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birdguy

I Remember Mama

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One of my all time favorite movies.  About a Norwegian family living in San Francisco at the turn of the century.  There are parts of it that make my eyes water.  It played last evening on Turner Classic Movies.

It's been quite a while since I posted this here, but I Remember Mama reminds me of a story I wrote about my father and the time we became friends.

It was hot. The trail was dusty and the pack was getting heavier with every step up that long, steep trail that followed French Creek up the mountain. I began to wonder if this had been a bad idea.

It was the summer of 1949 and I was fifteen years old, skinny, and weighed 120 pound soaking wet. The previous Fall I read two books; ‘Waters of the Golden Trout Country’ and ‘Sequoia and Kings Canyon Trout’ by a man named Charles McDermand. Charles McDermand was the head of the sports department at a downtown department store called The Emporium. I went there to talk to him about his book. Probably twice a month I would visit him and he would tell me about the High Sierras and the Golden Trout country.

I told my Dad we should take a backpacking trip into the Sierras the next summer and we started to plan it. I did the planning and he did the listening. It would take some money to buy equipment and for the bus tickets to Huntington Lake. We could improvise some of the gear from what we had around the house and Dad bought some strips of wood and began making our pack frames. He also hired me to do the janitorial work around his print shop to earn money for the trip.

Meanwhile every Saturday I make my way the Emporium to talk to Mr. McDermand and from there I would go to Smilie’s Outfitters where they sold camping and wilderness and expedition supplies. I talked to the proprietors and gleaned as much information as I could and priced things I thought we should have.

Things were coming together. Dad had the pack frames made. I had earned enough money for our bus tickets and two rather large canvas tarps. We had selected a pot and skillet and coffee pot from mom’s kitchen and a couple of Mason jars. Large safety pins held together extra blankets from the linen closet that would be our ‘sleeping bags’.

On the weekend before we left I took Dad to the Emporium and introduced him to Mr. McDermand. They talked for a while. Then I took him to Smilie’s and we shopped for some essentials liked dehydrated apples and a waterproof match case. On the evening we were supposed to leave Dad came home with a five pound slab of bacon and a sack of beans. Those would be our staples for a week. We laid out pack frames on the livingroom floor and spread our tarps over them. Dad divided up our gear and then wrapped the tarp around everything and lashed the bundle to the pack frames. We were ready to go.

After saying goodbye to mom and my brother we hefted out packs walked up to Hyde Street and took the cable car down town. At the end of the line we walked to the Greyhound bus depot and waited until it was time for the Fresno bus to leave. We arrived in Fresno early in the morning and sat around the bus depot having breakfast and waited for the Huntington Stage that would take us to Huntington Lake.

The stage was simply a station wagon that delivered mail and small packages to the small towns and farms and ranches along the way to Huntington Lake.

At Huntington Lake we walked to the public campground at the edge of town and set up for our first night of the trip. It was a chance to check out our gear and the routine we would follow for the rest of the week. The next morning we packed up and started hiking down the highway to Florence Lake where the trailhead to the high country was.

About 30 minutes minutes later a man in a pickup truck stopped and asked us if wanted a ride to the lake. Dad accepted and we put our packs in the bed of the truck next to his boat. When we got the lake he offered to take us across in his boat.

It didn’t take us long to find the trail and we started hiking up the Kern River valley. Its pretty level and I thought this was going to pretty easy. There we were in the wilderness. Nobody else was around. Whenever we stopped to rest we could hear the rushing waters of the Kern River. It was paradise. We finally got the side trail that led up to Hutchinson Meadows, our destination.

We camped there and took out the Mason Jar of beans soaking in water and poured the contents into mom’s pot. Dad scraped out a fire pit and started a small fire. I was assigned to gather firewood. When the fire had burned down to just coals Dad put the pot of beans on to boil and sliced a couple pieces of bacon from the slab and put them in mom’s skillet. The bacon started frying and the beans were boiling. The pine smoke smelled wonderful and our beds were laid out just waiting for us.

Soon the bacon had fried up and the beans were semi-cooked. We sat around and ate out of the pot and the skillet and Dad started to talk to me about when he was a boy. He had some wonderful stories to tell. We had never had time to talk like this before. I learned more about him that night than in all my 15 years. Before long it was dark and we climbed into our bedrolls and went to sleep. The hike and semilack of sleep the night before caught up with me and I dozed off quickly. Then sometime in the middle of the night I woke with a start and it sounded like a thousand dogs had surrounded us baking and yelping and carrying on like they were going to attack us. Dad laughed and said they were just coyotes to ignore them and go back to sleep.

Eventually I did and woke up to the smell of hot coffee. Dad had breakfast ready. Not much, just the left over bacon and beans from last night and some fresh coffee. We had to get back on the trail because it was a long hike to Hutchinson Meadows.I cleaned up the dishes on the banks of the Kern River while Dad began to repack our gear and lash the bundles to the pack frames.

The trail to Hutchinson Meadows was long and steep. This was not going to be the walk in the woods yesterday was. My steps grew shorter and the pack grew heavier. I just plodded along behind Dad. Periodically we stopped to rest whenever French Creek was close enough to the trail for us to get some cool water to drink. Then Dad would say, “We’re wasting time. Time to go.” We finally made it Hutchinson Meadows, the place we would call home for the next 3 days.

I gathered fire wood and dad started cutting down pine boughs for our bed. He stick them into the ground at a forty five degree angle, one beside the other, until he had a nice pallet made. We would sleep on those for the next three nights. He place one tarp over the boughs and our bedrolls on top of it. The other tarp would be our cover in case it rained. But it never did. We had extra beans and bacon that night and did a lot more talking.

My dad and I were becoming friends. We sat around the fire, each of us poking at the coals with a stick. The night was quiet. And I learned how people could just sit quietly with each other without the need to speak and not be awkward.

The next morning dad made the apple sauce and pancakes. That was it. In the days before freeze dried breakfasts and dinners meager rations were the order of the day. After breakfast I cleaned up the dishes. Dad filled the Mason jar with water and put in the beans to soak all day. He wrapped the food in one of the bedroll blankets and tied it off with a rope. Then he swung the rope over a high limb of the pine tree and hoisted it up and tied it off so the bears couldn’t get to it.

Then we went fishing. We climbed over the boulders up to the benches above the meadows where the little lakes were. And we caught Golden Trout. Canary yellow Golden Trout. Creatures of beauty. And they would supplement dinner tonight. Dad would also salt some to take home with us. He knew how to do those things. He was kind of a mountain man but I never knew it.

We spent three days at Hutchinson Meadows. Three days that would map out the rest of my life. We never saw another soul up there. The world belonged to Dad and I alone. Wilderness camping got into my blood. And Dad and I became a lot more than father and son. I felt I cold talk to him like I could talk to my friends at home. And I learned a lot about him. About when he ran away from home when he was 14 and wound up in Oklahoma during the oil boom. He linked up with a guy who had a truck and at night they could go out and steal drilling rod from one outfit and the next day sell it to another outfit. How he worked on the highway gang building the road along the Klamath River in Northern California. He was the cook. He told me he had wounded a deer one day and had to cut it’s throat because he had no bullets left. That deer fed the highway gang for two days. He was arrested by the sheriff in Yreka because they thought he was a train robber. It was a case of mistaken identity. I don’t know how he became a printer and a graphic artist. But he designed the original Safeway logo...the round one before they squared it off to look modern.

My dad was also a gardener and when we lived in Mill Valley he grew mushrooms in a dark corner of the basement. He was a quiet man and I never saw him get excited. Mom used to get angry with him from time to time, but I never saw him get angry with her.

He was not a religious man. He was a reader. He read lots of books. Our living room was stacked with books. And from time to time he would sneak a book to me that was banned by the church and tell me not let my mother see it.

One night a friend of mine and I were in a used car lot on Van Ness Avenue driving cars around the with their starter motors until the batteries went dead. We got caught and were arrested. Our parents were called. My dad and my friend’s dad came to get us. My friend’s dad was quite angry but when my dad saw me sitting there he burst out laughing.

And when I got kicked out of St. Ignatius high school my mom was livid. When I told my dad why he didn’t say anything. He just gave me a look that said, “I’m proud of you son.”

I never saw my dad much after I joined the Marines. Only when I came on leave. When I was in Korea I wrote him letter once. My mom wrote back to me that when my dad read it he had a tear in is eye.

One time when I was home my brother and I took him to see the movie Paint Your Wagon. I had never seen him that laugh loud except for the time I got arrested.

He contracted Alzheimer’s. My brother Leon was home and he took care of Mom and Dad after they retired. I was living in Utah at the time. I called my Mom once and my Dad answered the phone. My Mom wasn’t home so I asked my Dad to tell her I called. A while later she called me and asked if I had called. My Dad had told her someone called. She asked, “Was it Leon?” “No,” he told her, “it was the other guy.”

The last time I saw him he was in a nursing home bed and reminded me of an infant in a crib. He died shortly after that.

What I am today I owe to my Dad, the Jesuits at Saint Ignatius High School, and the United States Marine Corps. But mostly, I think, my Dad. He started me on the path that led to Saint Ignatius and the Marine Corps.

I think of him from time to time and it’s always with fondness.

Noel

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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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Once again I thank you for sharing this wonderful story Noel! All of your stories have been fascinating. You should seek a publisher so they might be shared more widely. :wink:

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Fr. Bill    

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Noel, you must be related to Earl Hamner, Garrison Keillor, and Jean Shepard. We should call you "birdguy the Story teller". 😄


Charlie Aron

Awaiting the new Microsoft Flight Sim and the purchase of a new system.  Running a Chromebook for now! :cool:

                                     

 

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48 minutes ago, n4gix said:

You should seek a publisher so they might be shared more widely.

I thank you for your compliments but no, I have no desire to have them published for public distribution.  I don't need the money nor do I need the recognition or fame.

They have become a family heirloom.  I wrote them for my grand children and now my great grandchildren.  My granddaughter has had them bound and will give them to my great granddaughters and my youngest great grandson after they learn how to read and are old enough to understand them.  My 15 year old great grandson has already read them

I will occasionally share them with my friends when an opportunity arises.

I wrote a preface to the story collection.

o my grandchildren.

 Many times while you are growing up you will hear your parents, grownups, and your grandma and I say, “It wasn’t like this when I was your age.” What was it like when I was your age? What did I think and feel? What did I do? How did I play? What was school like? What were my friends like? How was I different from you?

My world in 1945 was not anything like the world you live in now. Many of the things I did you will never do. And you will do many things I never even dreamt of as a boy.

This is a collection of stories about your Uncle Leon and I growing up on the streets of San Francisco as he and I remember them. We lived in a two story duplex on Larkin street, about a half block up from Pacific Avenue. There was playground about a block away and all of our friends lived within about a four block area. But the whole city of San Francisco was our playground. It was where my life really began and where I started to explore the world.

These stories are in no particular order, but range from about the third to eighth grade. I am hoping they will add something to your remembrance of me, not only as an old man who was the father of your mother or father, but also, once, as a kid like you; much different, but also much the same.

Each story has a title, but if I were to have a title for the whole collection it would be Me and Lee and Larkin Street.

The oldest and the youngest member of the family.  Jon was about 10 months old in this picture.

Noel

Patriarch.JPG

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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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53 minutes ago, charliearon said:

Noel, you must be related to Earl Hamner, Garrison Keillor, and Jean Shepard

I think there are elements of all three in my story telling.  They have certainly influenced me.

Noel

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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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Wow, what a handsome lad you are! Baby Jon is (was) cute too! :laugh:

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Fr. Bill    

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Noel, this is so wonderfull writing

Sure, you dont want to publish, but would you think of sharing your other stories as a download here on avsim. I would love to get them all.

In any case , another great telling from you, enjoyed it very much, THANK YOU

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"I Remember Mama" was a TV show in the 50's also. 

 


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I certainly recall watching I Remember Mama.   Pretty amazing that almost every TV program (if not all) was live back then. No re-takes.   Although I no idea where Norway was back then,  heartwarming it certainly was, even to a little in Brooklyn, NY kid in the 50's... 

And, today your story was also just as heartwarming, so thanks for that.

BTW, my uncle was a TV repair man, and thanks to him, my parents had one of the first TV's on our block. About a 12 " screen!

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Yes, I do recall that TV series.  But Irene Dunn in the original movie was so moving.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress and several others were nominated for supporting roles.

I had one minor problem with the movie.  I grew up on Larkin Street, and that was not Larkin Street where they lived in the movie.  I've walked Larking Street from end to end and there are no steep hills on it like the one in the movie.  They were correct about the Hyde Street cable car though.  Hyde street was a block up from Larkin Street and I rode on that cable car countless times.

Noel


The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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6 hours ago, ILSFREAK said:

Sure, you dont want to publish, but would you think of sharing your other stories as a download here on avsim.

I don't think AVSIM is a venue for anything not flight related.  However when I posted this story here a couple of weeks ago I responded to someone who wanted the entire collection that if he would PM his e-mail address I would e-mail him the entire collection on PDF.  That offer still stands for anyone who's interested.

Noel

Edited by birdguy

The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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I've been thinking about this.  Every weekend I have been publishing my bird pictures here.  I could post one of my stories once a week instead if you like.

Noel

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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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