A Lot More Than Meets the Eye (Memorial Day Update)

Remember my article about my dad’s service in Vietnam? Specifically this line: “He told me more than once that what he did was highly classified, that it would never be known or recognized by the US government, that his participation in the Vietnam conflict … would never accrue to him in terms of a rank promotion or medals, because it was all top secret.”

Not long after that, I discovered yet another box of documents I’ve had for more than twenty-five years. (I’ve been busy, yo.) Inside was (among other things) what I’d call his HR file, basically. His personnel file, with all his annual job reviews, recommendations for promotions, and a list of all the jobs he did and where he was stationed and when. It’s a not-insignificant stack of papers stapled together, most of it written in military-ese. Here’s what a civilian version of it might look like.* (I added a couple personal items for historic interest.)


29 Mar. 1948  Jim enlists Missouri National Guard; Detachment A, 231st Air Service Group
1 Jul. 1948      Jim appointed Pfc. from Pvt. (Natl Guard)
1 Sep. 1948    Jim appointed Cpl. from Pfc.
1 Aug. 1949    Jim honorably discharged from Natl Guard; starts college at USC fall 1949
26 Jan. 1950   Jim and Doris marry in Columbia, SC
Spring 1951    Jim completes fourth semester at USC
11 Oct 1951   Jim taking classes at St. Louis University; Fall term
16 Feb. 1952  Jim enlists in USAF and receives orders to report to Lackland AFB, SATX
25 Apr. 1952   Jim is awarded American Spirit medal
8 July 1952     Jim is A/3C at Moody AFB, GA
19 Aug. 1953  Jim is written up as Wing Airman of the Month, Moody**
17 Mar. 1955   Staff Sgt. Jim is honorably discharged from USAF (enlisted side)
18 Mar. 1955   Jim is commissioned 2nd Lt., graduated from OCS.
20 Sep. 1956  Jim completes primary pilot training at Hondo AFB
10 Oct. 1956   Jim is stu. off., pilot training, Vance AFB, OK
12 Apr. 1957   Jim gets his pilot’s certificate
14 May 1957   Jim is student officer, pilot training, Randolph AFB, SATX
17 Jul. 1957    1st Lt. Jim is discharged from Air Force Reserve
1 Sep. 1957    Jim is helicopter pilot, Sewart AFB, TN (TAC)
2 Nov. 1958    Jim is helicopter pilot, Ernest Harmon AFB, Newfoundland (SAC)
25 Aug. 1959  Jim flies Gen. Estes to inaccessible fishing spot***
29 Feb. 1960   1st Lt. Jim recommended for promotion to Captain
12 Jul. 1960    thank-you note from USAF Chief of Staff, Washington DC
18 Oct. 1960   Jim admitted to U of Maryland, distance courses
11 Mar. 1960   Jim accrues 1 class at U of Maryland, Military Law, B-
16 Dec. 1960   Jim accrues 2nd class at U of Maryland, Military History, A
10 Mar. 1961   Jim accrues 3rd class at U of Maryland, Military Logistics, A
11 Jul. 1961    Jim transferred to Hq 5th Bomb Wing, Travis AFB (SAC)
28 Apr. 1962   Jim moves to KC-135, Travis AFB, CA (SAC)
Jan. 1964        Capt. Jim is recommended for promotion
Oct. 1964        Capt. Jim is recommended for promotion
3 Nov. 1964    Jim is in 924th air refueling squad, Castle AFB, CA (SAC)
Feb. 1965        Capt. Jim is recommended for promotion
30 May 1965   Jim is aircraft commander qualified
Jun. 1965        Capt. Jim is recommended for promotion
1 Jul. 1965      Jim becomes KC-135 flight simulator instructor pilot, Castle AFB (SAC)
7 Aug. 1965    Capt. Jim TDY in Southeast Asia, returned 5 Oct 1965
Jun. 1966        Capt. Jim recommended for promotion to major
Jun. 1967        Maj. Jim recommended for promotion to “permanent major”
1 Jul. 1967      Jim is KC-135 instructor pilot, Castle AFB, CA (SAC)
Jun. 1968        Maj. Jim highly recommended for promotion
Mar. 1969        Maj. Jim highly recommended for promotion
1 Apr. 1969     Jim starts requalifying on helicopters at Castle (SAC)
Mar–Jul 1969   helicopter pilot conversion training, Sheppard AFB, TX
Jul. 1969          second TOD in Vietnam at Udorn
2 Aug. 1969     Jim arrives at Udorn, Thailand (PACAF)
15 Sep. 1969   Jim at Udorn, Thailand (PACAF)
16 Dec. 1969   Maj. Jim “highly recommended” for promotion
16 Dec. 1969   Jim awarded the Air Medal for meritorious achievement****
24 Dec. 1969   R&R Hawaii with his family
Feb. 1970         return from Southeast Asia
30 Mar. 1970   Jim is flight simulator instructor Castle AFB (SAC)
18 Apr. 1979   Ceremony for Jim’s Air Medal, Castle AFB
15 Dec. 1970   Maj. Jim specifically recommended for promotion to lt. col.
4 Jan. 1971     Jim is flight simulator instructor Castle AFB (SAC)
10 May 1971   Jim is flight simulator instructor Castle AFB (SAC)
15 Dec. 1971   Maj. Jim recommended for “immediate promotion” to lt. col.
30 May 1972   Jim is flight simulator instructor Castle AFB (SAC)
28 Apr. 1972   Jim is awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal
31 Jul. 1972    discharged (ret.) from USAF, Merced, CA


As you can see, the second tour of duty in Southeast Asia that we discussed in the previous article is confirmed on this list (1969–70) but the first one—the one I remember so vividly—is not. The file just jumps from July 1965 to July 1967. (I have speculated that that tour of duty was late summer or fall 1966 to late spring 1967; he was home by the time I broke my left ankle in late September 1967.) There is one little hint in all those job reviews about a field promotion to major, and then in June 1967 there is a recommendation for promotion to “permanent” major.

There is mention, in August 1965, of a temporary assignment to Southeast Asia, just sixty days long. Daddy went “TDY” all the time, though. (Spain, for example. I remember that trip vividly also—because he talked a lot about it; it’s why I’ve always wanted to visit Spain—and yet it is not on his official records either. Why?) If this temporary duty corresponded with my being thirteen years of age, I would assume that was the first “tour” I’m remembering. But I was only twelve that year. So I am convinced he did a longer assignment the next year.

Why? Because I didn’t just imagine that I got a driver’s license at age thirteen so my father could go to Vietnam. It was an enormous undertaking, the meetings, the letters, the signatures, the learning to drive, for heaven’s sake. It’s one of the founding family legends of my early life. My siblings remember it too. (Now, of course, my reaction is What in the hell were they thinking, turning a thirteen-year-old loose with a car?)

But the bottom line is my family was in a meltdown because they were going to send Daddy to Vietnam and Mom could no longer drive, and I was informed we were working with the state of California to get me an early, “family emergency” driver’s license, and I saluted. Yessir. Of course.

I also didn’t dream up a whole different set of photographs he took himself on that first tour, with different crew members, a different headquarters, a different billet. Those photos (slides, actually) are physically in my possession. And there’s the fact that my father told me the story of his exploits in Southeast Asia would not be in his records.

There are other things I can fill in now that I’ve looked at the file. During the second tour he flew helicopters. I remember it, and I have the photographs. But it’s also on his personnel file: in April ’69 he began requalifying on helicopters at Castle AFB and then more training in Texas. He did none of this requalifying in 1966. No, I believe he may have participated in the bombing of Laos. (Remember at Christmas 1965 President Johnson promised a bombing halt on Vietnam—which turned out to be a redirection of USAF bombing at Laos, instead.) And other highly classified activities I’ve mentioned previously.

Here’s more from the file—this from December 1969, the middle of his second tour—his biannual review:

Major Clarke has developed into a highly skilled, exceptionally proficient helicopter pilot. He has flown over 100 hours on 17 combat missions in the CH-3E helicopter. Many of these missions involved direct contact with hostile enemy troops and were flown deep into enemy held territory. Major Clarke, through calm aggressiveness, outstanding leadership and professional competence has been responsible for an outstanding record of mission completion and personal accomplishments on these important helicopter bat missions, demonstrates his outstanding proficiency and steadfast devotion to duty. In addition to his flying duties, Major Clarke has performed in the additional duty as the Unit Historian. He personally interview crews to gather pertinent data on missions of unusual or historic nature, documenting many pages of classified narrative. This document is continually being used as a source of information for the commander when briefing higher headquarters on the accomplishments of this unit. Major Clarke is a dedicated, sincere, professional officer. His ability to make accurate decisions under extreme stress and pressure is noteworthy and has been reconized by his fellow pilots. Major Clarke is an outstanding officer with a vast growth potential and professional supervisory capability. I highly recommend that he be promoted well ahead of his contemporaries. Major Clarke is presently serving a tour as a combat crew member in Southeast Asia.
16 December 1969

This came right in the middle of his second tour of duty. And it made me remember a photo. It’s a promotion photo or a commendation photo. My son’s in the navy, and I’ve seen plenty of these types of photos in recent months. In fact, I’d sent this commendation folder to him.

“Quick, send me a photo of of that folder I sent you guys,” I texted mywonderful daughter-in-law. “What was I thinking? I need the dates and the occasion.”

This is how I remember my father. He was forty-one years old, in his prime. (happy sigh)

Here’s the other side. Note that he received the award on 16 December 1969, but the ceremony happened on 18 April 1970, after he came back to us. By then his total was 37 combat missions, 168.3 combat hours. Dear God, we are so lucky he came back to us.

So that’s interesting.

The bracelet he’s wearing in the photo is interesting too. His “Vietnam bracelet,” my sister called it. He wore it day and night when he returned; it must have had some talismanic importance to him. Probably only another pilot from that period and place would understand it. But I was shocked to see it in an official photo. Wouldn’t it have been against regulation? I’ve googled around and the answer is: Maybe, maybe not.

Finally, I’ve read every single review recommendation. No one ever had a bad word to say about my father; he was always recommended for promotion “well ahead of his contemporaries” (USAF verbiage). I can understand this: he was a man who never did a half-assed job. He was charming. He was ambitious. So why was he “passed over” for the one thing he wanted, after giving so much of himself (and his family!) to the United States Air Force? I’d honestly like to know.

When my sister and I were discussing our father’s military service, particularly in Vietnam, she asked me about his being passed over for lieutenant colonel and that being the reason he got fed up and decided to retire. I’d forgotten that part of the story but as soon as she said it, I remembered. He was pretty disgusted. And disappointed. And he left.

Upon reflection, it seems to me that we kids, we knew the simple story of what was going on, but there was often a lot more that they were shielding us from. And yet as hard as some parts of it were, I still remember my childhood as happy, and even my current contemplation of what was will not change that.

But what really happened to us during the 1960s? What did my dad really do during his service to the United States of America? And why didn’t the US Air Force promote him?

Looks like a FOIA request is in my future. (sigh) I was hoping to answer all the questions by going through these papers, but they’ve just raised questions—about Daddy and about the stories I’ve been telling myself for years.

* It’s important to note all the enlistments (Missouri National Guard, Air Force Reserve, then, finally, USAF) were to avoid being drafted into the US Army, which was heavily involved in the Korean War at the time  (1950–1953). Jim had other plans (law school, for example). But he wanted to fly planes; he told me that many times. He’d watched Mom’s brother do it.
** I have the newspaper.
*** He was a first lieutenant ferrying generals—one of them the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force—up to a fishing spot few humans could reach. In the thank-you note that arrived from Washington DC later, mention is made of Jim giving up his weekend to do this nice thing for them. No mention is made of his bringing his sixty-seven-year-old father-in-law, J.I. Hopkins, along on the trip. J.I. was even then sick with the leukemia that would kill him two years later, but he was visiting us that month and he loved to fish. It’s my understanding that a good time—a quite jolly time, in fact—was had by all.
**** “… while participating in aerial flight in Southeast Asia.” It’s remarkably vague, isn’t it.

Jamie’s Homemade Fries Seasoning

When I was dating my first husband, we loved to go to the A&W Root Beer stand on 16th Street in Merced.* I, in particular, loved the fries, because they had this fabulous seasoning. At some point, I talked the owner/operator into telling me what was in that seasoning salt (salt, sugar, garlic, paprika), though not the actual ratios. I’m sure he thought I was just a kid and I’d forget about it and that would be that.

But no. It was me he was talking to. 🙂 I have been home-making a version of that seasoning ever since. Ever since.

So you can imagine my surprise when I visited the Salt Sisters to order a couple spice blends I can’t live without (Dragon’s Breath Rub and also Steakhouse Seasoning) and found this. Admittedly, it has a couple extra spices in it—most notably turmeric—but it was close enough to try, and I’m pleased with it. Needs a smidge more sugar, IMHO, but it’s a timesaver.

It’s now the H&W Family Drive-In; 121 W. 16th St.


Mommy and Me: Catastrophic Illness in the Family

Isn’t it interesting, the life stories we end up having? I have an unusual story related to my mom. Until I was about thirty, I started my story this way:

My mom had multiple sclerosis when I was growing up. She was diagnosed when I was about seven,* though she’d had puzzling symptoms earlier. When I was ten, I became the joint signatory on my parents’—now my dad’s—checking account, because her hand had gotten so shaky she could no longer write, and my dad was seven-on-seven-off, so I had to write out the bills. Every other week, my mother drove me out to the commissary on base to do the grocery shopping. She would sit in the car and rest—MS is characterized by extreme fatigue, and the driving wore her out—while I went inside and shopped and then wrote a check for the groceries.** By the time I was thirteen she could no longer drive, and the air force wanted Daddy to go to Vietnam, so I got a driver’s license. I had the keys to the car and the house and a gasoline credit card, and I drove my younger siblings, Jill and Jon, to piano lessons, Little League, and so on. (Still had to walk to school, though.)

That is quite a story, yes? But wait, I should add this one, which also involves me:

My mother got polio when she was two or three. It withered her left leg, and she walked with a limp. When I was a baby, I was late to walk—probably about eighteen months; I was content to play with my toys, I’m told—and when I did start walking, I walked with a limp, toddler style. They had me in and out of doctors’ offices, trying to figure out the limp, until one day a nurse observed my mother and me walking away down the hall, and immediately realized there was nothing wrong with me, I was just imitating my mommy.

In fact, my earliest memories are of my mother’s hand on my shoulder, using me as a crutch.

I used to think all of this was the story of me, and what a tragedy it was that my mother was crippled, and all the responsibility I had to take on at such a young age—as if that isn’t one of the world’s oldest stories, right? Then, when I got close to thirty, eleven years married at that point, I realized that we all, every single blessed one of us, have a hardship story to tell. That’s when I quit telling that story. I’m ashamed it took me that long … and that here I am, telling it again. Documenting it.

• • •

The fact is, this is Mom’s story, Doris Aileen Hopkins, and she was way more than her limp and her MS. She was born in a farmhouse in Vandalia, Illinois, the baby of her family, on 9 December 1926.*** At that time her father, Jesse Isaac Hopkins (he was always called J.I., probably because his father was also a Jesse) was a rural schoolteacher. He met my mother’s mother, Florence Wells, because she also was a schoolteacher, also from Vandalia. (There are still Wellses in Vandalia.) I have seen the little cabin J.I. and Florence lived in when they were first married.

Hopkins siblings L–R: Evelyn, John, Hazel, Doris. I’m guessing around 1929.

Her mother, Florence, died of a brain tumor at thirty-nine years of age; Mom was a couple months shy of five years old. The tumor blinded Florence before it killed her; Mom remembered leading her mother around the house by the hand, remembered her screaming with the pain of the headaches. By this time the family had moved to Chicago, probably around the time my mom got polio when she was about three. J.I. went to work for the railroad. They lived at 7821 Lowe Avenue.

Doris was a bright girl. She played piano and flute and went to Christian Fenger Academy High School (11220 Wallace Street in Chicago), where she graduated seventh in her class. I have her high school report card and the newspaper clipping about her class standing. She loved reading fiction, always had her nose in a book. They were a game-playing, jigsaw puzzle–doing family. I have a photo of her and her sister Evelyn playing Scrabble.

This is Christian Fenger Academy High School today, from Google Maps. She probably walked to school. They’d moved to 620 W. 103rd Street, a smaller house, perhaps because her older siblings had moved out, but also possibly to accommodate her walk, which would have been about thirty minutes even here.

By this time her father, J.I., had remarried, but none of the Hopkins kids cared for their stepmother or her child. My mother’s siblings were very protective of her; she was the baby, after all, and evidently very sweet-natured (she always was, even what I remember of her before she got sick; a little timid, too, and mild-mannered, for the most part). J.I. also was very involved with her; he was a man who loved children. (Again, I have the receipts on this.)

After high school (graduated 1944), Doris went to Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, to study art, but the next spring when J.I. got wind that his baby was plotting to run away with a boy she’d met, he hustled down to Tennessee and brought her home. “Under a cloud,” as my mother used to say about this incident. 🙂

She began working at Marshall Field’s department store in downtown Chicago. This is where she had access to so much of the beautiful fabric she used to sew her gorgeous (tiny) clothing. She was quite an accomplished sewer. I have some photos of her during this time; she had friends, women and men, and seemed to have a happy life.

Also during this time, J.I. moved the family out to the house in Yorkville, which was actually a separate town then. During these years, Hazel and her husband divorced (he had a temper, he beat her, and pushing her down the stairs was the final straw), and she and her five girls needed someplace to stay; thus that big house in Yorkville. Evelyn had married Walter Virbick and they were living in St. Louis, where Walt worked for the GAO, the US Government Accounting Office. Doris frequently took the train from Chicago to St. Louis for the weekend to visit the sister she was closest to; J.I. thought Ev would keep an eye on her.

As it turns out, Ev and Walt lived in the same apartment building that Harry Clarke lived in with his young son, Jimmy Clarke.**** The four of them played a lot of pinochle, apparently. (As a kid it used to fascinate me that that word—pinochle—was pronounced PEA-knuckle.) And that, dear ones, is how my parents met. Mom told me he was always outside, waxing his car, which would have been a black Chevrolet. She thought he was cute.

Looks like he drove a 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air, black, later. This is not the car he was waxing the day my mom first laid eyes on him, though. That’s me, washing.

He was two-plus years younger than her, and apparently thought she was cute too. I don’t know how long the courtship was; though I can tell you that he was still courting her years later when I was old enough to notice (let’s say the Newfoundland years). He’d come home from work and she’d be standing in front of the sink, peeling vegetables or working on supper in some other way, and he’d put his hand on her ass and give her a big smack of a kiss. They were very kissy face-huggy butt, my parents.

• • •

A lot happened in those five years between the time J.I. brought Doris home from Tennessee under a cloud and the time she married Jim Clarke in early 1950. I’ve only just begun to piece it together. I don’t know exactly when they met, only that they did. And I don’t have any idea how long it was in between their meeting and their wedding, but I’ve always had the sense that there was a little bit of disapproval of the match on both sides. I seem to recall Mom saying something like that. And I have more than one photo of Bessie standing next to my mom looking a bit, um, sour. 🙂 Nor do I have any photos that contain both my dad and J.I. Could it have been Jim and Doris’s age difference, or that he was the younger? (Not quite twenty-one when he married her.) Could it have been that she was crippled? Could it have been, simply, two different family cultures? She was from the urban north, while his people were definitely Southern and rural (although his accent was pure Midwest, his having been born in and learned to talk in St. Louis). Why were none of the parents in attendance? Is it just that Columbia is a long, long way from the Midwest, where all the parents were?

I can’t ask these questions because there’s no one left to ask. Me, I’m the person to ask now. (But oh, how wrong they all were to doubt Jimmy Clarke’s devotion to Doris Hopkins!)

Regardless, they married in Kippy’s back yard on 28 January 1950, a Saturday. (In South Carolina you can get away with a backyard wedding in January.) He would have been not quite twenty-one; she would have just turned twenty-three. There were plenty of people there—people from the church Kip and Dr. Wilson (her husband) attended, undoubtedly a few friends Jimmy’d made at the university, and probably/maybe the Edgefield Clarkes, half-siblings of Harry and Kippy—just not the parents. The ceremony was out back and then they moved inside for the reception; years later Kippy gave me a cotton lace tablecloth she’d used.

They were very young.

Doris became an air force wife in 1952 (and make no mistake, when one member of a family is in the air force, everyone is). Daddy was afraid he’d be drafted into the US Army for Korea, so he dropped out of college and joined the USAF as an enlisted man; but he wanted to fly airplanes and pretty quickly they sent him to OCS—because you had to be an officer to fly—and then to flight school.

She was a good air force wife, and over a period of years had three kids (1953, 1956, 1957; there was a miscarriage between me and Jill). When I was seven, Jill almost five, and Jon almost four, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Got up one morning and was seeing with double vision and nearly lost her mind in a panic.

My Aunt Evelyn told me—years ago, when I was in my late twenties—that they thought Mom’s first MS symptoms showed up when she was pregnant with me (and I’d read that that was common), but it would be another seven years or so before a doctor was consulted. Doris never expected to have children, Evelyn said. And that makes sense, right? She was crippled, imperfect (to her own mind, one guesses). Marriage and children were what women of her generation were raised to expect, to aspire to. Yet this offhand comment from my aunt changed my life. It gave me a new perspective on the preciousness of my life.

Mommy and Me …

They knew nothing about MS back then, nothing. (And honestly, they still don’t. There is no cure.*****) Wikipedia says, “The cause of MS is unknown; however, it is believed to occur as a result of some combination of genetic and environmental factors such as infectious agents.” Mom meets the geographical criteria, but I think genetics were probably at play, too; after all, my brother was diagnosed with MS when he was about thirty-two, about the same time she was. I’ve considered that though I was told her mother died of a brain tumor, it could have just as easily been a tumor-ish something related to MS. It’s not considered hereditary, but it can run in families.

MS is often characterized by fatigue, and certainly was in my mom’s case. The family room couch had a pull-out bed in it, and Daddy would open it out (or I would) and she’d lie there all day, still keeping an eye on the goings-on of three kids, but prone.

Catastrophic illness is like having addiction in the family. The rest of us became enablers, we were codependent. (It would be years before I heard that word, when I was seeing a therapist in advance of seeking a divorce from my first husband, and it was that therapist who pointed out to me the connection.) In between those years, Mom slowly relinquished her command of the household to me, her mind and moods began to deteriorate (also characteristic of MS), and I hit puberty. None of this was a pretty thing to watch, and it is no small wonder that I got married at nineteen. (When I left, all of her mental shit rolled downhill to Jill. Up to then my sister had often begged me to be nicer to our mother, to stop fighting with her, but after I left she wrote me a letter telling me she finally understood what I was going through. This, also, was life-changing information for me.)

All the adults around her loved Mom, including my high school counselor. She always had a protective circle of friends, women who genuinely loved her, loved being with her. So clearly she was worthy of it. But she would pick a fight, and I would push back, and we’d argue. (She’d let up once she’d made me cry.) I am quick to say again, I was a teenager and had inherited every bit of my father’s talent for smartassery. But my mother also wasn’t fully herself. Her interpretation of events could be suspect.

This insight came to me—when I was twenty-eight and back in Merced for my first high school reunion in 1981—from Iris Maher, the neighbor two doors down the street from our Olive Avenue house, mother of my good friend Diane. Mom would tell Iris one story, then Diane, who’d have been present, would tell her a different story—about any little blowup we had. Iris told me she’d started to figure it out then.

On that reunion trip I was staying with “Uncle Bill and Aunt Elaine” (no relation but close family friends, lived directly across the street) and my first night there, over supper, Bill opened a conversation with me that began, “We’re all amazed that you turned out so well.” Whut? But no, seriously. Bill told me he argued with my mom over her treatment of me while my father was in Vietnam. So the adults close enough to observe saw something that I sure was feeling. I sat there at Bill and Elaine Norris’s table and sobbed and said I wish someone then had told me that it wasn’t me, that I wasn’t a bad child, a bad daughter. Because I did have a lot of guilt. Why couldn’t I just get along with her?

In retrospect, of course, my heart aches for Doris. She was a good and loving mother, I know that and have internalized it. I wish I could tell her that. I wish I could tell her I’m sorry for all the fights we had, though I do not blame myself for them either. I was just a kid! And I was managing a housewife’s household (including groceries and Little League) and handling a sick mother who seemed like she was picking a fight with me the minute I let down my guard and I was managing my three-point-nine grade point average, thankyouverymuch, and my piano lessons and the marching band, for God’s sake, the award-winning Merced High School Marching 100. (Man, that was fun!) And I did my nails every Sunday evening. I’m sorry, Mommy, but I did the best I could.

• • •

That was a really difficult decade, from diagnosis to my jumping ship. And it affected all of us, all of us. (Shortly after I moved back to Tennessee after my divorce, I got involved with the Tennessee MS Society, and my contact there wanted me to talk to their group about how the disease affects everyone in the family. But I never did. I was too broken, at that point in my life. I’m a different person now.)

I was fresh off some good therapy, though, and I had done my Home Work. That involves reviewing the things that happened with your parents while you were growing up. “They did the best they could,” according to my counselor, who also, when I told her the abbreviated portion of “my” story (But by golly I know how to wipe down a counter!), said, “Aren’t you tired?”******

Ha. Whose story is this, anyway?

I am at peace with our story. I adored my daddy from the moment I knew who he was, and I loved my mother well enough, too, until those last few years. I do wish they could have been different. I wish she could have been the kind of mom who took me shopping for pretty things and taught me how to put on makeup. (That was left up to my friend Margaret, blessed is she among the angels.) I longed for a mother-daughter relationship, which is why, I’m sure, I became close to the mothers of some of my friends and, as time went on, with older women, full stop. I am at peace with the fact that what happened in our family story was nobody’s fault, and we all did the best we could with the resources we had. I got my father’s smartassery but my mother’s smarts. Daddy was wise, too, and I wish I’d gotten more of that.

So you see why I quit telling the short story … and then quit telling the story at all? It (this story) has clues about who I became, but I emptied it out of my life’s luggage nearly forty years ago. I’m telling it now because I’ve been thinking a lot about my life—the goodness of it, for real—and I want my grandgirl to know who I was when I’m gone.

* My dad came home from the hospital with her and sat us three kids down and said, “OK, your mother is sick, and this is how it’s going to be from now on. We will clean the house on Saturday, all of us; each of you will have your responsibilities.” It was a very military response from him, and the house ran that way from then on. But I can by God cook a meal and clean a house.
** As you might imagine, a child writing a check was a suspicious activity, and even though Daddy had cleared all this with management and it worked for a few weeks, eventually I’d get stopped and we’d have to make the trek out to the car to talk to my mother or my father would be called. And he’d raise hell and it would be OK for a few more weeks.
*** Neil, Hazel, John, Evelyn, Doris. Neil died when he was just ten in 1923; I don’t know why.
**** This is what I remember being told. However, the address I keep coming across is 4942 Parker Avenue, a small house that was built in 1941. So perhaps they were simply neighbors? This is probably something I’ll never know. But I swear both of my parents told me it was an apartment building.
***** There are treatments, though, and things they know to tell you to do or not do, like avoid the heat of the day, rest when you are fatigued, and eat good balanced meals. My brother has had an easier time of it than she did.
****** This led to another therapeutic insight: while many little girls “grow up and marry their fathers” (i..e., find someone with their father’s characterisitics, for good or ill), I grew up and married my mother (i.e., a man who wanted me to take of everything, only he wasn’t sick).

Air Force Brat

I can’t tell you for certain when I first understood that I was an air force brat, but I think it was when we left Newfoundland—where my father flew helicopters—and moved to Travis Air Force Base, California (we lived in Vacaville) in 1962. There he trained and was certified to fly KC-135s. (Later—at Castle Air Force Base in the San Joaquin Valley—he was a flight instructor for the KC-135s. Except for those two tours of duty in Vietnam.)

Although some might consider the term brat a pejorative, I always wore it—and everything that came with it—with pride. And being an air force brat meant you were privy to the air force community. (I still have my last ID card.)

By this I mean, I guess, air force everything. Sure, lingo like SAC (Strategic Air Command) and seven on seven off, and “on alert.” SAC (and you can read all about it here) was a postwar / Cold War major command. That is, to put it in civilian terms, it was an executive management group under which there were subordinate “organizations.” In the air force, these would be called numbered air forces (think Eighth Air Force), centers, wings, and groups. (SAC no longer exists. There was a post–Cold War reorg in 1992 and personnel and equipment were absorbed into other commands.) In my dad’s case, being on alert meant exactly what it sounds like: hanging out on base with a half-dozen other pilots, waiting for the scramble signal (you’ve seen it in movies: the alarm blaring and men running out of a Quonset hut toward their planes) that meant the nation was experiencing an emergency.*

I mean, too, air force fun: primarily the USAF Thunderbirds. We never missed an air show, even when I was a teenager. Climbing in and out of retired planes—back then some of them from World War 2, though mostly this would have been a time for the air force to show off its fancy, current hardware—was the height of joy for my dad, showing us kids another side of his life.**

Flying is fun! he’d say, and from there he’d segue into a physics lesson about the shape of the wing and lift. He thought I should get a pilot’s license, and told me so regularly. (My mother thought I would become a concert pianist. I was doomed to disappoint both of them.)

The ball cap I’m wearing here—20th—refers to the 20th Helicopter Squadron stationed at Sewart Air Force base in Middle Tennessee. This was taken probably summer of 1958 in the backyard of the house on Leaf Avenue in Murfreesboro.

And did I mention the radio-controlled model airplanes? That was my father’s hobby (one of them). Who knew there was such a thing as balsa wood? I did! Everything my daddy did was of interest to the young me.

But in addition to lingo and life and fun, I mean air force talk. Air force gossip, so to speak. Like Daddy coming home and saying to Mom there’d been a crash. Later there would be a phone call, and we’d hear the words pilot error or instrument failure, and he’d tell Mom that Joe or Don or Mike hadn’t made it (or that he had, but he’d be mentally disabled), and our house would be very quiet. When you’re an air force brat, your father has made it clear to you that his job is dangerous, but it never crosses your nine-year-old mind that your larger-than-life daddy might not come home from work some day.***

Or like a bunch of the moms in our neighborhood standing out on the sidewalk in front of the house, discussing the news in hushed, worried voices. By then, of course, Travis was a major departure point for troops (not just air force) leaving for Vietnam, but it wasn’t in the public consciousness yet. No, I mean the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. It scared the neighborhood moms (this was a time, still, when almost all the moms I knew were housewives, or what we call stay-at-home moms now) and it scared the heck out of me. The fear in the air was palpable to a seven-year-old.

We always lived off base, as far back as I can remember. There are no slides showing the family living in standard base housing of the time, though, as always, I’m just guessing. But we were always held close in the air force community. Sixty years on, I still believe the US Air Force (and my father’s embodiment of it) made me who I am—and I am still an air force brat!

* This was also the era of teaching school children to “duck-and-cover” in case of a nuclear war, which is why those alerts existed in the first place. As if we would survive such a thing. I don’t know how it affected children who did not grow up in military families, but I can tell you that I had ongoing nightmares for years about being separated from my family in the case of a nuclear event.
** Read more about my dad: The Cigarette Box.
*** Up to this move to Travis, flying really had been, to my mind, fun. But now he was flying KC-135s—the planes used for in-air refueling. You know what these are, because you saw them in the movies, too, like Air Force One (1997). All human endeavor is hazardous in some way, but I’m here to tell you that moving flammable liquid from one flying machine to another while both are 35K miles up is really stinkin’ hazardous. I don’t know where my sister and brother were on the spectrum of internalizing how dangerous Daddy’s work was—they were young—but I knew. And then they sent him to Vietnam.


Average Americans

Back when all we had to worry about was a global pandemic (I’m being facetious), I was watching a clip of an open-it-all-back-up-now protester speaking to a microphone, having her minute of fame. The man beside her was armed, of course (because if your skin is white, here in America, you can swagger around with weapons of mass destruction strapped to your body and the police just hold their peace). And this gal was running off at the mouth, accusing “the Freemasons, the Illuminati, and the New World Order” of being the cause of “all this.”* When I stopped laughing at her, I sighed. When did Americans get so dumb? I’m not being a smart-aleck—I know people just like this woman. The guy I used to work with. The longtime dear friend who wants to tell me about the Deep State and Area 51. (No, really.)

When I was a kid I vividly remember my parents discussing that the average American was only as smart as a fifth-grader (i.e., a ten-year-old). Where did that discussion originate? Did it come from a study discussed in a magazine? A book? I don’t know (and I’ve googled and googled and can’t find anything); however, I remember my parents talking about it, and I’m guessing they probably saw it on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, because they (we) never missed it, and that would have been the media they most had in common. (I also half-wonder if the TV game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? sprang from the same comments I’m remembering.) I even wonder if it was just something being discussed by conservatives at the time.

Regardless, I think we are seeing this theory in action right here in the twenty-first century, with actual grownups believing conspiracy theories that I (and other reasonable** people) find laughable. (sigh) But when I was researching the origins of this memory, I did come across some interesting information.

One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.

Blind devotion to the state or its leaders would never be enough. Rather, being American was something to be learned and carried out. (Emphasis mine.)

This is from the daily online newsletter, neaToday, of the National Education Association (NEA). Daily! That’s how many issues concern the nation’s largest professional employee organization. It continues:

Until the 1960s, it was common for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed over the ensuing decades, and lost further ground to “core subjects” under the NCLB–era standardized testing regime.***

I definitely recommend you read the entire article. How lucky I was to get the public school education I got growing up in California during the 1960s! (I was in a school system in which that three-part civics education still existed.) How fortunate that my community had a robust program for advanced students (and that my daddy encouraged me into it****). I wish I could go back in time and thank those teachers who taught me how to compose sentences and paragraphs, who taught me how to think for myself, who taught me civics and government. (And my parents, particularly my father, who gently pushed me to think outside any box I found myself in. There will be more of those stories too.)

Remember, we’re expected to be responsible citizens, informed voters. I don’t think Illuminati Gal qualifies. What happened to her? (Rhetorical question. I don’t know.)

I am a fan of educators, not a critic. My son, with his public school education, has two degrees in education, as does his wife, and they are committed educators. And while No Child Left Behind (2002–2015) has at last been left behind, it “nudged aside visual arts, music, physical education, social studies, and science, not to mention world languages, financial literacy, and that old standby, penmanship.” Aside from also eliminating things like social studies and civics—a huge loss for growing citizens who need to make informed voting decisions—we have studies that show, for example, a good music program (just to name one nearly eliminated elective) improves grades for students across the board—in all subjects. Why would our government do this? (Another rhetorical question.)

Sadly, here in 2020 when we have so much information literally at our fingertips, there are folks running around out there with no critical thinking skills whatsoever. (I have a friend who just today asserted that his opinions were based on fact, while mine were not: “I guess it’s a matter of opinion about facts,” he said. Um.) These folks can’t separate good information from bad, propaganda from fact. It’s worrisome.

* She probably hadn’t had someone she knew die of the coronavirus yet. But soon, as was the case with Vietnam (deaths in combat: 47K; total deaths: 58K; wounded: 153K), we will all, including this foolish woman, know someone who has died of COVID. Number of deaths in the US as of this writing: 115K. Source.
** I use reasonable to distinguish it from, say, intelligent. Or well educated. I don’t have a college degree, and no one has to have one to use their own, average brain to seek out the information needed to debunk conspiracy theories. You don’t even have to have the highly developed bullshit meter I have; thinking works just fine. (Sometimes college is good for developing critical thinking, though.)
*** Make no mistake: they’re talking here about No Child Left Behind from the Bush2 era. W’s administration really opened my eyes to what Republicans were up to: the bare minimum for most Americans, that’s what.
**** Another story for another time.

Piecing Together a Memorial (Day)*

Sometimes you don’t know what you know until you start trying to piece your history together, y’know? It started with an email from my sister, Jill. I’m the oldest, and generally remember the most.

I know we went over this already. But I can’t remember our discussion. Easier to ask again. Which two years was Dad in Vietnam? Like 66 and 68 or 67 and 69? Also, what was the name of that group he was in? Jolly Green Giants? My friend’s dad was in Vietnam twice during roughly those years and he was a Green Beret. It’s 11:30 pm your time … hope you’re sleeping good. xoxoxo

I’d been “home” (to California) last summer to visit a dear friend who’d been unwell, and due to manuscript deadlines I’d only scheduled a flying visit to my sister, who lives about two hours from where we grew up. When I arrived, we’d realized we had thirty-six hours, so we started talking a mile a minute. Not sure how we got on the topic of family history, but it was a fabulous conversation. I took notes. (Another blog post for another day.) There are things I know, things I no longer remember, things I don’t know because I wasn’t present, and things that Jill knows because she was present.

Like the story about Daddy leaving for his second tour of duty in Vietnam, which I knew nothing about. Daddy was in the house, no doubt giving last-minute instructions to Mom and me while he waited for his ride from the base. Jill was sitting on the front porch, weeping. And my boyfriend drove up. (This would be Joe, later my husband and father of my only child.) When Joe saw Jill, she says, he sat down beside her and put his arm around her and tried to comfort her. Jill remembers him being so kind to her that day; she told me she’ll always be grateful to him for it. (I say this because, you know, it’s fifty years later and I don’t see Joe through my teenager’s rose-colored glasses anymore. But I’m delighted that she tells me this story and I make a note to call him when I get home and thank him.)

The US Air Force dominated all our lives, really, so we talk a lot about it. Where we lived, what happened there. When my father reached the end of his life in 1992, he had a second wife. So unless we’d taken momentos (stuff, yes, but also papers, photos, things that would help us to piece that history together) from the home—a house he bought when I was in kindergarten—while he was alive, those things were lost to us unless the second wife decided to give them to us. (Which she mostly did not. It is probably best if I don’t think too much about it.)

We have been meaning to ask the government for his records, but that hasn’t happened yet.

But we started piecing the story together today, with my sister’s email asking what years he was in Vietnam. I clicked reply and began to write.

“I don’t know that we know specifically yet,” I said. And then I remembered: I’ve been going through the boxes of ephemera that I do have, and I have this. I was astonished when I found it a few weeks ago.

When you travel to certain foreign countries, you have to acquire vaccinations, and you tuck this little booklet in with your passport.

Never forget to look on the back. Look at that! R&R = rest and recuperation.

“Well, wait,” I wrote. “I can extrapolate one year because on his vaccinations booklet, there’s a stamp that reads R&R Hawaii and the date is 24 Dec 1969. So his second tour of duty would have been ’69–’70. I’m guessing the first would have been ’67–’68 at the latest, but maybe earlier.”

And then—bing! it was like getting a text message in my brain—I remembered one of the biggest events of my life: I got my driver’s license at age thirteen. My mother was sick, you see (this truly is another post for another time), and was no longer able to drive. And yet the US Air Force was implacable: Jim Clarke had to go to Vietnam, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Why? They were running short on helicopter pilots. You see, it’s actually harder to learn to fly a helicopter than it is to fly a plane. The training period is longer. And Daddy was qualified to fly them. So he had to go.

But how would we manage without him? Easy (not): Jamie would get a driver’s license. And so I did. They had to jump through a lot of hoops to make this happen, including get permission from the governor of California (Ronald Reagan). My God, what a pain in the ass all that was.

“I would have turned thirteen in 1966, turned fourteen in May 1967,” I wrote. “I was already thirteen when they were working on the driver’s license thing. So it’s possible he went to Vietnam the fall of 1966 and returned in 1967.” It’s not a fact, yet, but we have somewhere to start.

She was wrong about the name, and I jotted down two other phrases in my notes, since I no longer trust my memory. Jolly Green Giants are helicopters. I looked them up, and continued my email: “I’m guessing he flew the 1959 version in Newfoundland* and the 1967 version in Vietnam. That photo I have of him (you’ve seen it on Facebook) with a rifle on his hip and a helicopter in the background, that’s a Jolly Green Giant.”

This image was not from his slides. Someone else took this photo and gave it to him; it did not come to light until after his death. It is one of my favorite photos. My dad hated guns, wouldn’t have anything to do with them. So in this photo it’s clear he is striking a pose, so to speak. You can tell by the grin on his face, which I know to be a sarcastic one.

I kept writing: “He flew others, of course. He flew the kind that had the bend in the middle and two rotors. And there’s that yellow one he’s climbing into down in Texas (where helicopter school was). Those photos are among the slides that Gerry scanned.”

Randolph AFB, San Antonio, TX

“When I was guessing a name, two came to mind: Flying Tigers and Air America,” I wrote. “But Flying Tigers were fighter planes/pilots, associated with WW2, and they were volunteers. This does not mean some part of that group’s ethic and name didn’t get revived in Vietnam.” I was googling and adding the links to the email, so Jill could look them up too. Flying Tigers are definitely mentioned in association with Vietnam, but I still didn’t think that was it.

In fact, I wasn’t sure that the name of his squadron had ever been told to me. It was classified, and Daddy was a by-the-book kinda guy. “I’ll come back to Air America,” I wrote, and then continued with what I knew:

I know he did different things in Vietnam, and I don’t know what during which. For one, I know he flew into the jungle at night and picked up downed US fighter pilots. (Like that movie BAT-21. Although I think those guys are Army. I could be wrong, however.) I know he was stationed, at least during one tour, in Udorn, Thailand. (And had a girlfriend there.) I know he transported Vietnamese women and children, whole huge helicopters-ful of them. That’s in the slides. He told me more than once that what he did was highly classified, that it would never be known or recognized by the US government, that his participation in the Vietnam conflict (never “war” for him) would never accrue to him in terms of a rank promotion or medals, because it was all top secret. And: HE HAD TO VOLUNTEER FOR IT. (For the missions. That he was in Vietnam wasn’t voluntary. He had to go.)

Still with me?

Next I googled Air America, and there it was, every bit of it, just as I remembered:

OK, Air America. Forget the goofy movie; not pertinent. Look at the Wikipedia intro: “Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline established in 1946 and covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1950 to 1976. It supplied and supported covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.”

Now look over on the right-hand side on the Wikipedia page. One of the hubs was Udorn. (Pretty sure you pronounce this “oo-dorn,” not “you-dorn.”)

This hits all the bases: run by the CIA (thus top secret), operating out of Udorn, helicopters, Vietnam, downed pilots, refugees.

Reference this paragraph: “From 1962 to 1975, Air America inserted and extracted US personnel, provided logistical support to the Royal Lao Army, the Hmong Army under command of Royal Lao Army Major General Vang Pao and combatant Thai volunteer forces, transported refugees, and flew photo reconnaissance missions that provided intelligence on Viet Cong activities. Its civilian-marked craft were frequently used, under the control of the Seventh/Thirteenth Air Force, to launch search and rescue missions for US pilots downed throughout Southeast Asia. Air America pilots were the only known private US corporate employees to operate non-Federal Aviation Administration-certified military aircraft in a combat role.”

I would have to study a lot more—and it would probably involve a FOIA request—to even contemplate his status with the USAF during this time. It may still be classified. Lots of unusual things went on during that time in American history, but there wasn’t a breath of it in our home. Just “top secret.” I may have heard “CIA” mentioned. But “that’s all I know,” I wrote to my sister. “And it’s more than I thought I knew when I started writing this. Love you.”

Since I started writing this—and stirring up memories—I took a look through the digital copies of my father’s slides. I kept running across photos that had clues, so I’d set them aside. Twice, buildings with a sign on them: Special Operations Squadron. What did I tell you? This was not a USAF operation. It was … ahem … extracurricular. No US flag anywhere. And look at that uniform with literally no insignia. Rank, yes, very discreet. But nothing else. That’s significant, I think.

The buildings had an unusual sign, an illustration, that seemed vaguely familiar: guy on a horse, clearly a reference to the historical Pony Express. (To us, Pony Express = mail but these pilots were delivering people.) And sure enough, I have a collection of Daddy’s plaques and photos, and there it was on a you’re-leaving-us plaque: “21st Special Operation Squadron, “Pony Express” / Udorn Thailand / July 69 – February 70.” So question answered about the dates of the second tour. There it was in my dining room, for heaven’s sake.

• • •

When he returned that second time, he was a different person for about a year, sitting in the living room, all up in his own head. I was a junior in high school and just really glad he was home, after months of not getting along with my mother and no daddy to run interference, as he did. So I don’t know if he was treated for depression, though it’s clear to me now that he was depressed. We thought of him as being tough, in control, but when Gerry was scanning the slides, he found sad little comments (in Jim Clarke’s handwriting) on the cardboard sleeves of the photos taken in Vietnam. One stopped him cold, and he took a photo and sent it to me: “Sometimes I cry,” it read. Indeed, sometimes he cried in the living room of our house in Merced, which was a bit shocking to us kids.

Daddy and his kids, home after that second tour of duty. It’s all good. He survived. We survived.

* This really should be a Veterans’ Day post, but I’m not willing to wait that long.
** Those three years in Newfoundland are also another story for another time. But he made some of his longest-lasting friendships there, and gained a reputation as a badass, even though to hear him tell it, all they did is “drop hay for hungry moose and rescue pregnant Eskimos.” At his funeral his friends told me he always did the last inspection on the “bird” before they went out, and that he tightened bolts with his bare fingers. Hyperbole, no doubt. I also heard quite a few stories about drinking at the officers’ club, which may or may not have been hyperbole. 🙂

And this is the helicopter he flew in Newfoundland.

What the Mind Does

Funny how you’ll read something and it’ll spark this whole train of thought* … but here was an interesting thing that popped up: on the night I graduated from high school in Merced, California, Charles Ogletree Jr (yes, that one) came up to me and requested a celebratory kiss, and I obliged him (because, duh, I was full of myself back then, even with my boyfriend standing right there). It mightily annoyed said boyfriend, even though it was nothing more than a friendly—and quick—smooch. Charles was a scrawny kid, not tall, not possessed, yet, of the stature he would earn by his accomplishments.

He went on to Stanford University with a few of my classmates and from there to Harvard Law School, and subsequently a professorship at the university, where he taught, among many others, Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson (later Obama, of course). You can read more about him here; his is an impressive career, an impressive life.

I snagged this photo from Ogletree’s page at his speakers’ bureau, Collaborative Agency Group.

It was announced in July 2016 that he has early-stage Alzheimer’s, and that news broke quickly in the world and among my old Merced crowd. None of us have seen him in decades, I should point out, but we were proud of him from a distance, and we’re all sorry to know this news. There’s been some better, hopeful news on the horizon for Alzheimer’s patients; one hopes he gets the benefit of the latest treatments and that his twilight years are exceedingly happy ones.

But what I wondered, though, that night in bed, feeling the synapses fire between the Coates and Ogletree, who sprang into my mind unbidden, was this: I wonder who else of my friends he kissed that night? Funny, how the mind works.

* It was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, the introduction to the sixth essay, which speaks of “how black families had been cut out of the FHA loan program and thus excluded from much of the suburban housing development in the postwar years … [which] was a great source of the wealth for American families.” Including me. My first husband and I financed more than one early home with FHA loans. This train of thought really got my attention—and broke my heart.

The Zen of Balanced Rocks

My sister lives on the West Coast, in a small town. The house she and her husband live in is not far from the beach, and every day she goes down to the water. To walk the dog. To get some exercise and fresh air. To meet up with friends. (To meet new ones, too, but you can’t exactly plan that.) And so on.

She often takes photos of the things she sees. Usually the dog. Friends. Her kids. Or beach art.

Beach art takes many forms. Sometimes people make something with the sand. Sometimes seaweed arranges itself artfully. Sometimes there’s a stack of rocks.

Sunset …

Sunset …

My sister has a whole collection of these photos. I didn’t realize that rock-balancing is a thing. (But then, I work too much.)

Simple, pyramidal.

Simple, pyramidal.

Stacking rocks, of course, has been around for centuries. A human-made pile of rocks is called a cairn; they have been used as landmarks or signs, trail markers, even as gravesites. Probably a lot as burial sites.

And as art.

This one looks like a bird perched on a square rock, don’t you think?

This one looks like a bird perched on a square rock, don’t you think?

It’s a creative outlet. People go down to the beach just to do this.

Seriously, I can’t even imagine how this one is balanced. But there it is.

Seriously, I can’t even imagine how this one is balanced. But there it is.

A nice mixture of large and small.

A nice mixture of large and small.

If I lived near a beach, I suspect I might try it too.

This one looks pretty tall!

This one looks pretty tall!

Sometimes my sister participates; sometimes she just photographs.

It’s a family affair. SIL and daughter on the left, husband and dog on the right.

It’s a family affair. SIL and daughter on the left, husband and dog on the right.

The tide, of course, washes most of them away.

Getting tricky. See the one on top?

Getting tricky. See the one on top?

Again, I can’t imagine how this is done.

Again, I can’t even imagine how this is done.

The tide won’t take this one down.

The tide won’t take this one down.

And yet, every day … another stack of rocks appears. Think about that.

Same rocks, different angle.

Same rocks, different angle.

New every day.



And then sometimes … there’s something different. My sister didn’t know what this was, but thought it was special. Perhaps it was someone’s swearing-in ceremony.

A swearing-in ceremony on the beach? Don’t know.

A swearing-in ceremony on the beach? Don’t know.

What do you do when you go to the beach?

NOTE: All photos taken by my sister, Jill.

Fall Foliage Is Here … Or Almost Here

A friend of mine brought this piece to my attention, and since I get excited about the color change in my own front yard, I thought I’d pass it along.

The front yard, Tennessee, October 2014.

The front yard, midmorning, Tennessee, October 2014.

Fifty small (American) towns with beautiful fall foliage, it says. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a Sunday drive—and I am—you’ll enjoy scrolling through this list. Around here (Middle Tennessee), folks often go to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge (both on the list) in East Tennessee. And hey, if you’re that far east, drive on into Cherokee, North Carolina (on the list too). I’m a fan of Asheville, North Carolina, myself—and this list mentions Weaverville, “just minutes” away.

My friend—we grew up together in California—was pleased to see Mount Shasta on the list, but noted two other California sites for enjoying fall foliage: the Sonora Pass (the second highest highway pass in the Sierra Nevada) and Hope Valley (located on the south side of Highway 88 not far from Lake Tahoe). I don’t know, however, what the wildfires may have done to these locations this year.

They’re talking about an early winter here, so don’t waste any time once the leaves begin to turn. Get out from behind the computer, drive slow and safe, and report back. I’m hoping to see some nice fall colors when I’m in Ireland next month. And I’ll take photos!

Same tree, different angle, October 2013.

Same tree, different angle, late afternoon, October 2013.


Keith Haring Exhibit—Don’t Miss It

Wikipedia says the late Keith Haring’s “imagery has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century.” I don’t know about that, specifically, but I can tell you that for me it is iconic, it represents the time I came of age. (And Haring too: he was just five years younger than me.)

So I’d like to recommend that if you are going to be in San Francisco between now and 16 February 2015, stop in and see “The Political Line”—

Keith Haring: The Political Line has its US premiere at the de Young and is the first major Haring show on the West Coast in nearly two decades. Many of the works are on loan from the Keith Haring Foundation, New York, with supplemental loans from public and private collections. Several pieces have not been published or on public view since the artist’s death, in 1990.

I fully recognize Haring’s art might not be for everyone but … I love it. It’s so … alive! So full of movement! It’s familiar but still feels fresh. Drop in at the Keith Haring Foundation and cycle through the photos there and you’ll see what I mean.

Image from the de Young’s website.

Image from the de Young’s website.