This week, my wife and I decided to take a break from the Santa Clarita lifestyle and join some longtime friends in Pismo Beach. We do this in remembrance of when we used to ride up there each year on the first Sunday in December for the San Louis Obispo Toy Run. When my wife and I realized the date had almost arrived, we both reflected on what a good time we had, and how nice it was going to be interacting with friends we have not seen in several years. Suddenly, I recognized the fact that we were not sitting there wishing we were that age again, but instead, we were talking about events in our lives which made us smile. Plus, we continue to experience good times right up to today.
Then later, when I was alone, I started to think about the time long ago when I boarded an airplane for a business trip to McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. To pass the time on the 5-hour flight, I had purchased an audio book to play in my cassette recorder. We were airborne when I pressed the play button and heard a man with a southern preacher’s drawl come through the headphones. “Oh no,” I thought, “What did I buy?” But I was a captive audience, at which point I had to listen or sit there in boredom for the remainder of the trip. That was the day a gentleman named Zig Ziglar, a remarkable motivational speaker, came into my life. Zig is no longer with us, yet he lives on YouTube where his message still gets out.
I’ve known people who continually reflect on bad things which have happened to them. But Zig helped me reshape my thought process for the better. Sure, I’ve have had my share of problems, frustrations and disappointments, but those instances are in the past, and they have helped mold me into the way I am today. When I think back about them, the negative occurrences do not consume my thoughts. Sometimes, they even provide me an inner feeling of strength.
If you were to visit my home office, besides it always being a mess, you would see I surround myself with memories which make me smile. I never knew my biological father very well. He, like many other men of his era, enlisted in the army to fight in WWII. Unfortunately he passed away shortly after returning home. Yet, even though he was not there to shape my adolescence, the picture of my parents taken before they were married makes me feel warm inside.
My mother, brother and I moved in with my grandparents, and as you might expect, money was an issue. So, my mother found a job in the city working for an art dealer. I never met him, but he must have been a good guy, because one holiday season he sent me a Lionel Train set as a present. For a 7-year-old, there was no greater thrill than watching those trains travel in a circle with smoke puffing out of the locomotive. I still have those trains today, and plan to put them in a display.
My grandfather was my father figure. He loved ocean fishing, and when I was about 8 years of age, he bought me a bright, shiny new fishing pole made from a Santelli fencing foil. Next, he started taking me on day fishing trips, and I loved going with him. Memories of those trips linger as that pole and reel hang on the wall of my office. It reminds me of what a great man my grandfather was.
My mother remarried when I was 12, and we ended up in California where my adoptive father’s family lived. But I was born with a skeletal birth defect which caused my heart and lungs to be displaced, hindering their development. By age 13, I was having trouble breathing. That is when my hero, a Kaiser surgeon named Dr. Winkley, located me and offered to perform surgery to correct the problem. His long-term strategy was to develop a new procedure to correct the issue as unobtrusively as possible, but I would be his first patient. Well, after having my chest opened for 14 hours, my sternum cut loose, all my ribs broken, and a metal plate inserted, I woke up 24 hours after going under with a scar from one side of my chest to the other. The doctors told me it was not a genetic defect, but later in life I worried I would pass it on to my children or their children. Thankfully, the doctors were right, and all my children are OK.
I met my beautiful wife Pam when I was 20, and we were married three months later. We have two children who have grown up to be terrific, self-sufficient, family-oriented gentlemen, along with five wonderful grandchildren. When we were married, I was already working for Litton Guidance who provided me with Kaiser Health Insurance, so I took my new bride to Panorama City to sign up. Well, in those days, Kaiser was so small, the employment office and the health insurance office were in the same room. When the employment department heard she was working at Queen of Angels Hospital, she left for home with health insurance, a new job and a raise. How fortunate we both were to work for companies who valued their employees and helped both of us improve ourselves. Pam earned her degree and became an RN, all while I was able to become a department manager and earn two college degrees of my own.
Family time was a fun time, particularly when we went on vacation. I chuckle when I think about loading up our truck and 8-foot camper, hooking up our boat and heading out for a month on the road. We would pick a place to go, such as Lake Powell, and drive straight there. After a while, when we got tired of staying in one location, we would open the map and find some fun place to visit in the general direction of home. We always ended our trips at Lake Success in Porterville, because in those days, camping was free and you could pull your camper right up to the shoreline. I had to laugh even more, when later in life my boys told me that all the neighborhood kids thought we were rich. “How did they get that idea?” I asked. And they responded with, “None of the other kids got to go on a month’s vacation!” While I loved taking the family on those discover the southwestern United States vacations, we did it because of its affordability. We would leave with $600 in cash, pay for everything, and typically have some leftover in the end. How times have changed!
Through the years, I raced motorcycles, coached my wife’s fast pitch softball team and my sons’ baseball teams, played softball in the Litton Industrial League and the City of Santa Clarita for 30 years, water skied, snow skied, ran for city council twice, and am currently on the board of directors for three local non-profits. So, I guess what I have been trying to explain is that my wife Pam and I have always liked being our age. Pam continues to work as an RN because she loves helping people, and I am still fortunate to ride my Harley and write a weekly column for the Gazette.
No matter what age you are, there is fun to be had when you concentrate on having a good time and smiling – something I learned from my friend, Zig. So, this weekend, we gathered with longtime friends in Pismo, remembering the good times we had riding up each year on the first Sunday in December for the San Louis Obispo Toy Run. We stayed at Dolphins Cove right on the beach, shared lunch at the end of the pier in Avilla, ate a gourmet dinner at the Oyster Loft, visited the world-famous Pismo Moose Lodge and generated a whole new set of terrific memories.