Sheri Graves

Writer, Editor,
Memoir Writing Instructor,
Novelist
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MEMOIR WRITING BLOG
  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."
  2. Comments?
    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 sherigravesbooks@comcast.net.
  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.
Thursday, August 16, 2017
Love Interrupted
By Sal Rosano

The vehicle was bouncing up and down and there were no visible occupants. The car was parked in an industrial area where there should have been no cars.

It was the dark of night and I was on patrol alone. I radioed that I would be leaving my patrol vehicle to check suspicious circumstances and reported the license number of the parked car. My flashlight was in my hand as I approached what could have been a life and death situation – for me or for someone else.

It was not long after I had become a police officer in 1959. During my training, I had learned there were some rituals that the “Boys in Blue” followed during the nighttime hours when the usual domestic disturbances, barroom fights, and traffic collisions did not occupy their time.

South San Francisco back in the 1950’s was a city of about 30,000 residents, with something like 22 bars and taverns in the three block downtown area, and  a large industrial section East of the 101 Freeway. 

As a newly assigned patrol officer only 21 years of age, I worked with several senior officers covering a beat that encompassed the downtown and industrial areas as well. I was quickly indoctrinated into one of the law enforcement rituals that always brought a smile to my face. 

One of my first nights on the graveyard shift – midnight to 8:00 AM – found me with my partner driving our patrol car quietly through the industrial area where there should not have been any traffic or activity, since all of the warehouses and buildings were dark during the nighttime. The bars had closed at 2:00 AM and all the fist fights and drunks were dealt with, and it was before the early morning commute traffic required our attention.

As we made this occasional tour out in the large industrial area, my partner said, “If we see any activity out here, it is either bad guys looking to burglarize one of these buildings or kids parking out here to make out. When you drive out here, you have your headlights off so we can quietly take a look. If we spot any car parked out here, stop some distance away while we observe for a few minutes.”

It did not take me long to realize this practice was typical of the activity during the quiet hours.  When a car was spotted and we could not determine from a distance there were occupants, or if the windows were steamed up and the car was rocking in place, it usually turned out to be teens or young adults engaging in some interesting behavior.

From a law enforcement perspective, I learned, it was necessary to ensure that whoever occupied any vehicle during these hours was not involved in any criminal activity, such as casing a building for some later theft. Another type of criminal behavior could be an underage teenager in the company of an adult male. Or someone being assaulted. Or any other potential violation. 

In most cases, however, what we found were young couples looking for romance in what they thought was a safe and out of the way location where they would not be disturbed.

Most of the guys I worked with – and they were all guys, since women police officers were rare at the time, and there were none in that department in the ‘50s – all enjoyed quietly approaching cars we found in this environment.  Once we   reached the car and took a look inside, first to confirm what we suspected was actually happening, on went the flashlights illuminating the interior of the vehicle. We watched the occupants wildly scramble to get their clothes on or arranged properly, and sit up to see what was going on.  Many officers thought this skin game was great fun.

In most cases, once the vehicle’s occupants had a chance to collect themselves, we interviewed them to determine if they were both participating in this lovemaking voluntarily,  were not underage, and did not have any outstanding warrants. Then we sent them on their way with an admonition to avoid parking in places not suitable for this activity.  If we found a female who was underage with an adult male, we typically contacted a parent to determine what disposition we should make of the situation.

Such was the practice, and whomever was assigned to patrol the beat encompassing this industrial area, whether working with a partner or alone, was likely to find at least one such occupied vehicle per shift, and on some weekends, several.

That night when I was a solo officer and observed a lone car parked in the industrial area, bouncing up and down with apparent movement within, I approached the car in the usual fashion, peered inside and did see occupants lying across the front seat.  On went my flashlight and all I saw at first was lots of pale white skin from what appeared to be the backside of a female individual.

Unlike the typical reaction from previous experiences, this woman did not immediately or wildly move to an upright position. Instead, she slowly turned to the window, rolled it down and, when she realized it was a police officer standing there, calmly said, “Yes Officer, how can I help you?”

It was clear this was not the typical kid or young adult.  In fact as I conversed with the woman, I saw she was an attractive red-headed lady about 35 to 40 years of age.

Nonetheless, following the usual protocol, I asked her to step out of the vehicle. After she rearranged her clothing, she sat up and opened the driver’s door.  It was apparent then that there was an adult male partially beneath her. I said to her, “Please ask the gentleman to get dressed and step out also.”

The woman then said, “He prefers to stay in the vehicle if you don’t mind,” and she began to close the car door.

This made me even more suspicious, so I told her to ask her male companion to step out of the car as well. When he did, I was sorry I had asked!

I recognized the man immediately as Father O’Donnell, pastor of a parish in town.  I am not sure which of us was more stunned.  He stood there sheepishly, and I was at a loss for words.  Finally I stupidly said, “What are you doing here?”

Of course, I knew exactly what he was doing there.

They apologized for causing me such embarrassment, and I apologized for embarrassing them. I suggested they leave the area as it was an unsafe place. I hurriedly returned to my patrol vehicle, wishing I had never witnessed this event.  I did not have the heart to share the story with anyone since I did not want to embarrass them or myself any further.

Two weeks later, I developed a stye on my left eye.  It occurred to me that maybe God was punishing me for what I had inadvertently observed, or maybe I had gotten the stye because I was party to exposing the human frailty of a man of the cloth.  The stye was troublesome so I visited my family doctor, and he gave me a prescription for an ointment to apply.

I took the prescription to a local drug store near the doctor’s office, and submitted it to a clerk who said she would have the Pharmacist fill it and give me directions on its use if I would wait a few minutes.

When my name was called, I returned to the counter, and the Pharmacist, an attractive red-haired lady came out to give me the ointment. When I saw her, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  It was the lady I had seen with the priest, mostly unclothed, in the front seat of a bouncing car.  She saw the strange look on my face and said, “Are you all right?”

Then she looked more closely, and it dawned on her.  She said, “Oh, my God, it’s you!”

She immediately blushed and did not know what else to say.  She handed me my ointment and I thanked her, quickly left the pharmacy, and never returned to that drug store again!

That was the last time I encountered either of those two individuals.  I later heard a rumor that Father O’Donnell left the priesthood and married, not an uncommon occurrence.  I secretly wished them both well and said a quiet prayer for their happiness.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Flash Memoir,” which begins in a moment of action and continues the tension through to the end. Author Sal Rosano, a former Chief of Police for the City of Santa Rosa, relates a story of his early career in law enforcement in the San Francisco Bay Area. He uses humor, suspense, dialogue and a “gotcha” situation to move the story along. The ending provides the reader with an unexpected bonus. This memoir is an inside view of the other side of a situation many of us have experienced at one time or another. -- S.G.

Suicide Hotline
By Chlele Gummer

“Suicide Hotline, how can I help you?” I answered my first call of my first four-hour session at the Suicide Hot Line in Fresno, California, in 1980.

“I want to go to Jesus, ma’am. I hear him calling me,” a low voice said into my ear.

“What is the problem? Can you tell me more?”

I thought, Rule number one:  Keep the speaker talking. Help them define the situation.

“I’ve been reading my Bible, ma’am. All night I’ve been reading. Do you ever read the Bible, ma’am?”

“Sometimes. Can you tell me what you have been reading?” I asked him.

Rule number two:  Redirect the caller’s focus.

“It is some Psalm. I been up all night. I saw the full moon come up.”

He stopped talking.

“You said you wanted to go to Jesus,” I commented. “Can you tell me what you mean?”

“I am ready to go, ma’am, to go and see Jesus. Things down here aren’t any good, you know. They don’t want me around here since I got back from the work farm. My Aunt Lucille and Uncle Jared yell at me all the time. I get no peace.”

I heard him sigh.

“I can’t get no job,” he continued. “No one wants to hire someone from the work farm. They all think I’m no good. Maybe they’s right.”

“You sound upset and frustrated. Things aren’t going right.”

Rule number three:  Reflect their feelings back to them.

“I am upset. But Jesus will save me. It says so, here, in the good book. I have the Bible in my lap, here. And, I know how to do it. I know where they keep the rat poison. Right under the sink behind the bleach. I checked it the other day and there is enough. I can end this real quick.”

“Do you have the rat poison within reach?”

Rule number four:  Find out where the weapon is.

“No, but like I said, I know where it’s kept.”

He paused for a moment. He groaned, “Oh. My hands are bloody. I got blood on the Bible.”

“Why are your hands bloody?” I asked.

“I cut my wrists last night while I was looking at the moon. But I guess I didn’t cut deep enough. The knife wasn’t very sharp. Now there’s blood dripping down my arms.”

Oh, dear, I thought. Rule number five: If the caller has resolve, that is, the weapon and motive, do an intervention. Where is that number? Okay. Hold this phone in my left hand and dial the Fresno police. It’s ringing.

“Fresno Police Dispatch Service. How can I help you?” the dispatcher asked.

I whispered, “I’m calling from the Suicide Hotline and I need an intervention.”

“I’m new to this office. I don’t know what an intervention is.”

“Get your supervisor,” I said. “Now! I have a possible suicide on the line and I need your help!”

“Okay, hang on.”

“Who are you talking to, ma’am?” the caller on the other phone asked me.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking to anyone. Tell me more about your hands.”

“They’s OK. The bleeding has about stopped.”

I could hear someone yelling in the background, “Leroy, get off that phone. You been on it all morning!”

“Who was that, Leroy?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Aunt Lucille. You hear how she yells at me. Ma’am, I feels so bad. I want so much to go to Jesus,” he said in a mournful tone.

“This is supervisor Smith of the Fresno Please Dispatch,” said the voice on the other phone. “You have a possible suicide on the line?”

The Suicide Hotline Center had a special line to Police Dispatch just for this purpose. I had a phone to each ear, one for the caller and one for the police.

“Yes,” I whispered to the dispatcher. “I’m new at this. What do I do?”

“Where does the caller live?”

“Oh, I have to get that information. Will you hold?”

“Certainly.”

“Leroy. Are you there?”

I hadn’t heard the caller’s voice for a moment.

“Yeah, I was just reading this Psalm,” he answered. “Can I read it to you?”

How can I get his address without him suspecting anything?

“In a moment, Leroy. You said you were watching the moon last night. I couldn’t see it because there are too many houses in the way. Do you live in the country?”

“Yeah, I live out here near Raisin City. My Aunt Lucille and Uncle Jared have a farm, if you can call this ugly dump a farm.”

“So go ahead and read the Psalm for me, Leroy. I would like that.”

I hoped it would take time enough to start the intervention.

On the phone to the police, I said, “He lives near Raisin City. His aunt is named Lucille. Jared is the name of his uncle. They own a small farm near that town. That’s all I could get.” Then I remembered. “His name is Leroy.”

“Okay, we’ll see if that is enough. Can you get the name of the street? That would do it.”

“I’ll try.”

Leroy was still reading from the Bible. I heard his uncle and aunt in the background. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t know what was going on with Leroy.

When he finished, I said, “That was very good. I hear voices in the background, Leroy. Are they in the same room as you?”

“Yeah, it’s the living room, and Uncle Jared is watching television.”

“Leroy, what street do you live on?”

“It’s called Prince Lane. They’ve lived here ever since I was born. And they’ll still be here after I’m dead. That’ll be a happy day!”

“Somebody is knocking on the door,” I heard Aunt Lucille say. “Hey, Jared, answer the door.”

I hoped the Sheriff’s deputies had figured out where Leroy lived.

Leroy told me, “There’s someone at the door.”

I heard a man’s voice ask for Leroy. And I heard footsteps toward the phone. And then a man spoke, “I’m Deputy Sheriff Combs and we have Leroy in custody.”

“Can you tell me if his wrists have been cut?” I asked.

“Let me check,” he took a moment. “Yes, he has slashes on his wrists. No bleeding, however. We’ll take over from here. Thank you for your help.”

I hung up both phones.

And about cried. 

Last rule:  Call your supervisor at the end of an intervention.

“Can you believe it? I had an intervention the first time on the phone!” I told my supervisor after detailing the event to her. I felt anxiety in every bone of my body.

“Put the telephone on hold and take a half hour’s break," she advised me. “Walk around, have some coffee and a donut. You deserve it.”

And, I did just that.

Later I was told that this was a second intervention for Leroy. The Sheriff’s Department was familiar with him and his family.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is a combination of “Chronology” and “Conversational,” although the tension at the onset easily could put this story in the category of “Flash Memoir.” Author Chlele Gummer relates her first shift on a Suicide Hotline service by using mostly dialogue. She also uses inner monologue to intersperse the rules for volunteers, learned in training, and to impart her thoughts and feelings during the experience. In doing so, she provides a suicide hotline instructional piece for the layperson who might have to deal with a friend or relative on the edge. The tension introduced by the author at the onset builds throughout the story. The reader never loses interest and, even though volunteers are not informed of the outcome of such interventions, can’t help wondering what became of the caller. – S.G.

The Canyon
                  By Jack F. Harper                 

I began walking toward the east entrance of Aravaipa Canyon with my wife, Deyea.  The soft light of dawn greeted our eager steps toward an adventure. 

We were prepared for an Arizona summer hike in 1975, each of us wearing shorts, t-shirt, hat, and tennis shoes.  And we packed water, and a lunch.  As a guest of Defenders of Wildlife, its protector, I knew about the pristine beauty of the walk. I had visited part of the Canyon the previous year and I was anxious for Deyea to discover it, too. Also, I hoped we would see a black hawk.

We were registered with the Bureau of Land Management, owner of the Canyon.  We felt fortunate to be there since only 50 daily permits were issued to hikers.  The night before, we had stayed near the East entrance in a house belonging to Defenders.  

Although, the walk would be 12 miles, it was necessary for Ranger Tom to drive our car 70 miles back to his house at the Western exit.

The dirt trail began along the side of Aravaipa Creek.  We were ready for the water, which would be cool to walk in when crossing the creek.  I looked ahead at the natural beauty of the landscape and blue sky. Shadows filtered onto steep canyon walls. I could see where the narrow sandstone walls, partially covered with vegetation, were scared.  Over many years, water flowing in the creek had risen 25 feet above the trail.

“Deyea, do you see were the water has been?” I asked.

“Yes, this Canyon floods during storms,” she answered.

“Well, I wouldn't want to be here in flash flood,” I said.

We continued walking, stepping on and over rocks, crisscrossing the little creek.  In places the narrow canyon was only about 12 feet wide and 40 to 60 feet to the top.  Small bushes and clumps of grass clung to the steep walls.

I thought, This truly is a wilderness.

“Watch for the Black Hawk,” I called, and heard my echo.

“I'm looking,” she said.

Almost as though it was the result of us willing the bird to appear, a dark image of a hawk flew overhead. We carried binoculars, a bird book, and quickly confirmed the sighting of a black hawk.

The small foot path disappeared into the creek, and our feet felt the welcome cooling water. The outdoor temperature was climbing along with the sun.  Shade was becoming a premium.

Looking ahead, I recognized an opening on the left revealing a smaller canyon. 

I thought, I think that's where I saw the old Indian ruins built into the wall.

“Follow me,” I said.

We walked a short distance to a cliff dwelling, high above, where long ago, people made their home. 

“How do you suppose they managed to climb up there?” I asked Deyea.

“They probably had ladders,” Deyea answered.

It was almost noon and time to eat our lunch.  Although we had not seen anybody else that day, I chose a place near the main trail out of the way of other hikers.  We ate our sandwiches in the shade of a scrub tree and began walking along the trail. 

I thought, We’d better not keep Tom waiting. He’ll wonder what may have happened. 

“Deyea, we'd better walk faster. We don't want to be late meeting Tom,” I said.

“Yes, we probably still have a long way before we're out of the canyon,” she said.

The plan was for the Ranger to meet us upon finishing the hike.  Tom would take us to his house, where we would stay overnight.  We kept trudging onward at a faster pace, and began tiring from the heat. 

I kept thinking how much I wanted to see the end in sight.  It was mid-afternoon, and the birds were hiding in the shade of bushes. 

I thought, They aren't stupid.

As we continued walking, clouds began covering the blue sky.

“Deyea, it's clouding up, but it's helping to cool down the heat,” I said.

“Yes, but look how dark the sky is turning,” she said.

We continued on our way and heard a rumble of thunder behind us.  I looked at Deyea, she was gazing up the canyon walls at the water line far above.   As sprinkles began falling, she looked worried.

“We'd better hurry up before the rain really comes down,” I said.

She nodded her head in agreement. By then, it was late afternoon and I didn't know how much longer it would be until we reached the exit.  My feet and legs were tired.  I looked at my watch, and thought, We should have been finished by now. I hope Tom isn't worried about our being lost.
         
The sprinkles turned into a light rain with thunder booming.  As the storm approached, I looked up at the water line on the canyon walls, and thought, We should be all right.  It must take some time for the water to get that high. 

Just as I began worrying about a flash flood, I saw in the distance a man on a horse riding toward us.

“Deyea. It's Tom,” I said in a relieved voice.

Shortly, we were inside Tom's 4X4 pick-up truck with his horse in a trailer, and heading to his house.  Approaching the bank of the Aravaipa Creek in front of the ranch house, Tom drove into the water and through the creek to the other side.  At the house sitting on the porch, we visited, and cooled down with an ice cold Coors Beer. 

I thought, That was the best beer I ever tasted!

After we said goodnight, a heavy rain began falling.  In the morning the storm had passed.  Tom was up early, and used a small “Cat” to plow a driveway across the creek banks. The high water had washed over its banks during the night.  After breakfast, Tom drove us in the 4X4 through the water to the other side where our car was parked.

On our drive home, and thinking about our hike through the Canyon, I said, “Deyea, I'm glad we got out of the Canyon before the storm hit!”

Her response said it all: “Ah, men!”

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is a combination of “Flash Memoir” and “Chronology.” Author Jack Harper introduces tension early in the piece, building the suspense and anxiety with vivid description, frequent glances at the high water mark, and use of both dialogue and inner monologue. The reader never loses interest, expecting a flash flood any moment. – S.G.

Evolution of the Doggie Bag
By Diane Morgan

Whenever my sister Linda and I get together for a restaurant lunch, we routinely ask for takeout containers for the leftovers. It's practical to get two meals for the price of one, avoids waste and, maybe most of all, it’s socially acceptable in 2017.

Nevertheless, I think our mother and grandmother would have been appalled.  They would have considered it a major breach of dining etiquette.

I recall a long-ago family dinner at the Saddle 'n Sirloin, predecessor to Santa Rosa’s Cattlemen's in Montgomery Village. Mom leaned over and whispered to Dad in a voice that exuded disgust, "That woman over there just asked for a doggie bag. I'll bet she's taking it home to eat it herself."

It seems laughable more than 50 years later but, in those days before Styrofoam containers, restaurant food was taken home only in aluminum foil or brown paper bags, often with the words "doggie bag" printed on them.  It would have been gauche to reveal the leftovers would be a snack or lunch the next day for a human. Instead, the proper thing to do was to abandon leftovers on plates to eventually be scraped into kitchen garbage cans.

Despite this waste, my parents did show a sense of frugality on those rare occasions when we dined out.  In her adult years, our late youngest sister Jenny complained, "Mom and Dad would never order a dinner for me.  Mom asked for an extra plate and got contributions from everybody else.  I had to wait until I was almost a teenager to get my own meal."

She was not exaggerating.  I remember dining at Cotati’s popular Green Mill Inn and reluctantly donating some of my favorite deep fried butterfly shrimp and shoestring fries to her plate.  I now realize we probably did not have many leftovers when Jenny was small.

We were encouraged to clean our plates at home but not when we dined out because that would indicate we were starving. I always thought Mom did a lot of baking simply because she enjoyed it.  I now think it was just as likely she wanted to make sure we looked well fed.  And she probably viewed taking home restaurant food as an insult to her cooking skills. 

I tend to think of Mom when I open a takeout container, feeling a little guilty.  But I justify my action by rationalizing, At least it does not say "doggie bag" on it.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is a combination of “Retrospective” and “Introspective.” Author Diane Morgan uses dialogue, inner monologue, description and family recollections to describe a societal norm of yesteryear and contrast it with a societal norm today, in 2017. The story has a easy flow to it and provides nostalgia as it brings back memories for readers. – S.G.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Bombs Bursting in Air
                            By Jack F. Harper                           
         
My buddies, Charlie and Dean, and I were on our way to the Platte River, south of Grand Island, Nebraska.  I was 16 and it was the Fourth of July.  We were ready to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks.

“Pull over there,” Charlie said.

I drove off the highway onto a dirt road heading toward the river.

“I’ve got some cherry bombs, let’s find a good place to set them off,” Charlie said.

I had never seen cherry bombs, just heard about them, but I knew they were illegal.  I parked the car and we stepped out onto an open sandy area surrounded by cottonwood trees.

“Dean, how about picking-up some cans?  We can put them over the cherry bombs,” I said.

“Ok, I’ll get them ready,” Dean replied.

He placed a can over a bomb and Charlie lighted the short fuse.  Bam! The can went flying up about 30 feet in the air.  We all looked in Awe.

“Wow!” I said.

When the can landed back onto the dirt, Charlie began preparing for another cherry bomb explosion. When we finished our fireworks fun, we got back in the car.

Dean jumped in the back seat of my 1937 Chevy.

“Those cherry bombs are fun, but kind of scary. They’re so powerful,” Dean said.

I started the car and began driving away.  I looked over at Charlie sitting next to me.  He had a cigarette and a cherry bomb in his hands.

“What are you doing?”   I asked.

Just then he touched the fuse of a cherry bomb with his cigarette and tossed it out the window. Only it didn’t get outside! The bomb hit the window frame and bounced back inside the car.

I slammed my foot hard on the brake and moved over as close as I could to the driver’s door.  Charlie was practically sitting on my lap.

“Damn!”  He screamed, just before the bomb exploded.

“Are you ok?”  I yelled.

It was like I hadn’t said anything because I couldn’t hear myself over the ringing in my ears.  We both looked at each other with relief after we saw the quarter size hole in the seat, where Charlie had been sitting.

“I tried to throw it outside, but I missed,” he said.

And that was the last time the three of us played with cherry bombs.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Flash Memoir.” Author Jack Harper uses humor, dialogue and descriptions of youthful naiveté to move his nostalgic story forward. He fully captures the “boys will be boys” adage of yesteryear and provides a wonderful bonus for the reader at the end.-- S.G.


When the Nazis came to Santa Rosa
By Sal Rosano

All was going well in Santa Rosa, California, four years after I had been hired as the city’s police chief with the specific goal of transforming the department into a modern law enforcement agency. The city had experienced significant growth in the early 1970s and had not kept up with the increased demands of that growth.

By 1978, we were in the throes of hiring additional personnel, upgrading training, buying new equipment and beginning the planning process to build a new public safety building so we could move out of city hall. Then, a fateful call came from Charles Hoefer, the Director of Recreation and Parks. I knew we were not yet ready for the challenge he described.

He said, “Sal, I just received an application for a permit to hold a rally in Courthouse Square later this month from a person identifying himself as Allen Vincent, the National Commander for the National Socialist White Workers Party, otherwise known as the Nazi Party. What do you think about that?”

Well, what I thought was, Do I really need this now?

Well known to law enforcement agencies around the country, this group and several like it seemed to ignite trouble of some sort whenever they made an appearance.

Since the appropriate form had been submitted for the use of the square, we immediately called a meeting with the city manager and the city attorney.  Both the director of Recreation and Parks and I were inclined to deny the permit, but our attorney advised that there was no legal basis to do so, since the square had been used for other organization’s and political functions.

So, a permit was issued for the use of the Courthouse Square on September 30, 1978, and we immediately began a planning process to ensure we were prepared for any potential conflict, particularly those typical of the kind that this extremist group attracted.

We gathered several of our command and supervisory personnel, and the Sheriff brought his staff, and together we concluded we would present a low key approach, placing 12 uniformed officers and six plainclothes officers in the square, but would hold 40 riot-clad officers and deputies in reserve at the police department, which was only two blocks away from the square at the time, in the event any physical confrontations developed.  The plan was that the Sheriff and I and our command folks would be on the second floor of a building overlooking the square to observe the activity and communicate with the officers in the square and those in reserve at the police department.

Before the group of Nazi Party members arrived, the square began filling up with several hundred people, many of them from the Progressive Labor Party, who had traveled to Santa Rosa from the San Francisco Bay Area, and were carrying signs on poles decrying the Nazi group and what it stood for.

As soon as the nine members of the Nazi Party group led by Mr. Vincent arrived, the Progressive Party members immediately attacked them using the poles which they brought for the signs. Others opened knap sacks and bags they were carrying and hurled bricks, stones and other material at the Nazi group.

“Good grief!” I yelled to no one in particular as we observed this immediate outbreak of violence. “Get our riot guys here as quickly as possible.” 

Unfortunately by the time riot officers arrived just a few minutes later, the uniformed officers who had been in the square were being pummeled as they tried to prevent serious injury to the crowd, which was out of control.

Once our riot-equipped squad arrived, peace was partially restored.  Eight Progressive Party members were arrested on assault and battery charges as well as causing a public disturbance; seven police officers were injured; and the Nazi party members were quickly escorted out of the square, never having begun their public pronouncements.

In our after-action conference, we acknowledged that we had not anticipated the violent confrontation this small group of fanatical Nazi party members would generate.  As a result of our failure, we ultimately had to retired two police officers whose injuries were sufficient to warrant a disability retirement, and the melee had caused damage to the square when hostile groups tore up parts of material from the ground to use in assaulting the group.

We thought we were done with this, and had ‘licked our wounds’ when, on December 2, 1978, Allen Vincent submitted a new formal application to conduct a public rally on behalf of the National Socialist White Workers (Nazi) Party.

I said, “No way are we going to let that group back into Courthouse Square, or anywhere else in Santa Rosa!”

The Director of Recreation and Parks agreed with me and we denied the request based on the unsuitability of the location and our concerns for public safety.

Not to be deterred, on January 9, 1979, Mr. Vincent, on behalf of the same group, applied for a new permit and identified three different park sites in the city for this purpose. We denied it again, and he appealed to the city council.

At the city council hearing, I said, “We are dead set against the issuance of any permit to this group since our experience demonstrates that to do so will result in significant damage to city property and potential injury to members of the public and to city staff assigned to ensure their safety.”

We were opposed by an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The irony to the representation of this Nazi Party group was interesting.  As the city council debated the issue, the ACLU attorney took me aside and said, “Chief I know this sounds crazy, since I am Jewish, but I am here to ensure that the Nazi’s party’s First Amendment rights are protected and that is the case I intent to make to the court if the city council grants your recommendation for denial.”

The media coverage of this appeal and the potential appearance a second time by the National Socialist White Worker (Nazi) Party generated plenty of community interest and concern.

A number of groups contacted city council members in opposition to the issuance of any permit. Among them was the Junior College Neighborhood Association and the Ad Hoc Committee against Racism.  We also heard from organizations in the Bay Area that made it known they would be returning to Santa Rosa to express their “displeasure” with the appearance of this organization.

On advice of legal counsel, the city council ultimately granted the permit for March 24, 1979, and directed me to find a suitable city location where the rally could be held in some relative safety.

We settled on Franklin Park as the best venue for this second Nazi rally.  Once we had a location, we got our command staff together and I said, “We don’t want to be caught with our pants down this time, so let’s come up with a plan that provides the greatest safety for everyone who may show up at this event.”

Because this time there was media coverage from throughout the Bay Area, we began getting all kinds of strange information and anonymous calls.  Bomb threats and other threats of bodily harm came in by mail and telephone.  There were rumors that the KKK and Hells Angels would show up to confront the Progressive Labor party group and the groups from several colleges planning to attend the event.

Our plan this time required a minimum of 200 uniformed officers, and 25 plainclothes officers to mingle with the crowd to gather information about what people might be planning or doing as they gathered in the park.  A command post was established in an old equipment yard overlooking the baseball diamond, where we assigned the command personnel from all of the county police departments and Sheriff’s office to help coordinate all of our resources.

We placed wire fencing all the way up behind the baseball diamond in Franklin Park. The plan was to escort the Nazi group into the park behind the fenced area, and behind a line of 50 riot-clad officers so there could be no physical contact between anyone in the crowd and the group behind the fenced area.

When the date and time arrived for the permitted Nazi rally, we had 254 law enforcement personnel assigned to this event, and in reserve we had tear gas, ambulances, a bus to transport arrestees, if any, two tow trucks, the Sheriff’s helicopter, video cameras and a fire truck. Additionally, we had issued 53 press passes to newspaper, TV, Radio, and other news organizations, all of whom sent representatives to the rally.

At 1:00 PM, Allen Vincent and his contingent of Nazi party members arrived and were escorted to the location behind the fortified baseball diamond backstop.  There were approximately 500 people on the other side of the fencing, and they all started yelling, throwing small objects at the fence, and several tried climbing the fence, unsuccessfully.

The planned rally lasted approximately 20 minutes, after which the Nazi Party members were led by uniformed officers back to their van and they left the area.  Once they were gone, the groups who had come to the park to confront them dissipated.

There were no injuries, no arrests, and all the personnel and equipment utilized for this event was quickly dismantled and the neighborhood, which had been barricaded and closed except to local residents, returned to normal.

The entire cost for this 20-minute expression of free speech cost Santa Rosa and the other cities that assisted with personnel a total of $48,000.

We learned a valuable lesson in how to ensure the public’s safety, although at some expense. And thankfully, the Nazi Party never again made a request to hold a rally in Santa Rosa.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Chronology.” Author Sal Rosano uses historical reference, dialogue, inner monologue, description, tension and humor to move his story forward. He gives an inside look at how law enforcement personnel handle critical situations and, in doing so, never loses the readers. -- S.G.

It Takes the Cake
By Beverly Johnson

A cake made from a box? I’d never heard of such a thing.

We were visiting a friend who served us chocolate cake with our tea. When we complimented her on the cake, she confessed she had made it from a package, just adding eggs and water.

“You mean no sifting?” I said. “No measuring? No added ingredients?”

“Nope,” she said.

We were amazed.

It was the early 1950s. I had just discovered boxed cakes. Even though they were easier, I still usually made my cakes from scratch. After I had found out about the packages, however, I used them for angel food cakes and cupcakes.

My family and friends enjoyed my pineapple upside-down cake made from a recipe I had found in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. We think it is the best we have ever tasted. I was encouraged to enter it in the Sonoma County Fair. My daughters and I anxiously watched the judging of the cakes and were disappointed when my entry got only second prize. The addition of cocoanut on the winning cake may have swayed the judges, but we didn’t agree.

One year our club decided to make pineapple upside-down cake for our annual luncheon. There were 33 cakes and no two were alike. I noticed not one of them had cocoanut!

Chiffon cakes were popular in the 1940s and ‘50s. They were beautiful cakes made in an angel food pan. They were sponge-like and made with egg yolks and folded-in beaten egg whites.

Once I decided to impress my bridge club with a four-layer cake I had seen in a magazine. It had a white layer, a chocolate layer, a yellow and a spice. Each layer had different filling. When assembled, it was covered with meringue. I put it on a crystal wedding gift cake plate. It was a masterpiece! As I stood there admiring it, I suddenly realized it had to go into the oven to brown the meringue. At that point, my husband Bob came home.

“Do you think it would hurt if I put it in the oven just long enough for the meringue to brown?” I asked.

My husband, who is better at eating cake than baking it, replied, “It probably won’t hurt.”

It only took a few short minutes before we heard a loud crack. My bridge club was served the top two layers. Never made that cake again!

Baking seems rather trivial now. But for us stay-at-home wives, I think it was a challenge to make something we were proud of. We cooked daily for our families and the baked goods went quickly without too much comment. When we took something to a meeting or potluck, it was nice to be complimented on our effort.

One time I was getting ready for my family to arrive for Thanksgiving. As I was making pies the day before, the crust was not cooperating. I was almost in tears trying to patch it as well as I could, when the doorbell rang.

It was a delivery of flowers from my daughter who was traveling from Southern California. On seeing the beautiful bouquet, the pies didn’t seem so important anymore. Turned out, the pies were a success anyway.

When Costco came to town, I bought the store’s pumpkin pies and found they were as good as any I had made. I covered them with whip cream and nobody noticed they weren’t homemade.

The convenience of store-bought pies and cake mixes in a box has changed the way many of us bake today. Actually, I’d rather read a good book, go dancing or play bridge these days.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Flash Memoir” coupled with “Retrospective.” Focusing on a single subject – baking – Author Beverly Johnson begins “in the moment” and uses introspection, dialogue and description to move the story forward. In doing so, she takes the reader on a journey from the early 1950s, when cake mixes in a box were introduced in stores, through today’s convenience of store-bought pies. Her memoir reveals a part of American history unknown to many young people today. Thus, her story fills an important need for not only her family’s history but also for others who may read this personal account in years to come. -- S.G.

Grandma
By Frank N. Panza

Whatever she served, she said the same thing:

“Frangee, Frangee, mangia, mangia, it’sa guud. You lika. You gotta get biggah.”

I’m not sure I ate everything she offered because she was a lousy cook. She always bought the best meats from Frank the butcher, and fresh vegetables and macaroni from Brocallari’s, the Italian grocer around the corner, and then either cooked it until it was way past dead, or soft as custard. But Brocallari’s also sold the best Italian bread for 13 cents a loaf, and I feasted on it until a year after graduating from Law School and leaving Brooklyn.

Grandma raised me from shortly after I was born. During World War II, my father was gone and my mother worked, something she did until the 1980’s when she retired. So Grandma treated me like a son and not a grandson. Instead of fussing over me, like we do with our grandchildren, she pretty much lorded over me. I don't remember her ever reading me nursery rhymes. And she didn't call me any endearing names, unless one counts, “Frangee, you solumumbeetch, I moider you,” as endearing, which I confess it sometimes was.

I got away with very little. But when she wasn't chasing me around the house with a wooden spoon or whatever else she could get her hands on, she was extremely protective. When I was outside, she sat by the window watching me carefully. If anyone bothered me, she came downstairs with a stick and chased him away. That served me well when was too little to get out of her sight, but not so well when I finally did, since I hadn't learned how to defend myself.

She was also staunchly ambitious for me and for all of her children and grandchildren. She was highly intelligent, and knew good things rarely happened to lazy people. So, she hounded me and also my cousins to study and become professional men and women. She made sure I read good books and never let a comic book into the house. If I got into trouble at school, she presumed I was at fault, though she made sure she investigated what had happened and sometimes told the nuns where to go.

Throughout grammar school I came home for the lunch she made for me almost every day. Until my grandfather passed away when I was nine, the lunch was some kind of macaroni and meatballs. We also had macaroni for dinner every night. After grandpa was gone, I had macaroni for lunch and dinner only about twice a week. For the rest of my lunches grandma made veal cutlet, or sausage and peppers, or pepper and egg sandwiches. The few times I brought my lunch to school, I tried to trade those sandwiches for bologna or ham and cheese, or whatever else the mostly Irish kids had. I never had trouble finding a taker.

As I grew older, our relationship changed a bit. She still was pretty stern with me, but I began to be able to fool with her more. When she got angry, instead of hitting me, she usually tried to bite me. But by then she had false teeth and whenever she got me on my arm, I wiggled it to try to loosen her teeth. She got over her anger pretty quickly and laughed.

When I look back, I understand I must have been a real pain in the ass as a teenager. By the time I was 13 and in high school, I was about five-foot-two, and bigger and quicker than she was. It became difficult for her to catch me before I could get into my room and lock the door. But Grandma still kept after me, especially when I came home from a date after my curfew.

We lived on the second floor of a four-family house. If I was late getting home she stood at the top of the steps with a high heel shoe in her hand. As I came up the steps, I had to be careful when my head reached her waist, since she invariably tried to slam the heel on my dome. Whenever she got me, I thanked God that she didn't wear spike heels.

I wasn't completely passive and sometimes I got back at her. I remember going to confession and telling the priest I teased her by trapping her in a closet when she went to get something there, or I tied her to her chair when she wasn’t looking. Although I never kept her contained for more than a minute, the priest made me say hundreds of Hail Mary's as my penance.

Grandma and my mother were instrumental in my meeting Marie, who became my wife. They were impressed by the fact she spoke Sicilian. Although the passing years diminished the affection between Marie and my mother, Grandma always was crazy about her.

Grandma wasn't one to waste money on luxuries like heat. When we were going together, Marie often come to the house in the winter and never took off her coat and scarf, or put away her muff. Grandma acted quite concerned and said, “Marie, are you cold?”

Marie didn't want to hurt her feelings and didn’t answer. So Grandma walked up to the thermostat in the living room, and because her vision wasn't what it had been, she lighted a match and held it under the thermostat to read the temperature. She then told Marie, “Itsa no cold. See, itsa 72 degrees.”

I suspected but never knew whether she purposely lit the match to raise the thermostat temperature. Marie didn't either. But she never took off her coat.

About a year before we got married, Grandma started getting senile. While she never was much of a cook, she had always bought the best cuts of meat and fresh vegetables and Italian bread for us to eat. But as she began to “lose it,” she stopped shopping every day, and simply cooked whatever was in the house for me when I got home from Law School. One night she fried me two-day-old veal chops and day-old pork chops covered in sugar instead of salt. From that day forward, I went to Marie's house every night for dinner. My friend Charlie's mother, Ramona, made sure Grandma ate well every day. I still feel terrible about not cooking for both of us.

After we married, Marie and I lived for a year in the small apartment on the second floor of Grandma's house. By that time Grandma was becoming much more senile, and since my mother was then living almost full time at the hospital where she worked, Marie became Grandma's principal caretaker when she got home from teaching. That was a bit of a challenge since Grandma didn't understand she was getting senile.

Some days when Marie got home, she found Grandma in the fenced garden in front of the house. While Grandma could climb into the garden, she couldn't climb out. So Marie somehow got her out without injuring Grandma or herself.

Marie and I lived in that apartment for a little more than a year, until we moved to Washington, D.C. where I started my life as a lawyer. Shortly after we left, Grandma moved to Niagara Falls to live with one of her daughters, my Aunt Fanny, who had moved there 30 years before. Marie and I, or I alone, visited Grandma once every month until she passed away in the Fall of 1968.

I went to Niagara Falls to see Grandma the weekend before she died. She was conscious when I got there and remembered me, though she was losing track of almost everyone else. It was difficult to leave her but I knew she was in the good hands of her two daughters who lived there. After she passed away the family brought her body back to Brooklyn for a classic Italian wake where those closest to her cried over losing her, and then, with everyone else, laughed about the pistol she was during her entire life.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Straight Narrative” in the style of “Storytelling.” Author Frank Panza knows how to paint a picture in words and moves his story along with anecdotes, dialogue, dialect,  humor and loving nostalgia for a time, a place and a person of great importance to him.  This memoir shows true mastery of the genre and is the kind of writing New York publishers should seek. -- S.G.


June 18, 2017

High School Proms
By Chlele Gummer

One morning, while standing in line waiting for the bus, I met Larry. He was a freshman, as I was. In time, we became good friends. His mother drove him to my house or she picked me up to visit him at his big house with huge palm trees lining the long driveway. Sitting outside under the huge oaks in his large front yard, we played cards or monopoly.

As a freshman, I transferred from Galt Union High School to Placer Union High School in Auburn.  My family lived in Loomis for a few months before moving to Applegate, which was east of Auburn on Highway 80 in California. From Loomis, I had to ride the school bus.

Larry liked to attend the dances and, while I lived in Loomis, he asked me to join him. I fell in love with dancing; he led me with confidence through all the complicated steps of the foxtrot, the waltz, and the jitterbug. Again, his mother or dad drove us back and forth to the dances.

The next year when we were sophomores, Larry took a drama class and became enthralled with a tall blond. So, he asked her to join him at the dances. He got his driver’s license; he didn’t need to be chauffeured anymore. Sadly, I knew in my heart that my dancing days were over as no other boys clamored to ask me out.

I didn’t attend the sock hops on Friday. I didn’t drive, nor did I have a car. I didn’t attend the football games, either. I rode home on the bus with my bundle of books and homework and didn’t see any classmates until Monday of the next week.

I noticed the music coming from the gym one Friday and began thinking about the fun I missed.

In my senior year, I served on the Senior Class board. The previous year I had run for secretary and won, surprisingly, since I didn’t belong to the group one might call the “socies.” They usually gained all the seats on the board, not an egg head such as me. One of the board projects was putting on the Senior Prom in the spring.
I volunteered to arrange for the tickets and handle the ticket sales. I put the word out that we needed help and several people showed up at our first meeting. I wanted to make the tickets to sell to the students. The name of the Prom was “Cherry Blossom Pink and Apple Blossom White.”  I designed the card to sport a white and pink blossom on the front. I needed plenty of help to make the blossoms and glue them on the cards. Inside the card a blank numbered list waited for names of partners for the dances.

We handled the ticket sales by setting up a chair and table in the office. Students ordered their tickets by paying and we held the tickets for them until the day of the prom when they picked them up. It gladdened me to see how much help I had.

The next week I heard that the prom was an enormous success. We sold many tickets.  Pictures of the King and Queen smiled out to everyone who passed the office bulletin in the hallway. Photos of other couples joined them on the board. It must have been fun.

Sadly, I didn’t attend the Prom. No one asked me, and I had no formal dress.
                       
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? Some memoirs are bitter sweet, as is this one. The structure is “Chronology.” Author Chlele Gummer uses description, poignant images and a bit of wistful “what might have been” to move her story forward and hold her reader’s attention. – S.G.

Bluebird of Happiness
By George Sackman

One morning in the spring of 2017, as I sat at our breakfast table, a bluebird landed on the windowsill and seemed to stare straight at me. He was not more than a foot away, and turned his head back and forth, first one eye and then the other peering into the window. It took a few seconds for me to realize he was actually looking at his reflection in the glass. I had seen him look in the rearview mirror of a car in the Visitor Parking lot near our apartment, and poop on the door. His home is a wooden birdhouse in a small apple tree nearby.

Seeing him so vividly brought to mind the time in 1940, when I was seven years old, and my grandparents in Miami took me to see a movie for the first time. It was during Christmas vacation, and the weather was unusually cold. We took blankets with us to the neighborhood theater because it had no heat. They called the film, “The Bluebird of Happiness.” The story was a fantasy about a depressed little girl and her dreamlike search that ends by finding happiness, and the bluebird, right at home. At some point I was overcome with sadness and cried so much and so loudly my grandmother had to take me out of the theater and into the lobby. We only returned to our seats just before the end of the story.

I recently learned in “Wikipedia” on the internet the actual title of the film was just “The Bluebird,” and it starred Shirley Temple. It was intended to be an answer by 20th Century Fox to the great MGM hit “Wizard of Oz.” It was a boxoffice flop and lost money, but was later nominated for two Academy Awards.

I was brought to tears other times as a little boy, watching “Pinocchio” and “Snow White,” and afterward resented having my emotions manipulated. Since then I have never been much interested in going to the movies.

When I was growing up, the idea of wasting my precious ten-cent weekly allowance on a movie and having nothing left to show for it was unthinkable. I preferred to buy a kit for a model airplane that would provide hours of pleasure in building and then add to the fleet hanging from a string across the ceiling.

My best friend, Freddie, had a paper route and lots of spending money. He paid for my movie ticket in order to have someone to go with him on Saturdays. He liked cowboy movies. I enjoyed the action, but had a hard time keeping from laughing out loud when a cowboy started to sing; that seemed so absurd to me.

“Gone With the Wind” was a big event when it came to my hometown, Jacksonville, Florida. Rather than being considered fiction, most people in the Deep South treated it as epic history, and literally the true story of the Yankee invasion and its devastation of a genteel way of life.

My favorite movie of all time is still “Fantasia.” That combination of music and art, a remarkable collaboration proposed to Walt Disney by orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowsky, is still unmatched in my estimation.

And in spite of my childhood response to the movie, “The Bluebird,” seeing that bluebird at my window reminded me of its message that happiness is best found at home.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? This delightful memoir makes a full circle, starting and ending with the sighting of a bluebird. The structure is “Flash Memoir,” combined with “Chronology.” Author George Sackman, recollecting various films of his youth, paints a picture of himself as someone more interested in model airplanes than movie theaters. A good storyteller, he concludes with an old axiom that happiness is best found at home. – SG

California’s Big Gold Robbery -- Part 1
By Sal Rosano

The February 1966 issue of the Official Detective magazine arrived at the office as promised.  On its cover was a garish photo of a young woman clad in a bright red dress lying on the ground in what looked like a wooded area. The headline proclaimed she had been the victim of a brutal murder.

But it was one of the feature stories within the magazine which was the greatest interest to those working in the detective bureau of the South San Francisco Police Department at the time. The title of the story was a bit misleading since it wasn’t really a robbery, but a burglary.  Nonetheless, the heading above the title in the article proclaimed, “How South San Francisco Detectives Outsmarted a Smart Theft Ring to Solve California’s Big Gold Robbery.”

The subtitle was even more intriguing.  It claimed, “Clues at the crime scene added up to one thing; the burglars knew exactly what they were doing and their battle plan for the job was just about foolproof.  They had no way of knowing however, that they would be dealing with a detective chief with a talent for out-thinking crooks.”

Flattering to be sure, since I was that detective in charge whose praises they chronicled in the article.  But, like most dramatized versions of real police work, there was only a small kernel of truth to the story as it unfolded on the pages of this publication, which included photos of the bad guys, and the gold, once we caught up with them. 

This is really how it happened:

It all started on a warm evening in August of 1965 when Paul Houston, a retired older gentlemen hired as a night watchman, was making his nightly rounds at the Wildberg Brothers Smelting and Refining plant, a cluster of old sheet metal buildings on a two acre site in South San Francisco, in what was then an industrial area not far from the San Francisco Bay.

This refining plant was located on Oyster Point Boulevard, on the east side of the 101 Freeway, where many old industrial sites dotted the landscape long before it became home to such modern biotech firms like Genentech many years later.

A casual drive down this road alongside these dilapidated but fenced-in buildings would not reveal that the Wildberg plant was refining a variety of precious and valuable metals such as silver, platinum and gold.

It was late evening when Watchman Houston entered one of the non-descript but important buildings and discovered to his horror that something was amiss. In that building he had a special task of counting metal plates, suspended in a foul smelling liquid, which were removing pure gold from the ore being circulated in these tanks.  He concluded that the plates had been tampered with. Since he had not long before made a pass thru this special building, he was surprised, and counted the plates again, then panicked when he realized 19 of the plates were missing.  After the third count, he immediately called the South San Francisco police department to report the theft.

As the detective in charge of that department’s investigative unit, I was called by the on duty patrol supervisor who said, “Sal, we have a major gold theft from Wildberg Brothers.  Not sure yet what the value of the loss is, but it will be substantial and the gold taken was slated to be shipped to the United States Mint. Better get your team together and get down here quickly.”

I and two other detectives got there around midnight. As we examined the scene with the night watchman, we found acid drippings leading from the tanks where the gold infused plates had been suspended, all the way out the building and toward the exterior fence.  The fence had been pried from the bottom to allow a person or persons to climb under the fence and enter the building sometime between the rounds that the watchman made.

In 1965 the United States was still on the gold standard, and set by the government at a fixed price of $35.00 an ounce.  Since this gold was destined for the US Mint, this heist constituted a secondary federal crime, and we notified the San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  They said they would assign several agents to assist in the investigation.

The next morning, we convened a conference with our team, three FBI agents, representatives from the US Secret Service, and the owner and the manager of the plant to assess what the loss was and how we would proceed with this investigation.  Since the theft occurred in South San Francisco’s jurisdiction, the Federal agencies deferred to us as the lead agency and assisted by assigning their three FBI agents to augment our team.

After weighing the remaining sheets of pure gold, the consensus was that at least 95 pounds of gold, or 1,520 ounces, had been taken, valued then at approximately $40,000.

Morton Mack, the manager said, “We are insured by 10 different carriers for a variety of losses, and they have agreed to assist in whatever capacity they can, including any financial assistance to cover unusual expenses to further the investigation.”

While this loss in terms of the fixed price of gold was less than $50,000, the black market value of gold at the time was about $150 an ounce, making the value on the street approximately $230,000.

With the addition of the FBI agents, we were able to create three two-person teams, and begin the tedious task of searching for, locating and interviewing all of the 100-or-so former and current employees, since it was clearly an “inside job,” to use the law enforcement parlance.

The first pass through the entire list of current and former employees netted nothing of interest.  None had had any run-ins with the law, or appeared to display any sudden wealth.

Since some technical knowledge had to be known regarding how the gold was refined, when it would be at its most developed stage, and what the route of the watchman was, we refocused our efforts on prior employees who had left under amicable circumstances, but had some history of issues with the company.

What surfaced eventually was the name of a former employee who had left the company a year before this theft, but who had been in serious debt and had been counseled about his financial problems before he resigned from the company.

His name was Guido Mastronardi, a 35-year-old chemist, who was last known to be living in Los Angeles. A quick call to the LAPD confirmed our information.

With our first possible lead, I gathered the detectives and FBI agents and told them, “Let’s focus on this guy and see if any of his contacts are folks likely to have criminal records or suggest anything else we might pursue.”
Sure enough, we discovered Mastronardi had a close relationship with Emilio Paoletti, a 59-year-old bartender working in the Tenderloin section of San Francisco. We all agreed that if anyone was in a position to offer pure gold on the black market, the Tenderloin would be the likely place. The bar and surrounding area were known as hangouts by parolees and other undesirables in the criminal underworld.

The insurance companies covering the Wildberg Brothers loss all contributed $1,000 each, as recommended by the FBI so that we could use the funds to begin spreading some money around that San Francisco neighborhood for information hoping to develop a snitch or two eager for a few bucks who might share any street knowledge they had or heard about regarding gold available on the street.

While one of our teams started that effort in San Francisco, the remaining two teams began a surveillance of Paoletti.  One evening, while I was tailing him with an FBI partner, he and his lady friend left the bar in San Francisco, and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge north to a shopping center called Coddingtown in the city of Santa Rosa.  I had only been to Santa Rosa during high school days passing through this city on the way to the Russian River for various outings there.

We followed him to a restaurant called the Gold Wagon in that shopping center, where he met several people for dinner, while we sat in the bar watching the activity.  It seemed sort of ironic that he had picked a place called the Gold Wagon as his drinking and dining location!

So, as we kept an eye on him while he and his friends dined, we had to content ourselves with watching a skimpily-clad attractive young lady “Go Go” dancer on a small stage above the bar.

Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe this investigation is going to have some perks we had not anticipated!

California’s Big Gold Robbery -- Part 2
By Sal Rosano

The theft of 95 pounds of pure refined gold from the Wildberg Brothers Refinery in South San Francisco in 1965 was one of the more unusual cases our small detective unit in that city was called upon to investigate. It was unusual because it was clearly an inside job committed by a person or persons unknown who had to have technical knowledge of how the ore was processed into its purist form of gold, and also knowledge that it was taking place in a rather dilapidated old structure on property well fenced and with a   watchman responsible for security during nighttime hours.

In addition to that, we found ourselves assisted by three seasoned FBI agents who had been assigned to assist us, since this gold was slated to be shipped to the US Mint.  For whatever reason, the Federal Government did not assume the lead in the investigation, content to let us determine how to proceed with their assistance.

Two weeks into the investigation we had identified a possible suspect, a former chemist who left the company a year earlier and had moved to Los Angeles.  What caused us to focus on him was his known relationship with a bartender who worked at a bar in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco, a place well known for a variety of criminal activity, including the fencing of stolen property.

Since the chemist lived in Los Angeles, we focused on his close associate, the Tenderloin bartender. One team began doing background on him and any known associates, while spreading cash around the Tenderloin habitués, while the remaining two teams set up surveillance during times when the bartender, Emilio Paoletti, left his San Francisco bar.  This was a tedious task until one of the teams, an FBI agent and I, followed Emilio Paoletti and his lady friend to a bar and restaurant in the city of Santa Rosa to meet friends for dinner at a place called the Gold Wagon in the Coddingtown shopping center. 

We spent about two hours watching the suspect and his party, and trying not to enjoy ogling an attractive lady in a miniskirt and white boots dancing on a small stage behind the bar of this establishment. Then, we followed our target with his friend and another couple to a small home in Rohnert Park, where they parted company. Paoletti and his friend headed back to San Francisco.

The next morning, I gathered all of our teams in the police department conference room.  I said, “OK let’s see what we have to work with and if we have anything which points us in a different direction.”

The team working the Tenderloin angle said, “We have identified several known and regular customers of Paoletti’s, and two of them have criminal records, including burglary.  Their names are Arthur Cornuelle, age 44, and Paul Eipp, age 38. Cornuelle lives in San Anselmo and the Eipp in Rohnert Park.”

We had the address where Paoletti had stopped the night before, so it was easy to get utility records and, through those, confirmed it was the home of Paul Eipp, an unemployed bartender with a wife and six children.

This development was looking better and better, so we decided to continue our surveillance on Paoletti and wait for him to make another contact with either of the two individuals who had previous arrests and convictions for burglary.

It did not take long.  One evening four days later, the team watching the bar in San Francisco followed Paoletti as he headed north toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The team called in and said, “He may be going to either of those locations where one of those two guys live across the bay. Let’s get another team heading up north so there are four of us if we decide to make contact.”

Not to miss a chance at this, I called one of the other detectives, and the two of us quickly headed north hoping to make something happen.  As we got close to Petaluma, the team following Paoletti called and said, “Looks like they are turning into that little town of Rohnert Park.  He may be going to Paul Eipp’s house.  We will wait until you get here and you can decide how to handle this.”

My partner and I stopped a block from where we knew the Eipp house to be.  Meeting the other team, our group then consisted of three South San Francisco detectives and one FBI agent.

Paoletti and his lady friend had been in the house only a short time.  It was ultimately my decision, but the others agreed, so we rang the bell and announced ourselves. 

We were admitted into the house.  There were four adults and six minor children occupying the place. Taking a risk, since we did not have a search warrant or any arrest authority, these circumstances not rising to probable cause, I said, “We are investigating the theft of a large quantity of gold from a South San Francisco refining facility and believe you two gentlemen may know something about this event, which is a serious matter and why the FBI is here with us.”

Both gentlemen acted shocked at what they inferred was an accusation.  “Not us, we know nothing about that,” they both proclaimed.

“Well, since that is the case, I am sure you have no objection if we do a quick search and be out of here,” I offered. 

Mr. Eipp consented, much to my relief.

So, amid the crying and yelling of six minor children, a frazzled mother,   Paul Eipp’s wife, led us into the bedrooms to begin a search, while she clearly was glaring at her husband with a menacing look. Her facial expression was a clue in itself that she knew something was amiss.

Twenty minutes into the search we found a medium size suitcase in the closet of one of the bedrooms. It was quite heavy for its size.  In the presence of the occupants we opened the case and found what turned out to be 26 pounds of pure gold clearly from the refining process.

We arrested both Eipp and Paoletti at the scene and called Rohnert Park police to take custody of the two until they could be transferred to San Mateo County.

As soon as the arrest was completed, we called the remaining team members and directed them to the address in San Anselmo where they arrested the third individual, Arthur Cornuelle.  A search of his home, however, did not result in any additional recovery of the stolen gold.  And he denied any involvement.

After completing all of the paperwork to ensure the District Attorney’s office had sufficient documentation to prepare a criminal complaint,  we obtained  an arrest warrant based on the probability that the former Wildberg Bros., chemist, Guido Mastronardi was the mastermind of this theft. We asked the Los Angeles Police Department to arrest and hold him for us.

So, after some four weeks of intense work by our six-person unit, we were satisfied we had the culprits responsible for the theft. But we still had recovered only a quarter of the gold and did not have any evidence other than the possession of some of the stolen metal by one of the four.

We sent one of our team members down to Los Angeles to escort the chemist back to San Mateo County and see if we could convince him to confess. The other three in custody continued to claim their innocence.

While that was in process, we went to the jail where three of our arrestees were housed. We went through all of their personal property, hoping to find anything of value.  In Arthur Cornuelle’s personal property we discovered a key with some markings and a number. We decided to withhold that key from the return of his property just before they each posted $10,000 and bailed out of jail.

That key ultimately led us to a storage facility at the Southern Pacific Depot in San Francisco where, in locker number 31, we found an additional 35 pounds of the gold.

Our detective returned with Mastronardi. Without any prompting, Mastronardi outlined the entire operation, bragging about how he had planned it and remained in Los Angeles while his friend Paoletti found the burglars to commit the theft based on the plan he devised.

All four were formally charged and eventually went to trial.  We only recovered a little over half of the gold, the remainder apparently had been sold before we caught up with these guys.

At our final meeting with the management of the refining company, they were most appreciative of our efforts, happy to recover half of their loss, and suggested that with what was left of the cash the insurance companies had provided we should  take the entire team out for dinner and a cocktail or two.  We agreed. The overwhelming suggestion was to return to the Gold Wagon in Santa Rosa and do our celebrating there. And we did!

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS TWO-PART STORY? Sometimes a story is a little too long to be told in 1,500 words or less, so it makes sense for it to be broken into parts. That’s what Author Sal Rosano did with this compelling combination of memoir and true crime genres. The structure is “Chronology” in a police-style narrative, which suits Rosano since he spent his career in law enforcement. The opener, however, has “Flash Memoir” elements. Rosano uses history, description, dialogue, inner monologue, humor and a “just the facts, Ma’am” kind of style in his storytelling. The result is a tale that easily could be the basis for a TV cop show. – SG

 June 16, 2017


Running 52 Miles Isn’t for Everyone
By John McGourty

When I first noticed her, she was struggling up the wide path between Sonoma County’s Spring Lake Park and Annadel State Park. She was shuffling her feet and, each time she contacted the trail, a puff of fine dirt popped up. She was moving her arms as though she were running but her pace was that of someone walking leisurely.

I was concerned and didn’t take my eyes off of her while she made the left turn and crossed the short wooden bridge at the base of Rough-Go Trail. As she drew near I noticed her short, curly, gray hair was matted with sweat; she was gasping for breath and her florid face was dripping perspiration.

I was standing under a large beach umbrella to shade myself from the unseasonably hot Spring day in 1980; it must have been 90 degrees. I was in charge of an aid station for a 52-mile race through Annadel Park. We volunteers were placed at approximately the 46-mile mark of the run. The race organizers had provided me with a doctor and several young volunteers so we could assure the safety of the event’s participants.

Not 30 minutes before this woman arrived at our location, a young gentleman, pale and in obvious distress, had stumbled up to us. Prior to the race, I had met this man and was informed he had diabetes. I immediately summoned the doctor and asked him to evaluate whether a diabetic should continue racing in these conditions.

The doctor reported back to me that it was his opinion the man should be pulled from the race, but it was my call. I approached the fellow and said, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to take you out of the race.”

He immediately became very distraught and began to sob, telling me, “I put in so much effort and I know I could continue and finish. The one thing I want is the belt buckle you get for completing the race.”

I tried to talk him down but he was inconsolable. Eventually, I told him I would make sure he got a belt buckle because he deserved one for the super human determination he used to get this far. That seemed to soothe his despair and he calmly sat in the shade and drank cold water in an attempt to recover.

When the gray-haired lady arrived at the aid station, I put my hands on her shoulders in an effort to support her and asked, “Are you all right?” I posed this question, although it was obvious to me she wasn’t doing well at all.

She answered, “I’m fine, just let me keep going.”

I said, “Sit down in the shade. I want the doctor to have a look at you.”

The doctor, who seemed somewhat reluctant to make these determinations, came over and began talking to her. I tried to stay out of the conversation and tended to other runners who had more mundane problems like blisters and chafing.

After a short while, the doctor returned and said, “She is adamant that she wants to continue.”

My reply was, “I know, but are we jeopardizing her health if we allow her to resume running?”

He looked at me like I was asking him to make a difficult diagnosis. After a pause, he said, “Why don’t we keep her here for a while and make sure she is adequately hydrated and then, if she feels up to it, I think it should be safe for her to finish the next six miles.”

I wasn’t as sure as the doctor because when she left our aid station she would be headed uphill in the full sun for over a mile. I tried to think of additional safeguards we could provide to ensure she wouldn’t suffer heatstroke as she made her way up at the rocky, rutted, open, steep trail.

She did as the doctor suggested, sitting quietly drinking water with a cold, wet towel over her head.

After about five minutes, which was too soon in my opinion, she was on her feet and headed toward the trailhead.

I approached two of the young men who had volunteered and asked them to follow her up the hill. I said, “Stay at a discreet distance behind her and make sure she makes it to the top.”

Since she was the last runner we expected at our station, we began to take down the table and umbrellas and generally clean the area so it looked exactly as it had before we set up. It took about 15 minutes to finish straightening up and the other volunteers, including the doctor, left. I stayed to await the return of the teenage boys who followed the woman uphill. Approximately 30 minutes after they left, they returned to where I was standing.

I asked, “Did she make it to the top all right?”

“Yeah,” one of them replied.

“Did she look like she could keep going?”

“I guess so. She bent over at the waist while she was going up so that her upper body was parallel to the trail but when she got to the top, she stopped and straightened up. We came back down then,” was the answer.

I didn’t feel great about the situation, but I didn’t do anything more.

The next day I was contacted by one of the race organizers who told me a delirious, disoriented woman was found by a State Park Ranger wandering around a meadow at the top of Annadel.  He said, “She is presently in critical condition in the ICU at Memorial Hospital.”

I was mortified. I felt responsible for her plight.

Fortunately, after two additional days in Intensive Care, she recovered without residuals and was out of the hospital within the week.
I never again volunteered to run an aid station, and I hope that woman never tried to race 52 miles again.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Flash Memoir.” Author John McGourty begins with tension while describing a runner who appears to be in distress. He backtracks to bring the reader up to speed on where the event takes place and why he is there, then plunges back into the tension and allows it to build while describing his frustrations and concerns over the health of two race participants. Incorporating dialogue, emotion and great visuals, McGourty concludes by making a full circle, once again focusing on the runner in distress. This memoir is an example of excellent story structure and storytelling. – S.G.

The Folly of Youth
By Sal Rosano

It was an admonition I will never forget. The Dean of Boys at my high school cautioned me with a dire warning.

“You had better straighten out or I will expel you from school and you will never make anything of yourself!” he said.

I sat cowering across from him as he lectured me from behind his desk in an office I had never visited and hoped never to see again.
He was the dreaded Mr. Smith, Dean of Boys at Galileo High School in San Francisco. He was an intimidating figure, as wide as he was tall, probably from his football playing college days and with a menacing countenance.  No male student wanted any contact with him since to be in his presence was usually bad news.  And I was getting some of it at that moment.

I was 15 years old in 1954 and, with my mother, stepfather and younger sister, had just moved to San Francisco where I had planned to complete my last two years of high school.  I had spent most of my education years in the little fishing village of Monterey, California, a place with no comparison to San Francisco.  I soon learned that the challenges for a teenager in a big city were quite different and fraught with circumstances I had not anticipated.

We took up residence in what is known as the North Beach district of the city and in the 1950’s many of the residents north of Broadway Street were immigrants, most from Southern Italy or Sicily, or their descendants. The area had a European flavor to it, with many Italian restaurants, delicatessens, markets, and retail establishments catering to this large ethnic population. Additionally, Fisherman’s Wharf was an area where many local families either fished or had businesses in support of the fishing industry.

North of Broadway Street was Chinatown, which even then was home to the largest Chinese population on the West Coast. Today in 2017, that area of San Francisco is second only to New York in cities with the most Chinese residents in the United States.  As a consequence, the public high school serving that part of San Francisco was largely attended by kids from either Italian or Chinese families, with a smattering of others from the more expensive real estate on the opposite side of Van Ness Avenue, generally known as Pacific Heights and the Marina districts. 

It was not long after my enrollment at Galileo High School for my junior year, that I learned a number of my male classmates had been expelled from various private high schools, and Galileo was their last stop.  My parents were never in a position to consider private schools for my sister and me, so I thought nothing of it. Over time, however, I discovered some of my classmates were more interested in extracurricular activities than worrying about their studies. Only the Chinese kids seemed to be serious students.

I quickly joined in the fun, since the expectations of the academic classes did not seem demanding and did not require much study time.  After school activities centered around sock hops, our hot rod cars, meeting down at the Marina Green with beer and wine easily available to most of us, and school activities like track meets where we mostly looked to see if any girls were watching, or participating in organized school plays and other non-academic activities.

One such school activity was the planning for the annual junior class play and those of us in the dance class were part of it.   One of my classmates, Phil Danz, and I had taken up roles as the organizers of the dance sequence. It was on a school day when we were released from class to meet in the campus auditorium to practice our part. There, we hatched an idea we thought would add some “spice” back stage. 

On our way to the auditorium, I said, “Phil, I think we should bring some of that wine we had the other night at the street party. Back stage we can share some of it with our dance partners to loosen everyone up and have some fun.”
Phil, another party guy said, “What a great idea.  Can you sneak out and get some?”

“Of course,” said I. “There is a liquor store down the street on Van Ness which has that Gallo White Port for 19-cents a bottle and I have purchased it there before, so it should be no problemo!”

I trotted down the street, and purchased two bottles of Gallo’s best, doubled wrapped it in paper bags, and hot footed it back to Galileo High and back stage in the school auditorium.

We had not sipped much of the wine when a teacher unexpectedly came back stage and before we could hide the evidence. We got busted!

We were escorted to the principal’s office; then sent home with a note to appear before the Dean of Boys with at least one parent to discuss this serious breach of school rules and the possible consequences, which could include suspension from the school.

Until that time, I had always assumed I would graduate from high school and go on to college before making any career decisions, largely because my mother, who had only achieved a third grade education in her native county of Italy, was dead set on me studying law and becoming “someone,” as she often put it.  The last thing she wanted to see was her son follow in the footsteps of my stepfather, a seafaring fisherman without any formal education.

My future, to which I had taken a pretty casual approach, was coming into clearer focus, and I was deeply worried my mother would find out about my less than serious attitude about school and studying.

So there I was, across the desk from Mr. Smith with my mother seated next to me as she wondered what this meeting was about.  Mom was a naturalized citizen by then, but her English language skills were limited and she relied on me most of the time when it was necessary to understand more difficult or complicated discussions.  And I had been loath to share with here the exact nature of my misbehavior for fear of disappointing her and getting myself into even more trouble.

So, when Mr. Smith understood my mother did not grasp exactly what he was describing about the critical nature of the trouble I was in, he turned to me and said, “Sal, you better tell your mother how serious this matter is and how I have a decision to make about your future here at Galileo.”

Seizing an opportunity, I said to my mother in Italian, “They are concerned that I am not following the rules correctly and not studying hard enough and they are concerned about my future here at this school.” 

I rationalized it was not exactly a verbatim translation, but not altogether a total misrepresentation, either.

My mother, God bless her, shook her finger at me, and said to me in Italian, “You should study harder so you can finish high school and get ready for college and I want them to know that this is what I want for you.”

While Mr. Smith did not understand a word of what she was saying, he seemed to read into her statement a belief that I was being chastised and he seemed convinced that she understood the severity of the situation.

This approach worked so well, I continued translating back and forth between the two of them, changing slightly the meaning of each message in terms that would satisfy each of them. I was relieved when it all came to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Smith turned to me and said, “Your mother seems like a very wise woman and has the very best of intentions for you and your future.  For that reason, I will not take any further disciplinary action regarding this violation assuming you complete your studies and graduate next year without any further misconduct.”

If I could ever identify a moment in my life when the direction I was heading was altered, it was probably that series of events culminating in that meeting in the dreaded Mr. Smith’s office.  I don’t think I realized it at the time, but the focus of my efforts going forward from that day began to change.

Ten years later, I was married and the father of four children, a police detective with the city of South San Francisco and still planning on eventually studying law, when I took the family on a vacation to a place called Forest Lake Resort Lodge in Lake County.  It was a family resort with cabins, a large pool, a clubhouse where meals were served, and a cocktail lounge for adults.

On the third day of this vacation I was at the bar having a glass of wine while the kids were playing in the pool outside, when I glanced down the end of the bar, and there sat the dreaded Dean of Boys, Mr. Smith.

I had a moment of panic, and then realized I was not a high school kid anymore, and he did not look anywhere near as intimidating as he had been 10 years earlier.

I introduced myself and reminded him of the event that helped to change my attitude about education and my future.  He professed to remember but he did not recall any of the details. I am sure it was not as important an event for him as it was for me, but we nonetheless enjoyed a drink and a few laughs together over the story.  I thanked him for the direction he provided in my life.  Regrettably, I never him again, but have always been thankful for the path he helped set for me.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? While a bit long for the style, this story is a “Flash Memoir,” which is denoted by starting out in the midst of a moment of tension, backtracking to set the scene, and moving forward from there. The memoir also has an element of “Chronology.” Author Sal Rosano treats the reader to a “Slice of Life” as well when he describes how he acted as translator at his own disciplinary hearing. He uses dialogue to help move the story forward and provides a bonus at the end. This story is an example of excellent memoir writing and wonderful storytelling. – S.G.  

Jazzy
By Mary Beth Thompson

I was walking with my six-year-old daughter, Laura, through the grocery store soap aisle when her eyes suddenly puffed up and turned red.  I knew then she had allergies.  Both her father and I have allergies. I had already learned that if both parents have allergies, a child’s odds of having them are 60 percent.  I had hoped she would beat those odds.

Shortly after that incident, I made an appointment for her to have allergy testing. She tested positive for a variety of things, including grasses, cats and dogs.  Her dad and I had been talking about getting a Maine Coon cat but that was not an option once her allergies appeared. She begged for a ferret but I was adamant about not having one.  We thought about a bird but found out birds are one of the worst things for people with allergies.

When Laura was about 10, I saw her outside in the yard hugging the neighbor’s cat close to her. I called Rob in to see and said, “She needs something live, smaller than her to love, that can live here.”

I called the allergist’s office for advice.  The nurse on the line said, “She’s very allergic to cats but not as much to dogs.  A dog should be okay.”

So, we began our quest for the right dog.

We visited the county shelter a few times.  Twice we saw a dog we were interested in but learned we needed to fill out an application.  There were already 10 or more people ahead of us interested in the same dog.  Our chances of getting that particular dog were slim.

After our third visit to the county shelter, a volunteer told us about a three-year-old lab. He was being cared for temporarily by a foster parent but would be available to see at an upcoming adoption event at another location the coming Sunday.

We went to the adoption fair only to learn the lab had just left. There were about 10 other dogs there, in a lawn area, in metal enclosures, large enough for them to run around.  I saw a small white dog, whose breed I did not recognize.  I walked over to the enclosure. The dog jumped up to greet me. The volunteer told me she was a very sweet dog, rescued from the Central Valley.  She was an American Eskimo mix.

 I was quite taken with the little, white dog but Laura had said she did not want a small dog. So I walked around to view the other dogs. I made the rounds a couple of times, as did Rob and Laura.  Once again I found myself with the enchanting little dog petting her and talking to her.  Laura walked over to me and said she wanted to take the dog home.

“I thought you didn’t want a small dog,” I said.

Her response was, “I never said that.”

 “Are you sure?” I asked. She was.

Rob liked the dog, too. We approached one of the volunteers to inquire about filling out a form to apply for her. We were thrilled when they told us there was nothing to fill out; we could take her home right away.   

Before leaving we talked briefly with a vet there who said the dog was between three and six years old. We later learned she was much older than that. I will not forget the memory of taking her to the car, opening the door and watching her leap in with a big smile on her face.  Laura got in beside her, also with a huge smile on her face.  The first thing Laura did was to name her new pet “Jazzy.” 

The American Eskimo Dog, or “Eskie,” is striking, with her white coat, sweet expression, and black eyes. We came to learn the Eskie is a Nordic dog breed, a member of the Spitz family. Eskies are lively, active companion dogs that love to entertain and join in on all family activities. They are outgoing and friendly with family and friends, but reserved with strangers. Although the Eskie is a small dog — 10 to 30 pounds — she has a big-dog attitude.

Jazzy was an important and much loved part of our lives for seven years.  

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? Once again, the structure is “Flash Memoir” combined with “Chronology.” Author Mary Beth Thompson uses a mother’s concern for her allergic child as the springboard to a story about adopting a dog. She moves the story forward with vivid description and dialogue. The result is an informative and delightful tale. – S.G.


Frog Hunting at Lake Opal
By George Sackman 
 
It was almost dark when Henry and I set out for the frog pond. We had some trouble finding it again in the trackless woods, but navigating by what was left of a brilliant red sunset, we succeeded.

At first Henry could see well enough by the fading light to shoot the frogs, and I carried a tin bucket to put them in.  At twilight he was able to continue by having me shine the flashlight on one of them. After each shot all the other frogs dived into the water, gradually reappearing.

In an hour or so we had a bucket full of frogs. However, going round and round the pond so many times, and in the pitch dark with no moon, we suddenly realized we were lost. 

When we were teens in about 1948, my friend Henry and I were invited to spend the weekend at my Uncle Oscar’s vacation cabin near our hometown, Jacksonville, Florida. It was on “Lake Opal,” one of over 30,000 small, round lakes scattered like pearls over the state, all resulting from ancient sink holes in the limestone geology. 

There was only room for one of my friends to fit in Uncle Oscar's old 1936 Chevrolet. His wife Aunt Julia sat in the passenger seat up front. In the back seat with me, along with my mother, was Henry. He was over six feet tall, and had to hold his .22 rifle and fishing pole sticking out the window during the ride. 

At the lake, Henry and I eventually became tired of swimming and went indoors as the usual afternoon summer thunderstorm began. After we played a game of Checkers, I said, "Let's go exploring in the woods. It’s not raining very hard now and there’s no more lightning. No telling what we might find."

The environment surrounding the lake consisted mostly of scattered small oak trees called "scrub" and spindly pine trees, not very shady in the afternoon heat but easy walking for us while we wore only tennis shoes and bathing suits. There was an occasional patch of dense underbrush able to survive in the sandy soil. Behind such a thicket we were delighted to come upon a pond about a mile away, circular and about 100 feet in diameter, teeming with noisily croaking frogs.

When we got back to the cabin and told Aunt Julia about our discovery, she said, "Did you all know that frog's legs are mighty good to eat? If you boys will bring home a mess of frogs, I'll cook 'em up in corn meal batter like southern fried chicken and we can have 'em for supper."

So that was how Henry and I decided to go back to the pond after dark and shoot frogs with his rifle.  When we realized we were lost I said, "OK, Big Chief, what do we do now? We did not leave a trail of crumbs like Hansel and Gretel. Are we just going to spend the night here?" 

Henry, ever resourceful, said, "I have an idea to keep us from walking in circles. I will take the flashlight and head straight out from the pond.  You keep calling to me as I walk away, and watch my flashlight to be sure I am heading in a straight line, until you can barely see the flashlight. Then you catch up to me and we keep doing this until we get to a road." 

Following this plan for about a half hour, we came upon a pair of parallel, sandy tracks, deeply rutted from farm tractors, that brought us to the paved county road. Luckily we chose the right direction at the road to reach another pair of tracks into the woods, and we recognized those as the ones leading to the cabin.

In the wee hours of the morning we arrived, long past the planned supper, and encountered a worried Aunt Julia and my mother. 
On the other hand Uncle Oscar did not seem to be very concerned, and acted like it was quite a joke. He teased us saying, "You boys didn't think ahead very much, did you? I was looking forward to frog legs for supper and you let us down."

He packed the frog legs in ice and we all went back to bed for the rest of the night.

The next evening we did indeed have fried frog legs for supper. Even though they were considered quite a delicacy in France, where I was stationed later on in military service, I have never eaten them since that night with Uncle Oscar, Aunt Julia, Henry and my mother.   
 
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Flash Memoir” combined with “Chronology.” Author George Sackman, ever the wonderful storyteller, uses description, dialogue and tension to move the story forward, never losing the reader’s interest. This version of the story is a rewrite; originally it was strict chronological narration. Sackman decided to redo it in the “Flash Memoir” style, thereby improving the story’s level of excitement.  – S.G.


Beginnings and Endings
By Chlele Gummer

I loved the area. The air seemed cleaner, the sky shining a bright blue. On the ground Manzanita bushes, taller than I was, surrounded us with their blue green leathery leaves and the pink hanging bell-like flowers.

We had moved to Applegate during my freshman year of high school after having lived in Galt, where I had gone to elementary school since third grade. Galt was in  town of Applegate stood in a gap in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just six miles above Auburn on interstate Highway 80. My dad had found a two-bedroom house on one of the hills amongst the maples and pines.

Mother and I climbed on our hands and knees through a huge grove of Manzanita bushes, just getting a feel for the place. We found poison oak as well and soon I was taking oral drops to prevent the rash that was my reaction to the leaves. I learned I could contract poison oak from the soap in the showers in the gym at school. Surprisingly to me, the drops worked as I didn’t have any more trouble during high school.

The upper hill above the small house sported the maples that grew with many trunks sprouting from a central root. Mom bought a two-fisted saw to help her thin out the unwanted trunks leaving the most central to grow straight and tall. When I came home on the bus from Placer Union High School in Auburn she was waiting for me to help her as she sawed down another useless trunk.

Eventually, as the years passed, the upper yard became park-like with its tall maples and grass. It served as a beautiful place for the crowd of relatives who helped me celebrate my 21st birthday and announce my engagement and upcoming wedding in June.

On the level of the house, Dad built a patio off the kitchen and we enjoyed many meals there. We were shaded by huge Ponderosa Pines, which marked that edge of the property.  During these summertime meals, we learned about the antics of the carpenter bees as they landed on our plates and proceeded to saw off a crumb or two from our hamburgers. Dad was one to watch and learn. We followed his example but we were careful to check our forks before putting them in our mouths as the bees were quick to land on them as well.

My younger sister and I shared a bedroom with identical twin beds. Dad built a desk for each of us on either side of the door. One summer when he was resurfacing the floor we moved our beds out on the front lawn to sleep for a couple of nights. It was the first time I had noticed the movement of the Milky Way. The crowd of twinkling lights seemed to fill the sky. During the night, it thrilled me as it spiraled completely around.

Many times, we walked through the hills on an abandoned road as it wound through the trees to an old orchard of Green Gage Plums. The bent, overgrown trees looked ancient. We took bags with us to collect the delicious fruits. One year Mom canned our collections. I have never had any fruit so tasty since. I liked the area we walked through so much that, later, I did a painting of it.

One year Mom decided we should have chickens for a supply of eggs. Dad built a coop with a chicken wire floor that was above the ground. There was a slatted board from the ground to the door, so the hens meandered up the ramp for feed and to lay their eggs. They also pecked on the ground outside in the enclosed yard. Mom bought 10 pullets to raise. As time went on, they developed the bad habit of pecking each other until they bled. As a group, they were very unsightly with bloodied backs. Since we didn’t know how to change their violent behavior, Mom decided to slaughter them and can them. I’ve never tasted anything as good as those canned chickens.

The last summer I lived at home was before I left for college. We had a weekly routine of jumping in the pick-up, Mom and Dad in the front seats, my sister and I in the bed of the truck, and off we went to the local drive-in movie.  I liked closing my eyes as I felt the backward movement of the truck. Eventually it felt like we were going forward and I was surprised when I open my eyes to see the road speed behind us. I loved the warm summer nights and the busy activity at the drive-in. Dad boosted the sound level of the speaker attached to the side window so we could hear the audio in the bed of the truck.

At break time, I loved going to the central building to buy popcorn. I think staying out at night was the prime attraction.

One afternoon I found myself alone at the house. Mom and Dad and my sister were off somewhere. I walked outside to the patio. I breathed in the smell of the Ponderosa Pines. I looked up to see the trees sway in the breeze. As I watched them, I had a sudden urge to climb. I had never climbed a tree before in my life.  I decided, Why not now?

The limbs were positioned neatly in order like a ladder. So up I went. The rough bark scratched my legs as I pulled myself up on each branch. I climbed as far as I could until I could feel the tree swaying. Then I felt a little scared. But I hung on for a while, looking over the house, down the hill to the next house, and beyond to the freeway. I could see the hill opposite us past the freeway. Finally, exhilarated, I made my way down and out of the tree. I felt a sense of accomplishment and power. I was my own person and I could say, Goodbye.

Goodbye to the days of my teen years and my family.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY? The structure is “Chronology” with a “Flash Memoir” opener. Author Chlele Gummar has an almost poetic way of giving her reader a wistful glimpse of a home she loved as a teenager. She uses lovely description, intriguing visuals and inner monologue to move the story to its poignant end. This memoir exhibits excellent writing and a keen eye for detail. – S.G.

  
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EARLIER STORIES HAVE BEEN REMOVED FOR INCLUSION IN AN UPCOMING BOOK.