Sheri Graves

Writer, Editor,
Memoir Writing Instructor,
  1. Senior Authors of Santa Rosa
    Stories published on this blog are written by members of Senior Authors of Santa Rosa, an independent memoir writing class taught by Sheri Graves. Many of these stories will appear in an upcoming book, "Memoir Writing in a Flash."
    We would love to hear from you! Let us know what you think of this blog, if you have any favorite stories or writers, what you'd like us to publish in the future. Send your comments to
  3. What Can We Learn?
    At the end of each story you will find a paragraph beginning with, "WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY?" Written by Sheri Graves, these comments give insight regarding story structure and style as well as how the author has used elements such as dialogue, inner monologue, visuals, descriptions, senses, humor and emotion.
Saturday, January 27, 2018

My First Lasagna
By George Sackman   

I was on a tour bus in Italy, along with a lot of other American servicemen on a 10-day leave from duty. The military administration provided such events by an organization called Special Services, for recreation and entertainment of the troops. It was early spring in 1956, and I was glad to escape what had been a cold, dark winter at my duty station in Verdun, France.

We were in open country between major cities, and about noon came to a stop at a crossroads where the only building in sight was a small, “mom & pop” restaurant and bar. A lot of hungry guys piled out of the bus and eagerly sat down at tables inside. Soon the proprietor and his wife, a sturdy motherly looking woman, began to fill the tables with plates of food I had never seen before. It was some kind of baked pasta dish, with a delicious sauce on top. When I asked what it was called, someone said “lasagna.”

I finished mine off in no time, and when the wife came to our table to pick up the dish, I asked for a second helping. I told her it was the most wonderful meal I had ever had. She was delighted, and brought another.  I think I also threw manners to the wind and asked for a third helping.

Then she brought out the dinner.

By that time I had no room for anything but a glass of mineral water, while the other guys at my table had a good laugh at my expense.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? This delightful story by Author George Sackman gives insight into what can happen when an American is in a foreign country and does not know the customs or cultural traditions of the people who live there. For example, in Italy it is customary for a meal to begin with either anti-pasta or pasta, then proceed to the entre, with the salad served last. Not only does Sackman reveal himself as naïve when he was a young man, he gives the reader a bonus at the end: a big belly laugh! — S.G.

Wine Country Gold
By Sal Rosano

My longtime friend and neighbor, Tony Vicini walked across the street to our newly constructed house and said, “You are not serious about putting a tennis court on that property are you?  You are Italian, and Italians plant grapevines to make wine and that’s what you and I should do!”

It was 1991 and my wife Connie and I had just moved into a house we had designed on a three quarter acre parcel in a section of the city between Summerfield Road and the Western edge of the Trione Anadel Park, called the El Dorado subdivision.

We had purchased the lot from a friend who had developed a 10-acre site for larger homes.  He had given us a choice of the lots and we selected one which would provide the opportunity to build a tennis court behind the house since both Connie and I were actively involved in that sport.

Tony and Lorraine Vicini had also purchased a lot from our mutual friend to build a home and they completed their home across the street from us shortly after we moved in. Tony came to this country as an immigrant teenager and developed considerable skill in restaurant management. He ultimately went into partnership with Claus Neumann when they opened the Los Robles Lodge, a favorite for many locals in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.   By the time he and Lorraine built their home, he had ended that partnership and formed a successful real estate development firm. 

Tony was nothing if not persuasive.  He keep saying, “Sal, there are tennis courts down the street at Howarth park, and just a few miles away at Galvin Park.  You can use those to play tennis, but that back half of your yard should be a vineyard.”

So we came to an agreement. We would both plant vines in our backyards and, in the Italian tradition, we would make wine.  Of course, neither of us knew much about growing a vineyard or making wine, but we sure enjoyed drinking the stuff. So began our 12-year odyssey in hobby winemaking or Garagista’s, as those of us who made wine in our garages came to be known.

Without bothering to test the soils in our respective properties, we found a commercial vine nursery, and purchased hundreds of Chardonnay vines, since that was a popular wine at the time. Tony located some friends who knew vineyard workers, and we hired a team to install the trellis systems in each of our yards. We congratulated ourselves on being winegrowers!

By the third year, our vines began to produce clusters of beautiful looking Chardonnay grapes.  Since we did not know what to do next, we called another friend, Richard Arrowood, who was a well-known Sonoma County winemaker, and asked his advice.

We had hoped to give our grapes to his winery, have him make the wine, and then give us back a finished product.  Well, no such luck.  Richard Arrowood said, “Gentlemen, there is nothing as rewarding as making and then enjoying the fruit of your labor.  I suggest you both learn to make the wine yourselves, and I will help you with the use of some of our winery’s equipment and wine barrels and you will be on your way!”

Good to his word, we delivered our first crop to the Arrowood Winery, and using their press and chillers, bottled our first crush which we entered in the Sonoma County Amateur Wine Making contest in 1994, and won a Bronze medal.  We were elated at our success, but after making Chardonnay for a couple of years, we realized that the equipment necessary to make white wines was far more complicated than reds, so we ripped out all of the hundreds of Chardonnay vines and replanted our vineyards with Merlot, which was a popular fruity red wine in the mid 1990s.

As our winemaking experience developed, we began accumulating more and more of the equipment necessary to improve our ability to produce reasonably drinkable wine, and by our second harvest of Merlot, we won a silver medal at the Sonoma County Amateur winemaking contest.  We were motivated!  While as many as 300-400 amateur wines were entered each year at this annual contest, few gold medals were awarded, and we set out to win the coveted gold.

A friend of ours had just taken over as the winemaker at Paradise Ridge Winery, so we managed to entertain him at our homes and, in exchange, he assisted with advice on how to best manage our vineyards for the maximum quality. We took his advice seriously.

Each year at harvest time, usually during September, we would gather friends, and begin our harvest of the two vineyards at 6 o’clock during the cool hours of the morning, putting the lush purple clusters in plastic buckets, then, with a rented wine press we began pressing the juice, while Connie climbed into the 500 gallon vat we purchased for this purpose and began the push down to get the fermentation going.

After each of these harvest events, Lorraine Vicini would prepare food and once our harvest was completed, and the wine in the barrels, we would celebrate our harvest in the typical Italian tradition, dining and drinking wine from our previous year’s harvest.  This harvest celebration was known in Italian as the Vendemmia, and we celebrated it every year without fail.

We produced about 120 plus gallons of wine each season, and bottling somewhere between 30 and 50 cases of wine, far more than we could consume.

Several of our friends with whom we shared our bountiful product, thought it so good, they wanted to know if they could purchase some of it.  Up to that time, we had enjoyed just sharing it with friends and family, but once we realized that it might have some commercial value, we explored that possibility.

An acquaintance of mine was the state director of the Alcohol Beverage Control and when I ran the idea by him, he said, “Sal, you and your neighbor don’t make enough wine to bother with all the regulations you will be required to meet just to sell a bottle of wine.  You will be paying a city tax, a state tax, a federal tax, and you will need a bonded location to store the wine and have all kinds of record keeping to meet all the requirements regarding the production of an alcohol beverage.  I will help you with it if you like, but I don’t think you want to do all this stuff.  You are better off just enjoying it and giving away what you can’t drink.”

Each year, as we continued to buy more winemaking equipment, improve our winemaking skills, and enter the amateur wine making contest, we eagerly anticipated the results of the judging at the Harvest Fair contest.  It was the year 2000 when we finally got our first gold medal, and it was cause for great celebration!

We gathered all of our friends and neighbors who had helped us over the years with advice and assistance during our harvest and had a wonderful party, enjoying a variety of Italian delicacies, and of course much of the award winning wine.

I don’t think I ever saw my friend Tony happier.  He keep saying, “We should find some acreage and go into the wine making business as a commercial enterprise.  Now that we know we can make good wine, and we know people will buy it, let’s give it a try!”

As enthusiastic as he was, there is an old adage in the wine making business which goes like this;  To make a small fortune in the wine business, you have to start with a BIG fortune.   Connie and I were not prepared to invest what savings we had accumulated to that time in buying land to undertake any serious vineyard management or wine making effort, so we declined the offer to join with Tony in this endeavor.

 We continued making wine as a hobby for a number of years, accumulating a number of gold and silver medals for our amateur winemaking abilities, but regrettably, all good things come to an end, and after 12 years of this wonderful and entertaining hobby, we sold the home with its 150 Merlot grape producing vineyard and a climate controlled standalone wine cellar holding 1200 bottles of wine in 2008, and moved part time to Arizona for business reasons.

Tony Vicini continued to make wine until he passed away several years later, but we will always remember his unbridled enthusiasm for making and enjoying the fine wine we were able to produce.  And in the end, Tony was right; a backyard vineyard was a lot more fun than a tennis court.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? Author Sal Rosano gives the reader an inside look at what it’s like to become a hobby winemaker. This “Flash Memoir” begins in a moment of action with neighbor Tony approaching Sal to talk him out of putting in a tennis court. Like any good “Flash Memoir,” the story makes a full circle, returning to that conversation at the end. In the interim, the author moves the story along with dialogue, description, visuals and humor. – S.G.

B.B., Big Mama and the Blues
By Diane Morgan

One result of growing up in the family jukebox business is that I have always enjoyed the popular music of the 1940s and 50s.  But in my adult years I also became a fan of blues and classic rock and have enthusiastically introduced others to it. 

When I told a neighbor at the former Lamplighters Senior Citizens' Inn about the music that fascinated me she said she was interested  in the blues but was only familiar with  "a little bit of B.B. King."

I quickly loaned her a book on the subject and a couple of CDs.  A week later she reported she had really enjoyed them so I gave her more recordings including some by female artists.  Not long after that she phoned me  and exclaimed,  "You'll never guess what happened to me last night.  I was watching a rerun of the 'Millionaire' show and the $100,000 question was - who recorded 'Hound Dog' before Elvis Presley made it a hit in 1956?  And I started bouncing up and down in my chair yelling  I know!  I KNOW!  It was Big Mama Thornton!  Which of course was correct.  I felt SO GOOD!" 

Then she added "I want to thank you because I never would have known that if it hadn't been for YOU."  Her phone call made my day.

What appeals to me most about the blues is that they are truly organic, created by people who could barely write their own names, let alone read music.  I am haunted by a scene in a documentary in which John Lee Hooker painstakingly autographs a guitar and is reminded by an aide that John has an "o" in it.

Also, the blues are about REAL life.  Forget "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing."  I'll take the simplicity of a line like "I love you more than a rootin' hog loves its corn."  Not very romantic, but refreshingly down to earth.  In the blues, men complain about no good two-timin' women and women wail about good-for-nothing cheatin' men. It all evens out.
I grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein but as I've aged  I realize life is less like a handsome young cowboy belting out "Oh What a Beautiful Morning"  and more like a weary old bluesman grumbling and strumming "These Two Dollar Shoes is Killing My Feets."

Blues singers also have GREAT names........Leadbelly.......Blind Lemon Jefferson......Son House......Memphis Minnie......Memphis Slim......Howlin' Wolf......Muddy Waters......Gatemouth Brown.....Clean Head Vinson......Lightnin' Hopkins......T-Bone Walker......and of course, the aforementioned Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton.  It doesn't leave you wondering how she looked and sounded. 

B.B. King's real name was Riley, which I've memorized in case I ever need it for a game show.  "B.B."  was short for his early nickname, "Blues Boy."  But the man who probably had one of the greatest impacts on the recording industry for five decades had a most ordinary name.

Robert Johnson was born in Mississippi in 1911 and is generally considered "King of the Mississippi Delta blues singers."  He obviously learned early that playing the guitar was a way to get girls and he was exceptionally good at both.  He wrote 29 songs, recorded in 1937-38, and undoubtedly would have written many more but died at age 27 after a jealous husband allegedly put strychnine in his whiskey.

One of his songs was "Cross Road Blues" which has been recorded by many but best known for the kicked-up 60s version "Crossroads" done by the British band Cream.  It refers to a rural intersection in Mississippi where according to legend, Johnson met with the devil and made a pact to further his career in music.  In those days in the South it was widely believed success in business or love required dealing with Satan.

Johnson also wrote "They're Red Hot" which has repeated references to "tamales" but is NOT about Mexican food.  Further study of vintage blues lyrics turns up more  references to fruit, cooking, squeezing and rolling dough than are heard on the Food Network.  It is probably good the words are often slurred so they come up as "incomprehensible" on the internet.

I am amused when people say their lives have not been influenced by the blues because.... the blues of the 20s and 30s evolved into boogie woogie and jazz of the 40s......then the bebop, doo wop and rock 'n roll of the 50s......the soul music, Motown and power rock of the 60s...... the soft rock and soulful ballads of the 70s......the heavy metal and punk rock of the 80s...... and the techno and "alternative" rock of the 90s.  It does seem to have been lost in current rap and hip hop which is all rhythm and rhyme and not melodic.

But even in this new millennium blues-based music is still all over TV...... in ads, theme music, ESPN and just about every major sporting event.  During half-time at college football games huge marching bands fill the field performing - not John Philip Sousa - but "Pinball Wizard" from the rock opera "Tommy."  It was written by British rocker Pete Townshend of the Who.  All of the theme music for the "C.S.I." series are recordings by the Who.  Townshend spent his youth studying American blues.  So did his countrymen - Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, John Mayall and Elton John.  The rest is music history.

As the cotton field workers sang a century ago....."you ain't gonna lose 'dem blues."

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? Author Diane Morgan has provided an excellent example of an “Opinion Piece,” which is a memoir writing style that incorporates the author’s life experiences as well as personal thoughts. Not only that, she has given the reader a history lesson in Blues as a music genre, where Blues came from and how it contributed to other music forms. While not strictly memoir, per se, this type of autobiographical and historical writing makes a good companion for any author’s collection of memoirs. – S.G.

* * *

Do you live in Sonoma County?
If so, drop in at a weekly meeting of
9 a.m. to noon Thursdays
684 Benicia Drive
Santa Rosa, California

Decide for yourself if this is the
memoir writing class for you!


* * *

Going Home
By Marion McMurtry

I knew as soon as we uncovered the first bones there would be trouble.

Twenty feet below us the Tomales Bay cliff ended in a rocky shelf of beach, interspersed with sand deposits and bay mud.  Foamy low waves hissed and gurgled in and out amongst the grey rocks, echoing against the cliff face.  Gulls mewed and darted at us from overhead, only faintly visible through the mist.  We were kneeling in the weeds; already we were wet from the early morning fog and thinking of coffee bread time.

Then someone lifted a sandy clump of grass roots to reveal the telltale brownish surface of an upper arm bone.

“Oh, no,” one man said.  “I can’t do this.”

Three others sat back and dropped their brushes.  “Me either,” another one gulped.  “I wouldn’t want anybody doing this to me.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked. “You all knew what we were going to find out here.”

“Yeah, but look at this guy—how carefully he was buried.  It just feels wrong.” The dissenting four left us to go join the sifting crew.

We were there on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay as part of a field archaeology class from Santa Rosa  Junior College.  Our project was to locate as many of the ancient Indian burial sites known to be on the headlands as we could before the elements destroyed them all.  The remains from the site we had found would eventually be sent to the Lowie Museum on the U.C. campus at Berkeley.

Carefully but quickly the rest of us brushed aside damp sand, grass roots, small stones, always watching that we didn’t dislodge any more of the cliff edge that was only inches from us.

Down on the beach a boy called up that he had found another bone—this one shattered by the fall.  “There’s more of them sticking out of the bank.” 

An ominous slither of sand and rocks clattered down around him as he gathered the bone fragments in a plastic collection bag.

Then the sun broke through and illuminated the shallow burial site we were excavating.  One of our party finished brushing off the top layer of sand dirt to expose more of the bones. 

“Wow!  Would you just look at that!” he whispered. 

There in front of us was a complete breastplate of shell beads, carved stone pieces and animal teeth covering the torso of the skeleton.   The bones were all in place, undisturbed, except for the lower leg parts, which had fallen to the beach as the sandy face of the cliff gave way.

His arms were crossed, each bony hand lying on the opposite shoulder.  He had been buried face up to the sky instead of the usual knee-to-chin position we were used to finding.   He had been an important member of his tribe, I was sure.      

Long ago, when the man’s body was buried, the shoreline had extended much farther out into the bay.  Centuries of weather had eaten away the soil until now erosion was quickly destroying the site altogether.

Native American burial sites are known at many places along the coast of Tomales Bay.  LeRoy Wyman of Santa Rosa told me of growing up on his grandfather’s property just south of Dillon Beach, The Brazil Ranch.  “My grandfather Antone came here in 1903,” he said.  “He bought the ranch in 1906.  I remember him telling us kids about the Indians coming in wagons with their cattle and extended families, just as they had for all the long years of their tribal memories to bury their dead out on the headlands.   They would camp for weeks while the women scoured the pastures for roots of wire grass to use for basket making.”
Eventually Brazil denied them further use of the property because it interfered with his dairy business.  The burial sites are still there, but the family keeps their whereabouts confidential.  Lee Wyman recalls digging in the tidal mudflats on the ranch and often finding parts of skeletal remains washed down from above. 

“Sometimes,” he told me, “we would come on partially buried stone containers and utensils. The people would store them away on the shoreline to use the following clam digging season.”
Lee’s family has a fine collection of stone points and other artifacts gathered along the water line of the bay.  He told of his grandfather finding ancient burial remains wrapped in skins or woolen blankets—all exposed by the relentless action of time and weather.

Native American tribes from all over the United States have finally succeeded in their attempts to have the remains of their ancestors’ burials returned to them from the storerooms and labs of universities and museums around the country.  Lowie Museum, now known as Phoebe Apperson Hearst Memorial Museum of Archaeology, is one of the museums participating in this program, and I’d like to think that the ancient we disturbed that day on the remote headlands of Tomales Bay is on his own final journey back to his people.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? Author Marion McMurtry’s account of an anthropological dig atTomalas Bay combines personal life story with a history lesson about the coastal Indians of California. She moves her story along with description, dialogue and fascinating information about the past. At the end, she provides an update paragraph to give the reader an opportunity to know what has happened since the dig. She also keeps herself in the story from beginning to end, holding the tension throughout, which is the sign of a well-written memoir. – S.G.

Frank N. Panza

I was really moving. Although I wasn't running too fast, thank the Lord I was faster than Steve Goronski, the bête noir of just about every boy in the grammar school of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Brooklyn. That day, Goronski chose to come after me, something he was wont to do every so often.

In Brooklyn at the time, different streets were often different worlds. Sixtieth Street, where I lived, was a friendly world. Fifty-Ninth Street, where Goronski lived, was more warlike. The kids from 60th Street could go to Johnson's Candy store, at the corner of 59th Street and 8th Avenue, but couldn't go past the end of the window at Johnson's without risking an attack from the 59th Street boys. While the 59th Street boys didn't often come onto 60th Street, it was safer for them to do so than vice versa.

Steve Goronski was the meanest 59th street boy. While we defended ourselves from most of the other 59th Street kids, not one of us, except Artie who moved to 60th Street from Red Hook and was absolutely fearless, would fight Goronski. Perhaps that's because we understood that he had stabbed his father, a rumor, but one every one of us believed.

As I ran down the street towards the corner of 60th Street and 7th Avenue, I looked to make sure the light on the corner was green so I could get across safely. It was; but unfortunately, it remained that way as Goronski kept coming. Once I crossed the Avenue I had about 100 yards to go before I got to my house. Unfortunately, once I got there I had to unlock the front door, and then the hallway door. There was no way to do that without Steve catching up to me and beating the hell out of me.

After I crossed 7th Avenue, I knew I had to do something to prevent Goronski from catching me. I looked down the block and was glad to see a bus coming up the block towards me. I looked quickly across the street and saw there were no cars coming down the other way. So, I slowed down to allow Goronski to get close to me. Just before the bus reached us, I darted right in front of it, figuring Steve would follow me. I knew I'd be able to get across the front of the bus, but figured the bus would hit Goronski and allay his threat.

Unfortunately, Steve stopped short before running in front of the bus. When I got across the street, I saw him staring at me as he recognized I had no qualms about killing him. I was grateful that he simply turned around, went back up the street towards 7th Avenue, and turned right at the corner on his way back to 59th Street.

Goronski didn't bother me again until the following Fall, during my last semester at OLPH. Technically, it was also his last semester, though it's unlikely he ever graduated. As I crossed 7th Avenue on the way home, Goronski jumped out of a doorway near the corner, and tackled me. I don't know how it happened; maybe he tripped. But somehow, he wound up on the ground under me.

Blessing my good fortune, I grabbed his curly hair and started slamming his head into the sidewalk. As I did, I realized, terrified, that I couldn't stop while he was conscious or he'd get up and kill me. I decided to keep slamming his skull until his brains started oozing out of his ears.

Fortunately, my good friends Leo and Artie were with me, and pulled me off him. I didn't wait to see if he was conscious, and took off with Leo and Artie. The three of us got into my house before Steve could recover.

Shortly after that we graduated, and I immediately started high school about 45 minutes away from home. I wasn't around the neighborhood much anymore and didn't run into Goronski for the next eight or nine years, until the summer after my first year at Fordham Law School. During that summer, Marie and I were working on a primary campaign for John Lamula, a candidate for a New York City Councilman-at-Large. We were canvassing businesses on Fifth Avenue, the principal commercial street in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Marie was working one side of the Avenue, and I was working the other. I looked across the street and saw someone was trying to pick up Marie. When I looked more closely I saw it was Goronski. At the time, Marie and I were engaged. But engaged isn't married and I knew my responsibility for her well-being wasn't as serious as it would become. But I bucked myself up, crossed the street and said, "Hello Steve. It's been a while. I'd like you to meet my fiancée, Marie Gatto."

Goronski looked at me, his eyes lit up and he said, "Frankie Panza! I haven't seen you for years. I heard you are in Law School. The whole neighborhood is proud of you!"

We spent five minutes kind of catching up. I thanked Steve for his good wishes, went back to canvassing for Lamula, and never saw Goronski again.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? This account of inner city childhood strife from Author Frank Panza is a classic example of “Flash Memoir” in that it starts in a moment of both action and tension and makes a full circle back to the offending bully at the end. Along the way, Panza uses humor, description, visuals and dialog to keep the reader engaged.  – S.G. 

Uncle Joe
By Mary Beth Thompson

In a low, kind voice Dad said to us, “It would be better not to give this to Grandma.  You need to find another birthday gift for her.”

Two of my siblings and I, all of grammar school age, had taken the bus to Hardisty’s in downtown Santa Rosa, California. We had the perfect gift in mind for Grandma’s birthday.  She was a devout Catholic and, like most Catholics, she had a crucifix and several small religious icons in her house. We chose a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mary and were proudly showing it to Dad that evening, believing he would be pleased with our choice.  So, we were stunned at his words. 

He told us he had a younger brother, Joseph, who was known as Joe. Joe was killed in World War II by a Japanese kamikaze plane during the battle of Leyte Gulf.  The statue we had chosen was made in Japan and, he said, it would just make Grandma sad. He went on to explain that Grandma would not buy anything made in Japan.

That was the first time I recall my dad talking about his younger brother.  I felt sad for Dad and for my grandparents to have suffered such a loss. I felt a loss, also, knowing there was an uncle I would never get to meet. 

Years later, in my 40s, I became interested in family history. During a visit with Dad one day, I became aware of a few grammar school papers of Joe’s, and some photos of him I had not seen before. Dad let me keep the papers and photos, which I put into a binder.

From Joe’s grade school writings, which included an autobiographical sketch, it was clear to me he had a sense of humor. He was on a rowing team. There are photos of him at a school dance with a beautiful girl.  The messages in his yearbook indicate he was popular and probably not the best student.  Students teased him about sleeping in class.

Now that both my parents are gone, I am the one who has inherited all those boxes of photos.  I am slowly sorting through them and occasionally finding one of Joseph.  I add it to the binder. 

Some years ago, I joined but only recently have I started to build the family tree, and only in the last year or so did I add my parents’ siblings, of course including Joe along with his birth and death date.
Not long afterwards I received an email through from a man in Georgia telling me he had information to share about Joseph, who had been a good friend of his father’s on the USS Santee. 

He wrote: “My Dad was a close friend of Mr. Klein and was with him after the Jap zero hit the flight deck of the Santee. My Dad never talked much about his WWII experience but the death of his friend he called Klein deeply affected him. He shared this experience one Sunday evening about three years before his death. If you or a family member want me to share this memory with you, please send me a phone number and a time to call. This is a memory that is better told than written. Thank you, Cres Keys, Jr.” He included his address and phone numbers.

I sent an email to him and included my phone number. He called the next day and told me his father, Cres Keys, Sr., rarely spoke about any World War II experiences when his children were growing up.  He was a stern taskmaster, a stoic man who raised his sons to be good people.  In his later years Cres Senior liked to take a walk with his son, Cres Junior, on Sundays and go out to dinner afterwards. One day as their Sunday walk was ending, much to Cres’ surprise, his father began to talk about World War II and he cried.  Cres had never seen his father cry before.  His father told him about the day of October 25, 1944,  and his good friend, Joseph Klein, who he called “Klein.”

Cres and Joe were part of the Torpedo crew. On the morning of October 25, 1944, they were on the catwalk (above where the planes were stored). One of the elevator shafts was open.  They were aware that if the Japanese flew over and saw an open elevator shaft that’s where the pilot would drop the bomb since the deeper into the ship the bomb went, the more damage it did. The Japanese planes had a whine G.I.s recognized. They heard the plane which attacked at 7:40am.   Joseph and Cres ran away from the open elevator shaft.  Joseph was hit by shrapnel and killed instantly while Cres cradled him in his arms. 

Joe’s life was tragically over but the nightmare was not over for his friend Cres.  Cres was in the habit of always wearing his lifejacket on the ship.  He was not injured but was so covered with Joe’s blood that someone said to him, “You’re not going to make it. You don’t need this,” while trying to remove his life jacket.  Cres, not wounded was able to fight the man off. 

Before hearing his father’s story that day, Cres Jr. had no idea of his father’s wartime experiences. 

In 2007 Cres’ father passed away.  As Cres Junior began to plan a service for his father, he wanted to include some of his father’s wartime experience.  He tried to remember what the name of his father’s good friend on the torpedo crew was but could not recall it.  He began researching and when he found a list of those who died that day on the USS Santee, Cres recognized Joe’s name right away.  As the years passed he wanted to know if there was anyone connected to Joseph with whom he could share the story and a photo of the torpedo crew.   He contacted a family in Minnesota, with no luck.  He made other attempts over the years, to no avail.  He then saw my entry of Joe’s information in Ancestry; when he saw Joseph’s death date he knew it was his father’s friend and he contacted me. 

Cres sent me a photo of the Torpedo Crew.  It was heart-stoppingly amazing to see it appear on my computer screen. I recognized Uncle Joe right away, although he looked a little different from other photos I had seen. He was heavier and looked tense.  No surprise, considering his circumstances.
I only wish my dad were alive so I could share this story with him and so he could know his brother had a friend by his side when he met his tragic death.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? Author Mary Beth Thompson’s account of learning about her Uncle Joe is both poignant and important to her efforts to pull together her family history. The story is memoir because it is about the author’s journey into research; it is family history because it recounts what happened to her father’s brother during World War II. This kind of story belongs in any collection of memoirs because it helps future generations get a better picture of their own heritage. – S.G.

Finding My Niche in the Working World
By Claire Steneck  

I was packing the last of my possessions that had been accumulated in the  two years I had rented a room from Mrs. Eckerman in South Gate, California.

Finally, I was going home to Santa Rosa. I needed time to recover from teaching at Redeemer School during my first years out of college. They had been hard, but maturing years.  The first year I taught grades one through three.  The next year was grades four through six.  I had felt unprepared, unsupported and beaten when I left for home.

While spending time at home with an encouraging family, I soon felt more confident and began substitute teaching for the Santa Rosa School System.
A short time later, I was hired as the third grade teacher at Fremont School.  These were two years of healing.  I had supportive teachers and a wonderful principal, Andy Wallstrum.

I loved teaching here, but I had to leave that haven and find a job out of the city schools. There was a policy that married teachers could not work in the same school system.  I had recently married Leo Steneck, the sixth grade teacher at Fremont.

I soon took a fourth grade teaching position at Roseland School, which was in a different district outside of the city school system.  I will never forget the baby shower the parents and class gave me upon their discovery that I was leaving to start a family.  Our family grew to four children and I stayed busy at home. 
After a while, I began subbing as a teacher again, but difficulty arose when calls came in at 7:00 A.M. to sub that morning.  I decided to find a part time job with regular hours that fit my schedule.

I started working at Allison’s Discount Dress Shop in 1986.  I enjoyed working with adults and not having any discipline problems.  I was busy all day helping women find something they liked.  All the clothes were inexpensive and in style.  The women left happy and smiling.

When Allison’s closed, I took a sales position with Friedman’s Microwave Store.  It was a small store that sold microwaves exclusively and gave lessons to the buyers.  Microwaves were new to many customers and sales were good.  I loved teaching people how to use this fast way reheat or cook a full meal.  I stayed with the company for six years until microwave sales slowed and the store moved to San Rafael.

I continued my sales career at Sears, where I started selling in the men’s department.  I learned men are easy to sell.  They don’t have to try on everything available before they make a decision.  The sales person has to put everything back in its proper place after the customer leaves, so I appreciated the men because they didn’t move all the well-stacked clothing on display tables to find the perfect color and style.

I laughed when mothers came in with their young sons shopping for back-to-school clothes. The style for many boys was oversized jeans that fit so low that they looked like they are going to fall off.  These mothers made their son go back until they wore pants that fit properly. 

I ended up working eight years for Sears, the final years selling vacuums, sewing machines and microwaves.

When my grandchildren are undecided about their future professions, I can understand their dilemma.  Sometime finding your niche takes a few twists and turns.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? This story by Author Claire Stenick is an important part of her memoir collection because it gives an account of her working career. Future generations will want to know these things about her life, particularly her experiences in selling that new-fangled contraption, the microwave oven, now a common appliance in every kitchen in America. – S.G.

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