Eucalyptus and the various water features therein, provide a welcome cooling relief from the summer heat.  Stepping through the portal of this time warp, I am immediately hit with the smell of sawdust which permeates the entire three acre grounds; I can hear a lone, male singer in the distance (sounds like he’s wearing sandals), strumming his acoustical guitar and protesting something, and in front of me is something I don’t see every day – a place to purchase goblets and gourds.

     I strolled from booth to booth examining the various works of art and often stopped to talk with the artist who were more than willing to discuss their craft.  Have you ever looked at a piece of art and wondered, ‘What were they thinking?’ well here was the chance to ask them.  I watched glass being blown, I watched an artist paint a picture of a hamburger because she was hungry, I saw jewelry being shaped and welded, I saw clay pots being thrown – you know what I mean,  and I saw . . . wait a minute, was that John Lennon sitting in the booth making something?  I thought I could hear Give Peace a Chance playing in the distance.

      There’s always something playing in the distance at the Sawdust Festival, sometimes several acts at once playing at three different venues throughout the grounds.  If 60s rock is your thing then you’d enjoy the Flatland Mountain Rock Band; or try Acoustic Roots who are purveyors of Bohemian Surf music (didn’t even know that was a genre); or if you want your Ska Dub Roots vibe going try Worm & the Night Crawlers.  If you just want some good old country rock, then catch Sean Wiggins & the Lone Goat.  The Lone Goat?     And . . . wait is that John Lennon singing Woman, or is that a woman singing John Lennon?  Geez, for a guy who’s been dead for almost 32 years, he sure gets around.  I headed over to the field of ceramic mushrooms.

      I passed on the mushrooms, but I bought two prints and a pair of earrings for my wife, who tolerates my wanderlust, and headed for the exit as night was falling on the festival.  As I crossed the parking lot the unmistakable smell of cannabis rented the air and extended my ‘trip’ to the 60s a few minutes more.

      It was a most delightful afternoon; I sang Imagine in the car all the way home.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     A couple of years ago I was the victim of a photo radar camera. I say “victim” because I was only going eight miles over the speed limit and besides, I was busy making my grocery list in my head.  Obviously I didn’t have time to read that pesky speed limit sign.  A few days after I was “flashed” I got a ticket in the mail along with a photo of me speeding.  I was certain that they had the wrong person; I would never leave the house with that slap-dash make-up job and my hair in such disarray. But the car was definitely mine so I had to face the fact that the slovenly person speeding down the road was me.

     My choice was to pay the fine, which would result in a car insurance premium resembling the national debt, or attend an all-day traffic school.  My friends encouraged me to do nothing and wait until the process-server found me.  Perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of “Locked Up” but I didn’t want any part of evading the law; I signed up for traffic school.  Traffic school, for those of you goody two shoes who have never been to one, consists of 8 hours of sitting in a cheap hotel room listening to someone drone on about arcane traffic laws, while sitting next to people who have committed God knows what crime.

     Okay, that might be a bit overly dramatic.  Turns out, 95% of my class was there due to photo radar cameras.  Our instructor, Rosie, was a woman who had spent the better part of her working years as a truck driver.  As in an 18 wheeler, big semi truck.  She was married and had raised her children while on the road.  Rosie referred to herself as “the Mother Trucker”.  She made the class as interesting as possible, which is quite a feat when you’re discussing curb colors and stopping distances.  In short, Rosie was just the kind of person you’d love to meet at that greasy spoon truck stop because you know she’d offer you some Tums.

     During a portion of her instruction (I believe it was concerning merges or something – the whole day was sort of lost on me) Rosie extolled the virtues of truck drivers.   At this point a few people in class felt it necessary to prolong our agony by relating their recent encounters with deranged truckers.  On and on they babbled, each one trying to better the last, completely unaware that no one cared one whit about their stories.  Imagine a cocktail party where you’re cornered by the biggest bore in the room, only you don’t have a cocktail.  Rosie finally took charge, telling us that everything we eat, wear or touch was at some point on a truck, and that we should be forever grateful for truckers.

     In my overwhelming desire to get home I did not share my opinion then, but I’m going to share it now:  truck drivers are the biggest menace on the road today.  Period. This was not always so.  In fact, when I learned to drive truckers were considered to be the safest drivers.  And nice – who among us didn’t do an arm pump as a kid when passing a trucker, only to have him blast his horn and smile?  When I was in my early twenties a friend and I were driving up to Squaw Valley on a Friday night and were so engrossed in our discussion about skiing (okay, it was probably about ski patrol guys) that we didn’t notice that the gas tank was emptying.  As we ascended Highway 80,  just shy of the summit and in complete darkness, our car gradually lost power and stopped on the side of the road.  A few minutes later a truck driver pulled over to see if he could help.  He quickly diagnosed the problem (we were idiots) and offered to take us up to Norden to the gas station.  We merrily – and unthinkingly – hopped in his truck to go get gas.  I shudder when I remember this – we were lucky we didn’t end up in some sex slave harem in Indonesia.  But such were the times – truck drivers were the good Samaritans of the road.

     Nowadays, as I have previously related, my husband and I do a lot of driving trips.  So as other people know airports, we know roads.  I cannot even begin to count the number of times over the past several years that we have been cut off by a speeding truck.  On a trip last week we noticed a truck veering from one lane to the other.  We cautiously approached him and as I peered in his window, he was eating a sandwich with one hand and holding a coke in the other.  He was obviously under the mistaken impression that he could drive with his knees.  I have seen truckers reading, texting, talking on the phone, rifling through paperwork, and snuggling up with their girlfriends (to put it delicately).  Imagine – we used to think catching someone picking their nose was a noteworthy event!

     I know that nowadays truckers are often freelancers and paid by the job; the faster they can complete their “run” the more money they make.  I just wish they all had the same sensibilities as Rosie.  In other words, we need more mother truckers on the road.

I Didn’t Know Jack . . . London

by Bob Sparrow

     When someone would say the name Jack London to me I’d think Call of the Wild, and . . . well, not much else.  Maybe because I am from northern California, I’d think of Jack London Square in Oakland and perhaps have a vague notion of something to do with Jack London up around Sonoma.  I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to visit that ‘vague notion’ up around Sonoma, which is Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.  It is truly amazing, as was Mr. London.  What follows for some will be ‘old news’, but there are some, me included, who didn’t know Jack!

     He was born in San Francisco in 1876 to a father who didn’t own up to him and an unwed mother, who shot herself, not fatally, shortly after his birth (talk about a disappointed mother!), became temporarily deranged and turned the care and raising of Jack over to an ex-slave.  Not your ordinary start to life, but Jack London was no ordinary person.  From an early age he was an avid reader and definitely had a case of wanderlust.  At 13 he bought a boat (yes, 13) and became an ‘oyster pirate’ (yes, a pirate!).  A few years later he signed on as a ship’s crew member to hunt seals in Japan.  When he returned, the ‘Panic of 1893’ (The forerunner of The Great Depression and whatever it is we’re going through now) was in full swing.  He regularly voiced his opinion about poor working conditions, and for it he spent time in jail which helped him develop his strong political views regarding the value of unions and the virtues of socialism.  At 17, after several years of being on the road and at sea, he returned to Oakland to attend high school!  Yep, he owned a boat, was a pirate, hunted seals in Japan, became a political activist, spent time in jail all before his senior prom.  At 20 he entered college at Cal Berkeley (of course), but stayed only a year as the Klondike gold rush beckoned him north.

     He would always record his adventures on paper and at a very early age realized that he could actually make a living with his writing.  The Reader’s Digest version of his life would look something like this: He got married, but was not faithful (he said morality was a sign of low blood pressure.  Honest!), he was an honorary member of the Bohemian Club, he became an alcoholic, he got divorced and remarried, he built a boat and took off for nearly two years sailing to Hawaii, Australia and several south sea islands, he ran for political office (and lost), he was often accused of plagiarism (and sometimes pleaded guilty), he bought 1,000 acres in Glen Ellen where he tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce new agricultural techniques to the world and through it all he wrote over 20 novels and dozens of short stories and essays, all by the age of 40 when he died, some say by suicide.

     The 1,000 acres he purchased is now the Jack London State Historic Park.  It features miles of great hiking trails, Jack’s man-made lake, his cottage, the house his wife lived in (pictured at right) after his death, which is now the museum holding the artifacts that Jack collected on his many travels, numerous farm out-buildings including the ‘Pig Palace’ and a fancy manure mover, an open-air theater and his gravesite.  But among the many buckeye, fir, madrone, oak and the magnificent coastal redwood is the gem of the park, the ‘Wolf House’

     Jack decided that he wanted to build a most magnificent house on this beautiful property; a place where he could write, entertain and just relax and enjoy the beautiful nature around him.  Construction on the Wolf House started in 1911; it was built of volcanic rock, slate and redwood on an earthquake-proof concrete slab.  There was over 15,000 square feet of living space on four floors with 26 rooms and 9 fireplaces.  The house contained its own generating plants for hot water, laundry, heating, electric lighting, vacuum and refrigeration – not common in those days.  It also had a milk room, root cellar and a wine cellar.  In today’s dollars it cost over $2,000,000 to build.  As you might suspect, Jack London was often criticized for espousing a socialist philosophy, but living a capitalist’s life.

    In 1913, two weeks before Jack and wife, Charmian were to move into the Wolf House, a fire, caused by spontaneous combustion, burned it to the grown, leaving only the volcanic rock of the foundation, walls and fireplaces, which is how it remains today, nearly 100 years later.

Jack was crushed, but vowed to rebuild it, but illness and a lack of money and time prevented that – he died three years later.  But when you’re deep in the redwoods walking around the remains of the Wolf House, you swear you can almost hear the call of the wild.

     If you’re planning a trip to the Napa/Sonoma wine country, I’d recommend taking a break from the lectures about why the Cabernets have such big noses and visit this historic site; if you’re lucky you’ll go at a time when they’re doing Broadway in the open-air theater at sundown.