I went on a Berkeley Path Wanderers walk today. About fifty of us guided by Susan Schwartz of Friends of Five Creeks walked (with some time for standing around listening) for two-and-a-half hours circling the lagoon at Aquatic Park, which is almost as old as I am—created in 1937. We walk the dog there sometimes; it’s closer than Pt. Isabel but dogs have to stay on-leash so not as much fun for them. More fun for the ducks and egrets and herons, though. So I knew about the rowing club and the water-skiing club and the place that has altered bicycles for disabled people— Claudia has used a recumbent tricycle there and loves it—but I didn’t know about the California Historical Radio Society museum in the old radio station KRE building at the south end of the park beyond the little freeway entrance known to but a few people as a way around the clog at Ashby. The museum is full of old radios and a few old TVs and its control room was where Wolfman Jack spun records in American Graffiti. They have monthly sessions where volunteers help people repair their old vaccuum-tube radios. The whole thing is run by volunteers, and it’s like I know them. They are the guys who were into ham radio and spinning platters back in the day and still are—like the boys I ran with in high school.
I’ve been thinking about my high school friends because I’m going to talk at the memorial service of one of my pals of those days, my cousin Mike. He was a few years younger, but into ham radio and backyard rockets, so he fit right in with the guys I knew. We played together some as little kids, but by the time I was in junior high we were both living in the LA area, his father had died, and I think the grown-ups felt he could use a hit of father energy, so he came to stay with us at Christmas and Easter and for a couple of weeks every summer. He lived in the Valley and I lived in Long Beach, so we didn’t see each other in between. We were both only children, so we were each other’s sort-of siblings, but without the sibling rivalry, and we were never together long enough to get on each other’s nerves.
We would play Monopoly till he got bored and grabbed all the money and threw it in the air, crying “I’m filthy rich!” He got a chemistry set one Christmas we both played with; I remember turning “water” into “wine.” One year I got what I thought would be the makings of two cigar-box spectroscopes (I’d been reading about the discovery of helium) but I think I got the wrong kind of lens because we couldn’t get them to work. Edmund Scientific probably has kits now. Mike had the idea of stringing a radio aerial on the roof of our one-story house but got dizzy and had to sit on the shingles with me for a while before he could get back on the ladder. I was better at heights, but he was better at thinking up things to do; for instance, putting bluing in the water in one side of the double sink and siphoning it into the clear water in the other sink. Much more fun than drying the dishes, which is what we were supposed to be doing. My favorite was when he took an empty quart milk carton, they were waxed in those days, filled it a quarter full of water, put it in the middle of the kitchen floor and lit it. It burned nicely and then always put itself out. Of course when my mother came in in the middle of one of the burnings, she didn’t know that.
One day when his mother came to pick him up I had my ballet practice barre up, my mother’s typewriter was on my grandmother’s old dining-room table by the window, her music on the piano at the other end of the room, and Mike and I were testing probability theory by throwing dice at the dining-room table in the middle, the one we actually dined on. Aunt Lil said “This looks like a scene from ‘You Can’t Take It with You” and when I read the play I had to agree.
I’ve been listening to some interviews of Mike done in the eighties for the biography of my mother. He was so articulate about the changes in her voice and performance over the years, things I was too close to notice. He was a good singer but also a perceptive listener. I’ll miss his inside-outside perspective on my family.
He grew up to be a physicist, and his obit is quite impressive. They don’t mention that he had a bit of trouble getting a security clearance. He was accused of associating with known communists. Well, yes, he replied, of course I associate with them, they are my aunt and uncle. He got the clearance.
©2010 by Nancy Schimmel
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What a nice set of memories of Mike. I still remember our shape-note singing sessions and his seriousness overlaid with sweet humor.
Sunday, January 3, 2010 - 05:08 AM
Here’s a close-up, by Kris Seeman, of her global warming Christmas tree: Bamboo and polar bears.
Saturday, January 2, 2010