Monthly Archives: April 2013

San Francisco Quake, The Big One

In the fall of 1905 San Francisco experienced a series of twenty-five or thirty minor earthquake shocks, but nobody was terribly surprised. San Franciscans liked to brag about living in Earthquake Country, and nobody gave much account to these rolling lesser quakes; and by the time Christmas passed and 1906 was rung in, the fall flurry was a distant memory.

Enrico Caruso was in town on Tuesday, April 17, 1906, appearing in “Carmen” at the Mission Opera House and Lulu wanted to see this young operatic phenomenon, however it was considered inappropriate for a woman heavy with child to appear in any public place; certainly not be seen at social soirees.  Lulu understood this, yet she pouted and cried herself to sleep in her second floor bedroom that evening.  Lulu’s real name was Lou May, but she preferred the turn of the century diminutive “Lulu”.

Her two children, Cecil, three years old, and Dorothy, not quite a year and half, were tucked in their cribs in a downstairs bedroom across the hall from Lulu’s older sister Georgie, and her brother-in-law Edgar Bernard.  

Lulu had sought refuge in Georgie and Edgar’s home by telling them a bit of a fib. Her husband, Amos Earl Rodman was a business professor, heading up the Cal Berkeley Business School. Lulu confided to Georgie that Rod had tired of her, calling her a fat donkey. He said she was generally useless. He berated and mistreated her, even knowing she was with child!  He nearly drove her to taking her own life!

She did not share that Rod suspected  she had been with another man, and one of his own staff, at that. .

Actually, Lulu could not be certain which man really was the father, as occasionally Rod had put demands on her. But she told Georgie and Bernard that Rod was tired of her. With all the mess of three pregnancies in as many years, he said she’d lost her looks. There was no hesitation on Georgie’s part in giving her younger sister and  babies a home. They must stay out of the reach of such a heartless man.

Lulu kept it to her self that Rod was convinced that she had been seeing one of his own teachers on the sly. She didn’t mention Rod had moved out of their bungalow near the University, abandoning all three, knowing she was in the family way. Her sister and brother-in-law, bless them, gave Lulu and her children a place to stay until she could get back on her feet.

And so, she rested comfortably in the upstairs bedroom, gathering her strength to deliver this third, surely the last child. As she reached term, Georgie took to bringing her meals, changing her linens and tending Lulu’s babies, as Lulu said, she was unsteady and the stairs were so steep.

On April 18th, 1906 a.m. Lulu slept soundly in her second story bed, floating in that warm,dreamy, creamy liquid state that precedes any noticeable need to open an eye, to greet a new day.

And as she slept, disaster silently gained momentum deep in the earth beneath the hills of San Francisco.  The North American and the Pacific tectonic plates, which gently shifted and shoved past each other, moving the city North at pace of two inches per annum, began an infamous battle that lurched the city of San Francisco North by a full fifteen feet in less than a minute and half..

The earth first moved at 5:12 a.m. Lulu jerked awake, then lay frozen for the forty long seconds of the first tremor. Confused and frightened by screams and shouts from unseen people punctuated with crashing of glass and china all around her, she rolled her heavy body to the side of the bed and sat with  feet dangling, while several big chunks of ceiling plaster broke loose and splattered white powder on her long black braids.

She watched in disbelief as her mirrored dresser waddled from the opposite wall across the room toward her.  Just before it  crashed into the foot of her bed Lulu pulled the quilted spread up and tucked her face under it to protect her from the raining shards of mirror glass. She thought she felt them in her hair, pricking her scalp, poking through the quilt.  And she felt thin wet lines of blood running down her face.

Frozen with terror, she watched  the bay window overlooking Fillmore Street sway inward, then, buckle, and collapse, spilling  broken glass on the velvet pillows of her window seat, where she’d sat yesterday taking in the afternoon sun, sipping tea and reading.her novella.

The screams intensified and Lulu realized she had to get out of this room, away from the house, or she might die.

She carefuolly rolled back her bedspread, keeping broken glass safely bundled away from her. Then she heaved her body out of bed. Barefoot and afraid for her life, she held her belly with one hand, and reached for the wall with the other.  She could no longer see in the dark as she felt her way to the hall door. She almost made it.

The second tremor, the lesser one, was clocked at 26 seconds.  It now rippled the weak wooden floor and the walls jumped even more violently. Lulu wobbled to and fro, then  side to side, finally falling backward and landed full force on her buttocks.  She was a big framed woman, even bigger now in advanced pregnancy, and the floorboards were were severely weakened by the quake.  Lulu fell screaming through the floor into the center of the front parlor, just as Edgar was helping his wife and the babies down the shaking porch steps and into the safety of the street.

“Oh Good God! It’s Lulu, Georgie! Take the babies! Go! Take the babies! I’ll find you”

Edgar pointed to a series of horse drawn wagons with large flatbeds picking up those unable to make the walk to Golden Gate Park.  A young boy sped past shouting “Medical wagon’s coming with doctors! Medical wagon’s coming!! It’s going to Watsonville!”

Edgar leaned down and kissed his wife, whispering, “I love you, Georgie, be brave, I will find you in the park,” Georgie patted his cheek.

Men reached down from the flatbed, and handed little Cecil and Dorothy to the women then came back for Georgie. Edgar had disappeared into the house for Lulu.He smelled fire, and in the distance he saw clouds of grey smoke against the still dark sky.

Edgar pulled Lulu up from the parlor floor, asking if she could walk and she said she seemed okay. He went to the bedroom across the hall, shouting indelicate questions about Lulu’s pregnancy as he grabbed a blanket. “Are you bleeding? Do you feel any pains?”

He lifted her from the floor and wrapped her in the blanket..

“I only have scratches from the fall, Edgar, I feel the baby moving. There is broken glass in my hair so I’m bleeding a little from that.”

Lulu leaned heavily against her brother-in-law as he escorted her to the front porch, now without any steps. He jumped down and lifted her massive body off the porch.

“I’ll wait with you until you are picked up, Lu. A medical facility is set up in Watsonville. A wagon with doctors and nurses is on it’s way. You’ll be safe there. Be sure to explain all that happened with your fall through the floor. “

Edgar paused for a moment waiting for an inquiry about her children. It did not come.

“Well, don’t worry any about little Cecil and the baby. They are just scared. Georgie and some of the neighbors are with them, taking them to  the park. Shelters are being put up. I’ll join them when I can.”

“You are leaving me Edgar?  What am I to do? I don’t have proper clothes Edgar! You can’t just leave me!”

Edgar looked down at her. Lulu and her nightgown were now wrapped inside a blanket as were most women on the street. He slowly shook his head.

“You’ll manage, Lou, you always do.”

He left her waiting in the street. and rushed back into the house, collected family valuables in a Belgian Lace pillow case and stuffed it in the belly of an old cast iron stove in the basement, hoping fire would not get to it..

Lulu and other at risk-patients were taken to Watsonville. A week later she delivered her third and last child, Helen, a healthy little girl with a gentle spirit.  Helen remained with Lulu until she was adult, She was the only child Lulu reared and became The Chosen Child in her siblings eyes.  As an innocent, she had no way to change their feelings.

Cecil, barely three and a half, was sent his father’s parents in Nevada. Dorothy, the middle baby, was sent to the maternal grandparents in San Jose.

Lulu kept Helen with her, setting up an impossible situation that none of her three children were unable to reconcile. Throughout the lives of Cecil and Dorothy, Helen was viewed by her siblings as the chosen child. And, the father of Cecil and Dorothy declared to all that Helen could not possibly be his.

Lulu and Helen visited Dorothy and the grandparents in San Jose every Christmas without fail.  The next time she saw her son  he was a grown man, attending her mother’s funeral,.Cecil refused to speak to her. He sat away from his mother, with his sister Dorothy and her young family, 


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American Distraction Disorder

I called my childhood friend Annie the other day. She’s one of my two best friends and I’ve known her since we were four. Over the years I became a second “daughter’ to her mother in my teens then for the rest of my life.

Years later, when I was married and my family was traveling through the world and we met up her Annie’s younger brother, Bob for a few weeks in Bali. Well, he fell in love with a Japanese girl and we didn’t see too much of him!

Eventually we left for Khartoum with a bunch of batik and Bob left for Japan with a new wife.

After Bob and wife #3 divorced I don’t think he ever married again, not important because whatever one marries for, physical love, compassion, security, companionship, good food, everything is right there in Thailand. Thais are Buddhist, a very loving, grounded and non-demanding faith.
So when I called Annie the other day, I inquired about the brothers, particularly about Bob.

“You know I called him in Thailand and spoke with him very briefly. He was on a train, said he had to cut me off because it was considered grossly offensive to talk on a phone in public. He called me back when he got to a less public place.”

So, Annie and I began carping about how thoughtfulness seems to have disappeared in our country of birth. I mentioned my six-hour train trip to North England a few years ago. I saw people talking on cell phones, but heard no voices. Everyone turned their heads away from the public,covered their mouths with their hand, and spoke softly.

I went on and told her I’d been backed into by a texting driver, and later walked into twice by pedestrians, while I stopped at stop signs.

All texters had two eyes and two ears, but their brains were busy with what did you buy today, what did you do last week or what are you going to do tomorrow. Both were hooked up with ear-pods: can’t hear; both were glued to their I-pods: can’t see.
There was no damage of course, but both times I rolled down my window and cautioned them loudly to please remain aware of their surroundings at all times:

“Canya look where yer goin??”

Both glanced blankly at me as they skirted my car and went back to see if they missed anything on line.

Coincidently, our little town had a terrible tragedy some time ago. A young girl was driving an oversize vehicle while she was texting. She did not see the young mother already in the cross-walks and she ran over the stroller, killing the baby.

I cried for everyone when I read about it in the newspaper.

How does a mother get past this? How does a young girl learn forgive herself? Distraction kills. Let’s make a pact to stay focused at all times, well, certainly when we are driving.

Kids are too young to see how cleverly they have been groomed by people who want to sell to them. But the rest of us (should have) lost our ingenuity a long time ago: we know what’s going on! We know we are all just pawns, manipulated to purchase and display our bigger-better-faster-more purchases so sellers gets rich. Let’s go sit down somewhere safe to be manipulated.

Or, let’s say NO! Let’s say it just like that cute little redhead baby girl in the commercial says!


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American Heroes

I awoke early this morning, feeling fully rested and eager to get on the computer and work on my memoirs and post something to my blog. But first things first: I needed morning coffee so I toddled out to the kitchen. I turned the TV onto the local Public Broadcasting Company, avoiding those annoying network broadcasting repetitions of:

road conditions/adverts/chatter/giggle/adverts/

I caught an impressive piece on a company called Rhino Foods, established in 1981 by Ted Castle, whose delightful product is cookie dough. My children used to love to do “cookie work” with me: a kitchen adventure in flour, sugar, and icing that often ended in baths, wiping down counters and mopping the kitchen floor. Rhino sounded like fun to me: imagine telling your children each morning “I have to go do my cookie work now, so have a nice day, kids!”

As I watched the program I learned something very special about Rhino Foods, the owner, and his employees. Mr. Castle is a CEO who cares about his employees, and became acutely aware of the hardship of job loss by one his employee’s spouses and their ensuing tailspin of debt as they tried to stay afloat in tough times.

Mr. Castle made a loan program available to employees who faced immediate need of money by offering loans at seventeen percent interest, less than many credit card companies, to be repaid by automatic deduction from their paycheck. Once paid in full the employee is offered the option of starting a savings account by continuing this automatic deduction. The surprising result was that people continued on with the savings deduction. And many applied this concept of saving “unseen” money to their Income Tax Refunds.

I applaud Mr. Castle and those he works with for finding a mutually beneficial way for both Rhino Foods and it’s employees to “stay in business.”

Experts have examined this phenomenon, term it “Social Economics”. I see it as another version of Mommy Economics: I was taught to always have a Sugar Jar somewhere just incase a catastrophe hit or I wanted something special. My strategy has been: at the end of the day all unused coinage (and now due to inflation, one and five dollar bills) go into the stash jar to be periodically deposited in my savings account.

Social Economics has been the subject of studies, and I would guess papers, perhaps a Mission Statement Committee and a Company Pledge.

I guess nobody remembers signing up for “Christmas Club” back in the 1900s.

Well, we Milleniums do like to make simple look complicated, and the obvious magical. And I applaud the good hearted inspiration of Mr. Castle and his cohort, for they are re-educating their employees on how to financially succeed in times of trouble.

Financial safety is an issue many of us “forgot” about in our crazed consumption over the last three decades. In the past, financial safety meant family survival by “saving and planning” not overspending and using credit frivolously.

Financial safety, now termed “Wealth Building” by investment companies is simply another product inspired for the Bigger, Better, Faster, More concept of the American Dream presented by product hawkers and their backbone: banks and credit companies.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell speech explicitly warned Republican and Democrat Americans alike to beware of the Military Industrial Complex as it could easily take over America’s fiscal balance.

He also mentions an equally dangerous phenomenon:

“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive
of a scientific -technological elite.”

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

I worked at Wells Fargo Bank in the 1970s. We were in a terrible recession, and the OPEC oil shortage was severely hampering people’s ability to get to work, causing fights, even gunfire at service stations. In California we used a system of gas purchasing: if you had an auto license plate ending with an odd number you could buy gas only on odd days; license plates ending with even numbers were restricted to buy on even days.

Banks were failing, my husband was laid off three times, jobs were scarce, and companies were bellying up. Wells Fargo, however, held a secret meeting of all employees ranked Vice President and higher, in which they unanimously voted to forgo their annual bonus in order to keep giving lower paid but deserving employees their periodic raises.

Yes, as late as the ’70s it was expected that companies not only reward employees monetarily for good work, train them, move them up the ladder; but the ranking members took responsibility for the under-ranked! We Americans just aren’t so much like that anymore, are we?

Well, let us consider Mr. Castle of Rhino Foods!


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