Timmy and the Lemons

February 9, 2006

Timmy was hilarious at dinner tonight. We went to Poppis and they put a little plate of rice in front of him. He very elaboratedly mimed — no props, just mimicking like in charades — putting first salt on it, with his right hand, doing a pinch and spreadh motion, then pepper, with his other hand, another pinch and spread motion, and then he took his right hand again and mimicked squeezing a lemon over it, twisting his hand and grimacing while he did it, plus making a lemon-squeezing sound.

Yes, I know, it’s hard to imagine a lemon-squeezing sound, but Timmy does it, and did it repeatedly when he discovered we all thought it was funny. He would squeeze the imaginary lemon with his fist, then rub his fingers into it, and make a sound like an imitation blender. Once he knew he was funny, he did it over and over.

The picture here is taken about two weeks before that, on January 21.

Uncle Buddy

This was contributed by Chip to Amiglia:

Uncle Buddy was one of my favorite relatives. I knew him by the name `Buddy’ since forever; I didn’t find out that his given name was `Fred’ until he married Bruna. I can still recall being mildly shocked to hear her use his real name. Being all of 10 years old back then, it had not dawned on me that `Buddy’ was only a nickname, like `Chip’. We had that in common, although I didn’t know it at the time.

My mother once said he was the kindest person she had ever known, and I do believe that was his most essential quality, the one that defines him. My mother once recounted how she and my father had been stranded at the airport in the wee hours, and he had come some thirty or forty miles to pick them up. He was the sort of man who would do such things for people. Most of us would have relegated them to a taxi.

My earliest memories of him are in Chicago, when I was about four. This must have been in 1950 or 1951. My dad must have been doing his residency at the Chicago Eye and Ear Institute. I suppose he and my mother had some weekend plans, because Tim and I spent the weekend with Buddy. He was still married to his first wife, someone named Betty, a nice, but very pale and shy woman with slightly protruding teeth – about as different from Bruna as it is possible to imagine. Uncle Buddy must not have had the slightest idea what to do with two small boys aged 3 and 4, but he did his best – that kindness again. We went to a museum and took a speedboat ride on Lake Michigan, which was a lot of fun.

What he was doing in Chicago then I don’t know. Years later, when I was in the middle school years and an absolutely terrible student, my mother used to tell me about his experience as a cautionary tale. According to her, he had enrolled with his G.I. Bill money in a program at the University of Chicago that would have brought him a master’s degree in only four years. As I was told – repeatedly – he had done superbly in the physical science part of the course, but had for whatever reason refused to satisfy the breadth requirements of the curriculum, leaving himself without a degree when the funds were gone. As a result (according to her, lecturing to me), he was continually frustrated by the lack of a credential, and has to settle for chemical engineering jobs that he was vastly overqualified for. How much of this is true I don’t know. My mother was making a point, not doing history.

On one of the rare occasions when my grandmother Edith acknowledged that anything had gone wrong in any part of her world, she mentioned that he had come back from the war in a low state and had married his high school girlfriend much too quickly. My mother once said (not lecturing this time) that when he lived in Chicago he used to spend a lot of time in black bars, listening to the jazz and making conversation. She was commenting about his musical tastes, but I wonder if it didn’t reflect some depression of his own. At any rate, he was extremely easy to talk to and made all sorts of friends and acquaintances in those hangouts.

I have a few other scraps and patches of memories back then – a really glorious family picnic, Fourth of July or some such, with my Great-Aunt Anna and some cousins from Pittsburgh that I have never seen since, with Buddy in charge of the grill and having a great time. This was the first time I ever saw steak broiled. He also did sleight-of-hand, pulling coins out of ear or nose, which delighted me. But my next tangible memory is from the 1956 time frame. It was the first time I met Bruna.

Not to make too big a deal about it, but this memory is vivid because Bruna was the first truly beautiful woman I had met in real life, i.e., in the flesh and not in the movies, picture or some such. (My mother was beautiful, too, I suppose, but a ten year old son doesn’t think like that.) She glowed with health and vitality, so much so that the impression is still with me. Though she was obviously someone who in the language of the `90’s could be characterized as a trophy bride, my recollection was that he wasn’t at all proprietary, but low key and natural. (Bruna would know for sure, but I suspect that this was one of the attractive aspects about him.) He spoke to her in Italian, which he’d learned by ear. Just what he was doing in Italy I don’t know – some job with an oil company, I think – Bruna would know.

Between that date and the move to Danville in 1967, I don’t recall too much. These were the years of the lectures, when I also got from my mother what family history I know. She said very little about her childhood before the divorce, which must have happened about 1933. She did tell one very sad story about Buddy, which involved a neighbor boy accidentally shooting himself. She ran to get his parents, partly because it was necessary, partly to distance herself from the scene. But Buddy never left him as he lay dying.

She also had happier stories. After the divorce. The family moved frequently to different places around Pittsburgh. One county was fairly rural, and Bujddy went out for track. He did quite well, in the 100 and 200 yard dashes, and was written up in the paper as `Fleet-Foot Freddy’. This was all well and good, but later they moved to a more urban school, with some good black runners, and he was no longer the best.

She also mentioned some things about IQ tests that were interesting. She did quite well on them – but no matter how well she did, he did one or two points better. They were nearly always one and two in the class. This is somewhat sad, because neither one of them were particularly good students. (She was in the lecture mode then, pointing out that high IQ scores don’t insure success. Amen.) She also said he was quite popular with girls, and reasonably successful. He had a habit, before he walked into some teen-age hangout, of rubbing his hands together and saying, loud enough for my mother to hear, `Now, what looks interesting ?’

Uncle Buddy developed his interest in swing music shortly before the war, and with it an interest in radio. He and my Uncle Dick used to sit with earphones on, attempting to bring in distant radio stations.

My mother told me a few things about his military service, but I suspect he said a lot more directly, so I’ll pass on that. One anecdote of interest is that my grandfather Frederick Wurtembaugh evidently published a pome about him in the Pittsburgh paper for which he worked. Because Uncle Buddy was then going by the name O’Neill and Wurtenbach is a German surname, military intelligence had to check the matter out.

The most important interaction I had with my Uncle Buddy occurred in 1967. He and Bruna relocated from Southern California to Danville. While they were househunting, they stayed in the Eastbrook house. My family had gone on vacation. I didn’t join them, because of a summer job I had. Tim was off in Europe on a Notre Dame foreign study program. One weekend in August, I played in a chess tournament on a Saturday, then became sicker and sicker on Sunday. I had severe pain on the right side of my abdomen. Uncle Buddy became more and more concerned. Finally, he suggested the possibility of appendicitis. I knew what that was, but hadn’t the slightest idea that the pain indicated that. I phoned a doctor my family knew well, who arranged for hospitalization and the works. Buddy drove me there. It turned out my appendix was badly inflamed and had to come out then and there. It would be melodramatic to credit my uncle with saving my life, but he certainly helped. He also visited me in the hospital several times the following week, which is the sort of favor no one ever forgets.

We saw much more of each other after the move to Danville, though not nearly so much as we should after my mother’s death. The old story – no one realizes that the time is going until it is all gone. Uncle Buddy was a man of wide and varied interests, and always fun to talk to. The most striking thing was that he was always shy, almost grateful, for the attention. I developed my own interest in probability (in which he was an expert), though not nearly as knowledgeable as he, and I loved to talk to him about that.

My Grandparents

One of the sad things about the old timers is the lack of pictures. Because of the problems in saving old photos and old lore, we have just a precious few shared memories of the older generations. This family album has relatively little of my grandparents. I want to record at least some information for future generations.

Frank C. Berry was a beloved local figure in Milford, MA. He died in 1946, before I was born.

We need pictures of my dad’s mother, who we knew as Gram, who died in her 90s in Milford. She loaned me her old standard-shift Ford when I was in college and told me to teach myself stick shifts. She would shovel snow off of her driveway by herself until she was well into her 80s. She was a political liberal all her life, always well informed, always ready to engage in a political discussion.

J.P. O’Neill, my mother’s stepfather, was a wonderful man and a very kind and loving grandfather to me when I was a boy. He and my grandmother lived in Ojai, CA, in a beautiful old, small, not fancy house at the end of the street, close to the mountains. He and Granma (“Noni” in this website) invited Chip and I to stay with them for a week or two several times in the summers. The house had a screen-enclosed patio that was wonderful on hot summer nights, and a huge oak tree. Grandad took us deep-sea fishing in a neighbor’s boat and we caught dozens of bonita, a variety of tuna, which we carefully smoked for days. That’s a picture of me with him in the yard in Ojai in 1954. He was a carpenter, born in Ireland, a very big, strong, but gentle man. He was about 6’4″ tall. My mom loved him as a father, and I loved him as a grandfather.

My mom’s mother, Edith O’Neill, is in the album as Noni, which is the name she used for great grandchildren.

We have even less about Fred Wurtenbach, my mother’s father, for whom I’n not even sure of the spelling. He was a journalist, he wrote for Pittsburgh’s largest newspaper, he had german ancestry, and he was a published poet — just a few poems published mainly in that same newspaper. He fought in WWI. That was not a successful marriage, however, so Noni left him and married JP O’Neill.

Are You Going to Your Ami?

When Cristin was just learning to talk, Tim was going to business trips in Miami very frequently. We were all backpacking in Yosemite, and we were reaching the end of the trip, walking the long downhill after the falls.

We were all tired, but Cristin started to worry about post backpacking life. She heard Mom and Dad talking about Miami again…

She said “Dad, please don’t go to your Ami.”

Cristin applied logic to language from an early age. For example, she referred to place and position as “bebove” and “below.”

Update: November 2007. Sabrina called, Timmy had just asked her about her trip to “your Ami,” which in this case is a trip coming in January.

Christopher’s First Soccer

I went over to Laura’s house today to pick them up and take Christopher to his soccer “practice,” a combination of babysitting and tutoring and friendly happy activity, with Christopher and three three-year-old girls and a very nice “coach” named Amy. He kicked the ball sometimes, and paid attention sometimes, and generally acted like a three-year-old kid.

It was fun. We went to Jerry’s for a hot dog afterwards.

Mom’s Garden

June 23, 2007

Note to Vange:

I’m very sorry I haven’t been more supportive and appreciative through the years. There’s no denying to anybody that our garden is your achievement, yours alone, and wow, what a beautiful garden it is. I know I don’t do any part of it, but I do really enjoy it, I am so glad it is our house, and I’m grateful to you and proud of you for how beautiful it has become.

I do remember how far it’s come too. When we arrived here in 1992, there was a scruff patch of lawn in the front, the stone wall divider was there, the hedges — hooray — were there and the apple trees that were beautiful for years but eventually caused you so much trouble. Other than that, weeds.

Chad Greenberg’s year with us was a good start. The fence in the back was vital. The extra walkway, the new paving in the back, around the side, the lights in the garden. So many years ago, but that was a big step up.

Little by little, you did it. The gardener who cared about weed much more than weeds, the parade of gardeners who didn’t cut it, getting the dirt, getting the plants. There were all those days trolling the nurseries. The days with Kyle King, and Jane whatever-her-name was, and Marcelino and Juan.

There was also the occasional fight with the neighbor below us. And the moles. Remember the summers that Megan and I spent half a day here and there trying to persuade the moles to leave? The struggles to water in the summer and the disappointments when sprinklers failed in 2003, we came back from vacation and trees had tied. The struggle with the city to protect the back hedge.

Remember also when Megan was in third grade and one of her friends’ parents came to the door, and, presumably just to be nice, and asked Megan how her family kept the lawn so nice. “A man comes who does it,” Megan answered.

Two nights ago I got home around dusk, and it was just plain amazing. What a spectacle. I got my camera and took some of the pictures here. But they were a reminder that, beautiful as the garden is, it is best with the people.

How about those beautiful garden moments, like Sabrina’s wedding and the brunch the next day, or the three Lauras’ birthday in 2000. The summer afternoons we’d spend with the deck and the barbecue. The first summer when the garden was full of yellow jackets. Megan’s birthday party on the deck. Megan and Beba in the garden on a hot summer day. Remember when Paul used to play with the slider with Megan. Remember the “mensa” story? The days Sabrina and Noah and their friends played badminton, and, more recently, Megan’s friends from Stanford when they came? How about when we filled up the wading pool on a particularly hot summer day, filling it first with water and then with baby grandsons.

Nowadays I remember the garden every day, I never take the walk down from the back where I park down the walkway to the house without breathing in the garden. I love it in when it’s warm and rich and full of color, the bright greens and Spring or summer flowers against the dark blue sky, but I also love it when it’s cold and rainy and gray, still a richness and a reminder of home as home.

And there was also the beginning, when the back yard was nothing much more than dirt divided into two levels. The stone wall was there when we got here, and the back hedge and some apple trees that are gone now, but not much else.

Back to Palo Alto

The movers left the small, dirty house full of boxes. It was a warm summer afternoon, September 8, 1982. I felt like magic happiness, one of the best days of my life, like I did as a kid on Christmas morning, like I did the first day of living in Innsbruck, like I did when we moved out of Mexico City to California. Everything was good.

We were back in Palo Alto, living at 1599 Mariposa. We wouldn’t have to drive back to Suisse Drive in San Jose ever again. [Ed note: 25 years later, we never did, never have.] As the movers drove off I stood on the front porch and looked up the street to where I could see a patch of Stanford Campus across El Camino. Palo Alto Highschool was just 200 years to my right. We were finally back.

it had been about 15 months since we left Escondido Village, on campus at Stanford, for Mexico City. At last we were back again, just half a mile from the townhouse at 100C in Escondido Village, but this time with a permanent job, and buying (although with one of the most aggressive equity sharing deals you’ll ever hear about) a house. Although there was a lot of work to do (moving, cleaning) we could also just walk out of our front door and take a walk through Palo Alto and Stanford.

The kids felt it too, as much as Vange and I did. We’d made it back. They had the same sense of relief, the end to exile. Cristin of course was still just a baby, six months old, Laura had just turned 10, Sabrina was about to turn 9 and Paul was about to turn 7. The older three were about to enter Walter Hayes Elementary School, which would be their fourth school in 15 months. They were all looking forward to it, I think, or maybe I was just projecting my feelings.

We were all looking forward to just living here, taking walks, normal life, with the feeling that we’d get back to that feeling of Escondido Village, when things were all good.

The move to Mariposa was one of my finer moments. We’d given up living in Palo Alto before buying the house in San Jose — big mistake, that — but we kept driving back for shopping, visiting my parents, whatever excuse. Drives back to Palo Alto were like drives back to paradise from exile. But it took us almost an hour to go each way in the ancient yellow VW bus we called our car. And we always had to go back. I felt like a hero because by late Spring I decided we were going to live in Palo Alto, not San Jose, and I would just plain find a way. And I did. We had seen the Mariposa house on one of our brief breaks from exile. It looked like it had to be cheap, it was older, aged wooden sideboard, and it was smaller — only 1250 square feet, 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, and it was right up against the commuter train tracks in the back. It was listed by Tony Domenico.

Tony said he could get us into that house. He never wavered. We had no equity and significant debt, and no down payment. But I had a good salary and with my Stanford MBA degree and all, I was marketable for one of Tony’s equity share deals. And that’s what we did: we bought the house for $190K including a $50K down payment and an amazingly expensive mortgage (1982 was a year of historic high interest rates, so our mortgage was a fixed rate 18%. The equity share deal meant that a couple of Stanford professors named Dutton put in all but $8K of the down payment, we paid the mortgage, and after four years we had to either buy them out for a profit or sell the house to pay them off. The whole assumed equity appreciation, and it worked out for us and them. We were able to move back to Palo Alto.

So the next few days took a lot of work, but the world had changed. The worst of the work was when we discovered that the built-in breakfast nook had mouse grand central station built into it as well, but we moved in.

Hello Leo

Last month, in Villas del Sol, I met Leo.

You know Leo? My grandson, Noah’s and Sabrina’s son, Timmy’s little brother? I didn’t, I discovered. I loved him but I didn’t know him. He was just a generic baby until that trip.

Now, however, I know Leo as a person, with a personality; like I know Christopher, Timmy, and Eva. I can feel him smile, I can feel him worry sometimes, at least by looking at his face. This is Leo Parsons. There we are in the picture, Leo and me, sharing a moment.

Leo and I shared moments. Several times I kept him company while he slept in the shade of the Palapa on the beach during the heat of the day. He was wrapped in a towel on one chaise and I was reading on the next chaise, both of them pushed together. Leo would wake up and I would see first curiosity in his blue eyes, and then, quite quickly, peaceful recognition. “Oh yes, I’m on the beach, and my granddad is here with me.” He would then drift back to sleep.

Leo frequently smiled in his sleep.

When I fed Leo, he used mouth motions and sparkling eyes to establish a definite line of communication with me. He engaged me as surely as the computer engages the cellphone when they synchronize over a cable. This was not just feeding, this was also communicating. He wanted to watch me smile and react when he opened the mouth to ask me for the next bite. He connects the mouth opening with the eyes sparkling, and he wanted me to see that. He was even showing off, proud of himself. He wanted me to tell him parents how good he was. I could tell that.

Leo was getting less-than-super-healthy Mexican Comercial Mexicana baby food, which he seemed to like. His eyes told me he particularly enjoyed having his own version of junk food, the short-term escape from the law of Sundance. I could tell that.

Leo liked to wander freely around the floor, crawling, standing himself up on things like couches and tables, seeking cables to chew on, and looking for mischief. He clearly liked that much better with company, though. He wanted me not just to watch him but to appreciate him, talk about what he was doing that he wasn’t supposed to be doing. He wanted me to join him in the drama.

How much of this was Sabrina’s doing, how much Noah’s? I’m intrigued with the question. They certainly made it easy to know Leo. Was that just convenience, or were they doing that on purpose? That’s hard to tell, and doesn’t really matter.

Was this quality time or quantity time? I think you need quantity to get quality.

I’m sure this same kind of thing happened with Christopher, Timmy, and Eva, because I have the same sense of love and bonding with all three. But I’m writing now, and I’m more aware of how and when and what, so this is about Leo. Hello Leo.

Visiting Paul, Eva, and Milena

June 13, 2007

Paul’s 31 and Eva just turned 1. It’s about 7 am. Paul and Eva walking along the river park happily, looking for me. She meets me happily, gives me lots of smiles, but she does keep glancing back at her daddy. He’s very reassuring. It looks like a nice day in the morning, already warm but not hot, and very blue and sunny.

First thing, we got me coffee. I didn’t get to the hotel until midnight, took until 2 to sleep, and then I woke up that morning at 6 am. The tiny beep of the cell phone receiving a txt might have had an influence, but I could have tried to go back to sleep, and didn’t want to. I have only a day with them in New York, it isn’t the time to sleep. Dement notwithstanding.

Eva loves to walk. She bounces around from place to place like the ball in a pinball machine, changing directions suddenly, looking slightly off balance. She just took her first steps a few weeks ago, but now she just loves to walk. I can see it. She takes the stroller while it’s in motion, but as soon as it stops, she wants out. She seems to be testing her new skill.

We sat for a while outside the shopping center by the Merrill Lynch World Financial Center, looking at the yacht harbor on the river. I soaked in my coffee. Eva walked about and eventually cuddled with her daddy.

We walked slowly towards the heart of Broadway and Prince, the Huffington Post offices. Slowly because Paul wanted Eva to fall asleep before we got to his office. Paul and Eva are very used to each other in the stroller. She started to fuss and he said she was going to do that for five minutes and fall asleep. She fussed for five minutes and fell asleep. She took a brief nap, but was awake again before we went up to his office.

After an office visit – nice looking offices, beautiful hardwood floors everywhere, but cramped — Eva enjoyed coffee at Balthazar’s. She walked up and down the aisles, accepting compliments. We walked back toward Battery Park, visited the apartment to say hello to Milena, then took Eva to a beautiful small park nestled between the buildings. She played in the sand. We watched our cell phones, Paul did the Blackberry, I talked to Sabrina, and Eva played happily.

Milena joined us. We had lunch together at NYSW, outside, looking at the water. Eva walked around and rediscovered a toy shop she knows, through the restaurant and down the hall, then to the left, where there is a wooden train set. She has geography figured out.

Just before dinner at Industrial Argentina. We had a respite at a park across the street, the four of us. Here’s a cute picture of Eva playing, and one of the same scene with Milena in the back. She wasn’t feeling well that evening, but she was smiling nonetheless.

It was a very good visit. I’m proud of Paul and Eva and Milena.

Be Sad

When Cristin was little Vange threatened her over I don’t remember what:

“I’m going to be really sad or really mad if …” and, like I said, I don’t remember what “if” was involved. It doesn’t change the story.

“Be sad,” Cristin answered.