Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Cottage

We all like to believe we are part of history.  Hardly a day goes by that I do not receive some email nostalgia forcing me to recollect fender skirts, clothes lines, hula hoops or some hardly-remembered actor or entertainment celebrity.  What I prefer is the history that sneaks up on you; a part of your life that you hardly thought of until it’s gone.

That’s what I felt when The Cottage closed the first of the year.

The Cottage was a Laguna Beach restaurant that we frequented a few times a year over the last thirty or so years; always at brunch, and usually with at least eight family members, often including relatives from Wisconsin.  The attraction was not only the food, the reasonable cost, or the fact that a reservation meant you were seated pretty close to when you expected.  Nor was it ease in arrival, since there was no valet parking and the neighborhood parking access was almost non-existent.

Mary's Home
The attraction was the house, described as a California Bungalow and eerily reminiscent of Mary’s home in Janesville, Wisconsin.

We laughed at how we would identify that we were received on what was the front porch and seated at various times in the sewing room, mother’s bedroom, the TV room or almost anywhere except the kitchen, which was being used as, duh!, the kitchen.

We probably had our first brunch early when we moved to the area in 1976 but didn’t become aware of why it was so similar to Mary’s home until 2002 when Rosemary Fuller Thornton wrote the first of several books describing how Sears Roebuck sold “easily assembled” homes between 1908 and 1940. In all, she mentioned more than 75,000 houses were sold, each having more than 10,000 pieces and each uniquely identified by a serial number somewhere in the basement.

We went looking for the serial number in Janesville, but reconstruction of the basement since its original construction somehow got rid of the number.  However, there was no doubt that it was a Sears bungalow.

After Mother Kelley moved out of the house, it was sold to a nice, young couple who were into antiques.  On one of our return trips to Janesville, Mary and I stopped by to meet them and see what they had done to the house.  Very little it turned out and the rooms had an oddly familiar feeling to them.

Except that things were in the wrong place.  The sewing machine, for instance, which they used for a table, was in the dining room instead of the sewing room.  And the Cedar chest, which was at the foot of Mother Kelley’s bed, was being used as a coffee table in the living room.  We avoided telling the new owners of their mistake, but the topic is one we regularly share with family.

We have already identified several very nice places to go on Easter, Mother’s Day and the like.  But as we dine there, we are likely to remember that on our last visit to The Cottage, with our children and grandchildren, we were allowed to sit in the Dining Room for the first time.

Only fitting!

In my next Post I’ll explain why a late Christmas gift from Mary was special.  I hope you’ll stop by.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Port and Starboard

The Christmas Holiday has just passed and on my street all the outside decorations have been stored for another year.  All but those on three of the houses, that is.  And one of those is my son’s.

Last year for some unknown reason the only outside decoration on my son’s home, which is directly across the street from mine, were two lights, entry lights to his garage actually, one was green and the other was red.  I was reluctant to discuss the matter because he was recently off from a divorce and I wasn’t sure what the custody of outside decorations entailed.

I was sure of one thing however.  The lights were reversed.  Red was on the right of the entry and green was on the left.  This was wrong!

Sean, Tim and granddaughter Lauren in Hilton Head
How did I know that?  It might have been because I spent twenty-five years as a Navy Dentist, riding two carriers along the way.  Or it might have been that when I was a teen, my cousin and I competitively sailed a 14’ C Class sailboat on Clear Lake in Iowa for several summers.  It might even have been that when we rented a boat at Hilton Head South Carolina Yacht Club, part of the instruction of going through the locks to the Inland Waterway included which buoy light should be where upon leaving and returning.

Wherever the knowledge came from and however it was reinforced, I know that red (Port) is on the left going in and green (Starboard) is on the right. And so I reminded Sean.  I also asked what the reason for the lights was as decoration.  He responded by telling me the season colors inspired him.

Sea Buoy
They must inspire others too, because my neighbor has done a similar thing (in retrospect, maybe that’s where Sean got the idea) as does a house down the street (when you look, you see).  This year I was pleased to see they all have the lights in the correct order.

I was reminded of a story from my Navy years: a very successful strategist was always noted as going to his cabin and covertly opening a desk drawer where he would read a piece of paper immediately upon casting off.  His shipmates wondered what was on the paper that gave him such tactical success and when he was killed during a battle, his First Lieutenant, rummaged through his pockets, found the key and rushed below to see what was on the paper. He found a single sheet with the single sentence, “Port is left, Starboard, right.”

It turns out the reason for the terms comes from ancient sailing, where the single “steering” oar at the back of the ship was on the right of the hull or the “Star” side because it was needed to keep the ship close to the dock and the manning sailor was usually right handed.  A similar explanation, but not the term explains why Polo mallets are swung from the right and the General’s Aide sits at his left, because both the rider and the aide used to wear swords on the left making mounting a horse or defending a king a factor in custom.

Port side of Queen Mary 2
Both terms were used when the rich sailed from England to India, with the desire being to keep the sun on the same side of the ship for the entire cruise.  To take advantage, the preferred cabins were on “Port going Out and Starboard Hcoming ome” and to have wealth was to be POSH.

The red and green lights are used to stay in the channel, to make one’s way upstream, and to set rules on who has water right of way.  This is codified in navigation through the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, should you wish to check it out. I have supplied the link.

In my next post I will explain why the closing of a local restaurant, The Cottage, has special significance for me and my family.  I hope you will stop by.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Paul Harvey

Before I became what I call addicted to NPR (if you took NPR and the WSJ away from me, I would have nothing to talk about), there was Paul Harvey.  Actually, there was radio, and Paul Harvey was only one of several programs I listened to on almost a daily basis.  As I was growing up it aired at noon and in Mason City Iowa was either preceded or followed by the Farm Report, which I actually understood.

My favorite Paul Harvey memory came in my third year of college, at Saint Mary’s (then) College in Winona, Minnesota.  I had been banished to that particular Catholic boy’s school, because my first two years at the University of Iowa fell short of my father’s expectations.  His solution: take away my car, my check book, and send me to Saint Mary’s, where his brother, as Bishop of the Diocese exercised a certain amount of respect.

Paul Harvey kept me grounded with the outside world and I remember one morning (for some reason it aired at a different time than I was used to) I heard Paul say, “Well, they’ve finally done it!  They have made life.”  He then went on to describe an experiment where some detergent was put into process that allowed the inorganic compounds to become not only organic, but divisible.  Wow!

I told everyone I knew about this great find and waited to read more about it in the paper. I waited.  And waited. But nothing was ever said about the experiment.  I suppose that was when I lost my innocence about what is news and what is sensational.

Somewhat ironic to have Paul Harvey my Zen Guru, because in his more than fifty years of syndicated news and commentary, his signature was religious conservatism.  When Mary and I married we jokingly imagine a time when he might introduce us to his audience as a couple married for, the then barely imaginable period of fifty years.  Harvey and his wife, Angel lived together for sixty-seven until she passed away at the Age of 92.  We have logged fifty-two to date.

Several of Paul’s close friends define both his politics and his religious beliefs.  They included former Senator Fred Harvey, J. Edgar Hoover, and Billy Graham.  He was known for bringing humor or surprise to many popular stories and legends in his featured The Rest of the Story.  Although some of these trod on the truth a bit, they were so popular that no one really cared.  He also had some recurring stories; two of the more popular being “Things I wish for You” and “IfI were the Devil”.  This latter was originally broadcast in 1996 but remains a popular YouTube connection to this day.

I was reminded of my Paul Harvey story recently when the WSJ published a story about a Massachusetts Biotech firm that is seeking approval to advance studies to make stem cells out of adult skin cells, thereby averting all the controversy about embryonic cell study.  The story was couched with words like “further study”, “promising”, “clinical trials”, "contaminents", and “mice not being human”.  And, although not specifically mentioned as a caution, the article did not encourage buying shares in Advanced Cell Technology.

In some ways I’m sorry to see that.  I like to think that maybe in some small college there is a boy, or girl, who would read that story and, with the innocence of youth and the curiosity we all need to make discoveries, would say, “Well, they’ve finally done it.”

That person may make the na├»ve comment that, “My friends tell me I’m gullible, but I don’t know if I should believe them.”  Whatever, if it encouraged them to look deeper into the science, that is a good thing.

My next post will explain my life long experience with Port and Starboard, and why that’s relevant in my life today.  Please come visit.