Dale Says

May 12, 2014

A Very Special Favor

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile — Dale @ 1:15 pm

Thirty-two years ago Bob Damir faced a dilemma when his friend, William Saroyan, died. An unusual request was included in Saroyan’s will, which Bob had been asked to fulfill. Bob wanted to do this favor for his friend, but it would be quite an imposition.

William Saroyan (or “Bill” as Bob knew him) was a popular author in the 1930’s and 1940’s; at the time one of the best-known writers in the world, on par with Hemmingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. He wrote fiction, mostly about life in California during the Depression and World War II, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his play, The Time of Your Life, and an Academy Award for his screenplay for the movie, The Human Comedy.

Bob and Bill were friends for more than 40 years. Their families were from the same town in Armenia, and both families escaped the Turkish massacres, emigrated to the U.S., and settled in Fresno, California. Bill was quite a bit older than Bob, and their lives took very different courses, but luck (or maybe fate) put them together several times over the years, often purely by chance. Bob helped Bill put his will together, which included a foundation to help young writers. Bill’s will also stipulated that after his death half of his ashes should be buried in Fresno, and the other half taken to and buried in Armenia.

Soon after Bill’s death, Bob started getting requests for the ashes from Russian officials and Armenian groups, but he told them all that the Foundation would decide what to do and when to do it. In May of 1982, a year after Bill died, the Foundation asked Bob to head a delegation* to take Bill’s ashes to Armenia. Bob knew this was important to his friend, and he wanted to honor Bill’s wishes.
But Bob had a family and a thriving law practice in San Francisco, and a trip to Armenia (which was then part of the U.S.S.R.) meant he would have to leave everything he cherished and travel to the Soviet Union. He would be unable to contact his family for nearly two weeks.

To make things more difficult, relationships between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were strained. It was the height of the Cold War, and two years earlier, the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Since then, relations had further deteriorated, and the U.S. instigated trade sanctions and travel restrictions against the Soviet Union. So Bob would have to travel through Canada, to Moscow, and then to Armenia. Who knew what sort of treatment he would receive when he got to Moscow?

That made the favor a very special one, and Bob had to consider it carefully. He talked it over with his wife and family, discussed it with his friends and colleagues, and decided he would go. He admired Bill and wanted to do this for him. So Bob reluctantly told his family, arranged time away from his office, and had a travel agent organize the trip. He would travel from San Francisco to Toronto, and then to Montreal. After a night in Montreal, he would fly a trans-Atlantic flight (on a Russian airline) to Moscow.

So, in late May of 1982, Bob packed a suitcase, kissed his family good-bye and headed to the airport, uncertain what awaited him.

The flight to Canada was crowded and long, but the overnight stay in Montreal was pleasant. Bob had a nice stroll and dinner, and made a last call to his family. The next morning he boarded a Russian Aeroflot plane for the flight to Moscow. It was crowded, uncomfortable, and Bob had an edgy, raw feeling during the flight. The seats were small, made even more so because Bob had Bill’s ashes (in an urn) with him, and it was nearly impossible to sleep on the plane. Most of the passengers were unfriendly Russians who spoke little or no English and the flight attendants were brusque. It was a long and awkward flight, and he was pretty dazed when he arrived at Moscow.

Bob didn’t know what to expect from the Russians. He reminded himself that they wanted this to happen, and he felt safe as long as he had the ashes. But he was tense as he made his way down the steps from the plane. The customs process was stiff and bureaucratic, and Bob could feel the distain the Russian officials had for Americans, but once through customs it was a different experience. There to greet him (along with the Red Army, reporters, and photographers) were two vans full of representatives from the Armenian Writers’ Union who warmly greeted Bob and his companions, and embraced the urn. Bob and his group were escorted to their hotel, and that night, they were treated to celebrations and toasting.

The next day, the delegation flew to Armenia, where they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds of locals. They had arrived in an ancient land that has suffered suppression and massacres, and its people take great satisfaction when their offspring are successful. Saroyan had told the world about Armenia, and Armenia’s people treated him as a hero.

From the time he arrived in Armenia, Bob was involved in nearly non-stop observances and formalities. He was taken on sightseeing tours of Armenia’s points of interest, including the ancient Garni Temple and Echmiadzin Cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. At the Martyr’s Monument, he was moved to tears by thoughts of his ancestors’ ravaged land and slaughtered people. He was honored at banquets and gatherings and attended an opera, a play, and many late night parties, where speeches and toasting went on late into the night.

The highpoint took place Saturday, May 29, when the urn that contained Saroyan’s ashes was buried. It was a warm, sunny day and Gomidas Park in downtown Yerevan (the capital of Armenia) was packed. Bob estimated the crowd of people at around 5,000. The urn and an enormous photo of Bill were on display, and dozens of floral bouquets surrounded the burial site. The dignitary’s platform was filled with high-ranking government officials who made elaborate speeches, lavishing praise and admiration on “Our Beloved William.” Bob was amazed by the intensity and sincerity of it all, and he was sure his friend Bill would have been surprised by the accolades, but pleased to be so well known in the land of his ancestors.

On his last day in Armenia, Bob returned to Gomidas Park to take one last look at Saroyan’s tomb. When he got there, four days after the burial, there was a crowd of people admiring Saroyan, praising him and crying over his grave! Bob met one elderly man who had travelled over 200 miles from his mountain village to pay respects to Saroyan.

Today, when Bob thinks back to his trip to Armenia his face breaks into a smile. He has happy memories, a terrific sense of accomplishment, and a warm feeling that comes from helping a friend. And, when asked about doing that very special favor, Bob says he has no regrets.

May 7, 2014

On My Birthday — 2014

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 2:40 pm

On my birthday I am 63 years old. This year, I am in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on my birthday with my friend, Paul Meuse. We’re touring Civil War battlefields, following the three-day battle that took place here. Paul has studied Gettysburg, and he’s been here many times, so it’s like seeing it from an expert. It’s interesting, and very well-preserved, and I find it to be an amazing testament to man’s inability to resolve differences without killing each other. it’s also an interesting way to spend your birthday.

Paul is very ill. He has Parkinson’s, which was probably caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. It’s pretty advanced, so he needs a lot of help to get around, take his meds, and make decisions. Helping him, and others like him, has become part of my life.

The past year has been pretty good; not a lot of ups and not a lot of downs. I’m learning how to cope with this phase of my life, which is filled with freedom, friends, and finality. By now, I have established a pattern of writing, travelling, family, friends, and helping others, and it’s a wonderful way to spend this part of life. I am fortunate, and every day I appreciate Patty, my good friends and family, my health, that fact that we seem to have enough money put away, and the freedom to do whatever I want. I hope I am taking full advantage of that, because I am aware that it won’t last forever.

Time is going by very quickly, much faster than I would like. Weeks fly by, months seem like weeks, and a whole year seems like a month. I want this part of life to last longer, but instead it seems shorter, much shorter. Months are blurry, and they consist of a series of routines and maybe a trip or a houseguest.

The past year with Patty has been a good one. We are generally on the same page, and we are both enjoying our lifestyles, our friends, our house and neighborhood, and our adventures. She continues to push me in many aspects of life, and while I sometimes resent it, it makes for a fuller and richer life.

We continue to see our families often. Over the past year we have spent a lot of time with my mother, my sister and her family, my brother, John and his wife, Eva, and our extended families. The Fehringer family reunion last June in Oregon was a great chance to spend quality time with uncles, aunts, and cousins. Unfortunately, several relatives passed away over the past year, including Uncle George, and Uncle Jimmy, and I now have just four uncles and aunts left.

We see our close friends a lot, especially Ken and Vicki. We try to go put with them on Fridays, and it’s a highlight of each week for us. And we see our gang of friends for holidays, Drakesbad, and special occasions. Our group of close friends is still intact, but that’s not going to last much longer, so we try to take advantage of every get-together. Ruth’s Alzheimer is getting very bad, and I can no longer take her for walks. I miss seeing her.

My mother is holding her own, at age 87. She still lives at home, and she does pretty well at it. All of us wish she was more active socially, but that’s probably not going to happen. I call her each Wednesday and see her 3-4 times a year, and I feel like we have a good relationship.

After working on a book with Lee Tyree for a year, we finished it and gave it to a publisher last October. The day we drove to the printer I realized (for the first time) that I was not a partner on the project, as I had assumed, but only a hired helper, and from then on Lee did not acknowledge my efforts to the printer, our friends, or his friends and family. That hurt, and it took me a while to get over it, but I did and now, I’m glad I helped him, because it was a major goal for him.

There have been rewarding writing projects the past year. I continue to write articles about our travels, about people I’ve met, and about people who interest me, and I’m closing in on a book of stories about people who have inspired me. Two writing projects over the past year have been especially interesting: an article about Bob Damir taking William Saroyan’s ashes to Armenia, and an article about. Greg Wong, a chef who lost his eyesight as an adult.

We had two very different vacation trips over the past year. In June, we spent a week in Berlin, which was very interesting, and a week cycling on Poland and seeing the Auschwitz concentration camp. I enjoyed Poland and felt a kinship with the people there. In November we took a three-week trip to India. It wasn’t my choice, but it turned out to be a fascinating experience. The cycling was great, and it was a good tour, good people, and good sights – but I was ready to come home after three weeks. The crowds, traffic, and pollution were a lot. India is a fascinating country with lots of problems.

My health has been very good the past year. I work hard at stretching, strengthening, and aerobics, and I’ve been fortunate so far to avoid any major illnesses. Fingers crossed it will continue.

I have organized my life with a good mix of time for writing, home life, and volunteering, and it seems to suit me. Maybe that’s why time is going so fast, because I have filled each day with things I enjoy, and there seems to be just enough time. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are for helping others. I go for a walk and lunch on Monday with Norman, and we’ve developed a very good relationship. Wednesdays were for Ruth, until I couldn’t take her anymore, now I see Greg Wong on Wednesday afternoon. Fridays are for Tel-hi, and I also help Ina and Toni those days. That’s been very rewarding, as I have found that I enjoy being around seniors.
Unfortunately, seniors die, and over the past year several have gone way, including Bea, Gloria, and Bob Damir. Bob’s death was especially hard, because I admired him so much and had developed a very good rapport with him. Fortunately, I finished the article about him in time and his wife was able to read it to him. She called me right after and said he loved it. That meant a lot.
Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about wars. I suppose that came from touring the Civil War battlefields and hearing about the terrible carnage. Also, the U.S. is still involved in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a horrible civil war going on in Syria, and Russia is getting very aggressive in the Ukraine. So the subject is very prevalent now. When I was a kid, I thought that by the time I was an adult the world would have figured out how to get along without wars. The United Nations was pretty new then, and I guess I thought the U.N. would be able to intervene when countries had problems, and find a way to resolve disputes peacefully.
I was wrong.
Mankind seems to continue to exert its need for power on each other forcefully, and the world seems to tolerate countries attacking and killing each other. And, unfortunately, there are too many people who try to resolve their differences by killing other people. No race, age group, or religion seems to be exempt from it, and hatred, jealousy, and revenge still run rampant in our society.
Over the past few months, Russia has threatening to take over the Ukraine. They already took over one state (Crimea), and they have military troops lined up on the eastern border of Ukraine. Their president (Putin) seems to be hungry with power and eager to exert it, and the rest of the world is pretty much helpless to stop him. Europe and the U.S. have agreed that what he has done is wrong, and they have threatened him with economic sanctions, but no one wants to engage in an all-out war with a madman with nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the world is holding its breath to see what he will do next.
Two brothers set off bombs near the finish line at the Boston Marathon in 2013. The bombs killed three people, injured dozens, and set off a wave of terror that enveloped the U.S. for several days while police were looking for the bombers. And, when they were caught, they turned out to be Americans, bombing their own countrymen.

The U.S. political parties are far apart on most issues, and rather than working on compromises, they now refuse to negotiate. It seems that both parties would rather shut the government down than work together. And that’s what happened last fall, when the Federal government shutdown for several days. It was stupid, it was embarrassing, and it did no good for anyone.

It’s open: after 12 years of construction, and at a cost of $6.4 billion, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge carried its first, eager travelers safely over the water last night, at around 10:15 p.m., just under seven hours ahead of schedule. Our opinion: it’s beautiful!

Pope Francis (born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio) was elected Pope of the Catholic Church last year. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bergoglio worked briefly as a chemical technician and nightclub bouncer before entering the seminary. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969, and from 1973 to 1979 was Argentina’s Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus. He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and was created a Cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February of 2013, a papal conclave elected Bergoglio as his successor in March. He chose Francis as his papal name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis is the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European Pope since Pope Gregory III in 741.

Nelson Mandela died December 5, 2013 at age 95. His was one of the best stories of our age. He was a freedom fighter, prisoner, moral compass and South Africa’s symbol of the struggle against racial oppression. He spent 27 years in prison, and then emerged to lead his country out of decades of apartheid. His message of reconciliation, not vengeance, inspired the world after he negotiated a peaceful end to segregation and urged forgiveness for the white government that imprisoned him.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela said after he was freed in 1990.

Edward Joseph Snowden is an American computer professional, former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). He came to international attention after disclosing to several media outlets thousands of classified documents that he acquired while working for the two consulting firms His release of classified material has been described as the most significant leak in U.S. history. Snowden fled the U.S. after releasing some of the information the CIA obtained and the FBI tried to arrest him. He is currently living in Russia.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws allowing marriage for same-sex couples. Several other states have passed constitutional amendments to prohibit them, and many of those amendments are now being challenged in court. It’s only a matter of time before the marriages are permitted everywhere. After all, who has the right to tell anyone who they can (or can’t) marry?

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was a scheduled transpacific passenger flight from Incheon International Airport near Seoul, South Korea to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in the United States. On the morning of Saturday, July 6, 2013, the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft operating the flight crashed on final approach into SFO. Of the 307 people aboard, two passengers died at the crash scene (one from being run over by an airport crash tender), and a third died in a hospital several days later. 181 others were injured, 12 of them critically. Among the injured were three flight attendants who were thrown onto the runway while still strapped in their seats when the tail section broke off after striking the seawall short of the runway. It was the first crash of a Boeing 777 that resulted in fatalities since its entry to service in 1995.

The 34th America’s Cup was held on San Francisco Bay between the defender Oracle Team USA, and the challenger Emirates Team New Zealand Oracle defended the America’s Cup by a score of 9 to 8, but they had to win the last eight races to come from behind. This America’s Cup race was the longest ever Cup by both number of days and races, and the first since the 25th America’s Cup to feature a winner-take-all final race.

I have long believed in the future of electric cars as key to resolving energy and pollution problems. Now, we have a company successfully producing electric cars in our backyard. Tesla Motors is an American company that designs, manufactures, and sells electric cars and electric vehicle powertrain components. Tesla Motors first gained widespread attention by producing the Tesla Roadster, the first fully electric sports car. The company’s second vehicle was the Model S, a fully electric luxury sedan. In the first quarter of 2013, Tesla posted profits for the first time in its ten year history, and now they are selling cars as fast as they can make them. The cars are sleek and beautiful, and we see them in our neighborhood all the time.

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