Monday, June 02, 2008

Visit Your Mother!

I’m just back from a quick trip to California. It’s further proof, that good things can come in small packages. I decided to go on Tuesday, found a mileage ticket on United (mercifully a pair of non stop flights instead of the cheapie layover-in-Minneapolis variety), and left on Wednesday for San Francisco. Mom lives in Palo Alto, at the Hyatt senior independent living facility (it’s really a Luxury Hotel) located on the edge of the Stanford campus. My sister Lisa, also a Stanford grad, married and has never left the area. When mom decided to give up her place in Salt Lake, and live near one of her kids, Lis’ / Palo Alto made the most sense for several reasons, lack of snow being perhaps 3rd or 4th on the list, and familiarity with a nice location being first. It’s a charming place, the “peninsula,” and easy enough to see why people want to live there. And the advantage of living virtually on the Stanford campus, is that you have all kinds of cool school-related activities. Additionally, a number of former professors and professional people from the school have moved into the Hyatt, and when they have a seminar on current events, for example, the “in-house” speakers are folks like Bill Perry (the former Secretary of Defense.) I will say, the most educational moment of the trip was at the very beginning: on the “People Mover” out to the United Terminal,

I noticed a 7 year old boy who had, presumably to keep himself from slipping through a hole in the bus and falling all the way to China, zipped his coat up around the “hold on to” pole.
What a great idea. Never again feel like a sudden stop might throw you into someone’s lap. Just zip your coat around the pole, and you are guaranteed to arrive in one piece. This kid will eventually solve the last sticky problem on the Mars manned mission in 30 years, I’m sure of it. But, back to terra firma.

Mom is an inveterate bridge player, and has found a number of co-conspirators: she plays probably three or four times a week. Additionally, there is a little Koffee Klatch which gathers every morning about 9a.m.
Each morning between a half dozen and twenty men and women gather, in what is the high-end retirement pad version of the small town cafĂ©. Years of working in Iowa leading up to the Presidential caucuses has exposed me to the charm of those small cafes: farmers gathering at the crack of dawn to talk about corn and hog prices was always a way to find out what the elusive Iowa voter thought about the current crop of candidates. Koffee mornings at the Hyatt, I attended two of them, were a good start to the morning, though I will confess I usually brought my own coffee with me. Let’s face it, even Hyatt coffee is just ‘hotel’ coffee.


I spent just three days in Palo Alto, including a quick trip up to Muir Woods in Marin, north of the Golden Gate, to see the amazing redwoods.
Staying with Lis’ and her family (and her numerous cats) was also refreshing. When you live this far away, it’s tough to be able to really stay in touch: but a few dinners, and a trip to the equestrian ring, and you feel like you’re back in touch. Seeing mom, across the country, isn’t always that easy to work into my other, working trips. For some reason I don’t get to California much these days. Hell, I don’t get to Utah or Michigan either. But that’s another blob.

Three weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, Tom Friedman wrote a wonderful column entitled “Call Your Mother.” In it, he talks about how this is his first Mother’s Day since his mom passed away last fall and how much he misses her. His point, if you CAN call your mom, do not waste the chance to do so. And I would add, if you CAN visit your mom for a couple of days, do not miss the chance to do so.

One of the things I confess to enjoying when I arrive, is going through the big boxes of old family pictures. In moves through two houses and two apartments, that box has gently shrunk over the years, but mom has been pretty good at keeping the fun, amusing, signpost pictures handy. Like a good book, each time I go through that box I find something I hadn’t seen before. This trip, buried down at the bottom, was a slightly yellowing newspaper clip from a 1966 copy of the Rocky Mountain Review, a weekly paper owned by my cousins Steven and Norman, where I was the staff photographer (at least over the summer.) The article was about the upcoming Horse Show at the Cottonwood Club, and surprize, surprize, the pictures both included Lisa Burnett (age 14), with her horse Gyser. It was the time in my career when I had great power, but little sway: I could put my sister’s picture in the paper, but get virtually no thanks for it. (And worse, it’s true, I actually remember telling her I would SELL her a print! What a Jerk I was… but I learned my lesson.) Amazingly, on the back of that article was the Classified page. Not exactly the New York Times, it included everything from real estate to used refrigerators. In the middle was an ad that caught my eye, as it was a notice to sell some camera gear. I read through it quickly, and then realized that I was the one who had placed the ad. Yes, 42 years ago, I had bought a new Nikon camera, and was selling my two cheap, trashy Pentax telephotos. Yet the ad would make you think that you, the consumer, was about to score something special. I don’t frankly remember how much I got for that glass, but if it was fifty bucks that would have been a lot.

And the ad just above mine: I almost wish I could buy that little runabout with the Mercury outboard. What a little time trip it was just to find it. Seeing myself at age 17 (does pencil-neck geek ring a bell) was oddly fulfilling: I haven't had a jacket fit that good for years.

When people see that a fire threatens their home, the first thing they try and save are the pictures. No one else has Your pictures. No store, no other home, no school. Your home and family pictures, like your DNA, are just about You. Each family has a little treasure of pictures like this, some more elaborate than others. Iris has been very good about putting the 4x6 pictures in albums the last couple of years, and for once, there is a modicum of organization to the mass of images. So make sure your pictures are in a safe place. Put them in albums. Pictures are memory. Memory is life. We’re just sayin’…. David

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