Chapter 1: A New Boy in Town
So Be It!
by Mariano Guardino II
Edited by M. Constance Guardino III
I entered this world with little fanfare, January
1920, in San Jose, California. I was named Mariano Guardino after my
paternal grandfather. My mother was born in Palermo, Sicily,
8, 1900. My father came from Omaha, Nebraska, where he was born
11, 1895. His parents came from Trabia, a small town north of
Dad was small in stature, standing five feet six and never weighing
more than 135 pounds in his lifetime. Mother was barely five foot
[four foot eleven] and always carried a few extra pounds for
throughout most of her life. Dad died at 64 from prostate cancer and
mother at 84 from heart disease.
Longer than I can remember, I was nicknamed
Later I changed it to “Monte” because I liked it better. I was the
eldest of six surviving siblings; a sister died in infancy during
1918 flu epidemic of World War I and was buried January 1, 1919.
I was enrolled at Grant Grammar School at age
The school was located just around the corner from our small,
always crowded home, located in the center of “Little Italy,” one
from Holy Cross Catholic Church, hub of the lively, Italian
which had a distinctive Sicilian flavor. It was the first language
many of the elder inhabitants. There were other “Little Italys” in
Jose, but this was the big one.
Backesto Park was located near the church, where
elders played the game of “bocce,” a form of outdoor bowling. The
youngsters, myself included, played American baseball which produced
some pretty good players, such as “Yankee Clipper" Joe DiMaggio from
nearby San Francisco. ”Little Italy” in San Jose’s Northside was a
closely united and highly prejudiced community within a
community--anyone not being Italian, and specifically Sicilian, was
missing a lot and was often regarded as an outsider!
At age 12, I graduated from Grant Grammar School
Peter H. Burnett Junior High, located two miles away, through
into a predominantly non-Italian environment. The graduation was
particularly challenging to me and my Sicilian buddies. We were gang
oriented and our social perceptions were shallow. We walked to the
school in groups, boys with boys and girls with girls, for
just in case we were set upon by other ethnic groups, such as the
Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos. It never happened. We were being
own worse enemies!
Chinatown, by reputation, was a spooky, shady
especially at night and during the weekends. All of of our fears
to be fruitless. It was the Italians, and specifically the
who were the most likely troublemakers.
Chapter 2: Growing up Fast
As heads of the Guardino family, Joseph and
had more than their share of problems raising six super charged,
excitable, house full of children. Joe was a lifelong cannery
starting as a family breadwinner at age thirteen. He worked during
summer in a cannery when school was in recess for three months, as
helper to an older, adult sister, who was employed as a fruit
namely apricots, pears and peaches.
When summer work ended and schooling resumed,
Joseph won his argument to continue working at a job offered him in
cannery warehouse, potentially a year-round employment, if he worked
hard. His family offered little resistance, for they desperately
the added income to the family coffers. Dad gave what he earned to
mother and kept very little for himself.
Twenty years later Joe was promoted to a
foreman position. He was now hard at work raising his own family. He
met my mother in the cannery cafeteria during the summer of 1917
they were both working.
Dad stayed on the job 52 years, until one hot
day when he collapsed at work while pushing a heavy cart. He was
into a car and transported to a nearby hospital, cursing all the
first at his not wanting medical attention, because he didn’t think
had a serious problem...and look at all the work he was missing!
He was diagnosed as having prostate cancer and
worked again. As a full-time, year-long employee, his employer,
California Packing Corporation (Del Monte Brand), had provided him
with cost-free annual physical examination. But he was too proud
to ever admit he was ill. He put up a strong, but losing battle,
the expectation of someday returning to work. He wore his working
clothes whenever he could while hospitalized.
His penis became cancerous and was surgically
removed at the University of California Hospital in San Francisco.
After that traumatic event, he went into deep depression and
to family members that he was no longer a man and deserved to die.
He had a large funeral, and his body rested in
modest coffin. A five-diamond company service pin was in his lapel,
each diamond representing ten years of hard, dedicated work. He was
buried in his Sunday church suit but I am sure he would have
his foreman's work clothes! A cherished Holy Rosary had been placed
With this sketch of my family background, I’ll
return to my entering junior high at age twelve in June 1932. It was
the start of an exciting new chapter in my young life. I was still a
cocksure Sicilian-Italian-American, but now I faced a big new world,
getting away from the restraints of “Little Italy”...and later
my own medical problem!
Upon finishing the seventh, eighth, and ninth
grades, I was promoted, with fairly good grades, to San Jose High
in 1935, a non-segregated seat of higher learning, with an
of 1,800. It was the only high school in town, except for a related
technical high across the street and sever church-sponsored schools.
At San Jose High, I widened my social contacts,
a lot of new friends, many non-Italian. I especially enjoyed meeting
pretty girls with light brown or blond hair, which contrasted with
olive skin and jet-black hair, which was often pasted down with
oil. I stayed clear of the Italian girls. I had learned at a very
age that Italian parents, mine included, were too strict with their
daughters. If you showed the slightest interest in their protected
daughters, mama and papa went on the defensive: “You date my
you marry her!”
I had long been a movie buff and seldom missed a
Saturday matinee at the Jose Theater, preferring western and war
movies, and the rougher the better. I was usually accompanied by a
buddy or two. In school I became interested in drama and acted in
several short plays and skits. I was truly smitten and felt that I
found my goal in life, to be a movie actor in the mode of Rudolph
Valentino, whose handful of movies I saw over and over. I
enjoyed the relationships he had with the leading ladies. If he
do it, why couldn’t I? It is interesting to note that my mother
Mr. Valentino, while my father was more into Tom Mix and Buck Jones.
Seems I was born into the best of two worlds. I was told by many
bore a resemblance to Tyrone Power and some said more like Cary
I believed them all and figured somewhere in between. Some even said
was too “cocky” for my own good. My mother settled it for me. She
favored my looking like Mr. Power!
But she would proudly declare, “I like my boy
Come June 1938, at age 18, I graduated from San
High School with strictly mediocre grades. I enrolled across the
at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University) as a
speech-drama major, with music as a minor, as a result of my having
played a backbreaking, hand-me-down, full-sized professional model
accordion since I was twelve. The best description of my high school
scholastic achievement came from a school counselor who said, “You
got good grades when you like a subject. Better change your
young man, or you’ll go nowhere!”
I knew where I was headed and looked forward to
career in the movies. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was
And if I didn’t make it on the silver screen, I could always fall
on my “Stomach Steinway,” the accordion. I had been playing the
instrument at parties and similar social events, usually with a
saxophone player, who also played the drums, with a strong beat.
As a parting shot of San Jose High, I did not
the Senior Prom. I had a date in mind, but came to the realization
I was stepping out of my class for the event. Her family was notably
wealthy and mine, especially me, was notably poor. I could never
up to her status, not even on a rental basis...expensive
limousine service, which was the current rage, dinner at an
restaurant, dancing at the Country Club...all too rich for my blood.
I made myself scarce as the prom date approached
practically hid from the girl. She had lovely brown hair and pale
eyes. I was also embarrassed by the sound of my given
It sounded great in Sicilian, but lost much of its beauty in its
American translation, sounding more like a girl’s name. My family
friends knew me as “Mino” but to the uninformed, I was Morono,
Maritone, Marsano, Marconi, etc. I was looking for an
attend, anything to stay clear of the prom, traditionally one of the
biggest days of the high school years.
On the day of the big event, I wilted and went
hiding. A buddy and I went to see a western movie instead. We drove
father’s broken down Chevrolet and went Dutch treat, each paying for
his own ticket, each knowing what the other was thinking. The date I
could have had went with someone else. She rarely spoke to me again.
What a lousy Valentino I turned out to be! Perhaps I was not as
cocksure as I thought I was. I was socially embarrassed and ashamed,
never before in my life, especially when I learned that the prom
for the most part, stiff and unexciting, and I chuckled to learn
the guy who dated my “dream girl” was somewhat of a creep.
The last I heard, my should-have-been prom date
enrolled by her parents in a prestigious Eastern college. I was
to be enrolled as a speech-drama major at San Jose State, at this
a little shaken in confidence and not at all sure where this would
Chapter 3: Rude Awakenings
Now enrolled at San Jose State, I plunged into my
studies with much enthusiasm and great expectations. I petitioned
the classes that I felt would lead me to Hollywood as the next
Valentino, although he had been dead several years and lost much of
luster. Nevertheless, stand by everybody, I’m on my way!
Unfortunately, most of my classes were not what I
wanted. I did, however, enroll in a beginning acting class. At last,
thought, I was on my way, but who needs all that other stuff...
economics, social studies, etc., to be a movie actor?
Then came what I thought was my first big break.
There was a notice on the bulletin board announcing auditions for
play “Brother Rat,” a popular movie and stage play of the day. The
movie version starred Ronald Reagan. I hurried to the school library
and checked out the play, quickly read it and decided to try out for
Come audition day, I was ready to take on all
comers. The audition went well. I was told by the director, one Hugh
Riley, that I had read very well. He announced that the cast
would be posted on the bulletin board. I could hardly wait. I just
that I had the part I wanted, but was prepared to settle for a
role...anything to get on the stage...anything!
A couple of days later the cast was listed on the
bulletin board. My name was not listed. Surely, there must be an
The director said I read well. What possibly could have gone wrong?
was eager to find out.
I ran from the bulletin board and charged into
director’s office, my Sicilian temper seething and my blood boiling.
The usually placid secretary saw me coming and was alarmed at the
of me. My right fist was doubled as I stopped in front of her desk.
“I want to talk to Professor Riley!” I demanded.
“I’m sorry, but he’s in conference.”
“Let him know I’m here! I gotta talk to him!”
She offered me a glass of water. I snapped back
I wasn’t interested. “All I want to know is why I was left off the
of “Brother Rat!”
“I have no idea. You’ll have to take that up with
Professor Riley! I’m sure he had his reasons.”
“What would that be?”
“I have no idea!”
I sat down to cool my heals. A few minutes later
door opened and the visitor left, hesitatingly leaving the door
Over the intercom I heard Dr. Riley’s booming voice coming through.
sounded angry. “Would you send Mister Guardino in?”
The secretary smiled nervously as I jumped from
chair and charged into the office, pulling the door hard behind me
ready to do battle. Professor Riley, without offering me his hand,
pointed to the chair in front of his desk and fairly screamed at me,
“Sit down! I want to talk to you!”
I sat down nervously, not knowing what to expect.
His Irish eyes were not smiling.
“So you want to know why you were not listed in
cast of “Brother Rat”? Well, I’m going to tell you straight from the
hips and I hope it does some good!”
He was now looking me straight in the eye, his
“You are not only one of the most egotistical
persons I have ever met, but you are not even a good physical
for had we had in mind for the part you wanted!”
“What does that mean, I’m not a good specimen?”
“I don’t wish to insult you, but you are
“Now what the hell does that mean?”
“Oh, come now...you...you should have known you
don’t stand up straight...like a military man should. Yee gad, do I
have to draw you a picture? You flunked the audition!”
Then simmering down a bit, he added, “Sorry if I
hurt your feelings, but that’s the way it is.”
I sat there petrified. I had no idea what he was
“Oh come now! Don’t act so surprised! Someone
have told you that you have a very unmilitary posture!”
He lowered his voice a bit. “Didn’t anybody ever
tell you that your back is...bowed from the middle of your shoulders
clear down to your butt?”
“No, sir!” I began to feel humble in his
“Well, I’ll be damned!” He was again looking me
straight in the eye. “If I put you on the stage as a specimen of the
virginia Military Institute, the audience would laugh us both out of
Having made his point, and sorry he had done so,
forced a smile and offered his hand in friendship, which I was
reluctant to take. “All isn’t lost. Would you accept a walk-in role?
left one open for you. The experience will do you good.”
My first impulse was to tell him in to shove it
English and Sicilian, but I remained mute, too shocked to respond.
“Well, you think about it and let me know.” He
checked his wristwatch. “I’m running late. I have a class to teach.”
“I’ll take it!”
“Good! I’ll add your name to the cast. Rehearsals
I departed sheepishly, leaving the door open. I
half-smiled at the bewildered secretary and departed the building as
fast as I could, without running!
“Swayback! How in the hell did that happen?” I
nude before a gymnasium, full-length mirror asking that question as
checked out my unmilitary posture.
“Poor posture? What the hell’s he talking about?
I’ll be damned! My back does cave in from my shoulders to my butt.
come I never noticed it before? Why didn’t somebody tell me? How did
Now I knew why my weight was normal for my size,
five foot nine and a half, yet my stomach stuck out in front giving
the unexplained pot belly effect. I had been told many times to suck
my gut. Now I knew why. Didn’t seem possible! What a bummer! What a
freak, and nobody told me...till now!
I spent the next few minutes before the mirror
studying my posture from every conceivable angle, while muttering
curses in both English and Sicilian, as my father would do when he
extra mad--like the time at work when he helped to unload a boxcar
coal to keep the warehouse warm during a cold winter. As the coal
down a large chunk fell out and landed on his foot, breaking it. He
hauled away in an automobile, cussing all the way, to a doctor’s
office. He was madder than mad at his misfortune. Now I was mad as
heavy lump had fallen on my head.
Mama, mia, did it hurt!
I was also reminded that my dad’s foot was put in
cast and he was told to stay home for about a month while the foot
healed. Three days later he was back on the job working as best he
could while on crutches. I wondered if I was as tough and
as my father. I doubted it very much but a tiny voice inside of me
screaming in English and Sicilian...”Get up and fight!” And that I
What caused the swayback? I was determined to
the cause and hopefully a cure. Was I born that way? I didn’t know
any swaybacks in my family. My parents, brothers and sisters all had
straight backs. Was I the only freak in the family?
To me, a swayback meant an old, worn-out horse
a caved-in back. I hoped I didn’t look like that. Why hadn’t someone
told me before Professor Riley dumped on my head like a ton of coal?
The thought would not go away. I became obsessed! There had to be an
A short time later as I was playing my accordion,
the answer came to me like a bolt of lightening. It was that damned
clumsy thing I was holding in my arms...the accordion, my beloved
accordion that I had been wrestling with for the past eight years,
since I was strapped into the thing when I was twelve years old. The
damned accordion! I yanked it off and set it down hard on the floor.
moved over to a sofa and stared at the monster. There was no
it! Then I mentally tried to relive my history with the “Stomach
Steinway,” and this is what I came up with.
As a boy of twelve I had seen a young man play
instrument at a wedding. I fell in love with his playing and let my
father know that I wanted to be an accordion player. I knew that he
an old accordion in a closet gathering dust. I begged to play it,
to shorten a rather long history of the instrument, I recalled that
father started playing the “squeeze box” as an adult, when his
body was fully developed. He played solely for his own pleasure. His
father, for whom I was named, also enjoyed the accordion, although
never strapped one on, just the proud father of a son who did.
My grandfather died of a sudden heart attack in
September 1924. And on that day my father had played the accordion
the last time as a sacrifice to his father’s memory.
Dad was in tears as he removed the bulky
from the case. And without putting it on, he stretched the bellows
pressed a few keys. It sounded ghostly and groaned like something
of the eerie past.
Family members gathered around and requested that
play a song. With tears freely flowing, he declined as he recalled
oath that he had made to his father’s memory.
I finally convinced my parents that I had nothing
do with the oath and the instrument now logically belonged to me,
through inheritance. I was a big boy now and man enough to handle
accordion. I weighed 105 pounds; the accordion weighed 23 pounds and
had a four-pound carrying case.
After I won the argument, my father strapped the
“monster” onto me for the first time. My shoulders drooped and my
caved, pushing my stomach forward and my feet barely touching the
floor. I was too happy to know how miserable I felt. I worked the
bellows in and out, while pressing the keys, to show that I could
music and how easy it would be to play once I got the knack of it
had a few lessons.
My dad gave me a few preliminary lessons until he
found a qualified teacher. His name was Tony Pascarello. He stood
six-foot-four, had been a semipro football player and weighed 240
pounds. He toyed with the accordion, said it had a good tone. He
thought the instrument was a bit large for me but he rationalized to
and my father that I was a strong looking boy and would easily grow
into it. Lessons were $1.25 a week for thirty minutes and I could
immediately. It was suggested that I restrict my practicing to one
a day until I grew more into the instrument.
I soon learned to love the monstrosity and pushed
myself into practicing more than an hour a day...much more.
Now I knew what caused my back to sway. Over the
past eight years, I had weight-lifted myself into a strong but
back! Who was to blame? Was it my father, the teacher, or my own
brand of Sicilian tenacity and stubbornness: I was quick to
rationalize... ”all three!”
Chapter 4: On With the Show
I showed up for the first rehearsal of “Brother
Rat.” Professor Riley said he was glad I took the part. He assured
there was definitely a place for me in the theater, but obviously,
as a leading man. Move over Tom Mix and Buck Jones! Valentino’s
replacement no way!
As a walk-in in the play, I had exactly two words
say in chorus with two other hopefuls. We shouted on cue, “Turkey,
Turkey,” when we spotted women passing by as we were looking through
barracks window. Actually, I felt like the biggest turkey on the
Suddenly, I didn’t want to become an actor
or a professional musician. The cost had been too high in both
categories. I felt low on that stage during the rehearsals and three
performances. I should have rejected the part instead of caving in
the insult. I doubted very much if my absence from the stage would
noticed, if I had walked out on the first performance, as I was
strongly tempted. What a bummer! What a way to treat a proud
After my flop in “Brother Rat,” I took an oath
I would never again be so humiliated on anybody’s stage. My career
ended, for damn sure! I was a walk-in who shouldn’t have been there
the first place. I thought about changing my major. I dropped the
minor and drastically cut back on my accordion playing. I found
hating the device that had just about squeezed me out of an acting
I had been told somewhere along the line that I
a pleasant speaking voice, probably in high school, and that I
give thought to a career in broadcasting. Not a bad idea. Soon I
a new idol to emulate...Don Ameche (Dominic Amici). I had long been
intrigued by the miracle of radio, and invented by Pisano Marconi
brought to its ultimate entertainment perfection through the fine
of Mr. Ameche. I had found a new direction...radio broadcasting,
remindful of the fact that Don Ameche had started in radio and made
to the silver screen. Perhaps, somehow, there was still hope for me.
was worth a try, a million-to-one shot!
All had not been lost, for sitting in the
opening night of “Rat” was a beautiful young student who saw
in the swayback that interested her. Her name was Harriet Beulah
definitely not of Italian origin, more like Scotch-English. Her home
was in Grants Pass, Oregon, and she was enrolled in the School of
Education, with the expectation of becoming a grammar school
She had seen me in “Brother Rat” and told a girlfriend, with whom
saw the play, “There is the man I am going to marry!”And I thought
Sicilians were forward!
After the performance, she kept an eye open for
on campus and spotted me in the library at a table talking with a
pretty blond. She moved onto the table, dropped her pencil to the
to attract my attention. I reached for the pencil just as the bell
sounded to change classes. The blond smiled a quick “goodbye” and
the scene without acknowledging the pencil dropper.
The pencil dropper thanked me for retrieving her
pencil. We became engaged in conversation. This led to my walking
to her next class. We spent the next few weeks, then months getting
acquainted better. She admitted the pencil dropping incident was a
to attract my attention...and save me from that “terrible blond!”
had spotted me in “Rat” and wanted to know me better. I was
“What did you notice about me on stage?”
“Well, I noticed that you limped a bit. Did you
I explained that two days prior to the opening of
“Rat” I had injured my knee playing gymnasium soccer. “I’m surprised
the director didn’t drop me from the cast. I guess my part wasn’t
“Well, I’m glad he kept you in. I may have never
I was nineteen;Harriet was eighteen. The year was
There was some talk about a long relationship and
even the possibility of a future marriage, but in considering our
combined finances, this remained a very remote possibility... very!
I accelerated my accordion playing to make some
needed dollars for dating. I played in several beer joints to help
finances, usually on weekends from 9pm to 2am. This proved very hard
dating and Harriet was quick to say she didn’t approve of such
She had accompanied me on several occasions, which only embittered
and she begged off to that part of our otherwise fine romance. I had
car of my own, so I borrowed my dad’s when available or played with
musicians who owned or had better access to a car. Harriet relied
heavily on public transportation. I began to wonder how long our
friendship would last with our awkward transportation needs, a major
factor in our lives.
Harriet lived in a small home with a young
couple from Grants Pass. She was enrolled in a federally sponsored
student work program, which included raking leaves and doing
work on campus. She received a small pittance from her parents. I
amazed at how well she handled her limited finances. Good wife
material, I thought, and I began to wonder what she thought about
extremely poor status of my finances. I was still in college,
and my future bleak. I was not longer the cocksure person of my
I was now an adult, a frightened young man, deeply in love and not
knowing what to do about it. At age twenty-one, I was still living
Come 1941, Harriet was still with me. Money was
scarce and I was forced to make some quick decisions. I impulsively
dropped out of school and took the first job I could find...a Class
salesman for a Union Oil Company Service Station. In plainer
I was hired to pump gasoline and service automobiles. Harriet
questioned my decision.
Whatever happened to my dreams of movie stardom
maybe network radio? All of this “down the tube,” I thought as I
pumped gas for a living, on the graveyard shift, midnight till 8am,
five nights a week and often including weekends.
I made the best of my lowly position, after all
lofty dreams had been sidetracked. Harriet was patient and
understanding, as she pursued her education, barely. I took a bus to
work and was now pressed to buy an automobile. I cleaned out what
left of my cannery summer education funds, scraped up another fifty
dollars, and paid cash for a 1931 Model “A” Ford Coupe, with the gas
tank located in front of the driver’s compartment. I had two spare
tires mounted in the side fenders and the all-important rumble seat.
The car was in good shape for a ten year old, and I was now its
owner. It was painted bright red and had a good heater. Harriet was
pleased with my purchase and kissed me long and tenderly to show her
appreciation. She kissed me again when I assured her that my next
purchase would be an engagement ring.
I began to regret living with my parents and five
younger siblings. Somehow as I grew older, the modest home in
Italy” seemed to be getting smaller. It was time for me to move out
my own, and the sooner the better,for all parties concerned!
Apparently inspired by my spark of initiative,
Harriet dropped out of school, on very short notice, and got a job
theater usherette. Her parents were disappointed in her decision,
so was I. We crossed our fingers and wondered what the future would
Another man was hired at the service station and
was no longer low man on the bottom. I was transferred to a day
Monday through Friday and highly complimented by my manager who said
had received many favorable comments on my work and wanted me on the
day shift because of my pleasing personality. I was promoted to
“B” Salesman with a slight increase in pay...very slight, but enough
for a good down payment on a wedding ring.
We were married September 22, 1941 at Holy Cross
Catholic Church, still in the heart of “Little Italy,” where my
had married in 1917.
The wedding was attended primarily by my
family and friends. Harriet’s people for the most part lived in
and were not present for a variety of reasons, her parents included.
were married by a young Irish priest, who was an assistant to the
Italian pastor. We were married outside the sanctuary, since I was
Catholic and my bride was Protestant. We agreed to raise our
as Catholics. Six years later Harriet converted to Catholicism. We
honeymooned in the beautiful Monterey Bay area, then settled into a
nice apartment in San Jose.
We both had jobs. There was plenty of food on the
table and the future was nothing but rosy. Then exciting things
happened. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor less than three months
we were married. Harriet was pregnant. She worked several months,
her job and waited for our first child to be born.
David Marius was born August 24, 1942 at O’Connor
Sanitarium in San Jose. I was promoted to Class “A” Salesman, with a
significant raise in pay, and in line for an assistant managership.
Like everyone else, we kept a nervous eye on the war situation in
Europe, as well as in the Pacific. I was signed up for the draft and
knew that my call-up date was coming.
My boss was disappointed, but understanding, when
resigned my position and went into war work in nearby Sunnyvale. The
name of the plant was Bayshore Iron Works. They had been converted
making domestic goods such as fire hydrants, into a Naval Ordnance
Plant making 21-inch above water torpedo mounts and later rocket
launchers. I started our as a painter and in a few weeks was
transferred to the operation of a turret lathe, where I became a
specialist in making spindles and universal joints, as my
to the war effort. The pay was good and the nature of my work gained
for me a draft deferment as an essential war worker. But as the war
progressed and the Navy was caught up in its need for spindles and
universal joints, I was accepted into the United States Navy in
1944. I was sent to Boot Camp in San Diego for eight weeks. In the
meantime Harriet found a good baby sitter and went to work as a
aid to supplement the $90.00 a month Uncle Same was paying me.
I finished Boot Camp and was accepted into the
submarine service as a Seaman Second Class, at a pay increase. I was
transferred to the Sub Base at Mare Island, then to Pear Harbor by
transport. At Pear Harbor I was assigned as a relief crew member on
Submarine Tender USS Sperry (AS12).
I rode the Sperry to Guam and lived on the ship
Agana Bay, while servicing submarines going to and from war patrols.
name was put on a replacement list for war patrol duties. My parents
and Harriet were horrified at the prospect of my being lost in a
submarine. I had my apprehensions. On January 1, 1945, I was
to Seaman First Class. We had spent six months in Guam when the
was ordered to Mare Island for a long-overdue refit.
San Jose was just about 60 miles away, an easy
hitchhike home, where I spent my frequent liberties. A month later
hurried back to Guam, zigzagging all the way for twenty-one days,
always on the alert for enemy warships.
And by the time my mail caught up with me, I was
informed that my lovely wife was again with child. And feeling very
lonely and homesick, she quit her job, sold what little furniture we
had, gassed up the Model “A’ and she and little David drove to her
parents’ home in Grants Pass, where our second child, Mary
was born December 18, 1945.
While overseas, I was made Yeoman Third Class and
served as a yeoman in the Captain’s Office, Submarine Division 361.
pay was now $120 a month, with the increase in rank, overseas and
hazard duty compensations.
Regretfully, I never made a war patrol. My name
listed a number of times as a crew replacement, but I was always
behind. A fellow yeoman verified what I had come to suspect. All of
outgoing mail was censored by officers, and when I wrote about my
two-year-old son and another child on the way, they vetoed my
of going into dangerous waters. In other words I was “too damn old”
had a growing family responsibility, and with the war winding down,
they looked to younger replacements, unmarried and unattached. I was
Soon the war ended and I was returned to the
and honorably discharged in April 1946. I met our new daughter for
first time when she was three months old.
It was my basic plan to rest for a couple of
in Grants Pass before taking my family back to San Jose and return
my guaranteed job at Bayshore, which was being retooled to again
domestic items. I wasn’t too happy about returning to a turret
but I had to restart somewhere. Turret lathe here I come! It would
until I got on track toward a real career, like being a movie star
a crooked back or perhaps a top-rate radio announcer, a la Don
The dream was still faintly there, but very faint! Going back to the
turret lathe or possibly pumping gasoline seemed more realistic. I
wasn’t too worried about my future, just deeply concerned. I thought
about going back to college on the GI Bill, but that thought soon
faded. I would worry about it tomorrow or after I rested a couple of
weeks. “Che Sera Sera!”
As I review my story to this point, it is
interesting to note that even though I flunked the high physical
standards of VMI in “Brother Rat,” I had no problem meeting the high
standards of the United States Submarine Service! Are you hearing
Professor Riley? This notation dated April 16, 2003...sixty-five
after my “Turkey” performance.
Chapter 5: A New Beginning
Two weeks out of the Navy and seriously pondering
future, I was listening to the one and only Grants Pass radio
when I came to the realization that the station was void of good
announcers and felt that I could do as well if not better. I
impulsively visited the radio station and met with the manager of
a low-power station that barely carried beyond the city limits. I
informed the congenial manager that I was just out of the Navy and
interested in a career in radio broadcasting. I had been a Speech
at San Jose State, had developed a good typing skill as a yeoman,
sold magazines door to door as a child, was promoted to a Class “A”
Salesman in the petroleum business. We both laughed when he
to having pumped his share of gas in his younger days. He was now
thirty-three, married with three children. He best described his
as “perfect.” He loved his work and was content to spend the rest of
his life in Grants Pass.
As the conversation continued, I let it be known
that I had written a number of skits in high school and college and
a part in the highly successful production of “Brother Rat.” I was
he didn’t ask what part I had played. I went on to say that I played
Within an hour, I had talked myself into a
broadcasting position as an announcer, disc jockey, salesman and
copywriter...and I agreed to ”swab the decks” if called upon to do
one of my recently acquired skills courtesy of the US Navy. The
starting pay was modest, but much more than what Uncle Sam was
I was elated and hurried home to break the news
my family. This meant a new direction in our lives. The family
to California was put on hold till later...much later.
Eleven years later I was still at KUIN. I did
everything I was asked to do and did it well, broadcasting wrestling
matches from ringside from the local fairgrounds to calling a
crowing contest from nearby Rogue River. I was the first announcer
have accomplished this feat and more than fifty years later it is
a colorful event. I recall that “Hollerin' Harry” was the winner
first year, with something like 130 lusty crows in thirty minutes.
My biggest accomplishment at KUIN was the
of my own disc jockey show as the “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy,” three hours
daily Monday through Friday from 1 to 3pm. I gave away 1,800 of my
autographed pictures and became extremely popular in our broadcast
area. The program title was suggested by a listener who said I
her of a song made popular by the Sons of the Pioneers. I felt
using their song as a theme to my program and felt more at home when
coworkers, family and friends referred to me as “The Spaghetti
My time off the air was spend selling air time
writing commercials. I loved it, and perhaps, too much. Within a
or so, I had a client list of more than fifty accounts. I wrote all
my own commercials and did much of the production work. I became
innovative, and to add zest to an otherwise dull commercial, I would
prepare them as skits, reminiscent of my high school and college
writing attempts. They were received well. My manager was pleased
received frequent pay raises. he was particularly pleased at my
to write commercials at the point of sale or service in the
presence. He also expressed the fear that I was using his station as
training ground and I had higher aspirations.
He was right. At the tenth anniversary of my
at KUIN, I began asking myself, “Is this the end or just the
of my radio career?” I had it all in small-town radio. It was
definitely time to move on and conquer other facets of the industry,
such as Coast to Coast Network Radio. I hadn’t forgotten my earlier
dreams. Don Ameche was still my idol. Surely, there was room at the
for me. There I go being cocky again!
I spent much of my eleventh year at KUIN with an
to a higher calling. I sent out numerous audition tapes and resumes.
There were few worthwhile takers. I was beginning to think that
had been in small-town radio too long and there was where I
began to wonder and worry. Maybe I had waited too long...and middle
was catching up on me. I was 36, Harriet was 35, David 14, Mary 11,
Patricia 6 and Barbara 5.
As you can see, life in Grants Pass wasn’t
boring. From out of the blue I decided to try my hand at play
Professor Hugh Riley of “Brother Rat” fame had made the statement in
one of his classes I attended that play writing was a fine art and
had the talent. I decided to accept his challenge and write a
successful full-length play and dump it on his lap!
I gave it all I had and soon I was pounding the
typewriter as hard and as fast and I could...well into the night,
holidays and weekends. There was no stopping me and the harder I
myself the harder I worked. Who said I couldn’t write a successful
play? Just you watch me...Professor Riley!
The script I started on was called “The Old
Plowhorse,” the story of an old man who refuses to die until he has
given something to the world. I wonder where I got that idea. Was it
the “swayback” resurrected? I wondered as I typed, typed and typed!
I was typing more than a hundred words a minute
well-worn Royal manual typewriter, when my usually sweet and
understanding wife casually remarked, “When my husband dies, he
his typewriter buried with him.”
This prompted my reply, “Make sure it has a
new ribbon, for I plan to do a lot of typing, a hellava lot of
Finally, I heard a new radio station going into
Gilroy, California, a small city 25 miles south of San Jose, close
enough, I thought, as a step toward my ultimate goal of big-time San
Francisco network radio! Boy, did I guess wrong! The year was 1957.
I applied for a position in the new station
it went on the air. I was selected as general manager of KPER,
garlic capital of the world. I heard it said that one can smell the
garlic in a plane flying low overhead during the processing season.
I didn’t take me long to realize that I had made
dumb move in my anxiety to get out of Grants Pass. The Gilroy job
turned out to be a major disaster. I was thinking in terms of
radio, with a major consideration to serving the heavy Mexican
population with sufficient Spanish language programming. I made
allowance for two hours a day starting at 4:30am, when the station
started its broadcast day. I hired a handsome, intelligent, young
salesman to do the announcing and music selection. He was
well educated in Spanish and English and I knew he could handle it.
` Within a few days on the air, he sold out the
hours and was requesting more time. I added an hour a day. This was
still not enough. Soon he was on the air five hours a day, Monday
through Friday with a friend filling in on weekends.
I was astounded at the phenomenal success of KPER
a so short a time. It was a gold mine from the inception. Soon we
broadcasting in Portuguese and with a growing list of languages
in...Italian, Yugoslav, etc. My plan to work in the “Happy Rovin’
Cowboy” never did materialize. Shall we say my horse did not speak
Spanish, which soon accounted for 85 percent of the available time!
Who needs a manager when the station practically
itself? The station owner was aware of this fact and let me know his
feelings. I took the hint and started looking for another mailing
address. It was time for the “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” to trail off into
the sunset with his ever-growing family in tow. We had been in
Gilroy eight months. I was 37, Harriet 36, David 15, Mary 12,
7, and Barbara 6. Lori, our Garlic city daughter, was a few weeks
born October 17, 1957.
While searching for a more practical job, and
nervously awaiting the birth of our fifth child, I turned back to
writing, joined the Dramatist Guild and hoped for the best. I
“The Old Plowhorse” and sent it out everywhere looking frantically
a producer, director, publisher! Anybody want to buy a good play
Chapter 6: Another Direction
My next radio gig was in Salinas, California, 28
miles south of Gilroy and still within striking distance of San
Francisco and closer to Los Angeles, now 300 miles away, and
KSBW was a well-established, well-managed and
regarded broadcast company operating under one roof a TV station, AM
and FM radio and recently the acquisition of a MUZAK background
This is where I came in. The station was looking
someone to take over management of the MUZAK division, selling
installations of telephone background music to super markets,
malls, showrooms, restaurants, elevators, etc. MUZAK as being
halfheartedly sold by their TV radio time salesman as a part-time
addition to their regular duties. They were looking for someone with
background to sell the installations as my only product. I could
as many as three salesmen or go it alone for awhile. I decided to go
The owners put two big challenges before
me...installing background music at nearby For Ord Army Training
and the Monterey Wharf,with its large contingent of Italian
operated by a “bunch” of Sicilians. I gulped and said I would tackle
the Army first.
Six month later, after I had numerous smaller
installations and knew my product well enough, I was ready to tackle
the Army and the Sicilians, still in that order.
I went through a number of Army brass channels
was finally directed to a purchasing officer who turned out to be of
half-Italian ancestry, although not Sicilian. We hit it off well. He
listened to my elaborate presentation...visual aids, music samples
discs and my enthusiasm for the product.
He said rather abruptly, “Cut the sales talk,
Pisano, I’ll buy it!”
“Where do you want it installed/”
“Wherever you think we need it! Do a survey the
and make your recommendations. I’ll present it to the proper
people. We’ll either buy it or reject it, okay?”
We shook hands and he gave me a pass to survey
likely installation areas.
A week or so later we got an approval. I ordered
telephone line through our engineering department and soon
music was heard in the Officer’s Mess, the noncommissioned Officer’s
Mess, the bowling area and similar locations, about ten selected
Soon after we had made the perfect, scientific
installation, I received reports that members of the Signal AARP had
tapped into the phone lines and soon MUZAK was being heard all over
Fort...machine shops, garages, various work and play areas. I
complained to my officer friend.
His reply was, “Look Pisano, if you wish I could
have all the music shut off. The Army has always had a good
relationship with your company, the TV and radio stations. What’s a
little music between a couple of Dagos? You talk to your boss and
back to me.” We shook hands and I left a bit worried, not knowing
My boss said, “Forget it” and congratulated me
having made such a fine installation. “Now let’s see how good a
salesman you really are. What about the Monterey Wharf?”
I gulped a first time, then a second time. I told
him I was ready when psychologically I wasn’t but a challenge is a
challenge and I jumped in!
I went to the wharf and let it be known that I
fellow Sicilian who was going to make a proposal they would find
to resist. I piqued the manager’s curiosity and I was invited to
presentation to a select group of owners and managers.
“What in the hell is this music you’re talking
about?” was the opening question.
I did my best to explain...”music for the
subconscous...music to work by, music to love by, the right kind of
music around the clock, twenty-four hours a day, scientifically
There was a lull in my presentation.
“Did you say ’music to love by?’ I’ll take it”
growled one of the elder gentlemen. Everybody had a hearty laugh and
sensed I had made a sale. The Monterey Wharf was son MUZAKed in all
restaurants including toilets, kitchens and outdoor speakers
strategically placed to completely cover the wharf. I thought to
myself, “This should please my boss.”
It did. He awarded me with a pay hike and let me
hire an assistant, who was to sell the small installations while I
tackled the “big boys.” I wondered what else he had in mind!
Everyone of the restaurant owners was happy
one, who complained of “too many violins!” It put his diners to
He said he was going to put in his own background music system
Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin. I warned him that by
in his own background music he would be in violation of federally
protected ASCAP and BMI music licensing organizations.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that when you put in your own music
you must pay the license fees or get fined.”
“Who’s going to fine me...why?”
I tried to explain but he wasn’t listening. He
mad and like I had heard in my own home, he started cussing in
and as his temper increased he reverted to cussing in Sicilian. I
understood every word and I was worried.
“You get your ass out of here and don’t come
I’m putting the Dago records in tomorrow. My customers eat better
Italian music and nobody’s going to stop me! What the hell’s this
ASCAP/BMI crap?” Then he laid into me hard. “Caesar Petrillo, head
the musicians union, is a friend of mine. I’ll ask him about this
I told him I was on his side and I would look
the matter and let him know. “If you’re going to play your own
why not include Connie Francis, Julius LaRosa, Frankie Lane and Tony
Bennett?” He simmered down before I left. He put in his own music
frankly, it sounded good. I discussed the matter with my boss who
“Forget it! There’s no winning over those people. You made a good
Why don’t you see what you can do with the Santa Cruz Wharf?”
I told him it would take me a long time to
from my Monterey Wharf experience.
“Why don’t you try again in six months?” We both
agreed that was a good idea.
I ran out of challenges selling MUZAK, never made
to the Santa Cruz Wharf and was ready to again change jobs. I felt
overdue in my return to San Jose and let it be known to my
Harriet spoke up for all to hear, “Before we
Salinas, and after I deliver this next baby, I’ll let you know when
ready to move again. I like Salinas and so do the children!”
Our sixth child, John, was born July 26, 1959 at
Salinas Memorial Hospital.
The MUZAK violin music was beginning to get to me
too, and I lost interest in my work. In self defense, I turned to my
play writing, which I had long neglected. It now seemed like the
avenue I had remaining for the kind of personal success that I had
Was it too late? I began to think so. The year was 1963 and I was on
script number six. I was still selling MUZAK but the old fire was
I needed a job change immediately. John, our youngest child was now
four. I was 43 and Harriet 42. She assured me that John was to be
last of our children. She was tired and needed a respite. It had
twenty years since I had left “Little Italy” and I was now ready to
Harriet was no longer listening. She lashed out
me that San Jose was no longer my “Shangri La.” It was no longer the
city of my childhood. It had grown from a population of 68,000 in
to more than 3000,000 in 1963. The computer chip was now king
the prune and the apricot. San Jose was now one of the fastest
cities in the United States, if not the world. She hammered on the
theme that the Garden City had now become the “Heart of Silicon
Valley.” I found it easier to argue with the Army at Fort Ord and
Sicilians of Monterey than with my wife who was beginning to show
and more of the English Bulldog in her.
Finally, a family decision. “What is wrong with
going back to Oregon where I could do my play writing in the peace
tranquility of the Great Northwest?” Harriet agreed and so did the
A friend of mine from the old Grants Pass radio
knew of an opening in Eugene, Oregon, 150 miles north of Grants
heart of the beautiful Willamette Valley. The station was looking
someone with my experience and the pay was good. I contacted the
station owner, who was looking for a seasoned sales manager. After a
brief discussion with my family, I took the job and the family
to move to “God’s Country.” David, our eldest, now 21, married a
young lady from Carmel Valley, and they were already in Ashland,
Oregon, both attending Southern Oregon College.
I joined KORE on my birthday, January 5, 1964.
rest of the family joined me in July of that same year. While
for my family to join me, I finished play number six and was hard at
work on number seven.
The KORE job last four years, when my jovial boss
decided to sell the station. He thought I might be interested in
it. Neither was I happy with the new ownership, so I moved across
the KZEL, a western music station which was beginning to program
“hippie, underground” music. I did a double-take and within a few
months moved to a third station, which also carried the MUZAK
franchise. I put in a few installations, including the new, gigantic
Valley River Shopping Center. I then rather impulsively decided to
out of the business entirely. I think the violins finally go to me
selling radio advertising was no longer fun.
On my last day on the job, I showed up wearing my
Sunday finest. My boss wanted to know if I was going to a funeral. I
told him he had guessed right. I had been in radio and related
thirty years and this was my last day, and you might call it a
He invited me out for a drink, even though he knew I rarely touched
stuff. He tried to keep me, but I wasn’t buying. He offered me more
money, a better company car to drive...”Just tell me what you want!”
informed him I desperately wanted out of radio and MUZAK and had
accepted another position in the same town, selling, of all things,
cash registers. I though he was going to fall out of his chair.
“Cash registers? Is that the best you can do?”
I playfully reminded him, “There is ‘money’ in
He didn’t think that was a bit funny as he
finished his drink and reached for mine.
“Well, good luck,” he said as limply offered his
I reiterated my bum joke about there being money
cash registers. He smiled weakly and ordered another drink for
Thus ended my thirty-year career in radio broadcasting. Don Ameche
nothing to fear, and I had given up on my dream of being another
Valentino years ago, when I cam to the conclusion that he wasn’t so
hot! Could it be that I had chased this dream too long? The answer
“yes”...much too long!
Chapter 7: End of an Era
Indeed, I was now a cash register salesman Monday
through Friday. The pay was good. Selling the product was easy. I
a new company car and had a long list of fringe benefits. It only I
could sell a play along the way. It is interesting to note that in
many years of selling I had rarely sold a solid object such as a
register. Most of my selling had been of the intangible type...radio
commercials and background music. I did, however, sell magazines as
child and peddled gasoline. But, mostly, I was a “hot air” salesman.
I sold a play to Broadway, what would that make me? I suppose more
The cash register selling job lasted an
nine years and I hated every minute of it.
I retired on my 65th birthday, January 5, 1985.
Harriet had proved to be smarter than me. At age sixty she took a
part-time job and earned enough Social Security credits to qualify
a small but much appreciated government retirement check. In 1985 we
both comfortably retired and our children long gone from home and
grandchildren began to arrive, arrive and arrive. Too bad my play
writing wasn’t that prolific. “Ah, there is still plenty of time,” I
would tell myself...plenty of time to put a play on Broadway, or was
there? I was determined to find out!
I became completely engrossed in my play writing,
revising old failures and developing new plots, trying always to be
different and innovative. I hounded dozens of agents, producers and
directors, anyone whom I thought might be interested. One potential
agent wrote, “Five thousand plays are written in the US each year,
are considered for serious production and one or two make it in a
I contacted several Eugene area drama groups and
pretty much the same answers. Such a negative business, I concluded,
but I wasn’t about to cave in, not this old plow horse! I had too
time invested in play writing. It had to pay off!
One Eugene group agreed to look at one of my
scripts. I entrusted a play to one of their officers. It was agreed
that they would read the play with the stipulation that the
not be present. I agreed to the condition.
Four months later they hadn’t gotten around to
reading my script. They requested a thirty-day extension. I
while muttering some appropriate words in both English and Sicilian.
I had contacted the University of Oregon Drama
Department, inquiring if someone might be interested in reading the
works of a hometown playwright. I was referred to a “gung-ho” graduate
student, a young lady who said she would be delighted to read one of
plays. She also suggested that I submit several plays to her, to be
read and critiqued by other graduate students. What a tremendous
She bubbled over with enthusiasm as I entrusted her with three
one to be read by herself and the others by fellow students. Would I
please call back in three months?
After three months, I tracked down “Miss
Congeniality.” She had forgotten who I was, like someone out of her
distant past. She was a bundle of nervous energy as she explained
had been too busy to read beyond the title. She said she would check
with the other readers to see how they were doing. She begged me to
come back in two weeks.
I called her two weeks later. She still
read beyond the title. One of my scripts had been returned
mutilated. Apparently someone had used it as a door or window stop.
Script number three was lost forever.
She was full of excuses, as she emoted all over
place, with tearful apologies, as I walked away with one and a half
manuscripts. I chalked up the experience as total time wasted.
knew that becoming a successful playwright would not be easy but my
last two experiences made me wonder whether maybe I should try
something else, other than play writing. The name of the missing
was one of my favorites, “Weep Forevermore!” I was the one who was
A few months later, the dues time arrived for the
Guild. They caught me in a bad mood. Instead of sending them a $50
check, I typed the following note on the billing invoice and mailed
“Over the past ten years I have written a sizable
number of full-length stage plays with no successes to report. Today
age 72, I have decided ‘to hell with it!’ Time to try something
Please enjoy a good chuckle at my expense!”
Thus ended my play writing career, for the moment
anyway. It was back to my old backbreaking friend, the accordion, to
help occupy my retirement house...as I planned my next move.
Back in 1985 at age 65, I had written a letter to
the editor of the Eugene Register-Guard, to complain about
something-or-other. Much to my surprise my first letter was printed
December 8. Since that date I have had 70 letters published by the
Guard on a multitude of subjects from world topics to pot holes in
street. In 1991 I decided to bind photocopies of my letters into a
booklet, which I titled “Monte’s Views and Opinions.” A second part
the booklet I devoted to “Selected Rejects.” I’ve been told by many
that this was the better part of the booklet. My last letter was
published, to date, June 8, 2003. I give the books away to family
friends. It costs $4.00 per photocopy and 39 cents for a binding
folder. Who says I’ve never been published!
With still too much free time on my hands, I
to tape record several of my better plays. I selected six out of
sat down at my home-improvised broadcast studio and started taping.
What a thrill it was, as it took me back to my old radio broadcast
days. I finally convinced myself that I was no Don Ameche, but at my
age, who cares? Unfortunately, as I write this, Mr. Ameche is no
In retirement I enjoy lying on my den cot and
listening to tape recorded playbacks of some of my better theatrical
efforts that never quite made it anywhere. These are one-man
productions with yours truly handling all facets of the play
production...introduction of the characters, setting the
scene...playing all parts, sound effects, etc. It is tremendous fun
gives me a sense of fulfillment. And what a learning experience!
As I listen to each play I am able to rip it
bit by bit. I know why my plays never sold and the reasons are many.
characters for the most part were well drawn, but they had the
to talk too much! Could it be the Sicilian in me? I discovered that
actors were given overlong speeches and my plays tended to drag,
too many words to move the plot along. A good play needs to move,
move! I promised myself to do better in future efforts, despite what
had written to the Guild canceling my membership. But who knows when
that would be? It is little wonder that I usually fall asleep while
listening to one of my plays. This gives me an idea. “Why not sell
Monte’s plays as sleeping aids?”
“Why hello there! Are you in need of a good
sleep at any cost? Well, the cost is low when you order one of
sleeping tapes. Simply insert one of his plays into a tape recorder,
turn on the tape, lie down comfortably and listen to one of Monte’s
better plays. Guaranteed to put you to sleep or your money back.
be amazed at what one of Monte’s tapes will do to you and for you!
Order yours today while supply lasts. Remember MONTE...
The cost is minimal. Call 1-541-344-8625. That’s SLEEP TAPE
1-541-344-8625. If you hear a recorded voice directing you to dial
over the place, you’ve got the wrong number. Try again!”
Chapter 8: Warning Signs
Harriet and I celebrated our 50th wedding
anniversary September 22, 1991, to which many of our family, friends
and relatives attended. A large tent was set up in our backyard as a
hub center for the day’s festivities. The entire event was captured
video and is one of our valued treasures. Present were four of our
children and nine grandchildren. We asked for no gifts; however
the notes and cards of congratulations was a card from George H. and
Barbara Bush, which we now permanently display in our hallway photo
gallery. I was 71 and Harriet 70.
The year 1991 was memorable in many ways. In
I detected a tremor in my left hand. A Eugene neurologist ordered an
MRI, which proved negative to my fear of having picked up or
some dreadful disease. The neurologist put me on Mysoline and
discharged me in 1992. The tremor worsened and was centrally located
my left ring finger. I soon lost control of the now trembling
which became agitated at the slightest touch. I suspected the gold
Harriet had put on my finger at our wedding fifty years previously.
had rarely taken if off, but in later years it was extremely
and painful to remove. I finally removed the ring permanently. It
too tight and uncomfortable to wear. Harriet was disappointed but
understood the problem. My finger remained a sore spot as the tremor
In July 1992 I checked into the Veterans
Administration Clinic in Eugene and was given a multitude of tests
determine the cause of my badly stressed finger.
The VA Clinic checked my entire body and came up
with a number of faults. In addition to the “twitchy” finger they
detected a heart murmur and a benign prostate enlargement.
was also detected and I was put on a number of medications, which
seemed not to help, because in my estimation, I was not
depressed...temperamental and anxious “yes,” but not depressed. The
prostate discovery increased my anxiety when I remembered how
tragically my father had died with a cancerous prostate that led to
surgical removal of his penis.
On June 11, 1995, at age 75, I tripped and fell
my face after parking my car and heading for a supermarket. I never
made it. I picked myself up, with the help of terrified strangers
at my request, led me to my car, and with a badly bleeding face and
mouth drove myself to the emergency room of McKenzie-Willamette
Hospital in nearby Springfield, just across the river from Eugene.
emergency room doctor said I had a badly lacerated mouth and cut
tongue. He stitched me up and I headed home to an anxious wife who
wanted to know why I had taken so long to pick up a gallon of milk.
In August 1996, my regular doctor, aside from the
Clinic, noticed that I was showing early signs of Parkinson’s
and that we should keep a close eye on it. I had complained to him
my ring finger and those adjoining it “twitched” uncontrollably at
slight touch or aggravation.
I checked in again with the VA Clinic. They, too,
suspected Parkinson’s. Soon I was losing control of my entire left
hand. It seriously hampered my accordion playing and my typing. In
endeavors I went downhill fast. I lost control of my left hand and
forced to give up the instrument I had played for the past 63 years.
I had pushed my typing skill to well over a
words a minute and could beat out rhythmic key tunes in the process.
Now, almost overnight I lost it all. The fingers in my left hand
no longer accurately response to my brain commands. Soon I was
words and my spelling fell apart. My left hand lost its dexterity. I
could no longer type intelligently. I panicked and the harder I
to remedy the problem, the worse it got! My typing speed almost
overnight dripped to thirty sloppy words, then ten, then none! I was
devastated. Soon my whole body began to shake intermittently. I had
horrible fear that I was the unfortunate victim of the “mad cow
disease,” which was making daily headlines.
I went back to the Eugene VA Clinic. they set up
appointment for me at the VA Hospital in Portland, and so advised my
regular doctor. In the meantime I tried my best to regain at least
of my typing skill and the best I could do was what I am doing
now...using my right index finger in preparing this manuscript. I
the two-finger “hunt and peck” system but I lacked the proper
coordination and failed at it miserably. I have read in a number of
medical journals that Parkinson’s was a slow moving disease. I was
asking myself, “How slow is slow and how fast is fast?”
In my mind I could feel Parkinson’s affecting the
total functions of my aging body, insidiously hour by hour, minute
minute. I tried to force myself to play the accordion. I could
lift it out of the case, let alone play it. The only thing I had
for me was the one-finger typing and I wondered how long that would
My Portland VA Hospital date was set for Mary 12,
1997. I drove while my wife sat nervously beside me, ready to take
at any moment. I kept asking myself, “How slow is slow, and how fast
fast? How insidious is insidious?”
After we arrived at the Portland VA Hospital
Neuro-Geriatric Clinic, I had a meeting with Dr. Berry Monroe. After
thorough examination, it was determined that, indeed, I was showing
signs of Parkinson’s, but more importantly, for the moment, I was
diagnosed as having Essential or Action Tremor. Dr Monroe prescribed
Neurontin (Gabapentin) 300mg six times a day. I was given a callback
date of six months. And since that first meeting with Dr. Monroe, I
have visited the Portland VA Hospital three or four times a year,
seeing a rotation of nine or ten neurologists and rarely the same on
more than once or twice. I never saw Dr. Monroe again but was told
had moved on.
The disease seemed under control, as I tried to
recapture lost skills and bodily functions, but to little avail. It
became insidiously more destructive to my once healthy body, except
the swayback problem, which I had long ago learned to ignore.
I was soon being treated with Sinemet for
Parkinson’s, in addition to the tremor medication. As the years
by, I could never tell where a tremor ended and the Parkinson’s
My prying into the status of my health did little to explain what
happening to me.
And to break the monotony of my declining health,
Harriet and I took time out to celebrate our sixtieth wedding
anniversary, September 22, 2001. The celebration was held at the new
St. Mary’s Parish Center in Eugene. There was a large gathering of
family and friends. We now had thirteen grandchildren and picked up
three great grandchildren since our 50th anniversary. As previously,
the entire event was videotaped. Highlighting the event was a
congratulatory card from President George W. and Laura Bush, which
placed in a matching frame alongside the President George H. and
Barbara Bush greeting of ten years previously. I was 81 and Harriet
admitted to being 80.
On June 3, 2002, one of the Rotation Doctors
to phase me out of the tremor medication and increase the
Parkinson’s medication. He gave me what I thought was a rather short
phasing out period on the tremor pills,when over a period of five
I had taken more than 11,000 of them. He increased the Parkinson’s
On June 17, 2002, two weeks later, a family
took me to the Eugene Urgent Care Center. I was extremely weak to
point of collapsing. I lost my sense of balance and my motions were
similar to that of an animal with Mad Cow Disease. Dr. Jenkins of
Care Center phoned the Portland VA Hospital, for a conference with
someone familiar with my case. One of the Rotation Doctors
responded. I had been decided at my last visit that it was time to
eliminate the tremor medication and increase the Parkinson’s. My
scheduled appointment had been set for August 9. The Care Center
some adjustments in my medication and the matter was resolved for
It had been concluded that because of my advanced
age, the phasing out period should have taken longer. I was wheeled
of the Care Center to a waiting automobile to be taken home.
On June 29, 2002, I was rushed to Eugene Sacred
Heart Hospital Emergency after having collapsed from extreme
stayed there three days, while my case was again being debated and
medication adjusted. I was of the opinion that my worn out body
know what was happening and was reacting violently in protest. I
remained hospitalized until July 3, the first time in my 83 years
I had ever been hospitalized overnight. I thought I was going to die
and wasn’t ready! Strangely...I was not in a cussing mood, in
or Sicilian. Instead, I found myself “praying,” as my mother had
me as a child in her lap, more than 80 years ago.
Chapter 9: Long Look Back
While lying in a hospital bed, I had plenty of
for reflection on what had put m,e into this deplorable condition.
happened? How the hell did I ever get myself into this mess My first
reaction was to chalk it up to the ravages of old age.
“How did I ever get this horrible disease? There
got to be a reason! There has got to be a cure!” I wasn't about to
up, although I had been assured many times...”There is no cure!”
I had plenty of time to ponder my predicament and
pray as my tired body lay stretched out in the monstrosity they
a hospital bed. I soon had a better name for it! It was split
three sections with sharp folds in the upper and lower thirds, and a
bend in the middle, or was it a four-section bed? I could never
the damned thing out! Mounted on one side was an electronic control
panel that shaped the bed into various configurations, designed, no
doubt, to handle all contingencies. The bed was equipped with a
of sensing devices piped into a nurse’ station a few yards away.
pressing a service button, an attendant would come rushing in, or if
you tried getting out of bed unauthorized, an alarm sounded at the
nurses’ station and you were chastised for a violation. and to make
matters worse, I had been issued a bulky, poorly designed bed gadget
that must have been created in the Dark Ages. It was worn backwards,
impractical and terribly ill-fitting. The bed sheets were starchy
stiff. And adding to my misery, I was instructed in the use of a
urinal device attached to the side of the torture chamber. It, too,
poorly designed and upon use, I got more urine on me than in the
I kept asking myself, as i increased my
praying, why was I being so badly treated?
An Army or camping cot with a strip of canvas
stretched over four legs would have been more comfortable. Even a
hammock would have been more practical. Suddenly, I found myself
wishing I was in a Navy hammock. What had I done to deserve this
treatment, in this 83rd year of my life? Even a lethal injection
would have been more comfortable and, at this low point in my life,
As I lay in my torture chamber, totally miserable
and bored, I decided t mentally trace my life’s medical history. At
age I knew it went way back, but now I had plenty of time for recall
and reflection. Somewhere there had to be a starting point for my
Parkinson’s. Immediately, I started looking for answers.
As I scanned the deepest recesses of my brain, I
nothing in the first ten years of my life that would even suggest or
give a hint as to the possible start or cause of my Parkinson’s.
Starting at age eleven or twelve, I had worked several summers
apricots and pears, followed by the backbreaking job of picking
after they had fallen off the trees to the ground. All of this fruit
remembered had been sprayed from time to time in the growing
later learned that various insecticides and pesticides had been
and we were warned to “wash the fruit before you ate any. ”Didn’t
a thing. Water wasn’t readily available and it was standard
to “wipe it off” before eating the fruit. Now, as I thought about
ate more than my share of apricots, pears and prunes, unwashed and
tasking so good. could this innocent childhood procedure have been
start of my Parkinson’s? I put that down as suspect number
one...insecticides and pesticides.
Years later I moved my family to Gilroy, 28 miles
from San Jose, and in the same valley. We lived across the street
garlic farms and prune orchards. They were sprayed cherry trees
From Gilroy, we moved to Salinas, the Salad Bowl
the World, where lettuce was king and the spraying of fruits and
type of vegetable was a year-round, never ending procedure. I
well remembered how an airplane or two, in follow-the-leader
would swoop down over our house and spray the farms and orchards
nearby. It was common knowledge that if you wanted to escape being
sprayed, you should stay indoors until the “air attack’ was over. I
recall the many arguments, public and private, over the wisdom of
poisoning the fields to save the crops. With this thought in mind, I
was convinced that insecticide and pesticide spraying, as it was
forty years ago,was indeed, a prime suspect in causing my
and deservedly remains suspect number one. All of this and the
summer cannery work as a young man working my way through college.
At age twenty, I went to work in the service
business where I was surrounded by petroleum products including
gasses, and a variety of solvents and cleaning agents. All of this
heavy carbon monoxide site, where cars and trucks were plentiful.
I recall soaking my hands in solvents and
while packing wheel bearings and the like. We used gasoline and
solvents in keeping the work and driving areas clean, without giving
one thought to the potential harm to our bodies, including the super
sensitive nervous system. I did this type of work three years. For
obvious reasons I name petroleum products as a strong and logical
suspect as a possible cause for Parkinson’s and related neurological
disorders, of which there are many.
Logical suspect number two...petroleum and
As I lay in that horrible torture chamber called
hospital bed, over a three-day period, I continued to probe for
answers. In mid-1943 at age 23, I went into war work at the Naval
Ordnance Plant in Sunnyvale, first as a painter using leaded paints.
Then, as part of the painting department, cleaning heavily coated
packing and shipping grease off gigantic training gears, using
We reeked of the stuff and the fumes kept us in a constant headache,
my coworkers and I “washed away” the grease using heavy paint
What a way to make a living! I chalked up the effort as necessary to
winning the war. The product was apparently more important the
After a few months of the solvent exposure I was
transferred, mercifully, to the operation of a turret lathe, where I
was taught to make a variety of spindles and universal joints, as my
new contribution to the war effort. We used a caustic cutting agent
this new endeavor, and I could still smell the fumes emitting from
paint department, even with the exhaust fans going full blast day
night. Serious suspect number three...paint and solvents!
I had a lot to mull over,while lying in the
chamber. “There had got to be a reason and once I found the reason,
then, hopefully, the cure.” These words kept me probing further.
Could it be the time a friend of mine ran out of
gasoline on his way to work? He hailed me as I drove by and begged
assistance. “Hop in. I’ll take you to a service station.”
“No.” He had a better idea, and we didn’t hurry
could be late for work. “I have a gas can and siphoning hose in my
trunk. Why can’t we take a half gallon or so from your tank? It will
only take a few minutes. Then I’ll have enough to get me to work and
won’t be late. I’ll pay you back later.”
“Go ahead,” I said “and take out a gallon.”
“But,” he exclaimed, I just came from the dentist
and had a tooth pulled. I’m afraid I might get infected. Would you
siphon it for me? What do you think?”
I should have walked away and told him what I was
thinking, but impulsively, I took the can and the hose, took the lid
off my gas tank and after a few failures, I got the hang of it and
siphoned about a gallon. “That should get you to work on time!”
“That was sure nice of you! How much do I owe
I could only nod and indicate by hand that I was
busy ridding my mouth of the gasoline residue to answer.
He said a hurried “thanks,” stowed his can and
jumped into his car and sped away. I stood there by my car telling
myself what a dummy I was to have fallen for this stupid stunt. The
never paid me back and avoided my presence. He was afraid, I am
that I would ask to be compensated for the gasoline he did me out
At twenty cents a gallon and wartime rationing, I had made a stupid
error at a time when every drop of gasoline was as precious as gold.
This was 1943 and I was old enough to know better. Suspect number
four...gasoline siphoning...just one time. How stupid can one man
Soon it was time for me to do more for my country
tan making spindles and universal joints. I was drafted into the
in March 1944. I was 24. After boot camp, the Navy greeted me with a
paint brush and chipping tool.
It was a happy day when I traded these in for a
typewriter as I became a yeoman striker! Suspect number five...Navy
paint from San Diego throughout the vast Pacific War Zone!
Upon leaving the Navy in 1946, I joined my family
Grants Pass. I was there eleven years during which time I came into
contact with another no-no, carbon tetrachloride. I learned to use
highly toxic solvent freely as an all-purpose, cleaning agent. I
it frequently and noone put me wise to its highly toxic effect on
sensitive human tissue. It was worse than soaking my hands in
cool to the touch but extremely harmful. Carbon tetrachloride was
designed primarily for use in the engineering department for
electronic components. I was later shown warnings about its many
harmful effects on the human body. Parkinson’s suspect number
Another no-no of my own making was the occasional
use of the dish detergent Ivory Flakes to brighten my teeth. It was
cheaper than buying toothpaste and left my teeth snowy white for
I received many compliments. I was born with a perfect set of teeth
there was no need to enhance their beauty, just my stupidity. I
casually mentioned to a dentist what I was doing. He exploded and
me over the coals but good. What I was doing was not only ridiculous
but extremely harmful. I changed dentists out of embarrassment.
Parkinson’s suspect number seven...Ivory Flakes.
In the September 1998 issue of the VFW Magazine,
read an article that attracted my attention. It was titled “Diseased
Guam?” The article read in part: ”A research project development of
Parkinsonian dementia complex to serviceman who served on Guam
World War II is being conducted by the VA in Reno, Nevada. If you
served on the island, please contact Dr. Charles Palmer, Chief,
Neurology Service, 1000 Locust Street, Reno, Nevada.”
I responded immediately stating that I had spent
tours of duty on Guam for a total of 14 months. By return mail I
received an extensive questionnaire, which I filled out and returned
immediately. That was the last I heard of the research project. I
mentioned this to one of the VA Rotation Doctors in Portland, who
he was aware of the project and it was decided there was no merit to
the suspicion. Makes me wonder why they suspected Guam in the first
place. Parkinson’s faint suspect number eight... Guam.
As I reminisced in my torture chamber, i
there may have been other reasons for my Parkinson’s and possibly a
combination of causes. And the more I probed, the finger of blame
increasingly pointed inward in my direction, to my own carelessness
Where do I go from here? I was feeling miserable
my discoveries but still no definite cues. I searched further and
up with another theory pointed in my direction, my old friend,
the accordion, my favorite scapegoat.
Not only did it cause my swayback, but I recalled
age 15 or so, my inner arm just above the wrist began to ache when I
worked the bellows. The sharp edge of the accordion that pressed
against my body cut like a knife into the arm causing it to ache
pain. And in an effort to correct the situation, I bought a
protective wrist band. It worked, although the pain persisted for
until I was conditioned to wearing the band. And for many years I
carried a red streak across my arm as a solid remembrance of my
accordion days. I wore the wrist band for years until I lost it and
never replaced it. Now that I thought about it I remembered the
Why hell, I can still see a slight reminder of the red arm streak.
Parkinson’s suspect number nine...the accordion!
Then, as I lay there in my private chamber, I
decided to take another long look at my ring finger as a possible
offender, that ever-twitching digit that held my beloved wedding
for more than fifty years. Truly, it had become a part of my finger
I still had a sense of guilt for having removed it forever several
years back. Could it be that my ring finger, where I first noticed
neurological problem, was in reality, the starting place for my
Parkinson’s? The thought was revolting to me, but in my endeavor to
seek out the cause of my illness, I had no choice but to declare my
ring finger as Parkinson’s suspect number ten!
My three days in the torture chamber, someone had
misnamed a bed, were the most miserable I had ever spent in my life,
and I often thought that dying would be a welcome relief from my
cow disease” as I now regarded it.
But much to my surprise, I noted that the nurses
support staff were friendly and sympathetic. They were well
and supremely courteous in their treatment of the cranky old
In charge of my treatment was an exceptional
whom I will identify as Caroline. She was quick to point out the
multifaceted functions of the $5,000 torture chamber. All the push
buttons were installed in the control panel for a purpose, and she
explained each function, always with a pleasing, warm, sincere smile
her face. She assured me that my doctor would visit me soon.
“In the meantime, why don’t you lie back and
television?” She put a TV remote control in my hand and showed me
to use it. Still smiling, she adjusted the “chamber” to get me a
TV viewing. I had the feeling that I was going to like this nurse.
“Before I leave, is there anything I can get for
you?” Caroline asked.
I said, “Yes,” I’m terribly constipated. Is there
anything you can do for it?”
“Sorry, but I can’t do that without a doctor’s
permission. But,” she smiled, “I have an idea. Excuse me. I’ll
She returned a few minutes later with a paper cup
filled with prunes...and a bigger than ever smile. “This should work
I gobbled down a sizable number of the biggest
prunes. “This will do it I’m sure!” And shall I say I knew my
The situation remedied itself in a short time.
And boy, did I know my prunes! It was part of my
summer trilogy as a lad, working in the fruit...first cutting
then pears, and finally prune picking. Ah, yes, I knew my prunes and
now they were working for me. How well I remembered two large
to a box and at eight cents a box I made $2.40 a day, plus an extra
penny a box bonus if I stayed the whole season. I always stayed and
proud as a peacock to turn over my meager earnings to my mother, who
turn used the money to buy my school clothes and supplies. It’s
what I thought about while confined to the torture chamber. Somehow
Caroline made it seem less gruesome.
Caroline assured me that my medication had been
changed and I would be put on a new schedule and discharged from the
hospital in a couple of days. Then I began to appreciate what a kind
person Caroline was. I strongly suspected that she treated all her
patients as well as I was being treated. She did
best to make me forget the bed trap I was in. She thought it an
excellent idea that I mentally research my medical history.
As soon as she left, I turned off the TV,
out on my back as best I could, shut my eyes tight and continued my
probing. At 83 years of age I had a long history to cover.
I might add that Caroline was 35, married and had
three children, and obviously one on the way. Her husband worked in
As I lay in the “chamber” with my eyes still
the first words coming to mind were Caroline telling me, “Only God
knows the answer to your disease, Monte. Trust in him!”
“Will you pray for me?”
“Of course I will!”
I’m sure she meant it. I closed my eyes tight and
tried again to recall my earlier years...probing, probing,
My three-day stay at Sacred Heart was about to
Seemed to me I had been there a month. My doctor ran a few tests and
was his conclusion that, perhaps the leveling off of my medication
done to rapidly in view of my advanced age. No one was at fault. No
serious mistake had been made. It was must my 83 years working
me. The doctor made a few adjustments in my medications and
my release for the following morning, thus ending what I had come to
recognize as a prelude to hell!” However, I had no argument with the
treatment I had received from the hospital staff, especially from
On the day of my discharge, I woke up early and
standing beside my bed was Caroline gently holding my left hand and
“I came to say goodbye to a very special patient.
God loves you and wants you well!”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll do my best!”
“I know you will!”
She patted my folded hands, smiled, turned away
the bed and walked through the open door, never looking back. A
time later I was wheeled out of the hospital and taken home, a place
thought I’d never see again. A therapist was to visit me in a few
to assist in my recovery.
About a week later I was contacted by a hospital
therapist who was to meet with me several times, teaching me how to
better handle the multitude of problems associated with
Parkinson’s... stumbling, falling... how to use a
then a cane, how to get out of a chair, a car. In a relatively short
time I was able to walk up and down the street with a cane, often
carrying it in my hand, as I walked without it.
I contacted the Portland VA Hospital and the
VA Clinic to report on my progress in therapy. It was agreeable to
that I was seeking a Eugene area neurologist for treatment, to save
and my wife from making the long trip out of town. I had given up
driving hopefully just temporarily, and at 83 was not keen about
driving in the congested big city traffic.
Thankfully, I remain a patient in the VA
Administration Hospital System!
I have no complaint with their services rendered,
and I can well understand the use of rotation doctors. There are so
many veterans... and so many in my age bracket. They do the best
can. What more can we ask?
I do, however, have two more suspicions to add as
possible causes or aggravations to my Parkinson’s...they many
prescription and over-the-counter prescription drugs I have taken
throughout my lifetime for a multitude of ailments from arthritis to
headaches, all having their effects and taxing my central nervous
system. Yes, I’m sure of it...Parkinson’s suspect number
eleven...prescription and over-the-counter nonprescription drugs!
And noise pollution comes to mind as a possible
factor to the erosion of the central nervous system, and even more
menacing, invisible radio waves. For the past twenty or so years, we
have been sleeping with a clock radio installed in the headboard of
bed. We often go to sleep and waken to radio sounds. Often, it is
Should this be considered as another assault on
overly-taxed nervous system and another parkinson’s suspect? I’ll
to analyze this further to my satisfaction. In the meantime, I’ll
it a number...Parkinson’s suspect number twelve...noise pollution
Chapter 10: A Scent of Roses
One day while I was browsing around the house
lazy, I decided to clean out a dresser drawer, with its many years
disorganized junk and memorabilia. Among the items slipping through
fingers was a paper box filled with an assortment of religious
pictures, which, I believe, came from my mother’s estate. It was a
portrait of St. Therese of the child Jesus, as painted by her sister
Celine. A notation in back indicated it to be a most authentic
representation of the saint. St. Therese had long been one of my
mother’s favorites. I separated it from the others and went to a
encyclopedia to learn more about St. Therese.
St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) was born in
France. Her full name was Marie Francois Therese Martin. She entered
Carmelite Convent at age 15. Latter she suffered from depression and
religious doubts, which she mastered by prayer. She died at age 24
tuberculosis. She chronicled her own spiritual struggle in a series
letters published after her death in 1898. She was canonized in
Her feast day is October 1.
Instinctively, as my mother would do, I kissed
picture gently and put it to one side. I recalled my mother lighting
candles and praying on her knees before the Little Flower of the
Jesus statue prominently displayed in a side altar at Hold Cross
Church. And now I was curious to know why.
The answer was quick in coming as i remembered my mother saying that
St. Therese had always been extra special to her. She reminded me
her mother was named Therese and so was one of my younger sisters. i
recall her having said on numerous occasions that St. Therese had
her many favors and she was eternally grateful. I recall her
me warmly and with a gentle kiss to my forehead, as we knelt
before the statue. Now I understood that I was one of the favors my
mother was talking about. I was her second born, preceded by a
sister who died shortly after birth, a tragic victim of the flu
epidemic that swept much of the world in 1918. My sister was a few
months old when she was buried January 1, 1919. I was born a year
four days later on January 5, 1920.
I kissed the picture again as I held it firmly in
hand. There was something that held me mesmerized and I
let go. Then it hit me like a ton of coal falling on my head! Why,
CAROLINE, my nurse at the hospital! There’s no mistaking it! What a
coincidence! Was I hallucinating? The picture of St. Therese and my
remembrance of Caroline were identical as though they were twins! I
continued staring at the picture and could feel warm tears
forming...tears of joy! I felt the presence of my mother! I well
remembered what she said about St. Therese: “I will spend my time in
heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall from from heaven...a
Now I was beginning to understand how St. Therese
had suddenly come into my life, as a scent of roses. There were a
of people praying for me as I struggled with Parkinson’s...my
grandmother, my mother, my sister, St. Therese, family members and
friends, and now Caroline! I was further encouraged in my illness,
I detected a scent of roses in a bouquet I had bought for my wife as
token of love. She, too, had been praying for me and continues to do
Chapter 11: Hope
Several weeks went by and I had settled into a
routine learning to cope with a stubborn, unrelenting disease that
spreads insidiously day by day. It is true that I was highly
by the influence of St. Therese, but I also know that time is not on
side and any help from heaven would have to come soon. I am hopeful
this regard as I recite the Lord's Prayer in saying, ‘Thy will be
on Earth as it is in Heaven.” I force myself to be patient and to
that my day of healing will come.
Now that my entire body seems affected I can name
long list of inconveniences... nervousness, sleep problems and
disturbances. What is really annoying to me is the fact that my
continues to suffer, even when I am down to one-finger typing. I am
still making too many mistakes as I “peck” the keyboard. Too many
misspelled and skipped words! My confidence is shaken and more so
each passing day. I wake up each morning praying that I can use my
typing finger more effectively. I have so much to type and I am
hurrying to finish this story. “Please, Lord, give me the energy and
patience to complete what I have started!”
Long gone are the cocksure days of my youth and
supreme confidence of my younger adult years. I am now facing my to
83 years and have many questions. Will I make it to my 84th? I am
confident that I will. With all those people praying for me, I dare
A few more weekends had gone by. I was having
days and bad days, and was beginning to wonder if all the prayers by
many people were being heard. I could feel the bad days taking over
my prognosis grim.
One bright, sunshiny morning while I was watching
the dismal news on TV, the telephone rang. I muted the idiot box and
picked up the receiver. It was a lady church worker from St. Mary’s.
she identified herself as Sarah Gilman. she was on a committee to
administer Holy Communion to shut-ins like me and Harriet. I never
liked the designation “shut-in” because it made me feel helpless and
I’m sure my wife felt the same way.
But there was something in Sarah’s voice that
me want to listen. She was asking me if my wife and I would be
receptive to receiving Holy Communion at home on a regular basis.
without consulting my wife, for I knew she would agree, I said
and set up a date and time for the following week.
On the appointed day, we dressed as we would for
Sunday church. The doorbell rang. Harriet rose to answer it. From a
feet away, as I sat at the kitchen table I heard a warm, sweet voice
say, “I’m Sarah. I’m from St. Mary’s. I came to bring Holy Communion
you and your husband.”
“I’m Harriet. Won’t you come in? My husband is at
the kitchen table. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Sarah entered. Harriet led her to where I was
sitting, with my cane beside me and the walker nearby. She extended
hand and smiled broadly. I told her how much Harriet and I
her coming. The three of us sat at the table.
Sarah can best be described as a middle-aged,
attractive woman with a warm handshake and a beautiful, warm,
countenance to match. After a brief period of getting acquainted and
introductory remarks, she reached for a golden locket, about 2 1/2
inches square, from around her neck, and placed it unopened on the
table before her, creating a portable tabernacle. She asked that we
our heads and recite The Lord’s Prayer!
She opened the locket that contained two
wafers, giving the first to Harriet with words, “Receive the body of
Christ.” She then turned to me and repeated the ritual. She held our
hands and offered a closing prayer, which included a request that
bodies be healed of all infirmities.
The whole visit and communion service lasted
15 minutes. And for many weeks to this day, we have kept to the
communion schedule as a highlight of our week. On occasions when
was unable to come, an equally qualified person administers our Holy
Communion. Truly Harriet and I have found a new ally in our efforts
defeat my Parkinson’s and Harriet’s increased arthritis. It is my
belief that Sarah Gilman is the answer to my prayers asking for a
that my petitions to St. Therese be acknowledged. Sarah Gilman is,
indeed, a welcome “rose from heaven.”
Then it’s back to monotonous living. I became
increasingly bored with waiting for dramatic things to happen in my
life, like a miraculous, instant recovery. I find myself hating
television, when I realize I am spending too much time being
entertained when I should be devoting my time to more productive
pursuits, such as starting a new play or at least rewriting or
the twelve or so that I have already written. but the energy is no
longer there, not at this moment anyway. The date is April 25, 2003,
and my prime activity is confined to taking therapeutic walks,
dishes and doing minor chores around the house, and doing my best to
remain alert. I have tried reading more, but my eyes readily tire. I
have prescription glasses bust rarely use them. Seems that I never
“the hang of it!” Perhaps in the future I will do better.
I budget my limited energy to getting things done
a priority basis, such as preparing this one-finger manuscript. I
become increasingly nervous as I pound away on this dilapidated
typewriter. I know that my recovery will take a miracle. I am ready
accept it anytime. And with the help of those praying for me, I WILL
HEALED! The ultimate decision will come from Jesus, in the manner
forth in The Lord’s Prayer. “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in
“Only say the word, Lord, and I shall be healed.”
Chapter 12: Winding Down
I had my first meeting with my new Eugene
neurologist, Dr. Mary Simpson. I was highly skeptical that she could
me any good, but I was willing to it the old college try. I was
relieved to know that I no longer had to travel to Portland for
treatment by the rotation doctors. Immediate help was now at my
fingertips by phone and less than three miles away by car.
Dr. Simpson was in her mid-thirties and came
recommended by my regular Eugene physician.
At my first meeting with her, she was eager to
the paper I had prepared that traced the story of my Parkinson’s
my first suspicions throughout the years to the present. I titled
piece “Tracing My Parkinson’s,” which became the genesis for this
story. She said the information was invaluable to her and she would
evaluate it carefully. I was skeptical but left her a copy anyway.
made a few medicine adjustments and invited me back in three months.
In the meantime, I haven’t driven a car since my
hospital confinement at Sacred Heart six months ago. Harriet first
became my full time chauffeur, even as her arthritis worsened and
finds it more difficult getting into and out of our 1984 Datsun,
by the way, still runs good. I am now 83 1/2 and Harriet is close
behind at 82.
I has been a long, interesting journey for Monte
Harriet. We have come a long way since she was the old swayback on
stage as a nobody walk-in in “Brother Rat” as staged by San Jose
drama department more than 60 years ago. Shall we says she had
taste and judgment than did the old professor, Dr. Hugh Riley! May
rest in peace wherever his soul might be!
Since our marriage On September 22, 1941, three
months before Pear Harbor, we have lived in five communities and
managed to have a child or two in all of them except Eugene. Our
children are now scattered from Wisconsin to Tennessee to Portland,
Denver and Eugene, and I am sure each has an interesting story to
And today, as this story winds down, I sincerely
believe that I have hit on the cause or multiple causes for my
Parkinson’s, most of which involves my own lack of knowledge or just
plain stupidity, such as siphoning gasoline and using dish detergent
whiten my already perfect set of teeth. As my mother would say,
“Stupido,” which is Sicilian for stupid. “You have only yourself to
No truer words were ever spoken, and as I finish
this loquacious flow of words, I am reminded that Harriet and I will
celebrate our 62nd anniversary come September 22, 2003. We are both
trying our best to make it. It has become a habit. You might even
“tradition!” And, furthermore, I am still sitting on a dozen or so
full-length plays I’m trying to peddle one way or another. Anybody
to buy a good play cheap? also for sale, and 80-year-old accordion.
Will take best offer. Must be over twenty-one!
In the matter of Guardino, the man, versus
Parkinson’s, the disease, the situation has not been resolved. I
however, make definite conclusions pertaining to my struggle, in
I have learned the following, and pass on to anyone who might
from my experience! “Beware of all insecticides and pesticides. Stay
clear of petroleum products by touch and by smell. Avoid carbon
monoxide, leaded paints, improper use of detergents, tight-jewelry
ill-fitting devices such as musical instruments. Be extremely
in the use of medications; beware of side effects and conflicts. And
not to be overlooked, noise pollutions and all forms of invisible
I firmly believe that the human body has the
capability of healing itself, God willing, once the cause of an
has been determined. I sincerely hope that the above has been useful
anyone reading these words. I am working yard on my own cure. Be
interesting to see what happens.
This takes me down to the last and final word on
(So Be It).