Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oops! Did I say that out loud?

Do you talk to yourself … not out loud, but inside your head? I’ve done it all my life. Sometimes it worries me. But mostly, I figure everybody does it.

It’s different than regular thinking. I’m holding mini-conversations with myself, as I hash out problems, practice what I want to say to someone, chastise myself or even lavish a little self-praise.

Often, I talk to myself as I’m driving. As my body takes one trip, my mind is on another, with random thoughts bobbing about like Styrofoam pellets in a stiff wind.

But my self-chats keep me company, keep me awake and don’t distract me nearly as much as talking on a cell phone would.

Sometimes, I talk to myself about what I’m seeing from my mobile, metal cocoon.

For instance:
“My goodness, that’s a tire sticking up halfway out of the bog. Wonder how it got there? Hmmm. I could make believe I’m the artist Christo and stick hundreds of mannequin arms and legs into the mud out there. Would anybody notice and, if they did, what would they think?”

Or: (Screeech.) “You idiot! Whaddya mean, doing 80 in a 55 mph zone!”

Or: (A sister discussion.) “Geez, I believe in being safe. But putting along at 8 mph when the speed-limit sign said 35?”

Or: “ ‘PARADDL.’ Now that’s a cool personalized license plate! I actually know what it means (I’m the daughter of a musician — paradiddle is a drum roll). But that other personalized plate over there doesn’t make any sense at all. I want to stomp over and ask the driver what in *&^%$#@ it means.’” I haven’t done that yet, but someday …

Some of my best self-talks are about mental snapshots I take as I drive along.

For instance, I spied an older man walking slowly along Cambria’s Main Street, heading for Highway 1. He didn’t look happy about what he was doing.

All of a sudden, there was a curb alongside his feet.

The man surreptitiously looked around to see if anybody was watching, but didn’t spot me. He grinned, then hopped up on the curb. Using his arms for balance as a tightrope-walker would, he almost skipped along the raised concrete edging.

I told myself it was like watching Archie Bunker morph instantly into Peter Pan.

Another time, as we drove north on Highway 1 near Año Nuevo, we saw a Norman Rockwell-style image of agriculture in progress.

A man was walking slowly along some freshly harrowed rows. At regular intervals, he’d reach into the big knapsack at his side and grab a handful of what appeared to be large seeds — perhaps for the area’s legendary pumpkins.

In a graceful movement choreographed by years of experience, he sowed the seeds, which flew from his fingers in an even, fan-shaped spray.

“It’s just like a modern dance,” I said in my head, and then repeated it for husband Richard.

He had noticed the man, too.

“Reminds me of Daddy Anderson,” he said of his former father-in-law.

Daddy Anderson spent his entire life tending the soil of his Northern Utah farm. Often, as he’d check his fields, he’d absentmindedly reach down for a pinch of dirt. He’d roll it around between his thumb and a couple of fingers, then put a bit of it on his tongue.

He was so in tune with his land, he could taste if something was wrong with the soil.

That’s a real farmer. He was worlds away from cowboy-hatted, lizard-skin-booted agribusiness CEOs who talk the talk, but couldn’t walk their way out of a corral without falling face-first into the manure.

And wouldn’t that be a mental image to talk to yourself about?

It’s like the old story about the little boy who asked the man, “Hey mister, are you a real cowboy?”

“Why yes, I am,” the rancher drawled. “See my cowboy hat, and my cowboy shirt? I’ve got a real Western belt and gen-u-ine Levi’s jeans.”

“But mister,” the boy said, “you’re not wearing cowboy boots!”

The man paused and said, “Now, son, I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a California truck driver.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

BEST OF: We hold this truth to be self-evident

Cambria’s Independence Day festivities are billed as an "Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration."

Is there any other kind? Have you ever been tempted to attend a "New Wave Fourth of July"?

Me neither. In fact, I've never even seen one suggested.

Maybe that's because some things are best when left alone.

It's called tradition.

It brings to mind a recent recipe I read for dressing up watermelon. Cubes of the fruit were frozen, then sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes and drizzled with basil-and-chipotle-infused syrup.

It might be wonderful, but it's not watermelon the way I want to remember it. And I think I'll pass this time.

Year after year after year, the American Legion's Independence Day celebration at Shamel Park does tradition, which is exactly what it's supposed to do.

It gives me a lump in my throat when I see the color guard and the flag, when I hear the anthem.

We giggle as we watch kids of all ages try to run forward with one leg in a shared sack or catch a water balloon without breaking it.

Everybody gathers around and cheers their favorite servers, as we wonder whether San Simeon Bar & Grill will win the waiter-waitress race again this year.

We eat all the wrong things and enjoy every bite. We listen to the music and might even get up to dance (if we can hide in a remote corner of the park).

And we thrill to the fireworks display, which we find much more fun to watch than overwhelming gazillion-dollar shows that fill the sky for hours with so many bursts and blasts, you really don't get to enjoy any of them individually. Those mega-shows are so overwhelming, my eyes and ears get tired.


Cambria’s Shamel Park celebration reminds me of my childhood, of Independence Days spent with family at Manursing Island Country Club in Rye, N.Y.

I remember swimming off and on all day with my Aunt Kate (only a couple of years older than I am) and Cousin John. We frolicked until we were human prunes. When we got dressed, we had that strange dizzy sense that comes with being in dry clothes after having been in the water so long.

We'd go to the little poolside snack bar and get big vanilla ice-cream cones. The clerk would give us each a cone-shaped paper cup of chocolate shot to dip the rapidly melting ice cream into.


The next big event was the buffet dinner in the dining room that overlooked Long Island Sound.

We'd devour the shrimp in cocktail sauce, the fried chicken, the deviled eggs and those bite-sized chocolate eclairs.

And, as dusk fell, we'd marvel at the fireworks.


Several decades ago in Cambria, the Independence Day celebration was on hiatus for a while.

The now defunct North Coast Property Owners Association revived the fireworks, much to the glee of residents and visitors, who'd been rather sulky over the lack of festivities.

When the association folded, the Cambria Chamber of Commerce took over and expanded the event.

Recently, I reminisced about all that with Del Clegg of Cookie Crock Market fame. He and I were among the directors on the chamber's board then.

He teased me about my having to wear a tall, sequined red hat with a long, blue feather on it.

I'm so short, that was the only way the other organizers could find me in the crowd.

The chamber was determined to make the event family friendly. We’re so glad it has stayed that way, thanks to American Legion Post No. 432.

We know how hard it is to pull together an event like that, how many people it takes doing so many tasks.

Del also reminded me of the 8-foot-long strawberry shortcake that husband Richard and I provided to the ceremony each year from our bakery. The shortcake required pounds of homemade, buttered sourdough biscuits, gallons of whipped cream and enough crushed fresh strawberries to fill several good-sized trash cans.

We'd assemble it all on a specially painted door, slide it into the back of the van and drive veerrrrrrrryyyyyy slowly to Shamel Park.

And the work goes on.

For instance, that holiday hot dog you munch requires people to make the plans and the commitment, buy the hotdogs, buns, relish, mustard, napkins and other accessories and find folks to run the booth.

They set up and fire up the barbecue, decorate the booth, cook the dogs, sell them, keep things stocked, clean up the mess afterward, tear down the equipment, take it home, clean it and put it away (that was always the part I hated most!).

And just what do you do with five open jars of pickle relish on July 5?

On Independence Day, for every booth and every activity, it takes people willing to give up weeks of their time to provide the rest of us with one day of fun.

That's an old-fashioned Fourth of July. That's tradition. That's how it should be.

Thank you, American Legion and all your cohorts. Long may you reign.

Answer to Anonymous' comment: A waiter-waitress race is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the park.

Kathe Tanner is an award-winning reporter for The Tribune and The Cambrian. She also has written a column for The Cambrian since 1981. This one was published on June 29, 2006.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Yes, kids today do care about learning

Anna’s a waif of a 10-year-old, with an innate sparkle that could ignite fireworks and a shy grin that makes you want to echo-smile from ear to ear in response.

Recently, after I met the Michel family, Anna snuggled up to her dad and listened intently as I asked him questions during a casual interview.

Paul Michel is the new superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The family was visiting the sanctuary’s southern gateway at San Simeon’s Coastal Discovery Center, seeing the Piedras Blancas Light Station and Hearst Castle and attending ceremonies at the castle’s newly remodeled visitor center.

Normally, I’d be reporting about what Paul said and his views on such topics as desalination plants, Davidson Seamount, the wreck of the Montebello, fishing, surfing and other issues in his work-a-day domain.

Later. This is about Anna.

She continued to watch me and listen, obviously making mental notes about something.

Finally, her mom, Bev, explained that the home-schooled child has an assignment to interview her grandmothers, ages 80 and 70.

Wow! What a great way to learn about history!

The Michels have an unusual household. For instance, they don’t have TV, preferring to have Anna and her mischievous younger brother Alex get news from newspapers which can be put away when the stories get too intense or repetitive for young folks.

Paul and Bev also minimize at-home computer use, wanting their children to refine writing skills and penmanship at the same time.

I explained to Anna why I ask certain interview questions and what I hope to learn from the answers.

Then she started asking me some insightful questions of her own.

What a delightful change from the "shutters slamming shut behind the eyes" reaction one often gets from children, teens … and even some adults.

I told Anna about a questionnaire I prepared long ago to help pry memories from reluctant senior citizens.

Some people slough off questions about their lives. "I’m nobody important," they protest. "I don’t have anything interesting to say. And if I do, I don’t remember it."

My questionnaire seeks to overcome that informational dam with topics as diverse as "What did your mother pack in your school lunches?" and "What were your early homes built from, and who built them?" and "Did you have a pet, and if so, what?"

I also suggested other ideas, such as having a tea party for Grandma and other relatives or longtime friends.

Show them photos from long ago, and it can be amazing what recollections those pictures will trigger. The seniors often will spar with each other about who really is who in a photo and what they really were doing.

A video or audio recorder can capture those good- natured arguments and the priceless tales within.

I also asked Anna to send me her reports when they’re done.

Anna, Alex and other bright kids provide the decidedly upbeat answer to a vital question do future generations really care about learning, or about the history of a house, a village, a nation … or a family?

You betcha.

That night, I thought what fun it could be to have Anna, Alex and our youngest grandkids all together at an event like Cambria’s ninth annual Heritage Day celebration on Sunday, June 24.

We’d bring some hoops to roll (or hula) around the Guthrie-Bianchini house, and play some Victorian-era games, to match the house. We’d share a picnic in the shade of the big trees and have a good, old-fashioned time.

No Xbox? Who cares? We’d have fun just being together. And we’d all be learning, too.

At the Castle ceremonies the next day, Anna greeted me with another incandescent smile, a big hug and a tightly folded piece of notebook paper.

As buddies often do, even across generational divides, we talked and giggled off and on for a couple of hours.

Later, I opened her paper.

It was a multicolored sketch of a waterway, pretty flowers and bees, with a note in her neat cursive writing:

"Dear Kathe, Thanks for being so friendly and welcoming. You inspired me. Your friend, Anna Michel."

And the same to you, dear Anna. Absolutely.

The smallest big world

Published May 30, 2007

There's an old saw about Joe from Kansas, who was vacationing in Paris. While strolling down the Champs Élysées, he was astonished to see his stateside next-door-neighbor walking toward him. Joe expected to share a warm handshake, effusive greetings and maybe even a chance to hang out together for a while. But as his cool-as-a-cucumber neighbor strode along, he looked up, smiled a bit, offhandedly said "Hi, Joe," and kept right on walking into the next block and beyond.

Fortunately, when we've come upon Cambrians out of town, their greetings have been much friendlier.

Even casual acquaintances will usually exchange squeals of glee, big hugs and even changes in itinerary to spend time together.

North Coast residents get around, for sure. So having them wind up in the same spot at the same time -- even when they're not sharing a travel tour -- shouldn't be astonishing.

But, somehow, it always is. It's found treasure, the social equivalent of finding a $100 bill on the sidewalk, or pulling into a rare parking space that has lots of time on the meter.

We've unexpectedly found Cambrians at the Orange County Performing Art Center, at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, at restaurants in San Francisco or L.A. and in a host of other far-away places.

I'm sure we've shared more meals out of town with our beloved neighbors Richard and Christine than we have when we've been right across the street from each other. However, our recent chance encounter takes the cake.

We were at a college reception, cheering for granddaughter Kelsey as she received the coveted pin which proclaims that she is a nurse.

We think Kelsey's accomplishment is huge, especially because she and her hardworking husband, Jeremy, have two young daughters.

Years ago, I discovered that studying with two little kids in the house was tough bordering on impossible. Finding bubblegum in the hair or having a baseball fly through a (closed) window is not conducive to concentrating.

And I wasn't trying to learn anatomy, memorize symptoms or keep track of interactions between two obscure drugs. To say we're proud of our grad is understating the situ- ation by a whole bunch.

The college ceremony was long and the chairs hard, but the joy radiating from the proud new nurses more than made up for it.

The keynote speaker regaled the students and the rest of us with poignant and hilarious recollections about being a novice nurse, including her tale of treating her first patient and how she carefully administered a suppository -- into the man's nose.

A couple of the students spoke, including one chipper young man who ended his talk by proposing to his girlfriend. No pressure there, eh, asking her in front of 400 people? I'm sure she knew she risked being lynched if she said no. I wish them well and hope she knows what she's getting into.

After the ceremony, I suddenly felt an arm snake around my shoulders and turned to see our Cambria pal Stan Cooper.

My jaw dropped, and my eyes opened wide. I stammered a little ... "But ... Stan!"

He grinned, then growled one of Humphrey Bogart's most famous phrases: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into mine."

This wasn't Cookie Crock or Main Street Grill, after all. We were at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, 433 miles from home.

Stan and wife April Benham were at the ceremony to root for the lovely Morgan Murphy, their own granddaughter- nurse-grad. She lives in Reno, but several family members are Cambrians, including great-grandparents Boyd and Hazel Benham, who've lived here for four decades. (Sadly, Mr. Benham passed away Saturday, May 26.)

Now mine is not sharpest mental pencil in math class, but even I can figure those odds are pretty long -- two bright young women graduating in the same class of 30 in Nevada, each having immediate family members far away in the same small town on the Central California coast.

Small world? You bet (don't you dare start humming the Disney theme!).

And thank you, Stan. I'm really glad you didn't give me a Joe-style greeting. Yours was just so ... Cambria.