Posts Tagged ‘Charles M. Howell IV’

Happy Birthday to Charlie!

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Charlie in Italy at Two

Sixty-three years ago today Charles Morgan Howell IV made his cautious entrance onto the world stage and has been entertaining all of us who know him ever since!  He arrived at eight in the morning which, by my reckoning, should have made him a day person; I am still mystified at his life-long night-owl proclivities.  Even as an infant, Charlie could often be heard babbling happily to himself in the middle of the night — often when I, too, was burning the midnight oil (and perhaps babbling, as well) at the kitchen table in our Belmont, CA home.

Charlie in Berkeley at Three

I had a (fairly) good excuse; I was probably writing a paper or, perhaps, writing for “the” paper which happened to be the Stanford Daily.  Charlie’s first year among us was my senior year at Stanford University where I was a Journalism major but, more importantly, the only mom (as far as I know) during the final year of the Class of ’57.  I don’t believe Charlie had an excuse for his wakefulness, at all.  He’s just more active in the wee hours.

Perhaps it’s because he began as the lone “night person” in a household of daytime folks that Charlie has always seemed totally content to enjoy his own company.  He often pursued solitary pastimes as a kid — taught himself cartooning and animation techniques by spending hours and hours drawing flip-books when he was in third and fourth grades; wrote a neighborhood newspaper for a time when he was a bit older, setting the type by hand with a printing kit that he had been given.  (Or did he buy it, himself?)  It’s not that he’s ever been a “loner” — most of his work and recreational pursuits have been collegial — it’s just that he is content with solitary pursuits, as well.

Charlie at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 2012

So, when I called him about 7:00 o’clock this morning to wish him Happy Birthday, I was a bit surprised that I woke him up with my croaky “Happy Birthday to you” song.  “I have a doctor’s appointment later today,” he explained in a sleepy voice.  Heck of a way to spend a birthday, say I.  Hope he does something fun as well!  Happy Birthday, Charlie!  Have a great day!  And night!



The show must… and all that!

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Charlie Takes Center Stage, 11/18/2018

Yesterday my 62-year-old (ahem) son was in a recital in L.A. but, since Nyel and I are pretty much house-bound until he can put weight on his leg again (five more weeks), we could only wish him luck from afar.  Not the usual “break a leg” though.  We are avoiding that particular phrase at all costs.

Not only does Nyel have a badly broken left leg which is keeping him wheelchair-bound, but Charlie also has a bad break – three, actually – that occurred last week in a fall.  It’s his left clavicle and his surgery is set for this Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

Dem Bones

But meanwhile…  Charlie has been taking voice lessons for several years and, in typical music lesson fashion, his teacher arranged for her students to give a recital for family and friends.  Not the usual recital, mind you.  It’s L.A. after all.  She had each of her students showcase a song from a Broadway musical and arranged the numbers so that there was a sort of a story, (at least that is my understanding.)  Then she and the students pooled their money, rented a small theater for a (rehearsal) day and a night and… voilà!  Last night was the big production.

Charlie, in true showmanship fashion, did his part on cue.  I know that because his step-sister Marta managed to leave smoke-filled Northern California for a few days in smoke-filled Southern California and she and her friend Jim were there!  She not only called with a full report, but sent a picture.  Charlie looks great – but I couldn’t help but wonder about his tie.  It’s one of those dreaded clip-on affairs I imagine, since he is under strict orders not to move his left arm.  To say nothing of the fact that it hurts like hell if he does.

Marta and Jim

I wish we coulda… but am so glad Marta was there to represent the family. Way to go Charlie!  You are a trooper in the total “show must go on” tradition.  We are proud of you!

Too Close for Comfort

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

It was one of those “I just happened to be…” situations yesterday afternoon.  I was at my computer finishing up a writing task and “just happened” to check my email.  There was a message from my childhood friend Memi (Ann Sherwood Anderson) who lives up in Westport:

Sydney, are you watching the hostage situation in Silverlake area of L.A?  I’m sure you said that’s where Charlie lives.  So do Jack and Kristin.  Jack texted his mom while she was here visiting me and told her not to worry if she turned on the news and saw what was happening because he and Kristin were home safe.  It’s at Trader Joe’s where they shop a lot.  Charlie probably does, too!  I have it on CNN.  It’s ongoing, although when you read this message, it might be all over.

I’m sure my heart stopped for a moment even as my mind said… what are the chances?  I called out to Nyel.  He turned on TV as I looked at the guide for the CNN channel number.  They were saying that the perp was in custody… but I wasn’t waiting for details.  I was already calling Charlie who, mercifully, was home and answered.

Our conversation was brief.  He, too, was watching the drama unfold on TV.  “I’ve seen them escorting friends out of the store – clerks I’ve known for years – and other people I recognize from the neighborhood,” he said.  He briefly told me what he knew up to that point – a man had shot his grandmother and possibly one other person, took the grandmother’s car and a hostage (perhaps a young woman; perhaps she, also, had been shot) and he had crashed the into a light pole at Trader Joe’s and had run inside.  The streets were blocked off and there were over 100 cops there…At that point he said he had to go.  More things happening on TV.  He’d call me later.

So far, “later” hasn’t happened.  But that’s okay.  He’s safe.  Jack and Kristin are safe.  Networking among friends still works.  But, what a scary world we live in!  Sometimes, even in Oysterville, it’s all too close for comfort.

Degrees of Separation? None!

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Sandy and Nyel

As we gathered around the big kitchen table, I realized that this was a family reunion of sorts.  Every one of the eight of us were related in some way by blood or marriage – three generations of strong and disparate personalities assembled for what we all fervently hoped would not be the last time.

When Sandy wrote that the Stanford Hospital had send her home with pain pills and no hope, Nyel and I planned our trip and packed our bags.  Sandy and I go back a long way.  We were college roommates.  We married brothers.  Our children are first cousins.  She and I are, in some ways, as different as night and day.  But sixty-two years of shared memories and family connections make any disparities blur beyond recollection.

The Music Studio

Son Charlie drove up from L.A. and we all had dinner in Aptos at Sandy’s daughter Karen’s lovely large home.  Her sons Rory (24) and Elijah (20) were there as was Mark, Rory’s dad.  And, of course, Charlie, Nyel and me.  The men all gathered around Charlie and talked music, film, acting, comedy, and even “Pinky and the Brain”.  It was so interesting to watch and listen to my son in the role of “old man of the industry” telling of his early days in “the business” and how things had changed… or not.  And to listen to the adulation of his fans —  never mind that they are related.

We went outside and steep stairs to Rory’s studio(s) – a sound studio full of instruments and possibilities and, in another room (but somehow electronically connected) his recording studio that he has been building for some time.  “OH! WOW!” Charlie said as we entered the room!  And, for me, anyway, that said it all.  It was Rory’s turn to shine as he explained the intricacies of equipment and played a few demo recordings – some of his own compositions with himself playing five or six instruments.  And then, “Grandma playing her alto sax with some of her musician friends.”

Rory’s Retreat

I hadn’t heard Sandy play since we spent part of a summer on Bainbridge Island with her family – probably sixty years ago.  I was overwhelmed.  And overcome when Rory said, “I’ve only done four recordings of her.  I hope she can get some of her strength back so we can do more.  She can’t play now…”  His voice and his eyes said what we all were feeling.

To say “I’m so glad we came” seems the understatement of a lifetime.


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 Frazzle Dazzle One Step!

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Dale at 16, Oysterville, 1927

The use of colorful language runs in our family.  Not the colorful sort that seems to rage rampant in print and behind those bleeps on television.  I mean expressive without being offensive.  My grandfather Espy, for instance was pretty famous for never swearing but for getting his point across, nevertheless.

“Dad burn it!” I’d hear him say.  Or maybe “Dad gum it!”  and I knew he was more than a little frustrated about something.  Sometimes it was “Son of a sea cook!” or “Consarn it!” or perhaps “Ding Bust it!”  But the ultimate in epithets from Papa was “Devil!” and, lest you think those are all pretty tame, you had to be there.  As those of us who knew him well remember, those words came bursting from his mouth like thunderbolts!  Not often, but certainly memorable.

Mona at 7 or 8 — Oysterville, 1911

My mother’s colorful speech was a bit different from her father’s.  She wasn’t substituting the acceptable for the unacceptable.  Far from it.  She was simply being her usual, inimitable self.  “She just wore me to a frazzle-dazzle one step” she often said after being cornered by a particularly irksome neighbor.  Or, she was known to refer to women of questionable moral character as “woo woo girls” and when I’d asked one too many ‘why’ questions, “Why’s a hen” was the only answer she’d give me.  Or when she was wanting me to make up my own mind:  “You’re the doctor; I’m only the nurse.”

Charlie at Three – Claremont Day Nursery, 1959

Too, there were many stories about my Aunt Mona’s childhood expressions – words that became part of the family lexicon.  “I piddly stimbled!” was what we all said after almost falling down.  It must have been young Mona’s way of saying, “I practically stumbled.”  The best Mona-ism, though, is what I say to this day when I’m refusing seconds after a big dinner: “My shimmy shirt and pants are full” – Mona’s little girl understanding of the colloquialism, ‘my sufficiency is sophonsified.’

My son, Charlie, was also inventive word-wise.  He worried that the water in the bathtub might overfloat, and once commented on his well-endowed grandmother as being volumptuous.  My all-time favorite, though, was his three-year-old answer to “What do you call it when two people sing the same song at the same time?”  “A coincidence,” came his prompt reply!  Spot on, say I!

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!