I’m Ba-a-ck…

by Memoir Mentor on May 13, 2014

It has been over a year since I wrote my last post and I figure everyone has given up on me by now. If you ever see this, know that I don’t blame you. The truth is, I put aside many things early last year when my mother became ill and was hospitalized for three months. I spent much of that time at her bedside, believing that she wasn’t going to make it. Blogs and other fun things seemed less important. Frankly, my life and head were in such a turmoil, I couldn’t concentrate enough to write anyway. As you can see by the recent Mothers Day picture, Mom is doing well…very well. She apparently has remarkable recuperative powers. Most people can’t believe she will be 90 in September.

So Mom got well, but I had gotten out of the habit of thinking about my blog. Besides I had a lot of catching up to do in other areas of my life. Last fall I decided I had to simply buckle down and focus all of my energies on finishing that family history I’ve been blathering on about for the last couple of decades. If I didn’t do it now, when was I? Probably never, I realized. So I did buckle down, even retired from teaching my weekly classes at Santiago Canyon College…and finished! Yes, I can hardly believe it myself.

I’ll tell you more about the book, which I titled The Parrett Migration, and the publishing route I took, in a later blog. I mainly wanted to check in, dip my toe in the water, so to speak, in the remote chance someone out there might hear me.


Genealogy Theme Returns to TV in Hilarious New Show

by Memoir Mentor on January 13, 2013

I’m excited about a new family history-themed show that will be broadcast on HBO in May. The show is the brainchild of Christopher Guest, the creator of such clever and hilarious films as Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.

Family Tree, as the new eight-part series is called, follows Guest’s trademark improv-documentary style and tells the story of a guy who gets jilted by his girlfriend at the same time he loses his job. With nothing better to do, he starts sorting through his family photos and memorabilia and encounters all kinds of nuts and oddballs that populate his family tree. Sound fun?

Chris O’Dowd plays the lead. He came to Guest’s attention from his role as the charming Irish cop in 2011’s hit show Bridesmaids. Apparently, O’Dowd is good at improv, too, for he and his supporting cast work from an eight-page outline for each show, but improvise most of the story. Guest says he’s written a huge backstory for each character and created a family tree for O’Dowd that extends back to the 1700s. If you’re a Christopher Guest fan, you’ll recognize some of the family members who show up as O’Dowd’s relatives, hilarious character actors like Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, and Ed Begley Jr.

Guest got the idea for his show after his father died. He inherited all his dad’s boxes and started going through them. He says he was originally going to use actors to serve as the voices of his family members telling their own stories. Then he came up with the concept that became Family Tree. I’m glad he did, and I can’t wait until May!



What Huell Howser Taught Me

by Memoir Mentor on January 10, 2013

I’ve been touched and saddened by the passing of Huell Howser, the folksy, ebullient host of the popular PBS series California’s Gold. At 67, he was simply too young to leave us–and what a void he has left in his wake! My husband and I used to make fun of his oh-my-gosh!-delight in everything he saw. He was this big, hulking ex-Marine, but he was like a kid in a candy store in his exuberance about everything that caught his attention. His television show took us all over California, introducing us to quirky people, unusual places, and tiny, intriguing stories that would never have seen the light of day had Huell not turned his camera in their direction.

I visited two places because of Huell. My mother spent a couple of years in Taft, California, during her early grade school years when her father got a job with Standard Oil not long after the family had emigrated from Scotland. The job and the California sunshine improved the family’s spirits and belief that they had done the right thing by coming to America. The family left Taft when Mom was seven and she had no memory of the place. Then Huell Howser shined a light on Taft one Sunday evening, showing off some of the central California town’s attractions. Intrigued, I just had to take Mom to visit that place. And, so we went…. Well, let’s just say we both thought the town probably hadn’t changed much since she lived there, which was probably a good thing–for us, anyway.

Some years ago, Huell introduced me to a hole-in-the-wall cafe called The Apple Pan. Located on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles, the restaurant is about as unassuming as one can get. Walk through the screen door, and it’s like stepping back into the fifties or early sixties. Customers sit on stools at a u-shaped formica counter and are served by male waiters wearing soda-jerk hats and dressed head to toe in white. You quickly realize that these waiters are a no-nonsense breed. You don’t ask questions, you pay with cash, and you don’t make changes to the menu, which consists of two or three kinds of hamburgers and a slice of apple pie. Their surliness (think Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi”) is part of the deal. You get used to it after the first brush with brusqueness. Cokes come in a can. Wait a second and the waiter will pour it into one of those old-fashioned cone-shaped paper liners set in a silver holder. French fries come hot and heaped on a paper plate. The waiter then squirts a mound of ketchup on another paper plate. The main attraction is the hamburger of course, loaded with a thick slice of tomato and an even thicker wedge of lettuce. A white paper wrapping holds all this together, and the waiter presents the tantalizing package to you by propping it on its side on the formica counter. No plates. It doesn’t matter.

My husband and I have visited The Apple Pan on numerous occasions. We have a tradition of staying in Los Angeles for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s. Our hotel is a half-block from a movie theater that shows the kind of movies we like, and so we try to see as many movies as we can during the few days we’re there. The theater–and The Apple Pan–are within walking distance of the hotel. We visited The Apple Pan just two weeks ago–at 11:00 at night. We felt like teenagers again eating hamburgers and fries at that late hour. We talked about Huell Howser. We always talk about Huell Howser when we’re there…and I suspect we always will.

So why would I put this post on a blog about personal history? Because Huell Howser was the quintessential story teller. He knew what made a story good. It didn’t matter how seemingly common the subject matter, Huell’s formula was this: Find the heart of the story and focus on the details that will make it resonate with the audience. A good lesson for all of us.

Other lessons I learned from Huell? The Apple Pan is “AMAYYZING!” Forget Taft.