September 18, 2017: We lost our Grandmother Henry this past Fourth of July, and our Grandfather Henry nearly six years earlier, on Sept. 9, 2011 — the same day that California celebrates its admission to the United States. That both our beloved family patriarch and matriarch died on notable calendar dates seems somehow contrary to the understated lives they led, but yet a fitting exit for a couple whose legacy looms large for us and our siblings, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles.
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We have by now come to terms with their loss, more than two months after Grandmother’s passing and the settling of her estate. Memories have been conjured and private tributes shared amid the redistribution of photos, furnishings and letters from her apartment. But the one thing lacking was a formal ceremony to say farewell, and that need was filled at a family gathering in Hayward this month.
The date for the celebration of life was, fittingly, Sept. 9 — the anniversary of Grandpa’s passing. Glenn’s mother arranged the event and opened it to any family members who wanted and were able to come, and it was pleasing to see that many did. In addition to us and all of Glenn’s nuclear family, his Uncle Dave and Aunt Marie came down from Oregon along with his cousin Jalaine. Glenn’s cousin Andy arrived from Southern California with his two sons, Jonah and Eli, and Jenny’s family including husband Tom and their two kids, Shannon and Allen, were there. Even Sean’s girlfriend Denise put in an appearance near the end of the afternoon, so it was a full house.
We all sat in a circle around the living room and for nearly an hour shared stories of the couple we knew as Mother and Daddy, Grandmother and Grandpa, Grammie and Grampie. Some of the tales were old and familiar while others, though from long ago, seemed fresh and exciting. We heard of Grandpa’s love of classical music, and how he would “conduct” the orchestra from his armchair with a baton that only he could see. We laughed at the stories about Grandmother and her love for margaritas that played out even as she lay in her hospital bed during her final days. There was a memory shared of a time when Glenn was unknowingly bitten by a tick while on a family visit to New Jersey and how Grandmother quietly went about gathering rubbing alcohol to remove it so as not to frighten him.
The legends occasionally became larger than the people behind them. Andy told a story of how during one childhood visit he was standing by the car at the side of a road and somehow found himself in the path of an approaching vehicle. It was Grandpa’s swift maneuvering that enabled him to scoop Andy to safety. Andy said he was “probably the only person in this room who can say his life was literally saved by Grandpa.” Not so, actually. Glenn then shared the story of how on a family picnic at a hillside park he decided it would be fun to run from the top of the hill to the bottom. But his 6-year-old legs weren’t able to keep up with his body’s increasing momentum as he barreled down the slope, and it was only Grandpa’s strong arm that came between him and crashing headlong into a picnic table. Then Uncle Dave came up with a Grandpa The Hero story about how his father saved him from choking on a quarter he’d accidentally swallowed, and soon it was suggested that Grandpa may have been harboring a red cape somewhere.
We remembered Grandmother’s love of nature, her stoicism, the crossword puzzles that the two of them worked on while sitting in their armchairs in their New Jersey home, looking out the picture window on the two acres of woods that surrounded their property. We recalled their rare vacations and family trips taken, along with the boxing matches, golf tournaments and college football games that Grandpa loved to watch. And there were funny memories of the old television set they nursed along well beyond its years by Grandpa using a hair dryer to warm it up enough to operate.
Glenn’s mom and sister each read letters they had prepared for the occasion. Shannon sang a song she had picked out. Dave and Andy pulled up old photos on their computers and talked about family lineages. We all laughed and occasionally cried, and in the end we came away with a better sense of who Grandmother and Grandpa were and the deep roots they put down in our family tree.
And then we ate. It was Togo’s sandwiches, potato salad, fruit salad and Aunt Marie’s Texas sheet cake — a favorite of Grandpa’s — while folks visited, played in the park or explored the steep hillside that makes up the backyard of the home Glenn’s folks own.
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HE FOLLOWING DAY the venue for the memorial ceremony shifted to the Sierra foothills when we all caravanned to the family cemetery outside of Sutter Creek. The plan was to scatter the ashes of both grandparents, which had been in the care of Glenn’s mom. The cemetery is remote and difficult to find, so it was decided that we should all meet at 11 a.m. in the parking lot of the Sutter Creek Post Office. We were first to arrive, followed moments later by Sean, Denise and her dog Zara, then Andy and his sons and fiancee, then Dave and Marie and Jalaine. Glenn’s parents arrived in their minivan, and then we had to wait a bit in the parking lot for Jenny and Tom and the kids to show.
Our little band assembled, Glenn’s folks led the rest of us east of town for the roughly 15-minute drive to the cemetery. It had been many years since Glenn’s last visit there, and Roni had never seen it. We were curious as to what we would find.
The cemetery is pretty well hidden from the main highway, situated on a small hill in a corner of what was once a 120-acre ranch belonging to Glenn’s great grandfather. The ranch was the birthplace of Glenn’s grandpa, who spent much of his childhood there before the family moved to Southern California. The cemetery is the final resting place of Glenn’s great-great grandmother and great-great-great grandparents, and is now owned by Glenn’s mom. It may be difficult to get to, but that has not prevented it from being vandalized and looted over the years, so a few of the old headstones are missing, as well as the wrought iron fence that surrounded at least one for the grave sites. The heavily wooded property had become overrun by the native plants, so a caring neighbor had volunteered his labor to clear the brush a few months ago, which made what we had come to do much easier.
There were 17 of us on hand to help scatter the ashes. Glenn’s mom and dad first emptied the two sacks of cremains into a small bucket, then each of us took turns mixing them together with a trowel. Everyone then joined hands in a large circle and Andy’s fiancee said a little prayer. Then Andy sang a Jewish hymn. Afterward, we all took handfuls of the ashes and sprinkled them around the cemetery, trying to be thorough and creative with how we cast them back to nature.
We have been working on the landscaping for our front yard this month, and as part of that project we recently painted the koi that we molded ourselves from concrete several months ago. Our folks had admired the photos of the fish Roni shared on her Facebook page, and Mom had suggested that we should bring some to the cemetery. So the night before the trip we took a couple of the extras we had sitting in our backyard and painted them up. We brought them to the cemetery along with a half dozen concrete flowers that Roni had previously painted, and some plain white stones with marking pens so that people could write messages on them. These we all placed in a circle around a spot where Glenn planted several cherry seeds and an apricot pit — perhaps symbolic of the fruit orchards that once grew in the sandy soil near their New Jersey home. Given the rocky terrain and harsh weather conditions here, it seems unlikely that the seeds will ever grow, but we mixed our grandparents’ ashes into the soil and watered them all the same.
The concrete fish, flowers and stones may be as close to a real headstone as our grandparents receive. A true marker out there in the woods is unlikely because of the probability it will be stolen or defaced. The man who helped clear the property of brush this spring happened to stop by while we were holding our service, and he said that two of the missing grave markers had turned up for sale at an antique shop in town. It is sad that we live in a world where so little respect is accorded the deceased and the families who wish to honor them.
There was some discussion about driving back to town and trying to track down the stolen grave markers, but talk was all it was. Some folks were heading out for a long trip home, and the rest of us who weren’t were more in the mood for food than a detective mission. We tagged along with Glenn’s family to a restaurant on Old Route 49, a place called Sina’s Backroads Cafe. The sandwiches we ordered were tasty, even if the portions were a bit skimpy.
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FTER LUNCH IT was time to start heading home, but it was still early in the day and we both were in the mood to explore, given that we don't go on many road trips lately. We had discovered that Sutter Creek is less than an hour from Apple Hill, a popular tourist destination outside Placerville that we had never been to, so it was an easy decision to take the northern detour and check it out. Jenny and Tom have made it one of their annual traditions to visit Apple Hill around Thanksgiving, taking the kids and picking up pies for the holidays. Apparently we're the only people who hadn't discovered it.
Apple Hill is a lot like the pumpkin farms of Half Moon Bay or the U-pick stands of Brentwood, an association of growers whose orchards are loaded during the fall with organic apples of every imaginable variety. (At least, we assume most of them are organic, although probably not in all cases.) Some of them, including High Hill Ranch where we spent our visit, also offer attractions for the kids and vendors selling assorted arts and crafts.
We were forewarned that Apple Hill would likely be swamped. High Hill Ranch opened for the season the week before Labor Day, and the parking lot was mostly full when we got there around 3:30 p.m. We enjoyed ourselves browsing the crafts and then checking out the restaurant to see what sorts of pies were available. While we mulled our choices of which one to bring home, we wandered over to the Apple Barn where we satisfied our sweet tooth with an apple crumb doughnut and an apple crumb fritter. What's the difference between the two? Well, the fried doughnut was a lot sweeter and more cakey than the fritter, which was baked and more doughy like bread. They both tasted satisfyingly apple-y.
We shied away from buying the $26 lug of apples, but were happy to fill up a bag with several different varieties at $1.59 per pound — vastly cheaper than we usually find at the local grocery stores. We strolled along the grassy banks of a man-made fishing pond before returning to the restaurant on our way back to the car so we could get our pie. Roni picked out a caramel apple pie with a crumb topping that was absolutely delicious and made us regret only that we hadn't brought home more than one to enjoy.
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HEN IT COMES to yard work, we apparently don’t know how to say no. It has been a few weeks since Glenn laid the last paver for the driveway expansion, and so far we’ve been very pleased with the results. Roni has begun parking her car on the area and it appears to be bearing the weight just fine. Maybe that is because we tried to do things the right way by putting in a sub-bed of crushed rock and a layer of paver sand on top of that before laying the stones. It made the project take a lot longer, but we are hoping the investment of time and physical labor will pay dividends down the line in the form of less maintenance.
Which brings us to the other side of the driveway. The 5-foot no-man’s land of dirt and weeds separating our property from the former rental unit to the northwest. That strip has long been an eyesore, so much so that our neighbors five years ago went out of their way to install a crappy white picket fence between our properties to separate our weeds from their lawn — an act that made the situation worse, as we could no longer easily weed around it. Then came Roni’s new car, and we put her old 1998 Toyota Corolla out to pasture in hopes that Ben would eventually drive it. We parked the car off the driveway, as far onto the dirt as we could manage. And there it sat for almost three years, gathering dirt and cobwebs, contributing to the mess.
With Ben finally getting his driving permit last month, the time had come to take the old car out of mothballs and make improvements on the weed patch. We had about a half pallet of pavers left over from the earlier project, so we decided to put them to use along with some of the other paving stones we’d removed for the expansion. First we had to get the car out of the tight spot it was wedged into, which meant having to get it started up again.
The battery on the old car had died years ago, and despite our attempt to give it a jump start, there was no resuscitating it. We brought the dead battery to Walmart and exchanged it for a new one with a 2-year warranty, thinking that might outlast the car if we were able to get it back on the road. The new battery worked as expected, and the car started right up after just a few attempts to crank the hibernating engine. Smoke billowed from the exhaust manifold, but we hoped it was just a symptom of a car that desperately needs a tune-up and to be driven.
Glenn inflated all the tires (several had gone flat) and then commenced the task of backing the car out onto the driveway. Nature hasn’t stood still these past three years, so now the oleander next to the passenger door was much larger, as was the pine tree near the back bumper that had been just a stick when we permanently parked the car in 2014. Roni was convinced that the tree would have to be removed before the car could come out, but Glenn, ever stubborn, managed to wriggle the car out of its space without disturbing the nearby plants. The triumph was short lived, however, as the tree was cut down the following day to make room for the pavers we now needed to install.
We had decided to let Ben park in the middle of the driveway to provide him with the simplest way in and out. His car would trade places with Glenn’s, which we planned to park on the improved surface we were in the process of making. After Roni had gleefully cut down the pine tree and Glenn had removed the stump, we pulled up the old pavers, bark and landscaping fabric that had been on the strip and raked smooth the underlying sand. Unlike the first driveway project, there was no effort made to lay base rock or paver sand; we just plopped the pavers down on the bare soil. We know they will settle and collect weeds over time, but this was not intended to be a permanent solution.
We pitched a shade tent over our work area to ward off the afternoon sun during another heat wave. We made significant progress, and after a few days we had a paved spot set up for Glenn’s car as well as a landing area for the garbage cans. Roni reused the old keystone pavers we’d removed from the other side of the yard as ground cover between one of the oleanders and the remaining pine tree near the front sidewalk. And as a final act Glenn removed the ugly picket fence our long departed neighbors had installed, replacing it with inverted scallop bricks that preserve the boundary line between the two properties while making it easier to pull weeds. (Contractors have been working on that house all month to replace doors and windows, and we figure that eventually they’ll get to the front landscaping. They probably assumed the fence was ours anyway, but better to remove it before they come up with some other solution we might want less!)
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ESPITE GETTING BEN's car started there is still much to do before it is ready for the road. We have plans to buy a whole new set of tires for it, but before that happens we wanted to salvage the best existing tires and transfer those to Glenn’s car. Glenn spent an afternoon evaluating the rubber and then swapping out his worst tires for the less-bad tires on the older car. Now when we take Ben’s car to the tire shop they’ll dispose of the worst tires and he’ll have a pristine set.
Ben has already been out for a few driving sessions. He did a 2-hour turn with a professional driving instructor, and then he went out with his dad for a refresher course in the parking lot of the Antioch Marina boat launch ramp. He is working up the courage for some more street driving around our neighborhood.
Glenn meanwhile is still unsettled about his work situation. He is keeping an open mind and one eye on the employment listings, but so far there has been little to grab his interest. Money for now is not a concern, and we have had many discussions about our goals and budget picture as we creep closer to our retirement years, so at least we have a good idea of how long we might have before necessity wins out over idealism.
At least there is good news to report on the photography front. We mentioned last month that Glenn’s 4-year-old Canon camera died during our yearly visit to the Delta Pear Fair on July 30. He thought he might make do with the camera on his iPhone, but with our cruise to Mexico coming up soon and missing the telephoto zoom capabilities of his favorite PowerShot SX50 HS, he decided to cough up the money to have the camera repaired. We boxed up the ailing camera and shipped it FedEx to Canon’s service center in Virginia, hoping that we would receive it back in time.
A week later we got an email from Canon saying they had received the camera and that it couldn’t be repaired (or at least that they weren’t going to try) and so were replacing it with a newer model. On Sept. 13, Glenn received a package in the mail containing a brand new PowerShot SX60 HS. The replacement camera is quite similar to the old model, except that it has wifi capability, a few new functions, and an even longer telephoto lens. He hasn’t had time to play around with it yet, but hopefully it will get a good workout when we head south of the border.
Sept. 16 saw Glenn make a visit to Manteca to see his longtime friend Glen Campi and his wife Susan at their new home in the fledgling Oakwood Shores development. They enjoyed a barbecue dinner and several hours of conversation along with a screening of the movie “Snowden” on the big screen TV. It was their first get together in more than four years, so there was plenty of catching up to do.
As we near the end of Summer we are anxious to also see an end to the relentless heat that has been visiting us recently. It got so bad over Labor Day weekend that we sought shelter in the cool corridors of Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord on Sept. 3. Ben had returned a day early from his planned weekend visit to SacAnime in Sacramento, so the three of us went to the mall on a day when the temperature was close to 106 degrees. If it is true that malls are dying, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the crowds at Sunvalley that day. The walkways were mobbed, as were the food court and refreshment stands. We didn’t do our diets and favors when we lined up for treats at Wetzel’s Pretzels and later succumbed to the sugar-glazed temptations of Cinnabon. There was plenty of time to linger in mall stores such as Yankee Candle, FYE, Hot Topic and Spencer’s Gifts.
The mall is still, as it always has been, a gathering place for teens. We had to chuckle, as we walked past the displays of skimpy fashions, sporting equipment, video games and crude T-shirt slogans, that the only difference between being a teen and a fifty-something is that you can still like all those things, but at our age it’s no longer cool to admit it. Cool or not, we did appreciate the cool air conditioning the mall had to offer us that day, and it is hard to imagine that we’ll probably be missing this warm weather by the time Santa comes to call in three months.