Dale Says

August 28, 2013

New Tennis Balls for Ina’s Walker

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Uncategorized — Dale @ 3:46 pm

Ina said she should have known it was time for new tennis balls on the feet of her walker. The dogs in her neighborhood were barking and running away when she walked the streets, because the metal legs of her walker were scraping on the sidewalks.

So I replaced the tennis balls, and her walker now glides along with barely a peep from the metal legs. Ina is happier and so are the neighborhood dogs.

That’s the kind of attitude Ina has. She has been given a lot to bear; she has a bad heart, a bad hip, bad eyes, and she has had to use a walker for 11 years.

But Ina doesn’t let it get her down. She carries on with her life, organizing and running the various errands and chores with a cheery attitude.

Each day requires a good deal of effort for Ina to work through her pain and maneuver her walker through her small apartment to get dressed, fix breakfast, and get out of the house. She doesn’t sit and mope about her troubles; instead, she has a regular schedule of neighborhood centers she goes to, and at each one she plays the piano and visits with the other guests.

Ina is in her mid-80’s (‘though she claims to be 39) and she lost her husband several years ago. She almost gave up then. But she decided to carry on, and to continue to play the piano, which is her greatest love.

Ina started having heart troubles a decade or so ago, and it has caused her to slow down, take medicine that causes other symptoms, and gives her pain. She could have given up then, but she decided to carry on.

Ina’s apartment was flooded a few months ago when a plumbing pipe in the apartment above her burst and water poured into her apartment. The carpets, walls, and fixtures were all ruined, and Ina had to move out into a series of nearby motels for several weeks while repairs were made. She could have given up then and moved into a nursing home. Instead, she bravely carried on, taking control of the dealings with the repair people, the insurance company, the landlord, and the various employees at the motels where she stayed. She was amazingly organized and brave. She went out and bought new furniture, rugs, and fixtures for her apartment, and she is now back comfortably settled back in.

Ina is also back at her regular schedule of piano-playing and lunches at the neighborhood centers. I see her every Friday for lunch and she is always dressed up, with make-up and lipstick, and a sunny desposition. It’s very inspiring!

People like Ina come from a different generation. They have been through a lot: a depression, world war, struggling to re-settled across a continent, marriage and raising children, working for over 40 years, and losing a spouse and most of their friends. But somehow they carry on. It’s a wonderful example for the rest of us.

August 27, 2013

Ruth Asawa: Tap Dancing on the Roof

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile — Dale @ 4:00 pm

At the celebration of Ruth Asawa’s life, her friend, Peter Coyote, told us that she isn’t really gone; her presence will always be here. He said that whenever it rains, he will think of it as Ruth tap dancing on his roof.

That’s a pretty sweet thing to say, about a pretty sweet lady. Ruth set a wonderful example for the rest of us.

Born poor into a Japanese-American family in southern California, Ruth was raised in a produce-growing family, and as a girl she had to work hard to help her family. She did, and she worked hard in school, too, where her favorite subject was art.

As a teenage girl, she was separated from her father and placed in an internment camp during World War II; taken away from everything that was familiar to her and sent to live in a prison (with barbed wire fences) in Arkansas. Allowed to leave the camp after a year-and-a-half to attend teacher’s college, she was then denied a job as a teacher because she was Japanese-American. Instead, she attended art school in North Carolina, became infatuated with art, and fell in love with an architecture and design student named Albert Lanier. They moved to San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, where they believed they would be better received as an inter-racial couple, in a good neighborhood to raise their children.

Ruth and Albert spent the rest of their lives in San Francisco. He designed buildings and she raised six children and designed art. Her specialities were sculptures, fountains, paintings, and wire hangings, which she learned to make during time in Mexico.

Best known for her art, which is prolific around the San Francisco area, Ruth was also a community leader in art education. She served on several art and education committees, always featuring a calm and committed nature. She won the respect of everyone she met, and she later developed an art school that carries her name.

Ruth’s children remember her as a mother, a cook, an advisor, and as a happy and wise lady. So does everyone else who spoke at her celebration.

She suffered poverty, but she never spoke of it. She suffered discrimination, but she never complained about it. She did the best she could, became the best she could be, and told everyone who would listen that she was not a victim — she was a survivor.

Ruth was always positive.

When, in her later years, she became so ill that she could no longer effectively use her hands she was asked what she would like for Christmas. “More time,” she replied.

More time to do what she had already done so well.

“An artist is not special.
An artist is an ordinary person
who can take ordinary things
and make them special.”
– Ruth Asawa

August 26, 2013

The Emperor Norton Bay Bridge

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 4:07 pm

When the new section of the Bay Bridge opens this year, connecting the East Bay to Treasure Island, only a few people will know or care that it really should be called “The Emperor Norton Bay Bridge.”

Joshua Abraham Norton, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States, was a well-known and well-loved citizen of San Francisco in the mid-1800’s, and he once issued a decree calling for a bridge to built across the bay (along with a tunnel to be built under the Bay). These were not the only decrees Emperor Norton issued during his reign; he also call for the U.S. Congress to be dissolved.

As these things go, Norton was not always an Emperor. He started life in England, and his parents moved him to South Africa when he was a boy. He inherited $40,000 when his father died, and he used that money to come to the U.S. and start a business importing rice from Peru. He was a failure, lost all his money, and unsuccessfully sued for recovery of his money. That effort seemed to affect him, and after a lengthy absence he returned to San Francisco and lay claim to the position of Emperor of the United Sates.  He later declared he was also the “protector” of Mexico.

Given military uniforms by the army stationed at the Presidio and by local citizens, the “Emperor” would roam the streets of San Francisco, dressed like a crazy soldier and checking the cleanliness of the streets, and subjecting all passing policemen to inspections. He was beloved by most San Francisco locals, who gave him clothing and food, and by local restauranteurs, who loved having him dine at their establishments and often installed plaques proclaiming that the Emperor dined there. Local newspapers often reported his activities, usually with a positive slant. He was the genesis for characters in several books, including works by Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed on a street corner, near Old St. Mary’s church in San Francisco. He died before medical treatment could reach him. The following day, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets to pay homage to him.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote an obituary about Norton which declared “The King is Dead,” and said in part “On the reeking pavement, in the darkness of a moon-less night under the dripping rain…, Norton I, by the grace of God, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life.”

Since his death, Emperor Norton has had a great deal of infamy in San Francisco.  He is well-known by most locals, and he is honored by street tours, plaques and signs, local cartoonists (including Phil Frank) have paid homage to him, and there is a website (www.emperornortonbaybridge) that tells his stories and declares the Bay Bridge should be named after him. 

Though some people over the years have considered him insane (or at least eccentric), he is beloved by the citizens of San Francisco.  We love him for protecting people of all races, and for his belief that all people have a right to freedom and happiness.  And maybe we love him because we are a little bit like him.

August 22, 2013

Ruby Loves Her Seniors

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile — Dale @ 3:28 pm

Ruby Gim has worked at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center (Tel-Hi) for nearly 40 years. For most of that time, she has run the senior program, and Ruby loves her seniors! Tel-Hi has a variety of programs for seniors, who come to Tel-Hi from all over the Bay Area. The core of the program is a hot meal, furnished by Project Open Hand and served by volunteers. For many of the seniors, it’s the only hot meal they eat each day, and the only time they get out of their homes or rooms. So Ruby has other things for them to do while there; including exercise programs, Tai Chi, educational programs, and time in the computer lab (where they can use the Center’s computers to send email, write, or play solitaire).

Ruby knows all of the seniors at Tel-Hi, and she gets involved in many of their lives. Most have health issues, financial issues, or other situations and sometimes they need real help, while other times they just need someone to listen. That’s what Ruby does: help and listen. And Ruby has a hug and an encouraging word for them.

Ruby herself has some health issues now, and we can see her getting weaker and thinner. But her enthusiasm for her seniors is just as strong, and each day she rushes around the lunchroom, welcoming them, encouraging them and hugging them.

There are some people in the world who know how to give to others. Ruby is one. She loves her seniors!

August 19, 2013

“Sunny Jim” Rolph

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile — Dale @ 11:22 am

James Rolph was a self-made man. Born in San Francisco in 1869, he grew up in the rough-and-tumble Mission District and went to work as an office boy in a commision house. He entered the shipping business in 1900, in partnership with George Hind, and that’s where he made his money. In addition to co-running a huge shipping empire, he served as president of two banks. He married and had a son, James Rolph, III.

In 1911, James (whose nickname was “Sunny Jim,” and whose theme song was “There are Smiles That Make You Happy”) succssfully ran for mayor of San Francisco. He kept that office for 19 years, the longest stint ever.

In addition to being mayor of San Francisco, Sunny Jim was head of the Ship Owners and Merchants Tugboat Company, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Merchants’ Exchange, and VP of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Sunny Jim was a busy man. But he also had time to build a mansion atop Sanchez Hill, in what is now the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, for his mistress. That house still stands and has been recently renovated, including adding a kitchen, which Rolph did not deem necessary for the first tenant.

Rolph also successfully ran for governor of California in 1931. He died of a heart attack in 1934, three years into his term.

Sunny Jim was a leader. He was controversal. He was a colorful character!

August 15, 2013

Last Doctor to Make House Calls

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile — Dale @ 12:15 pm

Dr. Fong is retiring this month, after more than 40 years as a general practitioner in San Francisco. I will miss him terribly, as will his other patients. Dr. Fong is wise, patient, and very kind. He has served his patients well.

I went to see Dr. Fong recently, to ask his advice on a couple of minor heath issues, and to bid him best wishes in his retirement. He patiently answered my questions (while looking over the top of his reading glasses) and then asked if there was anything else. I replied that I had heard that he used to make house calls to elderly patients in San Francisco. “I still do,” he replied, “For my patients who cannot safely come into my office. And I don’t charge them for house calls.”

That speaks volumes about Dr. Fong. For him, medical practice is about caring for his patients. It’s not about the money, and it’s not about the prestige.

I wish Dr. Fong a long and happy retirement. And I thank him for his help over the years. He just may be the last of his kind, and I’m glad I got to know him.

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