Dale Says

April 28, 2011

On My Birthday 2011

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 4:31 pm

“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

On my birthday I’m 60. It’s been a long and arduous process to figure out how to deal with my birthday this year. I’ve reached another decade, another age zone. I’m no longer young, no longer in my fifties, not even in middle-age. I’m 60.

Sixty is the age when people begin to wind down their careers, become grandparents, and start complaining about their joints. At 60, everything is a little more difficult and body parts start to wear out. Some people get sick, and a few die. That can be discouraging.

Sixty is also the age when you need to make a decision: either you grasp life and run with it, or you hunker down and wait for the inevitable.

My friends offered opinions, as you would expect, some more positive than others. Some are obsessed with their aches and pains and by what they can no longer do while others are upbeat and carrying on as though their increasing age is not a big deal.

After much introspection I’ve decided that turning 60 is a positive thing. This is the beginning of a phase of life we all strive toward; the stage we think about and plan for and look forward to as we toil through earlier decades of school, work, raising kids, and saving money. “When I retire,” we told ourselves as we slogged through those years, “I will get in shape, travel more, sleep in every day, do volunteer work, etc.” Now I’m there.

A Great Place to Be!
And what a great place to be! I have good health, (hopefully enough) money in the bank, and time and interest to do things and go places. I also have the freedom to do what I want to do every day of the week. That’s pretty amazing!

We never know what condition we will be in at any given stage in our lives, and often our health, finances, and family situation are beyond our control. So we plan, and take care of ourselves, and save money for the later periods in our lives – all with the assumption that we will actually get there and be in a position to enjoy that part of our lives. But much of it is beyond our control.

So it’s refreshing when it works out.

Glass Half-Full
Life is more complicated at 60. Bad news comes more often – often in the form of phone calls or emails that tell of illness or death. Parents, aunts and uncles, and friends are getting older, and some get sick and die. That’s part of this phase of life, and if we allow it to, it can become overwhelming.

At this age it’s not feasible to do everything we used to do. Some things are no longer enjoyable and others are not physically possible. And, if we allow it to, that can become overwhelming.

At this age it’s natural to think about retirement, and many of us cut back or stop working. That sounded wonderful when we were working full-time, and most of us looked forward to it, but when it happens it’s possible to become depressed because we no longer have steady income, job status, and a built-in sense of accomplishment. And, if we allow it to, that can become overwhelming.

But, for each of those drawbacks there is an offsetting advantage. At this age we have the wisdom of experience, wonderful memories of family and friends, and the freedom of time. Our glasses are truly half full.

Losses
There were several losses in my life over the past year including uncles, aunts, and friends. Four of them hit me especially hard.

“Cousin” Walt Harlow

Walt was a friend. We saw him each year at Thanksgiving and Easter and we met at his house to see slides of his trips. Walt was sick most of last year and went downhill quickly around the end of the year. I took food to him, drove him to and from the hospital, and spent a lot of time with him. Unfortunately, Walt died in February, following a brief illness. Toward the end he was pretty cantankerous, and his narrow-mindedness and prejudices were exposed. But Walt was a friend, and his demise affected me. Lee and I are in charge of his estate, and sorting through a person’s life is both interesting and disturbing.

Sister Esther

My father’s oldest sister, Sister Esther, was truly a saint. She spent her life as a nun, helping people, and she was the kindest person I’ve known. Her tenderness and concern were genuine and heartening, and every time we were at a family gathering she would speak to me privately, ask me how I was doing, and offer encouragement. She always made me feel better.

Aunt Marge and Uncle John

Another favorite aunt (Marge) and a favorite uncle (John) died over the past year. Marge was my father’s sister (the tenth of thirteen children), and she grew up on the family farm in Peetz, Colorado. She married John Huss in 1955, settled in Arvada, Colorado, and raised six wonderful children. Marge was a wise, kind mother and a loving aunt. She loved to laugh and her giggle made everyone smile. She was loved by all and will be greatly missed.

Marge’s husband, John Huss died a few months after Marge. John married into the zany Fehringer family, and he really fit in. John was a successful businessman, terrific father, avid sports fan, and active community member. He was also a kind and loving uncle and he always had a good word for each of his nephews. If you really wanted to get John going, all you had to do was talk to him about the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies. I’ll miss our talks, and I’ll miss John’s smile.

My Writing Quest
I want to spend the rest of my life writing and I would like to be remembered as a writer. That’s been my quest for some time, and I continued to pursue it during the past year by writing articles, columns, press releases, and blogs.

I am still writing a column for SCIP’s magazine (my ninth year), and I hope to continue to do so for a few more years. During the past year I partnered with Toni Wilson to develop a column to review new products and services for competitive intelligence professionals. That keeps me in the profession, active in SCIP, and in touch with some of my old pals.

I wrote several press releases and articles for Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center over the past year, and that has been another way I can help the Center and stay in touch with writing business-related articles.

I’m narrowing down the type of personal writing I like to do, which is settling on short articles about people. Researching and writing these profiles is rewarding, and the articles seem to be meaningful to the people I write about. Over the past year I wrote pieces about Paul Meuse, Jim Struthers, Jim Bolding, Duke Galstead, and Walt Harlow.,

I still enjoy writing about our travels and I produced several article about our trips to Morocco and Switzerland over the past year. Some were published in InTravel Magazine and Writer’s Showcase.

Staying Active
I continued to be active in Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center the past year, serving as treasurer of the Board; on the Finance, Development, and Annual Dinner Committees; participating in the search for an executive director, and assisting with fund-raising efforts. Tel-Hi is a wonderful grass-roots organization that helps hundreds of people every day, and participating in their programs is very rewarding.

SCIP has changed a lot over the past couple of years. They merged with a larger organization, which resulted in name change, new staff, and elimination of most of their publications, and I am still writing a column for their magazine, but that’s my only remaining involvement.

I continue to participate in the Dashiell Hammett Society of Studs (DHSOS) – a literary society – and I continued to write minutes of the meetings. This gathering of five middle-age gentlemen is a wonderful way for us to get out, share our experiences, and cement our friendship. It’s difficult to fully appreciate how important it is to each of us, and I know we will always look back fondly on these meetings and on our incredible relationship.

My part-time job the past several months has involved helping Lee clean out “Cousin” Walt’s house. And, since Walt didn’t get rid of anything over the past 60 years, we have a lot of his parent’s, his deceased wife’s, and his personal things to get rid of. It’s an eerie task.

I was moved by Walt’s death and by what is happening to his house. Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote about it:
It feels strange sitting in this quiet little house at 87 Denslowe Drive. I sense spirits here and I can feel them moving about — going from room to room, putting things away, cleaning. A sense of orderliness remains, and I get the feeling that everything is exactly where it is supposed to be.

There’s also a sense of permanence in this two-bedroom, one-bath, stucco house in the western part of San Francisco. It has had only two occupants since it was built in the early 1940s as part of the Lakeside residential neighborhood, between 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard. The Harlows were the second family to live in it when they moved here in 1951; Walt senior, his wife, Alice, and their only child, 28-year-old Walt junior. It was the Harlow’s home for the next 60 years.

Walt died in his beloved home at 87 Denslowe Drive this February, breathing his last breath in the upstairs bedroom of the little house that was such an important part of his life. Except for Walt’s things and the spirits, the little house at 87 Denslowe Drive now seems hollow. There’s a lot of history here embedded in the threadbare furniture, bits and pieces of china, and yellowing photo albums. Unfortunately, much of the history will be lost when the little house is emptied of the Harlow belongings.

I’m sure the house is curious about who will move in next. Whoever it is, they will find a cozy little house with a lot of wonderful memories.
Spain, Morocco, and Switzerland
We took two wonderful trips over the past year to northern Spain in May and Morocco and Switzerland in September.

The trip to northern Spain started in Madrid, included a few days in San Sebastian in the Basque region and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a week-long bike tour of the Rioja region, and a few days in Madrid. We loved northern Spain! The scenery is beautiful, the food excellent, and the people warm and friendly. I wrote an article about our bike tour, which was published on the tour company’s website and InTravel.com.

Morocco was a terrific adventure and a hard, but satisfying trip. We explored Casablanca, Fez, Meknes, and Marrakesh and everywhere we went we found the people friendly and the food and culture exotic. I wrote articles about our wonderful riad (bed-and-breakfast) in Fez and about getting lost in Marrakesh.

From Morocco, we flew to Switzerland and met Ken and Vicki for a week of exploring Lucerne and the Swiss Alps. What a beautiful country! We loved the history, the absolute beauty of the Alps, and the cleanliness and organization of Switzerland! We took several different forms of transportation in Switzerland (train, bus, gondola), and every time our rides were on time, clean, and efficient. We had a great time travelling with Ken and Vicki and vowed to do it again.

In addition to our international trips we continued to travel within the U.S. over the past year. I spent time in Nebraska with my mother, helping her adjust to being a widow and helping her manage her home and yard. We also spent time at the McCrary home in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and in August we went to the Fehringer Family Reunion in Sidney, Nebraska, followed by our usual wonderful week with friends at Drakesbad.

Love of My Life
Being married is one of the best parts of this phase of my life. Having someone to share this very special time makes it so much better than going through it alone, and having Patty be that someone is as good as it could possibly be. She is truly the love of my life!

After 22 years together we are now comfortable with each other. We know each other’s idiosyncrasies and we support each other through tough times and delight in each other the rest of the time. She is an absolutely good and kind person, and I have had the privilege of watching her blossom the past several years. It is a pleasure to watch how she treats people and I marvel at her ability to help her friends. When she is away my life seems hollow.

I am so fortunate to be in love with her!

Circle of Friends
We are fortunate to hang with an amazing group of friends. For the past 20 years we have shared holidays, birthdays, vacations, and dinner parties and I have assumed that the group would always be together and that things within the group would always be the same. But over the past couple of years signs of change have appeared. We are aging, and most of the group is now over 60. And, as these things go, some of the group are beginning to experience health issues. So far, the changes haven’t curtailed our activities but they are creating a greater need to help each other and it’s been gratifying to watch the group rally around those who need help and to see them lend assistance without being asked. I feel incredibly fortunate to be included in a group that treats each other so well.

Our beautiful Goddaughter, Christina, got married last fall. It has been a high honor to watch her develop from a cute, well-mannered girl into a beautiful and graceful bride, and I was privileged to share what must have been the happiest day of her life.

Our handsome Godson, Beck, moved back to the Bay Area to be close to his mom and dad, and he is working as a freelance photographer.

Our other beautiful Goddaughter, Katherine, started college over the past year, at Carlton College in Minnesota.

Our other handsome Godson, Ian, is in high school. He’s all boy – grows like a weed, loves sports, has little time for girls, and is a source of constant irritation to his parents.

Drakesbad

Our time at Drakesbad is becoming more meaningful each year. It is a magical retreat, far enough removed from the rest of life to be a hideaway, yet close enough to be accessible. The four-hour drive follows roads that become increasingly narrower until it ends in beautiful, isolated Warner Valley. Our days at Drakesbad are spent hiking, swimming, and talking with people we love, and at the end of the week it’s hard to go back into the real world. It’s a special week in a special place!

George and Gracie
During the past year two new residents joined us at 163 Jersey Street. The newest members of our family, George and Gracie, are shorthair kittens who made the journey in June from the SPCA to Noe Valley. They are step-siblings who have been together (in a foster home and the SPCA) since they were found abandoned as tiny kittens.
George is a very active black-and-white boy who appears to be wearing a tuxedo. He has a black mask, white tummy, and white feet with black polka dots. He also has non-stop energy which includes tormenting his step sister, jumping and playing, and chewing (and swallowing) anything in sight.
Gracie is quiet and reserved, ‘though she seems to be the alpha cat, calling most of the shots among the two of them. She’s calico, with patches of tabby stripes and soft gold polka dots.
George and Gracie lived in Patty’s bathroom until the pantry was finished, then moved into the pantry for a couple of months. Now, they have the run of the house, which they treat as their own. So far, they have proven to be wonderful companions.

The Orange-and Black Butterfly
The orange-and-black butterfly came back to our garden as it has each year, this time visiting me as I was getting our biking gear. As I started down the stairs the butterfly landed on the railing less than two feet away and it sat in the sun, gently fluttering its wings. Its back was dark brown, and there were scalloped orange stripes running down each wing. The end of each wing had eight white dots, which formed a unique pattern. At the bottom of each wing there were orange bands with black pinpoint dots. Two delicate antennas protruded from each side of its head, giving it the look of a space creature.

I’m sure it was Patty’s mother checking on us. That she can still come back ten years after her death is further tribute to the type of life she led.

After several minutes I made my way down the stairs and the butterfly took flight, circling round and round in the garden. As I reached the last step it landed on my arm with its head toward me, as if to say, “don’t worry about anything … I’ll always be here for you.” A warm feeling passed over me, and I was comforted.

Another Turbulent Year
The past year was filled with economic relief and major disasters. The great recession, which started in 2008 and dragged on through 2009, started to ease in 2010 and the stock market bounced back, corporations righted themselves, and a few companies began to hire again. Those of us who had begun to question whether we had put enough money away began to breathe easier, and although the U.S. incurred a tremendous amount of debt because of the recession, it looks like we will be OK.

Meanwhile, there were several significant disasters last year – some natural and others man-made.

An oil well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and leaked oil for three months; killing several workers and fouling the gulf waters, nearby beaches, and the reputations of British Petroleum and other oil companies. A relief well was eventually dug nearby, the leak was stopped, and clean-up efforts are underway. It was another example of man favoring profit over preservation, and I fear it will haunt us for decades.

A series of powerful earthquakes struck Haiti, Chile, New Zealand, and Japan; collectively destroying hundreds of thousands of lives. All of the quakes were devastating; particularly those in Haiti where upwards of 250,000 lives were lost and Japan where a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami killed at least 14,000 people and severely damaged a nuclear reactor.

A series of protests in the Middle-East started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and to a lesser extent throughout the region. The people in that part of the world are desperate and a huge portion are young, poor, and living in countries ruled by oppressive monarchs or dictators. Protestors in Egypt overthrew their leaders and residents in nearby countries are trying to do the same. It’s a painful, but gratifying example of how people who aren’t treated well will eventually rise and take over.

Trapped for 69 days deep underground by an explosion, 33 Chilean miners were rescued by heroic efforts, and the whole world cheered as they came up. It was welcome good news for a world that at the time had little else to celebrate.

American voters, frustrated by a severe, prolonged recession, voted with their pocketbooks and sent many Democrat politicians packing. The House of Representatives is now controlled by Republicans who vowed to fix the economy and control spending, and President Obama must now learn how to compromise. The U.S. is as divided as I’ve ever seen it, with conservatives determined to cut spending and liberals determined to carry on as before. The amount of debt the U.S. has piled up is scary, and no one seems to be able to figure out how the U.S. government can live within its means.

Canada hosted the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which turned out to be a series of challenges. Early on, unseasonably warm weather threatened to turn the Games into a mud contest, and a pall was cast over the events when on the day of the opening ceremonies, luger Nodar Kumaritashvili from the Republic of Georgia was killed when he lost control of his sled. And the opening ceremonies were marred when the torch-lighting ceremony had a technical glitch. But the snows came, the technical glitch was forgotten, and the luger was turned into a hero. The Canadians were wonderful hosts, and a bevy of new medalists turned the Olympics into a feel-good event.

I’ve been a die-hard fan of the San Francisco Giants for 30 years and Patty and I have seen them through disastrous years, awful stadiums, and terrible teams. But this year our patience and loyalty paid off, as the team struggled through a mediocre April and May to become a stronger and more successful team in the second half of the season. They battled hard down the stretch and nudged Colorado and San Diego out for the division title. The playoffs were incredible and the Giants narrowly beat Atlanta and then surprised everyone by upsetting the heavily-favored Phillies. That put them in the World Series for the first time in eight years, against the Texas Rangers. It wasn’t even close, and the Giants took the title in six exciting games. We held World Series parties and then joined the spontaneous celebrations that broke out throughout the City. This was the first time the Giants had won the World Series since they moved to San Francisco in the 1950s, and it was a gratifying end to an amazing year!

April 4, 2011

87 Denslowe Drive

Filed under: Profile — Dale @ 11:36 am

It feels strange sitting in this quiet little house at 87 Denslowe Drive. I sense spirits here and I can feel them moving about — going from room to room, putting things away, cleaning. A sense of orderliness remains, and I get the feeling that everything is exactly where it is supposed to be.

There’s also a sense of permanence in this two-bedroom, one-bath, stucco house in the western part of San Francisco. It has had only two occupants since it was built in the early 1940s as part of the Lakeside residential neighborhood, between 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard. The Harlows were the second family to live in it when they moved here in 1951; Walt senior, his wife, Alice, and their only child, 28-year-old Walt junior. It was the Harlow’s home for the next 60 years.

Except for the exterior paint, the houses look alike on Denslowe Drive; a long row of narrow two-story brick homes; each with a postage-stamp-size front yard, one-car attached garage, and shingle roof. Inside, the floor plans are nearly identical; a narrow living room, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor, and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. Slender walkways lead to the side door and back yard, which overlook the houses the next street over. The “M” Muni line is a couple of blocks away, and shopping on Ocean Avenue and Stonestown is within walking distance. This wasn’t luxury living, but the yards and garages must have seemed deluxe to people who moved here from downtown apartments or boarding houses.

During their six decades in the house, the Harlows tended it with loving care; painting it white with turquoise shutters, building a white picket fence around the front yard, and adding a decorative hedge in the back. They became acquainted with the neighbors and visited with them while walking and working in the yard. They hosted dinner parties and played cards with friends from work and Masonic Lodge families, and built shelves in the garage and filled a workshop with tools, ladders, and paint cans.

Walt senior died in 1978, and his things were stored in the crawl space under the house.

Walt junior remained in the home to take care of his mother, who developed Alzheimer’s and behaved erratically toward the end. Walt hired people to stay with her while he was at work, and he cared for his domineering mother at night and on the weekends. There’s a rumor she used to wander the streets in various stages of undress, and Walt built a metal cage over the stove to keep his mother from turning it on and burning herself or the house.

Alice died in 1983, and her things were added to the crawl space under the house.

Shortly after Alice’s death Walt asked Elsa, his fiancé of 17 years, to marry him, and she moved her things into the little house. Walt was 65 and Elsa was 72. Their wedding day was undoubtedly the happiest of their lives, and I’m sure the little house was pleased to host the newly-married couple.

Walt and Elsa were very happy, and the atmosphere in the little stucco house must have been cheerful. Elsa cooked and painted still-life’s, and Walt maintained their home. They invited friends over, went for long walks, and asked neighbors to watch their house when they traveled. Walt and Elsa travelled all over the world, and Walt took thousands of photos during their trips and hung some of the best on the walls of the house, along with Elsa’s paintings. They are still there, and they help tell the story of that happy era.

After ten very happy years together, Elsa developed a heart condition and she grew increasingly weaker and died. Her things went in the crawl space beneath the house, next to those of Walt senior and Alice.

The little house must have mourned her death and the next few years must have been gloomy, but Walt stayed and continued to care for his house. He began to follow a strict routine of household chores; scrubbing the kitchen on Monday, spiffing up the living and dining rooms on Tuesday, cleaning the upstairs on Wednesday, doing laundry on Thursday, and shopping and paying bills on Friday. The weekends were spent outside (weather permitting) mowing, trimming, painting, and whatever else needed doing. The quiet little house was meticulously cared for.

Walt died in his beloved home at 87 Denslowe Drive this February. We’ll probably never know what caused his death. He was 87 years old, so it was likely old age that killed him, but three months before he died he was knocked to the ground when the doors of a Muni train closed on him while he was trying to get off after going downtown to see the Christmas lights. He broke two ribs in the fall and bruised his throat. He had trouble swallowing from then on, and he would occasionally choke while trying to eat. But he stayed in his little house and continued to care for it as best he could. He died in the upstairs bedroom of the little house that was such an important part of his life.

Except for Walt’s things and the spirits, the little house at 87 Denslowe Drive now seems hollow. There’s a lot of history here, embedded in the threadbare furniture, bits and pieces of china, and yellowing photo albums. Unfortunately, much of the history will be lost when the little house is emptied of the Harlow belongings.

I’m sure the house is curious about who will move in next. Whoever it is, they will find a cozy little house with a lot of wonderful memories.

0.077 | design by blueship.com