A Journal of selected events during 1995, written more-or-less at the time of occurrence. All entries are by Philip except when specifically stated otherwise.
Who would have thunk it? Here was I, a confirmed, non-practicing agnostic, not only attending church on a Sunday morning, but actually on the podium conducting part of the Service. Me, whose only church service attendance in the past 67 years (I did attend a Presbyterian Sunday School before I was old enough to know better), had been at weddings, funerals, and memorial services. How did this come to pass?
I suspect that there is a certain amount of “ham” in all teachers. After I retired in 1991 I found that I didn’t miss preparing lectures, I didn’t miss grading exams, I didn’t miss department meetings, but I did miss “performing” in front of an audience. An obvious outlet for this craving was to get involved with the theater, but I was hesitant because I have no illusions about my ability as an actor. So, last Spring, when Thea told me that Performing Arts Council at the Unitarian church was interested in expanding from just music to other art forms, I was easily persuaded to attend their next meeting. Several people there seemed interested in getting together regularly to do something theatrical, and various ideas were desultorily suggested. But Ouida, who had brought the subject up, was going to be away until Fall, and it looked as if nothing definite was going to happen. Rather than let things die, I said, “Would anyone like to come to my apartment a week from Wednesday, read a play, and discuss what to do next?” And thus was born the UUCPA Thespians.
At first, we met once a month to sight-read a play, choosing a different play each month. But then Vera, chair of the PAC felt that we should “do something” for the church,” and not just amuse ourselves. In particular, she suggested that we perform something short at a forthcoming “Volunteers Appreciation Night.” That seemed a reasonable request, it sounded like fun, and everyone seemed to expect me to get it going. I couldn’t find any 1-Act plays that were (a) short, (b) light, and (c) more mature than skit-night at a teenage summer camp. Then I thought of the short stories of “Saki” (H. H. Munroe) and reread “The Unrest Cure.” The original story is about 50% dialog, so it was relatively simple to adapt it to play form. I put in a couple of local references, changed the butt of the hoax from Jews to Unitarians, and voila! we had our first success.
Since Unitarians believe in one God at most, they are a little self-conscious about celebrating Christmas. In Palo Alto they solve the dilemma by putting on a Winter Solstice Party on an evening in late December. The Thespians responded to the challenge with a version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” wherein Don, who has a good voice, led the audience in singing the song while at the end of each verse Ouida read a “thank you” letter (courtesy of a Jim Klobuchar column in the Minneapolis paper several years ago) from the recipient of the 78 total gifts. Thea played a FedEx messenger carrying enlarged pictures of the various gifts and I pointed out the words on a large easel. Hey, we’re on a roll!
In January, Vera called me and asked if the Thespians could do anything appropriate to help “kick off” the canvass, the annual soliciting of members to pledge large sums to the church. The first play we had read was Clarence Day’s Life with Father and I recalled the hilarious scene where the minister tries to get Father to contribute to the building of a new church, so I agreed. I lifted the scene from the play and changed it a bit to make it self-sufficient. Lacking other volunteers, I cast Thea and me as Mother and Father, and Karl was persuaded to play the minister. Only after we were committed did I discover that the kick off was not a stand-alone event, but that it would be the regular service!
So, there I was this morning, sitting with Thea and Karl in the front row of folding chairs, wearing a suit and tie for only the second time since we moved, and threatened by Thea with dire consequences if I fell asleep. Fat chance! I am, of course, the last person in the world to be an authority on church services, but Thea tells me that this one was unusual, even for Unitarians. Ken, the minister, had us on our feet and clapping for everybody and everything, and Tom, the associate, had us chanting responses to rhetorical questions. It only needed a few “Hallelujah’s” to be an old-time revival, but, after all, this is Palo Alto! By the time we reached the item labeled Thespians in the Order of Service it seemed perfectly natural to move our chairs and a tea table onto the podium as Ken and Tom moved the podium and chalice off, for Thea to offer Karl a cup of tea and say, “Mr. Day should be here any minute, now,” and for me to mount the podium with an aside, “Oh, damn! I forgot he was going to be here.” The audience, (excuse me, the congregation) laughed at all the right spots – at Thea and me bickering over whether talking about the price of a pew was just “Dollars and cents” or “Close to blasphemy,” – at Karl’s trying to recall whether the value of the present church property was “$85,000, or was that $185,000?” – at my closing line to Karl: “I hope God doesn’t ask you any questions with numbers in them!” And we got a big round of applause as Thea held up the cardboard sign labeled “CURTAIN”.
“Philip Tully Hodge, you have been my son since the 1950’s; Marjorie Theresa Hodge, you have been my daughter since two o’clock. I love you both very much, and I wish you many, many years of happy married life together.”
With these words I concluded the official toast at the dinner following Phil and Margie’s wedding in Connellsville, Pennsylvania on June 10, 1995. They first met about six years ago. Their relation began with the firm understanding on both sides that they enjoyed each other’s company, they would have good times together, neither one would ever get serious about the other. We liked Margie from the start and were pleased (and amused) as their initial agreement was gradually eroded, culminating in June’s ceremony.
Said ceremony was impressive and different. Our two daughter’s had both had outdoor weddings. Sue and David were married by a rabbi in our back yard in Minneapolis, complete with a chupa (designed and built by Phil). Lisa and Bill were married by a judge in a Japanese garden in California (some years later they had another ceremony in a synagogue, but we were not there). And now Phil and Margie were married by a priest in a Roman Catholic Church, complete with holy water to bless the rings.
Like me, Phil feels no need for any kind of religion, formal or informal. Also like me, he is very much of a pragmatist. This was the kind of marriage ceremony Margie wanted, and he was happy to go along enthusiastically without reservation. He and Margie had talked about religion early on and had decided that the great difference in their beliefs in that area was not important to either of them. And they have no plans to produce any more grandchildren for us.
Phil had told us how well he and “Father Mike” got along, each respecting the other despite their profound differences. And the priest fully lived up to his billing. For example, after the wedding rehearsal when Father Mike reminded Margie that now she should go to confession, he told Phil, “and it wouldn’t hurt you either, Phil.” Phil just grinned at him as they both recognized the joke. I was impressed by the completely matter-of-fact manner in which Father Mike acknowledged that there were both Catholics and non-Catholics in the wedding audience. For instance, at one point when we were standing he said, “Please kneel or sit.” No fuss. No emphasis. But the bride’s side of the church knew they were supposed to kneel, and we knew that we were not expected to.
It was a real family affair. Margie is related to half the people in South Connellsville, and they were all there. On Phil’s side were his parents, two aunts, one uncle, three cousins and a couple of their offspring, two sisters, a brother-in-law, and three niblings.
In addition to gaining Margie as a daughter-in-law, we have instantaneously acquired 3 new grandchildren. Jason is 19 and has just joined the Navy; he was still in boot camp from which they don’t give leave for anything as trivial as marriage of one’s mother. Lisa is a delightful 15 and starting in a new high school next fall; she was charming as the maid of honor Eli is 12-going-on-13, but he remembered all of his lines as best man. The children, incidentally, are retaining the last name of Kubelick.
Before they decided to get married Phil owned a house in Beaver, an hour north of Pittsburgh, and Margie owned one in Connellsville, an hour south. Naturally, they decided to sell both houses and start life together in (where else) Tennessee. They have bought a 93-acre property on a TVA lake in south-eastern Tennessee. It includes a fixer-upper house in which the family can live while they build their new house on a ridge overlooking the lake, and its own fixer-upper air strip. My son has always been a happy person, but I have never seen him as excited about the future as he is now.
This was the first time in almost a decade that we have been together with all three of our children, so it seems like a good time to bring you up to date on all of our descendants. Our elder daughter Sue Hodge brought her three children to the wedding (her husband David Greenberg is allergic to family gatherings). April and Miriam were both beautiful as ushers and saw to it that no one occupewed the wrong pie and had to be sewn to another sheet. April is 18, a talented artist and cellist and a good driver who will enter Columbia University next fall. Miriam is 15 and in high school; she and Lisa K. both seemed to be delighted to have each other as new cousins. Adam is an intensely vocal young male of 5 1/2. At the wedding rehearsal he confided to me that he liked the colored glass windows of the church, but that he didn’t want to pray to Jesus. I assured him that he had perfect freedom to pray to anyone he wanted to and that no one would make him pray to anyone else; at the reception he raced around with other young children, but every time he careened into an adult he would stop and say “excuse me,” before darting off in a different direction.
Our younger daughter, Lisa Hodge Kelly and her husband Bill, came to the wedding, but left their three children at home in Palo Alto. Rebecca is 5 and starts kindergarten this fall, Joshua is three and a half, and Eve is 22 months-going-on-2 years old. Lisa has gone back to work 40% time at NASA-AMES, and Bill has been made a director of Cisco.
We feel fortunate to live so near to three of our grandchildren and to have enough Senior Tickets and Frequent Flyer Miles that we can pay frequent visits to the six that live so far away.
A small town between Albany and Watertown, NY. The curtain rises to show Dr. Rankin putting the finishing touches on a large piece of the patio floor which he has been re-cementing. – – – A familiar situation yesterday: a small theater with a raised stage, me and other people on one side of the footlights, professional actors and actresses on the other, a play about to begin. Only this time I was Dr. Rankin, I had written the play based on a short story by John Collier, and the professionals were on the cool side of the footlights.
Yesterday was the final day of an ElderHostel at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville Kentucky. For the past week 18 of us seniors had been an intimate part of a non-profit professional theater. We had seen their current production, The Nerd by Larry Shue, at least once (I saw it three times) and an outdoor spectacular at a nearby state park. We saw daily rehearsals of their next play, Tom Jones , and observed the vast improvement from Monday to Friday, but still found it hard to believe that it would be a polished production by next Tuesday. We heard directors, producers, stage managers, designers, and members of the cast talk about their part in the theater while we interrupted with questions and comments. We ate two meals a day with them; theater people and hostelers randomly scattered at tables for six. We folded programs and passed them out; we took tickets; we wiped rainwater off the seats; we ushed. One night, when it started to rain halfway through the first act, we helped the cast carry props and costumes from the outdoor theater where we had started, through the wet and dark, to the emergency indoor theater where the play continued without a hitch.
Part of each day we split into self-chosen groups to paint scenery, sew costumes, do office work, or prepare a “show”. Thea chose to sew. I and 5 other hostelers chose to perform. We did the aforementioned one-act playlet, a group of monologues in which I did not participate, and three short scenes from Harvey in which I played Elwood P. Dowd.
How can I describe the feeling? We were not expected to memorize our lines, but in our final scene, which was virtually a monologue for Elwood, I had (but I clutched a copy of the scene in my hand in case of emergency). Here I was, on a real stage, with real stage lights in my face (and heating my whole body), and knowing that professionals were sitting out front. But I forgot all that. I was Elwood Dowd, explaining to Dr. Sanderson how the Pooka had said to me, “What a coincidence! My name happens to be Harvey.” And they applauded. Enthusiastically. And later Jan, an actress whose skill I really admired (I had seen her in working clothes in her roles in Tom Jones but when I saw her in costume in her role in The Nerd, I didn’t recognize her until I looked at the program), gave me a hug and said she thought I had done a real good job as Elwood. I don’t trouble myself with asking if she really meant it or if this was just another demonstration of her acting skill. I just say to myself, “Wow!” Truly, yesterday was one of the high points of my sixty-fourteen years on this earth.
September 6, 1995
Luxury. That is the only accurate word to describe it. We have just returned from a fabulous meal (wild boar followed by Sacher Torte with two wines and espresso) to our room at the Seven Gables Inn complete with canopied bed, oriental rug on the floor, and real oil paintings on the wall. This was after an afternoon spent at Point Lobos viewing sea otters with two naturalists. We are a group of only three couples: Sandy and Mike, Penny and Dan, and Thea and me. Kurt is the boss naturalist from the Nature Conservancy, and Judd is the local expert on sea otters. They are both well informed naturalists, and Kurt in particular is a great conversationalist.
This is a Nature Conservancy expedition. For the next four days we will be steeped in sea otters. We’ll go to the Monterey Aquarium, to other shore points, and from sea kayaks. We’ll continue to stay at the Seven Gables, but will eat at a different restaurant each night. And all at one fixed price.
Granted, it’s not a cheap price. This five day trip will cost as much as some of our ten day trips have. But the way I look at it, this vacation won’t cost any more than other longer ones have, and we’ll be home sooner to all the things we enjoy there!
Morning. Behind the scenes at the aquarium. They have a 7-week old otter, Joey, who had lost his mother. They are feeding him and trying to prepare him to return to the wild. They have pretty good success with very young pups, but Joey is having trouble accepting his surrogate mother – one of a half dozen aquarium people who don wet suits and take Joey in the tide pool and try to teach him how to be an otter. They have to strike a delicate balance between giving him the loving care and instruction that he would have gotten from his birth mother, and at the same time being sure that he knows he is an otter and not a human.
We were very surprised to hear that Ree Brennin, a naturalist whom we had met on our Sea of Cortez trip two years ago and visited in Seattle last year was now at Monterey. Unfortunately, she was gone this week, but we will probably come here again.
Kathy joined our group this morning, but Mike and Sandy had news of a death in the family and had to leave at noon. We now have two naturalists for 5 tourists. Not a bad ratio!
After a gourmet picnic lunch, we toured the coast looking for more otters. Not much luck at first, but we did see a tremendous number of seals and sea lions when we walked out on the breakwater. At the end of one of the boat piers off the breakwater there were about 20 seals all huddled together at the end of the pier. Another dozen or so were in the water and kept trying to join the mass, but an existing resident would bark at it and push it back off. Once in a while a new one would succeed in joining the in-group. The funny thing was, that less than half of the pier was occupied. There was plenty of room away from the end, but seals would try in vain and try again to get in the middle of the group, rather than tag on at the end and enlarge it. I understand that these are young male seals, and that they are playing dominance games in preparation for starting a harem.
The other amusing sight from the pier was a boat moving slowly out to sea and towing an unusual-looking craft behind it. A group of seals swimming nearby got very curious. Each seal would poke its head up to take a good look, then would swim rapidly toward the unfamiliar object. At the last minute it would dive under it, then come up to look again. As the boat with its unusual adjunct slowly motored out of the harbor, the group of seals was following it closely, still wondering what it could be.
Later in the afternoon we drove to another beach and promontory and finally saw sea otters. A group of five or six “rafted” together, including a nursing pup. They weren’t as close as we would have liked, but I could see them quite well with my binoculars, and the nursing behavior was very clear through the scope and Questar which the naturalists set up.
What a day! This morning we went sea-kayaking; first time for either of us. We had had one kayak experience with Mary and John on Devil’s Lake, but this was totally different. First of all, we had excellent and thorough instruction on land, before we even set foot or seat in the kayak. And we were given proper gear including a “skirt” that was held up to chest height by straps and fit snugly over the cockpit opening so that we were nearly watertight. Then, our two-person kayaks each had a foot-operated rudder which made direction control much easier, at least for the bow-person. The plan was to be on the water about 2 1/2 hours, and Thea was a little concerned about a possible back problem being out that long. Kurt volunteered to be her partner, so he could take her back early if that was called for. To our pleasant surprise, she had no problem. Kurt’s wife, Nancy, joined us for the day, so she and I shared a canoe. Since Nancy is younger than our youngest child, my macho ego had absolutely no trouble accepting her volunteer offer to take the stern position. And very glad I did, since my ancient legs could not possibly have endured the steering position for even 2 1/2 minutes.
So we paddled easily out to sea a hundred yards or so, than more or less parallel to the beach to near the breakwater, then along that and further out. Given some tips on the proper way to hold the paddle, I found it not at all tiring – a sharp contrast to our previous experience. Harbor seals and sea lions looked at us with curiosity and sometimes swam along to show us how water travel should really be done. We avoided collisions with each other for the most part and with anything else totally. We got somewhat closer than the legal 50 feet to a raft of three otters, who still ignored us as we gaped at them. By the end of our allotted time Nancy and I had acquired some proficiency and still had some energy left to make a good power rush to the beach for our landing.
With a sense of great satisfaction and an excellent appetite, we ate our picnic lunch on a table at the beach, and then were on our way to the afternoon’s excursion to Elkhorn Slough. Here we all boarded a pontoon boat for a trip up the slough. We were led by an enthusiastic graduate-student guide and each given a job keeping count of the sightings of a particular mammal or bird. I counted 96 harbor seals, which was probably fairly accurate; I expect I double-counted about as many as I missed! Thea was responsible for 15 Great Blue Herons. And the sea-otter count was 16. All were close enough to see with the naked eye, but with my 7×35 binoculars, I could really observe what they were doing. An interesting thing we had not seen in the bay was that almost every otter who was lying on his back and eating had a gull paddling along waiting for any little piece that dropped off – and ready to snatch the whole morsel if the sea-otter got careless.
The weather continued to be excellent. It was cloudy early in the morning, but that burned off just as we put to sea in the morning. Then, in the afternoon high clouds came up which made it cool enough that I was glad to have both sweatshirt and rain-parka on, and which made for perfect visibility.
Another gourmet meal at a restaurant near the slough. I could learn to like this kind of living!
Today was a bit different. We saw a few more sea otters in the morning as we drove about 25 miles south along the coast to a private reserve just beyond Big Sur. This reserve was purchased in a joint effort of the Nature Conservancy and other groups, and is used for ecological research. We drove a short distance on the solitary dirt road, then parked the van and carried our lunch a few hundred yards along a trail to a nice picnic spot along side a creek. After lunch we hiked about a mile and a half with a 500-foot elevation gain to an overlook, looked it over, and hiked back. Thea forwent the hike as being too strenuous and spent the afternoon in and near the van walking the dirt road and looking at some of the beautiful otter books Kurt had brought along. I, on the other hand, was disappointed that the hike was so mild – much less than I have been doing almost every week in one of our nearby county parks.
Actually, the afternoon was designed to acquaint us with the local flora. Judd knew the common and scientific name of every scrap of growing matter along the trail and was not bashful about sharing his knowledge. Neither of us could be described as being gung ho about botany, so this was not the high point of the trip. But it was still nice to be out in the fresh air, and our small group has jelled very nicely.
Another gourmet meal at a restaurant near Big Sur. The service was slow, but the wine flowed freely so we were a very happy bunch on the drive back. Kurt had to drink coffee and do all the driving, but he was a good sport about it all.
Our last day. Sniff-sniff. Packed up in the morning. I elected to take a vigorous 4-mile walk along the waterfront while the group went in the van to see a few more otters. We rendevoo-ed about 11 at Seven Gables, drove in a caravan to the entrance to 17-mile drive, parked our cars, and got in the van for our last looks at sea otters. Saw a few, including another nursing pup. The only minor disappointment re otters was that we never got a close look at a mother and pup.
Overshadowing the sea otters was a fantastic sea lion rock. The rock was a couple of hundred yards off shore, had quite steep sides, and was about a hundred feet high. It was literally covered with hundreds of sea lions. Many of them found perches along the side, but others would come out of the water and climb all the way to the top ridge. When another sea lion was in the way, the climber would just climb right over it. We were there about noon, and the situation seemed to be stable. For every sea lion that climbed onto the rock, another one would decide that he had had enough sun for a while and would climb down the rock, flopping equally well on bare rock or other sea lions, and plunge back into the water. It was easy to distinguish the climbers from the descenders by their color. When wet, a sea lion is almost pure black, but their fur dries slowly to a beautiful golden-brown. With the naked eye it looked as if the rock face itself were in constant random motion, but with the binoculars it was easy to follow individual seals on the upward or downward paths.
Meanwhile, between the rock and the shore, other sea lions and harbor seals were swimming and “porpoising”, gulls and other sea birds were flying and squawking, and a raft of sea otters was snoozing peacefully on a kelp bed. It was a scene to treasure, and I don’t know that we would ever have gotten tired of watching it. However, as the time went by our stomachs said it was time for that last gourmet picnic lunch. And then it was time to van back to our cars and drive home.
All in all, a memorable trip.
Three quarters of a century! A respectable, nay, a venerable age. One should celebrate the attainment of this milestone by sitting back in a lounge chair and sipping at a mint julep while adoring children, in-laws, and grandchildren crowd around you, seeking pearls of your wisdom. A pretty picture. But not exactly accurate for the day of my sixty-fifteenth birthday. Instead, I was on the roof of my son Phil’s new house. deeply involved in ripping off the old asphalt shingles and installing new ones. My chief job during the ripping phase was to use broom, hoe, and bare arms to get the old shingles off the roof as the others pried them loose. The new shingles were of two different colors, and Phil had printed out a beautiful 17 x 22 diagram showing which color went where. My job was to keep track of Phil, his new wife Margie, and his three new children, Jason, Lisa, and Eli and see that each of them put the proper color in the proper location. Also, where the pattern called for less than a full tile of three shingles, to make the necessary cut and bring them the desired size. All this to be done before the end of the brief November daylight, with a forecast of rain the next day. We made it, and despite the fact that a mini-tornado two days later sucked out a newly installed ventilator fan, the roof itself had nary a leak. And next time you are flying over Spring City, Tennessee, look down and you can easily identify Phil’s house and see how well the pattern came out.
That was the second major project of our two-week visit last November. The first was to survey the airstrip and location of his proposed new house on his 93-acre hillside holding. We had a 100-foot reel tape, a rented level and rod, and memories of a freshman surveying course to work with, Phil having been a freshman 25 years ago, and me another 25+ before that! The 1900′ runway was relatively easy, since it was already cleared, and we only wanted a rough approximation of the elevation change so that he could plan the best combination of cut and fill to end up with a uniform slope. But he wanted a complete contour map of the house area, which is currently covered with trees, bushes, and blackberry vines, none of which are conducive to straight lines of sight or careful measurement with a tape. But our closure error was only a couple of feet, and the resulting contours looked reasonably smooth, so Phil seemed happy with the result.
The end of our visit was a little hectic. We were scheduled to leave Phil’s house about 9:30 am Saturday, in plenty of time to drive 60 miles to Chattanooga and catch a noon plane. Phil had to make a one-day trip in his plane to Washington Friday, but expected to be home in time for a good night’s sleep before driving us in. But Friday night the winds howled, the skies opened, and Phil was forced to land at a small town in West Virginia for at least 1 and maybe 2 nights.
No problem. We still had Margie’s van and she could drive us in. But when we arrived from our motel about 9, Margie and the children were all in the basement, using two shop-vacs and a bucket brigade and trying to keep pace with a gushing artesian spring in the middle of the basement floor.
No problem. We’d switch to a later flight, I’d drive the van 25 miles to Dayton TN, get a sump pump and bring it back. Which I did. Or almost. When I got back, the entrance to their driveway was blocked by a half dozen fallen evergreen trees which had taken down a power pole and assorted electrical and phone lines. And, with no electricity, the sump pump was purely decorative!
No problem. I walked the last 0.4 miles in. We rigged up a siphon from a hose line (the hose is on a slope and the back of the basement is ground level). The rain had stopped, and the wind was dropping. The three of us hiked back to the van and Margie drove us to the airport. We were too late for the last flight to San Francisco, but we got as far as Memphis to spend the night. Discovered there was a big convention on, but finally found a room at a motel, had a good night’s sleep, and a comfortable flight home on Sunday. Extra comfortable, because the kindly agent at the Northwest ticket counter listened to our saga and gave us 2 first-class seats, even though we only had upgrades for one.
from Thea’s Journal
November 1, 1995
Dear Martha Stewart:
We are visiting our son and his family in the hills of Eastern Tennessee. Yesterday my husband, our son, and our daughter-in-law Marjorie spent the day on top of the house installing a new roof. The two teenagers joined them after school and the five of them worked until it was too dark to see the nails. Marjorie and the children came down, she to the kitchen and the teenagers to the dining room table to do their homework, near their mom so that she could help them. By the time the two men had put away the tools and swept up, she had a four-course dinner on the table: barbecued chicken, baked potatoes, buttered green beans, and homemade squash pie. After dinner we talked about the History Quilt she is making for our 50th Wedding Anniversary. This morning she started up the back hoe and began to clean up the debris from the old roof.
This is a daughter-in-law to brag about!!!