Goodbye to Gramma Watchie

What happens as we try to come to terms with our past is that we see our lives as a process of continual disenchantment.  We long for the security provided by the comforting illusions of our youth.  We remember the breathless infatuation of first love; we regret the complications imposed by our … [Read more...]

The Inner Reaches of Outer Space

It had been a dark and bitter year.  The war languished in Vietnam, students rioted around the globe, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, a B-52 crashed carrying four hydrogen bombs, Chicago police battered demonstrators at the Democratic convention, Robert Kennedy … [Read more...]

The Nature of Nostalgia

  “The Atlantic Ocean was really somethin’ in those days.  Yes, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”            ―Burt Lancaster as Lou, an aging ex-underworld figure sitting at a beachfront bar in Atlantic City.          After forty years, I rendezvous in a restaurant with a … [Read more...]

The Best Year

Until the age of eight, I had always lived in the city, in old hotels and second-floor flats.  During the war we had moved around with my father until he was shipped overseas for the invasion of France.  When my mother died in the summer of ’44, my father was allowed to return, just missing the … [Read more...]

The Only Real Place

I was four years old in 1942 when the army sent my father to Fort Ord on California’s Monterey Peninsula.  We left a dreary flat in the gray mist of San Francisco for a sunny cottage near the cypress-lined, white-sand beaches of Carmel.  As if to ritualize this rebirth, my mother took me for a walk … [Read more...]

Lofty Days: Ode to a Childhood Friend

When I met him in 1946, Tommy Alden was a chubby third-grader with merry eyes, curly black hair, and a jovial intensity.  He lived in a white house with green shutters on a poplar-shaded street in old Palo Alto.  We grew up together a few blocks apart, waiting at the same bus stops for the same … [Read more...]

RoyRogers

He was born Leonard Franklin Slye in a Cincinnati tenement to a part Choctaw-Indian shoe-factory worker and his wife.  He grew up on a houseboat in Portsmouth, Ohio, and on a farm in rural Duck Run.  In 1930, the Slyes migrated to California in a ’23 Dodge, Grapes of Wrath style.  He drove a truck, … [Read more...]

A State of Mind

  The surrender of Japan and the assassination of President Kennedy, bracket an era variously known as Pax Americana, Good Times, the Best Years, Happy Days—the American High.  It was a time of solid families, effective schools, and reliable careers, a time when government and institutions … [Read more...]

Crossing the Wide Missouri

  In the late fifties, San Francisco’s North Beach lay at the edge of history, as though the half-millennium of westward migration had halted a few blocks from the Pacific to spawn this subterranean frontier.  From doorways along the teeming sidewalks, the sounds came floating into the night—a cool … [Read more...]

Touching the Sky

  In 1946, the summer I turned eight, old Uncle George moved into the back room of our house in Palo Alto.  Though he seldom emerged, I would sometimes encounter him in his rumpled coat, high-top shoes, and fedora hat sitting out on the porch under a red sky in a cloud of cigar smoke.  He … [Read more...]