My mother, Winifred Varian, was a prolific letter writer. She also spent the better part of a year taking a life time of family photos, letters, and memorabilia regarding my fathers early life, his years of being a pilot for Pan American Airlines and time with his brother founding Varian Associates, in its formative years and cataloging it all into 7 albums. She believed that if she had not made this gigantic effort all the history and knowledge of my family would now be “just hear say.”
Seems that each new year, for me, must surely have less than 365 days as they go by so quickly. Why it was just yesterday that I was making a New Years resolution that I know I’ve broken because I can’t even remember what it was. But there is one thing I do know, that looking back and recalling past times brings me a great deal of contentment.
A couple of days ago I was browsing through volume 3 of my mother’s collected family knowledge and came across a letter that she had written to a friend upon our arrival to my birth place, California. It was an 8 year leave of absence but my father made it quite clear that when the Great War was over we would be moving back to California. But first, every last citizen in the then 48 states did what ever it took to defeat Japan, Germany, and Italy in a most noble struggle against a tyrannical enemy. It would be 3 more years after the end of World War 2 before we would return to my birth place. For me sooner was better than later.
My mothers letter tells of our cross country journey without my father as he had gone ahead several months earlier to find a place to live and give dawn to Varian Associates. Our trek started July 10th, 1948, and ended July 19th, 1948.
Here then is my mother’s account of 10 days in a 1941 Plymouth Sedan.
Dear Gang, Left Garden City N.Y. 7:30 A.M. July 10th and arrived in Albany 11:30A.M. Went on to Howe Caverns where we had lunch. None of us had seen caves such as these before, and found them very interesting, although not as colorful as we had expected. We then went on to Skaneateles where we were fortunate in finding a cabin opposite a lake. Lorna and Jack went in swimming and said the water was wonderful and warm as it was at Lake George, our favorite vacation spot in up state New York. I thought this part of the country was beautiful. July 11th. We went on up to Niagara Falls. The falls themselves and the boat I thought were worth going out of our way for, but with so many large factories in the area it sort of spoiled it for me. Traveling was slow all day Sunday as the traffic along Lake Erie was often bumper to bumper. It seemed as though every man and his family were heading for their favorite resorts. We stayed that night just this side of Cleveland, where we spent 2 hours looking for a Western Union. It seems that they are not open on Sundays or even take telephone calls around those parts. July 12th. Went through Cleveland during the wee hours of the morning , and saved ourselves a lot of time. Here we saw our first accident. It seems a car stopped short at an intersection and a truck ran into it from behind. The car looked pretty sad, but no one was hurt. From here on we made pretty good time as the roads through Indiana were excellent. Jacky developed a little kidney trouble on these long hops, but were able to solve this problem with the old standby. The coffee can, or better known at camp, as the “canopy”. Iowa, I thought was the worst state of the lot. Who said it was flat? We went up one hill and down the other for miles, on very narrow roads with soft shoulders on either side. Truck after truck passed us going 80 miles an hour. This makes a nervous wreck out of me, so finally agreed to let Lorna age 16 take over. She had only had the wheel about 10 minutes when a big trailer truck ahead of us hit a soft shoulder going around a curve and rolled over into a corn patch. The driver came out in good shape. Half way across this state we ran into thunder and lightening storms, comparable to those we have in Mexico, and the rain was so blinding you couldn’t see anything through the windshield. We had to crawl along for a couple of miles, however, before we could find a spot large enough and hard enough to park on, so as not to get bogged down in the mud the rain let up. We hit several more of these squalls, but most of them were not to bad. That night we spent in Amboy Iowa and what a racket. Thousands of pigs went by our door in trucks going to market. It seemed as though each one was trying to out do the other by squealing. July 13th. Was sure glad to leave that part of the country even though it did look extremely prosperous, and went on to Grand Island Nebraska, covering close to 600 miles. This part of the country was flat and barren, but for some reason appealed to me. I guess I like the desert. July 14th. Were on the road at the crack of dawn and was bowling along at 70 miles an hour when I blew the right front tire. I managed to keep on the road but sure had the jitters for a couple of hours afterwards. Jack did a swell job of changing the tire, although we had one hell of a time trying to get the nuts loose. Never again will I start out on a long trip without new inner tubes. We stopped at Sidney Nebraska for lunch. It was out of this world. A real frontier town. Cowboys sitting outside saloons, or galloping up the road on horseback. Their speech intrigued Lorna. She asked one of them if they liked living in Sidney. His answer. ” You dead bern right.” We arrived in Cheyenne Wyoming during the afternoon and had time to take in a few of the sights before dinner. The days here were warm, the nights cold, the cowboys tall, lean, and handsome. This place fascinated me. I couldn’t say much for the women, in fact I didn’t see many of them. They must hide. Sig met us at the airport the next morning. Was I ever glad to see him. Spent the rest of the day sight seeing and loafing.
( My mother was exhausted as she wasn’t the greatest driver in the world and had called my dad and said ” You’ve got to drive us on to California”)
July 15th. Headed for Salt Lake City, while on the road we witness a horrible auto accident. A car towing a huge house trailer, apparently lost control on a down hill curve, swung into the left lane, the car coming toward them crashed head on. Wreckage was scattered in every direction. One man was killed instantly, the other 6 not expected to live. Lorna and Jack of course, had to get out and take pictures of all the gory details. This held traffic up for nearly an hour, but still made Salt Lake City by supper time. The sunset here was the most beautiful I had seen in years. We drove all that evening, stopping at Wendover on the Nevada side. All the gambling joints were wide open, Jack was thrilled to put a nickel in the slot and win seventy five cents. The money was spent in no time on souvenirs and slot machine. July 16th. After an hour on the road we had to stop for another accident. The driver must have gone to sleep at the wheel, as he hit the only culvert in miles. The car rolled over several times. All three occupants were badly hurt, and it seemed ages before the ambulance arrived.
( My dad and mom helped all they could to stop those that were bleeding )
This was the hottest day of the entire trip. Fortunately we had our little ice box along so we were able to indulge in real cold beer. I managed, however, to spill a whole glass down my front. I had to hang my slacks out the window to dry, so rode the worst part of the day in my underwear. I was indeed grateful to a rider that was going travel cross country with us backed out at the last minute it would have made the trip difficult. From Carson City Nevada to Fallen Leaf Lake near Lake Tahoe where we met up with my sister Lillian and her husband. The country was the most beautiful of the entire trip. July 17th. We spent a good deal of the day down at the lake, hiking through the woods. That evening all the college youngsters that were staying at the lake illuminated their row boats with candles in tin cans and went out on the lake for a sing-song. It was heavenly to listen to 100 or more voices coming across the water. July 18th. Started for Palo Alto, stopping at various points of interest. At Sutter’s Creek some of the old gold mines were still operating, and Jack was all for getting out of the car to see if he couldn’t find some gold nuggets for himself. That night we arrived at the old home town, Palo Alto and stayed in an auto court. July 19th. That morning we left for Halcyon were Sig was raised. Arriving there about noon. A great deal of this country had grown tremendously, and there were new houses everywhere. Jack of course made a bee line for the horses and disappeared for the rest of the day with his cousin Sheila. A great deal of arguing went on, but I think by now that Sheila has convinced Jack that a western saddle is quite worth while. At any rate Sig and I had to return to Palo Alto the next morning leaving Jack and Lorna with the Eric Varian’s. Jack is apparently having the time of his life as he has only written once, and from all I can gather they have the poor horses almost worn to a numbing. Lorna on the other hand was still terribly homesick for Wildwood New York, and since we are staying with friends and won’t have a house till September 15th. Sig and I agreed to let her return to New York by Airline but will return in time for school this fall. We will be renting the Kirkpatrick house on the Stanford campus, for next year. The house has a beautiful garden. It is also completely furnished. The women’s swimming pool at Stanford is right next door, so the kids should be happy. This part of California, as far as beauty and climate is concerned, has New York backed off the map, but I still miss all my friends in the east terribly, and only wish I was rich enough to call you all frequently, or better still fly out for a good weekend party. I don’t imagine Stanford will tolerate any such parties as we used to have, but do plan to have a real blowout at the new Varian Associates lab. To close our new address will be at 273 Santa Teresa St. Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif. ( Tel. Davenport 2-1757) Loads of Love to All Winnie
I would not turn into a teenager until September 7th, 1948, but I was ready to be a teenage punk and now I’m quite ready to become an 80 year-old punk. See Ya Jack