Monday, January 17, 2022

Listening to “The Catch” with my father made me a 49ers fan for life

We didn’t have a TV in my house growing up, so my father listened to local sports on a small transistor radio, rooting for the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland A's and the San Francisco 49ers.

Reception at our house was poor, so unless he was outside doing chores, he had to sit with his radio hanging next to the large kitchen window in order to make out at least most of what was happening.

But he didn’t want to miss a second of the game the 49ers played on Jan. 10, 1982, the NFC Championship match with the Dallas Cowboys. So since the radio reception was much better in our Chevy van, he decided to drive around while listening to the end of the game. And since I had nothing better to do, I hopped in the van with him.

I remember us slowly circling a flat, sparse neighborhood near the ocean as the game neared its end. I don’t remember any of the action or why it mattered, but I can still see my father suddenly throwing his fist into the air and crying out, the van swerving until he put both hands back on the steering wheel.

Now I know exactly what that moment was for everyone else: “The Catch” made by Dwight Clark to win the game and send the 49ers to Joe Montana's first Superbowl victory. But to me, it was the moment I became a 49ers fan for life. 

A 49ers fan who will always prefer to listen to their games on the radio, picturing my dad and me in our Chevy van, that usually quiet, reserved man suddenly exploding in joy. Forty-niners games will always help me relive one of my favorite memories of my childhood, and definitely my favorite memory of my father.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Bird Club: Chapter Two


The next morning when her mother wakes April up it is still dark outside.
“God, mom! It’s Sunday!” 
“Want to go to Wilder with me?”
“No, I want to sleep!” April whines, rolling over to face the wall.

Every weekend Evelyn goes to a beach about 20 miles away to help count Western Snowy Plovers, a small shorebird that was nearly wiped out because their nests of tiny, perfectly camouflaged eggs are built directly on the sand to be trampled.
 
A few birds were found surviving at Wilder Ranch because its beach forces humans to come by the water, or through miles of crops after crawling under a train bridge and over fences.
 
So the only people who know about that beach are surfers or banding volunteers like Evelyn, who usually goes to Wilder on Friday mornings when April is at school. But last weekend Evelyn went on a rare overnight trip with her husband to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, so she was heading out to the beach on a Sunday, when she could drag her daughter out of bed.
 
“We can go to Ferrell’s for a donut afterward,” Evelyn coos, knowing April can’t resist.
“Alllriiiight,” April grouses, throwing off the covers.

April will do anything for junk food because her mother doesn’t allow anything that tastes good in her house. No sugar, white bread or creamy peanut butter. Except on Halloween or Easter, sweets and junk food came with barfing cousins, neighbors with nose drips or kitchen duty in the school cafeteria.
 
For a couple of summers when she was younger, April’s cousins began visiting from Denmark and created the childhood of her dreams. Her father drove them to fun places like Disneyland, and her mother couldn’t stop the visitors from buying candy and giving it to April in the back seat of their van.
 
And she ate everything they gave her, until one cousin threw up her sweets on the winding road to Yosemite, filling the van with the smell of sick for the rest of the trip. Even April didn’t feel like eating candy after that.
 
Another source of sugar came with a side of snot. The next-door neighbor was a WWI veteran named Bartlett who carefully pulled up his American flag at sunrise and back down at dusk, spending the rest of the day grooming the jungle of fuchsia bushes he won first prize with every year at the county fair.
 
When arthritis took over his hands, he started bribing April and Hannah with candy to help him prune, using their small, nimble fingers to pluck off most of the fresh flower buds to prevent all but a healthy few to bloom.
 
April enjoyed pulling apart the leaves and squeezing off the buds, she found it absorbing and satisfying work. But she didn’t enjoy that Bartlett usually supervised, because he usually had a drop of snot water glistening on the end of his nose. 
 
April would be reaching for a bud and see a drop slide to the bottom center of his large nose and became transfixed, watching the drop grow and droop until it became so big she could not believe it would remain on the tip of his nose one more second. 
 
Then Bartlett would finally take out his cloth handkerchief and wipe his nose so April could relax. But it was never long before another drop began forming, and she never would have been able to stand it if she wasn’t so desperate for sugar.
 
After about an hour in the garden, Bartlett would finally lead April and Hannah into his breakfast nook, a sunny room containing a round Formica table and his smiling wife.
 
He’d put a large bowl on the table and say, “Now, you can each pick two,” and the girls would look at the bowl, hoping each time he had gotten better candy. 
 
He never had. It was always hard candies like butterscotch or mints, and all colors of small, tart suckers. Never candy bars, chocolates or even fruit chews. But it was still sugar.

The most consistent source of sweets were actually the school lunches April started getting in the fourth-grade. 
 
The day their mother announced the girls would start eating hot lunches in the cafeteria felt like Christmas Eve, with April so excited she could hardly sleep. But instead of seeing presents under the tree in her dreams, she saw the woman in the lunch line refusing to take her money.
“Sorry, hon,” she said. “Your mom called. She changed her mind.”
 
When no one stopped April from paying the next day, she picked up a tray and stepped up to the counter, feeling like Charlie touring Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as she gazed at the beautiful mounds of exciting new foods.
 
When she got her tray safely to a table, she nearly had to sit on her hands so she wouldn’t rub them together as she surveyed her bounty.
 
In the main section of the tray was a hamburger with a white, fluffy bun that April had only eaten in restaurants, plus some even more exciting french fries to the right. Above the fries were some boring carrot and celery sticks, but in the top left, almost hidden by the bun, was the most exciting thing of all: dessert. 
 
Thinking it was just a weird-shaped donut, she bit into it eagerly and ... Yuck! The outside was good, but the inside tasted like fruit cocktail, only worse, because it was warm and dribbling down her face. Whenever she saw a fruit pie again, she just nibbled the crust off the edges, even though that brought boys she didn’t know to her table asking eagerly, “Are you going to eat that?” Until they saw the teeth marks.

Her favorite dessert was the peanut butter bar, a dreamy square of everything she couldn’t eat at home. One bite made her eat anything in the dessert section first, since Hannah’s habit of grabbing things off her plate taught April to eat whatever she really wanted right away.
 
Her favorite main dish could have been a Wonka original: A crazy mix of tostada and pizza shaped like a Stop sign. It made no sense, but the soft dough topped with sauce, melted cheese and bits of hamburger meat was delicious and fun to eat. Once she learned its name, she circled every “Fiestada Pizza” on the monthly lunch calendar so she could get to the cafeteria extra early those days before all the other kids gobbled them up.

The magic of those lunches never wore off for April, even after learning she was eating them because of something called Aid for Families with Dependent Children, which required her to work in the cafeteria. 
 
Most days, she just presented a monthly punchcard and picked up a tray with no one but the woman who gave her the card knowing it had been free. But once a week, she had to go behind the counter and spoon up food or wash dishes like the other AFDC kids.
 
She always asked to wash dishes, because then you worked in a small room near the exit door where hardly any of the other kids noticed you as they hurried out to the playground, instead of facing them as you doled out their food. And you washed alone, free to just focus on cleaning the trays, which April actually enjoyed.
 
Her favorite part was rinsing off all the food bits by pulling down the hose hanging from the ceiling and blasting the trays with a jet of hot water, smiling as even the stickiest mess slid off. Then she’d stack all the trays on their side in a rack, slide them into the big, square metal dishwasher and push the big red button to scald them clean.  
 
Working in the tray-washing room was like being trapped inside a washing machine, but April found it soothing. All the noises and movements were predictable, unlike the constant chaos created by crowds of kids. And pulling all the warm and clean trays from the machine at the end always gave her a satisfied smile.
 
Of course she never told her mother how much she enjoyed washing dishes at school, because unless her father installed a hose that hung from the ceiling and blasted hot water, April didn’t want to wash dishes at home.

But April did want sugar delivered with deep-fried dough instead of barf, snot or a hairnet. So she got out of bed and headed to her dresser.


 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

New Year’s in New Mexico: Nowhere to eat after the last fun night with my sister

Karen and me posing at the state line.
At the end of 1996, three young women drove to New Mexico to welcome the new year. But 1997 didn’t feel welcoming to them when they woke up in a tiny town with nothing to eat because all the businesses were closed for the holiday. So they hit the highway with growling stomachs, wondering how far they’d have to drive to find breakfast, when they finally saw a building full of light and people: McDonald’s.

That was cool.

I remember sitting with my sister and friend Karen, for once feeling grateful for the hard chairs, bright lights and beeping noises of a fast food restaurant because that morning it meant warmth, food and coffee. And for many years, us sitting relieved and happy in that bustling restaurant was my favorite memory of our trip.
 
But now I treasure even more the night before, because it was the last time I remember having fun with my sister: A sister that was fully present, relaxed and happy.

The night began with us setting off sparklers, which we hadn’t done since were kids, because they had long been illegal in our home state of California. But New Mexico still allowed fireworks, so we bought a box of sparklers and set them off in the motel parking lot.
 
I imagine that for just about everyone else our age, standing in an empty parking lot setting off a box of sparklers sounded like the lamest way in the world to spend your New Year’s Eve. But I couldn’t have been happier because I was with my sister again, and holding the sparkler sent me back to our house, with our parents watching us set off fireworks on our quiet street.
 
After the sparklers, we became adults again and started drinking. We didn’t want to go to a bar, so in our hotel room my sister introduced me to something that sounded disgusting but turned out to be quite good: Root beer and Southern Comfort. Mostly I was just happy to be drinking Southern Comfort again with my sister, as both were there the first time I got drunk.
 
Once she was tipsy my sister decided she needed a cigarette, but we used all her matches for the sparklers. When they didn’t have matches at our motel office, we set out along the main drag, three semi-drunk young women in a small town on New Year’s Eve. I can’t remember how many gas stations and motel offices we went into, or how many cars full of men slowed down to inspect us as we walked along the highway, but eventually we got matches and we all got back to our room safely.
 
I had no idea that our mission that night was foreshadowing our morning, when we once again hit the road on a quest that took much longer than we expected. And I had no idea that setting off sparklers behind a motel in Carlsbad, New Mexico, would be a memory I would forever treasure. 
 
I spent two decades trying to get back to that parking lot, that feeling of being with someone who had always loved you and always would. For years I convinced myself that the person who didn’t take my calls, wouldn’t answer my emails and never really seemed to enjoy herself once I finally got her to spend time with me, wasn’t really my sister.
 
No, my real sister was locked away, and I just needed to find the right key to free her, find the right combination of me that she could love again. I couldn’t accept that she had always been free, and my problem was me.
 
Me not accepting that this was all the family I had left. With my mother dead and my father gone, didn’t I deserve a sister who loved me? And if I couldn't make her love me, this person who knew me better than anyone, how could I possibly hope that anyone else could love me?
 
But other people did love me, and wanted to be part of my life. They took my phone calls, answered my emails and enjoyed spending time with me. Yet I couldn’t stop chasing the person who didn’t.
 
I realize now I had been chasing her my whole life, forever the little sister begging my older sister to play with me. And instead of straining to go back to our childhood, I needed to finally leave it. To finally realize that I would never be happy until I let go of this dream of a sister, and instead focused on the people who wanted to focus on me.

That was cool. Because it is so much better for everyone that I finally let her go. Finally understood that people aren’t who you want them to be, they are only who they are. And that relatives are people who share your blood, but family are the people who love you. 
 
And while your relatives can love you, often the best families are the ones we find. Because what’s cooler than someone sharing your life because they want to, not because they had no other choice?




 Our trip was made possible by my grandfather, who bought me the car we drove.

My Grandmother's Journals: January, 1997

My grandmother with her mother and brother in 1916.
In tiny notebooks, my grandmother wrote down each day when she woke, where she ate breakfast, any movie she went to see, noted any mail and calls, then what she 
read and watched on TV before bed.

In 1997, she turned 82 while living alone in a mobile home park in Santa Cruz, Calif. But I wouldn't describe her as lonely; she was an extremely independent and persnickety woman whom I never knew to live with another person or even a pet. (I wrote more about her life in an earlier post.) 
 
Close to her home was the famous surfing spot called Pleasure Point, and she loved walking to the ocean and watching the surfers. When she died at 97 in 2013, I took her ashes to those waves with a friend of hers and we each dropped some at the sand. A moment after I dropped mine, a surfer emerged from the water where I stood.

That was cool. 
Pleasure Point in 1997.

In January of 1997, she watched a lot of tennis and football, was preparing fabrics to give to a woman at the donut shop she went to every day, and saw a lot of me as I was coming up north from San Luis Obispo on trips and to interview for jobs at newspapers after graduating from college.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1997
Read late, til 1:30 a.m. Slept til 9:30.
Weird dream. Very real.
Car slow starting. Windy. 
Drove to heat motor, then to corner. Had muffin.
Wrote Mimi, took to Post Office.
Put rent in box.
Tired, slept a bit. Ate BK.
TV: News, etc. Nothing much.

Thursday, Jan. 2, 1997
Awake 7:50 a.m. 15 mins noise on radio.
Raining hard. 
To corner. Left umbrella, went back.
Then took down lights.
Ran tape "Odyssey of Life." Some very weird.
Taped Khan, Star Trek.
Watched "Kennel Murders." Cliche filled. Funny.
 
Friday, Jan. 3, 1997
To laundromat. Breakfast McDonald's.
Got gas. Put in carb cleaner. Better.
To show, "Michael."
To bookstore, got two. Philosophy.
To corner. Talked to Lee.
Sunny day. Blue sky. Water down.
Ran tape of "Wrath of Khan." VCR wrong. 

Saturday, Jan. 4, 1997
Bed late. 
Mailed package to Carla. We talked long yesterday.
49ers lost to Green Bay, Denver lost to Jacksonville.
Working on IRS tax, owe 1714.
News: Floods, etc.
Power outage 11:45 to 1:15 a.m. Up 3 times.
Foned Mina, long talk.

Sunday, Jan. 5, 1997
Up 9 a.m. To corner. Sue + husband!
Football: Dallas vs. Panthers, 23-17. Irving's shoulder hurt, he changed to civies. Shades with gold! Deion Sanders carried the ball, tackled. Hit his head. Neck broken? Taken off with cart.
To Albertsons. Home, Bogart bio.
 
Monday, Jan. 6, 1997
Breakfast BK.
Called Mimi, she returned from Poland, goes to Martinique. 
Chronicle called, Justine called.
Called TCI re: programming. Tried re-program.
 
Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1997
Terrible night.
4 a.m., listened to Ray T.
Corner at 10:30.
Library, got a book, ad for cafe in Pasadena.
Got some fabric for Lee, took out threads.
TV: Morse, Law & Order, Frasier.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1997
Up 8:30. Ironed fabrics for Lee.
Donut & coffee at 41st.
To Louden, no BP.
Read papers, stayed in. Cold.
TV: News, Geraldo.
 
Thursday, Jan. 9, 1997
Up 8:45, ready 9:30.
Breakfast Kmart. Got emery boards, tuna, dinners.
Cut grass and I swept patio, Larry’s carport.
Mail: Letter from Prudy.
Dinner at Live Oak, good food.
To Lee, gave her fabrics.
TV: News, Geraldo. Taped “Original Sin.”

Friday, Jan. 10, 1997
Funny dream? Up 8:30. 
Walked East Cliff.
Breakfast corner.
To Thrift shop, took plastic bags there.
TV: News, golf?
Worked on grass,  weeds.
Dinner: Soup, deli, lettuce, cheese, ham, orange, fig newton. Same table. Old music.
To mall, got carton for pack of car. Changed water in earthquake pack.

Saturday, Jan. 11, 1997
Breakfast corner. Gave Lee the rotary attachments.
Wrote to Justine. Talked to Melissa on fone yesterday. Re: Korea.
To show, "Ridicule." 1783. Lovely scenes, clothes, etc. "Wit." Enjoyed.
TV: part of bio of Larry Flynt, re-ran "Original Sin."
Mail: Letter from Joan McCoy, Report of Verona. Card from Mina.
Only 2 gry's: Hungry, angry. No others.
TV til late. Salute to Eastwood-Sinatra. Young at Heart.

Sunday, Jan. 12, 1997
Home all day. Football.
News. Star Trek Voyager. 
60 Minutes. X-Files.
Treasure Homes of England.
Bed, finished book.
 
Monday, Jan. 13, 1997
Awake 7, up 9:30.
To corner. Talked to Vibol. Marney still ill.
Some yard work. Asked M. for French cassette.
To Longs, some pix.
To Wendy's, had chicken sandwich.
To show,"Mother." Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds. Enjoyed.
Very cold. Bed, crossword. 

Tuesday, Jan. 14, 1997
Breakfast corner.
To Longs, got TV Guide, Gas-X. 
Home, ate bit. COLD.
Mail, card from Prudy, Joan.
Ran some French, returned by Marney.
Ate soup, pea. 
Slight sore throat. Using eucalyptus, menthol. 
Rain started. Bed, rain still.

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 1997
Bed til 9:30!
BP Okay. She talked about seeing herbal doctor.
Got gas, price up.
Home, read. Started romance Lee gave me.
TV: L.A. Law and news.
Read til 2:30.
 
Saturday, Jan. 18, 1997
To laundromat, washed woolens.
Walked West Cliff. Burned house.
To mall, Victoria's Secret.
Erik’s for lunch. 
To show, “Shine.” Very good.
Got trail mix, home.
Crossword, TV: “Fist full of $.” Eastwood.
Bed late.

Monday, Jan. 20, 1997
8 a.m. Justine called. Rain, etc.
To corner.
Justine arrived about  2 p.m. 
To Erik’s, bookstores. Got English Patient and atlas.
To Capitola, Mr. Toots. Coffee.
To Mervyn's, got bra at Victoria’s Secret. (Me or grandma?!)
Raining, but Karen had to go to Fullerton tomorrow.
TV: Cybill (new writers?) after Law & Order.
No call from Justine?

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 1997
To corner, Vibol talking, remembering trips. Got emotional. 
Talked to Clifton: heart, diabetes, etc.
To mall, paid bills. Sears, Mervyn's, also checked Vic. Sec. Bra was $28, 30% off: $19.61.
Called Justine, home in three hours.
Washed clothes. To Live Oak, BP high.
To Trader Joe's, Drug Emporium.
Letter from Mina, caller her. Long. Usual.
TV: Frasier, bed.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 1997
Up 9:30. Ronn upset with Paul Harvey re "Abortion after the fact."
Next hour Harry Edwards, professor of Sociology at Cal, Psychology of Sports: 49ers, Snoop Doggy Dog, etc.
No BP.
Rain, wind. Read three days papers.
Bed 1:30, can't sleep. Took Melatonin.

Thursday, Jan. 23, 1997
Slept good. Coffee &  donut at corner.
Longs, Albertsons, home.
Tennis: Chang lost to Spanish Moya, Mary Pierce won over Amanda Coetzer (who beat Steffi).
Wrote letter to Justine.
Longs, took pix of Seifert's stats.
News: Van over cliff at Devil's Slide, Highway 4 flooded.
Taped "Original Sin" part 3. Electric interference.

Friday, Jan. 24, 1997
Up 9, got papers.
Tennis: Sampras over Meuster. He in top form.
Ran tape. Need to retape. Ch. 54.
Walked East Cliff.
Live Oak, sat with Al, Betty, RVers.
Tennis: Hingis over Mary Pierce, Australian Open.

Saturday, Jan. 25, 1997 
Rain in night.
Awake 2:30, 6:30, up 9:30.
To corner, Lee gone.
To mall, looked for tops. Nothing. Home, decided to take things I have.
TV: Golf. Tiger Woods made hole-in-one, 152 yards, on 16th. He not going to win, Steve Jones is.
Tennis: Sampras vs. Moya. Moya's game off, nervous. He beat Becker and Chang. Grand Slam for Pete.
Checked Lee's tax. Federal and state OK.

Sunday, Jan. 26, 1997
Late last night: Remembrance of Geo Gershwin (1937). Dead of a brain tumor. Blacked out while conducting.
To corner. Lee arrived later.
TV: Golf. Jones won. Tiger went down.
Vacuumed in am. Cleaned filters on heater. Couldn’t figure handle adjustments.
TV: Super Bowl, X-Files. P&P.

Monday, Jan. 27, 1997
Breakfast Kmart.
Called Visa. No charges!
Showered/hair.
To Live Oak. Sat with women. Teachers at Cabrillo College.
Longs, got envelopes.
TV: News, Geraldo. 
Called Justine after news. She has interview.
Couldn’t sleep. Ran P&P til 2:30!

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1997
To corner. Marney ill. Passed a clot. Maybe caused by picking up a heavy case. "Walking pneumonia."
Bank. Talked to lady about travel money to Paris.
Longs. Pix of cost to repair home.
Ate chicken at McDonald's.
TV: News, Geraldo.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 1997
Tired. Awake 7, then slept til 9:30.
To Corner, talked to Dave. Marney better.
To library, BP stall still out.
To bookstore, got two.
Rested after looking at Original Sin.
 
Thursday, Jan. 30, 1997
Finally up 9:15. Breakfast McDonald’s. Rude man.
Some weeds, neighbor talked. 
Justine called. Had three interviews in Fairfield, Napa, Vallejo.
To laundromat.
Home, taped Original Sin.
News, bed.
 
Friday, Jan. 31, 1997
Justine late. Up 8, ready by 9. She left then.
Finally arrived 11:30, to Zachary’s.
She liked Fairfield, Vallejo in chaos, Napa OK, but pays less.
Home. Feel bad. Slept a bit.
To Gottschalk's. Got the Black & Decker cordless. Has 60-day. Can return if  not satisfactory.
Called Justine to advise.
TV: News, Geraldo.
Rent. To office.
No sleep. Up for soup.