Monday, November 20, 2023

The Tulip Tree at Tonkin Park

The autumn colors are here and the weather has been mild so the trees are not bare yet. It’s mid November and as I make a trek across town today I pass one of my favorite old trees in downtown Renton, Washington. I’ve known her most of my life. I affectionately refer to this grand old tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) as her, but tulip trees technically are both male and female. They have male pollen producing stamens and female pollen receiving pistils. I’m by no means a plant biology specialist, but we do have one in the family. My youngest daughter Paige is a plant biologist and currently working on her Doctorate back in Ohio.

The Tulip Tree at Tonkin Park, Renton, Washington.

Though I can’t find any definitive answers as to how old she is, this is the former site of the original Tonkin General Store. James Tonkin, as best as I can assemble the facts, immigrated from England and settled here in Renton in 1882. He opened the first store at this location in 1885. When James Tonkin died his son Josiah “Si” Tonkin took over the store in 1902 and it was later vacated in 1915 when they moved to another location. The original building was torn down and the property was donated to the city. It became Tonkin Park in 1948.

I think this beauty is about (or maybe a little over) 100 years old. I could be wrong, but she’s huge and I remember her being so since I was 7 or 8 years old. Poking around on the internet I found that tulip trees can live to be 300 years, so she’s actually a rather sprite young thing. As you can see off to the right there’s another tulip tree. I think of her as the little sister. She’s almost as tall, but not quite as large. I grew up in Renton and have walked or driven by Tonkin Park since the 1950s and 60s. 


Donkey Run Away from the Mines

Tonkin Park is a small triangle plot of land located at 399 Williams Ave S in downtown Renton. Another wonderful landmark here is the cast aluminum sculpture, Donkey Run Away from the Mines, by Richard Beyer (1925 -2012). He created several public artworks in the area including, Waiting for The Interurban, Fremont, Seattle, The Traveler, in Bend Oregon, and the Sasquatch Pushing Over a House at Seattle’s University Playground.

Tulip trees are native to the Eastern United States, but these two have done quite well here in the Pacific Northwest. I love autumn, but regardless of the season, they bring me joy and connection.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Now is now, at least until Yesterday

 Reflections: September 18, 2022

Cool this morning and I feel autumn in the air. The sun is shining brightly through my bedroom window. It’s about 9:30 am and I hear several neighbors heading out for the day.

I'm thinking about one of my fears while making coffee. How will time fill itself. Now that I’m no longer on the corporate clock there’s a void. Voids fill themselves. I catch myself worrying about it. I still have so much I want to do and I react to friends who call and say, “Now that you’re retired, are you thinking about travel?”

No, not really. I want to get my life in order so I can devote my time to music and writing. It’s a full time gig even though I’m not making much if any progress at the moment.

Henry Miller...

 One can fight evil but against stupidity one is helpless… I have accepted the fact, hard as it may be, that human beings are inclined to behave in ways that would make animals blush. The ironic, the tragic thing is that we often behave in ignoble fashion from what we consider the highest motives. The animal makes no excuse for killing his prey; the human animal, on the other hand, can invoke God’s blessing when massacring his fellow men. He forgets that God is not on his side but at his side. 

I'm watching too many political videos lately on YouTube and making comments. My only revelation is the that I get all fired up, raise my blood pressure, and for what? 

This is not the way I want that void to fill itself. Idiots are idiots and I remind myself it doesn’t really matter and I don't need to participate in the mud slinging. I vent, and nothing will change. I get that. The only thing likely to happen is someone will rudely insult me and remind me of just how stupid I am.

Miller continued...  There is nothing wrong with life itself. It is the ocean in which we swim and we either adapt to it or sink to the bottom. But it is in our power as human beings not to pollute the waters of life, not to destroy the spirit which animates us.

In the late 1990s I viewed the emerging social media scene as a new frontier with almost utopian energy. It became my career of sorts and I preached the new age gospel of its benefits to mankind. Today, I'm mostly retracting that view. The platforms, the corporations that are home to them, have broken the promise and the plumbing. In many ways, and I get it not in all ways, they are drowning us in a sewer.

The world seems split down the middle, each side adamant that the other side is horribly wrong and mistaken. No points are ever argued, just simply destroy the person who shared one. "You don't agree with our side, we hate you!"

On my way to the grocery store the other day I was driving up Shattuck Street and about to cross South 3rd as two young probably teen guys were walking against the green light. I brake to slow down and wait for them to pass. They see me and slow down their walk so it takes longer to cross when one of them laughs to the other loud enough for me to hear, “Watch out for grandpa!”

This is but a mild distraction because I'm in a totally different head space. I'm deep in thought wondering, "Does my old neighborhood Earlington remember me or any of those days long ago?" Are old neighborhoods like old people? Do they have consciousness like they seemed to have when you were a kid? They have a name for a reason. They have boundaries like all beings alive. They were once a unique identity that set them apart from anywhere else. They had personality, a one of a kindness. (pun intended)

Each home was built by, or for, a family one at a time, large or small, with a unique style extravagant or modest all their own. None had fences, window drapes were mostly always open during the day, and all yards had at least a few fruit trees. Garages were unattached with workbenches where projects were always present and revealed some stage of creation or repairs. Around and on each bench were parts and pieces of old things that would certainly be useful someday. Nuts and bolts, washers and screws, nails of all sizes and old hinges too, all organized in jars and old coffee cans. Light switches, wire, and electrical cord, boxes and bins of wood and metal pieces of all sizes and shapes. 

On the walls hung handsaws, rip, crosscut, and fine. Toolboxes were nearby with several hammers. A collection of machine and motor oils were present for lubrication and gasoline for cleaning various greasy engine parts. And numerous small paint cans to refurbish any interior or exterior that needed fixing, patching or trim. 

Though now the old neighborhood is mostly apartments and condos, dear Earlington, do you remember the woods and pastures? Do any of the old homes recall our childhood days of long ago as fondly as I do. Do you remember the birds and wild flowers of spring and summer? The foggy autumn mornings that lifted to sunny warm afternoons. The cold damp gray rainy cold Novembers evenings with a heart warming blaze in the fireplace.

Remember when we woke to rooster crows, and the neighbor's dog barked to alert us that someone (not from our neighborhood) was walking down our street. Robins chirped to raise the sun, then again at sunset as the day drew to a close to say goodnight. 

I remember walking home in autumn and winter at dinner time. You’d inhale the wonderful smell of ethnicity from the street as you passed each home. On Saturday mornings in spring, summer, and early fall the lawn mowers would start up and soon the smell of freshly cut grass would fill the air. When flowers were blooming a divine sweetness was added to the mix. It filled our senses, it was intoxicating.

As I reflect, I’d like to go back and I know I can’t. I don’t want to say life was better then than now. But now lends the opportunity to remember then and I cherish that. I don’t dwell there, I honor it. 

The other day I was thinking about places. They have a life cycle as we humans do. They were one thing and over time as all of us do became another as changes made us what we turned out to be today.

I was struck with these thoughts. Do they also have memory? I think they must because we’re so alike, in that we came from a place, we lived, we grew, and life and change happened. We’ve all experienced the good, the not so good, and the bad that leaves us with at least a few regrets.

We all evolved, like it or not, and now... now is now. At least until it's yesterday.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Dadisms and a few thoughts

I owe a debt of gratitude to my Dad. No one worked harder, yet he always made time for us boys. I just want to share a few of those ‘Dadisms’ to celebrate. His birthday was August 18, 1921 and he passed back in November of 1998.

There was no such thing as a free lunch and you will earn your keep. My brothers and I all had jobs as kids. Dad wasn't mean. He thought there just wasn't a better time to get ready for life than when you were old enough to get started.


After I totally failed as a paperboy Dad decided on a different job for me at the local music store as a guitar teacher. I had about 2 years of playing under my belt. I was obsessed and practiced for hours every day. That was all well and fine with him, but you need to make a living at it. It wasn’t like I or the owner had a choice when we walked in that day together, "Put him to work", say's Dad. It took me a couple of months but I soon had between 30 to 40 students.

I was 15 1/2 then and Dad’s encouraging advice, “Don't worry about it. You don’t need to know everything there is to know about the guitar. You don’t even need to be the best guitar player there ever was. You just need to stay 2 lessons ahead of your students.”

Al Fabre & Frank Baffaro

I was a little over 16 years old when Dad and I had that ‘father and son’ heart to heart talk. You guys know what I’m talking about. That awkward one that started with a random topic and went on and on and on before it finally got around to
‘the’ conversation. The one about sex. I’m thinking he was really hoping never to have this one, but knowing Mom, insisted,

“Al, you need to have this conversation with your son!” 

Dad’s advice, after a lot of awkward small talk, “Son... you got shit to do. You've got ambition, you got talent. You got dreams. You're gonna have to work long and hard to make it all happen."

"Keep your Peter in your pocket and you’ll be fine.”

I was in my early 20s and Dad was helping me out with some music arrangements for the Pep Band at GRCC. These were early efforts for me at scoring for jazz ensembles with woodwinds and brass. It was a special time because our passions again overlapped and we rediscovered some common ground.

Dad’s advice, “It’s never going to be about the money you make at it. It’ll be about the discovery and the joy it brings you. Just give it your best.”

A random Dad quote I heard many times over the years... 

“Why can’t people just get along?” OMG! Dad. We could use this wisdom today! 

I was at Dimmitt Jr High School in the early 60s. I loved band (a French Horn player) and sports, track and wrestling. I had a relentless petty tyrant, Tom. He made my life hell. Dad said, sorry son, but you're gonna have to confront this one. Take him down even though he's bigger than you, so don't worry about fighting fair. He started it. My coaches and my math teacher at the time agreed and I did just that in the gym one day, I'd had enough.

I was headed out on a tour in the mid 70s. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of politics in music. I was having some extreme business challenges dealing with a few unscrupulous types. 

Dad’s advice, “F**k em!” You’re not anything like them. Just keep doing the right thing son, even if you lose money at it. You’ll keep your self respect, the respect of those who really matter, and you’ll be able to hold your head high. It’s not the end of the world.

I was kind of frustrated one day in my 30s and had several performances coming up and feeling totally overwhelmed. Dad’s advice, “If you love what you’re doing and it matters, slow down and enjoy it. It’s not a race. It’s about your life and loving what you do.”

Dad & Mom, 1956

I was about 11 and did one of those random kid goofy things that boys do. I don’t remember the occasion but I will never forget what he said.

“You’re one of the only kids I have ever known that can fall into a bucket of shit and come out smelling like rose!” 

At about 15 and a half I snuck the car out to do my Sunday morning paper route. I got it stuck in a ditch. I had to walk home and wake the old man up and he say’s,

“Jesus, you really do some stupid stuff sometimes.”

That’s all I ever heard about it... When we got the car out of the ditch, he made me drive it home. I never snuck the car out again.

During one of the darkest chapters of my life I had to make a decision. I was in my late 40s. I moved in with Dad because his end was near, and I too was in need.

(Who was helping whom?, I'll never know.)

One day, we were talking and I went off on his doctors who I thought were full of shit. I mean like really, he’s near the end, he’s dying, and you’re lecturing me about his diet? 

Renegade that I am, that Saturday I made him one of his favorite dinners, a broiled sirloin steak with sautéed mushrooms and garlic, green beans, mashed potatoes, a fresh tossed salad with homemade Italian dressing, and a big helping of Neapolitan ice cream for dessert.

Afterwards we enjoyed a couple of old classic movies. 

Dad asks, “How’d you get to be such a good cook?”

I paid attention growing up. We were fortunate and had several in our family.

Bless you Dad. I really enjoyed our memories this week. I’m thankful for the time we had together. There’s more, but today I'm enjoying that they’re just between you and me. 

Happy Birthday!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Leavenworth, International Accordion Celebration 2022

Reflections: June 19, 2022

Saturday morning I headed down to Auburn to pick up my long time friend, Dave Hoskin.

We’re driving to Leavenworth for the International Accordion Celebration. We left his place about

9:30 AM and then up Highway 18 for Interstate 90 just outside North Bend. It was a typical cool

gray cloudy Spring morning this year with a light sprinkle of rain.

As soon as we were over Snoqualmie Pass to the east side of the Cascades the sun came out.

We arrived in Cle Elum at 11:00 AM and stopped at the Sunset Café for a nice breakfast. Then up

Highway 97 past Liberty, Swauk Prairie and Blewett Pass. It's been a favorite stretch of road and drive

since I started coming over to Wenatchee to teach classes 10 years ago for First American Title.

Today, the greens were two-tone and lush. The new growth formed bright stripes against the seasoned

dark green on every tree. You just know they’re loving the warmer weather and the seasonal daily

oscillation of rain and sun.

We pulled into Leavenworth a few minutes after 1:00 PM. It’s gorgeous, sunny, and the town is full of

people enjoying a Saturday. It took us quite a while to find a parking place. We just kept driving around

and a good one showed up for us off 12th on Commercial Street.

Our first stop was the Civic Center. There was a wonderful collection of antique accordions to view and

I had a fun chat with Bruce Triggs, author of the Accordion Revolution. My favorites were a couple of

small button accordions, especially the Dino Baffetti models.

Dino Baffetti, A. 20 - 2 basses

Back by the concert hall I ran into Joe Petosa Jr. I haven’t seen Joe for about 10 years or so. One day

after Barbie Van Horn and I had finished a social media class in Wallingford I stopped by the old store

on North 45th on a whim for a visit. They relocated a couple of years ago to Lynnwood. 

Dino Baffetti, 8 basses

I was moved by the fact he looks so much like his Dad as I remember. It was great to see him and he

gave me a big ol’ bear hug, twice. Joe Sr. was a dear friend of my Dad’s. They met back in the late

1940s and ever since then Dad played Petosa Accordions exclusively.

I listened to a few players in the hall, then Dave and I headed for Front Street Park to catch a

performance. We stopped at Patterson Cellars along the way and I enjoyed one of their red blend

wines. Funny, I just recently listened to a podcast about them moving their HQ from Woodinville to

Walla Walla. The bartender was a really nice talkative guy. We went out front of the shop to the tables

along the walkway.

When we arrived at the Gazebo on Leavenworth Square the music was just about to begin. Our dear

old friend John Giuliani was playing bass in the accordion ensemble and we heard all the old songs I

remember from childhood. John’s Dad was also a close friend of my Dad’s and both John Sr. and Jr.

took lessons from him. I loved the fact that there were a lot of people of all ages and a wide variety of

ethnic backgrounds enjoying the performance and dancing.

Thanks to John I met a 92 year old guy who played accordion and played a few times on the

Horace Heidt show in Los Angeles back in the early 1950s. Dad also performed on that show a few

times back in those days, so that was our connection. We had a wonderful conversation and I came

away thinking I hope I’m as spry, alert and energetic as he is when I’m 92! I also really enjoyed a couple

of kids who were both just teenagers and very good players. So happy to see that accordions are being

rediscovered and having a comeback!


After the accordion ensemble played we hung out with John for a bit. There was a group of us gathered

around to swap old stories and we had several good laughs. John had to get ready for his next event

and we were off to find a place to eat. He suggested to Dave and I that we stop at Gustav’s. I’m glad we

did. They have a 2nd floor deck and it was great to sit outside and enjoy the view below watching the

throngs of people go from shop to shop. The food was excellent and so was the service! 

I think this was a really good day for all the businesses in Leavenworth. As we roamed around town it

came up a few times that the weather has been pretty lousy and that today was the first really nice day.

The town was packed and every establishment was busy, so yeah!, we’re all making some money today!

Well, the plan is to get back home before dark, so dang this day went by so fast. We’re on the west side

of town and we’re parked on the east side, so it was a bit of a trek. My legs were like rubber and sore,

but I made it.

Accordion Revolution by Bruce Triggs

The drive back home was just as enjoyable and it was dusk when I dropped Dave off in Auburn about 8:20 PM. What a cool way to do a day. I enjoyed the fact this day included a few dear old friends and unexpectedly brought up many good memories and emotional ties to my Dad. As I headed from Dave’s for home in Renton, how fortuitous it is that tomorrow is Father’s Day. It touched my soul.

Leavenworth Fire Hydrant with Wild Flowers

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Happy Birthday, Mom.

It’s my Mom’s birthday. She’d a been 98 today. Born in 1924, she grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. This morning I read a few chapters from her 1990 memoir. 

Mom was a late arrival to the Larson family. Her Mother Edna was 44, and her Father Harvey was 50 when Mary Lee Larson was born. Their home was in Hillyard, Spokane. Grandpa was a cabinet maker for the Great Northern Railroad and he was one of the few that was gainfully employed during the depression.

In one chapter of her memoir, Mom talks about their daily life and routine. They had a wood and coal stove and none of the conveniences we assume today as necessary. Pretty much everything was done from scratch by hand like the Sunday chicken dinner. Grandma ran the house, Grandpa worked and took care of the yard, garden, chopped wood for the stove, and tended Edna's flower garden. I was moved to tears reading how affectionate they were and that Harvey and Edna had such a loving partnership. 

To think in the 1930s this was before wall to wall carpets, vacuum cleaners, central heating, all rooms well lit, tv, computers, and the internet. Hot water for Saturday’s bath was from the side tank on the kitchen stove. They had a regimen, everyone their turn, and Grandpa was last and hopefully before dark because there was no light in the bathroom. 

We moved from the Highlands to Earlington in 1957. This is when my childhood memories really kick in. Mom was a great homemaker, an extremely energetic progressive, and a task master. My brothers and I all had our chores to do. She often quoted her sister Mildred. 

 “Many hands make the task small.”

Mom was always a voracious reader, she loved going to plays and musicals and volunteering for many causes around town. She enjoyed music, making clothes, art, entertaining, being social, Erma Bombeck, JFK, Emmet Watson of the Seattle Times, and happy hour. 

Bless you Mom and thank you! I'm eternally grateful.
The Larson's, Edna, Harvey, Mildred, Marjorie, and Mary Lee

Photo from 1961. It’s Harvey and Edna’s 60th wedding anniversary. They were engaged in 1898 and married in 1901. 

#Family #FamilyHistory #HappyBirthdayMom #RentonWA #mypnwlife #ilovelocal #Spokane #Hillyard #pnwhistory

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Any Time You Give Fully

 Any time you give fully of yourself - there are elements of your old self that are dying because a new self is in the process of emerging.  - Van Neistat

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time

Speaking of Kurt... He said on a few occasions that life after 60 (or was that 65?) was an epilogue. Geez I hope not, yet realize the truth of it. I feel in some way (almost 72) I’m just getting started. Mom always said I was a late bloomer. I wish I could talk to Mom and ask, “Just how late were you thinking?”

I love the fact that Van Neistat is such a DIY (self made) kinda guy. Though he’s much younger than I, he seems like an old soul and more akin to someone my age. My oldest daughter is a few years older than he. 

A survey marker downtown Renton, WA. 1/8/2022

I enjoy Van’s way of doing things. When I was a kid and a young man, it was never about the money or the equipment. If you had an idea you carried it out with whatever you had on hand at the time.

Make it yourself!