Road Trip – Novato, Our Home Town

by Bob Sparrow

The Road Trip – Novato, Our Home Town

Spinnaker in Sausalito

I left Orange County mid-morning last Thursday, hoping to miss the L.A. traffic . . . NOT!  So, the three-hour drive to meet up with Jack in Santa Maria took four hours.  I spent Thursday night at Jack & Sharon’s where they invited Sharon’s daughter and son-in-law, Deb & Steve Rau over for dinner; a very fun evening.  Jack and I embarked on our road trip the next morning around 8:00, getting us to San Francisco in time for their commute traffic.  So, my first road trip accomplishment was to be stuck in both L.A. and San Francisco traffic within 24 hours.  Check.

Jack & I both enjoyed visiting San Francisco while we were growing up in Novato, however, we’d heard not-such-good things about it over the last several years, so we were afraid to see for ourselves what ‘The City’ looked like.  We took major streets through town, Van Ness and Lombard and we were very pleasantly surprised – we saw not one homeless person on the spotless streets and The City sparkled on this beautiful, sunny Friday morning.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went into Sausalito where we had lunch at The Spinnaker, a restaurant right on the water.  The last time I was at The Spinnaker was for dinner before my high school senior prom, just a few years ago!  We had a window seat which offered us a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay and the many boats out sailing on this perfect spring day.  I don’t think I’ve ever taken a photo of a meal I was eating, but this one looked and tasted so good, that I just couldn’t help myself.

After lunch, we continued into Novato and to the home of Pete Ferrarese, a former high school classmate and football teammate of Jack.  He is living in the house his parents owned and that he grew up in.  He invited his brother, Paul, who was a classmate and teammate of mine in high school, over for dinner as well as semi-retired lawyer and classmate, football teammate, George Gnoss, who brought a very nice bottle of wine.  Needless to say, the before-dinner conversation in Pete’s beautifully flowered backyard, the dinner conversation over delicious barbequed steaks, and the post-dinner/wine conversation was filled with stories about, “Do you remember when . . .”  A most entertaining and fun evening!

Saturday morning, we met the family of a dear friend of both Jack and mine, Don Stutzman, who passed away several years ago.  We met, Gwenn, Don’s ex-wife and two of his three children, Susan and Mark.  This trip is just beginning, but having the two-and-a-half-hour breakfast with the Stutzman clan will unquestionably be one of the highlights.  The conversation never stopped about adventures that we had with Don.  Gwenn looked great at 84 and the kids were chips off the old block, very nice looking, delightful and totally entertaining.  After breakfast Mark invited us over to his house to see his ‘Man Cave’.  It is unbelievable!  A large room, separate from the house, with a full bar and filled with 49er memorabilia.  The stories continued as we had a cold beer and a toast to Don.

Jack, Paul, Bob, Pete, George

Pete’s garden with 70 foot redwood tree

The Stutzmans: Mark, Jack, Gwenn, Susan, me

Saturday afternoon we visited all the houses (4) that we lived in while growing up in Novato as well as cruised down the main drag of town, Grant Avenue, saying, “That’s where (fill in the blank) used to be”.  We also went by Novato High School and sadly watched part of a soccer game being played on the football field – where Novato no longer has a football team.  We then visited ‘our brick’ at Novato City Hall.   Pete, Jack & I hit a very good Mexican restaurant on Grant Avenue for dinner, then called it a night.

The ‘Brick’ at Novato City Hall

Next week, Suzanne will post her traditional ‘Memorial Day’ blog paying tribute to the Novato men who lost their lives in Viet Nam.  I will return the following week with the rest of the ‘Road Trip’.

Mark’s 49er Man Cave!

Jack & my first home – upstairs on Grant Ave.

The Brothers Sparrow Road Trip

by Bob Sparrow

The famous Alturas Railway station

This week, on Thursday, Brother Jack and I will embark on a road trip that was borne out of some nonsense that Jack uttered years ago.  He and I like to bet on football, both college and pro; when we’re in Vegas we make actual bets, but most of the time we just make imaginary bets – granted you don’t win much with those, but you don’t lose much either.  One Monday after a not-so-good imaginary weekend of football betting, I called Jack to discuss our poor results.  After my reporting all the bad news, he said, “Maybe we should just go to Alturas and open a turkey farm” He then asked me, “Do you know how to make Turkey Pot Pies?”  What?!!!  I didn’t know where that came from, I didn’t know where Alturas was and I sure as hell didn’t know how to make a Turkey Pot Pie.  Jack explained that Alturas was a small town in the northeast corner of California and that he had never been there, but it sounded like a nice little town.  And so, Alturas and the prospect of getting into the Turkey Pot Pie business remained the butt of many of our jokes in the ensuing years.

At the end of last year, we decided, since we’re both California natives, and neither of us had not only never been to Alturas, but we didn’t even know anybody who had ever been to that booming metropolis; so it screamed, “Road Trip!”  So, earlier this year, we planned a road trip that would include some of the places in the state that are near and dear to us while also checking off Alturas, a town that surely is on most people’s bucket list to visit.

So, here’s what we’ve learned, and I’m sure you’re dying to know, about Alturas:

Fisherman’s Wharf . . . or Sausalito?

Alturas is Spanish for “Heights”, as it is at an altitude of 4,370 feet above sea level With a population of about 2,700 people, albeit one of the largest cities in the region!  It is located at the confluence of the south and north forks of the Pit River.  I’m sure that helped you pinpoint it’s exact location!  We searched for the possibilities of Alturas having a fairly large turkey populations, but to no avail.  We’re not even sure the concept of a Turkey Pot Pie has ever been introduced to the fine people of Alturas!  We shall see!

The trip will start with me driving to meet Jack at his home in Santa Maria.  The next morning we’ll head north and decide while driving through San Francisco, if we want to stop.  It was such a wonerful city when we were growing up in Novato, and we have many fond memories of ‘The City’; but given what we’ve heard, we’re just not sure what we’ll find.  If we don’t stop at someplace like Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, then we’d probably head over to Sausalito and grab a bite.  We’ll then continue up to Novato, the town where we were both born and raised.  We’ll do some drive-bys of the houses we used to live in and Novato High School, as well as cruise down the main drag, Grant Avenue, which, I’m sure, we’ll bring back lots of memories.  We’ll then head over to a classmate and football teammate of Jack’s, Pete Ferrarese, where he has offered us lodging for the night.  It’s the only night were we have secured accommodations, as we’re not sure how long we’ll stay in any one place.  We may even end up sleeping in the car!

Lake Almanor

We’ll then head up through the ‘Wine Country’, perhaps stop for a taste, then drive up to Willows, the small town that our father was born in.  We’ll keep heading north to Mt. Shasta, and then head east to Alturas.  Once we’ve looked for any turkey farms and quizzed the local barkeep about all there is to know about Alturas, (perhaps two drinks worth) we’ll hopefully find some adequate lodging.  We will then head south to Lake Almanor.  A lake that neither of us have ever been to.  We may connect with some friends of mine from Yorba Linda County Club, who summer in Lake Almanor, if so, we’ll stop and say ‘Hi’ and learn all about the lake.  We’ll continue heading south to the town of Quincy, where we spent a few summer vacations as kids.  We’ll then head to some familiar haunts of Lake Tahoe, where Jack lived for 14 years and owned a restaurant, and where I owned a cabin and where our family went every summer from 1952 to sometime in the ‘70s and beyond.  We’ll spend time at both the north and the south end of the lake possibly doing a bit of gaming at one of the casinos at the south end.  After a day or two at the lake we’ll connect to Highway 49 and visit California’s ‘Gold Country’.  We’ll visit one of the most famous towns there, Angel’s Camp, where, in 1865, Mark Twain wrote, ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’.  From there we will head home.

That’s the plan, but there will be much left to how we’re feeling at the time, so nothing is carved in stone.  But I can guarantee you this . . . we will get to Alturas!

 

 

Fond Baseball Memories

by Bob Sparrow

(Details for this blog came from a one-page account that my father wrote about his baseball experience in the 40s and brother Jack’s recollections) 

Dad, Jack & me about the time we started playing catch

The crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass, the ‘pop’ of a hardball hitting a leather glove. Baseball’s spring training has started with the regular season just around the corner. Baseball is still called America’s pastime, but as far as popularity goes, statistically football, basketball and NASCAR get more viewers.

But I still have a more personal connection to baseball, even though I only played Little League for two years and one year in high school and not that well. That connection came from my Dad, who started throwing a baseball with Jack and me from the time we were old enough to . . . catch it.

Dad loved baseball. As a freshman at Willows High School in northern California, he made the varsity squad as a second baseman, but it was the pre-Depression era and his father made him get a job instead of playing baseball. He was heartbroken. He did get to play high school baseball when his family moved to San Rafael and played well enough to get offered a tryout with the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, but his dad again insisted that he get a job, as they were now deep into the Depression. I’m sure this experience weighed heavily on Dad’s decision later in life to make sure that Jack and I had every opportunity to play high school sports.

However, Dad did get to play baseball again. Our hometown of Novato had a semi-pro ‘Merchants League’ made up of 20-30 year olds from town that played other teams from the surrounding area, including a team from San Quentin prison, who only played ‘home’ games! At Novato home games, several of the wives would ‘pass the hat’ in order to pay for the umpire and some baseballs and bats; brother Jack was the ‘Bat Boy’ for the team. After the home games, win or lose, the team would go to the local watering hole, ‘The Village Inn’ where the owner, Lydia Quarg would buy them their first drink and the kids had a table in the back room where we had sodas and popcorn.  During hot games Lydia would send a case of cold beer into the dugout for the team to enjoy.

Dad was a great fielder, had great hands and could turn a double play from second base with the best of them, and he could also hit fairly well, not the long ball, but lots of singles; some that could have been doubles, but due to his slowness of foot, he had to stop at first. His teammates in Noavato kidded him by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t know that you don’t have to stop at first, that you can turn left.” Dad was one of the older players on the team and after several seasons he was getting a little ‘long in the tooth’, but because he was such a nice guy, the team didn’t really know how to tell him it was time for him to retire. They knew he had a great sense of humor, so the last home game of the season, before he got to the game his teammates put a rocking chair out at the second base position. When he got there, he took one look, laughed and played his last game. Such a great memory.

Dad’s love of baseball included taking us to games in San Francisco to watch the San Francisco Seals in Pacific Coast League play at Seals Stadium. I remember the first game we saw was against the Oakland Oaks and I can remember to this day several of the Seals players – Roy Nicely, Les Fleming, Dario Lodigiani and Cliff ‘Ears’ Melton. When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, they first played in Seals Stadium until their new stadium was finished and Dad took us to a number of Giants games where we got to watch the great Willie Mays play.

Willie Mays at Seals Stadium

So spring practice is when hope springs eternal and every team is saying, ‘This is the year’. I’ve been lucky as a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants that they’ve had recent World Series wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014. I know they’re hopeful this year as it’s Bruce Bochy’s final season as their manager.

Whether the Giants win another one this year remains to be seen, but as a new season gets under way, I’m reminded once again of playing catch with Dad and Jack in our yard and watching Dad play for the Novato Merchants – truly great baseball memories.

 

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The Turntable That Turned Back Time

by Bob Sparrow

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The ‘Time Machine’

I took a most unusual and sentimental journey this past week and never left my house. My trip was facilitated by my new ‘record player’. My old turntable, that I had purchased in Japan in 1968, had become inoperable many years ago and with the arrival of first, the CD and then the iPod, I never saw a need to replace it. So my 75 or so 33 1/3 LPs remained silently tucked away in a closet for many years.

There was a time not too long ago when you couldn’t even find a turntable to buy, but in recent years it was discovered that turntable fidelity equaled or surpassed many of the digital-age playing systems, so they’ve made somewhat of a comeback. A new turntable would not only allow me to once again play my old albums, but it would enable me, for the first time, to play the record collection of my departed, best friend, Don Klapperich.

DK

Lt. Cmdr. Klapperich

After Don was done flying F-4 Phantom jets for the Navy, he took a job in Saudi Arabia working for a U.S. company that was contracted by the Saudi Air Force to teach them how to become better combat pilots. When Don left for Saudi Arabia in the late 80s he did not want to take with him his rather large record collection, which include both LPs and 45s, so he asked if I would hold on to them for him.   I stored them with mine in the back of the closet and had not thought much about them . . . until now.

Linda, having read my letter to Santa Claus last year, got me a turntable for Christmas. I decided that I would set up an ‘entertainment center’, such as it is, in my office in the upstairs loft. I built some shelves and started the process of moving records from the downstairs closet to the newly built shelves upstairs. I took them a handful at a time, not because I couldn’t carry more, but because I wanted to reminisce as I flipped through each one as I brought them to their new home.

'Entertainment Center'

The ‘Entertainment Center’

There were many duplicates among Don’s collection and mine, as both of us were part of the ‘Folk Scare of the ‘60s’ and were thus big fans of the Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four, Bud & Travis, The Limeliters and Peter, Paul and Mary. But after that, our collections took two very divergent paths, mine was more pop, things like Neil Diamond, The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt; Don’s reflected his personality: eccentric, esoteric and genius. Classical masterpieces, Broadway musicals, Classic rock, Gregorian chants, pop, flamenco guitar, bluegrass, opera – you name it, he had it. It was an unbelievable collection of eclectic music. Looking through these albums was like exploring the many facets of Don’s complex personality. He may have been the only white, 16-year old in America who owned every one of Ray Charles’ albums. As you might guess, it took me quite a while to move 200+ albums upstairs, as with each handful I had to use my new turntable to hear at least one song on each trip. Then I found it.

Radio Record

The ‘Radio Show’ Record

Wedged between the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Don’s personal favorite) and Janis Joplin’s Farewell Songs was a record in a plain paper sheath, no album cover, no label, no markings of any kind, just uneven grooves cut into a black vinyl disc. I was delirious with anticipation as I gingerly placed it on the turntable and eased the stylus onto the first cut.

In 1961 when Don and I were seniors in high school we, The ‘Neverly Brothers’, were asked to sing on Hugh Turner’s radio show, ‘What’s Doing in Novato’, on KTIM, which was broadcasting from Pini Hardware on Grant Avenue in downtown Novato. Don’s parents recorded the show from home by putting a small tape recorder next to their radio – which is the excuse I’m using for the way we sounded. Don’s dad then took the recording into San Francisco and had it ‘pressed’ into a record. I had only heard the record once, shortly after his dad brought it home.

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The ‘Neverly Brothers’

I remember that day like it was yesterday; it was bad enough that we were nervous about singing on the radio, but through the window in Pini Hardware we could see a most-attractive girl, Carole Garavanta, who was definitely out of our league, sitting in her parked convertible in front of the store watching us through the window and listening to us on her car radio.   She was probably waiting for us to stop singing so she could come into the store and buy some wing nuts.  We sang three songs and were interviewed by Hugh Turner, answering questions about ‘our music’ and what we planned to do after we graduated in June from Novato High School.

I sat motionless, mesmerized by the spinning record as it took me back to that time and place.  We sounded like . . . a couple of naive high school kids.   As the record came to a scratchy end and I was brought back to the present, there was a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.  It was great to hear Don’s voice again.

Just a few days away from the four-year anniversary of Don’s passing, his record collection has helped me understand a little bit more about my enigmatic best friend; and discovering our ‘radio show record’ was a gift that he probably didn’t even know he left me . . . or maybe he did.