Monday, December 26, 2016

Kiddie Shows

In late May of 1965, my brother Arlo sent a postcard to the Mayor Art Show, a popular kiddie show located in San Francisco.  Mayor Art had a big drum that the postcards went into, and those whose postcards got picked from the drum got to be guests on the show. We were in shock when, two days later, we got a phone call that Arlo's postcard was picked for him to be a guest on the show the next day.  The next day also happened to be Arlo's 11th birthday!

Mayor Art Finley, with two kids on his show.

 My mom took my brother Tom and me along with Arlo, to the studio.  As we sat in the audience, one of the show's crewmen came out, and asked all of the kids in the audience to join the Mayor on the stage, as part of the "City Council". Arlo and Tom went up there, but I stayed behind - after all, I was 13 years old, certainly not a kid anymore! But the crewman didn't see me that way, and cajoled me into joining the kids on the stage. 

Word had gotten out that it was Arlo's birthday, so Mayor Art let Arlo ride his big red tricycle. Arlo had a bit of trouble handling the trike, and crashed it into one of the cameras.   Oops! For myself, I was just proud (and relieved) that when the microphone was put in my face, I remembered my name!

At the end of the show, as always, the Mayor looked into the television camera, and said: "We'll be seeing you...." and we all joined in: "SUBSEQUENTLY! 

 After the show, we all lined up to leave, and Mayor Art (Art Finley) gave us each a box of Capn' Crunch cereal (which was new at the time) and a colorful cellophane top hat.

When we got home, we had to share the cereal with our other siblings, which was o.k., because we were minor celebrities when we went to school (all of our classmates had seen us on t.v.)

My father was friends with another local kiddie-show celeb, Marshal J. (Jay Alexander).  My sister Laurie and I went to visit Marshal J at his studio barn.  His dog Rowdy was nowhere to be found, but the barn set looked the same.

We also briefly met Captain Satellite (Bob March), another local kiddie host, who was giving out Milk Duds at the Westlake shopping center. 

The Captain was a lot shorter than I had expected, and quite likeable.

Many years later, my husband and I took our daughter to meet Captain Cosmic (Bob Wilkins), which was just as exciting for me as meeting Mayor Art.

Wilkins was pretty funny; every time he would announce prize winners, everyone would clap, and he would exclaim: "And the crowd is alive!" Captain Cosmic had a robot named 2T2, which Kelly loved so much. that she dressed up as a robot that Halloween.  

We were also big fans of Bob Wilkins' "Creature Features" show. Guess that doesn't fit into the "kiddie show" theme...once a kid, always a kid! 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our Brother Mark

My brother Mark was born with autism, but that wasn't the diagnosis until years after his 1955 birth.  He was like any other baby.
Later, when diagnosed, some of the "symptoms" of autism were there: hypersensitivity to light and loud noises, too much stimulation, etc.  But other typical indications didn't jibe.  Mark was always very affectionate, and enjoyed hugs.  He was always responsive to us, and sociable, and has always had a phenomenal memory.

Mark is very aware of each and every person in his family, and later his caregivers and friends.  Here he is (white shirt), hugging our mom, with a few of his siblings (being themselves), for my Polaroid shot: 

In fact, there are times when Mark can be TOO affectionate, as it involves strangers (mostly ample-bodied ladies), and Mark has been taught not to go up and hug people without their consent. This is an ongoing challenge.  :)    
Mark lived with us until he was 6 years old.  Neighborhood kids noticed right away that Mark was "different".  The word: retard" was used to describe Mark, used as an insult: "Your brother is a REtard!"  Not that Mark cared what they thought, but we sure minded. That word got some of those kids beat up. 

At a certain point, my parents realized that they couldn't handle Mark at home.   As it was, he almost killed himself, twice.
Mark's first hospital visit was when he was 3, after trying to swallow from a can of Drano that he had found under the kitchen sink. My mom rushed him to the hospital, where, luckily, it never passed his lips, which were permanently burned by the caustic Drano.

Mark's next trip to the hospital was more serious. He was 6 years old, frustrated and angry.  He smashed his arm through a window, cutting up the length of it, requiring stitches.  After that incident, he was moved to Napa State Hospital.  I'll never forget the first time my mother and I went to visit Mark at Napa State.  We found out that Mark had bitten off the top of his index finger, apparently because he couldn't feel it. Mom was freaked out.  The hospital's medical staff experimented with medications and therapies, to keep some of the behaviors under control.

Even though he lived at Napa State full-time, Mark did come home for week-long visits during Easter and  Christmas vacations.

Mark was the best escape artist of us all.  How he did it, I still don't know, because we tried our best to keep a watch on him.   Mark took off a lot, often winding up around Skyline Blvd., the police finding him, and bringing him back home. 

It was difficult keeping an eye on Mark all the time.  My sister and I were charged with his care (being the two eldest), but we ourselves were only a few years older than him.  Mark was also physically strong, so it took two of us to hold him down.  That wasn't always possible.  My father ruled with an iron hand, and tried to keep us all in line by having us keep our arms folded, when not in use.  That worked o.k., until our family expanded to nine children. 

Mark enjoyed turning off our neighbor's power at the outside switch-boxes on their homes; he was a genius at figuring out how to get into those locked switch-boxes!  You can imagine that this didn't make us very popular with the neighbors. 

The neighbors across the street, the Millers, and a lady down the street named Vera were particularly vocal, critical that such a large family could even exist (I constantly heard the neighbors criticize my mom for having so many kids).  The Millers had a beautifully-kept home, so probably were worried that their property values would go down, being situated so close to the Hagler "Animal House" across the street.  

Mark was regularly compelled to visit our neighbor's homes and use their water hoses, spraying those around.   

On one momentous day, the Millers were having a party, all of their guests dressed up.  Somehow, Mark left the house without our realizing it. We heard a shriek from across the street, and saw Mark holding a hose, turned on full blast, right at the Miller's picture window. The Millers and their guests were peeking out that picture window, horrified.  That was one of the occasions when Mrs. Miller would march over to our house, and have a yelling match with my mom.  I remember them out in the middle of Inverness Drive, screaming at each other, embarrassing my sister Laurie and I. 

Some of the neighbors looked out, to see what was going on.  
I still don't know why Mrs. Miller would object to Mark's washing her windows.  

Mark also liked to throw things over the fence.  A lot of stuff wound up in our neighbor's yard.  We used this to our advantage, when my father told us to go find a stick in the yard, for him to beat us with.  We'd look around, then give each stick to Mark. Over the fence it went! 

Of course, that didn't help in the long run, since our father always found something to beat us with.

Our yard had naturally-growing sweet peas and strawberries, which we scavenged for, as there was never enough food. But Mark was a meat-eater.  He ate snails, and threw away the shells.  If it grosses you out to read that, just imagine watching this happen. "Mark! leave that poor snail alone!"  I'm wondering if Mark just took after our French ancestors.  

After a disastrous experiment in community placement after his years at Napa State Hospital (part of then-Governor Ronald Reagan's releasing of mental patients to save the state money), Mark broke into houses, and almost killed a little girl (he hit her over the head with a 2x4 piece of wood).   The girl's parents threatened to sue the state, if Mark wasn't locked up again, so he was brought back to live at Napa State Hospital. 

During that time, he participated in Special Olympics, and won ribbons for running. He was great at running (and escaping; during one event, he gave my sister Sue and I the slip, when he went to use the restroom, and we had to chase him down).  Here he is before he took off:

In 1986, Mark was moved to live at the Sonoma Developmental Center, where he has lived for decades. For years, our brother Arlo visited Mark there, sometimes with our mom.   The family joined in on many occasions, as well. 

 Mark never lost the urge to try to run off.  Just before Mom died, she asked that we continue to visit Mark, and to look after him.  We promised that we would.  I became Mark's Conservator, with two sibling "back up" conservators,  Susan and Tom.    

Mark's concept of death is partly based upon the absence our father, who stopped seeing him, after awhile.  When Mark would ask us: "Where's your friend Dad?" we would tell him that his father  couldn't be there, that he was " Washington".    When the inevitable passings occurred, and Mark asked, we'd say that they couldn't be there, and Mark would conclude that they were also " Washington." 

When we visit Mark, we all take him out to the Black Bear Diner, in Sonoma. This is part of the annual tradition.
 Mark loves chocolate milkshakes - in fact, he always orders two...and finishes them!  

Then we go on a "candy run" at CVS Pharmacy, before we attend the annual meetings with his caregivers. Mark is very particular about the candy he buys. We must surround him at all times, because he does like to escape.  We also have our gifts for him, since his birthday (and Christmas) coincides with the meetings.


On my 60th birthday: LtoR: Georgia, Tom, Jenel, me, Ben, Sue, Mark, Kelly, George & Joe.

Once we return to SDC, the candy is stored away, and rationed out through the year, to Mark and his friends.  He always attends the meetings, and provides input about his care. He has progressed a great deal with the care that he has gotten at SDC.  He has learned to write his name - a huge accomplishment.  

In 2017, the Sonoma Developmental Center closed, so the residents had to be moved to group homes and Regional Centers. We were lucky when Dr. Dale Liete offered a place for Mark in one of his group homes, with 3 of Mark's favorite roommates.   He is very happy there, with many activities, and his own room.  

The house he lives in looks like a "standard house", though has many modifications in it, to make sure that Mark and his roomies are secure.  We stay in regular touch.  Mark is now 62, a senior citizen - and that home is his retirement home.  This is a very happy ending - actually beginning - for our brother Mark!