THE LONGER ROAD HOME

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

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

Marilyn at the North Fork

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

             Galena Overlook

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

             Redfish Lake

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

                 Downtown Kanab

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

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

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

 

Phyllis Turns 95

by Bob Sparrow

Phyllis Barnes

My mother-in-law, Phyllis (McMillen) Barnes turned 95 this month.  I’ll do the math for you, she was born in 1926 when the minimum wage was 33 cents an hour, a quart of milk was nine cents and a new Chevrolet cost $525 Marilyn Monroe was born this same year (somehow, I can’t picture her at 95) and Queen Elizabeth II was also born that same year, 10 days later than Phyllis.  We all gathered in Rochester, Minnesota to celebrate this matriarch’s birthday, the group included her three children, 9 grandchildren, two great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

Phyllis, our own royalty, was born in Lenora, Minnesota and was a rather large baby at birth at 11 pounds, today she’s only 85 pounds – I’d venture to say that most of us have put on more than 74 pounds during our lifetime.

Phyllis’ mother, Petra, was one of three sisters in town that married three brothers!  Obviously, the dating pool was a bit limited!

For her first eight years of education, she attended a 12-seat school house, then after graduating from Canton High School, in southern Minnesota, she attended ‘Teacher’s Training’ and taught one year of ‘Normal School’ (I’m not sure how that differed from Abnormal School).  I asked her what grade she taught and she said, all of them!  All the students were in the same classroom doing different levels of activities.

Model A Ford

In 1945, at the age of 19, she married Warren Barnes and they drove a Model A Ford to Novato, CA (My hometown!) and Warren joined the Army Air Force and was stationed at Hamilton Field.  Not sure how long it took them to cross the country, or how many stops they made along the way, but they only had $75 in their pocket when they started the trip and $5 left when they got to Novato.

They returned to Minnesota and bought her parents’ farm for $20,000 – paying $1,000 a year for 20 years (No interest!).  The house had electricity, but no indoor plumbing, so they had an ‘outhouse’, which in the Minnesota winters was 25 yards too far from the house, but in the summer, it’s 25 yards too near. Phew!!  Fresh water came from a pump next to the house, which among other things was used for the weekly bath on Saturday night, to make sure the kids were ready for church on Sunday morning.  The three kids, Starlet, Dale and Linda were practicing environmentalism back then, as they all bathed separately, but in the same water.

25 yds too far or 25 yds too close

With dairy cows needing milking twice a day – every day, they didn’t have many opportunities to get too far from the farm, but they had a great life socializing with friends and family, bowling, dancing and playing cards.

Today Phyllis enjoys seeing her extended family, aside from three children, she has a total of 11 grandkids, 28 great grandkids, 5 great, great grandkids, most of them living in Minnesota.  She has two sons-in-law, Donnie Brummer and myself and when asked which one she likes best, she jokingly says, “I don’t like one any better than the other.”  So, we’ve got that going for us!

Aside from having a good sense of humor, Phyllis is truly one of the sweetest people I know; in fact at our son Jeff’s wedding in 2019 I said that Jeff reminded me of the two sweetest people I know, my dad and Phyllis.  I did mention for that while Linda and I aren’t particularly sweet, apparently we do carry that ‘sweetness’ gene. It’s one of those things that skips a generation.

One of the biggest changes that Phyllis has seen in her lifetime is in technology; they got their first TV in the mid-50s; broadcasting didn’t start until noon and went off at midnight or before.  They had only two channels and Warren had to go outside to turn the antenna to go from one channel to the other (not exactly a remote control!).  Today Phyllis is a real techie as she is very active on Facebook and reads from her iPad daily, and will often Face Time us. I hope I can be as sharp as her . . . next month!

Dale, Phyllis, Starlet, Linda

Her secret to a long life? She says, hard work, good attitude and great family.  Long live the queen!

 

 

MY AUNT MARILYN MONROE AND SUN VALLEY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Until the age of 10 I thought Marilyn Monroe was my aunt.  Our Uncle Dick had a deep and abiding love for Marilyn.  So much so that he bought a life-size poster of her to hang in the cabin at Lake Tahoe.  As a way to explain why we had a picture of a blonde bombshell in a bikini so prominently displayed, Uncle Dick and my parents tried to sell us kids on the notion that she was our aunt – therefore, it was a family picture.  They didn’t try very hard to sell the idea and my brothers weren’t buying it at all but I wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.  I was mesmerized by her and, as you can see from the photo, I tried to emulate her when I could.  When she died in 1962 I was on my way to Girl Scout camp for two weeks in the Sierras.  The morning paper’s headline screamed “MARILYN MONROE DEAD!”.  So while other girls were shrieking with joy about escaping parental supervision for a week, I was bawling my eyes out over the death of my “aunt”.    Of course, with time, I better understood all of her problems and sexual peccadilloes  with the Kennedys but I still admired her glamour and her intelligence (her IQ was 168).  Today I channel her every December when I sing the “Happy Birthday” song to my brother in my best Marilyn-to-JFK impression.  And, truth being stranger than imagination, I discovered a few years ago that Marilyn Monroe is also a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.  So, she actually IS my aunt – just 15 times removed!

 

But our common ancestry is not the only thing that Marilyn and I have in common.  She filmed the movie Bus Stop in and around Sun Valley, Idaho during the winter of 1956 and frequented The Ram restaurant.  The Ram is our favorite place to hang out and is the oldest operating restaurant in Sun Valley.  Over the years stars from Gary Cooper and Clark Gable to modern media titans Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg have dined there. The photo (right) was taken of Marilyn on the night before the Bus Stop company left Idaho to return to Los Angeles.  As you can see, Marilyn wasn’t afraid to partake in the local cuisine.  No rabbit food for her – she tucked into a steak and baked potato like a truck driver.  Apparently she loved to eat, which is just another reason to adore her.  At the time she was criticized for wearing such a “manly” sweater, as if Marilyn could look “manly” in anything.  But there may have been a good reason for her bundling up – shortly after her return to Los Angeles she was hospitalized for 12 days with pneumonia.  She blamed her illness on having to wear skimpy clothing in the heart of an Idaho winter.  Still, Bus Stop turned out to be one of her best performances.  Today one can drive a bit north of Sun Valley to visit the North Fork Store (named Grace’s Diner for the film) where Marilyn performed her magic.

For the past 29 years, we have traveled to Sun Valley in September and have had dinner at The Ram.  In fact, because our anniversary is at the end of August, we usually save our special celebration dinner for The Ram.  The photo (left) was taken on our 25th anniversary.  The food is always good and they even have a cocktail named after Marilyn.  Whether sitting inside in the old-fashioned booths with the antler chandeliers or outside on the beautiful terrace overlooking the duck pond, The Ram has always provided great atmosphere and a feeling of history.  Larry Harshbarger, who has been playing the piano at The Ram since 1979 always accommodates our requests.  It is an evening we anticipate with joy each year.

 

This year we marked 30 years of marriage in August so for this special occasion we planned on a romantic dinner at The Ram, listening to Larry and enjoying a Marilyn cocktail.  On our first day in Sun Valley we walked up to the restaurant and were greeted with a boarded up façade. The Ram and the adjacent areas are being renovated for the next three months.  According to the information posted on the fence, The Ram’s interior will be gutted and modernized.  The only remnant of the past will be the antler chandeliers.  The “new and improved” Ram will feature an open kitchen.  I hate open kitchens.  Isn’t the whole reason for going out to dinner is so you DON’T see a kitchen?  I want my meal to appear as if by magic, in the arms of a waiter who bursts through swinging doors carrying a tray filled with plated food.  Open kitchens, in my experience, render conversation with your table mates nearly impossible.  The clanging of pans, shouting of sous chefs and the occasional dropped silverware all conspire to make a cacophony of sound with decibel levels near that of a jackhammer.  So I don’t know what I hate more – that The Ram is being renovated or that it will now feature an open kitchen.

All I know is – I’m sure glad Aunt Marilyn isn’t alive to see this.