Coming of Age, 1972: Episode #9

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Once I left Limerick and turned myself in the direction of London, I felt the tug of possible mail waiting for me in Earl’s Court. All of Ireland is only one fifth the size of California, and the trip from Limerick to Dublin is about the same as a trip from Los Angeles to San Diego, though the highway in 1972 was just one lane each direction.

From the portion that I walked, my strongest memory is the carefully designed and manicured garden on front of one house. I stood for a short time to admire it, and I’m sure my neighbors ever since have wished I had learned more from the study.

The ride I remember was with an older gentleman in a truck. We rode together long enough to pass several cemeteries, and each time, he crossed himself without interrupting our conversation. This gesture had not been part of my Methodist upbringing, and I wondered now—without saying anything—whether this was an Irish show of respect for the dead, or a more general Catholic practice.

My Irish ancestors had been Catholics, although only nominally-so within living memory. In Seattle, on the very day that the lockdown lifted at the end of the Spanish Flu, my grandmother’s sister and her beau beckoned a justice of the peace to the house for a wedding, while my grandparents waited a few days to have a wedding mass. Neither marriage lasted, though, and while I was growing up, I never knew my grandmother to practice anything I could identify as Catholic. My dad, upon enlisting in the navy, faced paperwork that asked whether he was Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. The question stumped him. He checked the middle box, while not identifying with any of them. He attended Protestant services at sea.

Vicki’s family had also been nominally Catholic, until in her early teens she asked her father to begin taking her to mass. Then, just a few months before she met me, she became fascinated by the faith she saw in a couple of Evangelical friends at UCLA. They helped her to a ‘born again’ step of faith. When we first met, she was on fire for Jesus, and many of our early conversations were Christo-centric. Indeed, at Easter, after we had known each other about six months, I took her to the beach for a day—her favorite spot—and we sat under the jets taking off from LAX. I came away from that day with a dim view of the relationship potential between an agnostic like me, and a ‘religious fanatic,’ as I then perceived her. My parting words, as I took her home, were “Vicki, I think you will make someone a wonderful wife, but it won’t be me.” To my surprise, I had said just the right thing. At the time, she was trying to slow down two other fellows who wanted to marry her, and she wouldn’t have to worry about me. Over the next fifteen months, we each had other romantic interests, and Vicki and I could just be good friends, under no pressure.

I arrived in Dublin, but didn’t see much of the city. I bought my ferry ticket for a sleeper to Holyhead and stayed close to the terminal. I do have a favorite picture of Dublin, though. It is of my mother, from a much later trip. I trace some of my love of travel to Mom, who never got much of a chance to do so. My dad saw a lot of Asian ports while in the navy. My mother had wanted to join the WACS, but had been talked out of it. Then she had looked into going to Europe after the war to help clean up and rebuild. But again, it didn’t fit the limited vision of people whose opinion she trusted. To them, it wasn’t appropriate for a single woman. Occasionally during my growing years, however, she would reminisce over those dreams, and so there was an element of her yearnings in my travel. Some twenty years after my trip, she and my dad did get to Ireland for two weeks, and they visited us once during our years in Colombia. Most of my mother’s travel, however, was vicariously through other people's travels, or through a retirement spent teaching English to immigrants. If she couldn’t go to them, she would make the most of them coming to her.

The crossing to Holyhead was uneventful, and the boat put me back in Wales just at daybreak. It would be the longest day of my trip.

Coming of Age, 1972: Episode #8

Friday, October 21, 2022

My short visit to Ireland—three days of hard travel—did not allow me time to get as far north as Sligo, from whence hailed my paternal great-great-grandfather Carroll, nor to get out of the car in Cork, which I incorrectly thought had been the birthplace of my great-great-grandfather Kelley. However, I did spend a delightful overnight in Limerick. I have to assume the city figures somewhere in my DNA. Here is a quick one that I wrote just today:

An illustrious PM named Lis Truss
Said, “No longer can I hold this trust.”
The greatest frustration
Is viscous inflation
But we shan’t dissolve Commons. It is this thus.

I’m unable to find a photograph of the Youth Hostel in Limerick, and I have only a vague memory that it was somewhere near the city center. In lieu of photographs, I will tuck in a sampling of limericks from my collection.

What I do remember is the uproariously fun discussion we had when we discovered that the 17 guests who gathered in the common room that evening spoke 14 different dialects of English. Between us, we represented Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Boston, Georgia, Texas, Scotsmen, Welsh, several areas in England, and—of course—the standard and correct English that we speak in California. Since everyone was traveling, we each had recent observations of the funny differences in the ways English speakers say things. In addition to a cheap and clean place to sleep, one of the benefits of the Youth Hostels is trading experiences with the other travelers. Often, many were coming from where I hoped to go next, and could give impressions and advice.

When we could laugh no more, an Aussie girl told me she wanted to go for a beer, but didn’t want to be the only girl in the pub. She offered to buy me a drink if I would be her escort. Had she not asked, I probably would not have thought to include a pub in my Irish experiences. I’m glad I did. It was quiet, but the atmosphere was friendly. She did turn out to be the only female in the room, but we enjoyed our conversation walking over and back, and each drank one beer.

For a day that started in Loo Bridge and included the Ring-of-Kerry, I was more-than-ready to turn in when we got back to the Hostel. Just a few days earlier, I had attended a play by the Royal Shakespearian Theater, in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. As nice as that had been, now I was sleeping a night in the city that had given its name to the Limerick, the apex of English literature and culture.

Coming of Age, 1972: Episode #7

Thursday, October 20, 2022

After I decided to separate from Beat and Urs, I dallied awhile to let them get ahead. I enjoyed handfuls of ripe blackberries from the roadside, and then was offered a ride by four German youths in an already-full VW Bug.

Together, we drove through Waterford, Dungarvan, and Cork, not stopping at tourist sites, but stopping twice along the way at pubs. Each time these young men showed disappointment that such a pub would not be open on a Sunday morning. Therefore, they beat upon the door until they had roused the tavernkeeper. Once inside, one of my comrades would order a round of beers, and I would add a round of chocolates. Many years later, in Tashkent, I met a young Uzbek who immediately observed that all Americans liked to travel. I corrected him to say that all Americans who had made it as far as Uzbekistan probably liked to travel. Thus, I must be careful against drawing too great a generality, based only upon the two groups of Germans whom I had encountered in less than twelve hours. I will say only that my small sample suggested that one attraction to draw young German men to visit Ireland in late September, 1972, would be the Irish beer.

Between pubs, we stopped only to search out bushes. I might have liked to at least have gotten out of the car in Cork. My grandmother told us Cork had been the birthplace of her immigrant grandfather. We now believe that he may have sailed from Cork, but probably lived closer to Dublin. Either way, I did not see much of Cork. I did, however, begin to question the wisdom of riding with a slightly drunk driver, over narrow and curvy roads, with visibility limited by hedges of blackberries. I decided to thank them for their company and the ride, and to walk on from there alone, with my target a Youth Hostel at Loo Bridge.

As I write this, I struggle to remember the Youth Hostel at Loo Bridge. Searching for a picture, I find one taken by Klaus Liphard, two years after I was there. He notes, “Unfortunately, I have no memory of my stay there.” That may explain why Loo Bridge no longer has a Youth Hostel. I do remember walking into a small store nearby, buying some bread and cheese, and parting from the shop keeper with a cherry, “Have a nice day.”

He looked at me strangely, and then answered, “Yes, I suppose we do.” I was reminded of the observation by Winston Churchill that the US and Great Britain (or in this case, the Irish) are “two nations divided by a common language.”

Looking at the map the next morning as I was leaving Loo Bridge, my eye was drawn to a loop through the Ring of Kerry, on a road marked, “Scenic Route.” I later suspected that ‘Scenic Route’ was Gaelic for ‘No cars travel on this 110 mile loop.’

I was fooled, though, because between Loo Bridge and Kilgarvan, a middle-aged man and his mother picked me up, and were quite excited when I told them I was from Los Angeles. “Oh, you know our cousin, then!”

“Well,” I tried to explain, “It’s a big city.”

“Oh, but you would know him. He owns the chemist shop.” (Meaning: drug store)

At tea time, we stopped and laid out a blanket and a picnic basket. They were very apologetic that they had no milk for my tea.

After that, I walked about two hours without seeing any vehicle pass. I began to feel concern that the loop might take me several days, as beautiful as the scenery was. My steps were still headed south along the eastern side of the peninsula. After that, I would still face the trip north on the west. However, besides just the beautiful scenery, I was still chuckling over the couple with a cousin in LA and the shopkeeper who misunderstood, “Have a nice day.” I began to praise God.

Almost immediately, I heard the clop of a horse behind me, and an elderly gentleman invited me up on his cart. I am still not sure what language he spoke. It may have been Gaelic, or it may have been English with a brogue too think for me to understand, but as much as we tried, communication was difficult. At one point, he tried very hard to express something. After multiple attempts, I figured out that he was referencing a certain flower that grew beside the road.

The rides I must have gotten don’t stand out in my mind, but I must have gotten some. I do remember walking one long stretch on the rugged western side of the peninsula.

However, I finished the scenic loop with enough time to catch a ride all the way to Limerick.

But Limerick is a story for our next episode.

2022 Election Endorsements (California)

Monday, October 17, 2022

The time has come,' the Walrus said, To mark our ballots and mail them in: Of governors — and congresspersons — and ballot initiatives— Of cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings.'

I cannot get very excited about the coming November election, with early voting already upon us. I felt fortunate, during the primary election, to at least have American Solidarity Party candidates for some of the races, but now it’s all duopoly parties all the time. In California, that generally means Democrats will sweep the statewide contests, but maybe my local county will lean GOP. The slight of hand from both parties has primarily focused on whether pigs have wings. Neither party can offer solutions to our problem with homelessness, which I consider our most pressing problem. The Republicans have no power to enact their ideas, even if they had some, and the Democrats lack the will to demand the necessary concessions from key constituencies.

I will not vote to send any Democrats to Sacramento until their supermajority has been curtailed. Each of the duopoly parties has enough whack-a-doodle ideas that neither party should be allowed to govern without some semblance of balancing power.

For a similar reason, I fear letting one party control both Houses of Congress, especially the party that controls the White House. In either case, the deciding races will probably be in someone else’s district, so my votes will simply be to go through the motions.

The propositions, however, have my full attention.

Proposition #1: No. Enshrines Uber-Roe into the State Constitution: The SCOTUS Dobbs decision did not affect even one potential abortion law in California. What it did do was give Governor Newsom a platform for over-kill grandstanding and launching a presidential campaign. His campaign to ‘enshrine Roe in the Constitution’ goes way beyond what the status quo under Roe and accompany his efforts to have California taxpayers subsidize abortions for residents of other states. Recently, Gov. Newson added $200,000 to the state budget in support of abortion, while earlier in the year he vetoed money for perinatal coverage. I support increased spending for pre- and post- natal care, but not for abortion. Unspoken in that is that these taxpayer subsidies will pass through the hands of these out-of-state mothers and into the hands of California abortionists, a group already powerful enough to demand that a likely President abandon support for the Hyde Amendment, handpick the Nation’s Vice President in 2020, and choose the Democratic Candidate in 2024. Even Pro-Choice Californians might want to think twice about this Administration’s tax-payer cash cow for Big Abortion, and say “No!” to the whole program.

Propositions #26 (in person betting) and #27 (on-line betting): No, and No. Schemes by which the State attempts to fill its coffers on gambling always function as a regressive tax. Then, the legislature can point at the gambling funds dedicated to various services and justify giving those agencies less money from the general fund. Government sanctioned gambling is always bad policy.

Proposition #28: Yes. Guarantees that 1% of any funds going to education must be dedicated to programs in art and music. This is especially important to poorer districts like the one where I taught. In rich neighborhoods, parents often pay for private lessons, or team together an raise outside funds for art and music lessons. Art and music ought to be part of the basic program at every school.

Proposition #29: No. Yet another attempt by Healthcare unions to force expensive new rules for kidney dialysis. Voters have already rejected this idea twice.

Proposition #30: Tentative yes. Initiates a new tax on high incomes, to use the funds for electric cars, charging stations, and to fight wildfires. My State Teachers Retirement pension does not put me in the high-income category, but we do face a question over how many high earners we can chase out of the state before it hurts the overall economy. It seems to me that a Capitalist system could find Capitalist solutions to create the required charging stations, but we do need to step up our game in fighting our annual wildfires.

Proposition #31: Yes. Bans the flavored tobacco products that are custom designed to hook young people. How long have we been trying to protect kids from early tobacco addiction?

Coming of Age, 1972 - Episode #6

After breakfast, I hiked with Beat (Bay-AHT) and Urs, from the Youth Hostel at Pwll Deri to the ferry landing in Fishguard. For a while we shared the road with a large flock of sheep heading the same direction.

The four-hour crossing from Fishguard to Rosslare, Ireland, was uneventful. We sat on deck in pleasant weather and talked. Beat and Urs were nineteen, and apprentice architects in the city of Basel. Beat spoke English more fluently than Urs, but he was also aggressively working to improve. He kept a note pad in his pocket, pulled it out anytime I used a word that was new to him, and would ask me about the word's meanings and use. My own attempts at language learning had suffered from a lack of just this degree of diligence, so I took note of how the process should be approached. Beat already spoke Swiss German, High German, and French; he was working hard on English; and during the time I knew him, he picked up some Italian and Hebrew. I had fumbled through five years of French and a year of Japanese, but from watching Beat, the Spanish studies I would begin soon after I returned from Europe promised more success.

We landed at Rosslare, and went through immigration. Then, after we were in the parking lot outside, another agent came running after us. He had a spray canister to treat our boots, and told us that Wales was experiencing an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease.

From Rosslare we walked into the city of Wexford, where we bought a few groceries in a small store, and asked for directions. Beat had seen mention of a campground, but by the time we reached it, the gate had been locked for the night. We rolled our sleeping bags out in the field beside the gate, and went to sleep.

At about midnight, a car pulled up at the gate. The German youths who manned it demonstrated recent indulgence in alcohol, which would not have bothered us, except that when they could not get into the campground, they decided to drive circles in the tall grass that hid us in our sleeping bags. Beat and I stood up, waving our arms. Meanwhile, Urs slept peacefully. The Germans did stop, about twenty yards short of running us over. Then they retreated to the far end of the field and attempted, drunk as they were, to set up a tent.

In the morning, Beat and I had fun showing Urs the tire tracks in the grass, and then set off. We hadn’t walked far, however, before we realized that none of the cars that had driven by us would have had room for three young men. We decided to split up. Beat gave me his address in Switzerland, and I set visiting him as a goal. Perceptive readers will notice how circumstances and opportunities were chipping away at my original plan to spend my year in Paris.

It was Sunday morning. I had now been in Europe for a week, even if it has taken a month for me to recount the story.

Coming of Age, 1972: Episode #5

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

I left Stratford-upon-Avon the morning after attending the Shakespeare play. One ride took me through Herefordshire and to the border of Wales, where I found myself in barren-looking highlands. My strongest memory is of a Royal Airforce pilot, who was practicing hugging the hilltops with his jet, up and down the valley, over the hill top to be out of sight for a few moments, and then back. For a while, it was just the two of us in those hills.

I have been searching in vain for the box of slides I took during this trip. Not that any of them stand out for quality; they don’t. I also have not been able to find the collection of letters home, saved by my mother and returned to me after her death. I probably did not even take a picture of these mountains, as they impressed me as rather bleak. However, in writing this episode, I did a Google search for a woman I would later meet, and discovered that she loved those mountains and spent much of her life taking pictures of central Wales. She advocated for the preservation of both its natural environment and the Welsh language. Often, though, she did not claim her photographs. When she did, she signed variously as Lis or Liz, Fleming-Williams, or just Williams.

Somewhere along there, I hitched a second ride. As it was approaching late afternoon, I had settled on reaching a Youth Hostel at Pontarfynach (Welsh for ‘Devil’s Bridge’). The driver knew of it, and let me off with instructions that if I followed the trail that she pointed out, it would cross a pasture and go down a deep gully. There would be a foot bridge, and the trail on the other side would take me to Pontarfynach.

The trail was just as she described it, following beside one of those walls that is just stones piled on top of each other as generations of farmers cleared their fields. The gully and bridge were also what she described, but by the time I started up the other side, the sun was down and darkness had set in. I realized it would be too dark to find my way any farther. I was beside a pasture, and could see the farm house farther up the hillside. I’m not into trespassing, but decided to step over the barbed wire and roll out my sleeping bag in a flat space.

Fog came in, which I felt gave me some protection against discovery, but I did not sleep well. I worried both about being where I hadn’t been invited and about the possibility of some cow coming along and stepping on me. In the morning, I quickly rolled up my sleeping bag and continued up the trail, which took me to a spot where I could look back on the farmhouse. This is the photograph which I most wanted to find and include here—but haven’t—with the green hillside, sparkling with dewdrops in the sunshine, the stone building, and an exposed opening where the roof had long-since disappeared. I had been worried about the occupants of an abandoned ruin. I recognized the lesson, and chewed upon it as I walked in the morning sunshine.

The trail put me out on a dirt road and my map told me I had a hike of about 12 miles, passing through Pontarfynach, and on to the city of Aberystwyth. The lush countryside was everything the higher mountains had not been, and the roadside even offered wild blackberries. I pondered the worries that had needlessly prevented a restful night’s sleep, and I had a strong sense that God had been watching out for me.

The God question consumed a lot of energy at that point in my life. Did He even exist? And if so, in what form? My religious education had been in Methodist congregations, which had molded in me the social gospel. I appreciated the fellowship of good people, doing good things, and enjoying wholesome fun and friendships. However, in my teens, I could not escape the observation that this group seemed to treat the Bible as a convenient mythology for holding the social club together. My own reading of the Bible refused to allow that as an option. Either the Bible was true in its claims, or it had to be rejected. I would not base my life on a myth.

I went looking through the world’s other religions for truth. I read the Quran and came away unimpressed. Upanishads and sutras left me bored. I did entertain a brief attraction to Daoism and the Dao De Ching, but it seemed to me that to be a good Daoist, one would need to live as a hermit in a cave. I knew myself to be a people-person.

By the time I graduated from high school, I leaned towards the idea that all of the world’s religions could be reduced to the Golden Rule. That summer, however, I visited relatives in Oregon and heard a rabbi speak. Not only did he actually accept all of the Bible as truth, but he believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Jewish Messiah. I tucked that away in my mind. It bounced back a few years later while reading about a Vietnamese religion, Cao Dai. Caodaism, as Time Magazine explained it, hoped to unite all the world’s faiths into one. They proposed a pantheon of great spirits: Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tse, Gandhi…(up to this point, I was nodding)…and Victor Hugo. I felt as if I had been stabbed, seeing Jesus and Victor Hugo in the same sentence. Yet obviously, once any other human being could be put in the same sentence as Jesus, any group would be free to add their own superstar. I had to mull my reaction. It also brought back a lesson I had learned from reading the Dao De Ching. There is an enormous gulf between what Lao Tse taught and the way the religion is practiced today. I needed to look only at Jesus, and not the behavior of his modern adherents.

I replayed much of this in my mind as I entered Pontarfynach in the early morning sunshine, inwardly praising the God for whom I still questioned even his existence.

Out of a house, a woman came out to greet me, “Where are you going?”

“Aberystwyth,” I told her.

“I’m driving there in half an hour. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea. Then I'll take you there.”

She told me that her name was Barbara Fleming-Williams, that she lived in London. This was their vacation home, and her husband had just published a book on the English landscape painter John Constable. I enjoyed the tea while she finished her preparations, and before she dropped me off in Aberystwyth, we traded addresses.

Aberystwyth turned out to be a small city, colorful and quaint, with the ruins of an ancient castle. A plaid wool cap tempted me beyond my budget, but I thought better of it, and then began the 55 mile hike, south, toward Fishguard. Fishguard would offer both a Youth Hostel and a boat to Ireland.

Despite the marvels I had already experienced in one day, I began to be depressed by the distance I still needed to cover. Then I recalled the last words Vicki had given me at the airport, “No matter what happens, remember to praise God in all things.” Indeed, I had been praising God when Mrs. Fleming-Williams came out to greet me, and I did have a great deal for which to praise God.

While I was still somewhat lost in praising this God about whose existence I wasn’t quite convinced, far down the road, a truck pulled to a stop from a side road, and the driver waved to me. I broke into the best run I could manage with my heavy backpack, and climbed into the passenger side. He was an auto parts delivery man, and we drove down the coast unloading his wares at petrol stations. We had a jolly good conversation and at each garage, the owner invited us to sit for tea and what they called biscuits and I would call cookies. Finally, on the edge of Fishguard, he treated me to fish and chips. I arrived at the hostel with enough daylight left to join two Swiss boys in a walk along the cliffs above the sea.

Beat (bay-AHT) and Urs were also headed over to Ireland, so we decided to travel together. As it turned out, they would later visit me in the States, and after we were married, Vicki and I would travel through Switzerland and Italy with Beat. Barbara Fleming-Williams daughter Lis would also visit us in America. What a day!

As Beat and I got to know each other that night, he asked me if I was religious. I told him that I was not.

Afterthoughts: In preparing to write this, I came upon obituaries for both Lis Fleming-Williams (d. 2019) and her father (1998). Barbara died in the 1980s. Lis had devoted her life to protecting the natural environment and wildlife of Central Wales. We had a brief visit with them in London in 1976, but otherwise had no communication after Lis and a friend visited us in Los Angeles during the summer that Vicki and I got married. For both Vicki and I, the strongest memory of that visit is the embarrassment we felt when Lis’s stomach pains required us to take her to Emergency at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital, in Los Angeles. It was very obvious that our American healthcare system did not match what she would have expected from the British system. When I search back to my first questioning of our American system, I go back to that hospital visit.