Journeying with My Father

In the midst of such dark and omnipresent stories from around the world, I want to share some very pleasant and uplifting thoughts.

Recently, on Veteran’s Day, I wrote about my father and the men he served with in Guadalcanal during WWII. Their unit was CASU 11, an acronym for Carrier Aircraft Service Unit. To my great surprise, not long after writing that article, I heard from a man whose father also served in the same unit. Not only that, he sent me pictures of my father and his buddies during their time overseas. I had met many of these men as seniors, but had never seen my father nor them as young men during their duty on the island. What a wonderful gift that brought tears to my eyes. This is one of the photos of my father.

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Just recently I heard from another man whose father also served in CASU 11 during that time and he also had great information and photos to share. The three of us are now in contact and learning more about our father’s service and experiences. I know our fathers and their buddies would be very pleased.

If you read my last blog, you know my wife Trisha and I recently returned from a wonderful travel adventure to Australia. Every day, and more so when I’m given the chance to do something special such as traveling to a foreign land, I give thanks to my late father and mother for their efforts in providing for our family. My father worked both days and nights for thirteen years to establish his business. I was thirteen when we took our first vacation, a trip to my aunt’s house in the northwest. While in Australia, I wondered each day what my father would think about such an adventure, and I often silently thanked him for providing me the opportunity of education and confidence to pursue my dreams.

For those who travel, you know one of the best things about it is the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. This last trip was no exception and we met several wonderful folks. In one such instance, as my wife and I were walking around the Circle Quay toward the Sydney Opera House, we stopped to sit on a bench and take in the sights. In just a moment an Australian couple named Chris and Kathryn sat down next to us and a conversation ensued. They were a very charming and energetic couple and we seemed to have much in common. At one point, Chris began to tell us about his father. It was as if he was describing my father. He then expressed his gratitude for all his father had done to give him opportunity to live such a wonderful life. He was expressing the very thoughts I have always carried about my father.

As we said good-bye, we exchanged emails and learning about a poem Chris wrote about his father, I asked for permission to share it with the readers of my blog. He graciously accepted. I know many of you will appreciate and relate to his eloquent words.

 

Journeying with My Father

 

I wish my Father, now long gone, was on this journey with me,

to show him all the sights which I am privileged to see.

As a young man he departed his birth land, on a great adventure,

and settled here, as a dedicated Australian, until his life was over,

never, even after 41 years, returning to his town of origin,

nor fully exploring his adopted land within.

 

I feel sad for my Father because he missed the opportunity

to travel about, with his wife, in this contrasting country.

He saw only some parts of it before he settled down

to spend his life working hard for us, in a new hometown.

No matter how difficult it was to raise all his progeny,

this Dad kept striving to be better, so he could help his family.

 

My Father would love to see the crocodiles and birds,

describing them with his flourishing style and descriptive words.

He would explain to all of us, these wonderful sights we saw

because he would have read and learned of them some time before,

using his inquisitive mind that searched for what was good

until he knew what to say concisely, as only he could.

 

I would show my Father all the gaps and gorges

that are fractured by, then carry, the water of the rivers.

He would marvel at the coastline that is sculptured by the ocean,

and look across these seas to remember his immigration,

giving him closure to his wandering journey,

and allowing his curiosity to appreciate this country.

 

He searched for meaning, St Paul his favourite, by doing lots of reading,

and encapsulated what he learned in cryptic little sayings.

His best, I often heard, and one I try to live by too

was, “Duty before Pleasure,” which I agree is wise and true.

So to show my Dad these sights I’ve seen, and have him hear each sound

would help him be effusive to his children gathered round.

 

When I think it’s only me who is seeing all there is,

he would no doubt remind me with these wise words of his,

“I see with your eyes now because you are my son

who has done his duty, as I tried, and now our pleasure can come.

In your leisure I live my time afresh, seeing you as a man,

and I rest in peace journeying with you, as now I can.”

 

Chris T Relf

 

eiffel tower

Trisha and John Parker

 

Tips For Seniors Traveling Abroad

Having recently returned from an incredible travel adventure to Italy and France, I thought it might be beneficial to share a few travel tips for those considering such a trip.

1. If you plan on driving while in a foreign country, make sure you check in with your insurance agent. In most cases they will advise you to purchase additional coverage from the rental car company in the country you are visiting. This is important because when renting a car in the U. S., if your coverage is like mine, the rental car’s coverage is typically not necessary.

2. When possible, book a hotel in the middle of the cities you want to visit. Most foreign countries have rapid transit much better than ours and you can travel easily through most of them. Often, the entire country is connected by efficient rail systems. On our recent trip to Italy, we became very familiar with the Milan train station as we traveled through it several times. Of course, the way most foreign cities have been centrally designed, once there, you can walk to most of your destinations.

3. Because we are all connected to our smart phones, don’t feel you have to get expensive extended coverage while abroad. Most hotels, restaurants, coffee houses, etc., have free Wifi. To stay in communication back home, we simply sign up for a $10 universal texting plan. It gives you peace of mind in case you need to contact a family member or friend. Otherwise, forget you have a phone and enjoy your trip.

4. As a senior, there is a registration program the U. S. government offers that will also provide an extra sense of security while abroad. Here is the link for registration. This will give your family members an extra way to communicate with you in case of emergency. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

5. Take your personal safety and security seriously. In most countries you will visit, you probably won’t have to worry about major crime. The fact is, petty crime such as pick pockets, etc., exists in all cities. Keep your passport, credit cards, cash, travel tickets, and I.D. in a hidden travel belt. I have always resisted this suggestion, but during our long recent trip, I decided to wear one and found it quite convenient.

6. If you have any other questions about your health and safety in a country you plan to visit, here are two more links that will keep you informed:

Current Travel Warnings and Current Travel Alerts

Bon Voyage

 

Older and Wiser

Having just returned from a month-long travel adventure, I’m struggling to get back into the swing of a normal life. My wife Trisha and I were very blessed to have experienced the trip of a lifetime. Nearly four weeks in Italy and two brief days in Paris. I am no longer John, I’m Giovanni.

I hope to share some highlights of our trip in future blogs, but only after we have reviewed the 1,400 photos (it’s true) my wife took, and the four hours of video I shot. Our sons are actually in the process of drawing straws to see who will brave to visit first and be subjected to the media barrage.

Interestingly, my most enduring recollections are not the snow-covered Swiss Alps framing beautiful Lake Como, nor the moon hovering over the romantic bay of Positano on the Amalfi coast. For me, it was our travel companions, fellow travelers we met along the way, friends we visited in their home country, and all the other interesting people we met in chance encounters that made us richer for the experience.

As usual, every time we travel outside the U. S., I’m always struck by the realization that people are very much the same all over the world. I understand that’s not a novel nor profound observation, but it’s a consistent impression with each venture to new lands. All of us want nothing more than to live in peace and enjoy life. We were fortunate on this trip to have had hours of conversations and good times with people we encountered along the way, each of whom served to enrich our experience.

First of all, after one week on our own in southern Italy, we were joined in Milan by dear friends and travel companions Lyn and Herb. Now, after several trips, more  like sisters and brothers, we shared both adventures and numerous hours in ristorantes, pizzerias, trattorias, and bars, laughing, discussing history, trivia, solving world problems, and simply gazing out at the beautiful areas we visited. 

It seemed in every place we traveled, from tourist to inn keeper, local to shop owner, most everyone was personable and interesting. In fact, one such  memorable experience came one night at a local ristorante we frequented in Verenna on Lake Como. I had the good fortune of ordering a delicious plate of smoked salmon ravioli. After everyone sampled, Trisha asked the owner if she might learn how to cook this heavenly dish. He invited her to report for duty the next night before the dinner service began. When she arrived the next evening, the chef not only taught her how to cook the dish, she actually prepared our dinner. The owner and server took great pride as the dish was served, proud of their student.

There were many other interesting people we met along the way. While we didn’t get the names of everyone, we did share information with several. To name a few: Al and Marsha, Matt and Debbie, Robert and Kim, Australians Greg and Ingrid with son Harry, Al and Martha, Rock and Paula, Frederick from the south of France, Australians Larry and Nina with friends Greg and Theresa, John and Barb, Australians Martin and Roxanne (who gave us lots of travel tips), Scott and Valerie, Joe and Donna, Brian and Kim, newly wed Australians Brook and Sam, horse breeder Mimmo from Positano, Italian train traveler Alexia from London, and engaged couple Amit and Sonal who graciously interrupted their romantic afternoon along the Seine in Paris and offered to take our picture with Notre Dame cathedral in the background.

An especially memorable part of our trip came when we visited the Lake Garda area of Italy. Our friends, Italian entertainer Maurizio and his lovely wife Danna, actually rented a van and picked us up at the train station. The van was essential given all of our luggage. They entertained us at their beautiful 800 year old home, part of the castle grounds in their small town. They also shared their favorite eateries where we all sampled the local wines and cuisine. Graciously, they also drove us to incredibly scenic and historic areas of the lake. They even awakened early on our last day and drove us to the Verona airport. We cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and generosity.  

I’m sure you get the idea by now. With all the history, beauty and art that surrounded us, it was the personal connections we found the most meaningful. Trisha and I are renewed, encouraged, and profoundly blessed to have had such an adventure. I’m hopeful we will take from our experiences and bring the same spirit and optimism into our daily lives here at home. Becoming a bit wiser as we grow older is a worthy goal.

Seems like we just got home and another adventure is about to begin. I truly believe I’m working harder in retirement than I ever did before. Not complaining, just thinking out loud.

Last week, we awoke and heard the space shuttle was about to fly over the bay area. Now we have a rule, for good or bad, we try not to miss any exciting opportunities that come our way. Unfortunately, we had been up very late the night before, and I looked at a drowsy Trisha and said, “Well, are we going to go see it?” She smiled and said, “Of course.” Within a few minutes we were in the car, rubbing the sand out of our eyes and eating breakfast bars and juice we had grabbed on the fly.

As we headed along the highway, Trisha asked me where I was planning to see the shuttle. I had no idea. The radio wasn’t much help and I determined that news stations are not what they used to be. They were running lots of commercials but had few details.

Once my breakfast began to take effect, and I heard the shuttle was nearing Sacramento, being an old Air Force type I knew whoever was flying that plane would fly right over the top of any Air Force base in the area. With Travis AFB to our north, I began to figure out the possible flight path. I took the next exit to a small winding two lane road through the hills that I’d only been on once before. I wasn’t sure if there would be a turnout, but finally found one just over the summit. A few minutes later, two men pulled up behind us and yelled, “Here it comes.” Over the hill came the majestic NASA 747 with the shuttle Endeavor affixed to its back. Both shimmered in the sunlight as we cheered like children and realized we had the best seats in the house. It was a thrilling and historic moment.

As we get older, it’s easy to lose our sense of wonder and simply seek comfort. But the rewards of pushing a little harder are often well worth the effort. It was certainly worth it on this day and we hope to keep pushing for some time to come.

I’m still editing my photos, but promise to publish them in a future blog.

Media News

Trisha’s Dishes, is being featured in the October issue of 110 Magazine. It’s a beautiful layout with some of Trisha’s most delicious recipes. Needless to say, I’m very proud of her. Here is the link to their online version:

October Issue, 110 Magazine

In other news, Trisha and I have been named as the Keynote Speakers for the Successful Aging Expo to be held at the San Jose Convention Center on November 3. Would love to see you there and we plan on having great fun while meeting lots of people. Here is the link for more information:

Successful Aging Expo

Nothing Like a Road Trip

Wow! Just returned from a road trip. Not exactly like Albert Brooks and his wife in Lost in America, but I think we may have touched an Indian or two.

Fact is, if you haven’t driven across parts of this beautiful country in a while, I suggest you consider doing so. We left California and spent two days driving through the beautiful deserts and mountains of Nevada and Arizona. We took our time to enjoy the wonderful scenery.

Our primary destination was Santa Fe, New Mexico and the yearly Arts Festival celebration. We were invited guests of Trisha’s aunt and uncle who live in this unique city. Also on hand were her cousin and husband, and one other cousin who was also in town for a visit. We took in the festival, including food from the numerous street vendors (my favorite was the freshly made funnel cake), and got a private walking tour of the city from Trisha’s cousin and husband. Great fun topped off by a dinner at one the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever experienced and an incredible barbecue on our last night. 

 

After our three-day stay we set sail for a brief visit with good friends in southern Arizona. Given our time schedule, and picking up an extra hour due to the time difference, we were able to click off another item on our lengthy bucket list. We stopped at the incredible Kartchner Caverns State Park and were able to take the tour through one of the most amazing places on earth. If you haven’t heard about this place, check it out online. We didn’t have reservations, but they were kind enough to squeeze us in.

 

As anticipated, our short visit with old friends refreshed us and produced the fun and laughter (not to mention great food) that we always enjoy when together. It was then on to Phoenix. I didn’t know I was going to experience one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Let me explain. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, I naturally became a Dodger fan. As a young boy when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, I would listen to Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully under the covers with my transistor radio. Often, as he would begin a game-winning home run call, I would let out a yell that would send my parents running to my room. As I got older, I continued listening to and watching Vin call the games. After my military service and marriage, my wife and children all became big fans. One of our sons actually became a professional baseball player.

Well, when we got to Phoenix last week, our oldest son who travels with the Dodgers as a senior producer for Fox, invited my wife and I to dinner at Chase field and then arranged for tickets behind home plate. That was wonderful and we had a fantastic time.

Better yet, before the game, our son had us come to his hotel, the same hotel the Dodgers were staying. When we met him in the lobby, we got to see and meet several players and broadcasters. Then it happened. I saw Vin Scully approaching and our son went to him and said he would like to introduce his parents. No teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber could have felt such excitement. Not since Chris Matthews heard Barack Obama speak has anyone experienced such a thrill.

I should explain to those of you who don’t know much about the Dodgers, Vin Scully is 84. This is his sixty third year as their broadcaster. He has been in the Hall of Fame forever and ten years ago was voted the Sportscaster of the Century. He was everything I had imagined. Full of life, charming, and extraordinarily friendly. My wife is still smiling at my reaction. I’ve tried to explain that I grew up listening to Vin. I introduced my children to the same experience. I’ve spent thousands of hours in a one-way conversation for most of my life. It was my turn to tell Mr. Scully he had been a member of my family for over fifty years. At the close of our wonderful conversation, I told him about listening under covers as a child and waking up my parents. In typical fashion, being the humble man he is, Vin just smiled and said, “I put a lot of people to sleep that way.” What a day!

If that wasn’t enough, we extended our trip a couple of days in order to meet and spend time with our friend and Italian entertainer Maurizio and his lovely wife Danna in Las Vegas. If you want to have a good time, introduce an entertainer who lives in a small Italian village to Las Vegas for the first time. It was like taking a little child to the circus. Or like a grown man meeting his childhood idol.

www.TheBestofOurLives.com

Bodies In Motion

One of the things my wife Trisha and I have tried to do since we retired is to stay active. If you’ve seen the commercial for one of the health care companies that talks about senior health, they use a physics metaphor by saying: “A body at rest stays at rest, a body in motion stays in motion.”

Obviously, this is not a new revelation. But as Trisha and I caution in our book and public presentations, as a senior it’s very easy to get into a rut. That may feel comfortable for a while, but in the long run it’s detrimental for both the mind and the body. Besides, as has often been said, “this is not the dress rehearsal, this is your life.” There are things to do, people to see, knowledge and skills to learn, causes to champion – well, you get the idea. One of our favorite activities since we retired is visiting and reconnecting with old friends and family, and meeting as many new people as we can. I must say Trisha is much better at connecting with new people, but it’s something we both enjoy.

If we weren’t sold before on the idea of getting up and going, connecting with old and new friends and family, this last week was all we needed to remind us how it can benefit our lives. Let me share some highlights of our week:

On the first day of a road trip, we stopped in and took lunch to my aunt, the last living relative of my late father’s family in that generation. She is home-bound due to poor health and we had a very heart warming visit. We showed her pictures of new grandchildren and reminisced about favorite memories. It was a wonderful visit.

Next, we were off to Arizona. While driving through Phoenix, we decided to take in some of the local sites. As sports nuts, we wanted an upclose look at their beautiful sports stadiums. After that, we had heard there was a memorial for those who had died on the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor, so we went looking for that site. Well, there was much more. We found the memorial in a park that honored veterans of several wars. It was very beautiful and dignified. The Arizona memorial actually had one of the ship’s anchors and the ship’s mast which is pictured below. In the other picture, Trisha is standing in front of their Korean War Memorial.

Probably because it was quite warm (O. K., downright hot), there was only one other couple at the memorial. He was wearing an Air Force hat, and being an Air Force veteran myself, we began to chat. It turns out this man makes memory bears for the families of fallen veterans. Trisha and I had only recently become acquainted with memory bears when hospice presented us with bears made from the clothing of my late mother and father. What a wonderful and lasting treasure. If anyone reading this would like to contact MSGT Charles R. Leon and his Fallen Warrior Bears/AZ Hearts for Heroes, his email is:

azheartsforheroes@yahoo.org  

I know how much our family memory bears mean to us, and I also know the families of these fallen heroes must truly appreciate the work Charles does on their behalf. I also know he operates solely on donations and hopefully some readers might be able to help his efforts.

As we continued our trip into Tucson, I had arranged to meet with my cousin Mary and her husband Rick. It had been several years since we had gotten together and our lunch turned into a couple of hours. Great memories of family were shared and we were able to give Mary a box of photos my mother had collected for her before she passed away in March. Wonderful people and we promised not to go so long without another visit.

Next, we made our way to visit friends Susan and Lee. Because they live in a scenic and crafts-filled area of Arizona, we definitely made the rounds. Spice shops, fabric shops, copper mine, historic missions, restaurants, dining on Susan’s great meals (this woman knows how to cook), swimming (actually, more cooling off and talking) in the pool, and pleasant conversations under the Arizona night sky. A relaxing and fun few days with good friends. 

On one of our excursions, we were about to visit the historic Mission Tumacacori, a National State Park, when Susan and Lee asked if we had our “Geezer Passes.” They then informed us that for $10, anyone 62 or over can obtain a senior lifetime pass that allows that senior and their party entrance into any National Park. What a deal. We signed up and got our passes. Here is a link for anyone interested:

 U.S. National Park ServiceAmerica the Beautiful – The National Parks and Feder

Below are Susan and Trisha enjoying the scenic and serene beauty of Mission Tumacacori.

 

 

As a former radio talk show host and recipient of the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, Lee now keeps very busy writing a very interesting and provocative political blog. For all you political types, don’t miss his daily commentary on:

www.radiorodgers.com 

Back on the road, we headed north again to Phoenix. We were in for another treat. My late mother had a life-long friend with whom she stayed in constant contact. This wonderful lady, who happened to be celebrating a birthday in another state on the day we arrived, has a daughter I had not seen since she was six years old. She and her  husband met us for lunch and it was a sensational afternoon. While Kathy and husband Bronson are much younger, we had many things in common. He is currently active Air Force, the same branch in which I served. They told us later they were looking at us thinking that would be them in the future, and Trisha and I admitted we could see ourselves in them when we were younger. Great couple and we hope to get together again soon. 

 

For those still reading (bless you), our next stop was Palm Desert. My cousin Bob and his wife Nancy are two of our favorite people in the world. We spent the night out at a great Italian restaurant, laughing and having a wonderful time. Back at their place, as always, they allowed us their guest room for the night. In the morning Nancy, one of the world’s best chefs, fixed a delicious breakfast and we were off again.

Once in Southern California, we connected with oldest son Michael and our three grandchildren there. After an afternoon at the best pizza place I’ve ever been, we went back to Mike’s for a fun night. On Father’s Day, we headed to Dodger Stadium for a sensational extra inning game in which our team won. The stadium was packed and it was little Charlie’s first game. Lot’s of high fives, cheering, and Dodger Dogs. Great kids and we loved every minute. I honored my dad by wearing the same jersey he wore when he threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium two years ago.

We considered stopping for the night, but then decided to drive all the way home. We arrived around 11:00. The relationships of the week, some old and some new, were special. While Trisha and I know we will slow down as time passes, as long as we can we hope to be “bodies in motion.”

www.TheBestofOurLives.com

Family Roots Can Inspire

As we grow older we can easily become very set in our ways. Routine makes life simpler and therefore more predictable and easier to navigate. Sometimes it’s beneficial to shake things up a bit. Over the last week plus, my wife Trisha and I took an opportunity to explore our family roots in the mid-west and found it to be an inspiring adventure.

The family of Trisha’s late mother was having a family reunion in Kansas. It’s not a part of the country we often visit, but this was a special event and we took full advantage. The pace of the mid-west is much slower and the scenery much different from what we’re used to seeing. Where else can you see a train track that simply stops in the middle of nowhere or a state road that actually comes to an end.

As we settled in, we began to enjoy the lifestyle and at the reunion got to visit with scores of family members, some of whom we had never met. We also got to know many of their children and grandchildren. It was truly a mid-western experience. If you’ve lived in the mid-west or have family there, you know what I’m talking about. These folks have little pretense, say what they mean and mean what they say. They are short on fancy, big on family, and generous with their time and good food. Only a few of the grandkids had their faces in iPhones. Conversation and simple games were plenty for most everyone. Sunday was church and then back to the reunion. The only difficulty encountered was after the reunion ended when we had to find a place to eat after 8:00. The sidewalks really do pull up pretty early.

Beyond the reunion, Trisha and I had great fun exploring our roots by trying to find locations where the past generations of our families lived. It was extraordinary traveling gravel and dirt roads for miles and miles hoping some of the wood farm houses, brick schools, and old churches had survived. With the Memorial Day weekend in the middle of our visit, it was heartwarming to see the way in which these wonderful people celebrated and honored those that served and their many loved ones who had gone before. We got very caught up in the patriotism that was on display.

In Trisha’s case, one of her uncles helped us locate an old farmhouse many miles out-of-town that was the birthplace of her great-grandfather. He had stayed and raised his family there. His two brothers eventually had farms just off that same road.

 

Even more interesting for Trisha was finding a very small one-story building that seemed to have just been dumped at the intersection of two gravel roads. We found out this small box of a building used to be a general store in another town many, many years ago. It was transported to the location we discovered and used as a home by her grandfather, grandmother, and their eight children. Trisha’s mother being the oldest. 

In my case, my father was also born and raised in Kansas. Trisha and I decided to try to find some of the little places he used to live and go to school. Again, we were back on gravel and dirt roads. Having lived in California for most of my life, its still hard to believe there are actual towns located on dirt roads in the U. S. We found what was left of these little towns, although almost all the businesses are now gone. In fact, in one of the small towns, we discovered the bank that was founded in 1900 was closing it’s doors the day after our visit. I remembered the stories my father had told me about the small town and how, when he was one year old, the bank was robbed by one of the famous gangs of the time. It’s a story I have been able to verify.

 

I stood for a long time in front of the brick building that was my father’s school. The interior has now collapsed, but the brick structure still stands. I could envision him being dropped off from the family horse-drawn wagon in the mornings. I imagined the laughter coming from the basement where he played basketball, a respite from his hard chores on the farm. I walked around the tall weeds in back where I know he used to run the bases of their improvised baseball field.   

 

We had found some of our roots and I know we are better for it.

 

 

www.TheBestofOurLives.com