Memories of Knott’s Berry Farm

Some images and recollections stay with us for a very long time. Among my favorites are the memories of a family trip to southern California and Knott’s Berry Farm in 1954. I was a young lad of fourteen at the time. My younger sister and I both sat for on-the-fly charcoal portraits, rendered by two of the park’s resident “sidewalk artists.” We, thankfully, have kept these unique likenesses which are still in their original natural wood frames – even after decades of knocking about and sitting patiently in storage.

Last Thursday, after years of good intentions, I finally took mine into our favorite local framing shop for some TLC. Jo-Ellen, who always takes good care of our framing needs, will touch-up scratches in the original frame (important to keep). She will also replace the original cheap paper mat with a fine archival mat and seal it all behind special, non-reflective museum plexiglass. This effort to preserve and properly display what, to me, is now an important keepsake is way past due. I always thought that the artist, Liz, who created it, signed it, and dated it ’54 did a very good job! That was me – white T-shirt, cowlick and all in 1954!

Our family of four was in southern California visiting Uncle Gil, Aunt Virgie, and young cousin Craig at the time, and Knott’s Berry Farm was on our list of things to do.

Although the theme park remains alive and well, today, in Anaheim, California, nearby Disneyland corners more publicity. Knott’s has grown considerably since 1954, annually catering to throngs of visitors from across the globe. Back in 1954, the crowds were smaller, the park was simpler, and the overall texture of the experience was most pleasing for the very reasons stated. I will also add that a family vacation trip like ours to southern California via United Airlines on a DC-6B Mainliner from San Francisco was a very rare treat, indeed. Money was scarce, and we kids were decidedly unspoiled. In 1954, Disneyland was a year away from opening nearby in Anaheim, so Knott’s Berry Farm was still the place to go in the region.

I recall panning for gold in real sluice boxes with sand and running water – like an active creek. The three of us kids each came away with a little glass vial filled with water and containing a dozen or so small flakes of real gold. A small cork sealed the vial – much like a miniature time capsule! I was long fascinated by my little vial of real gold. It was not until many years later that I finally decided to get rid of it, so I did. I now wish I had kept it, being a tangible memory of boyhood enthusiasm and joy.

I also recall riding the full-size train around the park and enjoying the interesting items and “scenery” installed by the park for the enjoyment of the passengers. About two-thirds of the way along the journey, three masked desperados on horseback suddenly burst from a grove of trees and headed for the train at full gallop. Whooping and hollering and firing pistol blanks in the air, they chased down the train and proceeded to stage a holdup. When the shooting and commotion first broke out, young cousin Craig, who was about six at the time, cried out, “Are they gonna kill us?” After the initial burst of surprised laughter from the rest of us at my cousin’s honest reaction, it took some dedicated reassuring before young Craig could accept that the action was all in fun. It was one of those wonderful incidents that remain etched in one’s memory for a very long time.

Those were wonderful times and memories for us in southern California. The sun-drenched, uncrowded paradise that was southern California in the twenties and thirties could still be occasionally glimpsed in the nineteen-fifties. My re-framed charcoal portrait by “Liz” of Knott’s Berry Farm will soon be prominently displayed on our wall, a constant visual reminder of the fun we had. Thanks, Liz, for the memories.

The Art of Been There, Done That!

You can’t stay on the summit forever.
You have to come down again…
One climbs, one sees;
One descends, one sees no longer.
But one has seen.

 There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions
By the memory of what one has seen higher-up.

                                             – Rene Daumal

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These lines resonate with me. They also resonated with my wife, who clipped them from a magazine years ago and with my daughter, Ginny, who used them in her blog, Mary and Me, posted as Off  the mountain on Feb. 24, 2011.

As we get older, scaling high summits, literally and figuratively, becomes more of a challenge. Whether due to health reasons, financial considerations, or just plain lack of energy, those of us who are older and retired must face the fact that certain activities just are not within easy reach any longer. We are descending from the loftier vantage points of our young years, where our viewpoints were long and focused, to altitudes where the view is surprisingly more panoramic, the air is fuller, and a deep breath more quickly rejuvenates. This is not to imply that we should slow down and stop; rather, we move on to undertake new and more appropriate activities and challenges!

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These are the times when recollections of past things seen and done are increasingly more important to our ongoing quality of life. We let-go to some extent, but we, hopefully, remember fondly where we have been and what we have seen. 

Careers In the Rear-View Mirror

As a long-retired electrical engineer, here, in California’s fabled Silicon Valley, many of my former skills have accumulated rust, and some of them are no longer even relevant in today’s galloping technology. Yet, there was an exciting time not too long ago when I participated in the fast-paced, leading-edge technology march that continues unabated in this valley. The memory of those exciting times spent “higher-up” kindles a warm appreciation of today’s wider perspective on Silicon Valley, a history now viewed more leisurely from today’s low-altitude “base-camp,” as it were.

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I additionally find solace in retreating from the time-fragility of marketable and specialized, leading-edge technical knowledge. I now defer to the stability inherent in those engineering/scientific fundamentals that provided the underpinnings for my career – the very same fundamentals I and countless other engineers learned in college. I still know them and, occasionally, review them, to my great personal satisfaction. Those fundamentals are largely timeless and still apply! Today, I find comfort in that fact, yet I still attempt to keep abreast of new science and technology.

The coursework engineers learn in college represents, in some sense, basic truths of nature and natural law; mastering these constitutes a “right-of-passage” for fledgling engineers and serves much like a high-altitude base-camp encountered along the upward trail leading to the summits of technology; one must pass through on the way up in order to be adequately prepared for the ultimate ascent. Inevitably, one passes through again on the way back down, thankful for its warm, welcoming, and continuing presence. Thus, it is.

Zany & Wonderful Memories of Travel: Enough to Last a Lifetime

 Compared to many families, my wife and I are less well-traveled. Yet, I count us blessed to have been to Western and Eastern Europe in addition to several domestic vacations including New York. I traveled to rural Japan several times for extended business stays of two-to-three weeks at a time. Those trips to Japan were long and often difficult, yet there are many fond memories of those journeys just as there are of our major family excursions.

I am not tempted to recount specific trips and the good times we had because many of you have traveled extensively and know full-well what benefits travel brings as well as the indelible memories travel creates.

The point I would make is this: At my age and stage, I do not feel driven to see a lot more of this fascinating world first-hand. This attitude is due partly to the great expense of money, time, and energy involved, but it is perhaps more the result of the feeling that I have had ample opportunities to view the world from “the (travel) summit,” – and that sustains me very well now at these more leisurely altitudes. I know that many can never get enough of new world-experiences, even in their later years. More power to them. As for me, I have been there, seen that, and done that often enough to satisfy my extensive travel cravings. 

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The Art of Knowing When to Recollect and Enjoy

I find fascinating the number of entertainment and sports figures who have had fabulous careers, received much acclaim over many years for their talents and skills, and earned large sums of money – yet they stay too long at the party, not knowing when to quit. Why not decide to draw-down while you are still near the top and able to revel at the commanding view as the inevitable descent and decline begins? It is true that money is often a large factor in staying too long , and that is really sad in light of their long-standing success. I also believe that human nature and the almighty ego play a role in the inability for some to embrace the “…art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one has seen higher-up.”

Slow down and smell the flowers in the beautiful garden which you worked so hard to plant and cultivate. Like all of us, they, too, have but a limited time, here.