OK, indulge me one more time, please, while I write just one more very personal column. Then I’ll shut up for a while, maybe even until after Christmas.
I’m sitting in my hotel room at the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in San Francisco. It’s a place I’ve stayed before — sort of. On Dec. 18, 1971, the USS Oriskany, CVA-34, pulled into the Alameda Naval Shipyard after the second of two 7-month deployments to the Gulf of Tonkin, and a shipmate and I got in a taxi and headed for the Historic St. Francis Hotel to spend our first night back on U.S. soil. I wish I could say I remember more about that night, but we did some things that sailors do after seven months at sea.
Not long after my stay here in 1971, a brand-new 30-some story tower was completed next door, now the Westin St. Francis, and that’s where Lillian and I are spending our first night back on the U.S. mainland after a happy-sad excursion to Hawaii. Let me tell you a little more about that.
My brother, Jay, died about two years ago, and he left a will with explicit instructions on what was to happen if he died. I like to say Jay died of a broken heart after a painful divorce, but he made the most of his post-marriage days, finding solace on Hawaii’s beaches, especially Waikiki.
He visited Hawaii many times, and stayed for long periods, making more than a few friends there among the hospitality industry. It was his happy place, warm and faraway from the cold Williston winters where he worked hard at becoming a successful insurance salesman.
That hard work allowed him to leave a sizable sum to his six siblings and their spouses, with specific instructions on how to spend it. He told us to take his ashes to Waikiki, get rooms at a luxury hotel (the one he frequented, where he would be remembered by the staff), eat and drink well, and early some morning, before the gendarmes started patrolling the beach, wade into the water and leave his earthly remains in the deep, blue water on Waikiki Beach.
We did that. And we spent the money he left us on fine food and wine. When it was gone, we got on airplanes and flew home. Well, almost. Lillian and I landed in San Francisco on Friday morning after an all-night flight and are staying here until Monday to celebrate, on Sunday, that anniversary of that trip across the Pacific 51 years ago, before beginning a long cross-country trip home.
Happy and sad.
This new hotel beside the historic one, by the way, is quite spectacular. It’s the only one directly on Union Square and an important meeting place for important people. On Friday afternoon former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was downstairs meeting with leaders of the San Francisco Democratic Party.
We missed seeing her, but I was reminded of the one time I did meet her, at a Democratic National Committee meeting in 1982, when she chaired the California Democratic Party and I was executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party. My impression was that she was a little bundle of energy and might go far in politics. Yep. Her political career was a bit brighter than mine. A few years after that meeting, she was elected to Congress, and the rest is history.
Today, we will go to Muir Woods National Monument, and then stop off at a couple of national parks on our way home, Pinnacles in California and Petrified Forest in Arizona. Parks 52 and 53, I think. About 10 to go. If I live long enough, we’ll get to most of them.
But for now, we’ll revel in the fact we missed the blizzard, and we’ll hope our neighbor wanders over to our driveway with his snowblower. He’s younger than me — two years — but it makes him feel even younger when he can do this. We’ll bring him a little keepsake from Hawaii. He’s a really good neighbor.
We’ll think about Jay on our drive home and prepare to get back to the reality of senior citizens on fixed incomes. But it was great exploring how the “other half” lives.
Thank you, Jay. We had a grand time. We miss you.
Big brother Jim.