My dad was not a sentimental man. He didn’t cry at weddings or when listening to old songs that were part of his past. He left few personal keepsakes when he died. There were few things to give away after his death that meant anything to him. His real legacy was in his family and friends who were left behind. In all my life in this little town I never heard any man have anything to say about my dad that wasn’t a compliment.
Once to my everlasting shame I said to an acquaintance of my father, a man whom he didn’t particularly care for; dad said that he was a chiseler and worse than that even, a “government man,” they; who were anathema to farmers in those days, that “I wondered how my father had worked so hard and had so little in life to show for it.” There was a stunned silence and then Deril said, and with force too, “your father is the best man I have ever known and you should be proud to be his son.” I was nearly 30 years old and I was being schooled in a set of values quite beyond my experience. Someone once said to me, “Your dad is the kind of man who will wave to you whether you see him or not.” That is the kind of thing that mattered to my father, not possessions. His good name, his children and his wife mattered. His friends mattered. Things, not at all.
My brother Jerry, who was executor of my parents estate, gave to each my sons, Will and Colin, one of few keepsakes my father treasured. Will, the oldest, who was in college at the time, received the little blue and gold beanie that dad had kept in his top dresser drawer for seventy years. It may seem an odd thing to keep, just a little blue and gold cap that lived quietly in a dresser drawer for a near lifetime. Snuggled in the back amongst the socks. Most of my life, dad had just the one drawer in the dresser, for his wants were few. Socks, underwear, a bandanna or two, Levi’s folded neatly to one side. Hanging in the little closet amongst my mother clothes, a couple of Pendelton work shirts, a minor indulgence on his part, besides they stood up to hard use. One suit, blue or brown as the times decreed and a few personal treasures such as his old Scoutmasters shirt and hat. That’s it.
George Shannon ’34
My dad was one of the fortunate few boys from Arroyo Grande to attend a University during those terrible depression days. In a time when the deed to my grandparents ranch was put up for collateral at the bank each year in order raise the cash to grow the feed for the dairy cattle and other stock. To borrow for fall planting; the spring harvest and then redeem your property after the crops were in, done each and every year, in and endless cycle of indebtedness. It was a fact of farm life then. People could lose everything and frequently did. Luck had nothing to do with it either. My grandparents worked hard, scrimped and saved and some how managed to pull it off. As my dad often said, at the ultimate time in 1939, when the wolf was at the door they were saved by Hitler. By invading Poland he ended the depression in an hour. Such is history.
After graduating from Arroyo Grande High School, dad enrolled at Santa Maria Junior College, which was so small that it’s classes were held in the old high school on south Broadway and west Morrison street. As with my grandmother Annie, who graduated from Santa Maria high in 1904 although she lived in Arroyo Grande which had its own school just two blocks from her home; Arroyo was not an accredited high school for direct transfer to a UC.
Being the depression, money was also very tight and two years in Junior college would save some of the cost of university and give my grandparents some relief. They paid his tuition and books, $37.00 in 1933 and provided five dollars a month in spending money. He was on his own for the rest.
We still have copies of the “Mascot,” the Junior College bi-annual yearbook. Life at a junior college in the early thirties is illustrated in its pages. If you live here you know the families who managed to send their kids to school there. George Oliver whose family ranched next to ours; Kathryn Routzhan who would marry Cyril “Gus” Phelan, Ralph Hanson, Leland Rice and Kenny Jones, all friends of my father.
The life of the kids who went there was like others of their time. As with every generation they were trendy. In the years after WW1 Life changed rapidly in America. My grandmother would wear late Victorian clothes to Cal, my dad wore corduroy trousers called “Bags” because they were. The way they dressed horrified my grandmother, a repetition of styles enjoyed by every generation.
By the late-1940s, beanies fell out of general popularity as a hat, in favor of cotton visored caps like the baseball cap. WWII veterans, returned from combat and getting a prized opportunity to study for a college degree weren’t much into the silliness of Beanies and wouldn’t wear them.
However, in the 1950s they made a brief return. they were worn by college freshmen and various fraternity initiates as a form of mild hazing.
Popular people who are known for wearing beanies include Jughead from the Archie comic book series, Spanky from Our Gang and Goober Pyle who lived in Mayberry and worked at a gas station. The poor beanie had sunken from University level to grease monkey. It was the end.
My dad was a modest man and today it is almost impossible to imagine him wearing such a thing but that he did. He wore it to the Big Game with Stanford when the gridiron boys fought it out with the private school boys for possession of the Axe. The winner took possession for the next year when they would do it all again. They still do. We were told stories of the big pep rallies at Cal before the game when yell leaders would pump up the crown before venturing up to the California Memorial Stadium in Strawberry Canyon or the ride on the train from San Francisco and down to Palo Alto. He told us about the card sections and how they worked as each school tried to outdo the other in whipping up the student section. We didn’t realize as kids what that meant to him. He was a college man and proud of it.
For many years when I was a youngster, he and my mother with their friends the Talleys would drive up to the city and book a great old San Francisco hotel for the annual Big Game. Fine dinners and seats in the alumni section for the three day event. They’d watch the Bears and the Indians, for that is what they were called in those days, battle it out on the field, always pulling for Cal over the hated private school boys. A year to brag or a year to mourn the loss of the Axe.
Why is it called the Stanford AXE? It made its first appearance on April 13, 1899 during a Stanford rally when yell leaders used it to decapitate a straw man dressed in blue and gold ribbons while chanting the Axe yell, which was based on The Frogs by Aristophanes (Brekekekèx-koàx-koáx): Give ’em the axe, the axe, the axe! The Cal rooters began to use the yell too. My dad would demonstrate when we were at my grandparents house during holiday season. He would chant with my grandmother Annie, a 1908 graduate of Cal
One of the best ways to teach your children is to demonstrate, over and over again the thing you wish to impart. The stories about his little beanie and the time, as a child pouring over the pages of the Blue and Gold yearbooks from 1908 and 1934 encouraged all three of his kids to go to college. It was also expected that we would root for California.
Dad and mom had some close friends, both university graduates, he from Stanford and she, California. He said he could never understand this. He always held her in suspicion as if she had committed a crime by marrying a Stanford man.
It is a wonder to me how members of my family hung onto talismans for a lifetime. Protection, luck and good fortune must have resided in the little things they kept. Did my father take his Beanie out of the drawer and dwell on its personal meaning? Did it have some nostalgic power? I don’t know but somehow I hope so.