Talking to Trees and Other Life Forms

I’ve been told that I can talk to a tree and get it to talk back to me. In my experience, oaks think they’re all wise and enlightened but for my money, it’s the redwood that is the king of the forest. Redwoods possess a quiet confidence that comes from knowing that they’re truly badasses. But I digress.

I chalk up my non-shyness to three things: being a Leo, being part Irish, and being part Italian. (The German part of me only kicks in with my love of order and things running on time.) If you were to ask me to name which qualities I like most about myself (aside from my sparkling wit, magnanimous nature and my humility, of course), an outgoing personality and an unquenchable curiosity would be those qualities.

I was reminded twice in the last week of how grateful I am to be a curious people-person.  The latest was yesterday while waiting for my mother at the doctor’s office. As usual, I started a conversation with the person next to me. He was an older man and we started off by talking about the score of the Giants game. (It was scoreless at the time.) I found out that his name was Angelo, that he grew up in North Beach and that he went to Galileo High School. I told him that I was from the Mission, that my parents went to Mission High School and that I went to Catholic schools.

Then his wife came out into the waiting room and we got to talking. I told her where I had gone to grammar school and to high school. As I mentioned the name of my high school, St. Rose Academy, a woman waiting at the front desk turned around and it was my Godmother. Not only that, my Godmother knew the people to whom I was talking! They lived in the same neighborhood.  It is a very small world indeed.

This is the kind of experience I’ve always had as a fourth-generation San Franciscan. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to since natives are a vanishing breed, and that saddens me. But, I just keep being open to new people and conversations.

This brings me to messages that both my mother and I received on our answering machines earlier this week. A man with a heavy Boston accent named Charlie called and was looking for a Frank Rutterman. He mentioned sports and something about a reunion. Mom ignored her message but then I got the same call.

It isn’t often that Mom or I get a call for my father since he’s been dead since 1991. But since this guy Charlie asked for Frank, I thought that perhaps he just mispronounced the last name and he was some old baseball buddy of my father’s. So, I figured, what the hell, I’ll give him a call back.

After some initial suspicion from Charlie’s wife as to my identity and why I was calling, Charlie got on the phone. Alas, he’s about 10 years younger than my Dad and the Frank he was looking for didn’t play baseball. He ran track. It seemed that Charlie’s track team was being inducted into the some Massachusetts state Hall of Fame or something and he’s been trying to locate some of his old teammates.

Once we knew that my Frank and his Frank weren’t the same guys, he asked me about my Dad. I told him that my Dad played baseball and that Ted Williams was his favorite player. Charlie then told me that he had a 1956 Ted Williams baseball card that was worth about $8,000. I told him that I grew up loving the Red Sox because of my Dad and that I only wish Dad had lived long enough to go to Fenway Park with me when I lived in Massachusetts.

Charlie and I talked for another 15 minutes or so. I wished him luck on finding his Frank and he thanked me for calling him back. He said that I sounded like a “helluva girl” and that he really enjoyed our conversation.

When I hung up, I quietly thanked my Dad for not only introducing me to the joy of baseball, but also for encouraging me to be friendly and to get to know people. If he hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of sharing a little bit of him with Charlie from Wakefield. Thanks, Dad.


Hey Dad. Wanna Have a Catch?



Baseball season is starting and as always, my thoughts turn to my father. As some of you know, my Dad instilled a love for baseball in me as soon as I could hold a baseball and put a cap on my head. This is a picture of my Dad back in high school just about 60 years ago.



In my baby book under age two, my mother wrote that my favorite song was “Bye, Bye Baby, the song that opened San Francisco Giants radio broadcasts on KSFO. As you can see, I started early. As soon as I could stand, Dad was tossing a ball to me. He taught me how to catch and how to hit as well. He often said that he did this, not because he secretly wanted a boy, but because he believed all children should be coordinated and develop a love for sports. The photo at left is of me at age 3 wearing my trusty Giants cap. It seems that my little friend Monica was going for more of a Jed Clampett Beverly Hillbillies look.

This year marks the 21st baseball season that my Dad hasn’t seen. A lot has happened in our national pastime over those years and I often wonder what his thoughts would be. One of the things I miss most is talking baseball with my Dad. He took me to so many games at Candlestick Park and we sat everywhere from the luxury boxes to the bleachers. His favorite spot was behind homeplate so he could describe to me what the pitcher was throwing. I learned everything I know about baseball from all those times with him. They are memories that I treasure.

He would have hated the strike in 1994 but would have applauded Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak in 1995. The steroid era would have disgusted him, especially with hometown kid Barry Bonds at the head of it. I think he would have initially disliked inter-league play (mainly because he despised the designated hitter rule), but would have come to enjoy seeing the Giants play the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. The idea of the All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series would have annoyed him and struck him as “PR bullshit”. I can’t say that I disagree with him.

He would have loved AT&T Park. He never got over the fact that the Giants left cozy Seals Stadium for God-awful Candlestick Park. He always said, “They left perfect weather here in the Mission for cold and fog out in the Bayview. Political bullshit.” I can hear his voice now saying, “Hey, Kel. Wanna catch the streetcar downtown and see a game?” How many times he came home from work on some random weeknight and asked if I finished my homework and asked if I felt like hopping the bus and heading out to the ‘Stick. It was the 1970s and the Giants were horrible, but I always wanted to go.

When the Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, he would have cried like I did. His tears would have been mainly because Ted Williams hadn’t lived to see it. My tears that night were for my Dad for the same reason.



But, by far, sharing the World Series victory of the Giants in 2010 with him would have been great. He would have loved that team. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and the rest of the staff would have thrilled the old pitcher’s heart. And he would have loved the spunk of the rest of the guys.

So, in honor of the start of the 2012 baseball season, here’s the scene from Field of Dreams that makes me cry like a baby every time I see it. I’d give anything to have a catch with my Dad right now.

Whole Lotta Soul

This is me around age 3 with my dog Soul. Soul was a Belgian/German Shepherd mix and technically, he was my cousin Jimmy Joe’s dog. Due to a lot of factors, Soul primarily stayed with my grandmother in her flat just down the block from ours. This picture was taken in her backyard on a very hot summer day in the Mission District. For those of you unfamiliar with San Francisco’s many micro-climates, the best weather in the city is found in the Mission.

I actually have some memories of taking this picture. My mother and Jimmy Joe were there and I remember one of them telling Soul to put his ears up. (He had them hanging down. I blame the heat.)

Soul was very loving and tender with me and despite his size, I could walk him with proper leash technique even as young as I was. He never pulled me. Not once. He was the same way with my Dad, but Dad was the alpha male, so that’s not surprising. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t have the same luck walking him. As soon as the leash was in my mother’s hands, off Soul went, dragging her down the street. Sometimes I thought I could detect a smile on his face.

However, he was extremely protective of us, and one afternoon, we discovered just how true this was. My mother, grandmother and I returned to Nan’s flat to discover Soul sleeping as usual on one of the twin beds. (As a side note, he never enjoyed it when my Aunt Florence came to visit because he lost his bed to her.)

My grandmother went into the bathroom and all of a sudden Mom and I heard her scream. Mom told me to wait and when she reached the bathroom, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Apparently, there was blood everywhere: on the window, on the lace curtains and on the walls. Everything that had been sitting on top of the sink and toilet tank was scattered all over the floor.

Before leaving the flat that day, Nan had left the window open a bit to let some air in. The only thing Mom and Nan could figure was that someone tried to break in and got as far as getting an arm through the window. That’s when Soul took matters into his own paws (and teeth).

We never found out who the would-be burglar was. But if you had your arm practically chewed off, would you come anywhere near the sweet little old lady with the big dog? Needless to say, I’m sure Soul got an extra special dinner that night and that I got to take him for a nice leisurely walk with my parents. Just a typical day in the neighborhood.