Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Small town salutes veterans and fire engines

Betty Kaiser

My husband and I just returned from another 1800-mile marathon road trip. This one was all about grandchildren in Southern Calif. I mostly ride shotgun on these trips but this time I did about half of the driving. As the alternate designated driver I discovered that driving severely cramps my style as spotter of places to investigate and/or shop. i.e. landmarks and antique stores! But I still did good.

The small town of Anderson, Calif. is one of our favorite stopping spots. It’s a town much like Cottage Grove with a population of about 9,000 people. Until recently its biggest attraction for us was the good, home cooking at Vittles restaurant (liver and onions); the antiques at Marigold’s Shop; some historical fire engines; easy gasoline access and the Shasta Outlet Stores.

We often stay overnight at an RV Park south of Redding and make our way into Anderson the next morning. But we were driving our car this time so we checked into a local hotel and headed for dinner in 98° F. heat. We had a good meal at Vittles and were paying our bill when I noticed a brochure soliciting funds for “Anderson’s Veterans Walk of Honor.” Hmm. Interesting.

I asked the waitress where the veteran’s memorial was located and she said, “I really don’t know. People keep asking me. No one else seems to know either so I guess I’d better find out.” Memo to readers: Always know how to direct travelers to places of interest in your hometown and surrounding area.

Well, downtown Anderson is about half the size of Cottage Grove, so we figured that we could find the memorial. We drove slowly up and down the four-blocks-long town and sure enough, there it was­–tucked between the Firehouse Cocktail Lounge and Allen & Dahl Funeral Chapel. We parked across the street in front of the railroad tracks, exited the car and were hit by a blast of hot air. We began to wonder whether this was going to be worth the effort. It was.

Entering the gates of a transformed, formerly weed-infested vacant lot gave me chills. The tiny memorial park was just right. On either side of the entrance were Walls of Honor with nameplates honoring local veterans from many wars. At the end of a bricked walkway stood a 30-ft tall flagpole and a giant American eagle. Trees shade the area and there are benches for loved ones to sit and contemplate. In a busy world, it is a quiet and peaceful place.

Large three-ft. tall, concrete letters designate the areas representing veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. The glass Wall of Honor contains 300 brass-plated nameplates. Many families have two or three generations on the wall. The two oldest names in the park are from the Civil War and the Spanish –American War.

The Veteran’s Walk of Honor was dedicated on Dec. 18, 2011. It is a shining example of what can happen when the general public and government work together. Anderson, the community, wanted to honor its veterans and be sure that future residents remembered them. So how did they afford this project in light of dwindling financial resources in this day and age?

According to a press release, one man was the brains behind the project. Assistant Manager and Public Works Director Jeff Kiser was credited for helping ensure the project’s success. It cost about $300,000 to prepare the property, plan and build the memorial. But the public contributed nearly $200,000 of that money through donations and fundraising benefits. The remainder of the money came from the city and a piece of property they sold.

The first Wall of Honor’s plaques are at capacity, so they are now building two more walls: Freedom and Liberty. The donation for the plaques is $100 for each veteran’s nameplate. It is a small price to pay to salute those who have given so much for so many. It is a gem of respect and honor often seen in small towns.

We saluted the veterans and reluctantly left the memorial, walking down the street, past scruffy empty bars and other businesses. We headed for Fire Hall No. 1. We like old fire engines and have visited this restored building (and its flag pole) many times. The bronze sign designating its history is also a trip down memory lane. It reads:


1946 Van Pelt Truck
“Originally constructed in 1903 on this site as a two-story building, the Anderson Fire Station was completed for a cost of $90 for used lumber and nails. Initial firefighting equipment included twelve buckets, four axes, three sections of hose and a hand drawn hose cart.

The first motorized fire equipment purchased for the station was a 1924 Dodge chemical truck, which was sold for scrap for the war effort in 1943. This was replaced by the 1941 and 1946 Van Pelt trucks, which are still housed in the station.”

Inside the building (behind glass doors) are the 1941 and 1946 Van Pelt Trucks. They sparkle as only fire engines can and the overhead sign reads: “Positively only firemen allowed on truck.”

As we drove away I reflected on the doomsayers that say small towns are dead. I don’t think so. They may be struggling but they’ve still got heart. We could tell that the heart of Anderson was still beating red, white and blue, because they had the foresight to preserve their gratitude for our veterans and a piece of town history in a visible manner. It’s the stuff this country is made of.

God bless the USA!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.


Graduation then and now

6/12/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

This column is dedicated to all the 2013 graduates of schools everywhere—with special kudos to my family’s graduates: Paul who is graduating from college; J.D. from high school; and Jeff, my oldest son, with a well-earned PhD from UCSD.

Every year I labor over what to say to a graduate about ready to spread his or her wings. Obviously, I’ve never said anything profound because I don’t remember a word I’ve written and I’m sure that the graduates don’t either. So instead of the usual graduation advice and admonitions, I’m offering a look at the differences and similarities between three generations.

The pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies has remained relatively the same over the decades. I graduated from high school in 1957.  A half century later, schools have similar speakers, music and class introductions. The official ceremony is usually preceded by an inspirational Baccalaureate service. (An amazing tradition since we all know how kids hate being preached to!)

This service is going to be especially interesting for J.D., my 18-year old, guitar-picking basketball-star-grandson. He is graduating from Templeton High School and his father (my youngest son) is going to preach the Baccalaureate sermon. John is a minister, used to speaking to crowds and a pretty funny guy so I don’t think he’ll say anything to embarrass his 6 ft 2 inches tall son or even make him squirm. But then again, one never knows.

Quite frankly, I barely remember my graduation ceremony and I don’t remember the Baccalaureate at all. Today’s teens will remember everything because their parents will be taking pictures and videoing. Back in the day we were lucky to have black and white film (no color) in Brownie Cameras with flash bulbs. And no one would ever have been rude enough to take photos during a public ceremony.

I do remember what I wore to the graduation—a white cap and gown over a skirt and matching sweater set with black pumps. I was not a straight “A” student like my grandsons because those darn math classes dragged my grade average down. I still remember my geometry teacher saying in a note to my parents: “Elizabeth is doing poorly and will fail unless she improves.” I was thrilled to bring my grade up to a passing “C” and somehow managed to still be awarded a Gold Seal on my diploma.

Paul, 23, is graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with honors and a major in Kinesiology. “What’s that?” you say. Well, it’s the study of human movement. It prepares students for careers in medicine and sports as occupational therapists, physical therapists, personal trainers and such. Unlike his grandmother he was able to excel in math and science classes. 

I think more is expected of today’s students than in my day. I had minimal homework in elementary school; an hour or so of homework in Junior High and maybe 2-3 hours of homework in high school. My grandsons started bringing home that much work when they were in elementary school. They looked like pack horses under their book laden backpacks. I actually felt sorry for them. (In the 1950s, we girls had boys to carry our books!)

Proms are different, too. My grandmother made a green taffeta dress with a scooped neckline and short sleeves for me to wear to my senior prom. Chuck sweetly pinned an orchid corsage on my shoulder. He wore a hand-me-down suit, brightly polished leather shoes and we had dinner at Chalon’s restaurant. Then we drove to the dance in his clean 1949 Ford hot rod (paint and engine in progress). We felt so grown up!  He had me home at precisely midnight.

My grandsons’ prom dates are often a group affair. Because the kids can’t drive each other around, they meet at someone’s house for dinner and (sometimes) ride to the prom in a limousine. The guys wear tuxedos and present their strapless-gown-wearing-dates with wrist corsages. J.D.’s parents served two couples dinner, beginning with shrimp cocktails! His date wore a bright mulberry colored gown trimmed in silver He added a purple vest, handkerchief, tie and a pink boutonnière to his tux to complement her gown. Très Chic!

Today’s graduates have an uphill battle to face that we didn’t have—the jobless market. My husband and I walked out of high school and right into entry-level jobs. I had never worked a day in my life when I applied for a job at the Broadway Dept. store. I was hired on the spot to train as an elevator operator and work after school. I practically danced out of the store earning the munificent sum of $1 an hour.

 My grandsons have learned to be creative entrepreneurs in their job searches. J.D. was a paid referee at sometimes six basketball games a weekend. Paul created quite a lucrative niche as a pet and house sitter. He later worked alongside trainers at college sporting events where he earned college credits. As a 20-year veteran teacher turned graduate student, Jeff earned his keep as an experienced teaching assistant (250 students per class) and computer advisor.

Now it’s time to move on so here’s just a little advice (you knew I would)… “Life changes. Deal with it. Expect the unexpected and roll with the punches. Don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up. Be flexible and learn from your mistakes. Stay positive and productive if you want to be happy and make the world a better place.” There's more but I'll stop for now.

Folks, if my sons and grandsons represent the current generation, our future is in good hands. Like so many others, they are bright, responsible and caring individuals. So congratulations all! You’ve made us proud. Now keep up the good work!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.