Spyglass Hill: Pebble Beach’s better half?

When you get the chance to play golf at Pebble Beach, you play there for the incredible scenery, for the amazing golf holes, and for the historic golf moments that have occurred there.  But once you have played the headline course, another great golf opportunity awaits at Spyglass Hill!

Pebble Beach’s main attraction can be “golf overload” for many a golfer the first time they play there. (Trust me on that one.)  Spyglass Hill tends to be a more relaxing golf day.

Spyglass offers a limited amount of the spectacular ocean scenery found at Pebble.  The visual background is nowhere near as dramatic; and once you get past the first five holes, you lose all view of the ocean.  Playing Spyglass is simply a more traditional, picture-perfect, immaculately manicured day of golf.

So the day after I almost choked over Pebble Beach, my brother and I set off for Round 2 at Spyglass Hill.  The weather started out very similar to the previous day at Pebble … cool, foggy, damp.

As we hit balls at the practice tee, the ocean layer fog and mist condensed on the trees overhead and dripped like rain.  As the day progressed the fog eased.  Though there was little sun, the day was comfortable, dry … perfect!

We met our caddy, Doug on the first tee and were paired with two friendly golfers, Pete and Tom, who maintained my perfect record of NEVER being paired with a jerk on a golf course!  Pete’s wife, Joanne, was our fifth and the groups’ unofficial photographer.

Yet another first … someone who walked through 18 holes of golf simply for the scenery and photo ops!

Your first impression of Spyglass Hill is how lush and wooded it is in contrast to the wide open ocean landscapes of its more famous neighbor.  The lush surroundings makes for better overall golf conditions.

At times Pebble Beach suffers from the effects of too much sun and not enough rain.  When we played there, some Pebble Beach fairways had recently gone through hair-plug-type treatments to remedy “pattern baldness” caused by a hot, dry summer.  No such issues were found at Spyglass.

Fairway on par 5 #1 (Treasure Island)  (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

The first five holes at Spyglass are the most dramatic – scenery wise – of the circuit, with panoramic views of lush forest green against sandy waste areas and the ocean beyond.  After #5 the course moves inland and upwards into the Del Monte Forest.  It’s easy to see how Spyglass differs from Pebble in these first 5 holes.

Looking down #2 (Billy Bones) from the green.

Number 2 is a 349-yard uphill par 4 that requires precision to avoid trouble surrounding the fairway.  Once you get the green at #2, you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean – Spyglass style, which is less dramatic than Pebble but just as beautiful.  The tee shot for the par 3 - 3rd hole (The Black Spot) is one of two Par 3s (#3 & #5) at Spyglass that play directly towards the ocean, although the Pacific is not in play on either hole.

Spyglass Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones in the 1960s; and the 345-yard (White tees) par-4 fourth hole (Blind Pew) is said to have been his favorite.  And it’s easy to see why.

The hole is neither long or treacherous; but the green is unique and requires precision to set up and execute the best approach.  The green is an estimated 20 feet wide on the back-end; but is as narrow as 8-10 feet on the front side.  The putting surface stretches about 60-75 feet, and quite literally snakes between several dunes and hillocks.

Not only is it an easy green to miss; if you hit it in the wrong spot, you could be looking at a meandering, incredibly long putt, assuming you even have line-of-sight to the hole.  This was easily my favorite hole as it played that day with the pin located at the green’s narrowest spot – the front.

Caddy Doug made his first “stroke saving” contribution here by coaching me through a delicate and tricky chip shot that had to land well off the green to stay on the green!

The back – or “wide” – end of 4th green at Spyglass. Note the thinner lower end trails off to left. (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

I hit one of my more memorable shots to the green at the par-3 #5 (Bird Rock) after chunking my tee shot into the sandy waste area short and left.  Caddy Doug talked me into an almost effortless recovery shot that resulted in a much appreciated bogey 4.

Spyglass Hill #5 (Bird Rock)

Part of my enjoyment for our round at Spyglass Hill was the fact that I was playing very well from the tees with driver in hand.  Out of 14 holes requiring driver or 3-wood off the tee, I hit 12 fairways; and one of those was a technical near-miss.  With woods all around, you need to be straight off the tees or frustration will reign!

My brother, Pat struggled a bit with his golf demon – the snap hook; but for the most part he was able to keep up with me.  Caddy Doug kept our heads in the game – especially on the back nine – by constantly hustling to position himself as fore caddy.

Many approach shots (more my undoing than those off the tees) have one – if not more – challenging aspects, be they an overabundance of sand or sentry duty performed by perniciously placed ponds.  That being said, I lost but a single ball to “water envelopment”, which for me was a minor accomplishment!

The greens are not full of the crazy, sea-driven breaks and bends found at Pebble Beach; but they present enough of a challenge that investing in a caddy can make a difference.  With that in mind, I highly recommend the services of our caddy, Douglas Allen Miller (dmiller52@live.com) should you go to either Pebble or Spyglass.  Doug is a real hustler; a great source of course information; and works hard to keep your head in the game.

His only drawback is that he’s a stinkin’ Yankees fan!

The gallery on #13 grazes on Pat’s pitch-in birdie!

Other golf highlights of the day were my stiff approach to the flag on the number one handicap hole, the par-4 #8 (Signal Hill), though I missed the par putt.  And brother, Pat thrilled the gallery (left) with a pitch-in birdie on #13 (Tom Morgan).

The deer population is a cute diversion from the “pressures” of golf at Spyglass.  The wildlife is neither frightened or especially put off their feeding by the presence of humans with their long shiny golf weapons.  It is possible to get quite close to the deer; if you take it slow and easy.  They are wary, but obviously used to humans playing stupid games in their midst!  They’ll let you know when you get too close by simply moving away.

The last real drama of the day occurred at another par 3, the 15th (Jim Hawkins).  The shortest hole at Spyglass; it plays to just 98 yards and downhill at that.  (See Pat’s picture above for a look at the shot to #15.)  I was hitting fourth in recognition of my superb snowman on the previous hole.  One of our partners, Tom, preceded me and promptly stuck the ball two feet from the hole; spun it back directly over the hole; ending up about 8 feet below the flag.

I followed that near ace by chosing my trusty 9-iron and stuck my tee shot just two feet past Bill’s quite visible ball mark on the green; but my ball simply trickled down the slope towards the hole, ending up; 4 feet from the hole.

Of course, I missed the birdie putt!

From there on out, and aside from pars by both Pat and I at the 17th (Ben Gunn), our Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill experiences were coming to an end.

All kidding aside, Patrick played better than me both times; posting a 97 at Spy Glass that included two pars to go along with his stunning pitch-in birdie on #13.

Overall, I loved playing both courses.  Who wouldn’t?!?  But the experience at each course is quite different from the other.

Pebble is a must-do for any golfer who prizes the ultra golf experiences that come only at the sport’s premiere venues.  Spyglass Hill however, is simply golf at its purest, without the thrills and chills of crazy, sea-cliff golf.

Play Pebble Beach because you must.  Play Spyglass Hill simply because you LOVE golf!

More pics from Spyglass Hill:

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California trippin’: Headin’ North

Prologue:  We started our first California excursion in 9 years with a flight from Philly to LA with a stop in Denver.  If you never had the experience of flying into Denver, you should try it once.  The turbulence on approach, caused by winds coming off the Rockies, will give you several opportunities to re-examine your religious faith and fire off a quick Act of Contrition (assuming you are Catholic)!  But other than losing in Scrabble to my better half on the plane and being constantly ridiculed for losing tiny plastic travel Scrabble letters due to fat-finger-itis, it was an uneventful flight.

The objective of our trip was to help my brother, Pat celebrate his retirement.  Pat’s spousal unit would be our hostess and co-guide throughout our excursions, which would include a jaunt up north to the Monterey Peninsula to play two rounds of golf at the Pebble Beach Resort, followed by a leisurely drive south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Day One:  Sunday … Woke up in the Shirley Temple Room.  ‘Twas a delightful repose!  But I can’t get used to rolling out of bed at the civilized of hour of 9:30 PDT (Suffering from reverse jet lag!) to find out I have only 30 minutes until the Eagles game comes on!  Sweet mother of Chuck Bednarik!  I barely get a toe-hold on my caffeine intake and I’m supposed to be pumped up for game time!?!  Who lives like this?!?

Day Two:  Monday … Up at oh-it’s-still-dark hundred hours (a repeating theme throughout the trip), but frankly you have to be up early to beat the LA morning rush-hour traffic, which was already extremely heavy going into the city at 6:30 as we headed out.  Can’t imagine what that looks like at 8:00!

As we head out of the city, the scenery begins to change.

Hills everywhere … houses perched on ridges, homes hanging from steep hillsides … hills in dry, brittle browns spotted with squat green trees … steep vertical slopes rising rapidly from winding roadways …

Quaint Danish architecture

We stop in a neat little village called Solvang, which touts itself as the Danish Capital of America.  Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers looking to escape midwestern winters, the town sits in the Santa Ynez Valley and consists of shoppes, bakeries and restaurants, many in buildings of bright, colorful Danish design.

Ate breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House.  Great coffee … Have the Danish pancakes, they are fantastic … the size of dinner plates but thin, light and delicious!
 
Did the touristy thing for a while, then climbed back into the car for the sprint up Rt 101 to Carmel.  Our plan was to hit the Monterey Peninsula quickly, and enjoy the coastal sights on the return trip south.

obligatory Danish windmill

 
And so we made our sprint northward  …
 
Vineyards … everywhere vineyards … signs labeling types of wine made from specific grapes … farm country … dry, barren hills give way to green cultivated fields set on valley floors …  fields of produce worked by bent figures and large machinery … trucks full of lettuce, a trailer filled with butternut squash … dust clouds rising from fallow fields being prepped for planting off in the distance …
 
The number of vineyards is perhaps the biggest change I noticed from our last visit almost a decade ago.  In addition to the acres and acres of vines, you must – of course – have hundreds of outlets for wines.  And so it appears that the state’s official past time is now Wine Tastings!   
 
As we approach  Carmel, an ominous sign … a thick ocean layer blocks out the sun along wide swaths of the nearby coast. 
 
We get into Carmel, which is situated just south of the Monterey Peninsula, at mid-afternoon and check in at the Mission Ranch Resort, which was preserved and renovated by Clint Eastwood – actor, director and Carmel’s former mayor.  The resort is absolutely gorgeous, ten buildings in rustic design with incredible views of Point Lobos, the Carmel River and the Pacific.  You can enjoy these views from the restaurant and expansive patio (great for late afternoon cocktails) that overlook a large meadow complete with its own herd of grazing, well-mannered sheep.  
 

View from near the Mission Ranch restaurant patio

 Dinner at the restaurant that night was excellent!  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the duck, but everyone clearly enjoyed their meals.  The service was excellent; the drinks strong; the atmosphere cozy, relaxed and pleasant.
 
One very nice amenity at Mission Ranch is the complimentary breakfast, served in the tennis court clubhouse.  Nothing fancy, just good, basic continental breakfast fare.
 
Day Three:  A Tuesday …  Played Pebble Beach!  (Click the link for a detailed description of that golf experience!) What a day!  We were reprimanded for wearing our hats inside The Tap Room, the renown post-round watering hole that sits less than 100 yards from the 1st tee.  Although the ambiance is impressive, the food was not much better than your average 19th hole found anywhere.  I hear the chili is very good, but I’m not a chili guy.  

Carol (left) enjoying the atmosphere at Pebble Beach Lodge

 
Day Four:  Wednesday … Played Spyglass Hill … another amazing golf experience!  If you ever go, you HAVE to play Pebble Beach for the history, scenic beauty and extraordinary golf holes.  But the best golf course – condition wise, for playability, and for the average golfer – is Spyglass Hill!  (A later post will be dedicated to playing Spyglass. And will be linked here once available.)
 
Formal Carmel canine presentation to Lady Lorri Ellen
 
Meanwhile, the women folk spent the day shopping, having lunch and enjoying a splendid afternoon in Carmel, where they were greeted by from a local canine representative (right).
 
That evening we drove up to the town of Monterey (situated north of the peninsula) for dinner and general touristy activity.  Cannery Row is your typical tourist magnet, dollar sucking locale; but every travelers’ haven has one.  We ate at an unremarkable sports bar-type establishment after we had hit the Pebble Beach (discount) store, which is a great place to find PB clothing bargains once you have recovered from the sticker shock of shopping at the Pebble Beach pro shop.
 
Day Five:  You guessed it … Thursday!  Our Pebble Beach experience 
Pat’s too sexy for his car; Too sexy for his car; Too sexy by far …

was coming to a close … until the someone brought up the Lexus freebie!  Apparently, if you stay at the PBR, you get a free excursion in one of their available Lexus automobiles.  And since it was a cool,  50-degree overcast day along the windy peninsula coast we opted – of course – for the sporty Lexus convertible coupe! 

So we took a leisurely joyride around the most scenic parts of the 17-mile drive.  It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the Monterey Peninsula must have the highest golf course-per-capita rating in the U.S.!  But it’s the ocean scenery and dramatic sea cliff topography that makes the area truly unforgettable. 

 
Rocky, forbidding beachfront … roiling surf … waves crashing over partially submerged rock formations … placid tides choked with clumps of kelp … trees bent permanently landward by ocean winds … beautiful homes perched on open hillsides … others hidden by steep drops and dense woods … spectacular ocean landscapes framed by a softening fog …   
 

Rocky shoreline along 17-mile drive

It wasn’t the best day for amateur photog work, unless you like barren, rocky sea beauty cloaked in fog.  As you wander along the drive there are ample opportunities for picture-taking or just staring at the kind of scenes you do not have on the east coast south of New England.   

The iconic symbol of Pebble Beach

 
Eventually we came upon the iconic symbol of Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress well-preserved on a treacherous-looking outcropping of rock jutting out into the forbidding sea.  It serves as the symbol of Pebble Beach Quality, so it says on the corporate-looking signs posted at the entrance to its viewing area.  The fact that the tree is basically held together with anchored cables and duct tape – you would think – might suggest they find another symbol of Quality.  Just sayin’ …
 
Once we were finished with that Lexus POS, it was time to hi-tail it off the peninsula and return to our mundane daily lives.  But along our meander down the Pacific Coast Highway, we would spend a few relaxing days in Cambria, which will be the subject of our next California post!  
 
But I would be negligent not to recommend that, on your way out of the Pebble Beach area, you should take a leisurely drive south along Carmel Way.  Unique homes in a neighborhood setting and beautiful ocean views are plentiful there.  It is a bit disingenuous to refer to most areas of Pebble Beach and the 17-mile drive as “neighborhoods”, but Carmel Way has a different, more homey feel to it even if you’re just drivin’ through.     
 
For now I’ll leave you with a few additional pictures.  
 

Sheeples with demonic eyes in the Mission Ranch meadow

More stark beauty from the Monterey Peninsula

 

More traditional California beauty (Happy Anniversary, Hon!!)

Brownie points! 
 

Teaser photo for a later post on playing Spyglass Hill

Choking down a day at Pebble Beach

pearlpbLiterally, I was choking down my Pebble Beach experience.  My big chance to play one of the iconic golf courses in the country and the sport, and an hour-and-a-half before our tee-time my Anxiety-O-Meter was shutting down my internal organs!  I had NEVER felt like this before playing a round of golf.  As much as I tried to relax; to take in the surroundings; to enjoy my Eggs Benedict, I was very, very close to a Critical Mass Event!

There were several possible reasons.

  • We had left Mission Ranch, where we had stayed the night before with the woman folk, at 0-it’s-still-so-freakin’-dark hundred hours, so it felt like we were sneaking onto the most famous golf resort in America like a pair of illegals.  I half expected the immaculately uniformed attendants and valets to lay hands upon us and eject us from the premises!
  • Everything about this place is intimidating when you allow the mystique of Pebble Beach and the potential heights of its golf experience to get a stranglehold on your emotions.
  • And of course, every golfer can appreciate the phenomena of First Tee Jitters.  Now just multiply that by several orders of magnitude and suddenly those Eggs Benedict are like trying to swallow a chunk of fairway turf.  My biggest fear was cleaving a foot-sized divot from the first tee and seeing my golf ball mocking me from its perch, untouched by my TaylorMade!

Yes, that would explain a lot!  But eventually it passed, though I’m not sure exactly when or how.  After a ride out to the range and a bucket of balls, it was time to face the legacy of Pebble Beach and those golf legends that had played there before us.

Of course I had to make a few adjustments to my golf-playing expectations, given my surroundings, the difficulty of some of the holes we would play, and the fact that I was still battling the flight side of my fight-or-flight survival instincts.

  1. I knew – or at least expected – that unless I morphed into my Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game icon, the quality of my golf game was going to be a distant second to the overall aura of playing Pebble Beach.
  2. I was going to enjoy the atmosphere, scenery and uniqueness of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, regardless of how well or poorly I played.
  3. I wasn’t about to permit the demons of my sporadic golf game to ruin such a monumental day!  But – may Johnny Miller forgive me - if I did chunk up a big piece of Pebble Beach fairway, it might just be ground-under-repair for a few months; because THAT hunk of turf would be heading back East with me if I had to wear it as a hair hat the rest of the trip!

And then we were on the first tee!  I think that the overload of panic I felt earlier that morning somehow mitigated the horrendous crush of first-tee jitters I had anticipated.  The first tee area wasn’t nearly as crowded as I had anticipated for our 9:00 a.m. tee time, which I’m sure helped.  And all the ancillary distractions of meeting our caddy, Josh (another first for me!), our playing partners, and even the relatively tame layout of the first hole allowed me to swing my driver without hurting anyone.

Of course, that dreaded high fade didn’t help.  But I wasn’t the only one who needed to hit a provisional ball off the 1st tee.  The second drive was much better; and I played the first two holes pretty well, including a bogie on the par 5 #2 hole.  On Hole #3 you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s just a teaser for what’s to follow; but it’s enough to make your putter take notice!

First glimpse of ocean at #3

At #4 my dastardly fade cost me my first ball on the first true ocean hole.  (I would only lose 6-8 for the day, which was far better than I expected!)  Then the REAL FUN began.  #5 is a par 3 that runs along the ocean cliffs; and I didn’t play that hole too badly, given the difficulty of finding my pulled tee shot after it bounded down the cart path.  My brother, Pat, deposited his tee shot off a tree and into what was purportedly Charles Schwab’s backyard!

Little bro, Pat putting on #4

Holes #6, 7 and 8 are three of the most beautiful holes in golf.  And I would say that #8 is indeed one of the greatest holes I’ve ever played!

The second shot up the hill to the second fairway and green of #6 is the first of those grip-grinding moments you face at Pebble, at least if you’re a short hitter like me and it looks like you have to clear a 8-story building to reach the upper portion of the fairway.  You have to marvel at those strong and brave enough to play right-to-left over the most dangerous portion of the sea cliff.

The par 3 #7 was the setting for my closest encounter with Pebble Beach greatness!  #7 is not particularly long at 106 yards; but the backdrop gives you much pause.  Golf jail here is in the form of a high, steep ocean cliff surrounding the green.  No one in our foursome found the green most likely due to an overabundance of caution.  Once I travelled down to the putting surface, I found my tee shot in the green-side bunker left of the pin.  In a classic “ugly but effective” moment, my semi-crisp sandwedge barely cleared the lip; was slowed by the thick grass lining the top of the trap; and tracked right at the hole.  (My cinematographer has the video evidence!)  Despite shouts of encouragement (“It’s right at the hole!”), the ball struck the edge of the cup and rolled away.  Of course I missed the comeback putt, but that couldn’t diminish the thrill of almost holing out from the sand of #7!

My “almost” sand shot position can be seen just pin high in the sand!

When we arrived on the tee of #8, Josh – our caddy for the day, warned us not to hit anything further than 200 yards off the tee.  His advice was timely given the amazing challenge awaiting us.  All four of us hit perfect tee shots to within 20 feet of the edge of the fairway, only to look down at one of the most awe-inspiring approach shots in golf.

The approach shot on the magnificent #8 at Pebble Beach

Two balls later, I had just missed clearing the yawning sea chasm.  My playing partners were more successful; but that was the kind of day it was for me.  Regardless, I was pumped at having played the kind of golf shot I might never see again!  The fascinating part of #8 is that there is no protection whatsoever – aside from politely placed signs warning of a steep drop – to keep an unsuspecting golfer (as difficult as that might be to imagine) from taking a slip ‘n slide dive into the most hazardous hazard known to the sport!

The above photo and those following show the dramatic changes in fog conditions we encountered resulting from the cool ocean layer.  Shortly before playing #8 in bright, clear sunshine, this was the view down #6 (below).  The fairway lies just left of the bunkers.

The fog was a minor nuisance.  But it did curtail the number of dramatic photo-ops we encountered, especially on those holes along the cliffs and lower shoreline (#17 & 18).

Infamous #18 along the beach from the green

This is what #18 looked like from the green down the fairway (left). You can make out the well-known seawall and sand trap that line the craggy shoreline that is death for any stray shots.  Off in the distance you can see the form of the two trees that mark the aiming point for drives off the tee.  My lone disappointment was not being able to appreciate the full incredible vista of #18 from the tee box.

It was just that kind of day on the Monterey peninsula!

The rest of our round from #10 through #16 – though devoid of spectacular vistas – was full of excellent golf holes and mind-boggling putts.  My one recommendation for anyone looking to experience Pebble Beach (or Spyglass Hill which will be posted later) is to spend the extra cash and arrange for a caddy to accompany you.  You cannot ride a cart up to your ball at Pebble as carts are always restricted to the cart paths; so the caddy (hauling both our bags) is advisable for getting the most out of your round.

In addition, the putts alone on some of the greens REQUIRE an experienced guide.  I could have easily 4 or 5-putted a number of greens without the assistance of Josh.  The first few times your caddy tries to give a read on some of the greens, your brain won’t allow you to follow his advice.  Your mind simply can’t overcome the difference between what the eye sees and what you’re being told to do.  After just one or two bad misses though, you learn to listen to your caddy and tell your brain to shut up, sit down, and enjoy the ride!

On #14, which we were told is shaved like cue ball for tournaments, I faced what looked like a severe uphill 20-foot putt.  Not so fast, counseled Josh.  It’s actually a DOWN HILL putt!  (Putting so near the ocean turns everything upside down.  Downhill can be “up”; and uphill “down” depending on your orientation to the sea.  The physics of which I cannot comprehend!)  Josh points to a spot barely 3-4 feet away from my ball and a good 8 feet - directionally – AWAY from the flag!  “Trust me.”, he says.  “Hit it here and gravity will do the rest!”  So I hit it where I’m told, then watch in disbelief as the putt breaks not once, not twice, but three times as the ball meanders UP the 8-inch slope.  The putt finishing just inches away from the hole!

Trust me, take a caddy!

Friday musings …

  • The pictures and stories out of the Pacific Rim this morning are both frightening and awe-inspiring.  Nature in its most primal form is downright overwhelming.  Hopefully the people of Japan, familiar with and prepared for deep earth violence, will not suffer huge losses; will get all the necessary assistance they will need from the international community; and will bounce back quickly. 
  • Been checking in with my brother, who lives in Long Beach, CA, on the progress of the tsunami.  Was a bit apoplectic when he texted me saying he was sitting in the parking lot of the marina!  Fortunately at the time he had a few hours to kill before the lot might become a lake.      
  • Made The Philadelphia Inquirer Letters to the Editor on Wednesday with a message about Lincoln’s struggle with slavery.  Always nice to see one’s name in print!
  • Courtesy of Kim, who e-mailed me on the above letter … If you haven’t discovered The New York Times series Disunion, a day-by-day accounting of the news and reportings on The Civil War and the months building to Fort Sumter, you should check it out.  Any history nut would LOVE this retrospective.  I just started trying to catchup with the series that started in October, and already I’m hopelessly hooked!
  • Another neat website, stumbled upon via the NYT Disunion series, is this for the Architect of the Capitol.  The site provides virtual tours of D.C. buildings, a commemoration of Lincoln, and education on the National Hall’s collection of statuary.
  • The crocuses are popping through the chilly soil and our Phillies tickets arrived in the mail!  Spring must be right around the corner!!
  • My oldest son, a Millersville University student, sent me a Facebook message in semi-jest that he was going to bill his mother and me for the added costs on his future tuition because we supported Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s new governor, who announced significant reduction in education subsidies for the next state budget cycle.  Of course being the good liberal my son is, he neglected to mention that the only reason his recent college costs had been mitigated is the fact that education in the state had been subsidized by the stimulus packages granted by the federal government.  Since that financing is no longer available, Pennsylvania education subsidies are simply returning to 2008 levels.  My no-jest response was that he could deduct the costs from his drum corps bill, which was in the thousands for the three years he competed. 
  • By the way, he’s currently vacationing in Punta Cana.  And I’m sitting here … in chilly, wet Pennsylvania! 
  • After my recent rant about my inability to enjoy no boundaries, no limits jazz, I found it quite possible to enjoy Yusef Lateef’s album, Eastern Sounds.  Of course it did have a bit more in structure and boundaries than did Wynston Marsalis.

Roots

(I hereby pledge – despite this blog’s name – to keep the lawn references to an absolute minimum.  Having said that, I think “Roots” best describes a discussion of where one comes from … a sort of “from the ground up” perspective.  Apologies to Alex Haley!)

Product of lower-middle-to-middle class, blue-collar Irish-American parentage … More American than Irish in a time when most adults in my version of the ’60s and ’70s more readily identified themselves with their hyphenated semi-European ethnicity.  Fact is, they were probably the last generation that relied so heavily on hyphenated Americanism to describe who they were.  But back then in Philly, it was still easy to identify sections of the city as having been at one time predominantly German, Polish, Italian, etc.

Dad was a World War II vet and worked in a steel processing plant – not in one of those huge, imposing steel mills that dotted much of Pennsylvania, making steel from raw ores.  It was more a facility processing steel into finished industrial products (wire, sheet metal, washers, fasteners, etc.).  He worked very hard in a dirty, sweaty environment.  But despite working in a union shop, it often seemed he could barely keep our financial heads above water.  He was a strongly committed and active Roman Catholic, insisting on maintaining his tithe to The Church even when he had trouble making ends meet.  Dad had his faults, but being anything other than a good father wasn’t one of them. 

Mom was a mom, and solely a mom.  Nothing other than wife and homemaker was necessary in describing her.  She stayed at home.  She never held outside employment.  Didn’t have much of an outside life period.  Never even drove a car.  Relied on Dad for everything.  It was remarkable in a way you NEVER see today.  But in the end, it was extremely limiting to her sense of self outside the family.  I never really appreciated what she gave up until Dad passed away, and she was left with no way to do anything for herself.  But as a mom, she was always there.  We always had that presence in the house.  And I honestly can’t recall more than a day here or there when she wasn’t there for us.  It was a sacrifice that’s impossible for me to adequately put to words.

Both Mom and Dad came from HUGE families … the Irish-Catholic way!  It mattered not which side of the family was involved; extended family gatherings were incredibly loud and crowded affairs.  To a kid it was both intimidating and wondrous. Who were all these people?!?

Of course, my parents were also products of The Great Depression (These stories alone could shape a few posts here!) and World War II, which had to be extremely difficult circumstances for large families.  So I often wonder whether that was why – despite their standing as “good Irish-Catholics” - there was only me, my brother Patrick, and my sister Joanne.  But I sure do remember many references to “the rhythm method”!

There is so much more I could go into here … some other time perhaps.  But going only this far, serves my purposes for the moment.