Archive for the ‘Charles M. Howell IV’ Category

“… Pack up your pack…”

Monday, September 4th, 2017

The Elizabethan Theater, OSF

I don’t know if an earworm slows you down or speeds you up.  I hope it’s the latter because I’ve got one and I’m behind.

We are scurrying to get on the road – off to Ashland for our yearly rendezvous with son Charlie and a short bout of theater glut at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  It’s a halfway meeting place, more-or-less – a bit more from Charlie who is driving from L.A. and a bit less for us.  We have tickets for four plays this year, two of them, unfortunately, in the outdoor Elizabethan Theater.

The weather news is not good.  In fact, it’s dreadful — the very worst!  Yesterday the measurement went from “unhealthy” to “hazardous” on the Air Quality Index, but so far today it’s back to “unhealthy.”  We know that the outdoor performances are happening on a day-to-day (and sometimes hour-to-hour) basis, so as they say:  “You pays your money and you takes your chances.”  Meanwhile, the Chetco Bar Fire near Brookings (which was caused by a lightning strike and was first reported July 12th) is only 10% contained and now covers 142,857 acres.  The smoke is affecting almost all of Oregon.

“The Bricks” at OSF

Tickets to the plays are a traditional Christmas gift from us to ourselves and to Charlie.  We take advantage of our OSF membership and order in early November, not knowing which plays audiences and critics will deem “best.”  It really doesn’t matter.  In the sixty years I’ve been going to Ashland, I’ve only been disappointed once or twice.  And, of course, we never know what Mother Nature might have in store for us when our dates are eight or nine months in the future.

We’ve never experienced being ‘smoked out’ but we have been at the Elizabethan theater in the rain – not so bad as to shut down because of danger to actors in fight scenes etc. (slippery stage) but wet enough that the action took place in street clothes.  As one of the actors later told us, “The costumes are far more costly than an actor’s salary!  They are the first to be saved!”  On those rare, rainy evenings, rainchecks are offered to those who want to leave by the intermission.  We are usually prepared with garbage bags to slip over our heads…  But I don’t think there is an ‘easy fix’ for smoke problems.

Shoalwater Storytellers Poster, 1981

So, here we are, packing the car with high hopes.  Our chicken-sitter is in place.  Our chickens have promised (we think) to be on their best behavior and we are optimistic about Nyel’s health and our car’s battery.  We have arranged to have brunch with Bob Cook, an old friend from the very first configuration of the Shoalwater Storytellers back in 1980.  And, we hope to hook up with Sharon VanHueit who also has relocated from the beach to Ashland.

Plays or no plays, we’ll have a great time.  As my earworm keeps telling me… “We’re on our way, Pack up your pack, And if we stay, We won’t come back.”  I don’t think that last part is true, though…  But you never know.


Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Charlie’s First Picture

My son, Charles Morgan Howell IV, arrived on May 30, 1956, 7:44 a.m. – special delivery at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, California, Dr. Verne Voakes in attendance.  He weighed eight pounds which was considered ‘whopping’ since I weighed scarcely ten times as much – 90, soaking wet, as I remember.  It was a Wednesday and it was a holiday because, back then, Memorial Day was always celebrated on the 30th.  None of this last-Monday-of-May business.

According to his Baby Book – filled in spasmodically at best – Charlie’s first big trip was on June 24, 1957 “to Oysterville, Wash, for 2 weeks – home of family for 5 generations.”  I remember that we stayed across the street in what would later become known as ‘the little red cottage.’  I think we spent a lot of time in the family house where my Aunt Mona was caring for “Papa,” my 81-year-old grandfather, Harry Espy.  He was suffering from dementia and it was thought that it would cause him less stress if we stayed elsewhere.  (Were we so raucous?  I don’t recall…)

Charlie’s Birth Announcement

I don’t remember much about that visit except that there was no plumbing to speak of at the cottage.  There was a pitcher pump at the kitchen sink – probably the reason we ate most meals with Mona and Papa.  And there was a chemical toilet in the ‘bathroom.’  I have no memory of how I handled the diaper situation except for knowing that it was long before the advent of paper diapers.  It was the days of cloth-and-dump-and-sterilize-and-wash-and-hang-on-the-line-to-dry.

My only other memory of that trip is of Papa’s delight at holding his great-grandson for a photograph.  He actually chuckled as Charlie reached up to tug at his whiskers and I remember thinking what a familiar feeling that must have been to this father of seven, grandfather of eight, and great-grandfather of two.  I wonder what ever happened to that picture.

Charlie’s First Home in Belmont, California

It’s hard to believe that I’m now the age that Papa was then and that Baby Charlie is more than three times the age I was when he was born!  On the other hand, the years have whooshed by, jam-packed with surprises and accomplishments and more laughter than you can shake a stick at (as my folks were fond of saying).  I’ve been the recipient of grander bragging rights than I could ever have imagined when I first looked at that little tow-headed bundle!  Thanks for all of it, Charlie!  And let’s have lots more!

A Tea and Posy Day

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

My Grandmother’s Teapot

It’s not every day that our doorbell rings twice, each time with a lovely surprise.  But yesterday it did!  First came Pat Fagerland and, although she was ‘expected’ and we had planned to have tea, she immediately began pulling surprises out of her commodious bag of tricks.  First came a carton of half and half, next a package of cookies, followed by a tea infuser, a package of Earl Gray tea – everything we needed for a tea party except the hot water and the cups and saucers!  It was like Mary Poppins had come calling!

Willard, Edwin, Dale – 1916

We had a lovely “catch-up” afternoon and even with a bit of ‘family history’ thrown in.  Although I’m sure we had used the little blue teapot before, I hadn’t told Pat its story so yesterday I did.  The teapot was a birthday gift to my grandmother from my mother back in 1917.

Mom was five (and a half!) years old.  She had been saving her money to buy her Mama a present and asked her father’s permission to ride Danny to Trondsen and Petersen’s store in Nahcotta to make a special purchase all on her own.  Family friend Dean Nelson worked there and helped her choose the beautiful little blue teapot.  It cost the full amount she had saved – twenty-five cents!  Dean wrapped it carefully with brown paper and tied it securely around little Date’s waist – (Papa wouldn’t let the children use saddles; “too dangerous” he said) and she trotted home with her precious package.  It’s been in use in this house ever since.

While Pat was here, the doorbell rang once more.  “Flower delivery!  Happy Mother’s Day!”  The florists had outdone themselves once again!  A gorgeous bouquet and never mind that they had forgotten to note who it was from on the card.  I was pretty sure it was Charlie, though I did call to double-check!  So many people do so many nice things for me these days – like bring a tea party in a bag! – that I just had to make certain that those gorgeous posies were from my son!

It was a grand Friday – one full of reminders of the many blessings of friendship and family!  And this morning – a little sunshine to bask in!  It doesn’t get much better.

Six Degrees of Adulation

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche, 2013

My cousin Cheryl wrote yesterday: On the Seattle news this morning they interviewed 2 “Pinky & the Brain” cast members.  The two gentlemen that did voices for “Pinky” and “The Brain” are in Seattle for the Emerald City Comicon Convention.  Pinky & the Brain lives on…

I am so out of the pop culture loop that I didn’t even have an inkling that there was an Emerald City Comicon and this, apparently, is Year 15!  On the other hand, I do know that Rob Paulsen and Maurice ‘Moe’ LaMarche were the voices of Pinky and the Brain.  I have even met them – long ago at a party Charlie gave (in my honor, as I recall.)  It was back in the nineties, probably during the time the television series was running (1995-1998) and gathering Emmy awards right and left.  Charlie was the lead writer on the series and had invited cast members and other friends to a sort of “Come Meet My Mom” party.

Pinky and the Brain at Comicon 2007

And I do know what a Comicon Convention is.  Sort of.  My sketchy knowledge comes from yet another zany television show, “The Big Bang Theory.”  It’s about the only sitcom we watch regularly and the protagonists’ travails in attending the various Comicon Conventions – mostly in Southern California – make up the sum total of my Comicon knowledge.  Still… knowing that Pinky and the Brain are in attendance in Seattle this very weekend makes me feel closer to the entire phenomena.  In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard are in attendance, too.

One of the years that Charlie won an Emmy for his script writing on the show, the awards took place in New York.  Most of the Pinky and the Brain cast were there, also receiving awards, and Charlie’s uncle and aunt, Jim and Joy Howell, hosted a cocktail party for them in their SoHo flat.  Joy told me that she served mostly cheese.  “They’re mice, right?” she laughed.

Too bad Seattle is so far from Oysterville.  Too bad Charlie isn’t at the Emerald City Comicon, too.  We’d host a party for Pinky and the Brain in a New York minute, as they say!  Narf!

To Laugh or To Cry?

Monday, October 31st, 2016
Cousin Eva and Friend

Cousin Eva and Friend

Two disparate bits of information from cyberspace today – a letter from my cousin Eva in Austria saying that she has decided to give up her U.S. citizenship.  And, from my son, a video of the opening credits from “Pinky and the Brain.”  Both are Trump related – one serious and one silly, but each a disturbing commentary on where we are right now as a nation.

Eva has been a late life ‘gift’ to our family.  Until fifteen or so years ago, we didn’t know of her at all.  Her father was a much younger half-brother of my grandmother’s and, shortly after World War II, he had distanced himself from the family for reasons still not understood and, as it turned out, had moved to Austria, married, and raised a family.  Not until after his death did his daughter Eva discover that we, his American family, existed and reached out to us.

We’ve visited back and forth – Eva coming here, we going there and periodic spurts of correspondence by snail mail and cyberspace.  She has been proud of her dual citizenship and, especially around election times, her commentary and questions have been lively.  As with my other European friends, I’ve often thought how much better informed she is than I.

Back in February she wrote…we are so worried!!! Everything has changed in this last year and D.T rump is at the top of the worrylist; the USA are of course very important for us…. the situation in Europe is getting worse and worse…In all of Europe the right sides are gaining popularity And Trump is unbelievable, stunning us time and again. I really don’t understand his attraction. Do people think he will help them? Please tell me which groups want him!  Sanders seems the best candidate, the others are uninteresting. And what do you think about Hilary?

Rob Paulson and Maurice LaMarche

Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche

I was still digesting her latest news – I decided to give up my American citizenship… when I saw Charlie’s Facebook Posting.  He wrote: I’d love to be able to say this election is all just something we wrote, but these guys have gone completely rogue.  He is speaking of Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche – who voiced Pinky and the Brain – and their remarks Saturday at L.A. Comic Con concerning what Trump would say if elected Prez.  (Charlie was Producer and Head Writer for the P&B show during the last two of its three seasons.)  This is what he was talking about:

Maybe it has finally happened… we’ve all lost our grip on reality and the world is morphing into a Saturday morning cartoon.  Scary!

As the parent of a senior citizen…

Monday, August 8th, 2016
"Staycation" - from  a CMH  FB post.

“Staycation” – from a CMH FaceBook post.

It is somewhat amazing to me that my son has not lived under my roof for more than forty years.   Not only that, for most of that time we have lived more than a thousand miles apart.  However, at least we live in the same country and on the same coast.  In that regard I feel lucky.

We see one another several times a year, talk to one another a couple times a month – or more frequently, depending on what’s going on in our lives.  From my perspective, we know and understand one another well.  But it wasn’t until Facebook came along that we could get a sense of those day-to-day concerns and situations that are difficult to convey through long distance communication.

Diversity roundtable discussion at Charlie's - Olivia Christina Delgado Photograph, a CMH FB post

Diversity roundtable discussion at Charlie’s – Olivia Christina Delgado Photograph, a CMH FB post

I know, for instance, that Charlie often has gatherings at his home – has had for years.  There are the periodic meetings of the book club he has belonged to for twenty or so years. In 2008, he hosted weekly spaghetti feeds for Obama workers in his precinct.  Groups of actors and directors meet there now and then to rehearse or explore new plays.  All of which I hear about from Charlie but, until FB, haven’t had any sense of how those gatherings look, who they might involve, what ‘his people’ look like – no real picture in my mind.

Same with his cats.  I’ve seen photographs, of course, and I’ve met them in person.  But what part do they take in Charlie’s daily life?  It’s one of many areas I had never given thought to until Charlie ‘friended’ me for my birthday a few years back and I began to see his FaceBook posts.  The friending was a move made with some reluctance on Charlie’s part.  I’m not sure why but I hope he isn’t sorry.  I certainly am not.

I think I’m pretty typical of mothers everywhere in that my most cherished ‘pictures’ of my senior citizen offspring are of his earliest years.  In my mind he is still that tow-headed imp who never quite marched to anyone else’s drumbeat.  Thank goodness!  And hooray for the glimpses into his current world that tell me, in that respect, he hasn’t changed much at all!

Back Stories from Front and Center

Thursday, July 14th, 2016
Allen Elizabethan Theater, OSF

Allen Elizabethan Theater, OSF

Last night we saw Hamlet.  It was presented at the outdoor theater – Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan theatre.  Our seats were perfectly situated in the very center of the first row of the first balcony. The night was balmy; we had no need of the jackets we took ‘just in case.’  And, I felt the extra pleasure of being accompanied by Polonius, himself.

It was just a few months ago that son Charlie played that part at the Archway Theatre in Los Angeles and in one of those weirdly random thoughts I suddenly remembered that Peninsula friend Phil Allen has been in L.A. and had seen him,  Phil Allen.  Allen Elizabethan Theater.  (Oh well.  You had to be there, so to speak.)

Danforth Comins as Hanlet

Danforth Comins as Hanlet

I’ve seen other productions of Hamlet at OSF, but this was the first in the outdoor venue. Somehow, I expected them to make more use of the various levels built into the permanent set.  Except for the single musician (who, unfortunately was also cast as the gravedigger) those upper staging possibilities were reserved primarily for the ghost of Hamlet’s father.  He  could be seen glowing and whooshing from level to level periodically, sometimes seconds after appearing in the audience or on the main stage.  There must have been three or four actors dressed for the part rushing around backstage so that they could be glimpsed simultaneously in those now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t appearances.   And, thinking back on it, it was a perfect bit of stagecraft.

Charlie and Sydney in Ashland

Charlie and Sydney in Ashland

I was interested in Charlie’s take on the production.   In general, he liked it, as we all did.  (‘All’ being the 1200+ audience members who gave a standing ovation at the play’s conclusion.)  Charlie commented on some of the spots where the director Lisa Peterson had trimmed Shakespeare’s original play (which is never run in its four-hour entirety) and said that Derrick Lee Weeden’s Polonius was more avuncular in character than his own.  He thought Claudius (the evil uncle) was well played (I didn’t) and none of us were much enamored of Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother.)  And, he thought Danforth Comins was a dynamic and sympathetic Hamlet.

All of which made me, once again, feel deprived that I couldn’t have seen the production Charlie had been in.  Next best thing, though, was to sit next to him last night under the starry skies of Ashland sharing yet another OSF experience!

Running Lines in Ashland

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
Elizabethan Theater at OSF

Elizabethan Theater at OSF

Last night we met son Charlie for our annual get-together at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, if you can call two years in a row an “annual.”  Ashland, Oregon is more-or-less halfway between Oysterville and Los Angeles – an eight-hour drive for us; eleven for Charlie.  We foregathered (as my mother would have said) at an Italian restaurant for dinner – Charlie’s treat!

After catching up with one another about all those important items like our chickens and Charlie’s cats, the conversation turned to theater topics.  Although we did speak a bit about the plays we will be seeing here – Yeoman of the Guard, Twelfth Night, Great Expectations and Hamlet – the focus was on a play Charlie will soon be in: Proof.  In fact, the production is in rehearsal now and opens July 23rd.  In deference to Charlie’s absence this week, the director had the cast block his scenes last week and they are working on other scenes as we speak.

Charlie, 2015 (at Bailey's Bakery and Cafe

Charlie, 2015 (at Bailey’s Bakery and Cafe

Charlie brought his ‘sides’ with him – those portions of the script containing his part – and betwixt and between our theater-going, I’ll be running lines with him.  He plays ‘Robert,’ a recently deceased mathematician praised for his groundbreaking work in his youth, but whose later years were plagued by delusional mental illness.  He appears in three major scenes — all in his daughter Catherine’s imagination and in flashbacks.

The play debuted in 2000 in New York and, the following year, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play.  It is faintly reminiscent of the film, “A Beautiful Mind” about mathematician John Nash — presumably, also based on his life — and was, itself, made into a movie in 2005.  The movie starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine, along with Anthony Hopkins as Robert.  Although the film added minor characters, the play has only four.

We ran lines for his first scene last night.  He’s pretty much letter perfect but says he needs more work on his second and third scenes.  Betwixt and between we’ll continue to run lines today and tomorrow. Seems fitting, somehow, that we’ll be doing so here at OSF.

Bragging Rights – Capital B, Capital R

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Charlie's Badge

Charlie’s Badge

Every mother on earth has them: Bragging Rights.  Capital B, Capital R.   Bragging Rights about one’s children are not only inalienable, they are absolute, sacrosanct and are part of our DNA.  I brag about my son often and loud and here I go again.

On his FaceBook page this morning, Charlie wrote:
Finally. After six years, a permanent V.A. badge.  With a computer chip and everything!  (I should say that I have never been in the military.  This is so I can identify myself when I go in to do my volunteer work every week.

To the congratulatory and complimentary responses he got from his FB friends about his volunteer work, he said:
It’s really not a big deal.  More people should volunteer.  You meet great people, and it’s fun.

From Charlie's FB Page

From Charlie’s FB Page

I think he goes into the V.A. Hospital on Wednesday mornings.  He’s an activity leader working with out-patients – I think.  Or maybe it’s more like a recreation center located at the hospital for all vets, in-patients or out.  What he has told me is that he and his ‘group’ begin by discussing the morning’s headlines and then move to the crossword puzzle.  Sometimes he helps one of the veterans with their lunch; sometimes he wheels someone to another place in the complex for a doctor’s appointment.  He does whatever needs doing.

I’m embarrassed that I don’t know more about what Charlie’s role is as a volunteer.  He seldom mentions it and more-or-less blows it off when I ask.  In fact, the last time he said anything to me about it was a month or so ago when a couple of his ‘guys’ went to see him in “Hamlet” at the Archway Theater in L.A.  He was SO pleased!

Occasionally, on FaceBook, he posts a news item or a poster – usually concerning an ironic political situation – involving veterans.  But mostly, he just does his volunteer work without comment.  He’s that kind of guy.  I couldn’t be more proud!

“…old men have grey beards…”

Friday, February 19th, 2016
Charles M. Howell IV as Polonius

Charles M. Howell IV as Polonius

When the director suggested that Charlie grow a beard for his part as Polonius, he was no doubt thinking of Hamlet’s remarks to his father about the book he is reading: Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams; all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down, for yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.

Charlie in Dickensian Mode

Charlie in Dickensian Mode

It is the response by Polonius Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. that gives rise to the familiar “method in his madness” phrase we’ve all heard and, no doubt, repeated ourselves. But, for the purposes of the play, Hamlet’s description of old men gives rise to the portrayal of Polonius with a beard.

Charlie had three weeks to give it a try and I see by the photograph he posted on FaceBook yesterday that he has done very well. Not long, only a little gray (at least that is visible here) but, forsooth, a beard! Although Charlie has sported a mustache in the past, and has been adorned with muttonchops and other facial-hair-not-his-own for various roles, this is the first time I’ve seen him with his very own beard. I think I like it! But then, I always have had a soft spot for men with whiskers.

The play opens tonight at 8:00 at the Archway Theatre in Los Angeles. Break a leg, Charlie!