Author: Martin, George

The Legend of Crazy George, or Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted
Many years ago when our children were little, we were members of a parent cooperative nursery school. Two of the other children were Sten and Eric, sons of our friends Pat and Ed.

Pat and Ed moved away from Point Richmond in 1978, ending up in Chico, where Pat grew up. We rarely saw them after that but we still felt connected, mostly because we had loved Pat so much when we hung out together. She was a warm, funny, wonderful woman who always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world when you were with her. She had bright blue eyes and a smile that lit up the room, and the world.

Pat got cancer seven years ago. It was treated and went into remission but last year it came back and she died about a month ago at the age of 73. Last week we canceledour plans to go to the big jam in Bakersfield, and instead went to Chico for her memorial service.

There is a recreation department center in Chico and it filled with her family and many friends. It was a beautiful service, featuring a projected slide show off someone’s Macintosh laptop showing dozens of wonderful pictures of Pat from childhood through her final years. She lived a full life. She loved to travel, and had been in much of Europe and even Egypt and Israel when she was in her early 20s. She and Ed had 47 years together, raising their devoted sons, traveling around a good deal of the world, and enjoying grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

We spotted her son Sten as we arrived. He introduced us to his 11-year-old daughter. “Kea,” he said, “this is Crazy George.”

The little girl’s eyes brightened and she said, “You mean the poo-poo factory man?”

And I found my eyes filling with tears as memories of those days flooded back. I had forgotten that the children sometimes called me Crazy George, but I never forgot the “poo-poo factory,” my long-ago name for the sewage disposal plant we used to drive by on the way to nursery school.

My wife Barbara worked days in those years but I worked nights, so I was the car pool driver one day a week and the participating parent. I always brought a guitar or a banjo and sang songs for the children, and I was the continual object of chasing around the play yard. Barbara did her part by attending the weekly evening parent meetings when I was at work.

I would sometimes catch a glance of worried looking mothers as I climbed along the cyclone fence, pursured by a gang of laughing children, or when I would be in the tanbark completely buried under a pile of kids.

But I became “Crazy George” on the way to school, not at school. I would drive a new route each week, approaching the school from different directions, claiming to be lost. “I don’t know if I can find the school today,” I used to tell the worried kids. Of course the closer we got to the school the harder it would be to disguise the route and eventually someone would spot a landmark and the screaming would start: “There it is! Go that way!”

Once or twice I drove pretty far off our route to a place where there was a big traffic circle. I started driving around and around, and said, “Kids, I think the steering wheel is stuck!” And we went around four or five times before I managed to “unstick” it. By then the little ones were getting wise and no one was really worried. But they did yell and laugh a lot as we got back on track and off the circle.

There were a few places in our neighborhood where there were dips or bumps in the street. Our old Chevrolet Biscayne didn’t have much in the way of shock absorbers, so I only had to hit a dip a little faster than usual to get a good bounce, with kids laughing and screaming in the back seat.

Needless to say this was in the days before child car seats. I usually had four or five four-year-olds stuffed in the back seat and one or two on the bench seat beside me.

Those children are now in their forties, and several of them have told me how vivid are their memories of driving to nursery school, chasing me around the playground, and hearing Pete Seeger’s “The Foolish Frog” by request almost every week.

But what brought the tears last week in Chico was that another generation had been told the story of the exciting things that had happened “when Daddy was little.”

Posted:  1/14/2010

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