Before I get started on this week's entry, allow me to answer a question we received a couple of days ago. A reader complimented us on the professional look of our site, and asked how hard it was, and whether it was expensive. It is neither. Everything that you see here is free of charge. There are additional features that can be purchased as options, but you can accomplish what we have done here without laying out a cent.
Simply go to http://weebly.com and follow the simple instructions for creating an account. Choose a theme, or general "look" of the site (there are scores to choose from), upon which you will be taken to a blank screen like the one above. At that point you simply drag and drop from the left sidebar whatever you want, for example, a block of text, a picture, set out quotes in a different format, or a text-picture combination, which is what you see here. Create separate pages to organize your presentation, lock them with passwords if they are for certain eyes only, and import third-party widgets such as the visitors' log you see to the right. The real beauty of this service is that what you see while you're typing is what you'll see on the page when you post. Anyone who has ever struggled with Blogger's "Guess what this is going to look like" text box will appreciate this feature.
And now, on to the business of the week...
OUTBREAK! It's a word that gets your immediate attention, and will cause high anxiety feelings if it appears on your local newscast. Look, I don't try to follow the news too much; I get enough depression dealing with my own issues, but some things are impossible to overlook. There seems to be a sharp rise in the number of mumps infections across the country, and here in California, we're dealing with a small but tragic outbreak of a disease that mimics polio, and can to date only be treated by the amputation of the affected part, which can be especially devastating for the children who are its victims. As a grandparent, these things are distressing to me.
If you went to school in the 1950s, chances are good that you knew a classmate who wore an arm or leg brace because the poliomyelitis had atrophied that part down to a toothpick that couldn't lift its own weight. Some kids were confined to iron lungs because they couldn't breathe on their own. In some of the lesser diseases, I personally had bouts with measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Chicken pox was frightening, as my whole body was covered with multi-lobed blisters that resembled the gun turrets on a B-17, and the measles laid me in bed in the dark for a week while my fever at its peak reached 106`. Okay, you modern kids who have grown up with the benefits of vaccines in your lives, may be thinking, certainly not pleasant, but an old-timer's rite of passage.
But the fact is that these childhood diseases could and did kill children whose immune systems weren't up to the challenge. I seem to remember reading somewhere that measles killed more American children in the 1950s than smallpox. Consider that for a moment. A disease that practically every child in America was guaranteed to get, the only treatment was to put the child to bed in the dark for a week, and it was deadly! What must it have been like for a parent in those days?
And then came Dr. Jonas Salk. At the dawn of the 1950s, this hero developed a vaccine that would prevent polio. The child had an injection when he started school, a couple of boosters during his school years, and the fear of this life-destroying epidemic was banished forever. This was rapidly followed by vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, and a whole pantheon of childhood diseases which became unnecessary to the childhood experience. Miraculous, yes?
Before I continue, I'm going to take a few steps down a side road and shine a light on something for your consideration: Imagine that the pharmaceutical industry of the 1940s and 50s operated the same way it does now. The government funded Dr. Salk, and gave him all the money he needed to find his miracle cure for the most feared disease of the age. Today, it's all in the hands of the corporations. Imagine for a moment that you have AIDS. You are probably taking a drug cocktail three or four times a day at a cost of thousands of dollars per dose. How is it, then, in the interest of a drug company to develop a vaccine that you're given once for $100, and then they never see you again? It's a pretty safe bet that we're never going to see one, and that's only one of the many scandalous developments that has reduced this once-great country to what it is today.
But the subject here is childhood diseases, right? Eradicated, right? WRONG! Now we come to the age of the celebrity-doctor. No, not those guys on the late night infomercials. I refer to such learned lights as Meryl Streep, Ted Danson, and of course the gifted Jenny McCarthy. Credentials? None. Influence? Ah, utilizing the soapbox provided by their dubious acting or posing-nude-for-Playboy skills, they have done more damage to America than Sherman's army during the Civil War. Doctor Streep, with her high-profile campaign against alar, or daminozide, single-handedly destroyed the American apple industry; next time you have to pay top dollar for apples imported from New Zealand, you might consider dropping by her website to leave a thank you note. Doctor Danson warned us 24 years ago that the planet would only support human life for another ten years; don't know about you, but I'm starting to get worried. And now we have Doctor McCarthy standing up to assure us that childhood vaccinations gave her child autism.
It's difficult to blame them. After all, in a population of 300,000,000, it is no surprise to find three high-profile idiots. No, who I blame are the tens of millions of low-profile idiots who ignore the advise of thousands of health care professionals, and the evidence of the lack of leg braces, pox scars, and iron lung wards all around them to listen to the advice of a woman whose main talent consists of showing her crotch to a camera, because she wants someone to blame for her child's tragedy. Stop listening to these fools, America! Turn off Access. Turn off TMZ. Turn on your brains, for God's sake! If you want to be entertained by a movie, check out an actor. If you want to know what's proven to keep your child healthy, visit a doctor.
Or on second thought, don't. Every nation, being not just an outline on a map, but a manifestation of the will of its people, gets what it deserves through its own making. You're making your bed, America. Enjoy sleeping in it...
It was my plan the last time I posted, to recapture our wedding day. I'll try to recall it all here and I hope you enjoy it. The title of this post is Camelot because I thought so much of our president John F. Kennedy and that was his favorite play. The time he was in office was amazing and he had such charisma. When he was murdered, I was so hurt. I'd seen death once before, but his was so senseless. He was a wonderful person and so, when I met Jack and things developed between us, I was happy again! Like I was before. My own personal Camelot was unfolding before my eyes. But only the good things. Sad times would come, as they do to all people, but in my heart and mind everything was perfect and happiness and wonder was ours. Funny how good that sounds... "ours". I was no longer alone and rejected. I was accepted exactly as I was. Loved for who I was. It was a long time coming, but nothing could make me happier.
Our wedding day was beautiful. The weather was perfect, it was so still and peaceful. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky. My beautiful Camelot. The music went on and the pastor was there already. We took our places in front of the Pastor, and in front of the beautiful Christmas decorations my family had done. The table was beautiful with different foods and the wedding cake. Everything was perfect. The Pastor began the ceremony, and we each said our vows as the Pastor lead us. We were supposed to kneel for the blessing, but we forgot and it would have been hard in the dress anyway. It was significant because we are still standing together after all we have been through. Even when sickness threatened to take Jack from me, we stood firm. He fought so hard to get well, and God was present with us just as He was on our wedding day. The blessing was given, and then we went to cut the first piece of cake, and begin the festivities. We each took a bite of cake and I received a hug from Jack's Grandmother Helen, and she was crying. She said "God Bless you Bonnie. I was so touched. Jack's mom said I was too emotional. This was her son and I was giving my life to him. Who wouldn't be emotional? My Dad opened the champagne and made a toast to us. It was odd, the things he said. But after all the years we have spent together, the thorns on the roses he had made reference to, have been real. But the roses are still blooming in our lives, and the thorns are no threat to us. God is in control as He always has been.
The family was enjoying the festivities, and we made our exit. We had to go to the base where we worked and pick up our checks. We didn't change clothes, we went directly to the base and the woman who had told me before I met Jack, that nobody would ever want to marry me because I was too fat, hid. She actually hid from us. She told my friend Linda that she'd never seen anyone actually glow before! So I know she was aware that our union was something special.
That evening we had a small reception at our home. Jan and David came, but I don't think my Mother and Dad did. Kay had brought the cake from my Mom's house and put it in the fridge. My brother had taken a fork and eaten almost all the cake. The only part left for us was the top and a few slices to give to our guests. He was unbelievable. But he was being true to who he was. After everyone left, Jack and I changed clothes and went out for a ride on the scenic drive and we wrapped up the evening by going through Balboa park which was decorated for Christmas. It seemed to me the whole world was celebrating our union. We went home and still had to wrap presents we had bought for the family. The next day we would celebrate Christmas with everyone. We had even done our Christmas shopping in our wedding clothes! We had a wonderful time because we were now "one". It is even true today...almost 40 years later. We are still "One" and our union has been so blessed. God has been good to us. You 7 grandchildren are a part of the gifts of life He has given. That's one reason I talk so much about God to you. I want you to know how real He is and how much He loves you and wants to be a part of your life.
The next morning we got up early and had cake for breakfast and coffee, and got ready to go deliver the gifts. I had bought him a hat, which he wore, and he bought me a sweater which I wore. We still have both of them! I found them yesterday. I still have my dress but the leisure suit is no longer with us. I don't remember what happened to it. After all the gifts were given, and we had all celebrated, we went home to rest. We stopped at the little corner grocery store, and I found a small piece of fruit cake and bought it to make the day complete. Jack bought something but I can't remember what it was. Then we went on to the house and I changed clothes and started making us lunch. Grandma Helen and Kay came over and joined us. My life was perfect and exciting and so much fun!
About a month before our wedding anniversary, I gave birth to our twin sons! But that is a story all it's own and I'll cover that the next time I post. I want to convey the miracle that our wedding is, to you. God picked a man and made him strong and enduring and brought him into my life. He has always taken care of me, loved me, and forgiven me when I've done things to hurt him. It was never my intention to do those things. Life happens to us and we all make mistakes. Forgiving them is the key. When you have a union such as ours, you can overcome the odds, no matter how they are stacked against you. Neither of us had a good example to follow. Jack was raised by his Great Grandmother and his Grandmother, and his Mother and Father were missing from his life. But he is an amazing person because he overcame the hurt and abandonment he has felt for years. My example was my parents fighting all the time until I thought I'd go mad. I actually did as a matter of fact. But I have regained my mind and my life and I am busy and happy making our home a cozy nook for the 3 of us and all the grandkids and their parents. Jack, Sid, and I are the 3 Musketeers! We stick together and help each other and in this there is a beautiful unity. God has been so good to us. I hope each of you find this kind of love. When the right one comes along, you will know it. It will strengthen you and you will find the meaning to your life you have always wanted. I pray that each of you will be as blessed as we have been and continue to be. After all, my miracle is sitting on the couch right now setting up a football game we will play tomorrow... and the beat goes on!
Love to All 7 of you,
As I've mentioned before, I grew up in the very affluent neighborhood of Point Loma, an exclusive suburb of San Diego, California. I've covered the circumstances more than once, so I won't rehash it here. I've talked about my family not fitting in due to our meager financial means, but this time, I'm here to talk about the good stuff.
And there was plenty of good stuff. My teenage years began in the fall of 1961. While I was largely unaccepted by the general population at school, I did have a cadre of friends from my own neighborhood that I had made from the time I moved in at the age of six. Our "neighborhood" consisted of one block of houses set off a main street, and not directly connected to anything else. These homes had been built as a single development and sold at roughly the same time to young families, and I have calculated that there were over forty kids living around that cul-de-sac, all very close in age. On the map above you will see a curving road at about one o' clock from the red marker. Our block was at the top (west) of that road. There were two Little League fields at the end of our street in a back-to-back arrangement, and we could field four baseball teams to play on them when all the kids were available. There were always some fun and games going on, from cowboys and Indians to hide and seek to wrestling on the lawn. It's always spring in San Diego, and fun times were readily available for the price of walking out your front door.
Go straight up from that red marker until you come to the ocean, and you will have found Ocean Beach. OB was one of those fabled little California beach towns where it was always summer, and the living was easy. It was full of hippies and surfers, and everyone was friendly. It was three miles away, an hour's casual stroll from my house, and on the far side of the world. Nobody cared about the size of your money pile down there, in fact, nobody seemed to have any. I would ride my skateboard over; going down the ultra steep hills into town seems like suicide today, and I have to wonder where I found the guts. If one little thing had gone awry, I would have had a good view of them while I waited for the ambulance!
The town has gone upscale in recent years, the five-and-dimes, the sandwich shops, the Strand, a 25c creature feature theater, all having been replaced by antique shops, photography studios, and high-end furniture stores, but the last block down by the water has kept its flavor through it all. Down there you can find surf shops, the OB International Hotel (an antique in its own right), and The Black, a dimly-lighted store selling every sort of hippie paraphernalia from tie-died clothing to marijuana accessories. Feels like home. And yes, they still have that diagonal parking. Real easy to park, you just crank the wheel and you're in; getting out on a busy weekend day is another matter all together, but that's just part of the charm that is OB...
At three o' clock from the marker can be found Shelter Island. Today this is some of the most exclusive real estate in Southern California. There are resort hotels that feature top-name musical acts on an almost daily basis, the world class Bali Hai Restaurant at the northern tip, and several yacht clubs, chief among them the venerable Shelter Island Yacht Club. That little pier in the photo has a bait shop at the end that sells a wicked fish taco, and Bonnie and I still go there to hang out sometimes.
But back in the early 1960s, it was largely undeveloped, with only the Bali Hai and SIYC occupying opposite ends. A rock sea wall about three feet high backed a calm relaxing beach, and when I wanted to fall off the radar, this is where I went. I'd beachcomb, chase the seagulls, fly a kite, or just lie in the grass and watch the clouds, and to my certain knowledge, no one ever thought to look for me there. If anyone asked where I'd been, I'd just straight-up lie, and tell them OB, or Mission Bay, or Portland Oregon, anything but let my secret out. It was a source of great serenity, and helped me keep it together when things were tough at home or school.
I have recounted how I was sent to Monterey to live with mom three times. First in the summer of '62 for two weeks. That wasn't bad, as I was unsupervised for about 16 hours a day, and plus had I not gone, I probably never would have seen Hatari (or PT-109, for that matter). The second time was 1964, when I did the first semester of 10th grade at Monterey Union High School. Didn't like being away from home, and returned to San Diego to complete 10th and 11th. I was sent back for the summer of '65, and when it was time to go home, I was told that I would be doing 12th grade in Monterey. I told mom that I by God would not either, and by mutual agreement I joined the navy on October 12th, 1965, five days after my 17th birthday, thereby officially bringing my four carefree teenage years to a close. Yes, I was still a teenager, but the navy will have discipline, and I have to say that they taught me a lot. I saw a lot of places and learned a lot of skills (some more useful than others), but those are stories for another time.
I hope you've enjoyed these anecdotal tales of life from Southern Cal in the '60s, and I'm glad to have lightened the mood somewhat. If it sparks any memories of your own, click on Comment and pass them along.
Meanwhile, get out there and live life like you mean it!
On Christmas Day of 2013, my husband Jack got sick with the flu. My daughter was getting better, but was still sick herself. We thought it was just the flu and we'd be getting better soon. I caught it too and had it for 3 days but began getting better right away. All except the cough that went with it. Then on the 7th of January my husband told me to call the hospital because he thought he had pneumonia! So I did, and thus began our walk in the darkness of sickness and hospitals and rehab facilities.
If you have ever taken anyone or anything for granted, stop! You never know when someone will be called to end his life here and begin anew in another realm. Don't take anything for granted because everything we have in life is a gift. The way we treat others comes back to us in our times of need. I can't possibly enforce this strongly enough. If you have someone who cares about you, stay on good terms with them. Don't treat people like yesterdays stale lunch and shrug them off with not another thought. My daughter and I walked together in the darkness of hospital corridors and Nursing Facilities. Our beloved husband and Dad was suffering in the ICU of the Kaiser Hospital and was in a very strange bed that saved his life. For 10 days he was not visible to us, because the bed enclosed his body and rotated it from side to side to help his lungs clear up. We asked for prayer and we prayed every morning, and every day with him in his hospital room. We prayed at night before we went to bed. No one thought he'd make it through this. But he did! He is strong and God is able to do to the uttermost the things that we cannot even conceive of!
This site is for things that we experienced in our youth. But this is a subject that will loom in my mind for a long time to come.. I cannot bring myself not to mention this episode of our lives. There were many tears, and worry tried to swamp us. But our faith in God gave us strength and the prayers of so many people were answered. The Nurses who worked with him and the specialists that came in to see him and to discuss different plans of attack on this disease. We had support from others who prayed even though we didn't know them personally. He is very strong as we told them at the hospital. And 2 months after he contracted the diseases, he left the Nursing Facility walking under his own steam to get in the car.
Jack is so important to us. We love him so much and he is everything we could ever ask for in a husband and a Father. We were just beginning to share our Golden Years and he had just published his first book. He wasn't finished with life and we have him back! There is nothing too hard for God. Nothing is impossible with God. Indeed, we have one of God's Miracles sitting right here with us in our living room and the last 2 months seem like a nightmare mow... it has ended and the sun is shining once more. We shall enjoy all our days together and we will cherish the one we almost lost, forever more. So please, if you love someone, tell them. If you need someone in your life, let them know. Don't take life for granted for it can be snatched away in a heart beat and you will regret so much the things you didn't say. I LOVE YOU JACK! There is nothing I wouldn't do for you! I am so thankful you are home because we have a lot of living to do! You are a vital part of all of us and we will always know the value you have in our lives. God Bless You Always and May You Always Walk with God's arm around your shoulders helping and guiding you every step of the way. You are an amazing person and you have much to give to the world!, and to us! But better yet, you have much love to receive and we will be so happy to give you all you need in this life and a view of the life after this one! You are Very Special! And I am so proud to know you and to be your wife! Good Night Sweetheart, and sleep worry free right beside me as you have for almost 40 years! And may we walk into the future unafraid and full of love and peace for all time, for all eternity!
According to our little counter, we get a slow but steady stream of visitors here, and It has occurred to me that some of you may be wondering why we haven't had a new post since back before Christmas. So I'm going to tell the whole sordid story here, and maybe we can get back on our semi-schedule.
Christmas evening I started showing flu symptoms. I had shaken it off by the next day, but it came back again harder just before New Year's. I was scheduled to be off because of the holidays anyway, so I just loafed around the bed thinking "this is unusual" for
a couple of days, and it broke again. I returned to work, and it came back worse than ever on a night shift, the 6th, with almost nobody around, and I could feel it getting worse by the minute. I made the 25 mile drive home, and I don't remember one thing about it. The next day, evening I guess, it was to the point where my wife and daughter took me to the ER. They put in an IV, but it wasn't doing all they wanted, and they decided I needed a "pic line," sort of a super IV. I remember them explaining it to me, nearly every word going right over my head, and them asking if I wanted that treatment, I remember giving a very weak nod, and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital three weeks later. I had contracted the "ordinary" flu, whatever that is, H1N1, and pneumonia simultaneously; I didn't think that was possible, either.
They had placed me in a medically induced coma, and loaded me in a brand new, almost experimental device called the Roto-Prone bed. Once strapped into this thing, you are rocked, inverted, and spun (gently), as they use gravity and centrifugal force to draw the fluid from your lungs. It apparently works, as my presence here attests. They also cut my throat and put in something called a trach-line (root word, trachea) to help me breathe; I
never actually saw it, but it drove me crazy, and they tell me I bent every effort to trying to get it out. Fortunately, I was unsuccessful.
Having now experienced a coma first-hand, let me tell you what it's like in there. Your mind, normally a very busy place, is floating, unoccupied, in a black void. I imagine it's close to what sensory deprivation is like. Desperate for anything to occupy itself, it will seize on any little pixel of information that finds its way in, and construct a whole narrative around it. Since you are aware that you are ill, in pain, restrained, and whatnot, that narrative takes that into account, and creates a series of nightmares that seem to go on for days without letup. In one, all the doctors that I could hear talking were metal-voiced robots who were waiting for my wife to come so that they could kill us; motive unknown, but when you
believe something like that, you just believe it. In another, I was a British sailor (I've always been something of an Anglophile) stationed in Singapore. A buddy and I were lying in ambush in a shot-up shipyard waiting for the Japanese to try to cross from the mainland so we could engage them in a firefight. They never came, but for four days, dream-time, we laid on concrete, moving as little as possible, concealing ourselves under rotten shrimp cans, dead fish, twisted through fallen girders, and so forth. I could "feel" the presence of another Brit, but we never spoke and I never saw him, so I don't know whether he was someone from my real life or not. What broke this was an Asian-accented feminine voice (one of
the nurses, no doubt) clearly asking if I wanted a bath. She was present in the dream, though I couldn't see her either, and I began to frantically warn her away: "There's going to be a battle, you're going to get shot, you have to get out of here!" and other things along that line before my brain caught up with my mouth, and I suddenly said, "A bath?" Warm cloths descended on me, pulling me out of that nightmare and setting me up for the next, which
thankfully, I don't remember, and hope I never do. My advice to anyone who chances to find themselves in a bedside vigil with a coma victim is don't make a sound. No talking, no singing, no wind chimes, no nothin'. The less information that trapped brain gets to work with, the better.
They tell me I was in the hospital for 35 days, but I don't remember much of that, just flashes of lying in an uncomfortable bed. February 11th I was transferred to a rehabilitation center where I found that my legs were virtually paralyzed. The doctor had some fancy name for it, and said it's common among people who are bedridden for long periods. He said it can take a year and more to recover. The nurses were fabulous, seeing to my every need with smiles on their faces, no matter what the task was, and through the efforts of a brilliant young physical therapist named Eric, I graduated from barely being able to stand, to a walker, to a cane, to walking on my own in two and a half weeks. They discharged me yesterday, and I'm back home with a walker just in case. I'm nowhere near where I was before all this happened. I'm shaky, weak, and have no stamina, but every day brings
improvement. Couple that with my natural determination (read "stubbornness"), and to quote from Roots, "Gonna learn to run!"
And that brings us up to date. So, how were your holidays?
I have spent several posts building up an image of a small child set upon from every direction, with no refuge, no place to go for respite or succor. Well, of course there was my aunt Marie, but I didn't have at-will access to her, so what could that small child do to get away?
Dream. Awake, asleep, it made no difference. I lived in a dream world of action and danger in which I was a heroic protector of those weaker than myself, a shield of the helpless that feared no man nor monster. I found my solace in solitude, and kept my sanity by learning how to make those alternate worlds real.
I was aided greatly in those efforts by books. One might expect a child of the '50s to say television, but our family came late to that medium, and anyway, television isn't for dreamers. Doubtless, it played its part, and when out for a play day with the neighborhood kids, I strapped on my cap-guns and laid claim to the character of Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickok (always famous lawmen, you'll note) just like everyone else, but a television show gave me individual people fully realized as the characters; that wasn't me on the screen, that was Guy Madison, and it showed me actions fully formed. I was reduced to a passive spectator engaging no faculty beyond my eyes.
But books gave my dreams wings! I've noted previously how Great-grandma had me reading at the age of three, and books became my hideout of choice. If a book presented me with a car, it might be red or blue, large or small, but that car was constructed inside my imagination, and it looked like what I decided it looked like. Same with the passengers and the destination. They were all me. During the pre-school age, I read a lot of the Little Golden Books (fellow oldsters will remember those as a shared experience of American kids everywhere), and the titles that leap to mind are Little Toot, The Taxi that Hurried, and The Little Engine that Could. It is instructive to note that these, and many more I fancied, share a theme of a small, insignificant anthropomorphized machine that endures ridicule and scorn, then steps up in a crisis to become a hero. Coincidence, I'm sure. Another favorite was Uncle Wiggily's Travels (Howard R. Garis, 1913), one of a series about an engaging elderly rabbit-gentleman who teaches life-lessons to his nephew and niece, Sammie and Susie Littletail, as they walk through the woods.
When I arrived at Sunset View Elementary School in the fall of 1955, I found that they had a modest library that filled a converted office. The bookshelves were stocked with books that the librarian felt were grade-appropriate, and although I was in third grade, I went directly to the sixth-grade shelf; talking rabbits and reckless taxi-drivers had lost their appeal by then, and I wanted science books about dinosaurs and microbes, and documentaries about fire-fighters. One Friday afternoon, one of the volunteers decided that, being a third grader, I wasn't allowed to check out sixth-grade books, so I walked out. When I came to class Monday without my customary library book, my teacher, Mrs. Booth, asked if I had forgotten it. I explained what happened, and she reacted sympathetically and carried on with her day's duties. Next time I went to the library, that volunteer apologized to me, and I never had another problem. I didn't realize that a teacher would say anything to another adult on behalf of a child, but I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation!
It was somewhere in here that I discovered the "Boys' Own Grand Adventure Story." I've mentioned that my family shopped at Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Value Village, and so forth. In thrift stores of that time, whatever toys came in were piled in a bin to be picked through. That was usually where I was while the grandmas were shopping, but one time the toys were lame, and I went in search of games or jigsaw puzzles, I don't remember which. Anyway, what I found was a wall of books, Sunset View's library on steroids, and the book I pulled out was The Seagoing Tank (Roy J. Snell, 1924). The fourth book in the Radio-Phone Boys series, this was a sci-fi adventure of the first order that involved a vehicle the size of a suburban house driving on tracks across the ocean floor to one adventure after another. It starred a couple of teenagers who were constantly saving the adults' bacon as well as their own, and I was hooked. This was what I was looking for, rip-snorting adventure stories that didn't fuss too much over getting every niggling detail of physics exactly right, and not allowing romance and bouts of depression to get in the way of the action. I'm still looking for those stories, and when I can't find them, I write them. I'm still hooked!
At the age of 13, I discovered my second refuge, and one that would carry me well into adulthood: Games. Not just any games, but games in what was for a brief, golden age, a niche market that exploded beyond all reason to become a major hobby of many young gents of the era. These were wargames, table-top recreations of battles and wars, most historical, some outright fantasy. Instead of a stylized map of Atlantic City, you played on a highly accurate map of the land surrounding the village of Gettysburg (for example). Instead of a ship, a dog, or an old shoe, your playing pieces represented the actual formations that clashed outside that little crossroads in the summer of 1863. The rules were to regularize the movement of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery over the various types of terrain, and when the formations came to grips, dice rolls recreated the Fog of War. There were literally hundreds of titles recreating every battle known to man, and for thirty years I threw myself into leading military units on the great campaigns of history. My collection peaked at about 80 titles, and I may have played twice that many in the course of playing other peoples' games.
But my preferred method was always solitaire. Whenever two gamers got together, the battle on the board always seemed to spread to include the participants, as it was inevitable that a dispute over the often imperfect rules of the simulation would arise: "It takes three movement factors to cross that stream!" "Uh-uh! It's only two millimeters wide in that space, so it only takes two!" Something like this could lead to pistols in the front yard, and while it was refreshing to engage another mind in the maneuver of armies, I always preferred solitaire, moving first one army, then moving to the other side of the board and moving the other. My personal friends became Robert E. Lee, U. S. Grant, George Patton, Erwin Rommel, "Bull" Halsey, and Isoroku Yamamoto, among hundreds of lesser lights. I've lead the Afrika Korps through the desert, and the mighty 7th Fleet across the Pacific, and by trying alternate strategies, learned things about history that books can't teach. But in the early days, I was hiding. Be it the Libyan desert, the beaches of Normandy, or a stinking green flyspeck on a tropical sea, that's what I was doing, by any other name.
So what does all this talk of refuge, hiding, and solace have to do with heroism? Well, it all came with a need to prove myself to myself. That led to a four-year engagement with the navy during a vicious, nasty, no-quarter war with an insidious and implacable enemy. I took my turn in that arena and emerged unscathed. I served on a wooden minesweeper not much bigger than a tuna clipper, and rode her through two hurricanes. I've ridden an oil tanker through a Pacific typhoon as well, but compared to the 'sweep, that was child's play. I learned the craft of being a sailor as well as a demanding technical trade in naval communications. I've been subordinate, and been in charge, and done well in both roles.
I speak ill of the navy on occasion, but it isn't their fault. There are people you can't pound into a square hole, and I learned that I am one of them, but those four years taught me that I can do anything, and that golden thread of belief in self has been woven into my life ever since. Couple that with the loyalty I express toward anyone who demonstrates that they have my back, and I flatter myself that I'm a pretty good person to have on your side; but you'll have to ask my wife to get the final answer to that question.
But to the grandkids, and any young person who may be reading this, the message here is Dare to Dream. Look, all kids are put upon. They're all buffeted by the whims of often unreasonable adults against whom they have no protection. Get inside your own head, find out who you are, and develop the person that you find into the best person he or she can be. My religion offers this proverb:
"He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened."
Truer words were never spoken! Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
The journey I refer to here is the daily trek to and from school. The adventures... well, we've all been children, right?
For a few brief years that had constituted 100% of my life to that point, I had had this existence that amounted to "eat, sleep, play." Oh, I was misunderstood and subjected to mild forms of abuse, but let's be clear here, I was never in the sort of extremis that children of the Third World considered normal. So it constituted a bit of culture shock when my days of leisure were interrupted by a torrent of cold water called Compulsory Education.
First, my birthday was in October. As American public schools begin their school year in September, the decision was made that I should start each grade a year younger than the conventional numerical age, and I would catch up a month later. This was compounded by a decision made when my grandma took me to sign up. They sat me at a desk, and handed me a pencil and an S.A.T.-style sheet for me to read the questions and fill in a bubble corresponding to the correct answer. I realized years later that the whole point of that test was simply to determine whether I could read at all. As I could read very well for a four-year old, it was decided that I would skip kindergarten altogether, and start first grade at the age of four, and thus I was denied that whole process of gradual acclimatization to the school environment. It was akin to being taught to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool, and a side effect was that I was almost invariably the youngest member of my class... And that led to all sorts of other effects, social and academic, that I'll get to in other posts.
The upshot here is that at the age of four, almost five mind you, I was handed a brown paper bag with a sandwich in it, pointed in the direction of Alexander Hamilton Elementary School in the North Park community of San Diego, wished the best of luck, and pushed out the door. I didn't even know where it was, and I have a vivid recollection of asking an older girl, who must have been in 5th or 6th grade, for directions, and her walking me to the school grounds. After a semester there, we moved down the street, and I transferred to Thomas Jefferson elementary which was easier to find, and the process continued. I have described in a previous post my friends, Johnny Wallace and Paula Nellie, and as they both lived within a stone's throw of my house, we always walked together to and from.
Then came the move to Point Loma, a much more affluent community of San Diego, and my folks somehow determined that I was to start third grade at Sunset View Elementary School, a new facility built on a steep hill (the very name was Hill Street, and they weren't kidding!) on the ocean side of the craggy peninsula. I was, in fact, out of district, and should have attended either Silvergate or Cabrillo, both older facilities like Hamilton and Jefferson, and in the case of Cabrillo, populated by the tough children of the Portuguese fishing community down in Roseville. It was a happy error that was caused by the confusion involved with opening a new school, and the district allowed it to stand for the whole four years I attended.
I once again walked to Sunset View. The distance was maybe a mile, and once again on the first day, I had to ask one of the kids waiting for the bus to Junior High or High School how to get there, but once I arrived, I found an open, airy campus with a lush square surrounded by three wings of the main building, and classrooms that opened directly onto the playgrounds. There were hallways, but the only time I spent in them was when I was put out there for a time out. The playgrounds were on two levels, the combination cafeteria and auditorium was a separate building with outdoor tables for the nice weather, which was pretty much always, and we could watch the spouts of the Gray Whale migrations as we ate our lunch. The schools I had attended before were prisons by comparison, and I definitely felt privileged to be in the environment.
But this is about the to-and-fro, and this is where the defiance began I think. See, the Grandmas had always expected the sort of Little Lord Fauntleroy behavior that may have been common in children during the Victorian era. It is certainly portrayed as the norm in films and literature, the little boy who is dressed in a suit upon rising in the morning, who spends his day discussing politics and world affairs with the adults in the drawing room, and whose suit is still clean and pressed at bedtime.
Yeah, I ain't that kid. None of my friends were, either, and we're talking about some upscale families here. The thing is, living out-of-district, almost none of the kids I was in school with lived anywhere near me. So naturally, when the last bell rang and I headed up the hill with a group of friends, when someone invited me over for an after-school play session, I was always up for it.
Bobby Eggert had a little brother who looked just like him. His dad designed space products for Convair, and he had that gene. He designed things to do with trash that would boggle your mind. One thing in particular was when he got hold of a number of discarded refrigerator boxes, opened them up, and laid them in a ramp configuration down the hill that was his front yard. He then laid another open box at the top, two of you would hold hands and run, and flop down on this second box, which zoomed, almost free of friction, down the ramp to the street , at which point you had a rather tricky landing to engineer on the fly. Came home with more than one rip in a piece of clothing they could ill-afford to replace.
Then there was David Mandich, who lived in a house that used to be the main part of a mansion; had no-longer-used maid's quarters underneath, which was headquarters or space ship when the game was Flash Gordon or Commando Cody. More usually, though, David's group wound up wrestling on the lawn, which sent me home covered in grass stains, grass cuttings in my hair and pockets, and an occasional bruise or friction rash.
Greg Adams had a big back yard and a cute little sister who as an only child I was fascinated by, and would give piggy-back rides around the yard. We role-played WWII. A decade before, our parents, men and women both, had rolled up their sleeves and defeated the two most powerful evil empires the world had ever seen, simultaneously. We stacked picnic tables and benches into various configurations as we refought the war in tanks, planes, and submarines. I didn't come home dirty or injured from Greg's, but I came home late, and they didn't like that. Fairly early on, they established the unbreakable rule that I had twenty minutes from the last bell to be standing in the living room.
I suppose they were worried about me, but I couldn't see from my child's perspective what harm I was doing, and suspected that they were worried that I might fit a little fun into my life. This was before the days when schools piled hours of homework on every kid from the first grade on, and I didn't have anything in particular to do after I got home, so I just assumed, you know? It was a rule I never obeyed once. I got spankings, I got grounded, I lost TV privileges, and I didn't care a jot. That was the price I paid for acting like a kid with my friends, and every punishment was a price worth paying, even when I broke the two floating ribs on my right side in a collision with Craig Burke as we ran along some razorback ridges that had been cut by a rare downpour in a vacant lot. I was confined to quarters when I limped home in pain two hours late, and when I took my navy physical a decade later, the examining physician asked how I'd gotten the broken ribs. That was the first time my suspicion was confirmed, but it was all worth everything I went through to get them. They are my badge of honor. The recipient of a Purple Heart or a Silver Star can point to those awards and say, "I was a hero!" I can point to these broken ribs, and say, "I was a kid!"
Richard Henry Dana Junior High was about a mile-and-a-half away. Within the first couple of days there, I met Chip Hanika, who had gone to Cabrillo, and though we didn't realize it at first, we were going to be inseparable throughout the rest of school. I continued to walk to and from, and I continued to accompany him home after school, flaunting the 20 minute rule, which had been extended to 30 to accommodate the longer distance. As junior high was when homework started to make its appearance back in the day, this was when my schoolwork began to suffer because of my antics. I basically never did homework. I'd carry the books home, toss them on the table in my room, and pick them up the next day to carry back to school. Chip's parents never intervened to put a stop to this, as he managed to have his social life and get his schoolwork done, too. The only reason I can think of that I didn't was that it was boring; I mean, come on, I'd been looking at this crap all day! Now you want me to look at it at home, too?
But Chip was a philosopher, even at that early age (he went on to get his Ph.D. in philosophy), and the things we would talk about as we sat in his magnificent family room overlooking the broad sweep of San Diego Bay were far more interesting than anything that school had to talk about. With the exception of the semester I spent at Monterey Union High School (which I talked about here), this continued through my time at Point Loma High School until I quit after 11th grade to join the navy.
So now it's time to summarize this post, to attach some meaning to all this rambling. I guess it would be that, building on that foundation has brought my life to this point, and made me the person I am. One of my cyberfriends, Rachel, recently did a blog post about making time for the things that matter to you, and I just realized that she may have inspired this post. What I know is that from my earliest childhood, I have always made time for the things that I enjoy, and I don't regret a minute of it! It's possible that, had I chosen another path, I might have turned out wealthy, or powerful (in the political/industrial sense), or had a long and illustrious military career. Maybe in the next life, I'll do those things, but in this one, it has been far more important to me to play video games with my young children, to create fantastic worlds in my head and share them on paper with other like-minded dreamers, than to spend a 12-hour day at a $12,000.00 desk trying to come up with some way to improve my company's sales by another billionth of a percent, and I don't have any doubt that I'm a better person for it. I'd rather give than take, and I'd rather play than work, and at the end of the road, all of those riches that you've taken or worked for won't fit in that coffin, but I have to believe that if there is an afterlife, the memories you make are your treasures.
Okay, my work here is done. Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
I have mentioned before that I had a disease. I still do. However, the medications they make today are far superior to what they had available when I first was diagnosed. In short, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain and the chemicals I take alleviate that and make my life much easier. There were many times of illness before I met your Grandpa. I had to deal with it alone, as does anyone in my situation. I had a good doctor, and good med's, but the work was up to me. The doctor gave me a place to vent and air my feelings. He gave me good advice, took care of me when I couldn't take care of myself, but the hard work was pretty much up to me. I did a lot of writing, reading books on the subject, and interacting with people in society. I did really well once they got the medications balanced for me. They gave me many different types over the year, but the ones they have today are the best. They have the least side effects of any of them. Now you know a little bit about the disease, but unless you see someone suffer with it, you don't know what your Grandpa had to go through. But he never left me, he dealt with it the best he could, and he gave me new insights and new ideas all the time.
When I first met your Grandpa, it was in the spring of 1975. He came to our office to work, but the first time I saw him I thought he was someone from the Data processing side of the organization. He was dressed very nice, and stood in the back of the office with his arms folded across his chest. Then I went about my business and didn't give it another thought. The people I worked with were not really very understanding of me when I went back to work. I don't know if they were afraid of me, or just plain uncomfortable having me in the office. They gave me project on top of project, and when they came back for the first one and I didn't have it finished, there was always an upheaval and they'd get mad and stomp off. Well, your Grandpa watched them mistreat me for a while, and then one day he approached me and he gave me some good advice. The first thing he told me was to not justify myself to anyone. Then he told me about his religion, The Tao. Later on we gave each other our phone numbers and we would talk on breaks at work, and sometimes have lunch together. The first time we made plans, I got sick and we didn't go out. He didn't ask again. Then I moved to Chula Vista from National City because there were a lot of problems there. Chula Vista was a much safer place.
Most of my time at my apartment I was alone. I'd go to work, and then I'd go shopping if I needed to for food or whatever I needed. But usually I'd just go home and have some dinner and then I'd watch TV or do laundry or clean up the apartment. Sometimes I'd write poetry or work on a picture, but not very often. So one Friday evening after work, I went home as usual, and then I remembered having Jack's number. So I called him and asked him if I could come and visit him. He said yes, gave me instructions on how to find his house, and then I left and went to visit and that was the beginning of our friendship. He lived on Madision Avenue just above Mission Valley, just off of Texas street. He lived in a little studio apartment above a garage, and the first time I went to see him, I could see him through the screen door doing dishes. He answered the door, and I went in and we sat on the floor and listened to music and talked for several hours. Then, when I left, he walked me to his car and then he touched my shoulder and told me, "Sometimes all you need is a friend!" I took it in and then I said goodbye and drove home to my apartment. I saw him again the next day at work. A little bit later, he invited me on a date to see the sights in San Diego. He picked me up in a white truck, similar to the one we have now. His Grandmother had promised him he could use her car, but he had been helping them move and they rented a truck for that. When the day came to actually let him use her car, she changed her mind, so he took the truck and they would have to pay for the mileage! And the mileage was quite a bit because he took me all over the scenic drive and I'd never seen so many places. He drove all over the place and we had great fun! We wrapped it up by going to Balboa Park and we parked and got out and walked around looking at everything. We talked a lot and then we drove back to his place and we had a glass of instant breakfast and talked some more and then he took me home.
The next day was Mother's Day, and he had a little more moving to do. He asked me if I had plans for the next day, and I told him I was going to go see my Mother for Mother's Day. I wish a thousand times I had gone with him because the visit with my Mom was so depressing. My Grandmother was there, and as she was getting senile, she often didn't make much sense. My Mother hadn't forgiven me for having a life of my own, so the whole visit was a real drag. I saw him again on Monday, and a little later on he asked me if I'd like to go to the desert sometime and do some exploring. I said yes, and we went places all the time after that. The morning we went to the desert, he came to my place in his Grandma's car and I had made steak and eggs and toast for breakfast. I put on the Camelot Record I had and waited for him. I decided to look out the window to see if he was there yet, and he was on the walkway just below my apartment. He saw me and waved and I opened the door. We had a great breakfast and then we were on our way. We went to the desert and parked his Grandma's car and got out and went exploring. There was one hill he climbed and he told me to come up there with him and look at the view. I stepped on a huge rock and the ground around it broke loose and I slid down the side of Diablo Mountain on my stomach. I went down it seemed like forever, but he was still able to reach me. I took the knife he had given me and stuck it in the side of the hill, just like he had told me to do, and dug my toes into the dirt and tried to hoist myself back up on top. He laid down on his stomach and reach out for me. I grabbed his hand, and between us I was back on top in no time. My hat never came off and for quite some time, the tale was told to friends and co-workers alike.
Something changed that day. He gave me a necklace to wear that he treasured, called an IDIC and it was from a Star Trek movie. It stood for "Infinite diversity through infinite combination." Somehow I just knew that things would be hard for us to combat, but we were together and that would prove to be our saving grace. I don't want to spend too much time today writing about our various and sundry experiences, but I will cover them in some degree through the rest of the story. We have been together for 38 years and there is much to tell. But for today, I have made my point and am happy with the results, so I will say goodbye because I know that Grandpa is ready to use the computer, and I need to make something for dinner! I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion into a brand new beginning for me. I hope to cover as much of our lives together as I can, and let you see that everyone has hard times. What matters is what you do with those hard times, and the faith you have in the future. People surprise me still with their endurance and spontaneity and I hope to pass it on through your generation as well. I love all of you so much, and I"ll say goodbye for now. Take care, have fun, and learn new things every day.
Well, besides myself, of course... I'm going to institute an audience participation aspect to the blog by putting a topic out here, "showing you mine" if you like, then inviting you to show us yours. I thought an interesting place to begin would be a discussion of the person I knew who reached the farthest back into history.
For me, that's an easy call. That person was my maternal great-grandmother, Louise Willis Holt. Louise, or "Gan," as three generations of children knew her, was born on October 21st, 1888, just weeks before the election of Republican President Benjamin Harrison. The big issues of the day were high protective tariffs, and the payment of pensions to Civil War veterans, both of which he was opposed to. Interestingly, though his opponent, incumbent Grover Cleveland, received most of the popular vote, Harrison won the most Electoral College votes, seemingly thereby thwarting the will of the people. This was the third of four times this has happened in U. S. history, the last being the 2000 election that saw "W" begin his eight year presidency.
But this isn't about politics. This is about my great-grandmother, who also happened to be my primary caregiver. I have already had some less-than-flattering things to say about her child-rearing techniques, but I'm going to refrain from that here. This is about a life, and I would suggest that by the time I came along, she might have been tired.
Louise was born to southern business moguls outside the little town of Ashville, North Carolina. During the Civil War, Ashville was a small village of 2,500 people. The state was occupied by Sherman's troops moving north following the March to the Sea, and they were for the most part on their good behavior. Ashville, however, was the home of an Enfield plant that produced weapons for the Confederacy, and as such was defended by Confederate forces making a determined stand across the Buncombe Turnpike approaches from Tennessee. The town was accordingly treated roughly by General Stoneman's troops, culminating in the burning of some private homes.
Incredibly, I found this photo of the Buck Hotel and a few nearby businesses in downtown Ashville taken in 1888. The town struggled to recover from the burden of being on the losing side of the Civil War, gradually recovering until a boom in the 1910s and 20s, at which time Ashville was the third-largest city in the state. The Great Depression burst the bubble that had developed around the boomtown, and investors and residents who had bought into the skyrocketing prosperity were wiped out overnight; no less than eight of the town's nine banks failed. The novel Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe is generally regarded as a historical fictionalization of Ashville in this period.
Anyway, in 1929, at the age of 41, her husband, William Harvey Holt (father of the aforementioned General), moved the family to California. I don't know much about the journey, but in 1929 they settled in San Diego, where they made a permanent home. If they had lived anywhere besides the Ashville area since the family had come to America, I've never been aware of it, and to commemorate this new chapter in the family saga, he had this opal commissioned for her from a local jeweler. As the next October baby to be born, I inherited it. It's hard to get a good picture of that shimmering blue stone, but with the square cut and the onyx border, it's quite the ring; I'd have to guess that they got out of Ashville before they were ruined.
At some point before this, during the nineteen-ohs, she was a fashion model. This wasn't like today. The girls didn't strut the catwalk, and no one knew their names. They would put on the clothing and pose on small stages around the ballroom or hotel meeting room where the show was being held, and the participants would move around the room to examine the wares. She was in her late teens by all accounts, and her prematurely snow-white hair (like mine) put her in high demand. I've seen a picture; she was quite impressive with all that snow piled and coifed into one of those elaborate Victorian hairstyles.
Her three children, Bill, Helen, and Marie, would have been in the 25-30 age bracket by the time she moved west, and her daughter, Helen, must have found employment (or her husband did) over in the desert at this point, because in 1931, my mother was born in El Centro, thus completing the chain from her to me.
So, what did this woman acquire during her long life that passed itself along to me? Our white hair, of course. Her hereditary migraine; oh, that's been an adventure! Her constant examples of how to live with decency and elegance. This may be telling: She was the child of parents who had been the children of slaveowners. There is quite naturally a racism inherent in this; it doesn't seem possible to own another human being unless you don't truly consider them to be fully human. Like all parents everywhere, she must have learned their attitudes at their knees, so to speak, and while she was very much a racist, she wasn't nasty about it, as modern racists are; it was just an aspect of life that she dealt with. It wasn't discussed, it was understood, but on those rare occasions when she did try to impart attitudes to me, it took the form of admonitions not to hold African-Americans (and believe me, that wasn't the term she used) in contempt, not based on any notion of equality, but because it wasn't their fault; in other words, they, and by implication, everyone, couldn't help being what they were born! There is in that, no matter how you look at it, a lesson to judge a person by the color of his character, rather than the color of his skin. I know that sounds very much like the great Dr. King's words, and given her background, she might be the last one you'd expect to hear that from, but that was just one of the many surprising aspects of her personality.
Great-grandma's life, for the most part, consisted of raising children, and she had to have gotten tired of it. As the third generation under her tutelage, I caught the brunt of that fatigue. Having raised her own children through the 20s, and suffered a financial upheaval at the end of that process, she then assisted in the raising of her grandchildren, and finally had me, and nine years later, my half-sister dumped on her doorstep with nary a by-your-leave. It speaks a lot to her character that she didn't just pass us on to an orphanage. She turned 60 two weeks after I was born, and filled the role of my mother for 17 years thereafter. I remember being a well-mannered little tyke, but no teenager is an easy proposition, and I'm sure I was no exception.
Other than the modeling stint I mentioned above, I'm not aware of her ever taking employment outside the home. Her life-long husband died the year before I was born, and she never remarried. For virtually all of the time I was with her, she lived with her daughter, Helen, who filled the role of breadwinner, having been "Rosie the Riveter" during the Second World War, and being one of the few women skilled enough to keep her job when the men came home. She could certainly manage a home, to the extent that when I was a child, I was never aware of it being managed; everything just fell into place so naturally it was as if it couldn't have gone any other way.
In October of 1969, I left the navy, and came home to begin my civilian career, whatever that was going to be. About three months later, she fell during a midnight potty run and fractured her hip. She never walked again, and I put my life on hold for the next four years to become one of her caregivers. I had to leave that role in 1975, when a career opportunity that I couldn't afford to pass up opened, and in the spring of that year, she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87.
In the course of her lifetime, she had ridden a horse to her one-room school, raised three successful children plus two more generations, flown across the country several times, and seen men walk on the moon. She had gone from reading schoolbooks by candlelight to touring the world via color television, and her music had progressed from classical string quartets to classic rock quartets. Whatever she thought about it herself, and she hid it well if she was disappointed, she lived a fuller life than anyone else I have ever known in terms of things she had experienced. If she was cross sometimes, and harsh in her treatment, I know now that it was all part of her attempt to raise a decent and successful child, and she was following a formula that had proven successful for two previous generations. I look around at the world I inherited from her generation and a couple in between, and I flatter myself that she did all right.
So thanks, Gan, for the great head start. I could have done better, I suppose, but the shortcomings are all on me. For all of my complaining, I never think of her once without missing her. She was my life for the first six years, and those years matter more than any of us realize. I had just met my soon-to-be wife when she died. We weren't courting yet. My greatest regret in all of it is that they never got to meet. She would have loved Bonnie, who is so traditional and dare I say Victorian in so many ways. I would have liked to have shown off my prize catch! Alas...
I'll let it stand there. There are so many negative things I've said about her in these posts, and so many more I've left out, but those are for another time. This one is about a life well-lived, and a person who stepped up and lived it every day. She set a great example, one that I've tried to follow. My wife and children can be the judges of whether I've succeeded.
And on that note, I shall bring this to a close. Who have you known that has reached back farther than anyone else? How have they affected you? Step in and join the conversation; this will be so much more entertaining if you're a part of it...
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??