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!















It’s Grand to Be Grand

by Bob Sparrow

Dylan, Emma, Addison and Mac

When Linda and I first got married, back when the earth was still cooling, she said she couldn’t wait to be a grandmother.  I can’t remember my stance on grandparenthood at the time, I was probably ambivalent, but I did mention to Linda that there was a step between where we were then and her being a grandmother – so, enter Dana and Jeff.  Her passion for being a grandmother came from a great relationship she had with her maternal grandmother, Petra, while growing up in Minnesota.  Linda actually wanted to name Dana, Petra, for which Dana still thanks me.  I, on the other hand, liked my grandparents, but I didn’t spend that much time with them and the time I did spend, I just felt it was time spent with some familiar ‘old people’.

Fast forward to today and I now think I invented grandparenthood!  We are fortunate enough to have four amazing grandchildren.  I’m going to go on a bit about them; perhaps I’m a bit biased, but I hope any of you grandparents out there would feel the same way about yours.


The first grandchild came from my daughter, Stephanie and husband, Jason, a boy named Dylan.  Now, at 12 years old, he has become quite an accomplished piano player and has been in several bands as a keyboard player.


Not only does he play the piano, but he composes his own songs, seemingly with very little effort – and they are quite good.  One day when he was at our house playing an original piece, I told him that he should hook up with someone who writes poetry and they could write some popular songs together.  He said that his school had a poetry writing contest and . . . he won!  So, don’t be surprised if he becomes a famous song writer!  He will be entering junior high this fall and is hopeful of getting into a performing arts high school in a couple of years.  His sister, Emma, who is 10, is a very accomplish dancer and has been for a number of years.  She is also blessed with a big personality and a beautiful smile.  Both Dylan and Emma attend an immersive Italian language school and are both fluent in the language.  This summer, when the family visited Italy, we saw several videos of Emma ordering various dishes and conversing with the servers in Italian.  She really seemed to enjoy it and the Italians said that she had a great accent.  She is a smart, adorable, talented young lady.



Our third and forth grandchildren, Addison and Maclin, came from our daughter, Dana and husband, Joe.  Addison is six going on 15!  She is very mature, has a very out-going personality, is very smart and has a great sense of humor.  She plays soccer and softball, and is currently taking golf and piano lessons.  She’s also has written and sings a couple original songs.  A year ago, the ‘girls’ went on a wine tasting weekend in Temecula and I got to babysit Addison – so the two of us went to the San Diego  Zoo, Safari Park in Escondido – it was one of the best 24 hours I’ve ever spent.   Mac’s nickname is ‘Turbo’, because he is always on the move and attacks things with reckless abandon.  At three, he loves sports, particularly hockey.  He is currently practicing hockey at the same rink father, Joe did when he was a kid.  One has to be at least five years old to play on a team, but one of the coaches saw Mac skate and said he wanted this three-year-old on his team now!!  It will be fun to see what he does with hockey.  He is also obsessed with two movies, for obvious reasons , The Might Ducks, a great story about a youth hockey team, and Top Gun – Maverick . he recites many of the lines from the movie and has a ‘Bomber Jacket’ that he sometimes sleeps in.  He seems to like nice clothes, as when he was asked when he wanted for his third birthday, the said, “a three-piece suit”.  Yes, a three-piece suit!!!  Because the family owns two restaurants and Joe is a certified Cordon Bleu chef, they both love to help Joe & Dana in the kitchen.

Fortunately, all four live within an hour, so we get to watch them grow up.  Like I’ve said, I’ve alwasys wanted to be a grandpartent!!  OK, maybe that wasn’t me, but now I love it!  So, with no travel plans for the next few weeks and the backyard finished, we’re looking forward to spoiling our grandchildren as much as possible.  We truly feel blessed.  Hope those of you with grandchildren feel exactly the same way!


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.


After the Storm

by Bob Sparrow



As you may recall, we left for Spain & Portugal with our backyard turned upside-down, as noted in my blog of April 10, The Storm Before the Calm (Comparison photos to follow).  It was still being finished when we returned and we have been consumed with putting the final touches (outdoor furniture, soft-scape and various tropical accoutrements) on this project that went way over budget – what a surprise!  I guess this is my way of letting you know that the extent of my travels these past two weeks has been to Home Depot, the backyard and back to Home Depot . . . OK, and back to Home Depot again!



The hardscape has mostly remained the same, except for the disappearance of the large planter right outside the patio doors – it’s gone; it broke my heart to have to get rid of one large queen palm and two smaller pigmy palms, but I guess that’s the price of progress.  That center area is now filled with a fire feature surrounded by couches and an umbrella.  The pool has remained the same shape, but it is now surfaced with an ‘aqua white’ pebble tech finish.  The Memorial Garden or as Hawaiians would call it, Ho’omana’o Kihapai, behind the pool, still includes the moais that represent the final resting place for my friend, Don Klapperich, my brother Jack, and me.  Jack and I aren’t there yet, I don’t think, but a bullet from Don’s military, 21-gun salute lies under the far left moai.

The Wall of Masks

Ho’omana’o Kihapai,

The outdoor bar, with a new BBQ, no longer has a large mirror on the wall behind it, but rather a ‘Wall of Masks’.  These are wooden masks from places that I have visited (that have masks), such as Kathmandu, Zimbabwe, Machu Picchu and others, plus there’s room for many more masks, so I hope I can continue to visit some exotic places to fill the wall.



So, that’s what I’ve been doing the last several weeks.  I love to travel and I love getting home, more now that the backyard is finally done.





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.


Spain/Portugal Epilogue and Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

Following are some final random thoughts on the trip to Spain/Portugal.

  • Those who have traveled on a planned tour, know that the ‘Tour Guide’ can make or break the trip. So, here’s our tour guide, Daniel.  The ladies thought he was good-looking.  But a pretty face really doesn’t get it with the guys, if you


    don’t have a brain, and a personality.  OK, Daniel was smart (had a law degree), funny, educational, and entertaining.  He made the trip so much more enjoyable!

  • The month of May is a perfect time to visit these two countries – earlier and you’re dealing with cold and rain, later and you’re dealing with extreme heat
  • Red, White or Beer? When asked, at a restaurant, what you want to drink, while some restaurants have a wine list, you’re typically asked, “Red or White?”  Or you may be asked if you want a beer, if so, there is no choice, most restaurants have only one brand of beer – it is good, but that’s it!
  • Bordering on both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, as you might suspect, there is lots of fish on the menu, some I was familiar with, Codfish, Dorada and Tuna along with specialties like Squid, Octopus, Sardines, Anchovies and Cockles. Then there’s Hake (the most popular), Dogfish, Dreamfish & Conger.  Lots of fish!
  • Don’t go to these two countries if you don’t like green olives. It’s one of their leading exports and a dish of them is put in front of you when and wherever you first sit down.
  • It is said that tapas is not a meal, it’s an activity. I have concluded that tapas is a great concept, it allows you to share a variety of foods within your group.  I probably wouldn’t have ordered deep fried egg plant with balsamic and honey, but it was one of my favorites.
  • You’ll find thin sliced ham and a variety of cheeses at breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Only 3 pounds. That’s what I gained in 16 days of eating and drinking lots of wine and beer.
  • 42 miles. That’s how far I walked in the first week.  I’m guessing that contributed to only 3 pounds of weight gain.
  • We were introduced to ‘El Camino Santiago’, or the ‘Way of St. James’, which is a pilgrimage that over 200,000 people take every year from various places in Europe to the northwest corner of Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Composteia, where tradition holds that the remains of the apostle of St. James are buried. We were shown a movie, called The Way, starring Martin Sheen that depicts this pilgrimage.  Daniel, our guide, had done the pilgrimage twice.
  •  The absolute highlight of the trip was traveling with great friends – so thank you Mike & Tanis Nelson, Bob & Jeanne Pacelli, Rob & Stefanie Warren and Marc & Lisa Webb – great neighbors and great travel companions

The photo finish . . .

Rub the ass of this statue in Madrid for good luck

The Three Stooges


Dinner or bait?


Andalusian ready to give birth

Travelers, not tourists


Passage to Portugal

by Bob Sparrow


We leave the magnificent city of Seville and the beautiful country of Spain for Portugal.  I have come to learn that Spain and Portugal are like sibling rivals but without the brotherly love.  The fact is, they really don’t like each other much, but it doesn’t matter, we like them both.  Shortly after crossing the Portuguese border, we stop at a tile museum and tour through it; at the end of the tour is a glass of Portugal port wine waiting for us – so far Portugal is looking just like Spain – lots of wine!

We are staying three nights at a beach resort in the coastal town of Cascais (pronounced CASH–KAI-SH), our hotel is an old fortress right on the water, with a marina right next to us.  It is a short walk to town along the beach as we take in the sites, which include a ‘no-hands’ beach volleyball game, just like regular volleyball, but you can only contact the ball with your feet, your chest, or your head – very interesting; and the guys we were watching were very good.  We go to an out-of-the-way place (meaning it’s not in the middle of all the touristy area) for a chicken dinner – maybe the best tasting chicken I’ve ever had.  The next day we tour Lisbon, which is about an hour bus ride away.

No, not the Golden Gate

The parallels between Lisbon and San Francisco are amazing; both built on a hill, both have a ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ (see photo), both have cable cars and both had devastating earthquakes that reconfigured the city.  As we toured, we learn the extensive history of the many Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan – they literally ruled the world in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. After a streetcar tour of the city, we go to dinner and experience a Fado exhibition.  Fado?  I didn’t know either, but it is a form of Portuguese folk music that is typically mournful and melancholy.  The show we saw featured a singer, a stand-up bass player, a rhythm guitar player and the virtuoso of the group, a 12-string Spanish guitar player, who picked with a thumb pick and one finger pick and made the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard come out of a guitar – he was amazing!!  A very fun evening.

Fado musicians

The next day we head to the little town of Sintra, in a wooded area that has been a favorite summer residence of Portuguese kings for the past six centuries.  We explore a Disney-like castle, Quinta da Regaleira, with a Gothic facade and beautiful gardens.  We are back in Cascais in time to enjoy our ‘farewell dinner’, where we will say goodbye to our tour guide, Daniel and the ten ‘other’ travelers in our group.

Quinta da Regaleira

The ten ‘hood members stay an extra day for an excursion to Fatima, Nazare and Obidos.  We are now in a Sprinter van with a local tour guide for our first stop, Fatima.  Next to the Vatican, Fatima is probably the most revered place for those of the Catholic religion, as it’s the place where, in 1917, three Shepard children saw the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  One of the three children’s final resting place is in the church at Fatima – a pretty impressive place.  Our next stop is Nazare, a popular seaside resort known for its 100-foot waves – yes, one hundred feet high!!!   It is a surfers’ Mecca, although some have lost their lives to the huge waves.  The big waves come in November and December, so we have a great lunch and see a beautiful coast line.  Our final stop is at the ancient walled-city of Obidos, which was originally a Roman settlement (This is why you travel, we don’t have any Roman settlements in the US).  Interesting side note, the Church of Santa Maria in Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra in 1441, when they were both still children aged 9 and 10, respectively.  You don’t see that much in the US either!


The next morning we are on our way to the airport and the bitter-sweet journey home – bitter for the end of our amazing adventure, but always good to get to home sweet home.


Thursday: Epiloge of Spain & Portugal Journey and perhaps a ‘Photo Finish’

The Sites of Seville

by Bob Sparrow

Seville Cathedral

Today we head to Seville, but before we get into the ‘cultural center’ of Spain, we stop at an olive oil farm, which produces not the most, but some of the best, olive oil in Spain.  An on-site guide walked us through their olive orchard, as well as their ‘press room’ and gave us the history of the olive farm as well as the process for producing different kinds of olive oil.  At the end of the tour, we go to the tasting room where we sample some of their latest harvests and were able to buy some – can’t wait to try it at home.

It’s back on the bus as we head into Seville, the fourth largest city in Spain.  We check into our hotel, another ‘H10’, which I had not heard of before, but we stayed in several of them on this trip and I’d highly recommend them, especially the rooftop bars!  We visit the Seville Cathedral, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, it took over 100 years to build; it is huge and awesome!!!

Columbus tomb in Seville Cathedral

There’s some controversy about where his final resting place is, but the Spaniards claim that the tomb of Christopher Columbus is here in the Seville Cathedral – it is quite a display.  There is no controversy as to the fact that Columbus left from Seville on his famous exploration of the New World.  But, you say, “Seville is 30 miles from the ocean, how can that be?!”  Yes, it is, but it is connected to the ocean by the Guadalquivir River, which is deep and wide enough to handle the largest of Spanish galleons.  In fact, this in-land port was preferred by sailors as it was a great protection against pirates.  A pirate would have to come 30 miles up the river to steal anything and then would have to go back the only way out, which was heavily fortified and in fact blockades could be set up to keep a ship from getting to the ocean.  So, Seville became a very popular and profitable port.  Some of us made the 40-story hike to the top of the church tower, which provided a panoramic view of the entire city as well as a test of the lungs and legs.

Mirador Setas

We next visited Mirador Setas, a huge wooden structure in the middle of the city square, built in 2005.  We were able to walk on it and get some spectacular views of the city, it is quite an interesting structure.  There is a small theater at the bottom of the structure where we watched an amazing video of Spain – very reminiscent of the Disney ride, ‘Soaring Over California’ video where one is ‘flying’ over the city and into several of the historic structures – awesome!!

I don’t recall the name of the restaurant where we had dinner (some Spanish name I think!!), but the meal was possibly the best dinner I’ve ever had – the main dish was salmon, but I was so full with all the delicious tapas that came before it, that I could barely finish it – it was all so delicious, including the wine!

We next have a local guide give us a city tour and then we get do a carriage ride through another part of the city, that took us to Plaza de Espana, Maria Luisa Park and many other sites of interest – beautiful.  Excellent weather the entire time helped make everything that much better.  Prior to dinner we have a flamenco lesson, which was given by a local teacher and showed most of us that we are not even close to being coordinated enough to do this dance.  Our dancing looked more like flamingos than flamenco!   We then go to a theater and see a flamenco show, complete with guitar player, a singer and a male and female dancer.  For me, the dancing was awesome, as was the guitar playing, but the singing left a little to be desired.  It was more whaling than signing.  When the female singer started, Linda turned to me and said, “Someone should fall 911, this person sounds ill”, but others seemed to like it.

Plaza de Espana

For dinner, we were free to go anywhere in the city.  Before I tell you where we went, I need to tell you what our tour guide, Daniel said about being a visitor to a foreign country.  “Know the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler?  We made a few guesses, but he finally told us, “A tourist tries to make the country adapt to him or her, a traveler tries to adapt to the country.”  So, mostly we tried to be ‘travelers’, but after a week of foreign food, we saw a place that had a sign that said, ‘Hamburgers – different, but delicious’; that’s where we had dinner – it was a little different, but delicious!

Next time we leave Spain and head to Portugal . . .


Historic Cordoba

by Bob Sparrow


We head inland to Cordoba, the second oldest city in the world, which once had a population of over one million people, but now has about 325,000.  This city, like much of the surrounding area, was first populated by the Romans (for about two centuries from 200 BC), then it was taken over by the Visigoths (a Germanic state), then occupied by the Muslims from 711 to 1492, then finally taken from the Muslims, in the Reconquista, by the Christians lead by forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.   Lots of history in this city!


But prior to getting to Cordoba, we visit the ancient city of Ronda, which sits on two spectacular cliffs connected by the visually spectacular Puente Vuevo (New Bridge).  After a stroll through the town, it has been arranged with a local family, that we would have lunch at their house.  The husband, who is a professional chef prepares our meal and his wife tells us about the town and how she grew up there.  Of course, the first order taken was for beer or wine, then a magnificent array of food was presented in about 4-5 courses – I can’t even discribe the food, but it all were very tasty!  Then back on the bus, Gus and off to Cordoba.

Lunch at Ronda home

On the outskirts of Cordoba we stop and visit a horse ranch and get a tour of the facilities and a training demonstration.  The horses are magnificent and range in breed from Arabians, French and Spanish Andalusians.  These horses are bred for show not for racing and they are beautiful, well-disciplined animals.  We thought we might get to see one of of the Andalusians give birth, but she wasn’t quite ready, and those things cannot be rushed.  One of the other really cool things to see at work were the Border Collie dogs that worked with the trainers to keep the horses in line – amazing!  We had another great dinner – maybe at the end of this trip I’ll try to sum up the variety of food we’ve been treated to – it’s different than what we get at home and excellent!


The highlight of any tour to Cordoba is the magnificent Mezquita, which was a Muslim Mosque turned into a Catholic Cathedral when the Christians defeated the Moors to take over the city.  At the time we arrive in Cordoba the ‘Annual Fair’ was going on this week, which helps clear the city streets, as everyone is on the outskirts of town at the fair, well, most everyone, there’s still a lot of people roaming around and we see a lot of pretty ladies dress in full-length, colorful flamenco dresses going through town.  The other event that just took place here is the ‘patio judging’, where anyone who wants to participate can fill their typical four-walled patio with flowers and other decorations to win prize money.  We get a chance to see some of the top patios – very cool.  We are told that watering all the plants in one of these patios typically takes between 2.5 – 3 hours a day!  Dinner on our own is schedule at a great restaurant in the Jewish section of town.  Fortunately, they put us in our own room as we tend to get quite noisy, which we did this night.  Well, bottomless wine was included with the dinner, so we didn’t want to make them feel bad about not drinking their wine, so we made sure we had plenty.  As I’m getting ready to start talking about going to Seville, I forgot that, in Malaga, we ate at Antonio Banderas’ restaurant,  El Pimpi; he wasn’t there, but the food was very good!  Back to Cordoba so we can head to Seville – I think that Spanish wine is affecting my memory.

Next is Spain’s ‘Cultural Center’ – Seville . . . I think!


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: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

Jerry Sims

In April 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS, I assumed 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.