If a toad had wings, it wouldn’t bump it’s a$$ every time it leaped.
Wasn’t sure we could make it. First I had to get tickets. Then I had to get transportation. Good news was we were going to be in West Virginia, closer than CA, for a fundraiser for the Food Bank of WV; the Governor’s One Shot Doe Hunt.
After two weeks of waiting and calling a few board members, we got confirmation that the Country Music Hall of Fame would give us two tickets.
I asked CMHOF and they confirmed two tickets for the dinner reception for whomever gave us a ride.
I tried facebook; lots of suggestions but no ride. One friend kept trying her friends. I tried pilot friends in WV, almost a ride…. but no ride. I tried pilot friends in CA. A ride….no ride.
When I packed for our trip our bags were full of huntin’ gear and I didn’t want to bring another bag of nice clothes if we weren’t going to use them. I’m a little superstitious. If I brought nice clothes, we definitely would not get a ride. If I didn’t…just maybe….
I called several charter companies to see if they would do a trade – far too expensive for us otherwise.
Three days before the event, I tried one last one thinking no way but it’s worth an email. We got a response. They’d do it. Woo hoo! Um…how much I asked wincing at the thought of the cost…? Honored to do it – no cost. Wow! Wow! was all I could respond. My second email remembered to say: Thank you.
I contacted Darrick Kinslow, Oak Ridge Boys road manager, and told him it was a go. Only Darrick knew. Jim Halsey had known we were trying to attend as I had asked him if he knew anyone who would fly us.
We flew in mid-day Sunday and rested – we figured and experience told us, even though CMA HOF had said the ceremony would end at 7:30pm, 8 tops, it wouldn’t and it would be a late night. (It was).
I rather wish we had come in a day early. This was my first time to Nashville and to Tennessee ever. There are no clothing stores downtown. I was hoping to find something a little more suitable. I did find a sweater vest for Gen Yeager and a scarf to upgrade my mode of attire. I also bought a guitar string bracelet which proceeds helped the homeless. Somehow that abandoned my wrist during the evening. What a town. (The next day we went to a late breakfast, early lunch downtown. From various bars and restaurants mid-day on a Monday; the music and people were loud, spilling onto the streets…. that early. Wow.)
A few minutes before the appointed hour, we met Lisa, a wonderful gal from CMA HOF, who escorted us from the hotel to the event.
Bill Cody announced us: General Yeager and his wife Victoria as we went through the red carpet. It took a while for each of the media to grasp who this was. This was a music industry event, not an aviation event.
Several jumped to shake his hand.
Chris Golden, William Lee Golden’s son was there. Hugs all around. The media took photos. We asked Chris to keep our presence quiet. (Inductees were secluded so we were hoping the Boys still didn’t know).
We then went over to the line of fans. They were so kind and excited to see a true American hero.
We headed to our seats. The CMA theatre felt like an Elizabethan theater almost in the round with seats almost on the stage. We had the box seats on the balcony on the side of the stage – a great view of the audience and the performers as long as they looked to the side now and again – which they did.
We couldn’t wait to see the looks on the Oak Ridge Boys’ faces when they learned we were there.
We saw Jeff, a band member, on the orchestra level. I had his name wrong (he does resemble another versatile musician who was also attending but not there yet) but he responded. I mean seriously he looked around like someone was calling him. And then waved at us.
We saw Rex, another incredibly versatile band member, and waved. He didn’t look stunned at all – just like an everyday occurrence that General Yeager would be nearby. Very pleased, but not surprised.
Some others waved at us. I smiled back wondering who they were. OH. The rest of the band, fairly new…in coats and ties. Didn’t recognize them at first – they weren’t in their same seats or clothing! It had taken me several years to get the band names down and then some retired from life on the road so these fellas…still trying to imprint their names.
We tried to recognize some of the other attendees. No clue. I was not brought up in the country music appreciation world. In fact, we called it country western until I asked a Southerner if they liked country western music. He said, “Yes. Both.” Whaaaa—? Oh. Ah.
Growing up in Philadelphia and just outside in Bryn Mawr, PA, “Country” to us was depressing. I remember a singing class in LA where the joke was to play that music backwards because forwards the endings were too depressing. A gal in my class was a great writer and singer but depressing. Never heard of her again, unfortunately.
I never was an Elvis fan or a Beatles fan. I was brought up on Broadway musicals and forties dance music. My Dad would let me stay up late to watch all sorts of old movies. I was a Gene Kelly fan. My mother, as usual wondered where I came from – she liked Fred Astaire. He wasn’t manly enough for me.
Recently, especially because Richard Sterban had sent General Yeager a signed book which included Richard’s time singing with Elvis; I listened to Elvis’ voice singing one of my favorite hymns. It was only then that I appreciated what a lovely voice Elvia had.
Today, many of the top young singers are screeching or shouting, there is no poetry and, as a friend pointed out when I was trying to figure out why I didn’t care for some of this music, one does not walk out humming a few bars.
I’ve always loved Gospel though. And quartet. My favorite. I had tried to become a part of Madrigals in prep school but the gal who took over senior year told me she was still mad at me for finishing the math book in 2nd grade before she did while I was home sick. Some people can hold a grudge. They performed only about 2 times that year anyway because the gigs I had lined up wanted me there.
I also loved hymns, great dance music, and John Philips Souza. My cousin, when I visited him, insisted on playing it at 7am to wake up for work. I was on vacation so wasn’t as receptive….
So of course I’ve heard many of the names at the CMA HOF and heard a few songs but….I never went to concerts because the music was always too loud – my hearing tests were off the charts.
Even the board members sitting with us could not tell me who some of the people were so I didn’t feel so bad.
We kept looking for Roy Clark because we heard he would be there. And his musical director, Richard.
Finally, we saw the Oak Ridge Boys walking in with their wives, from stage right on the orchestra level.
First William Lee and Simone. He hugged Chris, his son. I called down to Chris. WL turned around and as he realized who I was, and to whom I was pointing (General Yeager), a big grin spread across his face and under his beard. General Yeager nodded.
I called Joey (Joe Bonsall) but he didn’t respond, didn’t hear me.
The boys all sat down in the front row middle.
Joe looked straight at me. I waved. He didn’t respond, didn’t focus. He did this a few times as he looked around.
Eventually, Duane looked up. I waved. He looked at me as if he was clearing cobwebs….I know her…
As I could see the “penny drop” and he was realizing who I was, I pointed to General Yeager.
Duane looked over. And his jaw dropped. He tapped his heart and nodded.
Joe looked up again. I waved madly, smiled big. One could see the gears slowly grinding. I know her…. not a famous singer…. uh oh, is she trouble…. wait…I don’t think she’s someone I dislike…. wait, she’s….
I was vigorously pointing to General Yeager…
He got it. I know this because he opened his mouth in shock and pointed at General Yeager.
By this time Richard had grasped the situation and was smiling. Donna, lovely in a brilliant red dress, smiled her beautiful big smile and waved at me – we’re buds in a long distance kinda way.
When Joe breathed again, he leaned over to Mary, so beautiful, who looked up. And smiled. We hadn’t met Mary yet.
Duane was still nodding and smiling. Nora Lee, whom we hadn’t met yet either, looked up and smiled.
General Yeager had nodded to each and given his version of a wave.
WL and Simone were also looking up smiling.
Joe eventually put his pointer down and shook his head in amazement.
The show was going on.
We all turned to the speaker.
General Yeager pleased that the Boys were pleased. Me, too.
In many private moments of the evening, I could see Joe tear up. His family was there. His friends were there. One of those moments was clearly that General Yeager had made the effort, and at 92 ½ not a small effort, to be there for his Boys.
General Yeager wondered if he should do more – he’s used to introducing them if he’s in the same town. I assured him just his presence was enough.
I learned about Grady Martin – apparently a great guitar player, an exacting mentor, but a gracious guy if you toed the line. Brenda Lee was tasked with finding his family – he had died in 2001.
After a few waitresses and law enforcement, Brenda Lee found Grady’s son. Grady’s son, whom Gen Yeager had noticed right off – was hiding behind a lot of long hair over his face – gorgeous hair hiding a handsome face. Fairly normal for his age when I was growing up. He gave a magnificent speech. Perhaps even more so because not expected. His delivery was dry but it worked and worked well. He stated, in preparation for this speech, he let his Bible open randomly to a passage. It, in fact, was about music. He had to look up a word. And that led to another word he had to look up too. He truly honored his father and his father’s memory.
I looked over to Duane. He had caught my eye and was nodding, smiling clearly touched that General Yeager would be there for the Boys. I smiled back. A lot of love between General Yeager and the Boys. And some spills over to me. Words can’t describe…
Jim Ed Brown and the Browns were the next honorees. We love Jim Ed Brown’s song: Doggone My Soul How I Love Them Old Songs. We have danced to it fairly often since we got married. I finally found Jim Ed’s contact to ask him to come to Gen Yeager’s 90th birthday. He couldn’t quite make it. For the 92nd birthday, it looked like timing would work. At the last minute, he said he didn’t feel well and so sorry couldn’t go. He died a few months later. We were so sad to hear this – of course, many. many were.
And here we were honoring him and his sisters, Bonnie and Maxine, all well-known for the smoothest harmony.
Bonnie went on for a while about her history and introducing her family. Maxine jumped in and introduced her family and their “family”. One of her family yelled out, “Now behave, Maxine!”
If this was Maxine behaving, I’d love to hear her when she’s not behaving.
After introducing one couple who helped them and gave them a start, she announced that they were 90 years old. She asked them at what age do people stop enjoying sex. They said they didn’t know: Maxine would have to ask someone older.
I watched Donna, quite possibly a kindred spirit, laugh mirthfully at the irreverence. Joe, gave a faux shocked look (maybe not “faux”?) as he laughed and shook his head.
Maxine went on to discuss breaking her hip and a few other bones – she was moving slowly. “The only good thing to come out of it was a permanent screw.”
I don’t know why she gave up performing – her delivery and voice are excellent
Throughout the ceremony, we looked for Roy. I don’t know how we missed him. He was looking grand in his royal blue suede blazer and black hat. He had driven all night and day – 12 hours to get here in time to honor his friends. And he was leaving to go back early the next morning. Wow. (Flying would have been dicey and could take just as long as one had to fly through Dallas from Tulsa and a hurricane was in the way).
Next was the Oak Ridge Boys turn. The CMA HOF doesn’t tell the inductees who will be honoring them so it was fun to watch their reactions.
As Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks took the stage, the Boys were so pleasantly surprised and honored. Trisha and Garth sang “I’ve Been True to You”. Trisha would look at Garth, which meant we got a great view of her looking in our direction with love and affection for Garth.
She has a clear, melodic voice which was easier to notice in the simplicity of this song and venue. Garth, who joined in more towards the end, has a unique voice, easy to listen to. At one point, emotions overcame Trisha as well but she regained and continued.
As they left the stage, the audience gave them a standing ovation.
Kenny Rogers took the stage slowly. He asked the Boys: How many Grammies have you received?
When no one responded, he supplied: Eight?
Joe responded diplomatically: Something like that.
Kenny: More than me
How many No 1 songs?
Kenny: More than me…..Not that I’m jealous or nothin’.
Funny. A big star celebrating the protégés who had become perhaps bigger stars. The country music industry is a lot kinder and supportive than other entertainment industries I’ve seen. A lot. It was a night full of love and kindness.
Kenny had hired the Boys to open for him. Seinfeld was to open first but didn’t show up. The Boys, Kenny said, being professional, said they could just go on. They weren’t worried that the audience was not warmed up.
Kenny clearly enjoyed touring with the Boys and considers them true friends – ones that would help you if you needed it and whom he had helped and would help.
When I was in my 20’s; long before I met Chuck, I had thought about, as girls do, what kind of man I’d like to marry, if I got married. I had thought it would be great to be married to a singer like Kenny Rogers. Then I wouldn’t mind if he was a workaholic. I’d get to hear him sing beautifully as he rehearsed and sang in concert That’s okay, dear, go ahead and work/practice.
Well, I lucked out in many ways when I met Chuck, but in this way too – Chuck has a great singing voice! And great rhythm. Good dancer…Oh yes, before I get carried away and reveal too much, back to the event.
He officially inducted them into the CMA HOF. The Boys took the stage. After being knighted with medallions, (I didn’t see a sword but maybe they didn’t trust anyone with a sword – they might miss), each of the Boys spoke.
Joe led. One of the first things he did was introduce and acknowledge General Chuck Yeager, American hero. The audience stood up in great respect and cheered and clapped and clapped. And clapped. Joe and the Boys were honored. So honored. Joe had to stop for a moment as he felt his voice about to break and tears about to fall. Tears of joy and deep emotion.
Joe related that he exchanges tweets with the General, the latest one being: General Yeager tweeted me and said 68 years ago today, at age 24, I was breaking the sound barrier. What were you doing at age 24?
The audience, including me, laughed. Gen Yeager chuckled at the memory.
Joe went on to say Family is most important. The Oak Ridge Boys are family and their families are extended families. He introduced his family en masse as they cheered him on from the section to our left. I had picked out Jen from her photo on facebook. Very distinctive beauty.
Next came Duane who gave us an insight to his methods. He was at a bit of a loss because he hadn’t followed his own methods. So he had written some notes on little post-its and so his acceptance speech would be short. The audience laughed. He spoke beautifully. Luck. Fortunate. And more. So clear. So apt.
Richard was next. Gen Yeager said he had never heard Richard talk so much. Of course, we usually see Richard before he is about to sing so he is saving his voice. Fortunately Donna was there to prompt him to mention his daughters, one of whom has the same name, Victoria, and nickname as I had in childhood, Tori.
William Lee thanked his partners and then went on to regale us with his upbringing vis a vis music. His sister taught him to harmonize. He was clearly overwhelmed as they all were by this induction.
It was challenging to get from the theatre to the dinner reception – many wanted photos with General Yeager.
We ran into Rex Wiseman, a versatile band member. Hugs all around. We met Chris’s children, William Lees’ grandchildren, and took a photo with them. Attractive group.
We continued on to a table Lisa thought would be near the Boys. It wasn’t really but it all worked fine. Roy found his way to us and sat down. As did his musical director, Richard who was doing well. We hadn’t seen Roy in a while so it was nice for the General and him to visit.
In the 1960’s or ‘70’s; Gen Yeager had been asked to fly Roy to Palm Springs from LA for a concert. And that’s when they first met.
Another time they spent time together was the Wyoming One Shot Doe Hunt. Roy told me: Chuck informed Roy that he had won it the year before and was going to win it that year too. And darn if he didn’t.
Roy tells great stories about Chuck – such a wonderful, positive sense of humor. “They were complaining the Americans were not shooting down enough Germans. So Chuck said, ‘How many do you need? We need more aces (5 enemy aircraft shot down). Chuck said okay, went out, shot down five in one mission, and became an ace in a day.”
That’s the short version of Chuck’s career by Roy Clark.
Next person I found was Jennifer Bonsall. We discussed that it was nice to gather and meet everyone not at a funeral but at a happy event. What a delightful woman! The love, closeness, and joy between her father, Joe, and her is infectious and huge.
Chuck and I met Nora Lee, Duane Allen’s wife. Chuck did not say anything so Nora stepped back. Duane stepped in to explain this was not just an ordinary fan: this is my wife. Chuck regained his composure and replied, “Yes, didn’t you notice my nostrils flaring.”
We all laughed. She is a beautiful woman, very stylishly dressed in black pants, white shirt, vest and blazer and enhancing jewelry with sparkling diamonds.
We met their daughter, son-in-law and some grandkids, all of whom had performed Elvira.
That they were going to sing at the HOA induction was kept secret. Duane’s reaction as they were singing was “Whaaa-aaat?” with his hands wide…. He couldn’t believe it.
It was fascinating to watch the performers be the audience. While one of the performers this night was singing and about to go high, Joe raised his eyebrows, clearly singing in his head along with the performer.
The Boys each tapped along to the music and clapped along as well.
I noticed three of the performers were wearing white very pointed boots with studs, I wondered what the shapes of their feet were and how far up that boot their feet went, what was the purpose of this huge point or was that just the best the bootmaker could do in the 1800’s and with great p.r., it became the fashion. I also noticed that one of the three sets of white boots was tapping his foot the way I do, and the way I noticed long ago that Joe does – taps his heel, not his toe.
I can’t tap my toe – my foot doesn’t bend that well when I’m standing up. I could never do shoot the moon on ice skates either – when you sit down on haunches and stick one leg out – I always ended up sliding on my derriere instead of the skates. I just don’t bend like that.
Later, at the reception, a man wanted to meet Gen Yeager. People often come up to me: I don’t want to bother the General but do you think I could meet him, or, get a photo with him, or…
I tease some of them and say – so why do you want to bother ME?
I looked more carefully at this guy, then his shoes. I asked: “Weren’t you wearing white boots?”
He smiled and said yes, I changed my whole outfit.
Me: “Yes, I remember you.”
I don’t know how he felt about being remembered for his boots but he’s been in the business long enough – he wears the boots to stand out – and if that’s what makes me remember him…..He was one of the harmony singers and frankly stood in the back until the harmony part came up.
I explained who this fellow was to Gen Yeager. He said hello and shook hands. The fellow later thanked me. So nice of him.
Donna and I delighted in replaying some of the irreverent moments. I also told her I have to stand next to her – she looked gorgeous in her red dress – so no one would even notice I was a little under-dressed. I explained my superstitions. I also told Jen I’d be good standing next to her – she was well-dressed too. They all reassured me my dress or lack thereof was a non-issue. I gave up trying a long time ago when my mother’s friend, a brilliant dress designer, died and nothing ever fit or looked right again.
Before they left, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks took the time to brave the fans surrounding them, some a bit too aggressive, to honor and meet General Yeager. They each said a quick hello – General Yeager and they knew that this was not the time for a longer meeting – it was too loud and too crowded. Security helped Ms. Yearwood and Mr. Brooks safely out the door.
Roy and Richard decided it was time to go – they had an early morning.
We started heading out. On the way, Joe introduced his wife Mary. Chuck said: Not too shabby. I wouldn’t cull her. (And that’s something since we had just been culling doe for the West Virginia food bank).
I had met Mary’s sister and mother – almost identical triplets.
William Lee’s sister came over to say hello. I explained to General Yeager that WL said his sister taught him everything he knows. She looked at me and said, “You know when he said that, I did remember telling him a few times the note he wanted for harmony was higher or lower.”
She introduced her daughter and photos were taken – quite fun. WL’s mother wrote poetry, apparently beautiful poetry – clearly a creative gene in the family. WL was going to send me a copy but hadn’t yet. His niece promised to send me a copy. I hope so.
As we made our way to our hotel and hotel room, both of us having enjoyed ourselves immensely, I was reflecting on our relationship with the Oak Ridge Boys.
Something I realized early on in my getting to know the Boys was: one always left their concerts dancing, singing, upbeat. Spreading Good news.
And for General Yeager and me, at the CMA HOF, we were, for a moment in time, part of the family, a family full of love, honor, and respect, respect for family, for their country and for those who protect it.
We decided to go the day before because the Boys were supposed to arrive at 8am Sunday and we thought we might be able to visit a little. We kept getting updates – they had run into a lot of snow, putting on chains, taking off chains….
We decided we wouldn’t take a driving tour of Mt Shasta when we saw the 12 inches of snow and growing.
After one of their tweets still sure they would make the Redding concert on time, General Yeager and I, teasing, let them know we’d stand in – I could do the heel tapping thing Joe does and General Yeager has a great singing voice. I can also do the hand signals Duane and Richard do.
I could do what Jim Nabors told me he did to learn to sing: Jim used to go to a club’s open mike night and tell stories. The owner told him he’d never make it unless he could sing so he gave Jim records of Mario Lanza singing. Jim took them home and imitated Mario Lanza. He got his break though playing the character in his stories: Gooollllllleee!
Now, I listen to the Boys CDs a lot and imitate a little singing along….so….:-)
The Boys got in just in time for the crew to go into fast forward mode and get the Christmas show set up in time for the show start.
We got to the venue an hour early to have some of one of their fan’s Dianne’s homemade lasagna. It was deeeelicious! Thank goodness because the restaurants – just not the same.
We sat in the front row. Darrick Kinslow gave the history of the Oak Ridge Boys and let the audience know about the new CDs and books on sale. He then jumped off the stage, introduced General Yeager and handed him the mike. A standing ovation which always warms my heart and which I know General Yeager appreciates. General Yeager said: I like coming to see the Oak Ridge Boys, I get a chance to hang out with them. Nice bunch to hang out with. Great music.
I was a little surprised that the Boys sat us near the reindeer. At least we were sated so we did not see them as dinner and we didn’t have our rifles with us
The Boys came out and sang well as usual.
They each came over to say a personal hello to General Yeager. How very special and kind.
Joe, early on, told the audience about the Boys being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on October 25, 2015, being there with their families and music friends and then looking up to the balcony and seeing…..General Yeager, who had made the trek to support the Boys. Wow. Then Joe said, He may be over 90, but the General TWEETS! We tweet back and forth!
The audience loved it.
I wish I had a paper and pen with me but some of my impressions were:
One song, Joe was lead. He sang the words and the other three repeated them. I thought, don’t they know the words? Tee hee. As I was thinking this, the words changed to “la la la la” and I thought, Gee even Joe forgot the words. heh heh. (Just kidding – those were the words – ones even I could remember
The Christmas show is well organized. The first half is some of the Boys’ greatest hits including one of my favorites – Gonna Take a River which has a great beat and great words. The second half is filled with Christmas songs. They do it this way Joe told the audience so that during a song such as “Away in a Manger” someone doesn’t yell out, “Sing Elvira!” The audience laughed.
So during the second half of the show, I was tempted to yell “Sing Elvira again!” when there was a quite moment as a joke. But I behaved myself. Frankly there was no opening to do it. The secret to comedy is….t-t-t-timing.
Rex Wiseman played various instruments and has a great Jack Benny deadpan look. My camera kept getting the moment after though. T-t-t-timing. We waved.
During intermission, before we had a chance to go out and visit the Boys for a few minutes, a line formed – people who wanted to say hello to General Yeager. Gen Yeager graciously stayed. Several hundred got to say hello and have their pictures taken with him. Many had personal stories of military service, kids or grandkids serving our country, or meeting the General or hearing him before; all very excited to meet General Yeager. All were very respectful and nice. The ushers were very helpful and kind as well.
Joe sang An Inconvenient Christmas and a few other songs. During one, General Yeager turned to me and said, “You know, he has a good singing voice.” I burst out laughing (okay quietly burst out laughing). After all these years, glad he made that decision. Honestly, I was thinking the same thing – what a great singing voice. Somehow last night, it really soared.
While watching and listening to Duane sing the lead of a particular song, it occurred to me that there are a few things that set the Boys apart and why they are so popular, win awards, and were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. One is they enjoy doing the show, they remember to enjoy themselves and it’s infectious. The other is: they are musicians. Their voices are their instruments and they each feel and act the song.
I remember when I had singing class in acting school. The teacher was keen that we feel and act the song. For us students, it covered a lot of mistakes re notes Singing was a lot more fun.
The Boys do this. And as I thought about cross-over actors/singers, the Boys have created the best of all worlds – they play many different parts each night, many different characters to act and feel each song. How fun!
They also truly enjoy each other’s successes and honor each other. When the audience is clapping for say Richard, the other three are enjoying this. The smiles of joy on their faces when each is not in the spotlight shows genuine care and kindness.
During the 2nd half, Jeff put on a Santa hat – it struck me as hilarious.
Then I noticed Ron had one on- Victoria style one.
Santa came out in his sleigh and gave presents to the kids the came down front. I wondered if he would see the one little shy kid who brought his security bankee and Mom. Yes, Santa saw him. And made sure he got a Santa hat.
Richard Sterban sang a lot more than I remember in shows. Wow! His Merry Christmas in about the lowest notes possible was so melodic and stunningly beautiful.
William Lee’s rendition of Mary, Did You Know? is now my very favorite. His voice and phrasing were about as perfect as one can get. Also, wow.
The Boys sat in rocking chairs and told us personal stories about Christmas. Duane started with: These rocking chairs will extend our careers 10 years.
Got me thinkin’: what if the audience all sat in rocking chairs…?
Joe Bonsall told a story about his mother’s secret recipe. I had tried to bake and bring the Boys and the team General Yeager’s mother’s award-winning butterscotch pah (WVirginian for “pie”) but it turned out badly. Very. So I fed the deer and figured I’d try again later. General Yeager had made it and entered it in the Nevada County Fair and won 1st prize. Clearly he knows how to make it well
The audience loved the show – the auditorium was packed (capacity 2000!) with clapping, singing fans of the Boys.
Because the weather delayed their arrival and caused a departure within an hour of the end of the concert, we didn’t really have any time to visit with the Boys so we hung out in the lobby for a few minutes and visited for a short time with Joe and then William Lee.
It was a lovely way to celebrate the season.
We were guests of the 49ers owners and relegated to the “kids” booth with “The Catch”. Adult kids. Fun times. There were six of us.
Before the game started, we were given passes to stroll around the field. We stopped at one corner. A ball came our way – another fan pounced on it but couldn’t throw.
One of our friends is a Packers fan. I thought it would be impolitic for him to wear his cheesehead or even green. He agreed and complied but he did get excited when we strolled where the Packers were practicing. He tempered it and did so during the game as well.
After the team left to get ready and come out formally, I asked if we could go out and play touch football now? They thought I was funny. I was serious! Sorta. Just play for a few minutes.
Here are some photos of us with some of our friends:
The first time I met Pansy Lee, she took us to Charles, as she called her brother, and her hometown of Hamlin. She showed us Myra and pointed to roads that led to the creek that went up to Grandpa Yeager’s house, the house where Charles was born, the houses in which they grew up, the school, the church, the Chuck Yeager statue and the like.
We stayed for dinner and had leather britches and butterscotch pie. Ever had leather britches? Chuck had prepped me – he had made some for me. I have to say Pansy’s were also darn good. Dried green beans with the beans still inside cooked in chicken broth with a ham hock for several days or a few hours depending on how soon everyone wants to eat.
Her butterscotch pah was to die for. I mentioned that hers was even better than Charles’. While smiling slightly pleased, she admonished me that that wasn’t nice to say in front of Charles.
Not five minutes later, Charles volunteered: This is much better than mine. Win-win-win. He compliments his sister, supports his partner, and is humble about his pie.
The next year, we stayed with Governor Joe Manchin (now Senator). We offered to the Governor that Pansy Lee make him leather britches and butterscotch pah since he had never had either.
He was dubious but reluctantly game. He could always get the chef to feed him something after the guests left…
The Governor’s Mansion chef was from New Jersey and was thrilled to be cooking for General Yeager, yet not cooking. Having no familiarity with leather britches and to make sure we all didn’t starve just in case: he made a great, loaded salad as a side dish.
There was one hitch: Pansy did have enough beans to make leather britches. So we sent her some a friend had dried. She turned up her nose at those and cooked them separately.
She came up to the mansion with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Her grandson was in college and couldn’t get away.
Upon meeting the Governor, Pansy Lee announced: “This is a first. I’m invited to dinner but I have to bring the dinner!”
Governor Joe, with his typical grace replied; “Thank you! I’m looking forward to leather britches and butterscotch pah.” (That’s West Virginian for “pie”.)
We sat outside on the porch on a lovely evening. Governor Joe and everyone took some of each batch of leather britches.
Impolitic son-in-law asked, Well Governor, which batch of leather britches do you like better?
I jumped in fast: Governor, these on the right are Pansy Lee’s; she is sitting to your left. The ones on the left are Gus’. He is not here.
I guess I wasn’t as clear as I thought. He answered, “I like these, pointing to the left.”
Me: Uh Governor, these on the right are Pansy Lee’s, she is sitting to your left. The ones on the left are Gus’. He is not here.
Chuck, being much wiser, diverted attention with his story about flying around the gold capitol next to the mansion and then flying under the bridge not far from the mansion.
We talked about several things. About 15 minutes later, Governor Joe said: You know, I said I like these but I keep going back to the ones on the right for seconds and thirds.”
Pansy Lee, without a moment’s hesitation and with typical Yeager humor, said, “Too late. You lost my vote!”
Governor Joe wasn’t used to irreverence and the Yeagers. He was enjoying himself immensely.
Next we had the butterscotch pah. That caused great quiet to descend at the party – as everyone thoroughly enjoys this delicious dessert.
There were two extra pieces which the chef put up in our guest apartment (which has a kitchen). I learned later that the Governor watched those pieces go with longing.
The next year, we visited during the Christmas season. The Governor invited Pansy Lee and her family to the Mansion with us for dinner. The Christmas decorations were lovely and really put one in the spirit.
After dinner, the Governor gave her a Proclamation – Pansy is the first person (not hired for the job) to come cook for the Governor at the Mansion. What fun! She loved it.
Pansy had some great stories of her childhood with Chuck. Roy and he used to say she couldn’t go to the swimming hole, girls were not allowed because they didn’t know how to swim. Pansy Lee would reason, “How can I learn to swim if I can’t go to the swimming hole?”
When she was about 3, her mother told the boys to do the dishes after dinner. They whined: “Why doesn’t Pansy do it? She’s the girl?”
Their mother said, “She’s too little.”
Shortly thereafter, her mother heard quite a bit of banging in the kitchen. She came in to find Pansy on several boxes the boys had piled up trying to do the dishes.
The first time a West Virginia trooper drove us to Pansy Lee’s, when we told him the menu: leather britches and butterscotch pah, one could tell he was thinking he’d be eating after the evening was over.
After he tasted the food, he was pleasantly surprised and did not leave hungry.
After this, whenever Charles and I would fly to West Virginia, the West Virginia troopers would fight over who would drive us down to Pansy Lee’s. Word was out – her leather britches were delicious and the butterscotch pah unmatched.
Pansy was amazing. At 82 and older, Pansy was still volunteering five evenings a week at the hospital gift shop. She sure kept active and alive and giving.
Pansy Lee died last January at age 88. We’re glad we had the chance to visit with her about once a year and about two months before she died. She had stopped making the pah about two years before.
After many tries, I’m getting closer to how good hers was.
But it won’t ever be the same.
We recently went to the Nevada County Fair and visited the guys who run the one lung engines as we do every year.
Those engines remind me of my Dad. When I was a kid, he would have me climb all the way up those hills to fill the gas tanks and keep those engines running. Dad needed those engines to bring water up to the gas wells he was drilling.
Keeping those engines running and toting that gas up those hills was hard for a little kid. But I did it. And I learned about engines.
Other than in Africa, I had been camping maybe once. I think my parents have never been camping. Ever.
Shipley, where I attended from 2nd grade through 12th grade, had decided that an Outward Bound retreat the weekend before school started would be an ideal bonding experience. I was about to enter 8th grade. I had no friends because the ones I had until seventh grade became the “cool” kids; into drugs, heavy petting at the very least, and bullying – none of which was interesting to me. The non-“cool” ones were generally non-athletic and had different interests. I deflected the bullies with humor and avoidance. Since I was a pretty good athlete I had some value so was left alone pretty much.
The retreat was interesting but two days in the Poconos was enough for me. Our group had one of the male teachers who was hugely overweight. One exercise in trust, teamwork, leadership, etc. was: we had to get the group over a wall or those left behind would “die”. After several different attempts at different strategies, even the guide let the teacher walk around. If only life were so easy…Wall? Die if you don’t get over? Just walk around.
So when General Chuck Yeager, GCY, asked if I wanted to go on his annual fishing/hiking trip into the Sierras, I was thrilled. After forty years of traveling all over the world, this invitation opened up a a completely new world and experience.
One afternoon of the fourteen days sticks out in my mind. We had hiked for three days to get to our first spot where we would spend at least four days. We had arrived in the afternoon, had set up our tent, and started fishing for our supper: the famed golden trout.
We had been surviving on almonds, raisins, and beef jerky (I didn’t eat the beef jerky – I brought my trusty protein powder for emergencies) for lunch and dinner. For breakfast; oatmeal, tea and coffee. As a treat; hot chocolate and “atta boys”.
Atta boys were Werther’s butterscotch candy for those times when you had a strenuous hill to climb.
GCY was teaching me how to fish. I had only been fishing once – on a kid trip in France. No one on that trip knew how to fish. I think I caught an old boot.
While GCY was using a fly rod, he decided I should start on a spinning rod.
We fished side by side while he gave me pointers now and again.
I could throw pretty well medium distance so got the spinner out into the lake pretty far. GCY had warned me: “Don’t let it sink and get caught on a rock. We don’t have that many spinners.” And laughed.
Terrified we’d starve if I lost the spinner, I reeled it in quickly.
GCY: “Not so fast, the fish aren’t on the top.”
The next toss then, still terrified, I tried to slow down.
GCY: Not so fast!
I tried again.
I watched GCY catch a couple of Goldens. Watching him concentrate on putting his rod together, carefully choosing his fly, tying his fly on in his unique way, casting, stripping (which with a fly rod essentially means retrieving)….well that is poetry in motion.
Then as GCY watches the fish take notice of his fly in the clear, frigid waters of Fungston Lake, and plays with attracting the fish to consummate and bite the fly…
Fish on! The fish jumps a little trying to shake the hook. Zigs. Zags. GCY plays him, clearly enjoying it all, exuding great mrth. Woo hoo! GCY has me hold the fly rod – not going to trust me to take the fish off and not lose it. (Neither of us were going to let me be in that position J.
He bleeds it and then strings the first catch on a stick and secures the stick by burrowing one end in the sand under the water in the shallow edge. Keeps the fish cold and wet. Well. We have GCY’s dinner.
He looks at me and says: “Catch a fish!”
He turns to his rod, checks the fly and the line for glitches before he tosses it out again and his line floats to the surface of the lake. He lets his tip sink and when he thinks it has sunk far enough, he starts bringing it in in spurts, to make his fly appear as food, a bug. to the fish.
I continue tossing and retrieving….still too fast.
After watching me through several exercises in good tossing and not so good retrieving; GCY said: “You’ll have to learn how to fish if we’re going to go to Alaska in two months!
Alaska. I had always wanted to go there but could not figure out how to make the trip worthwhile. I had had all sorts of offers to visit but just not from the right person. Until GCY. Within a month of knowing him, out of the blue he said: Want to go fishing in Alaska?
I like doing just about anything with GCY but add going to a place I had always wanted to go and with someone who knew it well? I couldn’t say “Yes” fast enough! Now I felt the trip was threatened. I had to learn how to fish. And fast.
The umpteenth time the reel came skipping across the top, GCY said, You have to let it sink so it gets to the fish, gets their attention.
I tried again. Here came the spinner skipping merrily.
The umpteenth plus one time, GCY, with great patience, said, When it hits the water, count to three before you start reeling.
I let the spinner sink. GCY, music to my ears, said, “Atta girl. Now reel.”
GCY: “That was good. Try again.“
I tried. Used the counting to three method. I was thinking this is too much like work. What happened to napping with the rod next to you until you felt a tug? Actually, my attitude was this is too sedentary. I want to go exploring the hills. But this was also dinner.
After several more attempts, finally, halfway in, I felt a tug. I was elated!
“I GOT A FISH!” Now what do I do?
I tugged back.
GCY looked over, assessed the situation and said: “That’s not a fish, that’s a rock.”
Me: It’s a fish!
A few more tugs…. See!
GCY replied: That’s a rock!
Me: It’s a fish!
GCY, with his famous quizzical look of great bemusement, said: Can’t you tell the difference between a fish and a rock?
As I was contemplating how to describe the differences and maybe the question was the scientific differences, GCY broke in to this heavy thinking and said:
A fish wiggles!
Simple. And brilliant in its simplicity.
Me? I took a break.
I used to love going to baseball games. For the hot dogs. Hot dogs just taste better at the ball park. Dad took us to some football games in Fairmount Park when it was safe but the first baseball game was with my 10th grade best friend. Her father took us along with her younger sisters and their friends.
As the hot dog vendor came by, he asked who would like hot dogs.
My friend Eve shouted, “I do!”
Her younger sister B shouted, “I do!”
Her youngest sister shouted, ”I do!”
My turn: I quietly answered, “I’d like two, please!”
The father Mr. H, the CEO of a department store, was outraged. Think “Oliver” – You want some MORE RERERERE!!!!!” But he did his best to not show it. He wasn’t happy – he was sure it would be wasted. Yet I had said, “Please.”
He ordered it – he didn’t know me well enough yet to yell at me or say no.
The hot dogs were passed out. As I was finishing my first one, and going onto the second, Mr. H, having finished his, looking at my second one, was already desperately trying to locate the hot dog vendor while asking us if anyone would like another one.
He gave me what was, I learned later, his typical snide approval look.
He and everyone else wanted a second one and had to wait until the vendor came around again. (I would have offered mine to him and waited but I had already eaten part of it).
I was contemplating even then asking for another as a joke but thought that would be pushing it…when Mr. H asked, “Tori?”
Between bites, I replied, “No thank you. I have to save room for ice cream.”
I think Mr. H was going to lose it. But he stayed on track with the hot dogs.
He asked if we wanted anything to drink. Soda all around.
“I suppose you want a large?” was his snide attempt at humor.
“Yes, please.” He gave me a little benefit of the doubt as I was establishing a track record.
I think we had everything – ice cream, popcorn, caramel corn, peanuts….
I don’t think I was ever invited again – too expensive!
The next game I remember was when I had met Jimmy Carter as he was running for office.
He shook hands with everyone. He was coming in and turning left. I was to the right. Easy to miss. He stopped as though he had radar of a hand to shake, turned, and shook my hand. Eyes in the back of his head. It was powerful. For about two seconds I thought about voting for him. 1976 was my first year to vote for President.
The next game was when I worked as an assistant to Chuck Howard at the 1979 World Series between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. I started out as a production assistant but I was constantly doing things ahead of when they were needed. It got Chuck Howard’s attention.
He noticed particularly before the second game of the series, I was there as a temp – from university. The weather had turned very, very cold. I had summer clothes essentially so I just put on everything I had with me whether they “matched” or not. And what covered it all was a wrap-around madras skirt. Very preppy.
Chuck Howard came out of the control room, saw me in my wild get up (which I had forgotten about – no mirrors around), looked at me dubiously, and burst out laughing.
I smiled back. He had never seen anyone dressed like that who really didn’t care what she looked like. I did say – Hey I was cold and this was all, and I do mean all, of what I had.
He put me in the control room with him and Andy Sidaris, the director. Apparently Andy behaved better when I was there – before, he was downright gross apparently.
Which must have been something because in front of me, I remember him stuffing a hot dog in – I mean the entire hot dog, roll, onions, relish, mustard, in his mouth and then saying (best I could tell) through the bread, hot dog, mustard, “Cue the nerd!” meaning Howard Cosell.
As I watched and listened, I noticed that every time Chuck Howard communicated to Howard Cosell what to say, Howard Cosell sounded brilliant.
Now and again, Howard would go out on a limb without getting the words from Chuck Howard, and he’d say something nonsensical. The whole control room would groan with a slight chuckle. “OHHHHHHH Howard!!!” was the collective response.
Once I got the hang of it, I would suggest the replay when asked. One time the associate producer set up the wrong shot. Chuck Howard reamed him – without taking a breath. Finally when he absolutely had to take a breath, the associate producer grabbed his chance and jumped in: “Sorry Chuck, I f—ked up!”
Chuck Howard stopped short, calmer, barked, “Okay. Don’t let it happen again!”
I thought wow –
Was being reamed,
End of incident.
No squirming and excusing.
But don’t do it again.
Works for me.
We drove to Pittsburgh for the next game while the big wigs flew. This series opened my eyes to baseball. The TV employees cheered for whichever team would get them to the full seven games. TV got bonuses if they did and ratings were huge.
I also found out why baseball had gotten so slow. The guy who was my first immediate boss, a full time production assistant, and a bit of a creep, when he was a production assistant, had suggested he stand at third base and when they wanted to do a commercial, let him know, he’d put on a white towel so the players would know to slow down.
Literally the players would go into slo-mo getting to the next pitch or the next inning.
The creep apparently was promoted for this one idea and it went to his head. I don’t think he got beyond that one promotion though.
At Baltimore, I was standing outside the VIP section and Joe DiMaggio walked out. I asked him for his autograph on my baseball which the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher had already signed. I couldn’t believe I was seeing someone I had only read about and had quite a sports and social history. He smiled kindly at me and very graciously gave me his autograph. That was pretty special.
It was quite the year with the Pittsburgh Pirates coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series in 7 games.
The next game I attended was several years later with my Dad at Philadelphia’s Veteran’s Stadium. Chuck Howard gave us some seats for the World Series. The Phillies were losing. Badly.
This game could be the last for the series if the Phillies lost. While the score was a gazillion to one against them, there were still three innings. With only two innings left, the crowd started leaving. How rude and unsupportive. More hot dogs for us, though. And less traffic later.
Dad and I calculated how the Phillies could still win in the bottom of the ninth. It included two grand slams. Or one grand slam and one home run for extra innings…
We stayed till the very end. The Phillies lost.
The next game was in the 1990’s. I went to a game in LA with a friend. We ate everything. By then the food was far more upscale than hot dogs. But they just didn’t understand – you can’t improve on good hot dogs at a ball park!
But after the hot dogs, we had ice cream and then pizza and then….I can’t remember….but it was wonderful. And very filling.
I think the very next game was last week – 2015: the San Francisco Giants vs Milwaukee Brewers game.
I had contacted the administration. The owner very generously gave us four tickets and Larry Baer very kindly gave us two more.
So we went with four friends. Very fun. We went to the Field Club first for supper; had some….you guessed it: hot dogs.
Finding a seat was a challenge: an investor and his well turned out wife let us sit with them. Delightful people. At the table next door was just one fellow so I asked if we could use the rest of his table. He clearly was anti-social but couldn’t say no. I said – really it’s okay if you want to say no but…?
The couple next to him after about 10 minutes gave us their table and noted that the anti-social one was now sleeping. Weird. Hope it didn’t end sadly.
The regulars steered us to the right stuff but by then I was pretty full. The triple sliders looked good – pastrami.
Our new best friends, the investor, told us to get the vanilla ice cream with coffee. She was thin and probably could have used 10 of those, the decaf version.
We got plain vanilla and shared.
The investor told us to wait longer – but we sure wanted to not miss the first pitch. We went a little earlier than they did. All ready for the opening pitch, who is getting in their seats blocking our view of the first pitch……..?????
The SF Giants put us on the big screen during a break in the second inning.
It was a bit awkward. To see us on the screen I had to turn completely away from the camera. So the audience including me would see the back of my head or they would see the front of me but I wouldn’t.
As our friends said it was heartwarming to see 40,000 people standing and cheering General Chuck Yeager, an American hero.
Larry Baer showed up and introduced himself by sticking his hand out to General Yeager, very close to try to be heard and personal. We had never met him or seen a photo of him and due to the loudness could not hear what he said.
General Yeager pulled back from this stranger in his face. Remember, in World War II, General Yeager was shot down behind enemy lines, had to find friendlies in enemy territory, and not trust anyone – they might be the enemy. Once a few years before, at a July 4 party, a guy tried to hug General Yeager from behind. Boy, that guy was lucky he wasn’t on the ground with General Yeager’s foot on his throat. It was close.
I explained to General Yeager: This is Larry Baer. We are sitting in his seats – he gave them to us. That’s why he’s in the cheap seats. (He was sitting in the front row – we were in the second row). Larry looked at me, saw I was smiling, and laughed.
General Yeager immediately followed up with wonderful warm smile: “I kept it warm for you – would you like it back?”
Larry laughed again.
I asked the kids in front of me a few questions – there were some stats letters with which I was not familiar.
I mentioned to one friend how much Gen Yeager likes caramel corn. Next thing I knew the friend had peanuts and dripping caramel corn. Delicious. We sent some to our other friends and they never returned it. The caramel would have been really great on ice cream.
One friend was teed off – people were leaving. The SF Giants were not doing well this game. They had a beginning of a rally but it didn’t pan out or it panned to three outs.
We had a close view of the different stances for batters. Wow! I recall our coaches in prep school telling us there was one way to stand and we were yelled at if we tried to personalize it. We had some good athletes in my prep school class – who would have been great with the right coaches.
At one point a little girl in SF Giants uniform ran out with a bat. I turned to one friend and said, “They have a ringer.”
Larry turned to us and asked if we were Giants fans.
I replied, “I’m here for the hot dogs.” He laughed. I think he thought I was kidding
Chuck mentioned his cousin was Steve Yeager.
Larry: “Oh so you’re a Dodgers fan, then.”
Chuck replied, “Naw.”
I chimed in: “Not today!”
Larry smiled, nodded. We understood each other.
When the balls hit the dirt, the players would throw them in the stands – generally to kids – and not 57 year old kids either! Sometimes the players kept them and we felt gypped.
It was fun.
As it became clearer that the SF Giants might not make that comeback, although I wanted to tell Larry to leave his seat again – that’s when they got their two runs – Larry turned and said it’s your first time. We had a run of six wins, must be you.
I then told him that he should leave his seat and why.
General Yeager responded: “A little of that crap goes a long way!”
Everyone around was laughing – they aren’t used to people jiving Larry that way. He’s a nice guy – and clearly a bright fellow. Very successful as he inspired a great venue and a successful time with a sell-out enthusiastic crowd almost every game. Going to a SF Giants game is a fun, positive adventure and so much more than baseball.
Of course, we had the one proposal on camera. And she said……Yes. Finally! Geez. But very good theater.
After the game was over, the guy on Gen Yeager’s left noted: “That was kinda rude to blame you for the Giants loss.”
I smiled. Lemme in Coach!
Then he turned around again and said: “It’s probably because you didn’t recognize him!”
Everyone around us laughed.
A few people came around for photos with General Yeager before we left.
Quite a fun night!
I rushed to the audition. It was for a big show of A Chorus Line in Los Angeles. I was 23 and looked 15.
Rumor had it, if you couldn’t do a double pirouette and a time step, don’t show up. I hadn’t done a double pirouette, or a controlled one, of those in years. So I kept practicing, making myself dizzy.
STEP, KICK, KICK, LEAP, KICK, TOUCH….AGAIN!
STEP, KICK, KICK, LEAP, KICK, TOUCH That connects with…
STEP, KICK, KICK, LEAP, KICK, TOUCH TURN, TURN, OUT, IN, JUMP, STEP
STEP, KICK, KICK, LEAP, KICK, TOUCH STEP, KICK, KICK, LEAP, KICK, TOUCH
TURN, TURN, OUT, IN, JUMP, STEP Got it?… Going on. And…
TURN, TURN, TOUCH, DOWN, BACK, STEP,
PIVOT, STEP, WALK, WALK, WALK.
Time step was no problem. I love tap dancing and style.
RIGHT! LET’S DO THE WHOLE COMBINATION,
FACING AWAY FROM THE MIRROR.
FROM THE TOP. A-FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!
“God, I hope I get it.
I hope I get it.
How many people does he need?”
Many had already gone through the audition. It was the turn of next group of ten, including me, number 4.
The first person. ONE
They asked her to step forward.
She did. SINGULAR SENSATION
They asked her name.
Please do a time step. EVERY LITTLE STEP SHE TAKES
She kinda did.
Please step back.
The second person same routine
They asked her to step forward. ONE
They asked her name. THRILLING COMBINATION
She told them.
Please do a time step. EVERY MOVE
She did. Sorta OOPS
She kinda did. OOPS
Please step back. SHE MAKES
The third person’s turn. ONE
They asked her to step forward.
They asked her name. SMILE
She told them. AND SUDDENLY
Please do a time step. NOBODY ELSE
She did. WILL DO
She kinda did. YOU KNOW YOU’LL
Please step back. NEVER BE LONELY
She did. WITH YOU KNOW WHO
MY TURN! Yikes. I was ready though – I had the pirouette down….SHE WALKS INTO A ROOM ,
Please step forward. AND YOU KNOW HER MADDENING POISE
I did. EFFORTLESS WHIRL
Please state your name. OH STRUT YOUR STUFF, CAN’T GET ENOUGH!
Victoria D’Angelo OOH! SIGH! GIVE HER YOUR ATTENTION DO I HAVE TO MENTION
Please step back. SHEEEEE’S THHHHHE OOOOONNNNNE…….Oops. Not.
Confused, and stunned….I did think; should I have come up with a better stage name? Carol Lombard? No. Maggie Smith? Gale Storm? Should I ask to try again?
After the 10th person, they asked us to exit stage left. I think they named everyone in my line but me to stay for the second round.
I left. Still stunned. Now singing:
“God, I really blew it!
I really blew it!
How could I do a thing like that?
How could I do a thing like…
Now I’ll never make it!
I’ll never make it!
He doesn’t like the way I look.
He doesn’t like the way I dance.
He doesn’t like the way I…
I drove back to watch the auditions to see if I could learn something.
Those that remained were following the dance steps. As I watched, I realized that I was shorter than all of them by at least 3 inches.
Not much I could do about that.
Today, if they had asked me to step back, I probably would have asked Why?
As I think about it, I didn’t walk or step forward like a ballerina either….my toes are generally straight when I walk.
Then again….maybe it was the name.