Tag Archives: Russian River

Playing in God’s Backyard

God'

This blog was featured in my self-published book, “The Plight of the Hare & Other Stories From the Shoe”.

Like a lot of San Francisco families, my parents have a cabin up at the Russian River. We’d spend all summer there when we were kids until the summer of ‘72 when we all got busted raiding the parents’ bottles. Before that though, after our chores, we kids would find our friends and hang out. We’d walk into town and get candy at Lark’s: the berry lollipop, the apple rope gum and even the candy cigarettes. We would hike up the hillsides and build forts. But most of all we would spend our summer days swimming in the river.

I took my kids up there a lot too. We couldn’t swim until the sun hit the pier. So while we waited, we would go to the park or to Armstrong Woods or even hit up Lark’s like I did as a kid.

Sometimes though, we would just hang out in the backyard, and the kids would start digging holes. My kids love to dig holes. What is it with kids – a shovel, a pail and a ton of dirt? I don’t know, but they can be happy for hours playing in the dirt. Sooner or later though, my father would holler from the deck some 25 feet above them and tell them to quit digging holes and to fill ‘em up. We sadly filled the holes and just waited for the sun to hit the pier.

Another time, my kids were in their own backyard in the East Bay, and they started to dig a giant hole. They spent hours and hours digging it real big and played in it like it was a fort. I couldn’t care less, I always enjoyed when they were wholesomely occupied. But their dad showed up and told them to fill the hole and not to dig anymore of them. What a bummer!

One day, years ago, my sister, her kids, my kids and I went to Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar. We grabbed all of the play toys and marched to the shore. What do you think was the first thing the kids did? Yep, they started digging holes. But, unlike the other times, no one told them to stop. Rather, it seemed like God joined them in their play. His laughter roared in the sound of the waves as they played. The waves would playfully fill up their holes. And as the surf retreated, the kids were challenged to dig more holes. And they did!

The waves roared back, laughing, playing with the kids. They played all day digging and running away, only to dig and run away again. It was delightful to watch. No one told them not to dig holes; instead it seemed as if God was playing with them. He didn’t mind them digging holes in His backyard.

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Playing in God’s Backyard

holes at the beachLike a lot of San Francisco families, my parents have a cabin up at the Russian River. We’d spend all summer there when we were kids until the summer of ’72 when we all got busted raiding the parents’ bottles. Before that though, after our chores, we kids would find our friends and hang out. We’d walk into town and get candy at Lark’s: the berry lollipop, the apple rope gum and even the candy cigarettes. We would hike up the hillsides and build forts. But most of all we would spend our summer days swimming in the river.

I took my kids up there a lot too. We could never go swimming until the sun hit the pier. So while we waited, we would go to the park or to Armstrong Woods or even hit up Lark’s like I did as a kid.

Sometimes though, we would just hang out in the backyard, and the kids would start digging holes. My kids love to dig holes. What is it with kids – a shovel, a pail and a ton of dirt? I don’t know, but they can be happy for hours playing in the dirt. Sooner or later though, my father would holler from the deck some 25 feet high and tell them to quit digging holes and to fill ’em up. We sadly filled the holes and just waited for the sun to hit the pier.

Another time, my kids were in their own backyard in the East Bay, and they started to dig a giant hole. They spent hours and hours digging it real big and played in it like it was a fort. I couldn’t care less, I always enjoyed when they were wholesomely occupied. But their dad showed up and told them to fill the hole and not to dig anymore of them. What a bummer!

One day, years ago, my sister, her kids, my kids and I went to Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar. We grabbed all of the play toys and marched to the shore. What do you think was the first thing the kids did? Yep, they started digging holes. But, unlike the other times, no one told them to stop. Rather, it seemed like God joined them in their play. His laughter roared in the sound of the waves as they played. The waves would playfully fill up their holes. And as the surf retreated, the kids were challenged to dig more holes. And they did!

The waves roared back, laughing, playing with the kids. They played all day digging and running away, only to dig and run away again. It was delightful to watch. No one told them not to dig holes; instead it seemed as if God was playing with them. He didn’t mind them digging holes in his backyard.

Autumn and Joe Montana

joe montana

A family member brushed shoulders with Joe Montana several years ago. My father had called and asked, “Guess who so and so ran into?” I wasn’t in the mood for any guessing games; there was a heat wave, the kids were going crazy, and I’m sure a million other things were going wrong. “I don’t know, who?” I surrendered. “Come on, guess.” “I don’t know, Arnie?” “Bigger than Arnold.” Oh, great, who was bigger than Arnold here in California? “I have no idea.” “His initials are J.M.” I tried to think of someone and gave up. “I have no idea, I have no brain cells left to even try and guess.”

“Joe Montana.” He whispered.

“No way!” I exclaimed, “no way!” “How? When?” He went on and told me the details of the encounter. I was genuinely impressed and very envious.

Joe Montana. The man who I think is the greatest football player in my lifetime. I couldn’t believe it. This man and his extraordinary ability on the field found their way into our family’s existence. I’ve never met him nor ever will. But the thought of Joe Montana not only conjures up images of great football, but also of intimate, warm memories of autumns gone by. His ball playing added color and vibrancy to my little life here in Northern California.

Today is the first day of autumn, and it’s hard not to recall the autumns of my youth without Joe there, albeit on the sidelines in the game of my life. See, I love fall, I love Halloween and Thanksgiving. I love oranges, and browns, and forest greens. I love the way the wind changes during Indian Summer with the sweet Santa Anas blowing off the East Bay hills. I loved playing and watching football, so for many years, Joe Montana was a part of those favorite memories.

For many years, our family went up to the Russian River for our Thanksgiving holiday. My father had a cabin up there; but we went to my uncle’s cabin for the big meal. That house has become a shrine in my memory. The dining room table, enclosed by three benches where we five kids sat below a shelf lined with Italian wine bottles, was where we had our Thanksgiving dinner; I can still see my little Irish grandmother puttering around in the small kitchen, tasting from one pot or another and even offering us some of her mince meat pie. We gently refused. An intimate fire always warmed the living room and off to one corner was a small twin bed where I slept on my rare overnight visits to Uncle Bill’s cabin. Near the bed was a bookshelf, filled with all sorts of literary treasures, and when I was there, I was in heaven.

You know, when you’re young you’re not conscious of the beauty around you, those moments go by, but somehow they’re stamped somewhere in your mind and when the stresses of the present weigh you down, you look back and those memories have become jewels. I wish I spent more time with my grandmother, I wish I could remember her voice, her face – I wish I could ask her about when my father was little (probably would explain a lot), about my grandfather and about her.

But, where does Joe come into this picture? Well, my father played ball for the Navy and then went on to coach. So football was a big part of our lives. Every Thanksgiving guaranteed two things: that incredible meal and tons of football. Football was the only thing on TV from Thursday morning until Sunday night, and if you didn’t bring a book or something to occupy your time, you were destined to watch it all. One year I tallied how many games I had watched: 11; I guess that doesn’t seem like too many now with cable and ESPN.

The highlight of the weekend was always the Notre Dame game. One year some upstart 3rd string quarterback came in and won the game for the Irish. We didn’t know then a legend was in the making. Watching those games with my dad with the redwood logs crackling in the fire, rain pattering on the roof and my mother baking something delicious in the kitchen all at the time seem so average, so typical, so mundane; now, they are photographs in my mind, colors and flavors of who I am.

When I think of Joe Montana, I am flooded with these beautiful memories. Were they idyllic? Absolutely not, there were darker shades that mar some of these memories, but strange as our memories are, those hues fade a bit to the background.

But Joe Montana, like football, transcends seasons. His presence would reappear in bolder, more spectacular strokes with that catch in 1982. After that unbelievable Super Bowl, I went to the celebration downtown to pass out religious tracts. San Francisco hadn’t been rocked with such a force since April of 1906. That was the place to be on January 24, 1982. And in my own life, I too was rocked, with a divine force, after I had recently embraced a living faith in Christianity.

But, that happiness in January of 1982 was just a deposit of things to come. He took San Francisco to the Super Bowl three more times. He catapulted the 49ers into the league with Green Bay, Miami and Pittsburgh. Time after time after time, with seconds to go and touchdowns to make, Joe, with his cool expertise, would go in and do the job.

Football, as you know, is a manly, messy, bloody sport. The sport that gives men license to beat the hell out of each other and gives us fans an outlet for adulation for our team and hatred for our opponents. With the language of longshoremen and the manners of adolescents, Joe Montana took these elements of the game and, effortlessly, made it beautiful. He is an artist of the utmost ability. After he retired, I pretty much quit watching the game. I caught a few Super Bowls with the kids and that was fun, but no comparison.

But after witnessing who I believe is the greatest to play the game during my lifetime, there is no desire to watch anymore. Thank you, Joe, for the beauty and grace that you created out of pigskin and mud, and gracing our autumns with such spectacular color .

Kinda Irish

IMoore Emblem

I’m kinda Irish. Actually, I’m half Irish, but it’s old Irish blood that runs through my veins, and I’d like to think there’s still a “lilt of Irish laughter” in me. On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone feels kinda Irish. It’s a happy day that celebrates the beauty of an old culture. Of course, we all know that St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish, but he has become the patron saint of the Emerald Isle for his missionary work nearly two millennia ago. Everyone wants to be an Irishman on St. Paddy’s Day. Well, there are some Irish folks that I want to be like.

Every summer, my family went to the Russian River like a lot of San Francisco families did. One of those families was the Murphy’s. I knew Tom Murphy. He always drove by the pier in his totally cool green boat and would wave. I liked how it matched his red hair. Tom was a nice guy, a good guy, solid. I met his sister in my sophomore year at Mercy, she was a year behind me. Ann Marie – I can still remember clearly – was always laughing, smiling and telling jokes. You couldn’t be in her presence long without cracking a smile and heaving a laugh. I didn’t know then that an illness ran in the family, a devastating illness to which both Tom and Ann Marie would succumb. Surely, a mother’s hell.

Some years ago, I was reading the Irish Comics — the obituaries — and came across Mrs. Murphy’s obituary. The obituary writer summed up the character of this amazing woman.  She was “a woman of faith, patience, endurance and grace, she faced head on the heavy onslaughts that nature threw against her and she stood up with courage and hope and without complaint.” What a eulogy, what a legacy! In the midst of my own troubles, none worthy to compare to her sorrows, I was encouraged, if she could endure “with courage and hope” all that she lived through, so could I. I was strengthened to go on “without complaint”. I am still working on that one. She exemplifies the kinda Irish I want to be like, and the kinda Christian I’d like to become.

I know some other Irish folks — the kinda Irish I want to look like. I first met the Carlins when I was a wee lassie, probably up at the River as well. I envied their twinkling blue eyes, beautiful wavy auburn hair and chronic joy. According to Mrs. Carlin, Mr. Carlin was a “hundred-percenter,” meaning both parents were all Irish. He reminded me of James Cagney – not “Public Enemy” Cagney or “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” Cagney — but the charming “Yankee Doodle Dandy” Cagney. Decades ago, I spent a couple days with this family, one of my first outings alone. “American Pie” played non-stop on the radio Helen kept on all night. I took that habit home, much to the consternation of my sister. Helen and her sister walked me all around from West Portal to Stonestown.

Often when I take the kids on a drive through the City, I drive by St. Cecilia’s. I tell them that’s where their grandfather went to school. I drive pass the Carlin’s house, but can never remember which one was theirs. I hoped to see one of them in front yard. No such Irish luck — well, not until a Sunday in 2013.

My daughter had a CYO game at St. Cecilia’s. She had gone ahead with a friend, and her sister and I were meeting her there. Impatient to get to the game on time and not wanting to get stuck turning left at Sloat, I drove straight and took West Portal to Vicente and happened to drive on the Carlin’s block. As I passed, I saw a figure stooped over the little garden in the front yard. It was Mr. Carlin. Yay!

“I’m gonna drop you off, I’ve got to visit someone.” I said to my older daughter and dumped her at the St. Cecilia’s parking lot, “I’ll be right back.” I was so excited to see Mr. Carlin. By the time I got there, he was no longer in the front yard, but the garage door was still open. I illegally parked across the street and skipped over to his open door. “Hello…, Mr. Carlin,” as I knocked on the door frame. He got up and was happy to visit. I wasn’t sure if he remembered me, but he remembered my father. I told him I had always wanted to stop by and say hello, but forgot which house was his. He said I was always welcome, told me the number and to come by again. After our little chat, I told him I beat him and had ten kids…then he remembered, “Yes, your dad told me about that.” His beautiful blue eyes still sparkled as he smiled. I hopped back in the car, very happy and went to the game.

No big deal, huh? That little visit blessed me so much. I had hoped for so long to say hello to this old family friend, and I got the opportunity. I’m sure he was as blessed as I was. Everyday we have opportunities to say hello to someone or smile at someone, even if it’s the Burger King guy who is just trying to get the order right. Those little things are blessings that we can be a part of. It doesn’t take much, folks, to lighten another’s load or warm another’s heart. “You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”

So this St. Patrick’s Day, I am gonna roast me a leg o’ lamb — I don’t do corned beef and cabbage — listen to some Christy Moore and Ronan Tynan, and top it off by watching “The Quiet Man”. I will also remember the kinda Irish I admire, Mrs. Murphy and her strength of character and Mr. Carlin and his smiling Irish eyes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, folks!!