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Lake Julie

“Hello?” I answered my work phone.

“This is the last time I’m going to read this to you,” was the responsive greeting  I immediately recognized my father’s voice. “’I will not eat it in a box, I will not eat it with a fox. I will not
eat green eggs and ham. I will not eat it, Sam I Am.’”

“Oka-a-y,” I responded, glancing around the busy law office, wondering where this was going.

“Dr. Seuss recently died,” he said, “and I’m reading a column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle paying tribute to him.  I was thinking about how many times I had to read his books to you over and over again.  So, I’m just letting you know, that this is the last time I’m reading this to you.”

Laughing, I said, “Well, thanks for lobbing me one more read.”

His jobs over the years ran the gamut from disc jockey to TV announcer to trial attorney to ultimately retiring as Deputy Chief Counsel for the State of California. Throughout his careers he always had an audience of some sort. Don’t forget that trial lawyers play to a jury.

One of my earliest memories of my father is sitting on a riverbank with him, looking up at the night sky. I asked him, “What are stars?”

He replied, “Well, when it’s night time, God pulls down a shade. The shade has a lot of holes in it, so the sun shines through those holes.”

It made perfect sense to my three-year-old self.

A few more “highlights” of life with my father:

  • When my brothers and I were kids, he enjoyed playing Director in home movies. We couldn’t just walk up a sand dune. We had to crawl on our bellies, tongues hanging out, dying of thirst in the Sahara Desert. Too bad movie cameras didn’t have sound back then. It would be fun to hear our comments.
  • And, he would just make stuff up. For instance, my great-grandfather’s name was William Harrison. So, my dad told me that I was related to President William Henry Harrison, which I proceeded to share with all my friends, until I found out it wasn’t true. It so happens that that president served about 40 years before my great-grandfather even immigrated to this country.
  • My brothers like to tell the story of when our family camped near Mt. Lassen. Dad announced we would be hiking up the mountain, so our mother suggests we bring jackets. My father responds, “No, we don’t need them. The higher we are, the closer we’ll be to the sun, so it will be warmer.”
  • He kept the manuscript of “Pirates of Penzance” from his college acting days, and decided that he, my brothers and I were going to act out the different parts, and he would record us on the tape recorder. I can still see him coaching my brothers on the “correct” way to say “Arrgh,” as my mother rolled her eyes.

My father taught me how to use my imagination – to look at people and situations at different angles. I am grateful to him for this, because it allows me to see and understand different points of view, and to appreciate an individual’s uniqueness.

I am a biographer-personal historian. I am very good at it. I have a strong organizational skillset, but, more importantly, I was blessed with an upbringing of storytelling and a curiosity about life. Because of my father’s influence, I am able to preserve life stories for families around the world in a fun, educational and insightful manner; the benefits of which will be enjoyed generation after generation.

Thanks, Dad.

45 rpm“Pick out any one you want,” my father said, gesturing toward a wall in Tower of Records.   Lined up in horizontal and vertical rows on the wall, like good little musical soliders, were several 45 r.p.m. records on display, covering all genres.

I was surprised at his offer.  During my 12 years on the planet, it had not escaped my attention that my father was very frugal with the family budget.  I was also aware, however, of his love of music.  (He even enjoyed a brief career as a disc jockey in the early 1950’s.)  Earlier that week, he bought a Hi-Fi stereo, and I realized that he wanted me to share the joy of his new toy.  So, I made my selection and he made his, and on the way home he animately discussed how the records would sound. 

After walking in the door and showing Mom his purchases, he put the yellow adapter disc into my new record, and dropped it onto the turntable.

Smiling, he turned to me and said, “Okay, here you go!”

His happy countenance quickly segued into horror as Steppenwolf’s ”Born To Be Wild” blared out his new stereo speakers.  Jaw dropping, he turned and stared at me.  I could almost hear his unspoken, stunned thought, “What happened to Woody Woodpecker?!”

This memory floats up as I see vinyls making a comeback.  Other flashbacks:

  • My first record player was portable.  The turntable was metal and its surface was fuzzy.  I have no idea why.  It played at three speeds:  33 1/3, 45 and 78 r.p.m.’s.  (I believe the Hi-Fi had an additional 16 r.p.m. option.)
  • Dust would collect in the grooves of the record and, as a result, build up on the needle, so it needed to be blown off periodically.  There was a retail item that was supposed to clean the record, but it was much easier just to blow the dust off the needle.
  • If there was a skip on the record, a gentle touch on the arm would keep it moving on.
  • Taping music meant holding a tape recorder up to the speakers.
    On the back of a cereal box was a red record you could cut out and play on your phonograph.  I specifically remember “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies.  I still can’t believe it actually played.

The problem with records is they get scratched, melt if exposed too long to the sun, and become warped if laid flat too long.  I’ve been helping my aunt and uncle convert their old 45’s and 33 1/3 records to digital, and have come across all of these scenarios.  The sometimes scratchy background is fine, though.  Gives them a kind of funky, stepping-back-into-time sound. 

What memories do you have regarding records?

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“Let’s the follow the deer trail,” my father suggested, always ready to introduce his family to new adventures.  We walked along single file, one brother in the lead, followed by my other brother, myself, my mother and my father at the end.

Screams suddenly pierced the quiet, grassy woods, emanating from my young brother in the lead.  My second brother began screaming as well, batting his head and running around in circles.  I stopped to see what was going on, and my eyes grew large at the sight of several rather large, thick bees furiously flying around my poor brothers’ heads. 

My father, annoyed, asked, “What’s wrong with everyone?” 

My mother angrily replied, “Eric stepped onto a bee’s nest.  They’re all getting stung!” 

My father didn’t get stung and, thankfully, neither did I.  It scared the hell out of me, though.

To this day, my brothers and I will exchange serio-comic looks when we go hiking.  “Beware of deer trails …”

But, we had learned a valuable lesson that day – watch where you’re walking.

I went on a hike this past weekend up to Zim Zim Falls in Napa County.  I was looking up at the falls, and not where I was walking – down a steep hill, with slippery, flattened grasses.  Visually, I must’ve looked like I had slipped on a banana peel the way my foot easily slid out from under me and my leg flew up in the air.  I now have a large gash (with a somewhat flair to it) on my leg outlined with a greenish-grayish-purplish tint.

If it had been a deer trail, I would’ve paid more attention.
 
Do you have any family hiking memories? 

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One Easter Eve, when I was about four years old, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland sang “Easter Parade” on TV, while my Mom and I dyed eggs.  I couldn’t wait for the candy-filled Easter basket I knew awaited my discovery the following day.

Much to my joyful surprise, a tiny, chirping chick greeted me when I woke up.  This cute fluffy little thing fascinated me and I spent hours talking with it.  Yes, “with”;  I swear it spoke back. And, then, it grew up …

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…  into an aggressive, vicious, Stephen King-ish, psycho rooster, that chased everyone across the yard, and pecked them in the legs.

Engaging psychological warfare, it would lull you into a false sense of security, by watching you quietly from a shadowy back corner.  Then, just when you thought it was safe, it would rise up with a fury of a tornado –  feathers flapping and squawking maniacally – and fly at you until you ran screaming into the house.  There has never been a sprint runner in the history of mankind who has matched the speed with which I flew up the two steps, flung open and slammed shut the screen door, rushing into the sanctity of the no fowl house zone, where my breathing and beating heart could slow down to a healthy rate. 

One day, it was gone.  My father told me that a neighbor, tired of the crowing first thing every morning, had shot it.  Years later, however, he confessed that he had become so tired of being terrorized in his own backyard, that he borrowed an ax from a neighbor and cut the rooster’s head off. 

And, they lived happily ever after.

Did you receive a chick or bunny when you were a child?

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We all have our favorite Christmas songs, standards, pop and novelty.

My father’s side of the family is Scandinavian, so each year we love listening to Yogi Yorgesson’s “I Just Go Nuts At Christmas” (or, I Yust Go Nuts at Kreesmus) and “Jingle Bells” (or, Yingle Bells).

My favorite version of “Frosty the Snowman” is sung by Leon Redbone and Dr. John, with their funky, raspy voices, especially the “thumpity, thump, thump …”

Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” is sexy.  Madonna’s version is stupid and annoying.  (Two cents.)

The standards of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, etc.  evoke a certain peacefulness appropriate for the holiday season.  My favorite – “O Holy Night.”

I love that satellite radio offers a few different Christmas stations so I can choose classic, contemporary, standards, etc whenever I want.  We can all revisit Christmas’ of our past, or enjoy where we are now.

What’s your favorite Christmas song?

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Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words.   His response:  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

Smith Magazine decided to tap into that creative exercise as to one’s life story, and produced a book of compiled six-word memoirs, entitled “Not Quite What I Was Planning.”  Examples of submissions:

404: Life could not be found.

 

Rode the hare instead of tortoise.

 

Found success, lost relatives, then friends.

 

Ignored instructions; still picking up pieces.

 

I still miss my big brother.

 

Took road less traveled. Skinned knees.

 

Always the last in from recess.

 

 

Submit your own six-word memoir here.

 

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