The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“The most important thing you or I will ever do,
is within the walls of our own homes.”
Harold B. Lee

Mary McMurrin Frazee

My mom was an awesome mom. She had been a fashion model as a teenager and through her twenties. They wanted her to be a movie star, but it wasn’t what she wanted.

She and my Aunt Mary were great pals who met in junior high. Mom and Aunt Mary went to USC together. As my mom told it, they always got to school late and had to repark the other cars to make room for their own. That was easy to do in those days, because everyone left the keys in their cars.

Aunt Mary had two brothers, John and Harry. When Harry came back from the war, he noticed his kid sister’s best friend had grown up a lot, and they began dating, fell in love and were married, for sixty-eight years. They spent most of those years buying and selling antiques, their great passion. Everyone in our family and most of our friends have a house full of antiques that came through my parent’s garage, affectionately named, “The Store.”

She loved to decorate her home and prune in her yard, which was easily the best-looking on the street. She had more than a green thumb and would spend many hours every week attending to her beloved yard. I bought her a t shirt with an image of her leaning way into the junipers with the clippers. The caption under the picture read, “I’d rather be pruning.”

She survived breast cancer at forty-nine. Having lived to eighty-seven, she always encouraged other women facing similar challenges, assuring them that they could survive it as she had.

Mom always taught me the importance of knowing how to behave, as she put it. For her, good manners made a big difference. She tutored me daily, until I left home. And she was right, good manners do count. But it was really her example that had the biggest influence on me. She was charming and elegant and knew more about both sides of our family than most everyone else put together. It was her love of family and family stories that most inspired me to be a writer and share those stories with my kids.

She had vision and loved to talk about her plans for the future. She believed in me and thought I would make a great doctor, lawyer, psychologist, college professor, all of which I aspired to at one time or another. Her confidence in me gave me confidence in myself. But she did worry about me as I went off on my latest outdoor adventure and would say, “Be safe and don’t do anything dangerous.”

My mom was the single most important person in the development of my faith, which has seen me through my life. She was my best audience and laughed at my first attempts to be funny, telling homemade jokes and stories. And she forgave me quickly when I misbehaved. I knew that I was loved, and that has made all the difference.

Growing up, I wondered whom I would marry, where she was and what she was doing right then. One thing I knew for sure, she would have deep faith, be compassionate and well-mannered, with a love of family and friends. That describes my wife, and I am so thankful for her.

Thank you, Mom, for showing me the way. I will always be grateful.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Life is an exciting business.”
Helen Keller

Snake Hunting

Warning: Don’t read this post if you don’t like snakes. You won’t like them any better after you read this.

Snake Hunting is an interesting hobby. As a kid I used to catch snakes for fun. Usually they were garter, gopher or king snakes. And I caught them up with my friends and cousins at Lake Tahoe or near our home in Tarzana which was somewhat rural at the time. We kept them a couple of hours or days at most and then let them go as none of them would eat in captivity.

Once my cousin Stephen and I were riding our bikes at his house and we thought we saw a garden hose moving across the width of the driveway. We realized it was a gopher snake and was at least eight feet long. We raced up and grabbed it with all four hands but it outsmarted us. The snake wrapped itself up tightly in the very dense bushes next to the driveway and was loudly hissing at us. That scared us as we kept looking back at its tail to make sure there were no rattles. Gopher snakes and rattlers can look a lot alike. As a matter of fact sometimes a gopher snake will hit its tail against leaves to imitate the sound of a rattle snake in hopes of scaring away predators. The hissing worked pretty well on us. Every time we gave an inch it would get further into the bushes and we realized we would never get it out without hacking up the bushes so we let him go. That was the longest snake I’ve ever seen outside a zoo.

As a Boy Scout I was running down a trail in the Angeles Forest and noticed that my next step was going to land on a rattlesnake sunning itself in the middle of the trail. Mid-stride I kept my front foot stretched out as far as I could and somehow my momentum flew me over the snake. I just kept running and never looked back.

Over the years I would see a rattlesnake, sometimes on horseback and would quickly move away from it. When Liz and I were engaged to be married, we participated in Engaged Encounter through our church at a retreat center way up in the hills of Santa Barbara. On a break we walked down the long and remote driveway. On the way back up Liz was a few steps in front of me. I suddenly yelled, “Stop, back up!” Thankfully she did and the five-foot-long rattle snake directly in her path and just the color of asphalt made the rest of his way across the road.

When we move to our current home seventeen years ago our relationship with snakes changed quite a lot. Our property backs up to what is known around here as the Ahmanson Ranch 15,000 acres of open space which is now a state park.

We get lots of unusual visitors, racoons, skunks, possums, deer and even a mountain lion, though that was long ago. Yesterday our twenty-two year old son was up early and saw six coyotes standing together on the hillside behind our house. He hopped the fence and they dispersed. But not so with rattlesnakes, they tend to work their way into our yard and hide under piles of rocks are in the bushes because there are lots of little critters that get their attention.

A couple weeks ago our gardener Jared came in to my office which is in our guesthouse and said he’d caught a pretty big rattlesnake. We have a snake grabber that we bought online for just such a purpose. You might think we just kill the rattlesnakes but I don’t want to do that.

Jared had already put him into the large trashcan. Jared used the snake grabber to lift him up so we could take a good look at him and determine if he was the same one we caught two weeks ago. After close examination, we decided he wasn’t as the pattern and the rattles were slightly different.

My assistants Eileen and Caleb came out to have a closer look and I snapped the photo. I’d like to say that Eileen was standing as close as it looks she’s really about three or four feet back from the snake. Eileen is quite an adventurer herself having just come back from vacation in the Dominican Republic, the day after the hurricane came by.

So what do we do with all these snakes? If you figure three a year, and it’s more than that, we’ve caught over fifty rattle snakes over the last seventeen years.

We put them in a small metal trashcan with a tight lid. That’s can be a bit tricky as sometimes they don’t want to stay in. But once we get the lid on they quiet down. I then seatbelt the trashcan into the backseat of my SUV. Safety first you know!

And we relocate them to what we call Rattle Snake Alley, which is really one of several open spaces miles away. Once there I tip the can on its side and kick off the lid and away they go. I’m pretty sure the snakes like that and so do we. They can’t get back to our house and they’re free to live out their life doing whatever snakes do somewhere else.

So, just another day in our backyard. For a video of a previous relocation click below.

 

 

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“I am not what happens to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Carl Jung

Scouting

If you have the gift of reading someone’s feelings from the expression on his face, you might decipher mine in the photo above. Standing on our driveway, about to depart to Scout Camp for a week, this was my first trip away, at age twelve, away from family.

Notice the virtual emptiness of my backpack, compared with the full duffle bag. I packed my backpack, and my mom packed the duffle bag. I did not want to take the duffle bag, packed with spare shirts, socks, underwear and even pre-addressed and stamped postcards. My parents meant well, but I thought it was embarrassing to take so much stuff along for a week of sleeping on the ground with the guys. Thus, the forlorn look on my face. As much as I protested, my mom made me take the duffle bag along.

As I recall, I wore some of the clothes in my backpack and never even opened the duffle bag. But I accomplished something at Lake Ida that I was proud of for years, the one-mile swim, following behind a rowboat. My son, John, did the same thing at Emerald Bay, in the ocean, years later when he was a Scout.

At Emerald Bay, on Catalina Island, John’s troop camped across the dirt road from the showers, and I don’t think any kid on the trip ever saw the inside of that building.
Boys of a certain age like to get and to stay dirty, especially if there are no girls around to impress, quickly descending to the lowest common denominator, dirt.

I talked John into joining the Scouts, because I wanted him to have the same wonderful experiences in the outdoors that I remembered. He wanted to quit when all it seemed to be was a troop meeting on Monday nights in the rec room of a local church. But then came his first campout with his pals, and he was hooked. Eventually, I became Scoutmaster, but it was John who went all the way to Eagle, as did many of his closest friends.

Our big adventure in scouting was our trip to Philmont Ranch, 250,000 acres of wilderness in New Mexico. We spent fourteen days on the trail, carrying all our food and supplies in fifty-pound backpacks. Our highest camp was at 11,000 feet, and our longest day was nineteen miles, an unforgettable time together.

I read somewhere that over sixty percent of women leaders were Scouts, and nearly all the astronauts have been Eagle Scouts.

My fellow Scoutmaster, Jeff Gunn, who was Scoutmaster of two troops, said, “Ya gotta’ get ’em to Eagle before the fumes get ’em. I had no idea what he meant. He explained, “Yeah, perfumes and car fumes.”

Jeff had another saying I liked, which was, “If it ain’t fun, why do it?” I had a great time in scouting and learned a lot about life outdoors. So did John, pretty good stuff for a couple of city kids. But Jeff was right about the fumes, they got to me long before I got anywhere near Eagle.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Well, doggies!”
Jed Clampett

Parenthood

Our son John turned twenty-two last Sunday. And as we were driving to church with him and our girls, we were reminiscing about the day he was born. John is our firstborn, and we have twin fifteen-year old girls too.

As I thought back on that day and our expectancy of it, I remembered I used to sing to my wife’s tummy, nearly every night. I wanted him to get used to the sound of my voice, and it was such a joyful time and a way for me to connect with him before he was born.

For some reason, lost in the mists of time, I sang The Beverly Hillbillies theme song to him. Perhaps, I chose it because the song is basically a story, or because the Clampetts arrive in Beverly Hills in an old car, and I am an old-car guy. The song is funny and fits the range of my voice as well. Years before, Liz and I even went to a Halloween party, dressed as Uncle Jed and Elly May. Everyone knew who we were the moment they saw us.

The Beverly Hillbillies spawned Petticoat Junction and Green Acres after that, and I enjoyed watching those show too.

Back to the night John was born. After they placed him in the bassinet, in the nursery, the nurses let me in to be with him. And what an amazing experience, as many of you know, to stand there with your firstborn, and all the subsequent ones too.

John was crying, and I tried to comfort him as best I could, but he kept crying as a newborn baby will do. So out of the blue, I started singing The Beverly Hillbillies theme song, and he stopped crying. When I stopped singing, he started crying again. So, I sang it again, and he stopped crying.

Since he heard the song and my voice before, I can only think that it soothed him, and he fell asleep. So, if you feel like crying after reading this, just give me a call, and I will sing it to you too.

It worked for us and remains a wonderful memory of my first moments with my boy and turning the corner into parenthood.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.”
Picasso

The Treehouse

When my cousin Stephen and I were about fifteen and sixteen, respectively, we decided to build a treehouse near my aunt and uncle’s cabin at Incline Lake above Lake Tahoe.

We asked if it was all right to do so, and they said no. Earlier in the summer, or perhaps it was the summer before, the fort that some of our tribe built mysteriously caught on fire. So we understood their concern, and built it where they couldn’t see it.

Searching for a site to build, we found the perfect spot about 200 yards west of the bend in the road that curved around Incline Lake. An unusual pine tree sprung forth four tall trunks that made an ideal framework for our masterpiece. Stephen and I had built many forts above and below ground over the years, but this one was the best with a floor that began fifteen feet above ground. We even had a secret entrance, which in hindsight wasn’t so secret, since our camouflaged two-by-four steps, once discovered, led right to it.

Building supplies came from behind the barn, inside the caretaker’s shed and from remnants of the fallen-down shack that we called Trevor’s cabin. We even came up with a couple windows, shingles and dark green paint. We painted only the side that faced the lake to hide it from anyone walking by on the road.

We began with an eight-by-eight square-floored treehouse, but found it a bit cramped. So, we added an extension another ten feet out to a neighboring tree. Then we figured, why not add a second story? We shingled the roof and painted the interior as well.

Eventually, word got out, and we were surprised that my aunt and uncle weren’t mad and even admired our handiwork. That freed us up to spend many nights “camped out” in the treehouse–for what teenage boy would choose a comfortable bed, when sleeping on a wood floor fifteen feet in the air was an option? Among cousins and friends we easily slept four or more.

Back then it wasn’t exactly a work of art, but it sure is now after forty years of Mother Nature massaging it into place. If you look closely, you can still see some of our dark green steps leading up the trunk of the tree to our homemade teenage hangout.

To see a picture of the treehouse in its original splendor, click here.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Benjamin Franklin

The Fridge

A few weeks ago, our twenty-one-year-old son was standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open. He gazed at the interior for quite a while, pondering what to have. And then he gazed some more.

From the kitchen table, I said in what I thought was a fairly measured tone, “Shut the refrigerator.”

He did and then said, “I notice that when I stand at the refrigerator, you seem to get tense if I leave the door open too long.”

One of our daughters was in the room and added, “Yeah, I noticed that too.”

Then our son asked, “What’s that about?”

“It wastes energy,” I answered.

“It seems like there’s more to it than that,” replied my son, no attitude, just curiosity.
I thought a moment and said, “There is.”

“When I was a kid, it really bothered Grandpa when I stood with the refrigerator open, and I didn’t know why either, other than that it wasted electricity. And I also thought there was more to it than that.”

I wondered at the time, “What’s the big deal if the door is open for another five seconds?” Gradually, I learned to be quick when I opened the fridge, or at least when he was in the room.

I seemed to have carried his concern forward with my own kids. It does waste energy to leave the door open too long, and I should get a few points for being environmentally green on that issue.

But I knew that wasn’t the real reason that my dad wanted that door shut as soon as possible. The world he grew up in held many uncertainties.

My dad was born in 1920, in Wichita, Kansas, nine years ahead of the Great Depression and eleven years ahead of the Dust Bowl. His dad was in the worst war in history, until the war my dad was in at twenty-one. Both were forever changed by these wars, and both lost many friends during wartime.

Gradually, I understood that my dad’s desire to save money was a big part of the world he grew up in, and that’s why he didn’t like the refrigerator door left open. Though he had a successful career, he held the milk bottle aloft until the last drop fell into the glass.

I feel blessed by my dad’s and grandfather’s sacrifices for us and thankful for the values they passed on to me, values of hard work and character, love of family and loyalty to friends and country. A healthy dose of frugality is certainly one of those values too-a small price to pay for all the rest.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
English Idiom

Clueless

I have always been a keen observer of people, places and things, as I find all three endlessly fascinating. You definitely want me on your team, if you’re going to play Trivial Pursuit or Charades, particularly if you need expertise on song lyrics, historic events and dates.

So, imagine my shock when this week I learned something that has been in front of me on a daily basis, for perhaps decades, that I’ve never noticed.

You may think I’m a moron when I tell you, and if you haven’t noticed it either, you may think we’re both morons. But before we beat ourselves up too much, I’d like to point out something else that virtually no one notices, the number of stairs in your office or home that you climb every day. Of course, there is no need to notice these things, but you probably couldn’t tell anyone how many panes of glass are in your kitchen window either.

Anyhow, I was driving along in a rental car with my friend Matt Davis and needed to stop to fill up the tank, before we dropped off the car at the Reno-Tahoe Airport. I did notice that they have changed the name of the airport from Hubbard Field to Cannon International to Reno-Tahoe International, over many years. I told you to pick me for Trivial Pursuit!

As we drove into the gas station, Matt must have noticed me looking into the driver’s side rear-view mirror. He asked me, “Do you know how to tell which side the gas flap is on?” I replied, “You look down the side of the car through the driver’s side window.” Implied in my response was that if you see the flap, you win, and if you don’t, it’s on the other side.

Sometimes you just can’t see the flap. I know where the cap is on my car, but I forget where the flap side on my wife’s car and have often driven up to the gas pump from the wrong side. If this happens to you, you can still make the gas hose stretch awkwardly to the other side of the car. I’ve done that too, feeling a bit foolish all the while.

If you’ve had this same experience, your life is about to be changed forever when you see Matt’s reply. He said, “Every car in the world has a little arrow on the left or right side of the image of a gas pump in the middle of the gas gauge on the dash, which indicates which side the flap is on.”

How long this has been going on and why no one has mentioned it to me before? I don’t know.

Perhaps everyone else thinks it’s pretty obvious.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot,
and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
George Carlin

Road Rage

I don’t know if you have noticed this, but some of our fellow drivers can get a little tense out there when things don’t go their way. And if we are somehow connected to that tension, a small percentage of that group will acknowledge our connectedness by giving us a rather passionately delivered one-digit salute. This is occasionally followed by extended and repeated leaning on their car horn and, simultaneously, a desire to get their car as close to ours as possible.

I salute these enraged drivers, but not in a way that you might expect. Rather than employing just one digit, I use my arm in a genial wave that essentially says, “I acknowledge my part in your descent into temporary insanity and take full responsibility with all appropriate apologies and earnest intention never to send you into uncontrolled fits again.” That seems to do the trick, most of the time, and quickly soothes the enraged beast.

I admit I am tempted to return like for like, but do my best to allow these unhinged ones to pass on by with the least further engagement with me.

On occasion, I will notice another driver suddenly racing up from behind, in preparation to engage me in the manner aforementioned about some offense, of which I’m unaware. In these circumstances, at the precise moment that they draw even with me, I hit my brakes just slightly, and they whip by me like a slingshot with little or no engagement.

My aim, frankly, is to give as much courtesy and patience to all my fellow drivers. It seems to me a great opportunity to practice patience, which is a useful skill for other areas of my life, such as parenting. This is also an opportunity to love my neighbor, even when they aren’t being so lovable. Who knows what’s going on in their lives at the moment, so I bless them and move on.

Occasionally, I admit that I too honk at cars next to me and give them a one digit salute. But that’s when I see a really cool classic car cruising along in the slow lane, and the digit I use is my thumb in an upward position.

That always gets a friendly wave back.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find,
knock and it will be opened to you.”
Matthew 7:7

What do you want to be when you grow up?

My maternal grandmother, Vera Hawley McMurrin, lived about a mile away from me, when I was a kid, and was a whiz at math and English. As a young woman, she had been the bookkeeper for her father’s company, The Los Angeles Rock and Gravel Company, founded in 1914. That is also where she met my grandfather, Rulon, in 1916.

Grama, as we called her, was a highly accomplished painter and sculptor too, but where she really excelled was being the best grandmother on the planet. Everyone adored her. She was grandmother even to my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. She personified love and kindness.

When any of us cousins argued with each other, I remember her saying gently, “Now, don’t quarrel,” and somehow that antiquated phrase settled us down. Maybe I should try that on my kids.

Grama lived next door to my aunt and uncle, and often I dropped in to visit her. I remember knocking on her door one day, when I was nine or ten. She answered the door and asked me out of the blue what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitation, I answered, “A writer.” I was as surprised as she at that reply, as I had no idea that I was going to say that, but, in retrospect, I kind of liked the sound of it.

Most of my reading, up to that point, had been comic books, song lyrics and Hardy Boys mysteries. I didn’t give writing much thought after that conversation with Grama, but when I became an English major, I really fell in love with words and books.

I liked that you could say the same thing a thousand different ways. Unlike math, which had only one right answer, words had infinite right answers and possibilities, and I was hooked.

Still, I didn’t consider myself to be a writer, because, as an English major, mostly you read and write about the works and lives of other writers. I thought of writing only in terms of literature, in other words, fiction, and felt no inspiration to write a novel.

But that is when I really learned how to think and communicate verbally and in written form. You could say, I also learned that from being the second youngest of ten cousins. The only way I was going to get my way with most of them was to talk them into it, by using words, not physical power.

Years later, having become a father, our son John asked for bedtime stories, and I began to tell the stories of my life and family. Telling those stories brought out the writer in me. I have the joy of my family to thank for that, from my grandparents through to my children, and, looking forward, to my hoped-for grandchildren.

My grandmother sowed many seeds of love and purpose in me. I will always be grateful for that and for her faith in me.