Testing … testing

We are tested many times everyday. 24/7/365 (366 in certain years).

Likely not in the manner of Job, Abraham or Donald Trump’s many wives but every test is indeed a challenge.

It arrives early: Do we rise from bed or succumb to the beckoning siren of more supine time?

If I say chose the latter and later detailed to my wife and later my boss that I simply selected the more spiritual option of the moment and didn’t make it to work, would that be honest but doubling down on malformed decisions? Politically incorrect in a proletariat/bourgeoisie paradigm or blasted stupid in lieu of having 20 years remaining on the mortgage?

Plus that later I ascended to a celestial establishment and rubbed elbows with various heavenly beings, partook of religious libations, heard angels crooning — quite the holistic religious experience — and then — my, my — it was 5:00 p.m.

Consider my options: dragging myself from horizontal slumbering, getting semi-presentable utilizing the never fail no smell-no foul clothing test, contributing to global warming by plying along the roadway for seemingly forever in our 10-year-old mini-van, cutting off a white-haired, older lady in order to nab the last parking spot (receiving a gnarled middle finger in response), plopping myself down at my desk and attaching the ball and chain for yet another uninspired eight hours.

This versus brushing up against the divine?

It is often said God works in mysterious ways. Who am I to argue?

— inspired by a poetry writing class prompt about tests

Meet the Fullers

Bob and Mary FullerHere in Montevalle, residents recall the mid-nineties but few can claim that figure as their present age as Bob and Mary Fuller do. Residents here since 1990, their initial attraction to Montevalle began while attending a party at resident Ruth Fogel’s home. “It was a beautiful place out in the country,” recalled the pair. “There were opportunities to become involved in the community, neighbors you could call on and talk to, or you could be more private.” Both enjoyed many of Montevalle’s social activities, including an RV club that took many trips, community dinners held at the Redwood Grove and dances that sometimes lasted until midnight.

“We got to know Rey Retzlaff (one of Montevalle’s founders) very well.” Bob served a term as Montevalle Board President.

A native of the Bay Area, Bob earned an electrical engineering degree from UC Berkeley while also enrolled in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). Upon graduation and with World War II raging, he was sent to New Jersey for Army Signal Corps training with orders to head to the Pacific theater. “But President Truman dropped the (atomic) bomb,” explained Bob, and the newly minted lieutenant was transferred to the Army Reserves.

Originally from Minnesota and quite the scholar, Mary was accepted at Stanford before she transferred to UC Berkeley. Yet after the Pearl Harbor attack December 7, 1941, she dutifully left school and joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) of the US Naval Reserve. Sent to work in various labs outside Washington D.C., Mary recalled, “Everyone volunteered. It was a different country then and everybody was together.”

As a result of Japan’s surrender, Mary also enjoyed a quick transition. “I went into the WAVES building in San Francisco wearing a military uniform and came home in civilian clothes.” She returned to UC Berkeley as a junior and earned a degree in Bacteriology.

Bob went to work for General Electric (GE). “I was in the computer time-sharing department and had to carry around computers weighing 50 pounds.”

The two initially met at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Each separately joined the church’s Young Professionals Group because it sponsored numerous social activities including camping trips, canoeing and hikes.

He proposed marriage just before GE sent him to work in Philadelphia. As Mary put it: “I know all the other women were after him.” According to Bob: “I had plenty of competition for her.”

Their interest in the outdoors never abated despite one especially harrowing incident while camping in the June Lake area of Mono County. Bob, Mary, and their children Paul and Patty were each on horseback with a cowboy in front hauling their camping gear and provisions on pack mules. On a narrow trail, the lead horse pulled too hard sending animals and equipment over the edge of a cliff. Two mules were killed. Rangers were called in to help with the rescue and Bob also spent many hours going back and forth retrieving the family gear.

In 1972, the pair moved to Santa Cruz with the desire to enter into business for themselves. They purchased Santa Cruz Hardware on Pacific Avenue. Mary ran the housewares section and especially enjoyed teaching sheepish single men about the basic necessities required to set up a household. The Fullers owned it just short of 14 years, selling three years prior to the 1989 earthquake that damaged and destroyed a number of iconic buildings on Pacific Avenue, including the one that housed their former business.

What sagacious tidbits have they learned during their lifetimes? “As you grow older, you have to accept things. Life is give and take. We’ve learned to be more tolerant of other people in the park and tolerant of the Board (of Directors)”–the latter said with smiles. The Fullers would like people to know that they have participated three times a week the past three years in the 3M Class (Mindful Movement to Music), which is a chair exercise class. They feel that this has kept them moving and helped with balance due to the additional standing routine which ends each class.

Meet Marie Cotterman

Marie CottermanWhat do St. Louis, Fort Wayne, Nashua, Rocklin, Sunnyvale and Scotts Valley have in common? Give up? The cultural scenes of these municipalities have been blessed by the musical contributions of Marie Cotterman. Born in St. Louis, she credits two opportunities for her lifelong kinship with music.

“I attended St. John’s Academy, a K-12 school in south St. Louis where there were never more than seven students in a class. There I had my first singing tryout was and was taught to memorize. During the Depression years, we (Marie plus an older and younger brother) went to the Haugen Conservatory of Music two blocks away. It cost $7 a month for all three kids. All of us loved it. I took singing, piano and dance lessons. We never got into any trouble after school because we were always there. I do want to say that Mrs. Haugen had the patience of a saint.”

Marie’s family was quite the musical household. “My Dad had a good voice but my youngest brother, Carl, had THE voice in the family. My Mom played the piano, and my Dad the violin.”

Sometimes it’s the little things that have a lifelong effect. In this case, it was Marie ‘discovering’ a heralded singer. “In high school, I saw Marian Anderson [one of the most heralded contralto singers of the twentieth century] in concert,” she recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I can do that.'”

Not long afterwards, she earned a music scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis.  Later “I took a test for a job in the Adjutant General’s Office and got the job. It was in downtown St. Louis and we supplied food and things for the daily life of the troops.”

Marie was also a hostess at the local USO social club (the match.com of its day) and it was there on March 17, 1946 that she met a handsome chap named Bob Cotterman.

She also tried out for the St. Louis Municipal Opera and was accepted. “It was a once in a lifetime thing. I had a ball and met a lot of great people.” Earning $150 a week, a remarkable sum in those days, Marie bid farewell to the AGO.

Her musical career continued to grow. In 1947, “Bennie Raynor took a liking to me and became my agent.”  1948 was a decisive year. “Bob and I got married” and eventually became parents of son, Steve, and daughter, Valerie.

Raynor presented her with a different kind of gig, one on television which was slowly becoming more popular. “I had an opportunity in local television. It involved chatting with local dignitaries and singing a song or two.” But accepting it would have placed too much on her proverbial plate.

The Cottermans then moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana where Marie raised the children and sang in various churches. Then it was off to the East Coast, Nashua, New Hampshire, specifically. “I tried out for Actorsingers of Nashua,” a community theater group, “and was accepted.” Besides also teaching voice on her own in the community, “I tried out for the part of Bloody Mary in ‘South Pacific’ and had the most fun doing that show.” She also played Ethel Mermen’s role in “Anything Goes” where she performed 12 songs, eight of them solos.

Eventually she and Bob moved to Sunnyvale (for 20 years) where she received this gracious compliment from her accompanist Brad Slocum as the two performed in various church locales: “Marie, you’re the undiscovered star.” Next, the Cottermans moved to Rocklin and finally Montevalle in 1998, the year of the Cotterman’s 50th wedding anniversary.

She participated in various Montevalle events “but I never sang outside of Montevalle. My favorite songs to sing are “The Star Spangled Banner,” “The Lord’s Player,” and “Mary, Did You Know?” “Singing gave me up, old took over,” explained Marie. “I sing in private, I’m never going to give that up because music is my oxygen. I never thought I was the best but I was the loudest.”

She modestly offered, “In my own way, I accomplished a few things.”  Yes, she has. Just ask her musical colleagues, her audiences and certainly her family.

Meet Glenn Healy

Glenn Healy“Why are you so congenial?”

“It pays the same.”

That philosophical reply exemplifies Glenn Healy.

A 16-year Montevalle resident along with his wife Pat, Healy has encountered his share of ups-and-downs, including one incident more serious than most of us will ever face in our lifetimes, and yet he makes Dale Carnegie look like a piker. When you are in the area behind the Mill, you’ll more than likely be warmly greeted by him and depart feeling uplifted by the encounter. Perhaps it’s because Healy suffered an accident when he was a youngster and probably isn’t supposed to still be with us.

“I was shot in the head when I was 11,” he recalled. “My brother and I were out hunting and I got to a good spot to shoot. My brother began to go further on to flush out the birds and rabbits but he slipped, fell down and his gun accidentally went off. A .22 caliber bullet went into the left side of my forehead and exited the right.”

Help was summoned and Healy was taken to the hospital. A family acquaintance who was a brain surgeon was summoned from New Orleans. Because his trip took three days, Healy was stationed near the morgue for 72 hours as matters did not look promising. The doctor arrived, examined Healy, and declared he could operate and get Healy back on his feet!

“I missed a year of school recuperating and I couldn’t play ball sports anymore because getting banged on my head would cause a new problem.” Later on, Healy twice accidentally hit his head on furniture causing him to temporarily go blind, but doctors were able to remove the fluid buildups and restore his sight.

Coming from Richmond, California, Healy grew up in a Standard Oil Refinery family. “Two of my father’s brothers worked there for 50 years,” he said. Healy began at Standard Oil performing control room dial readings but gave notice after a few years. It shocked his family. One of his uncles reacted, “you’re quitting Standard Oil. It’s pretty hard to make a living on the outside.” Two of his uncles spent 56 years at standard Oil.

Having an A.A. degree, Healy enrolled at San Jose State University as an art major. “My brother-in-law worked as a stress analyst for [McDonnell] Douglas in southern California and would send me drawings, asking me to make models of them. I did a bunch for him and he kept them on his desk. One day, some of his colleagues asked about the models and were told ‘my son-in-law makes them.’ They told my brother-in-law that I should check for work with aerospace companies as a model mechanic.”

“So one day I was driving through Sunnyvale and saw the Lockheed Employment Office. I stopped in to ask questions about model mechanics, and they told me they were hiring illustrators and that I should try it for 90 days. 90 days became 33 years even though I didn’t plan on working for Lockheed. I became a company commercial artist, sitting with the engineers where they would talk and I would draw. Later, I would present a finished drawing.”

Healy also had no plans to come to Montevalle. “I didn’t really want to come here, I wanted to go north” as his sole surviving brother, one of six plus a sister, lives in Grass Valley. But wife Pat’s two sons, who both worked at Lockheed as did she, lived in Felton and Ben Lomond respectively. “She wanted to follow her kids. So we did, and here we are.”

“We would go to Felton for the kids’ birthday parties. One day Pat said ‘I know this real estate broker who lives over in Montevalle.’ We visited her, came back a month later and asked her if any places were for sale there. She took us to where we are at now. We didn’t look at any others.” That was September 2001.

Ask Healy about the Count Basie, Tony Bennett concert he worked at as an usher and he’ll tell you a surprising story. In fact, get him to talk about Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson and all the celebrities and performers he became acquainted with while he and Pat worked behind the scenes at the Circle Star Theater, the Paramount Theatre, the Flint Center and others. It’s better than getting any scoop from TMZ.

Also inquire about his ever-present dark brown hat that he picked up at a Nevada City garage sale in 1972.

If Montevalle needs an official greeter, Glenn Healy is your man.

An Anecdotal Report Pedaling through Ireland

The Land of the Silent “H”

This past summer, I returned to Ireland for another bicycling trip, this one a  tour of the Southwest County Cork area. I booked it with Irish Cycling Safaris, a Dublin-based company that sponsors week-long tours in seven different regions of Ireland. Rides average 30 to 35 miles per day, with the nominal tour leader transporting luggage, setting up bed-and-breakfast accommodations and passing out maps of our daily cycling routes.

My tourmates’ ages ranged from 25 to 63, with England, Austria, Germany and Spain represented in addition to the Unites States.

We began in Cork City and pedaled our way to Gougane Barra (a beautiful lakeside monastic setting), Bantry (with its beautiful bay), remote Ahakista, Schull, Baltimore (no Cal Ripken sightings to report), Clonakilty and finally Kinsale on day seven.

I enjoyed two previous tours with Irish Cycling Safaris. Recalling these past experiences, actually recalling the pain of these past experiences, got me to spend a fair amount of time on my bicycle preparing for my Tour de Cork.  The memory of a behind that feels like it has been newly branded with an outline of a bicycle seat is a great motivator.

Many Adventures

So what did I learn on this tour? The first lesson is the Irish do not believe in street signs.  No, let me amend that statement. They do not have street signs, but in Cork City at least, street signs are embedded in the sidewalks near most street corners. This works just dandy for pedestrians, unless the streets are crowded. But is useless for cyclists or drivers unless you enjoy pulling over every couple of blocks, heading for the street corner, and peering down to check where you are.

Forsaking street signage and asking for directions is also the beginning of another grand adventure.  The Irish use landmarks—go left at the brown barn, cross the alleyway and then head right past the yellow house. Be forewarned: the colorblind should stay far, far away from this isle.

Gastronomically, eating in Ireland, even for a vegetarian as I am, is a surprisingly enjoyable endeavor. Most restaurants offer pasta or rice dishes in the evening, and wonderful soups were always available in pubs during our noon-time breaks. In Dingle, on a previous trip, I enjoyed the variety at the World Cafe, which featured entrees from 10 different countries.

On the other hand,in out-of-the-way Ahakista, our bed-and-breakfast hostess did her damndest to fulfill my request for a vegetarian entree. I believe all four of my courses featured one common ingredient: mayonnaise. Thankfully, dessert did not.

But that’s why the Irish have Guinness—to make what is wrong, right. Or at least to forget about it for a while. Guinness is considered a cure for anything and everything.  Digestive problems? Have a Guinness. Arthritis? One Guinness coming up. Marriage problems? Drink two or three as necessary.

The famous Irish Pubs

Speaking of imbibing means speaking of pubs.  Irish pubs are like coffeehouses here, or even gossip. Remarkably, there is no pressure to make a purchase when you enter a pub.  Unless you go to the bar and place an order, you’ll enjoy uninterrupted conversation and music.  But don’t bother asking about no smoking sections.  There are none.

Musically, the standing joke on this tour was there really is no traditional music played anymore in Ireland. Every time we stepped into a pub to inquire about music that night, the answer was “ye be wanting to come around tomorrow night” or “sorry, last night, now that was a session.”

Listening to the people talk can be a bewildering experience.  Irish men can seemingly have a conversation simply by using vowels. Two men meet and bystanders hear ‘aaaaaa,’ ‘ooooo,’ ‘eeeee’ in various combinations and intonations. Then they shake hands and one of them just bought a horse.

The Irish also tend not to pronounce the letter ‘h’ when speaking. The phrase “three thousand cattle” becomes “tree tousand cattle.” Check out the next Irish band that comes to town to see if I’m right.

I also learned a new word that’s great for multiple uses: dodgy. A bad drink is a dodgy pint.  A bad lie on the golf course is a dodgy lie.

Other Irish phrases of note: A botched operation is a “medical misadventure.” To offer to “know someone up ” means to be willing to knock on their door to awaken them in the morning. Asking someone to “go for a ride” is a much more intimate request than one involving a bicycle.  Substitute what you thought “knocking someone up” meant for “going for a ride” and you have it.

The Irish may be a bit shy at times but they love to talk, and a complete stranger will do just fine. Accommodating is another word that describes the Irish. No request is too large or small. One could probably ask for an audience with the Pope and they would get right on it.

And whoever said the Irish area a pessimistic lot should explain this phenomenon:  almost every freestanding house in this wet climate seems to have a backyard clothes line in use. My guess is it gives the clothes a second washing.

In closing, cycling in Ireland requires accepting these absolute truths: 1) the cycling route always leads toward the darkest clouds, and 2) no matter which way your wheels turn, you’ll encounter a head wind (and a pub). Slainte.

(published in the Mid-County Post, Travel section, March 12, 2002)