Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dig It Pops

Dig It Pops

I am taking advantage of this break in the rain, to get out in the orchard to prep the soil for the upcoming extravaganza, the planting of a hundred Heinz tomato plants. Simply put, I am turning the soil over and breaking up the dirt clods with a pitchfork, for eight rows, each about fifty feet in length by four feet in width, and mixing the ground cover into the dirt.
It's a start.
I am a month later starting than last year due to the inclement weather, but am still well ahead of the mid-May planting date. Last summer the orchard lay fallow, allowing the soil to regroup, but we have big t’ings goin’ on this year, and I have been given free rein to pursue my interest in growing enough tomatoes, to make the production of catsup a reality.

The big news is that I have had to switch from digging with my right foot, to digging with my left, due to that problem with the second toe on my right foot, the one that Dr. Mulligan diagnosed as having a stress fracture. This is an injury left over from a year ago, that I just figured was old dude shit. Who’d a thought there was actually something wrong? 

The irony is that being left-handed, I should have been using my left foot all along, that being my dominant side. However, growing up with older brothers, I learned to bat right-handed, kick right-footed, and of course, dig right-footed.

May I be candid here? [Editor’s note: Cringe]

I tend to lean precipitously to the left when it comes to politics, so it should come as no surprise that I am also left-handed. A dozen years ago I injured my right shoulder due to overuse. What had no effect on my left shoulder, sent my right shoulder into reconstructive surgery. The same thing apparently occurred a year ago, when I spent three months, nonstop, turning over soil at three different sites.

Had I been taught originally to dig with my left foot, I would probably never have experienced the technical difficulties with my second toe, that I did with my right foot. I guess I will find out this year. Just in case this seems like no big deal to you, switching digging feet, try it sometime, especially if you use a shovel or pitch-fork a lot.

Logistically speaking, the orchard poses particular challenges, one of them being the ongoing battle with gophers. Because we are Certified Clean Green, we employ only appropriate strategies to combat the pesky varmints, including traps, cats and vigilance. Last year I had issues with gophers in three spots in HappyDay Farms, West, and the orchard was one of them.

With more than a hundred tomato plants last year, the damage was manageable, and I just could not stress out over that which I had no control, so I let it go. This year I am going into the season knowing that I must be relentless, in order to ensure that I don’t lose as many as 20 % of my tomatoes.

I’m willing to share, but I won’t be taken advantage of.
The orchard in an earlier life...garlic!

Another issue is that the orchard is the low end of the line, as far as getting ag water to it. Whereas this is grand as far as gravity flow of the water is concerned, it is not good because the dirt and grit in the waterlines, also settle to the bottom.

Last year we were trying to take the filtration system apart weekly, to clean out the filter with a toothbrush. This year I am going to take care of this five-minute chore, daily. I am also going to upgrade the watering system by adding a third drip watering line to each row, to supplement the two that are already in place. If some is good, then more is better.

If only that same principle applied to labor. I am not able to go at the same rate as when I was younger, but I’m doing pretty well for a 64-year-old. That I can still work the soil at all is pure joy, in that I derive much pleasure out of the experience of starting the plants from seed, and then watching as the fruit develops and grows.

I have been not only enjoying my own fresh, home-grown tomatoes since 1974, I have been putting them up as well. I process peeled and quartered tomatoes, in a cold-pack; I cook down tomatoes to make marinara sauce; I cook it down further to make pizza sauce, tomato paste, and ultimately, the crowd favorite, catsup, or ketchup, if you prefer.
Tools of the trade

The orchard and I will become great friends this summer, much as it has in the past. Of course, I am not playing baseball with three small boys anymore, but I am still enjoying myself immensely.

Even more so, now that I have eliminated the remainder of any right-leaning tendencies from my body. Let’s face it: I am-and always will be-one of those dirty, commie, pinko, perverted, cannabis-smoking, liberal, atheist, farmer-hippies.

But you already knew that.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chasing Fire Engines

Chasing Fire Engines

Though my father never graduated formally from high school, earning his G.E.D. as an adult, he was fiercely adamant that his kids would not only do so, they would also graduate from college. I never remember him ever saying it in words, but it was only too obvious that he was working beneath his station, and was doing so because there was nothing else to be done.

He used to tell us stories about his own school experience, which mesmerized us because it was so different from what he expected from us. He regaled us with tales of being sent to the principal’s office, and having to face the music-not with his mother, but with his older sister, Anne-Marie, who would come down and bail him out.

He told us that Anne-Marie was infinitely patient with him, explaining how important school was, but my father simply could not deal with it. We’re not talking a chatty Chester here, we’re talking about jumping out of a window in a classroom, to chase after a fire engine that had just passed the school, siren wailing.

And I got reamed by him for getting a B- in conduct, one quarter as a sixth grader, from Sister Invencion, who told Mama that even though I was a good student, I talked too much. Papa gave me a tongue-lashing at the dinner table that night, informing me that he was not sending me to St. Martha’s to flap my jaws. 

We’re talking a clear case of Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, if ever there were one. Nonetheless, that didn’t change the fact that I put a cork in it, and ended up with an A in conduct the following quarter, and an A- overall for the semester, such was Papa’s power of persuasion.

He was subtler when it came to the big picture. He never said to me, “Hey, go to school and get a higher education, so you don’t come home from work everyday, covered in dirt and grime from working in a steel factory.” He didn’t have to say it.

Considering there are nine of us kids, with nine four-year degrees, not to mention two doctorates and four masters degrees, he got his message across. He was the thunder while Mama was the wind, circling around us with admonitions to get an application submitted, because then we could apply for scholarships.

Just because someone is uneducated, does not make him stupid. My father was highly intelligent, but found himself working early on in life, because times were tough in Depression-Era Detroit. He used to deliver newspapers on his bike in all weather, and painted anything but a glamorous look at what it was like to be poor.

He read voraciously, favoring authors like James Michener, and James Clavell, often reading long hours in the dead of night, because like me, he suffered from sleep issues. Additionally, because he served as a corpsman in WWII, overseas in a combat zone, he was also the person in the household, who would examine me when I got injured, to render a decision as to whether or not I needed to go to ER and get x-rayed.

He could do anything from laying brick and block and building fireplaces, to crafting utility trailers out of scrap steel from the shop, together with a used chassis and axle from some discarded vehicle he would acquire for a song. 

He once designed and built a sailboat in our garage, in which he said he intended to sail around the world. He named it the Honalee after the land where Puff the Dragon lived. Whether it was only a pipe dream from the beginning, I’m not certain, but once the boat was finished, including the fiber-glassing of the hull, he sold it.

Rather, he swapped it for a Dough-Boy swimming pool, about 48 inches deep, but eighteen feet across. By excavating a moderate amount of dirt out from the center of the pool, prior to installing it, he was able to achieve another foot or so deep in the middle. 

Dumbfounded at our good luck, we took advantage of this novelty in the first few years, and spent long hours everyday, basking in the sauna that the SoCal sun rapidly produced out of our pool. We played every conceivable water game we could think of, including Marco Polo . We used to throw pennies or marbles into the pool and have competitions to see who could gather the most with one breath of air.

All because Papa knew how to build a boat.

He used scrap steel to forge metal frames for coffee tables, insert a piece of plywood into the frame, and then do tile-work to form pictures on the surface of the table. One such effort was the creation of a dragon, primarily red and black in color, with breath-taking beauty. Some he sold and some he gave away as gifts, but they were truly exquisite.
Papa's workshop

In his workshop un on Bell Springs Road itself, he used to do woodworking projects such as chests of drawers, and hope chests. He would do three or so at a time,and spend whatever length of time it took to complete them. I jumped in on one of those bursts of creativity, and purchased a desk that currently resides in my living room.

The one thing Papa did little of was to write. He was a man of action, not words, which makes sense when you think of his academic background. Them’s what can, do; them’s what can’t, teach. Teach your children well.

Papa did just that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Rambler

The Rambler

Growing up there were three major automakers, Chevy, Ford and Chrysler, from which I could easily have found something that Papa might have chosen, when he finally decided that he needed to invest in a family vehicle, somewhere around 1964. 

The old Plymouth needed a quart of oil every time we went somewhere, and the ’56 Ford Sedan was nowhere big enough to accommodate both the family and a picnic lunch, when we would visit Noel at Dominguez. No, the time had come to get a new car.

In family discussions around the dinner table, I openly lobbied for a van, of any make, because I envisioned the seat being removed, so that we could sprawl out in the back, and more comfortably read. Color was of little interest, but style was crucial.

“Get something really hairy, Papa!” I urged, using an adjective that I knew would prolong the conversation.

“Hairy…” was all he said, while giving me the quizzical, twinkly eye look.

“Yeah! You know, out-a-sight, cool, hip, with-it, hairy!” as though no other discussion were needed. Had I thought to mention it, I might have added, “Anything but a Rambler, Papa,” but who would ever have thought that that was necessary?

When the big day finally arrived, and he sallied forth to make the big purchase, JT and I waited around, keeping our fingers crossed. Somehow, some way, we knew he would never let us down, so when that white ’64 Rambler station wagon pulled into the driveway, I felt as though I had been sucker-punched.
Shivers down my backbone...
A Rambler? A Rambler station wagon? Could you possibly be serious, Papa? To myself, I said this, but never aloud. That simply wasn’t allowed. When Papa was happy, everyone was happy, so I for one, was not about to rock any boats.

Seriously, though, a Rambler?

Even at that, I had no idea what was about to befall me, because Papa had a plan, and I was at the center of it. His plan was that his new acquisition was going to remain pristine, with me being the one to do the maintaining. 

Now his plan became much clearer: He’d bought this late-model (!) vehicle in excellent shape, he meant to maintain its market value, and then, somewhere down the line, he could buy what he really wanted. What that was, I did not speculate about; I was too busy doing damage control.

The first Sunday after he brought the vile vehicle home, he took me out and outlined his plan. I would get the vacuum cleaner, vacuum the car out, wash it, chamois it dry, and then come in to collect my reward: $.025, which Papa obviously thought was a king’s ransom. Don't forget, this is the same guy who used to pay a kid my age, Brian, the same quarter for a whole day’s work.

It’s not that he was mean, or petty, but simply, that was the way his world operated. Kids worked because they were members of the household, and if there was something for a bonus, then more’s the better.

I was crushed, pure and simple. Not only did I hate this old-fashioned car, I had to wash it too? Ramblers were for old people. My grandpa drove a mid-fifties Rambler sedan, and I loved it, because when I was in it, I was with Grandpa. I loved the smell of the interior and I loved the fact that he played the radio when we went places.

There was nothing of redeeming value about the Rambler. I endured and collected my weekly quarter, until I finally started working Sundays at Sunrize, and thereby got off the hook.

Imagine my shock, after I had entered the army, and was away from home, to find he had bought a red and white 4WD Chevy Blazer, which he then proceeded to drive down to La Paz, at the southernmost tip of Baja, California.

Timing. You know?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017



I saw a post on social media recently that waxed on excitedly about a child’s learning to tie his shoes, and it brought back-sharply-a memory of my own father teaching me to tie my shoes. As a toddler I definitely had an ongoing issue with shoes, including misplacing them, as Mama has written about in the spiral notebooks.

Papa’s approach was one of infinite patience, in the setting of the teacher. He taught me to ride my first bike, which Mama’s notes indicate was Christmas of 1957, a few months after my fifth birthday. His approach was simple and to the point.

“Now you’re going to get those feet going round and round on the pedals,” he instructed, “and I’m going to get you going fast, and then I’m going to let go.”

“What happens if I crash, Papa?” Catastrpophizing at such an early age. 
“Then we’ll always wish you didn’t,” he explained. “But if you do? You’re going to get right back up on that bike and try it again. You’ll see. If you get those feet moving fast enough, you almost can’t crash.” Of course, he used the same advice for us flying, which he insisted we could do, IF we could run fast enough, flap our arms hard enough, and jump high enough to get off the ground.

Frankly, the only flying I have ever done, has occurred while sitting in an armchair, with my bong as captain and sole navigator.

Then there were kites, and the hugely successful efforts to get them up. I remember Papa tying the string around one of the buttons on my shirt, which then left me hands-free, and having the button pop off under the strain. 

The hunt was on! I had to scour back yards of the housing tract a couple of streets over, but that was part of the fun of flying a kite. Our chemical makeup as kids, did not allow for a kite to simply be abandoned. Fifteen cents (the cost of a kite), was fifteen cents, and I’d go to the ends of the world to recover a kite, even if I destroyed it in the process.

That occurred routinely when trying to extract a kite from a tree.
Noel, Papa, and Matt, June 1972, La Paz trip

Papa taught us how to play baseball, and he used to play catch with us. He helped Bob Kinney coach flyweight league one year, because Brian and Jeff Kinney were playing. JT and I used to go to the games, but we never watched them, being far too busy exploring wherever we were, probably searching for coke bottles.

Not pop bottles, or soda bottles, or Pepsi bottles, but, simply, coke bottles, as in, “If you’re going to the store, will you get me a coke?”

“Sure, what do you want?” If it seems like a dumb question, it wasn’t.

“Bring me an RC, will you? I’ve been hitting the Double Cola a lot, so I want a change of pace.” What I didn’t drink back as a kid, was either Coca-Cola, or Pepsi-Cola, for the reason that both were only 12 ounces, compared to the aforementioned RC and DC Colas, which were 16 ounces. They all cost the same, fifteen cents, plus the three-cent deposit.

Simple math.

Of all the memories of Papa teaching me, though, the one that stands out clearest, is when I was slated to give a speech in front of my eighth grade class, some 43 strong. Harry S. Truman was the subject of my speech, a topic that my father was most enthusiastic about. 

“Harry made the decision to drop the bomb,” he informed me, “thus ending WWII. You might want to pose the question in your speech, “Should Harry have dropped the bomb?’ You could give the point of view from both sides, and then end your speech with a question!”

I loved it, followed his advice, and was pleased with the results. Mostly, I was just pleased to have it over with, but Papa’s interaction had been a pretty cool component to the whole assignment.

We shared an interest in collecting coins, particularly Lincoln pennies. Brian would bring Papa rolls of pennies from Sunrize, and he would go through them, culling out the Lincoln pennies and sorting them out by year and mint.

Finally, we shared the fact that of his seven sons, I was the only one to serve in the armed forces, as he had done in WWII. I remember coming home on leave, before heading overseas to Korea, and greeting him as he came home from work.

I had taken my Nova down off the blocks, and had been tuning it up, prior to Papa’s coming home. I had downed several tall Oly’s and had a stellar buzz going on. As he got out of his pick-up and ambled over to me, I stuck out my hand and damn near crushed his in my enthusiasm.

Surprised, he looked at me, looked down at his hand, looked at me again, and gave me this very funny look, while shaking his right hand. The look said, “I get it,” so plainly, that nothing else needed to be said, and he headed on into the kitchen to have his afternoon libation, before tackling dinner.

Leaving for the military, in January of 1972, saw Papa and I spend the next ten years apart, until I moved up here to the mountain, in May of 1982. Until his passing in 1996, we spent countless hours together because I worked his little retirement patch for him, doing the grunt work, but also the sexing of the plants, because he just couldn’t see well enough to do the job himself.
Instead of buying pier blocks, we made our own
out of tar paper. 
He helped me with the foundation of the original 16 x 20 cabin, that now serves as our kitchen. As always, he was teaching as he went along, showing me how to measure kitty-corner, from each of the two parts of the x, in order to assure that the building was square. "If your floor is out of square, then you're fucked from the get-go, when it comes to framing." 

He got no argument from me. 

Eric was the oldest and acknowledged leader of us kids, Brian was the brain, and Noel was the favorite, but I had the military connection, and at the end of his life, the connection with cannabis. He taught us all that to live was to work, but that if possible, we should be happy in our work.

I have always found that to be admirable advice and have followed it through all of my careers: store clerk at Sunrize, personnel records clerk in the military, auto parts clerk in San Jose, tradesman on the mountain, and middle school teacher in the Laytonville Unified School District, at the middle school level.

Being happy is more important than being rich, I used to teach my students. You may not think so now, but if you are happy at work, you don’t care what time the clock says; if you’re unhappy, that’s all you care about.

Or you could be like me and work on a farm, where the only clock that exists is the one in the sky, and where we are all happy in our work.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I'll Buy If You'll Fly

I'll Buy If You'll Fly

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I am going to take Bro Brian up on his suggestion, and immerse myself in the culture of Sunrize Market for a morning’s post, partly because of the unique arrangement between a commercial business and my family, and partly because I spent better than four years of my life in the employment of said establishment.

Why I would remember the actual construction of Sunrize, is unfathomable, except that we had to pass by the intersection of DoubleGrove and Valinda every time we attended mass at the newly constructed St. Martha’s Church. I just remember the gray cinder blocks, and the walls going up for the business, that was to have such a positive effect on my family in the years to come. 

After attending St. Joseph’s for first grade, I shifted to Baldwin Elementary for second, while also attending catechism classes on the grounds of the new parish. The year must have been 1959, give or take a minute or two, when we first started driving to St. Martha’s.

There were two available routes to the market, one involving going straight up Fellowship to Valinda Ave. and then hanging a right and going about fifty feet before turning right, into the parking lot. The other option was to go up Fellowship to Hartview, hang a right for a mini-block, and turn left on fill-in-the-blank for another mini-block, before dead-ending into the back of Sunrize itself, or the alley, rather. 
The interior of Pompeii Pizza

There was an opening in the wall, through which foot traffic could pass, with the result being that you ended up emerging right at the back of the market, opposite the sliding metal delivery door. The latter route was much quicker if you were walking, but not as desirable if riding a bike, because you had to get off and walk it through the opening.

By bike it was no more than two minutes each way; I know because I used to score 26-ounce Pepsi Colas for Eric on the “I’ll buy-if you’ll fly” program, of which I was a frequent flyer. The summer I kept the water sprinkling on the Beauchamps’ expansive front corner lawn, for three weeks running (pun intended) while they vacationed, I passed by the market going to and fro, around twenty times a day. 

It’s remotely possible that I found a reason to stop at Sunrize, the majority of those trips.

First, Sunrize was Augie, a man I always thought bore a resemblance to Vic Morrow, the actor, with his craggy features and voice which carried such an impact, though he rarely raised it. When he did, he was either praising his boy, Mando Ramos, a pro fighter, or yelling at me for my sideburns and/or long hair.

Second, Sunrize was the source of our bounty, literally, both because Mama shopped there, and because so much of the money that was earned here went back into the household. Granted, Mama still sat down at the kitchen table, red crayon in hand with the ads from Alpha Beta, Vons, Safeway, Market Basket and, of course, Sunrize, and marked all of the specials, doing what Brian dubbed her cherry-picking thing.

But Sunrize was there every day of the week, not just on shopping day.
At the end of this sidewalk was the Owl Rexall,
right JT?

There were the coupons that Mama cut out of the Sunday papers, and any magazines she had on hand, accumulating a wad of the money-saving coupons that would choke a horse. She had an arrangement with Augie, the details of which are somewhat vague, that involved her giving him vast, unlimited numbers of coupons, in exchange for what amounted to credit at the store.

There was the Mexico connection, because Augusto Ramirez was most certainly of Mexican extraction and spoke the lingo fluently. Beginning in 1963, with a jaunt down to Ensenada with Bob Kinney and his wife, Mama and Papa had established  vibrant relationships with Baja California, camping, and numerous of its native inhabitants.

Papa used to go on missions, taking food in the form of dented cans and otherwise unsellable items from Sunrize (with Augie’s blessing), medicine from Dr. Meisels’s (SP?) office, blankets and pillows from home, and whatever else he could, down to the hospital at Bradley’s Place, on the ocean side of the peninsula.

Working alongside Mexicans every day at State Steel, Papa had developed a warm relationship with them, adapting many culinary dishes to our household, and eventually developing an interest in going down to Baja, itself.
So Augie liked Papa because he knew how hard he worked, and he genuinely admired the work ethic and hustle, that Robert’s sons demonstrated every day they worked. And Augie also liked what Papa was trying to do for the less fortunate below the border. Needless to say, as kids we thought it was pretty cool.

I also thought Augie was cool. At five in the afternoon when he got off work, he’d head around the corner to Pompeii Pizza, saying over his shoulder, “I’ll be next door in my office.” There was a standing invitation to join him, if schedule and Mama allowed, where he would invite me to order anything I wanted, knowing he would pick up the tab. 

Angie was generous to me to a fault, because in my youth, after a hard day's work, or any other time for that matter, I was capable of putting away an entire large pizza, by myself, with a side order of a meatball sandwich.

He spent long hours conducting business in his office, while acknowledging that he was in hot water at home, where he rarely seemed to make an appearance. He had a beautiful Latina wife and equally beautiful kids.
I discovered meatball sandwiches at Pompeii's.

I remember going over to his spot to shoot pool, with my brothers, upstairs in a just-barely-big-enough room, with nothing in it but the table. It was a heady experience for me, as a 16 or 17-year-old, to go shoot pool with Augie. It made Noel and me want to up our games, by going to the pool parlor in downtown La Puente, to sharpen our skills.

Noel and I used to maintain Augie’s “fleet” of automobiles, which included a ’56 red and white Chevy in mint condition, and a black bird, a T-Bird, that is, and I want to say it was a ’64. If I am wrong, both Noel and Brian will let me know. We would wash, vacuum out, and wax Augie's cars, for which we were handsomely paid. 

Noel will know for sure what year the T-Bird was; he used to see just how fast we could get that baby going, while still on Fellowship Street…

When Kevin came along in 1966, the ninth and final member of our family baseball team, it was assumed that when he turned sixteen, he would also be a box-boy at Sunrize. There is an epic photo of him as a three or four-year-old, wearing a custom-made green apron, with Augie beaming alongside.
This is one of the many good memories, as is hauling (operative word) the massive turkey Papa and Brian had raised, back in the early days at Thanksgiving time, up to Sunrize. The purpose was to weigh it in the produce department, in one of their hanging scales, with much accompanying fanfare. 

Forty-one pounds.

Augie was family, so it was natural that we had arguments, but he meant a lot to me. He had his good side and he had his dark side, but we mostly only saw the good side, 99 % of the time. When I moved up to San Jose to go to school after I got out of the machine, I missed Augie, and always stopped in to see him when I got back down to SoCal. 

He was good people, as was Sunrize Market.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mad Skills

Mad Skills
As Mark Twain so cleverly pointed out, the key to getting someone to work, is to make the job seem appealing. Tom Sawyer refused to allow his friends to help him paint the fence, as a means of enticing them into wanting to do just that.

Mama employed the same technique with me, when it came to washing the dishes after dinner for our family of eleven; I remember it vividly. Well, technically, at the time I was lobbying to join the work force, we were not a complete baseball team, as of yet, but the job was no less daunting for the lack of a kid or two’s plate and silverware. 
Mark, with Matt standing in front
I was already able to set the table, correctly, even if it was like pulling teeth to get me to do it, simply because it was old hat. Yawn. Been there; done that. Now, it’s on to bigger and better things, washing dirty dishes! I watched the big boys in action, and of course, I wanted some of that action myself, as twisted as that sounds.

I suppose it was that Virgo component already kicking in: You know, out of chaos comes order. A kitchen which has just been the scene of dinner preparations for nine or ten people, is not a thing of beauty, especially if said kitchen has been accumulating dirty dishes all afternoon long, as kids got home from school, and paused to refuel.

Wanting to be part of the show, I started bugging Mama early on. Since a step stool was needed for me to even be tall enough to access the kitchen sink, I was still pretty small. However, my memory places me in the new kitchen, so that makes it at least 1959, when I would have been seven. 

Mama played it like a violin, assuring me that there would come a time, but that washing dishes was only for big boys. I would have to wait my turn. But she has also written repeatedly in my spiral notebooks, that I was the biggest nag in history of the universe, so she worked it to her advantage, playing the line out with the expertise of one who had mad skills.

By the time she had me on the line, the hook was in so deep, that wriggle as I might (for the next five or six years), there was no getting free. The memory of me begging her to allow me to do the darn dishes, was just too painfully clear, so that when I tried to get out of it down the line, she didn’t even have to remind me with words that it was my idea. All she needed to do was give me that look.

Sunrize Market was exactly the same. The allure was so strong that it was palpable. It would mean no more digging weeds and having to dodge Mrs. Downen’s English bulldog, who used to terrorize me, doing the same things that now endear me to Dozer. Irony.

It would mean not having to mow lawns and rake leaves. It would mean status like nothing else could, considering sports was never part of my equation. Sunrize was only two blocks up the road so no transportation was needed; it would be a dream-come-true for a kid who knew he had to work if he wanted to get by, because money did not yet grow on trees. 

If only I could go to work for Augie as a box-boy, life would never be the same.

Mama wrote, “On June 24th, 1966, Mark went to work for Augie as a bottle boy. This is a simple job and consists primarily of taking care of all the Coke and other bottles that come through at Sunrize. He takes the bottles out of the bottle bin, takes them to the back, and sorts them. It takes an hour or less every day, and pays a dollar an hour.”
Brian in uniform

I owed it all to Brian, of course, who blazed the trail. If I have it correctly, Eric was the one who was first in line to get the next opening at Sunrize, but because he was heading off to school in Chicago in the near future, Brian got the slot, and ran crazy with it.

Literally. When he went to work for Augie, he wore his tennis shoes, and hustled so much that he impressed Augie greatly. Though I was way too young, Augie still had his eye on me as future material, knowing that the apples did not fall far from the tree.

Mama's description of a bottle boy is accurate enough as job descriptions go, except there was so much more. Besides doing the bottles, I broke down the cardboard boxes, cleaned the back-room out of all trash, spit-shined the alley, swept the sidewalk out in front of the store, and down the line, began to sweep the parking lot every morning, while it was still dark out, a job I shared with my brother Matt.

I never charged Augie what I should have, because I considered the time spent as an investment. If I could get that much done in such a short time, he'd probably have been thinking to himself, I must be pretty good. As a curious footnote, there was a short period of time there, after I started as a box-boy, that there were five O’Neills working at Sunrise: Brian and I in the store, Matt and Tom sweeping the parking lot and most likely doing the bottles, and Noel working for Earl, in the meat department.

“If it’s a Kennedy, vote for him; if it’s an O’Neill, hire him,” was Augie’s mantra.

Like Tom Sawyer, Augie lured us into the fold. For me the process of working at the market, allowed me to blossom socially, because it was all about dealing with the public. Once I began working the cash register, I started to attract the attention of girls my age, allowing me to engage in conversation with them, as naturally as if I had been doing it all my life. 

You can't buy that kind of confidence at any price, but you can get if for free if you are willing to work for it.

We had to wear white shirts and ties, and we had to wear our hair short (white-walls!), with no facial hair whatsoever. A huge act of defiance, in those days, was to come to work on a Sunday (No Augie) in a YELLOW shirt and tie, instead of a white shirt. 

Take this kid out and have him shot.

As I got older, I got better at pushing buttons, resulting in the occasional blow-up. Then I got wheels so I could be shipped off to one of the other Sunrizes, where there was no Augie.

I worked for Sunrize until I got drafted, and then when I got out, Augie would not let me work part-time, and go to Cal Poly full-time. He wanted me to work forty hours. It was our last battle and he won.

I moved up to San Jose and became a hippie.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Peanut Gallery

The Peanut Gallery

My father was the type of man who never called in sick to work. “If I am going to be miserable anyway, I might as well go to work and get paid for it,” he used to opine. “Then, if I want to go fishing some time with Bob Kinney, I’ll have days of sick-time available,” he’d finish off with a sly grin. Papa did like to ocean fish.

He worked for State Steel, later changed to Standum Steel after the strike of ’72-73, as a heli-arc welder. He labored in a massive steel building that served as a freezer in the winter, and an oven in the summer. There simply was no in-between and there was no variation on a theme.

“Let us be happy in our work,” was his mantra, one that he unabashedly stole from one of his favorite films, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Life to Robert was the constant construction of a bridge over rough waters, with someone trying to blow it up.

As I mentioned yesterday morning, actions speak louder than words, and Papa’s unwavering schedule had the force of a megaphone behind it. Despite the unending diatribe to Mama on the injustices of working for men who were clearly nincompoops, which I listened to while peeling potatoes and dicing onions for dinner, Papa trudged off to work every weekday morning of his life, at 6:45. 

He would return at 3:45, covered with the dust and grime of his day’s labor, and sip one of two cocktails, before jumping into cooking dinner for everyone who happened to be on-hand. He and Mama tag-teamed preparing dinner, with help from the peanut gallery.

On weekends Papa often sought out side jobs involving cement, brick, block or stone. He built barbecues, fireplaces, block walls and poured slabs. He would take along a helper or two, depending on the job, and whoever it was would work his tail off to keep up. 

Older bro Brian mentioned in a comment yesterday that for a day’s labor, he might receive as pay, $0.25. The bottom line was that if Papa needed help and there were no stipend involved, the rules would remain the same. We did what was expected without outward complaint, because that is how it worked.

Papa added on a large kitchen, circa 1959, and then a lower wing of our house which included a laundry room, hallway, second bath, and the big boys’ room, which housed the four older of us in two bunk-beds. I slept on the upper tier of one of those for close to a decade, before relocating out back to the boathouse/radio shack, which I initially had to myself.

Every home project that Papa tackled, included the help of his sons, each in his own capacity. I might not have been able or allowed to pound nails into stuff, but I was certainly given a hammer and the opportunity to remove nails, especially since the lumber used to build that lower wing, was acquired when Papa tore down the old school house, out back behind Miss Buck’s house, across the street from us.

My brothers and I (and I am equally certain, JT) hauled that school house from the rear echelon of Miss Buck’s yard, to the far reaches of our own spacious backyard. I would estimate the distance to be a football field in length across the street, and another 150 feet in our own yard, that we hauled every scrap that came out of that building.

If we didn’t use it in the construction of the new wing, we could certainly burn it in the fireplace. I remember this monstrous pile of lumber, far higher than our heads, and I remember tunneling through it by removing pieces of lumber, one at a time. There was no danger of collapse, because like pickup sticks, the 2x4’s and all of the scrap lumber, interlaced with one another, making it difficult to extract any given piece, but also ensuring that there was plenty of support for whatever tunnel was contrived. 
I also remember de-nailing the lumber, something that was not practical to do in tearing the building down down, because we wanted to complete the job as quickly as possible. As plans moved forth to build the lower section of house, Papa needed to be able to inventory his stock. Unlike the typical fir studs we would get from the building yard today, those used in the building of this schoolhouse, were rough-sawn 2x4’s, but genuinely two inches by four, and not one-and-a-half by three-and-a-half. 

What they lacked in terms of being new, they made up for in terms of strength. Because he did not bother with the formality of a permit, knowing the wood would not pass muster, Papa built a bamboo fence alongside the south side of the house to keep matters a little more private, and then had me plant poplar trees from the street, all the way back past the back of the house.

When the big boys were not working with/for Papa, they mowed and raked lawns in the neighborhood, pulled weeds, built sidewalks, babysat, and then started getting jobs. Eric’s was the post office, a route Noel also followed for a while. Brian was Sunrize Market all the way, which is where I ended up also, much to my delight.

My world growing up was suffused with the work ethic; no one ever explained it to me using words. In similar fashion I passed this principle on to my sons. It’s not about putting in your time, it’s about working until the job is done, with the hours determined as the days go along.

As a seven-year-old, HeadSodBuster helped me dig a 3,000-feet-long trench for burying line for apple orchards, on the Red-Tail Ranch. Later that summer, he nailed off a thirty-by-twenty foot plywood floor, using eight-penny galvanized nails, and both hands on the hammer to drive them home. This was the last year I worked in the trades, before joining the staff at Laytonville Middle School, in September of 1990.

He was already helping with the firewood, gathering dead manzanita and busting it up with a mall. Gluten-Free Mama wouldn’t allow him to raise the mall over his head, but by simply grabbing it with both hands, and placing the piece to be broken with one end on a raised surface, and the other on the ground, he would wield the mall like he would a fence-post-digger, and just crunch the dead manzanita in half.
HeadSodBuster and Stevie used to cut wood together.

He wasn’t much older than this when he struck a bargain with Grandma Pauline, to furnish her and Grandpa with dry manzanita to be used as starter fuel for the oak and madrone that were the main source of heat of the big house. An agreement for how much a pickup truck of manzanita was worth, would be struck, and I would do the delivering.

While I enjoyed a libation with my folks, HeadSodBuster would unload the truck and come in for payment. 

All of the boys used to work in the ‘hood, each finding his own niche. BenJamMan landed at the ranch, caring for the critters, building fences, and ranching, where his ties remain solid after his nine years of working in the world of Cal-Fire, before beginning his teaching career at Ukiah High School.

HeadSodBuster and SmallBoy did weed-eating, wood-stacking, ditch-digging and every other type of hard, menial labor, that one can find on the mountain. Country kids are reared in an environment where the work never ends, because we must supply our own heat, power, water and anything else we want.

No one has to explain these matters with words-it’s all in the hands. It’s in the expectations, it’s what’s on the agenda and it’s in the genes.

I remember conversations I have had with HeadSodBuster, who was incensed that others at school rolled in with brand-new Toyota 4WD trucks or Four-Runners, while he was forced to drive an old beater of a half-ton Chevy pickup, an antique by any and all standards.

I used to cringe as he proclaimed that he would be rich some day; money has never been attractive to me and I couldn’t believe this was really him. Time would prove me correct, and now his take is just the opposite of what it once was.
HeadSodBuster in the trenches...

Flash ain’t cash and bling ain’t king. Farmers keep long hours, especially if they are politicking all over the state. You never go hungry on a farm, but you aren’t taking vacations at Cabo San Lucas either. Come to think of it, you don’t take vacations at all, unless it is to wrench a week away from the farm, a year past the fact, to take an overdue honeymoon.  

The key is to find something you love to do and figure out a way to make a living doing it, even if it means spending countless hours at county Board of Supervisors meetings, ensuring that you can continue to do it. 

Great success, on so many levels, it defies logic. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

That's MY Kool-Aid!

That's MY Kool-Aid!

The most effective of life’s lessons are not taught using words but, rather, actions. Actions speak louder than words for the obvious reason that words are only so much hot air, and require little energy to expend. Getting up and going to work every day of your life makes a bigger impression, than carefully explaining why you are not working because you refuse to work beneath your station in life.

In emphasizing the work ethic during yesterday’s post I revealed much about the inner workings of our family, while growing up on Fellowship Street. I humorously portrayed myself as the victim of an unrelenting Mama, who had the unmitigated gall to withhold 80% my paycheck, each week, much to my dismay. 

I now declare that the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth was all a front, mere posturing for that one commodity that was always in short supply, attention. Oh, sure, I could always have used some extra loot but it wasn’t necessary.
How many times could I hit Bob’s BigBoy or In-N-Out in any week’s time? How many new pairs of bell-bottoms did I need, or how much chrome could I jam under the hood of my ’64 Chevy Nova? A finite amount is the answer, unlike attention, for which there is no technology available to accurately measure that amount that would actually suffice, for a young boy with three older brothers and three younger brothers, not to mention two talented and beautiful younger sisters.

Plainly speaking, I can emphatically state that I honestly did not begrudge the money that Mama demanded-er, uh, requested-from me each week. The reason is diabolically simple: Our family needed the loot. With nine of us when we were all assembled, plus the ‘rents, it required a mint just to keep food on the table. I just hated that there was no element of choice.

From Papa on down, everyone pitched in because to not do so, was to swim upstream. As Brian stated in the comments yesterday, in the beginning we kept a nickel of what we earned for every dollar we brought into the house; I got a nickel an hour to weed the berry gardens; I got a nickel a week for an allowance. 
Mama bringing Kevin home from the hospital, 1966

This was a valuable lesson right here to learn, that every kid started at the bottom and worked his way up. There was huge incentive to make forward progress. But even as a child, it was not difficult to grasp the concept that I got paid in other ways than money for setting the table or cleaning out the fireplace: I got to eat good meals and sleep in a warm bed.

Yes, Mama would occasionally remind us of these things, not in such a way as to begrudge them, but merely by way of explaining the reality of the universe-our universe. We were constantly reminded that it didn’t matter what happened in other people’s houses-what mattered was what happened in R.P. O’Neill’s house.

As explanations went, it was always enough.

When I reflect that I can never remember being told I was loved, I am almost embarrassed to be thinking that I needed to be so informed: I did not. Love was woven into the fabric of our home in so many ways, that the words themselves would genuinely have seemed superfluous.

Papa went off to work every day of my school life (6:45), before we were even allowed in the kitchen to either eat breakfast or to make our lunches. We were already back from school before he got home at 3:45, so that was a pretty bold statement about love right there.

Papa taking us camping every summer, while cooking and doing the dishes himself, so us kids did not have to, was love. His insistence that our stacks on Christmas morning, be heavily weighed in favor of toys and books, in lieu of socks and underwear, was love.

Mama walking me all the way to Baldwin School, with four-year-old JT determined to keep up, infant Matthew in the stroller, and Grover the dog tagging along, because I was too frightened to go on the bus, was a pretty bold statement of love.  

Mama, providing comfort for me, the evening following my first panic attack, and uncannily providing the exact advice that the best therapist I have ever had, provided, was another sign of unconditional love. She told me to go to a place I loved, inside my head, and build a wall around myself to keep out, whatever it was that was causing me pain.

Nothing for 48 years was powerful enough to stop the attacks, but Mama’s advice worked for all of the thousands of times when I dreaded an upcoming venue, because I was afraid of another attack. Anticipation, you know? 
Eric and John-Bryan, January, 1973

Like attending mass every morning of my school life, in a freezing church, while expecting some kid to faint and hit the tile floor with a boom, like the first time it happened?

And folks wonder why going to church is not on my top-ten list of fun to-do things…

Home was the opposite, a warm and cozy environment, where the same sibling that was ready to tear your hair out by the roots, over the last glass of Kool-Aid, would turn around and rip that same hair out of the head of anyone who tried to hurt YOU.

No matter how intense the bickering may have been, the bonds that formed the fighting ring when we were close, were the same ones that fused us together when we were apart. Noel going off to school at Dominguez, made us realize how fragile/powerful those bonds were.

Fragile because any one of us could go off, for a short or a long time, and it would hurt, but powerful because as a unit, we knew nothing could stop us. Then Eric went off to school in Chicago for two years, leaving on that train when I was in eighth grade, and returning for for summer vacation, and completing the circle of family for a few months.

Brian went down to Guadalajara for a six-week immersion course in Spanish, and stayed for a year-and-a-half. I went and did the dumbest thing of all, and got myself drafted, and spent the next 21 months in the Big Green Machine.
On top of everything, we were told the story of Uncle Bobby, Mama’s brother, who walked away from an automobile accident when Mama was young, seemingly OK, only to pass suddenly from internal injuries not immediately diagnosed. His death left a hole in her heart that never fully healed, and she instilled that sense of loss in us all, lest we take one another for granted.

It goes without saying that Mama was able to do all of these things because she was in the home, and not working, like so many of today’s young parents, who must both work. I am not going to bird-walk into politics, but need to acknowledge that today’s young parents mostly cannot do what was done back when family values meant something, politically, and greed was not running the show. More’s the shame.

All of our unrelated experiences back home on Fellowship Street, combined to keep us readily aware of how powerful those bonds really were. Not only that, but those existing bonds, already an integral part of my makeup, got passed down to the next generation in some predictable and fortuitous ways.

If I am quasi-coherent tomorrow morning, it is my intent to zero in one of  the most prominent of our family’s value, that of the work ethic, and how it got passed along.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exhibit A

This is another in my series on the three spiral notebooks Mama wrote about my childhood. I have been savoring the moment when I posted this one; it is especially delicious.

Exhibit A

May 19th, 1963: Mark is a character and causes me lots of headaches…on the other hand he is usually smiling and clowning (when he isn’t crying and whining)…

July 31st, 1963: During the last month Mark and I have reached a lengthy and complicated agreement regarding the dishes…

July 1st, 1964: Mark is quite a problem at times-he is very contradictory in nature.

April 26th, 1965: He is a paradoxical character-very much like his older brother Brian, superior, intolerant, sometimes has to have his arm twisted to do a job…

[Editor’s note: From the same entry date came this beauty] He [Mark] is absolutely the most stubborn, persistent, one-way character I’ve ever seen. Once he gets an idea into his head, he never lets it go.

October 15th, 1965: Mark is in eighth grade and is supposed to be at the top at St. Martha’s. He doesn’t always act like it.

{Same entry date] In a way I feel kind of sorry for him because since the big boys aren’t available, all the chores seem to fall on him.
Exhibit A. I can't believe she put it in writing.
February 8th, 1967: On June 24, 1966 Mark went to work for Augie at Sunrize [Market] as bottle boy. On April 16, 1967 he went to work for the liquor store…Phil likes him and he is a very good worker. He gets paid $1.25 per hour, and of this he keeps 20% and the rest goes into the household.

I will refer to this as Exhibit A from all points forth.

Enough of the buildup, already, since this final quote is really all that I ever hoped it would be: incontrovertible proof that everything I write about this little saga is the honest-to-Buddha truth. Granted, it is a truth still immersed in an era long since left behind, The Great Depression, but then again, the sixties did not happen yesterday, either.

In November of 1960 (I was eight years old, washing dishes for seven kids and two parents) Mama writes that, “For some reason lately he has had a passion for doing the dishes. Previously he was just a helper-he dried and put away for the other boys, but now he prefers to wash and dry and put away by himself. So he is being promoted to work for himself.”

Finally, on October 16th, 1961, she wrote, “Mark is the troublemaker in the family, always stirring up some kind of mischief here or there. Yet he is the one who can be persuaded to help with the dishes or go over to help Brian at Ferrill’s. And last month when Eric poured cement for Mrs. Ousterhout, Mark mixed cement for him all day!”

I remember working for Mrs. Ousterhout, one of my best days ever. I wore my blisters proudly, with nary a complaint, proud to have taken my place alongside the big boys. How many just-turned-nine-years-old kids have you encountered who could mix concrete all day? Besides HeadSodBuster, I mean.

I see two recurring themes in my growing up: I was a pain in the backside, while being able to work that same backside into the ground. I had three older brothers to boss me around, and three younger brothers to similarly educate, once Kevin came along in 1966. I naturally sought attention by whatever means possible.

However, amidst all this maneuvering through big-family politics, was the fact that any time I worked outside the household, I received only a small percentage of what I actually brought home and handed over to Mama. And just so we are clear here, it was Mama, and not Papa, who handled these matters. I never once broached the subject to the guy who worked full time in a steel factory as a welder. I knew I had it easier than he.

The passage above indicates that as an eighth grader, I earned twenty cents on the dollar. The following September, 1967, when I went to work for Augie as a box-boy and joined the Retail Clerks Union, I made $1.75 an hour. In a week’s time I might have brought home a paycheck pushing fifty bones. 

Imagine a thirteen-year-old busting his butt, earning fifty bucks, and being given ten of it back to live on.

Having been raised with this policy, and with the big boys paving a polished path with their industrious natures, I never really questioned it until I hit the big money as a box-boy. By then I was interested in the “honeys” who seemed to be flitting around me in the environment of Sunrize Market, unlike that of high school, where I was not such an attraction.

Now I wanted to be able to rock yellow corduroy bell-bottoms, with matching dress shirt, when I attended the sock-hops at Bishop Amat Memorial High School. I wanted to be able to hit Bob’s BigBoy afterwards, to grab a quick snack of a double cheese-burger, large fries, green salad, and just to make sure, a bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich.

My first wife Nancy was gracious enough to allow the server to place the BLTA sandwich in front of her, along with her tea, until it was up to bat in my lineup. Kids, you know? Eat all they want, and never give it a thought. These days, in the wintertime, If I even sneak a peak at a slice of sourdough toast, I gain five pounds.

In order to adapt this new lifestyle, I needed the bling, so I worked for it. Having graduated from throwing large rocks onto pieces of wood, in order to acquire firewood, I was thrilled to wear a white shirt and tie to work, because it meant a raise in pay.
Imagine the cultural shock that registered, when my friends all started to work and I found out that they did not have to give up 80% of what they made to the household. Indignation hath no fury like that of a teenaged boy who feels he is being crucified.

Did Mama and I occasionally get into discussions about these matters? January 23rd, 1967: “Where he has really been shining, and this comes as no surprise, is debate, his extra class.” Well, by her own admission, I was good at debating, possibly because I had so much practice.

She argued that the household took precedence over my needs; I told her, ‘Not from this corner of the household.’

She argued that this was the system in place when she was growing up; I told her, ‘That was then-this is now.’

She argued that the big boys had always done it; I told her, ‘All good things must end.’

She argued that it was the least I could do; I argued it was most I could do.

She argued that good children did not argue with their mothers; I informed her that I was not a good child.

And when it came to my rebuttal, I would reverse the order of my affirmative arguments, and add the clincher, “What I hate most, Mama, is being told I have to give you all my money. I would like to be asked.”

But it did not work that way in Mama’s world. She worked 24 hours a day to keep the household afloat, and she expected nothing less from us, and most of the time she got it without complaint. 

It was a tough job but someone had to do it. I did appreciate that Mama went along with my fib to the Retail Clerks Union, accidentally claiming to be sixteen, when I had just turned 15. Since everyone was in on it, Augie, Mama, Papa, assistant-manager Brian, me, it was solid gold. All of these adults lying for ME!

As the novelty wore off, however, and the honeys continued to be attracted to the kid who used to stand on the four-wheeled carts that we hauled the stock on, and scoot along dusting and “facing off” the top aisle of canned food, I needed compensation for my efforts. I was, after all, a star.

Mama understood, and said she sympathized, but that was as far as she would budge. What had always been, would continue to be, unless, of course, I was tired of living at home, and was planning on moving out? And not out back to the boat house, aka radio shack, either.

No, if I were going to live in Mama’s house, I would abide by her rules, and we would all live happily ever after. Fortunately, by her own admission, I did not carry a grudge around very long, and lo and behold, when I entered college at Cal Poly Pomona, the earth shook and Mama relented: 

She upped my share to one-third, instead of one-fifth, with the other two-thirds continuing to flow into the household. 

True story.