February 3, 2018


some camelias
Oak Woodland and camellias, January 2018 (mixed media)

Back to painting in my beloved Descanso Garden—so predictable, I know. This time I wandered to the left of the entrance instead of to the right. And I found myself at a bench just below the Boddy House overlooking some magnificent oaks. Most often if you see such an oak cluster it’s called an Oak Woodland—a habitat that is native to CA. As I was finishing up I noticed a jumble of bright red dots that had appeared as if by magic (as the light had changed) just under the branches of the trees. They are camellia blossoms. Now I knew the camellias were there, I just didn’t know they were already blooming and hadn’t really thought I would be adding them here. I was primarily interested in the oaks and trail outline of the dark green clivia foliage. Mr. E. Manchester Boddy (the original owner of the house on the hill) under planted much of the Descanso Garden’s oak woodland forest with camellias in the late 30’s to early 50’s. (If you are interested, there is a rather fascinating story about his connection to local Japanese American nursery owners before and after Pearl Harbor. Look for it on the Descanso Garden website.) Mr. Boddy was an amateur horticulturalist and he dreamed of having a flower business on his property. He planted the camellias under the cool oak canopy and created a year round water supply for his crop. He chose to sell the property before an actual business was realized, but I have to admire his dream of such beauty.

While some have dreams of looking down for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, others have dreams of looking up for the double rainbow or maybe even pink and red camellia flowers. I am a double “rainbow” dreamer and so was my father. When he was in high school at Long Beach Poly High he discovered he was good at math and science and dreamed of becoming an engineer. That was quite a dream for a 16 year old whose father was an alcoholic and never wasted an opportunity to belittle him all his young life. But once the Atom Bomb was developed and used, my dad’s course was set. He used to say that his high school physics teacher had said to the boys in his class (yes, it was all boys), “We need you boys!” So, my dad went into the army to get the GI bill and settled on UCLA where he got a degree in physics. He was the dreamer that was the first college graduate on that side of my family. In the bargain he met my mom and they almost immediately began our family.

My dad said his first engineering job was at a place called Convair in San Diego, and his first real assignment was to build some shelves. My dad’s carpentry skills were never the stuff of dreams, so they soon gave him some real engineering to do, thankfully. But the late 50’s in Mountain View and Palo Alto had started to become known as the place to be (the stuff of the double rainbow for dreamers like my dad) if you were an electrical engineer. Electrical engineers and physicists, from all over the country and the world, seemed to hear the drumbeats calling them to this very special place. Maybe those first luring rhythms came from William Hewlett and David Packard’s garage. I don’t know, but it was a force of nature that I was not old enough to appreciate at the time. Only now, with the legacy of Silicon Valley firmly part of my history and the history of the world, can I fully understand what was happening.

Soon our young family left San Diego and headed for Mountain View. The first place my dad worked was for a company called Western Microwave. There he met the first of many other engineers who dreamed of working for companies where making cool circuits strapped to silicon chips that were getting smaller and smaller seemed to be the stuff of what they had all been dreaming about. I don’t know where I first heard the term semiconductor, but that was the beginning of Silcon Valley. We lived in Santa Clara and some of the other Western Microwave engineers lived near us. They formed a carpool of 4. Each took a week to drive the other guys to work 5 days a week. Every fourth week my dad (who was 6 feet tall) and his three commuters, would somehow fit into our family 2-door Volkswagen Beetle and drive off to work. I never saw any of this, but I remember my mom saying that the other wives loved to see their full-grown husbands squeeze in and out of that car on the days my dad drove.

After a few years my dad went to work for Fairchild Semiconductor. This is where he worked for Robert Noyce, the guy who later founded Intel. My dad would describe those years as heady times for those lucky R and D (Research and Development) engineers like him. He was gone by 7 in the morning and got home 6ish. Most evenings he sat in our living room, smoking a pipe while reading IEEE journals or researching the stock market. And it was not uncommon for him to go into work on weekends. He was so happy then. I remember him coming into the kitchen many evenings, grabbing my mom at the waist, and with a grand dip he would kiss her right there in front of us, with a hot meatloaf sitting on the kitchen counter.

Several years after working for Fairchild, my dad started a microwave business with a tech friend. They called the business MG Microwave, which stood for Merle and Gene (my dad). That lasted about a year and my dad was back at Fairchild. He got a couple patents for Fairchild and was offered a job by Noyce, as he and Gordon Moore were starting Intel. My dad turned it down because he knew his position there would be in “management” and he wasn’t interested in that because he still wanted to continue as a design engineer. (I don’t think my mom ever forgave him for that one!) I also think my dad wasn’t that interested in computers. Crazy huh? He had been trained to build things on a workbench in a lab. He didn’t want to write code for a computer program. After Fairchild my dad went to California Microwave (CMI). Most of the work he did there was with telecommunications for the phone company–“ma Bell” and all the “baby Bells”. By now it’s the mid 80’s and my dad is done. Lots of tech companies had stopped their R and D divisions and were hiring MBA’s to focus only at the “bottom line.” Dad would complain that everyone had hired too many “bean counters” and it just wasn’t very fun anymore. He wondered who was going to develop a better “mousetrap” when all the research money was drying up. He hadn’t noticed that the next version of “mousetraps” was already taking hold of Silcon Valley. But he wasn’t interested in personal computers.

I suspect it was getting harder and harder for him to dream of looking for the double rainbow, when all about him the “bean counters” were only interested in the pots of gold held firmly to the ground. So, at age 52 he and my mom left Silcon Valley and moved to Grass Valley, to tend their rentals. Don’t get me wrong, my dad dreamed of finding gold like everyone else. In fact, before retiring he had been working on a circuit that he was sure could detect gold a couple feet or so down in the ground. Once he got to Grass Valley he and my youngest brother, who later became an electrical engineer, worked on a scheme to look for gold on my family’s property in Grass Valley. It seems they had somehow attached this detector to my dad’s truck and had planned to drive it all over the gravel roads on the 10 acres, looking for gold. (There had been a small working gold mine on the property.) I guess my brother would drive around very slowly while my dad sat in the passengers seat trying to make the device work. I don’t think they ever found anything. Once a dreamer, always a dreamer, I guess.

Last word on “Dreamers”

Right now there is a lot of talk about so called “Obama’s Dreamers” and whether they should be allowed to stay in the US, or be made to go back to the country where they were born. But a lot of those young people have now been educated here and probably dream of staying. It makes me wonder why we would want to send them away, when this country was founded by dreamers of all kinds, even first generation college dreamers like my dad. I mean, maybe one of these dreamers will come up with Silcon Valley’s best “mousetrap” ever! And you never really know what kind of wonders will come from future dreamers. My son was born in Palo Alto in the mid 1990s in the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Yup! Money for that “state of the art” hospital was donated by David and Lucile Packard (of HP fame). And that’s a very real thing that’s a dream come true for so many children and their families.

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