Small Treasures

One of the most difficult tasks is to go through a family member’s things after they’ve died. After my father died, we did this so my brother and his family could take over his house. At first, it’s gut wrenching, and I wanted to keep everything for sentimental reasons. “But that was Dad’s rubber-band,” I would argue. After a few days, something else clicked in and the dumpster began to fill up. This was after we’d been told by several thrift shops to stop bring clothing from the 1970s. Fortunately, my sister gave the bulk of my father’s wardrobe to a friend who was the bartender at a groovy bar. Unfortunately, my brother had to stop going there because he thought it was creepy to see a young hipster behind the bar in Dad’s old striped shirts from Sears in 1975.

Books were the hardest to give away. Who knew that everyone was so picky? We called several used booksellers in Berkeley and San Francisco. They came out to the house, sifted through the hundreds of books and took three. Eventually we started throwing them away. I admit a book on Cobol (a computer language from 1959) is not a big draw. I did, however, save a wonderful assortment of ephemera. One of my favorite items is Kaiser Aluminum News III, from 1965. The drawings are by Saul Steinberg. Don Conover is listed as the art director. I don’t have any idea why my dad had this. Maybe he owned stock, but I don’t think he was interested in aluminum. There are some scary typographic choices (the bold Century Expanded and italic Optima), but each page is as incredible as the next.

Some day, after a few cocktails, I’ll do some drunk posting, and talk about the other “ephemera” we found.

My father was a pinko hippie. And I liked that.

Sherman Adams, high school, before the 60s, 1959

My dad was a character. I was talking to my brother, Ian, yesterday, and he said, “I think Dad was really crazy or super cool.” He had found a photo of my dad taken the year before he died. Admittedly, he was odd looking by then. He had a big shock of white hair like Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future and a modified Fu Man Chu beard. And my dad was incredibly smart. He was a program designer back in the 1960s and 70s, and one of those people that talked about a Googolplex, a numeral with 1 and 100 zeros following. Granted his conversations tended toward the binary, “Yes,” and “No.” I liked the fact that my dad was counterculture from 1960 to the day he died.

Non-student narc and teachers pet, c.1969

These pages from an underground magazine circa 1969 or 1970 were thumbtacked to my dad's bedroom wall for most of my life. The “Of the Faith Teachers Pets” page describes the alleged spying on liberal faculty and students at University of Washington, Brigham Young University, and Fairleigh Dickinson University by individuals posing as R.O.T.C. cadets, and in the case of Linda Hobbie, as an undergraduate. The caption under Ms. Hobbie’s image reads, “Non-student Narc.” The addition of Kaiser Wilhelm is a delicate touch.

Wanted, c.1969

The “Wanted” page describes an episode when the secret service investigated Chuck Popke, pictured above. Popke had written, “Johnson’s war in Vietnam makes America puke,” on the back of an envelope that was intercepted by the secret service. The inset image is President Lyndon Johnson showing a surgical scar. The secret service agent defended the government’s action against Popke, “If enough people puked on the President, it would kill him.”