Thursday, June 11, 2009

I REMEMBER..."Big Red" - My Volkswagon Bus Volkswagon Bus - "Big Red." I loved that van. It was an all-purpose vehicle. I hauled plywood, tools, people, furniture, and went camping in it. It was my first NEW vehicle, and I drove it to Mazatlan, Mexico, the first week I owned it. I had the first 1,000 mile check-up at a Volkswagon factory in Mexico. Stayed in a little hut on the beach south of Mazatlan for quite awhile. Fished every day; had a great time.

Back in Chico, California (99 miles north of Sacramento - I graduated CSUC in 1969), I had various jobs from running the Italian Cottage Restaurant, working at Kramore Inn, etc. Most of the time I had my own business as a carpenter and a leather worker. Leather worker stories (Lone Eagle Leather) later. While I was a carpenter, I worked on a great three-story Victorian (built for a college student by her parents - nice), helped build the Redwood Forest retail store in a downtown mall, remodeled Ron's S.F. Flowers flower shop, Sundance Records record store, Bird in Hand Gallery, a couple of homes, a big 6,000 square foot mansion and caretakers quarters/barn in Woodside, CA (lovingly referred to as the home to Horses & Porches) and worked on my 40-foot houseboat in Walnut Grove, California (yet another story). I hauled my table saws and tools and lumber in Big Red. Never had a problem.

Side bar: I once bought a quarter ton of walnut slab scraps from a gun stock manufacturer in Chico. I hauled that pile of walnut from house to house, storage to storage for years, thinking I would someday make valuable things out of it (clocks, I think, was the original idea). All of that was accomplished with Big Red. After close to five years of hauling that wood around, I eventually used it as firewood in my fireplace...ha.

Went camping often to the north coast of California in the Ft. Bragg area many times and slept in Big Red when it was foggy and cold. Caught many a good fish--but never a cold. Picture of successful fishing trip attached.

Before I was a carpenter, I had many fun and successful years as a leather worker in Chico. I used Big Red to go to San Francisco and Berkeley for leather supplies and Haight Ashbury trips (used as a very loose term here). More stories to come later about those days, if I can remember them. (My sister, Sharon, says that if you can remember the 60's, you weren't really there.) Anyway, I bought a radial arm saw to manufacture belt racks from redwood to help convince retail store owners to carry my line of leather belts and so got hooked on carpentry. Leather evolved into wood. Big Red was perfect for both ventures.

All things have a beginning and an end. Good times and bad. The one thing you can always count on is that whether times are good or bad, they will eventually end. The beginning of Big Red's life I took him to Mexico for quite an adventure and throughout the leather and woodworking years, I never had a problem.

I was commuting between Chico and Walnut Grove (on Snodgrass Slough in the Sacramento River Delta) on a regular basis. I co-owned a house in Chico with friend Bob Crowe. I learned the hard way about the downside of living in and remodeling a house simultaneously. We had every room torn up and half finished for a very long time. Sheetrock dust and sawdust was in everything. By the time we eventually finished it, we had turned it into a rental and eventually sold it to break even on the investment.

On weekends, I would travel to Walnut Grove to work on the houseboat (was thinking I would become a houseboat builder and write a book about it--and travel to Amsterdam to check out the world famous houseboat community there...never did...but it was a temporarily good dream). I traveled back to Chico one fateful weekend and (thank God) unloaded all my tools at the house and set off through the middle of downtown Chico, headed to the lumberyard. The cool thing about Volkswagen buses is that they had a notoriously good Porsche engine block and except for an occasional minor flaw, ran forever and a day with no problems. The minor flaw was that the fuel line would occasionally become detached while in motion and spew fuel all over the hot engine block, causing a weird little "POOF" explosion, just loud enough to get your attention...followed by a lot of fire and an exceedingly large amount of smoke in, say, two seconds. Fortunately for me, I was traveling down Main Street, Chico, at about ten miles an hour, when it was Big Red's final moment. I slammed on the brakes, jumped out, and ran from store to store on Main Street, looking for a fire extinguisher. By the time I found one, poor old Red was engulfed totally in flames. Even the tires were on fire. Someone had called the fire department, and when the firetruck eventually pulled up, it was too late for Red. As they arrived, a rather memorable last hurray for Red happened. There was an electrical short and Big Red started up and started lurching down the street, full of smoke and flames everywhere. The firemen thought someone was still inside, trying to drive away. They were dragging the hose and running alongside, spraying it with foam and water. One fireman ran up and whacked the driver side window with an axe to see if someone was driving. As the fresh air hit the now broken window area, a small firestorm replaced the smoke and finished off old Red right there on the spot. Melted to the ground in the middle of Main Street. Note: I did not need the pictures someone took to convince the insurance company that it was to be declared a total loss. Rest in Peace, Big Red.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I REMEMBER - Cancer 1 Year Later year ago today I was in Vancouver on my last vacation for awhile. I had been diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer and had started my first Blog; Robert Welton: Another Day in Paradise. "On May 29, 2008 I was diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer. I created this blog to share my thoughts and sequence of events for family, friends and others that are experiencing the same "Inconvenience in Life." I have been blessed with a great life full of wonderful experiences, a caring family, a fabulous wife, outstanding children, good friends, and satisfying careers. Each day is truly: Another Day in Paradise."

A lot has happened since then - with Radiation and Chemo and a very difficult recovery period. I have much to be thankful for. Life is almost back to the "normal" that was a year ago. I am 20 lbs. lighter and have a significantly altered view of our most precious commodity...time [
the interval between events].

I have everything I ever wanted and have been everywhere I ever wanted to go and experienced just about all a person could hope for. The statement that one "can only go as high as they have been low" is relative to my life, in that I have had my share of lows, but also an abnormal amount of "highs". This Cancer experience was a new low, but has produced some extraordinary highs and inner observations. I sincerely appreciate the wealth I have amassed in family and friends, especially my wife Lise and my sister Sharon.

My bank account of Love is overflowing...and that is the best part of this latest bit of education in life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I REMEMBER- Jamaica Part 2 trip to Jamaica again. This us an update to the post from before. Finally found some photos to back up the claims made in the "bathrooms around the world" post.

Posted here is a picture of the couple I stayed with and their boat that they bought with a gift from Stephen from the Kramore Inn in Chico (see photo and story from a few days ago). Stephen turned me on to the spot in Strawberry Field, Jamaica, and to the couple I stayed with.

Herein is a picture of the infamous outdoor toilet in the jungle of Negril (see, I bet you didn't believe me).

The third picture is the banana orchard bathroom spot I referred to in the Jamaica post, and last, but not least, is a view from my room in the two-room hut (made from driftwood and Coca-Cola signs) that I shared with the couple in the first picture.

It is a million-dollar view for $0. A nice place on the cliff, overlooking the ocean, fresh fruit for the picking just outside their door, gorgeous weather ,and a view to die for out their window.

This was truly a family that had virtually nothing to their names but in actuality had everything.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I REMEMBER- Grandma Grace Stories Part 1

...talking to my Mom [Grace Margaret Chiles (Whitlock) Welton] after her first emergency trip to the hospital emergency room when she had serious problems breathing. She called it her "Dress Rehearsal" and how lucky she was to have the opportunity to focus on the last part of her life and attend to the business of getting things in order. She still didn't get every thing done, but got pretty close. She had a chance to say how much she loved the important people in her life and did a pretty fair job of tying up loose ends and categorizing things for Sharon (my sister) and me to handle after she was gone. Things were pretty well organized and easy to find ( after many, many weekends of closet and garage cleaning with help from her children) and she had lots of directions written down for us to follow (teachers are like that you know)....kind of like leaving lesson plans and homework for us. She considered herself blessed with the opportunity to have time between the "dress rehearsal" and the "final show". Not everyone gets that precious gift of time. So many people pass away "before their time" and leave unfinished business and unrequited relationships...people they never got around to saying "I love you" to and "I appreciated knowing you", etc.

I find myself going through a similar phase now. I shrugged off being diagnosed with Glaucoma a few years back. Later, I discovered I had heart valve issues and having to start a permanent regimen of pills to keep the a-fib in check was just a minor inconvenience (other than having to give up caffeine). My outlook was that my body parts warranties were just expiring along with my receding hairline and defective hearing and found it somewhat humorous, but it didn't slow me down. After this latest bout with Tonsil Cancer, I am somewhat close to admitting I just might be in the last portion of my turn on earth. Not morose, just insightful observation. I fully expect to live another 20 plus healthy years. I hope so, as I have a lot of loose ends to clean up.

I had far too much fun for one person to experience the first 3/4 of my life and although there are some regrets, I wouldn't trade much away for the fantastic experiences I have had. I went everywhere, did everything (some things more than twice), and accumulated a lot of "stuff" along with my memories and stories. I was in the "acquisition" mode for most of my life. I think mostly it was the satisfaction of "acquiring" vs. real need that has caused my bulge in excess cook books I loved when I bought them, but never read beyond one or two recipes. I was probably in one of my "blonde" moments and succumbed to the fact that it was pretty and shiny with a delicious looking cover. I am now considering selling-giving away all my cookbooks and getting a small laptop to keep in the kitchen and tune it into the food network or cooking .com.

I am consolidating all my photos and slides to jpgs and becoming a good philanthropist with Goodwill. I am tossing my slides, creating photo and cd albums for my kids and of course, this Blog - living forever on the internet and perhaps even in print. This Blog is a big part of my commitment to divest myself of stuff I can't take with me. I am hoping for a long experience of enjoying the "Zen" portion of my life...such as a single orchid and 3 stones vs crates of crap in my closets.

I found a box of my mom's things last weekend. In it was my mom's pre-internet version of the "Blog". She was a writer. Not much ever got written down, but when she did, it was beautiful and touched your heart. She had so much to share ( and used her turn to teach), but the budding writer never burst forth as she had imagined.

I found two of her spiral notebooks in a box. The first one said " Grandma Stories! It was a journal she wrote to chronicle her life stories for the grandkids (six at the time - pre Sarah Grace Loeffler Welton). There was about a half a page of some story about being a little girl on her daddy's farm. I think she was going to tell the story about her pet raccoon and the sugar cube her older brothers gave it to wash before eating. I loved that story, and although I loved my uncles, I was upset with the way they teased her pet raccoon.

I am not sure though, as the story stopped in mid sentence. She was probably interrupted or distracted by someone selling Girl Scout cookies at the front door; the notebook was put down somewhere in her "office" and never found again until last weekend. I chuckled and picked up the second notebook. It too was a spiral 8 1/2" by 11" and almost identical to the first. This one also said "Grandma Stories" on the cover. She must have given up finding the first one and just started over.

This time, she had written a two page prologue about who, what, when, where, why, and how she was going to accomplish this wonderful gift of her life's experiences. The next page was a cover page that stated in big colorful bold marker pen..."Grandma's Stories". The next 95 pages were blank.

I am now committed to writing my "Robert Welton Remembers Blog" as regularly as I can, with the time I have left (twenty years just about do it if I write fast and stick to it). I have already gotten past my "prologue".