Friday, August 24, 2012

When WW II Engineers Set Down Their Slide Rules and Started Rockin' on Ascension

I just received the photo above and a note from a fellow named William Orr, principal of Hillsborough High School in Florida, whose father served on Ascension Island with the 38th Engineers at about the same time as my father. 

Orr's father was in a band some of the men formed on the island, called The Wideawakes, named after the airfield they built, Wideawake Field--still in operation today. This is the first I've heard of the band, though it makes sense, on a desert island, that men would organize something like that to while away the time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Packard Foundation and its Apricots

Dried apricots from the hills above Los Altos, California. We call them "California Candy."

I got a postcard this week from my secret friends up in the hills above Los Altos, saying that the 2012 dried apricots were ready for sale and listing the dates and times they would be available. I've already made some apricot jam from the windfalls they let me glean this summer, so I feel doubly lucky to have made their dried 'cot mailing list.

"They" are the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. As part of their program to support conservation and retain iconic areas of the West, they operate eighty acres of apricot trees in Los Altos Hills. What a great idea!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Message of Reconciliation and Hope

Capt. W.A. Chapman during the Battle of Okinawa.

I spoke with my friend Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian this week and I was deeply moved by what he said to me about the death of his son, Capt. Matt Manoukian, who was killed last Thursday in Afghanistan.

"I don't hate those guys," he said. "If we hate them, then they have won." I realized at that moment that my friend's strength of character would see him through this difficult time. It reminded me of some things I read in my father's letters from Japan at the end of World War II.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Ghost of my Father's Hand

If you look carefully to the left of our back door, you will see the marks of my father's hand on the wall of the house.

During a Sunday pause in the painting of the exterior of my family home, I saw my father's ghostly hand near our back door this morning. It wasn't a ghost really--just the impression of his long, thin fingers. 

During the last year of his life, my father's walking became difficult and he would hold onto the stair rail at our back door steps, then reach for a grab bar my mother had installed, and then would put his left hand against the house to steady himself--the wonderful old house supporting the wonderful old man. The marks from the oil in his hands are still there.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Taking a Bullet That Was Meant For You

Capt. Matthew Patrick Manoukian, USMC.

My friend Pete lost his beloved son this week. He was killed in Afghanistan.

There are no words to express the sorrow of his family, nor the debt we owe to the young man. The story of this family is a truly American one.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Top Ten Overrated Movies

Glen Ford and Rita Hayworth in Gilda

The recent elevation, by some snooty British cineasts, of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo to the "best movie of all time"--oh come on--has caused me to do some thinking about a number of other overrated films. So, since the men are pressure-washing my house today and making a lot of noise and mess and water is leaking under my doors and I'm running around with towels plugging the leaks and I can't seem to get any other work done--I thought I might run through some of the films that have gone cult on us for no good reason. See if you agree:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Vertigo the Best Movie Ever? Get Real.

A posh British film magazine has just produced the once-every-decade results of its Best Films of All Time poll and Vertigo now tops the list, defeating Citizen Kane which moved down a notch to number two.

What a crock! The entire poll is suspect since, of the top ten films, only three are American--in an industry which, during its entire classic period, was dominated by Hollywood. And of the American films on the list, only Citizen Kane was truly groundbreaking in its day--though I find it almost unwatchable now. With Vertigo (1958) in the number one spot, Kane (1941) at number two and John Ford's truly silly The Searchers (1956) at number seven, I must tell you I seriously beg to differ!

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Message From the Past on an Old Postcard

Vintage postcard of the foothills that surround the Santa Clara Valley.

I have seen the vintage postcard, above, several times on the Internet and it has always caught my eye. Something about it called to mind the view we used to have from our old kitchen window.

I remember admiring a little farm up there with an orchard and seeing a man on a tractor, turning over the ground in between the rows of trees. I often thought I would like to go up there to live.