Saturday, October 10, 2015

My friend, James MacArthur

According to Thomas MacEntee's weekly Geneabloggers list of blogging prompts, today is the anniversary of the birth of Helen Hayes, called the First Lady of the American Theater.

I never met her, but I did have the distinct pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with her son, James MacArthur.

I was a "Hawaii Five-0" fan, but liked James MacArthur for years before that, when he was a teenager, starring in such films as The Light in the Forest.  I was in elementary school when that film came out.

I wrote a book on the television series "Hawaii Five-0," the original one that aired between 1968 and 1980, with Jack Lord and James MacArthur.  I attended a "Five-0" convention in 1996 that began in Burbank, California, and ended in Honolulu.  That is where I met Jim.

I talked with Jim a few times, and also had conversations with Kam Fong and his son Dennis Chun, and other cast members such as Herman Wedemeyer (who was just as handsome in 1996 as he had been earlier, during the run of the show) and Doug Mossman.  It was a grand time.

Jim MacArthur was a down-to-earth guy.  He did not have a pretentious bone in his body, though he very well could have, considering the society he grew up in.  He was open, friendly, and funny.  And I think I got on his good side when another fan was gushing to him about how "sensitive" and other such adjectives Danny Williams, his character in "Hawaii Five-0," was.  I was getting a little gagged myself by the other fan's gloppy sentiment, so in the middle of her litany of adjectives, I inserted, ". . . and sarcastic," and caused Jim nearly to lose his footing and stumble.  He laughed out loud.  And it was the truth -- one of Danny Williams's most endearing traits in the show, to me, was his sarcasm.

I think that is how we became friends.

I also ran a fan organization for the show.  The next year, in 1997, when my book on the series was published, I got a communication through my publisher from Jim, who wanted me to autograph some twenty copies of my book, which he was going to give out as a "thank you"gift to people who had made substantial contributions to a charity he favored.  Of course, I was delighted to do so!  The publisher shipped the books to me, I inscribed and signed them as Jim had requested and specified, and then I shipped the books to him.

That was a real thrill!

Every now and then, I would receive an e-mail from him.  On one occasion, he mentioned that he had read a book which affected him deeply, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, which was also the book that inspired Ken Burns to make his seminal documentary, The Civil War.

I had a story to tell him.  I attended Florida State University from 1965 to 1970, receiving a bachelor's degree in government, and a master's in library science.  An American literature course I took as an undergrad was taught by Michael Shaara, long before he wrote The Killer Angels.  He had not found the powerful voice that infuses that novel.  In fact, he had just published his first novel, The Broken Place.  It was not at all as polished -- or as good -- as The Killer Angels, which won a Pulitzer Prize.  The earlier book's style was terribly derivative of Ernest Hemingway, whom Professor Shaara admired greatly.

In fact, he had had the opportunity to meet and drink with Hemingway one evening, when the famous writer happened to be in Tallahassee, where FSU is located.  Tallahassee in the 1960s was still a rather sleepy little town which happened to have, plunked down in its southern small-town midst, Florida's state capital and one of the largest of its state universities.  It was an interesting place in those days -- as long as you weren't poor or black or otherwise marginalized.

So Michael Shaara got to sit and drink and schmooz with Papa Hemingway, and said that when he finally struggled home in the wee hours, three sheets to the wind for having done his best to keep up with Hemingway, he had some explaining to do to his wife.

In the same e-mail in which I told Jim this story about Michael Shaara, I recomended two books written by his son Jeff, which continued the Civil War saga.  These are Gods and Generals (which was made into a movie), and The Last Full Measure.  They are as good as the original story, I told Jim.

What is the point of all this?  I guess the point is that we sometimes have a chance to meet people we never imagine we could meet and talk with.  Before 1996, I never though I'd talk to, never mind exchange friendly e-mails with, James MacArthur or any other movie and TV star.  And Michael Shaara, before that evening in Tallahassee, probably had no clue that he would ever meet, talk to, and drink with Ernest Hemingway.

These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities make for great family stories!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Shopping Saturday: "Do Day"

My aunt, Elizabeth Reed, worked full time as the Director of Health Information for the state of Florida when I was a youngster.  It was "Sissy," as we all called her, who taught me how to drive.

That is how I became part of her Saturday, which, since she had to do all her errands on that day, became known as "Do Day."   I got my learner's permit at 14, with my mother's consent, and was then allowed to drive provided that a licensed driver was in the seat next to me.  As soon as I got enough experience under my aunt's instruction to be qualified to be driving on the streets, I became her driver on "Do Day."

She would start her errands with her bank, the American National Bank in the San Marco shopping center on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida, where we lived.  Then she would go to the Silk Shop, a fabric store run by the family of an elementary school classmate of mine.  She had a seamstress who made all her dresses, and who made skirts and dresses for me, too.

Other errands might include any number of stores and public offices.  We would at times visit her seamstress for measurements and fittings.  We would talk and tell silly stories.  We would sing.  It was during our "Do Day" rounds that she told me stories of her time at the Escambia County Health Department in the 1930s, and other adventures she had as Director of Health Information in the late 1940s and 1950s.  She told stories also of how she lived in Brazil, working with nurses there, during World War II.

One of these tales was of her driving down to Lake Helen, Florida, (originally known as Lake Helen Blazes) to the health department there.  It was a small town that she was looking for, and, uncertain of her bearings, she stopped at a gas station to ask directions.  A serious-looking young man came out to her car, and she said, "Excuse me, but I seem to be lost."

The young man looked at her gravely and said in a sepulchral voice, "Aren't we all."

She decided to go elsewhere to ask for directions.

"Do Day" was fun for me.  I got to drive, for one thing, which I actually still enjoy doing.  I'm usually up for a road trip, even at my age.

I learned my way around the city, too.  I also learned how to drive on the many bridges over the St. Johns River.  I learned how to drive in city traffic and on the expressway.  And I got to spend time with my fun aunt!

Sometimes, I'll tell other stories of my Aunt Elizabeth.  She was a remarkable woman.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

International Coffee Day: How I Came to Drink Coffee

In celebration of International Coffee Day, for which I have a pot brewing as I write, I shall tell the tale of how I came to be a coffee drinker.

When I was about 10 years old, around 1957, I spent a couple weeks of the summer at Camp Weed, the campground of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida.  It was located in the area called "The Big Bend," where the panhandle of the state takes a bend to join the peninsula.  The camp was right on the Gulf of Mexico, and it could be magical to get up in the morning for our morning prayer and see the Gulf mirror-smooth, reflecting the sky so that we could not tell where the horizon actually was.

In the mess hall there, some of the kids drank coffee.  It had been a stretch in my family to allow me, at 10, to drink iced tea because of the caffeine content. My mother drank coffee, but only in the morning.  After high noon, she did not drink it because she said it kept her awake at night if she did. 

After breakfast one morning, when everyone else had cleared out, I decided I would try some coffee, just to see what it was like.  I tried it black.  I tried it with sugar.  I tried it with cream and sugar.  It was awful.  I decided I never would bother with it because I did not like it.

Fast-forward to the late 1970s, when I was in the Coast Guard Reserve.  It was 1979, I believe, and we were having a change of command ceremony on the open wharf at the Mayport, Florida, Coast Guard Station, located near the mouth of the St. Johns River.  It was January.  It was raining.  It was cold.  Yes, it does get cold in Florida, certainly in the part where I live, the northeast corner.  It has been down as low as 11 degrees in my now home county of Clay in my lifetime.

I was a Yeoman Second Class at the time, and we enlisted folk were standing in formation at parade rest (feet apart, arms behind the back, hands clasped one over the other).  We were in our dress uniforms, but no additonal protection from the wind and rain.  We were cold.  We were wet.  We were some miserable sailors.  And the officers could not get their you-know-what together, and we waited, and waited, and waited.  It was something like 45 minutes, at parade rest, in the cold and wind and rain. 

The officers -- including my husband -- were under cover.  They were sitting down.  They were wearing their nice warm bridge coats (wool overcoats).  Finally, they got themselves together and the ceremony was conducted.  At least the outgoing and incoming commanding officers made very brief remarks.

When the call of "Dis-MISSED!" came, we all broke formation and ran for the mess hall.  We burst into the place and demanded, "Where's the coffee?"

Nothing ever tasted as good as that cup of nice hot coffee on that cold, blustery day.  It was pure heaven.

Now, let me tell you about Coast Guard coffee.  It has a reputation among the sea services.  It is strong stuff.  Even the Navy says that when the Coast Guard runs out of fuel for our ships, we run them on our coffee.  We use it to swab the decks, as a powerful cleaner.  I once heard a Florida Army National Guard lieutenant colonel say he could only take one cup of Coast Guard coffee per year.  (Wuss!)

Because her parents both drink and brew Coast Guard coffee, and that is how she learned to make it, our younger daughter has been banned from making the coffee in three different workplaces!

Maybe the reason I didn't like the coffee at Camp Weed was that it was too weak.  I was destined to drink Coast Guard coffee.

So, excuse me, but my coffee is ready.