Robert Redford

The Sundance Kid

August 18, 2020

1973 was a pivotal year for this actor, his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (BC&TSK) catapulting him to the stratosphere of Hollywood stardom. Robert Redford, who turned 37 that year, didn’t look a day over 30 and for women – young and old alike – he became a sex symbol. Happy 84th birthday to, perhaps, the most successful actor of the late 20th century, who was born on August 18, 1936.

Redford as The Sundance Kid

Prior to his breakout role in BC&TSK, Redford found his first acting roles on Broadway which then led to television. These roles eventually brought him to the big screen with his first significant role as the male lead in the 1967 movie Barefoot in the Park opposite Jane Fonda.

But Redford was not content to be typecast due to his looks, passing up lead roles in both The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In BC&TSK, however, he found a role which resonated with him and a co-star in Paul Newman which proved to be box office gold.

Over the next several years, Redford had hit after hit. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Starting in 1973, Redford experienced an almost unparalleled four-year run of box office success. The western Jeremiah Johnson’s (1972) box office earnings from early 1973 until it’s second re-release in 1975 would have placed it as the No. 2 highest-grossing film of 1973. The romantic period drama with Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were (1973), was the 11th highest-grossing film of 1973. The crime caper reunion with Paul Newman, The Sting (1973), became the top-grossing film of 1974 and one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation, plus landed Redford the lone nomination of his career for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The romantic drama The Great Gatsby (1974) was the No. 8 highest-grossing film of 1974. As well, 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid placed as the No. 10 highest-grossing film for 1974 as it was re-released due to the popularity of The Sting. In 1974 Redford became the first performer since Bing Crosby in 1946 to have three films in a year’s top ten grossing titles. Each year between 1974 and 1976, movie exhibitors voted Redford Hollywood’s top box-office star. In 1975, Redford’s hit movies included 1920s aviation drama, The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), and the spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), alongside Faye Dunaway, which finished at Nos. 16 and 17 in box office grosses for 1975, respectively. In 1976 he co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in the No. 2 highest-grossing film for the year, the critically acclaimed All the President’s Men. In 1975, 1977 and 1978, Redford won the Golden Globe for Favourite World Film Star, a popularity-based award that is no longer awarded.”

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Academy Award’s 1973 Best Picture “The Sting.”

Of course not all his films were box office winners and, like so many celebrities, age puts certain roles and images out of reach. But Redford was, perhaps, the most committed actor of his generation, turning to directing and producing when acting had all but played out. His most significant achievement post Hollywood heartthrob was in the creation of the Independent movie festival, Sundance.

Held annually near Provo, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival has become the place to launch independent films. In 2008, for example, 125 such films premiered at the festival.

Although Redford officially retired from acting in 2018, there is little doubt that his legacy will be felt for years to come.

It’s so very difficult to pick a favorite Redford role and film. As a romance writer, for me there is perhaps no sadder film than The Way We Were… the 1973 hit with Barbra Streisand. It’s a film which very much influenced me creatively. The storyline was compelling to 16 year old me, rooting for the pair to live happily ever after. That is not how that story ends, however, and somehow I felt sorry for both of the main characters. Redford is outstanding in the role and one believes he is the golden boy Hubbell who wants and need the perfect life and wife, frustrated by Katie’s strident politicization of everything around her. That said, from a teenagers perspective, he was so very likable, while Streisand was not.

But he was also terrific in All The President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, and The Electric Horseman.

In the past few years I’ve connected with one of my Dad’s former students, Lisa, on Facebook. The same age as me, she is not at all shy about her lifetime love of Robert Redford. I would bet you a dozen doughnuts by the time you read this, she will have posted birthday greetings to her high school (and beyond!) crush. And I will, as I have the past several years, give her a bad time about it. I mean, Redford is at least 20 years older than either of us… but that doesn’t matter to her. She loves all things Robert Redford.

As for me, I picture Robert Redford in my head during the final scene from The Way We Were. Moments earlier he – along with his new paramour – have a chance meeting with Streisand. He returns to where she is passing out Ban The Bomb fliers. From the look on her face, you know she still has a thing for him and why wouldn’t she? He’s devastatingly handsome… a shock of wavy blonde hair down across his forehead, suggestive blue eyes that seem to know it would never work, upturned coat collar, and his square jaw and ever so sardonic slight curve of the mouth. That’s the Robert Redford who captured the hearts of millions of women around the world. And if we had the chance to do it all again, would we? Could we? In a heartthrob’s beat, yes.

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Redford

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butch_Cassidy_and_the_Sundance_Kid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_We_Were

Facebook answers:

Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep

American Graffiti

Where Were You In ’62?

August 11, 2020

AMerican graffitiWhen one thinks of Modesto, Californina, it is likely to be associated with an American experience which occurred primarily from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Having a car had become a status symbol and driving it among one’s peers – or cruising as its known – became an essential element of growing up. On August 11, 1973, the film American Graffiti was released, serving to enshrine the cruiser phenomenon into our shared culture.

The film was a dark horse hit that year, capturing five academy award nominations including one for best picture. It was George Lucas’ first film, show-casing his talent as an ‘outside the box’ filmmaker.

The original budget was only $600,000, which forced Lucas to use mostly unknown actors, a limited film crew, and to secure low cost contracts for the music. The lack of money kept the film from having an original soundtrack, only two cameramen, and truly the launched the careers of Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford.

To encapsulate the main plot, we turn to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“On their last evening of summer vacation in September 1962, recent high school graduates and longtime friends Curt Henderson and Steve Bolander meet two other friends, John Milner, the drag-racing king of the town, and Terry ‘The Toad’ Fields, in the parking lot of the local Mel’s Drive-In in Modesto, California. Curt and Steve are scheduled to travel ‘Back East’ the following morning to start college. Despite receiving a $2,000 scholarship from the local Moose Lodge, Curt has second thoughts about leaving Modesto. Steve gives Terry his 1958 Chevrolet Impala to care for until he returns at Christmas. Steve’s girlfriend, Laurie, who is also Curt’s sister, arrives in her car. Steve suggests to Laurie, who is already glum about him going to college, that they see other people while he is away to ‘strengthen’ their relationship. Though not openly upset, she is displeased, which affects their interactions the rest of the evening.”

Rather than have a main protagonist, Lucas saw the four main male characters has being equal, all based on various stages of his adolescent self. Although somewhat cliché’ now, the four loosely represent the college man, the popular guy, the nerd, and the greaser. The entire movie takes place during the one night and culminates the next morning with information as to what happens with each of the four. At the time it was a unique storytelling method.

As word started to get around Universal Studios that the film was good, funds were put in place for marketing and other studio support. It paid off. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

dreyfuss

Richard Dreyfuss as Curt Henderson

“Produced on a $777,000 budget, it has become one of the most profitable films of all time. Since its initial release, American Graffiti has garnered an estimated return well over $200 million in box-office gross and home video sales, not including merchandising. In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.”

hARRISON FORD

Bob Falfa, aka Harrison Ford

Perhaps the thing I find most interesting about this film as well as others from the 1970’s (see my post from July 28th on the film Animal House; link below) is that the adults in charge at that time truly did not understand the impact the Baby Boomers exerted on the culture. 1973, the year that American Graffiti appeared, there were 37 million teenagers and another 21 million in the generation were ages 20 to 27. For those 58 million people the storylines in American Graffiti resonated.

On the day the movie was released I was 16 years old, possessed a ten day old driver’s license, and lived in a city where the cruising culture was king.

yakima mid 1960's

This is the Yakima I remember as a girl in the 1960’s. I’ve seen this photo dozens of times and the bustle never ceases to amaze me.

Everyone there knew the term “Dragging the Ave” which meant cruising up and down Yakima Avenue. Initially, I was forbidden by my parents to drive on the Ave after dark. But, being the youngest of four, the other three had done an outstanding job of bending the rules for me and I’m not sure what, exactly, happened, but by the time I was a junior in high school, I was a regular in the Friday and Saturday night promenades.

One thing I never did was drag the ‘Ave’ solo. I participated with a variety of friends, but my frequent partners in crime were my two best buddies who – to provide them a bit of anonymity – will henceforth be called by their aliases Deborah and Cynthia.

On the particular night which stands out, it was Deborah riding shotgun. A warm summer’s evening and the opportunity to see and be seen was at its best.

SchoolLogo_1403Now, in Yakima in the mid-1970’s, there were two major high schools: AC Davis and Dwight D. Eisenhower (IKE). Yes, there were other high schools in the surrounding communities, but those two were the biggies. We attended IKE.

To us, those who attended Davis were cross-town rivals and somewhat of a mystery; a forbidden fruit, if you will. Although we recognized a few who attended Davis, for the most part we didn’t know them and they didn’t know us.davis

So Deborah and I are driving along and, at one of the stoplights, a car carrying a couple of guys is idling next to my car and we engage in a shouted conversation between the two vehicles. Mostly it’s Deborah doing the talking out the passenger side window. There’s flirting and banter. The light changes, we drive on.

At the next light, or perhaps the one after, first names are exchanged. Then one of the guys says to Deborah, ‘what’s your last name?’

To which she replies, “Guess.”

The two of us giggle away as the guys venture forth with such answers as “Smith? Jones?”

Deborah replies, “Nope.”

More names are proffered then followed by the same question “what’s your last name?”

And the same answer “Guess.”

This went on for at least two runs up and down Yakima Avenue as the guys try to get us to stop and meet them in person. The name guessing continues until Deborah says to me “These guys are not very bright, are they?”

All because they kept asking the same question and never understanding that she was, in fact, telling them her last name. Every. Single. Time. By now you, the reader, should have ‘Guess’-ed it, but they never did.

Once we became bored with the game, I managed to ‘lose’ them and soon the night was over and by the time I was 19 or 20, ‘Dragging the Ave’ had lost its appeal, relegated to the status of a cultural reference.

Thanks to American Graffiti, that phenomenon is preserved. Future generations who happen upon the movie will, perhaps, regret that they did not live in the era of muscle cars, cheap gas, and summer nights dragging the Ave.

Although the tagline was ‘Where were you in ’62?’ it was the summer of ’73 and American Graffiti which was the defining year for the Baby Boomers.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Graffiti

https://barbaradevore.com/2018/04/17/1965-ford-mustang

https://barbaradevore.com/2020/07/28/animal-house

 

Answer to the Facebook question: Van Nuys Blvd, Los Angeles. 1972

cruising van nuys blvd 1972

Animal House

July 28, 2020

“Oh Boy! Is This Great!”

Of all the years to be a college co-ed, 1978 was the best.

Culturally, it was the height of the ‘me’ generation’s influence. Commonplace restrictions from previous decades had all but been abandoned, leaving the youth to do the one thing they wanted: have fun.

animal-house-movie-poster-1020258451On July 28, 1978, a movie hit the theaters which encapsulated precisely this attitude, capturing the imagination of a generation. That movie: Animal House.

The idea for the movie came about via National Lampoon, a wildly popular magazine with college students. In fact, the official title of the movie is “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” The plot – to sum it up in a couple sentences is this: “Loser college guys join fraternity where anything goes. Fraternity gets kicked off campus and members, in an effort to save the fraternity, wreak havoc on campus and during the homecoming parade.”

With a budget of only 3 million allocated to its production, the executives at Universal Studios almost didn’t allow it to be made. But the writers were committed to the project, effectively wearing down the studio who basically told them ‘okay, but don’t expect much.’

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“National Lampoon’s Animal House is a 1978 American sex comedy film directed by John Landis and written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller. It stars John Belushi, Peter Riegert, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Thomas Hulce, Stephen Furst, and Donald Sutherland. The film is about a trouble-making fraternity whose members challenge the authority of the dean of the fictional Faber College.

The film was produced by Matty Simmons of National Lampoon and Ivan Reitman for Universal Pictures. It was inspired by stories written by Miller and published in National Lampoon. The stories were based on (Harold) Ramis’s experience in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis, Miller’s Alpha Delta Phi experiences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and producer Reitman’s at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.”

In many ways, the low budget contributed to the film’s success. No one had heard of any of the actors, John Belushi and Donald Sutherland excepted. Rather than turn the film into a showcase for the popular cast of Saturday Night Live as was suggested, it turned out that the ensemble of newcomers brought an element of collegiality to it that made the film unique.

One big hurdle was finding a college willing to allow the movie to be filmed on their campus. One after another turned it down since, after reading the script, determined the publicity would be detrimental to their institution. It was an act of bravery that one administrator finally agreed to it. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The president of the University of Oregon in Eugene, William Beaty Boyd, had been a senior administrator at the University of California in Berkeley in 1966 when his campus was considered for a location of the film The Graduate. After he consulted with other senior administrative colleagues who advised him to turn it down due to the lack of artistic merit, the college campus scenes set at Berkeley were shot at USC in Los Angeles. The film went on to become a classic, and Boyd was determined not to make the same mistake twice when the producers inquired about filming at Oregon. After consulting with student government leaders and officers of the Pan Hellenic Council, the Director of University Relations advised the president that the script, although raunchy and often tasteless, was a very funny spoof of college life. Boyd even allowed the filmmakers to use his office as Dean Wormer’s.”

ah-party

John ‘Bluto’ Blutarksi leads the way during a Delta House Toga party

Now, I will say, if you’ve never seen the movie you should. As my now adult children know, there are some cultural references one absolutely needs to have. Animal House is such a film. The film is littered with quotable and iconic concepts many of which repeat to this day.

 

 

 

Ever hear of a toga party? You have Animal House to thank.

Double secret probation? Animal House. 

“Was It Over When The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell No!” Animal House.

“Fat, Drunk, And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Life, Son.” Animal House.

Food Fight? Animal House.

That summer, it went on to become the third highest grossing film of 1978 and – in the course of its run – took in a whopping 141.6 million. Not bad for a film which cost under $3 million to make and which the studio execs thought would flop.

When all was said and done, once again from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Animal House is first on Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies. In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked the film No. 36 on 100 Years… 100 Laughs, a list of the 100 best American comedies. In 2006, Miller wrote a more comprehensive memoir of his experiences in Dartmouth’s AD house in a book entitled, The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie, in which Miller recounts hijinks that were considered too risqué for the movie. In 2008, Empire magazine selected Animal House as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. The film was also selected by The New York Times as one of The 1000 Best Movies Ever Made.”

Back to 1978 and the phenomenon which had college students donning sheets and partying to the chants of “Toga! Toga! Toga!”

When I returned to the University of Puget Sound that September, everyone was talking about Animal House. Soon the Toga parties began and there were a handful of fraternity guy’s intent on channeling their inner Bluto.

Alpha Phi Halloween event 1978

A few sorority sisters ready for a Halloween party 1978.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, my sorority was located next door to the house which fashioned itself after the Delta’s of Animal House fame. There were shenanigans and crazy antics all that fall. Parties flowed out of their house and into the common areas, empty aluminum cans smashed against heads exactly like the John Belushi character did in the film, Christmas lights tossed into our basement level patio where they would ‘pop.’ And who knows what, exactly, was going on the night that a group of them appeared on the lawn outside our windows with that blow up doll.

Around 10 pm one night I heard a commotion outside of my room and the unmistakable thump, thump, thump of a large group of people making their way in unison down the hallway. What the heck?

A moment later: the sound of running feet. The door bursts open and one of my two roomies, Sheila, rushes in, slams the door behind her and presses her back to the closed door.

I can still picture her, a wild look in her eye, dressed in her full length flannel nightgown, hands pressed hard against the door, panting.

“There’s naked Phi Delts in our hall,” she gasped.

Now, to be clear, my other roommate Cathy and I DID NOT reopen that door to confirm her report. In fact, we wanted nothing to do with the conga line of nude men mooning the members of our sorority.

A minute or two later, the group reached the end of the hall and exited the building. Their bare hineys were last seen disappearing back into what I would consider UPS’ nominee for ‘Delta’ house.

In retrospect, my two years there were a rather surreal experience, greatly amplified by the culture of the time embodied in no small part by the movie Animal House.

In the iconic words of Kent ‘Flounder’ Dorfman “Oh boy! Is this Great!”

Indeed it was.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_House

180726143707-animal-house-780x439Who’s who in the Facebook Photo (left to right):

Bruce McGill – “D-Day”; Tim Matheson – “Otter”; Peter Riegart “Boon”; John Belushi – “Bluto”; Tom Hulce – “Pinto”; Stephen Furst – “Flounder”; James Widdoes – “Hoover”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Giant Leap for Mankind

Men walk on the moon

July 21, 2020

 

“One small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

Man on the Moon 1969These words were spoken at 2:56 a.m. (UTC) on July 21, 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon.

For those of a technical bent one could argue that those famous steps took place on July 20th; at least that was true for those of us living on the west coast of the United States. Everyone was glued to their television sets all that Sunday afternoon and evening, the drama playing out in a single day.

The race to the moon began over a decade earlier in November 1957 with the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by then President Dwight Eisenhower. Its formation was in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. This was followed in early 1961 with the first earth orbit by a human. (see my blog about the Century 21 Exposition and the day a Russian cosmonaut visited!)

The U.S. – now behind in the space race – was urged by President John F. Kennedy to throw their resources and national enthusiasm behind the program. On May 25, 1961 he implored Congress thus:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon—if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

— Kennedy’s speech to Congress

Despite setbacks in the Apollo program, resources were poured into the ambitious plans. With each Apollo mission, the systems were refined as the best and the brightest minds of the day labored to solve the myriad of problems encountered. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In July 1962 NASA head James Webb announced that lunar orbit rendezvous would be used and that the Apollo spacecraft would have three major parts: a command module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, and the only part that returned to Earth; a service module (SM), which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a lunar module (LM) that had two stages—a descent stage for landing on the Moon, and an ascent stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.] This design meant the spacecraft could be launched by a single Saturn V rocket that was then under development.

(snip)

Project Apollo was abruptly halted by the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967, in which astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee died, and the subsequent investigation. In October 1968, Apollo 7 evaluated the command module in Earth orbit, and in December Apollo 8 tested it in lunar orbit. In March 1969, Apollo 9 put the lunar module through its paces in Earth orbit, and in May Apollo 10 conducted a “dress rehearsal” in lunar orbit. By July 1969, all was in readiness for Apollo 11 to take the final step onto the Moon.

Ap11InitialThe Soviet Union competed with the US in the Space Race, but its early lead was lost through repeated failures in development of the N1 launcher, which was comparable to the Saturn V. The Soviets tried to beat the US to return lunar material to the Earth by means of un-crewed probes. On July 13, three days before Apollo 11’s launch, the Soviet Union launched Luna 15, which reached lunar orbit before Apollo 11. During descent, a malfunction caused Luna 15 to crash in Mare Crisium about two hours before Armstrong and Aldrin took off from the Moon’s surface to begin their voyage home. The Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories radio telescope in England recorded transmissions from Luna 15 during its descent, and these were released in July 2009 for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.”

It was truly an amazing feat as has been chronicled in book, documentary, and a feature length movie.

At the time Armstrong, particularly, became a national hero; the very face of American greatness. No doubt that mission motivated a whole generation of science minded kids to dream of one day traveling into space beyond the moon.

It was truly an inspirational moment and ranks up there with other events that you absolutely remember where you were and what you were doing.

In those days most families had a single television. So you watched whatever your parents watched. With three basic channels (ABC, CBS, NBC) the choices were limited. On July 20, 1969, ALL three channels were broadcasting just one thing: man landing on the moon.

I was 11 years old that July day and it was a pretty typical Yakima summer day with temperatures in the low 90’s. Like any self respecting kid, I’d watched the initial landing but then wandered off to do other things.

Sometime after dinner, the family gathered around the TV once again to watch the first steps on the moon by Armstrong. A couple of things stick out. Despite having a color television, the moon landing was all in black and white. The American Flag they planted was stiff since there was not any sort of breeze to flap the cloth. And everything was done very, very slowly.

My older brother and I decided to play cards as a way to pass the time. The game was called Casino and it consisted of trying to collect more cards than the other person AND obtain certain specialty cards which were worth points. I remember the two of spades was a desired card, and I doubt I could play the game today. At the time I was pretty good at the game AND very competitive. My brother and I were sitting on the floor of the family room a few feet from the TV, playing our game, and looking up every once in a while to see if anything was happening (it wasn’t).

Finally, just before 8 p.m., Armstrong slowly bounced his way down the steps of the Lunar module, his echo-y micro phoned voice coming through the TV as he intoned, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was years later when I learned that he had not said what he planned, since the sentence was supposed to be “that’s one small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.” Personally, I think it was much cooler the way it came out.

Soon after his grand arrival – not being particularly interested in watching the astronauts collect rocks – I drifted away to do other more interesting 11 year old things. I do think we all went outside and stared up at the quarter moon that night, in awe of what had been accomplished.

casino cardsI really can’t recall who won the Casino game, so I’ll just claim I did and squabble with my brother when he reads this. And, BTW, Mr. P., the Shaw and Sons little league guy was out. That’s what Dad always said. Higher and Higher. Cherry Cola. Sibling rivalry and inside jokes are the best.

The What’s and Who’s on the Facebook post:

  1. Moon Pies
  2. Moon Landing
  3. Moon River
  4. Sailor Moon
  5. Harvey Moon (a brand used in advertising in Yakima when I was growing up)

 

 

Honda Civic

Popular for decades

July 14, 2020

1972 civic ad 2July 14, 1972 marks the date the Honda Civic was introduced. The Civic was, arguably, the beneficiary of a number of factors which catapulted it to the top of the small car class.

It was, however, the energy crisis which gripped the United States in late 1973 and into 1974 that proved to be its best marketing.

Without going down into the weeds as to the political reasons why, in 1974 the world experienced a gas shortage. The typical American of the day drove heavy, gas-guzzling automobiles. With gas costing around 50 cents a gallon, the amount of money it took to fill a tank was very affordable and not something most people considered when purchasing a car. By 1974, however, the price of gas had skyrocketed to $3 and $4 a gallon.

Enter the introduction of the compact and sub-compact car. While the big American automakers quickly rolled out such contenders as the Ford Pinto and the Chevy Vega, it was Japan’s Honda who found the winning formula.  The Civic’s cost, size, and great gas mileage marked a change in thinking in regards to the type of car a large portion of the American public wanted.

In 1973 – its first year being sold in the United States – just under 33,000 Civic’s were purchased. The following year sales were 43,000. Then in 1975, there was a 137 percent increase in sales with over 102,000 of the cars hitting the road. Since its introduction to the U.S. in 1973 until 2015, over 7.3 million have been sold.

Honda Civic’s were everywhere. Their distinctive look – sort of a tiny, boxy car – made them hard to miss. At the time, however, it was other features which made them popular. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“It was equipped with a 1,169 cc (71.3 cu in) four-cylinder water-cooled engine and featured front power disc brakes, reclining vinyl bucket seats, simulated wood trim on the dashboard, as well as optional air conditioning and an AM/FM radio. The Civic was available as a two- or four-door fastback sedan, three- and a five-door hatchback, as well as a five-door station wagon. Due to the 1973 oil crisis, consumer demand for fuel efficient vehicles was high, and due to the engine being able to run on either leaded or unleaded fuel, it gave drivers fuel choice flexibility over other vehicles.”

EPSON MFP image

On the road in July 1982 at Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana

In 1982, the hubby and I became a part of the Honda Civic family. The five-door station wagon seemed a great choice. During those years we often took off on weekends to go camping or for brief getaways. That summer, we embarked on a two week trip which took us to several National Parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Grand Canyon. Our little brown wagon served us well, conveying us over 3600 miles. The next year it took us to Vancouver Island and the year after that to Colorado and back.

EPSON MFP image

At Mesa Verde, Colorado, in 1984. The hubby is getting something from the car we need for dinner.

It was a great commuter car also: reliable, comfortable, and the always good gas mileage. When we retired the car in 1986 it was not because the car was no longer working but because we had purchased a boat and needed a vehicle capable of towing.

I do wonder if trading in the Honda so we could buy a boat was the right decision, however. There’s a saying that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy it… and the day they sell it. Our first boat quickly earned its nickname – the Boat From Hell – or BFH as it was abbreviated. But that’s a totally different story.

Our Honda was never the car from hell, but a reliable friend, always ready to travel on a new adventure, never once letting us down. No wonder there were millions of them out on the road.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Civic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis

EPSON MFP image

July 31, 1982 at the Gardiner, Montana, entrance to Yellowstone.

 

Cars featured on the Facebook post:

Opal Kadett, Honda Civic, Ford Pinto, Chevy Vega, AMC Gremlin

 

 

I Said oo-oo-oo-wee

Undercover Angel

July 7, 2020

If there was one thing the 1970’s was known for it was the plethora of questionable songs and their popularity. I’ve covered some of these songs in previous articles. Songs like Muskrat Love and The Streak, for example. Another questionable song was at the top of the charts for one week in July 1977.

Alan O’Day – the singer who penned the tune – dubbed it a “nocturnal novelette.” An apt description for this schlocky song.

94edeb0026cdb5d69f8eb2db8a0a8709Undercover Angel, in my opinion, should never have made it to number one. Perhaps the lyrics were just racy enough and just cryptic enough to cause the teenagers of the era to listen again and again in an effort to dissect its meaning.

The Infallible Wikipedia offers a brief hint:

“The song begins with a man describing his loneliness, when a woman suddenly appears in his bed and encourages him to make love to her. The rest of the song describes his feelings about her, then he discovers she must leave him, and he is saddened. She tells him to ‘go find the right one, love her and then, when you look into her eyes you’ll see me again’.

It then becomes apparent that he has been telling this story to a woman he is trying to seduce; he tells her he is ‘looking for my angel in your sweet, loving eyes’.”

The internet has been helpful in that the lyrics to pretty much every song ever written can be found with a simple search. Here’s a link https://www.elyrics.net/read/a/alan-o_day-lyrics/undercover-angel-lyrics.html so you can read them yourself if you are so inclined.

That said, the whole premise of this song is a bit disturbing. I would describe it a bit differently: A creepy guy has nocturnal fantasies which he then shares as a way to try and pick up a girl. Then, if the lyrics aren’t bad enough, the actual song itself has a repetitive and suggestive ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ being sung over and over and over.

I turned 20 the year this record was popular and, being tuned in to music, knew the song but never thought much about it. Until the summer of 2013, that is. My own daughter – who just so happened to be 20 that year too – had started working at Michael’s (craft store).

As the weeks wore on she would come home and complain about the awful ‘70’s music’ which played on continuous loop through the store’s intercom system. I suppose they broadcast music of that era to appease the 40 and 50 something soccer moms who were their biggest customers. But it drove my daughter crazy.

There were two songs which she particularly loathed: Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando and Dawn and the one she dubbed the angel song… Undercover Angel.

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This is not my actual daughter… but close enough.

In fact, if I wanted to bug her all I had to do was sing ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ like O’Day did on the record and she would tell me to stop in no uncertain terms. My fun ended when she moved away at the end of that summer, probably just to escape the music where she worked and, possibly, me for having a little fun at her expense.

Who knew that the worst songs of the 1970’s would live on as earworms* and haunt future generations decades later? It makes me wonder what songs of subsequent eras which were very popular are now seen by today’s teens as ridiculous: Barbie Girl? Macarena? Wannabe?

I think I need to call my daughter and ask her opinion… but not before I sing ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ to her. It will make her day.

*An earworm, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, is “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undercover_Angel_(song)

 

 

 

 

 

Winchester Mystery House

38 Years of continual construction

June 30, 2020

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The sprawling footprint of the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

By the time the last hammer was silenced in 1922, this house comprised a 24,000 sq. ft.  “foot print” which had been added one room at a time over the course of 38 years. It was a short nine months later, on June 30, 1923, when the house opened for its first tours. The Winchester Mystery house – as it known – is a fascinating place to visit. And the story behind its genesis is the stuff of novels.

Sarah Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Her husband, William, had died in 1881 of tuberculosis. Sarah, then age 42, had lost her only child 15 years earlier just six weeks after the baby’s birth; she came to believe that the tragedies which had befallen her were due to the immorality associated with the guns manufactured by Winchester Arms.  Like so many of that age, she consulted a psychic who told her to leave Connecticut and go west. Her mission, she came to believe, was to spend the rest of her life spending her considerable fortune to build a house to atone for husband’s company.

Sarah Winchester

Sarah Winchester

She purchased an 8 room house located on a sprawling farm in the Santa Clara valley of California in 1884; she immediately hired workers to transform the structure into a Victorian mansion. No architect was ever hired and no blueprint ever produced. It was Sarah who designed and added the rooms. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“There are roughly 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms (one completed and one unfinished) as well as 47 fireplaces, over 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two basement levels and three elevators. Winchester’s property was about 162 acres (66 ha) at one time, but the estate has since been reduced to 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) – the minimum necessary to contain the house and nearby outbuildings. It has gold and silver chandeliers, hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim, and a vast array of colors and materials. Due to Mrs. Winchester’s debilitating arthritis, special ‘easy riser’ stairways were installed as a replacement for her original steep construction. This allowed her to move about her home freely as she was only able to raise each foot a few inches. There was only one working toilet for Winchester; it has been said that ‘all other restrooms were decoys to confuse spirits’ and that this is also ‘the reason why she slept in a different room each night’. The home’s conveniences were rare at the time of its construction. These included steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, and Mrs. Winchester’s personal (and only) hot shower from indoor plumbing. There are also three elevators, including an Otis electric and one of which was powered by a rare horizontal hydraulic elevator piston. Most elevator pistons are vertical to save space, but Winchester preferred the improved functionality of the horizontal configuration.”

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Front entry to the estate

Upon Sarah Winchester’s death September 5, 1922, the property and all her belongings were inherited by her niece and personal secretary who took what they wanted and sold the remaining furniture in an estate sale. The house was considered mostly worthless due to damage sustained during the 1906 San Francisco quake and considered unsellable due to the size and nature of the house.

A local investor, however, purchased it for $139K then leased it to a couple who gave the first tours. That couple, John and Mayme Brown, eventually purchased the house ten years later and it is still owned and operated by their heirs.

2709270244_eee185a1feIf you are in the bay area and have a few hours, a visit to the Winchester Mystery House is worth the time and money. Our family visit occurred in 1995. For my daughter – who was two that year – the intricacies of the house were lost. My five year old son, however, was enthralled. Around every corner was another oddity – a set of three stair risers leading to a door. Which, when opened, revealed a wall. There were rooms where, when you looked up, you saw windows into more rooms. Stairs which once led to upper floors… those levels long since removed but the stairs remained. Up and down the many staircases the tour went… room, after room, after room.stairs to nowhere

My son talked about the mystery house for months, intent, I think, on building his own such house. Thankfully, his obsession waned, as we could not afford unending building projects.

Today, my  now 30 year old son is more minimalist, recognizing that one does not need a lot of space to comfortably live. At the time of our visit to Sarah’s mansion, we lived in a nearly 4,000 square foot house. The problem with a large house is that soon you are filling that house with stuff. Always more stuff. In the past two years the hubby and I have made a concerted effort to reduce our stuff.

One of the blessings of the extended stay at home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there has been time to focus on reduction. Each week, it seems, another box is sorted and purged, the proverbial grain separated from the chaff.

I’m pretty much down to my last big purge: photographs. A couple days ago I ventured in to what I call the “Harry Potter closet” as it is a space under the lower level stairs reminiscent of where the boy wizard lived before discovering his magic powers. Since we moved in it has been the repository for all the bins of family history, the slides of my grandparents as well as our own, 8 and 16 mm movie projectors and reels, VHS and digital camera tapes, and boxes and boxes of photos.

Harry Potter closet

The ‘Harry Potter’ closet after the reorganization. Picture on the left is the entry way.  The picture on this right is what’s stored under the stairs behind the wall from the first photo.

Last Saturday much of the contents of the closet were extricated and then organized and stacked back in the closet for the next purge. Sunday, the first bin of photos dating from the 1990’s to the early 2000’s hit the dining room table.

Ironically, in my first sort, I found photos from our 1995 trip to San Jose but not a single picture from the visit to Sarah Winchester’s house. I wonder what happened to those photos? It’s truly a mystery.

A couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Mystery_House

https://winchestermysteryhouse.com/

 

Funny how a Melody…

… Sounds like a Memory

June 23, 2020

20160802_203234Of all the seasons, summer is the one which seems to take us back to our youth. That sentiment is related, perhaps, to the provenance of children, whose best days happen when that school bell rings on the last day of classes. Ahead stretches a glorious few months of getting to play all day and curfews that seem to follow the long arc of light as it stretches into twilight.

For these reasons, I suppose, the summer solstice is an occasion to wax a bit nostalgic as we recall those childhood evenings playing kick the can until Dad yelled from the front door to come home. It was also the season for teenagers when evenings were spent with friends and, if one was lucky, perhaps a bit of romance was discovered.

Many a musical artist has captured that nostalgia but none, in my opinion, quite as effectively as Eric Church with his number one country hit “Springsteen” which topped that chart on June 23, 2012.

As always, the Infallible Wikipedia shares a bit of information:

“ ‘Springsteen’ received critical acclaim from many music critics. Billy Dukes of Taste of Country gave the song five stars out of five, calling it ‘the best song from one of 2011’s top country albums.’ Matt Bjorke of Roughstock also gave the song five stars of five, writing that ‘the strong, sing-a-long lyrics and driving, percussive melody brings Eric Church to an accessibility that he’s previously never had.’ Noah Eaton of Country Universe gave it an A-, saying that it is ‘a gorgeous, bittersweet anthem-to-be that will likely leave even some more hardened hearts simultaneously smile and cry listening.’  Eaton went on further to say that this song would propel Church’s career to the next level. American Songwriter chose the song for its Lyric of the Week feature, for the week of June 11, 2012.  The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards – Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song – on December 12, 2012, but failed to win any of the awards at the ceremony in 2013.

Thom Jerek of AllMusic said the song had ‘a clever, if somewhat cloying, tune, but it gets the feeling across in spades.’  The A.V. Club reviewer Steven Hyden claims that Church ‘is just as effective on slower, more thoughtful songs like ‘Springsteen’ and that the song ‘[reflects] reflecting on music’s power to revive forgotten emotions from the past.’

Bruce Springsteen himself took note of Church’s music, specifically the song ‘Springsteen’, and wrote Church a note on the back of a setlist. Church received the letter from Springsteen’s after a show on August 19, 2012. In the note, Springsteen explained his and his family’s love of the song and that he hoped to have their paths cross at some point. Church was surprised when receiving the note and said that ‘it’s a long note, takes up the entire back page of this setlist for a show that lasted three hours and 47 minutes.’”

Between the ennui inducing lyrics and the memorable tune, Church’s song sounds as fresh as it did twelve years ago. He nailed it in the refrain with these lyrics:

Springsteen lyrics meme

Church, like so many great songwriters, based his song on a relationship he had. It wasn’t a Springsteen song which provided the actual music, however. That, to the best of my knowledge, is a well kept secret. From the SongFacts website:

“Church told Reuters this is his favorite song from Chief (his third album). He explained: ‘I lived that song. I was 15 years-old and she was 16. We had that love affair where you connect with someone, and the artist that was playing becomes a soundtrack to your relationship. We didn’t stay together, but to this day, when I hear Bruce Springsteen, I think of her and I hope she thinks of me.’”

A few weeks ago, my blog was about the radio (https://barbaradevore.com/2020/06/02/like-a-song-on-the-radio) and how important that was to the teenagers of my era. We listened for many an hour in hopes of hearing our favorite songs over and over and over. It was inevitable, then, that there are songs which instantly transport us back to another place and time; songs which are associated with events and the people who were significant to us then.

When you walk outside some evening this summer – and look up at the lingering colors in the fading light – perhaps you, too, will recall a melody which sounds like a memory to you, like a soundtrack from a July Saturday night.

 

And a couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springsteen_(song)

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/eric-church/springsteen

 

Facebook answers:

  1. I Go Back – Kenny Chesney
  2. Springsteen – Eric Church
  3. The House That Built Me – Miranda Lambert
  4. You’re Gonna Miss This – Trace Adkins

 

 

Grease!

But, oh, those summer nights…

June 16, 2020

On June 16, 1978, this iconic American film burst onto the scene and soon held the record – for the next 15 years – as the highest grossing film of all time. It hearkened back to a more youthful time of the 1950’s but with a 1970’s twist: innocence was but an illusion and that inside every sweet girl was a naughty one wanting to break out. That movie was Grease which starred John Travolta as Danny Zuko, king of the greasers, and Olivia Newton-John as the naïve Sandy.

The movie was based on the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name and, as such, had a fantasy sort of feel to many of its scenes, especially the musical numbers Grease Lightning, Beauty School Dropout, and We Go Together. The thin plot line is held up by incredible music and the star performance of Travolta.

Review of the film from that time ranged from those who loved it to others who were not as impressed. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four, calling it ‘exciting only when John Travolta is on the screen’ but still recommending it to viewers, adding, ‘Four of its musical numbers are genuine showstoppers that should bring applause.’ Variety praised the ‘zesty choreography and very excellent new plus revived music’, and thought Travolta and Newton-John ‘play together quite well.’ Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was negative, writing, ‘I didn’t see ‘Grease’ onstage, but on the testimony of this strident, cluttered, uninvolving and unattractive movie, it is the ’50s—maybe the last innocent decade allowed to us—played back through a grotesquely distorting ’70s consciousness.’ Gary Arnold of The Washington Post also panned the film, writing, ‘Despite the obvious attempts to recall bits from Stanley Donen musicals or Elvis Presley musicals or Frankie-and-Annette musicals, the spirit is closer to the New Tastelessness exemplified by Ken Russell, minus Russell’s slick visual style … I’ve never seen an uglier large-scale musical.’ David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, ‘Too often, ‘Grease’ is simply mediocre, full of broad high-school humor, flat dramatic scenes and lethargic pacing. Fortunately, there’s nothing flat about John Travolta … Travolta can’t dominate this movie as he did ‘Fever,’ but when he’s on screen you can’t watch anyone else.’”

Danny and Sandy drive in sceneEven now, 42 years after its release, Grease enjoys a true fan following. It’s been released in various home video formats over the years, the most recent in 2018 on Blu-Ray DVD for its 40th anniversary.

I’ve seen the movie a number of times but did not see it during its original release. I’m not quite sure what, exactly, I was doing in the summer of 1978 except that it was the year I turned 21 and, really, going to see a musical based on high school students in the 1950’s was not all that cool. Or so I thought. When I did finally see it I was sad I’d missed out that summer.

In thinking about the plot from a writer’s perspective, however, I’ve always had a problem with the final scene of the movie. Sandy’s character – as I wrote above – was of a naïve and innocent teenager. When she gets involved with the Pink Ladies – a group of young women of questionable characters – it doesn’t ring true. Where were Sandy’s parents to put the brakes on her going to a slumber party with these girls? And one look at Danny and her parents – based on her persona – would have been pulling her out of Rydell High.

Despite these obvious disconnects with real life, in the final scene of the end of the year school carnival, we see Danny has now toned down his greaser persona to try and prove to Sandy that he’s the guy for her. Throughout the movie, Danny’s character is portrayed as complex and we suspect that he became a greaser tough guy simply for social status and not because that’s who he truly is.

When Sandy emerges in the final scene, however, she’s suddenly become this black leather clad sexy siren that smokes and is aggressive and suggestive. There is nothing in her character development previously introduced which portends that she is capable of such a transformation.

In the world of a story-teller, this is a big no-no as the reader – or in this case the viewer – feels like they’ve been misled. These inconsistencies are often referred to as ‘plot holes’ and are similar to driving over a pothole on a road in that it can jar you out of the story. Such is the case for this – and several other – scenes in Grease.

With this musical, then, there really is only one thing to do. Ignore the plot and character problems and just enjoy the multitude of toe-tapping, memorable tunes. Think of Grease like a 1950’s root beer float: a fizzy mix of soda and ice cream, but the top two inches are all empty – but tasty – foam; a perfect treat for a summer’s night when you want to immerse yourself in something fun and frivolous.

A link or two:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grease_(film)

https://screencraft.org/2018/03/09/do-you-know-the-five-different-types-of-plot-holes/

 

Facebook Quiz answers: 1. Animal House 2. Heaven Can Wait 3. Grease 4. Jaws 2 5. Revenge of the Pink Panther

Rhubarb Roots

June 9, 2020

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Rhubarb pie (no strawberries!) baked  by the author for Memorial Day weekend 2020

I love pie. I don’t always love making it, but I love eating it. So what better way to celebrate June 9th than to acknowledge the rhubarb plant and national Strawberry Rhubarb pie day?

 

Rhubarb is an amazing plant. It’s hardy, high in vitamin C, and is touted as a blood pressure reducer.

For centuries it has been recognized for its medicinal purposes and was, during the time of Marco Polo, more expensive than saffron. Historically, its origins can be traced to China. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Chinese call rhubarb “the great yellow” and have used rhubarb root for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It appears in The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic which is thought to have been compiled about 1,800 years ago Though Dioscurides’ description of ρηον or ρά indicates that a medicinal root brought to Greece from beyond the Bosphorus may have been rhubarb, commerce in the drug did not become securely established until Islamic times. During Islamic times, it was imported along the Silk Road, reaching Europe in the 14th century through the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna, where it became known as “Turkish rhubarb”. Later, it also started arriving via the new maritime routes, or overland through Russia. The “Russian rhubarb” was the most valued, probably because of the rhubarb-specific quality control system maintained by the Russian Empire. (snip)

The high price as well as the increasing demand from apothecaries stimulated efforts to cultivate the different species of rhubarb on European soil. Certain species came to be grown in England to produce the roots. The local availability of the plants grown for medicinal purposes, together with the increasing abundance and decreasing price of sugar in the 18th century, galvanized its culinary adoption. Grieve claims a date of 1820 in England. Rhubarb was grown in Scotland from at least 1786, having been introduced to the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh by the traveller Bruce of Kinnaird.

Though it is often asserted that rhubarb first came to the United States in the 1820s, John Bartram was growing medicinal and culinary rhubarbs in Philadelphia from the 1730s, planting seeds sent him by Peter Collinson. From the first, the familiar garden rhubarb was not the only Rheum in American gardens: Thomas Jefferson planted R. undulatum at Monticello in 1809 and 1811, observing that it was “Esculent rhubarb, the leaves excellent as Spinach.”

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The rhubarb plant at our home in Kirkland, 2017

 

Fifteen years ago I enrolled in a class at Bellevue Community College which was touted as one that would explore the various types of articles one could write for publication in magazines. This was, for the most part, before blogs and individual web pages took root.

Each week we were given an assignment to write an article of a specific type such as “How To” or “Humor.” I recall clearly the day I shared my version of a “personal essay” – near the end of the course – and the reaction. When I finished reading my piece aloud, the room was silent; even the instructor did not say anything for several beats. When she did speak she said, “I think this is your strength.”

The development of this blog was the natural result of decades of extrapolating small slices of life and looking for the story gems hidden within. What follows is the article I wrote back in 2004…

Rhubarb Roots

 

The story of that rhubarb plant didn’t stop with its transplant to Kirkland, however. Root balls have been gifted to family and friends whenever requested. In fact when my friend Mary – who grew up in Kansas – heard the story of the rhubarb and its connection to her home state, she asked for a piece of it which we gladly shared. Every so often she will post a picture of the VERY healthy plant on social media or send me a message providing updates as to what delectable delight she has created. (Being that she is one of the best cooks I know, no doubt the end result is fabulous!) Our niece Carolyn – who we gave a hunk of it to back in 2016 and another great cook – also recently posted that she had cooked a pie with the rhubarb stalks along with thanks for our sharing of the plant.

When the hubby and I moved yet again in 2018 there was never any doubt that the rhubarb was coming too. But there was a catch. We were moving to a condo/townhouse and there was no spot for a proper garden. Instead, all the rhubarb moved north to the hubby’s family century old farmhouse and acreage in Blaine to be planted there as a means of keeping it for us and future generations.

Rhubarb in the pot

The rhubarb we transplanted to a pot next to our front walk. It is scheduled for a change of scenery to allow it to grow unfettered by the constraints of its environment.

We did manage to plant one root ball in a pot alongside our front walk at the new place. We soon discovered that our next door neighbor, Bob, is a plant guy. I mean a real plant guy in that he has spent his career working with plants and the development of new vegetable varietals. Following his lead of finding space for fruits and vegetables in some of the common spaces, a second section of our rhubarb was recently repatriated and is now taking root at the edge of the back fence. Of course Bob, would like his own rhubarb also, a request which will soon be obliged.

And so it goes… another leg in the journey for my rhubarb roots. I’m pretty sure I have just enough to make another pie.

A couple of links for your edification:

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/days-2/national-strawberry-rhubarb-pie-day-june-9/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhubarb