THE HARDEST LESSON
I posted this
series of articles a few years back when the community was in an uproar over the destruction of California's native oak trees by
the enormous expansion of the vineyards. As far as I can tell, the furor has abated.
I don't really know what happened to the attempts at government regulation of oak cutting. Whatever happened, Santa Ynez Valley has become Disneyland for wine drinkers. Businesses in the five townships in my end of the valley have mostly converted to wine tasting emporiums and shops. Wine tourists swarm through the streets year round.
Good or bad, depending how much you care about your liver. And what lines your pockets.
Outside of AA members (who are very nice people, by the way), my family is probably the only family in the valley that doesn't drink. My husband and daughters drink very little and I don't drink at all, therefore qualifying as a certifiable kook.
I have many reasons for abstaining, but here's the real reason I don't drink. I'd like to tell you a family story.
series of articles is dedicated to my father.
He's shown here in the early 1960's, doing something he loved:
water skiing in the Redwood City, CA, harbor.
This photo is irreplaceable: the San Francisco Bay is now too
polluted for water-skiing and my father is dead.
He was 45 years old when he was killed.
ONE: A FAMILY STORY My
point of view writing about oaks and vineyards.
PART TWO: OAK TREES: MAGIC OR WEEDS? Focuses on California oaks and my life with them. This section
outlines the challenges faced by California oaks.
PART FIVE: AFTER THE STORM Are the oaks safe now?
PART FOUR: SELF HELP RESOURCES. OK I'm going to just say it. Wine is an alcoholic beverage and, as such, potentially addictive. Which no one seems to care about. where I live. But if you think you have a problem, here are some places to get help.
INFORMATION & PERSONAL ASSISTANCE CONTACT:
M. A. D. D.: MOTHER'S
AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING
ANTI- ADDICTION SELF HELP
OUR FAMILY BACK
want to tell you a story. As the story unfolds, you'll see how
my attitudes about oak trees and vineyards evolved. I'm not
an activist. I'm not a rabble rouser. I'm not someone who wants
to impose government programs on people, keep them from using
their own property, or who thinks it's a sin to make a buck.
I'd like to tell you the story of my family and myself.
My father, Andres Fjeldsted Oddstad, was born in British Columbia,
Canada, in 1918. His family was of Icelandic stock. "Fish
heads" they called them. During the early part of this
century, Iceland was as rough a place be poor as exists. Although
their ties to the old country remained strong, my father's family
was glad they migrated in Canada. My grandfather tried his hand
at ranching, farming and managing a fish cannery. Times were
rough: The family of seven moved to San Francisco, California,
where my grandmother had brothers who were builders: Henry and
Ellis Stoneson. You may have heard of Stonestown, in San Francisco.
The Stoneson brothers built over 26,000 homes in the city. My father's family arrived in San Francisco just in time for the
My father started work sweeping out his uncles' jobs when he
was ten years old. He was a journeyman carpenter when he was
17. He wasn't much to look at: A scrawny little mutt with buck
teeth and blond hair, a 140 pound weakling. No one expected
much from him -- except himself. He took up weight lifting,
wrestling and football, transforming himself into a star athlete.
He was an honor student from day one. After working his way
through U. C. Berkeley in civil engineering as a carpenter, he
took a government engineering job. He met my mother in Los Angeles.
Love at first sight.
ANDY & CLARA ODDSTAD IN 1962
They were still in love 22 years later.
wed, just in time for my dad to ship out with the Navy: World
War II called. Andy Oddstad was a member of the first underwater
demolition team. He was a "frogman" and went on over
20 landings, clearing mines in occupied waters so the Marines
could land. He won a handful of medals, including the Bronze Star, and a stunt he pulled off was written up in Francis
Fane's classic The
Naked Warriors, The Story of the U.S. Navy's Frogmen.
Once he returned home from the war, my father molded himself
into a captain of industry. He founded a residential construction
company using my mother's small wartime savings of something like $500. He built the
first houses himself. My dad told me the saddest day of his
life was the day the business got so big he had to hang up his
carpenter's belt: he remained a AFL-CIO carpenters' union member
By the 1960's, Oddstad Homes had grown into one of the largest
residential construction companies in the United States, by
far the largest in Northern California. My father didn't rest
with that: he remained an athlete, winning the heavyweight AAU
championship in wrestling when he was 40 years old. He
supported the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, helped Hungarian
wrestlers settle in the U.S. after the revolution attempt in
the '50's, built a clubhouse so neighborhood kids in Redwood
City could learn martial arts-- and taught there. He built several
churches at cost, and was active in the Boy Scouts. My father
lived the American dream: he was an inspiration.
GUS KERHULAS & MY BROTHER, DAVID, IN '56
Anyone from the Greek community in
San Francisco out there?
Old timers remember Dr. Gus Kerhulas. An eminent surgeon, "Uncle
Gus" was one of my father's best friends and my brother's
One morning in January of 1964, my dad left our
home near San Francisco early in the morning. He drove to Fresno
for a Boy Scout health conference. He reached his destination
in plenty of time, pulling off the freeway about 10 AM. A big
truck was in front of him on the off ramp. He couldn't see the
befuddled old man driving at the truck. The old guy got confused
and pulled onto the off ramp, going the wrong way. The truck
driver was able to swerve to avoid a head-on collision. My father
was not. The old man was killed instantly. My father took three
agonizing days to die, my mother by his side.
Why did the old fellow get so confused? The almost-consumed
bottle of wine of the seat next to him explained it pretty well.
All my dad's disciplined living, all his working out, and everything
he had accomplished in life didn't matter when a powerful machine
piloted by a wine-soaked brain plowed into him.
The trauma of my father's death cannot be communicated in words.
What happened that morning affected my mother and brother all their lives. It still affects me. Our economic and social status was impacted
irretrievably. The pain of losing someone like that lasts far,
far longer than the sympathy cards. As time passed, the world
forgot him and moved on.
BOYS NEED ROLE MODELS
Loss of a family member impacts many
My father is shown here with my brother and cousin Paul about
the time he died.
My life changed and changed again. Many lessons
came to me as years passed. I saw people who were decent and
civilized while sober turn into vicious monsters when drunk.
I saw children subjected to unspeakable things. I saw that alcohol
is a dangerous, addictive drug and that denial really is the
primary symptom of disease.
Despite that, I've been very fortunate. My life has taken me
to some of the most beautiful neighborhoods and homes in the
world, and to some of the finest clubs. One thing I could not
ignore is that alcohol abuse and alcoholism is not restricted
to the 'hood or to the Rez. To "those people." Alcohol
abuse pervades our society, from top to bottom. It shows up
in country clubs and board rooms, on the golf course and by
the horse show arena. You'll see it in the best homes and at
the most elegant parties. The difference is-––in such exalted
circles, alcohol dependency is well dressed, stylish, and speaks
proper English. At least initially.
I found that peer pressure to do drugs isn't a matter of gang
members forcing anyone to do anything. Not at all. If certain
types of behavior are condoned by a group, those wishing to
belong will walk through the doors gladly. I certainly did.
One way to belong was to drink along with the social leaders.
I walked that path for quite a while.
Our drink of choice was
wine. Fine wines, usually. You see, these are not alcoholic,
in the same way that chocolate chip cookies eaten while standing
have no calories. Drinking wine does not really qualify as drinking.
I imbibed for years: I'm sure some of you have seen me drinking at parties.
The problem with my approach to social fulfillment was threefold:
One, I discovered I didn't have the same values of the people
I was drinking with. Two, they didn't like me any more when
I was drinking than when I was sober. Three, I didn't like myself.
As time went by, I noticed something happening. My harmless
social drinking was stealing my soul, draining away who I was.
Something malignant grew in the void, something which would
eventually destroy me. I thought about the stupidity of my dad's
I went to graduate school in counseling and heard how
alcohol damages the body. How easy it is to become addicted.
My doctor said the same. I saw more of the behavior of alcoholics.
Finally, I said, "Enough. I've had enough." I stopped
drinking several years ago and haven't missed it.
I never was
an alcoholic. I was totally indistinguishable from the many
"social drinkers" around me. But I knew where I was
headed-- I came out of denial, something that many of my old
When I write about alcohol and what it does, I'm not writing
from a holier-than-thou position. "You drink and I don't.
I'm better than you." I'm writing because I know exactly
what the drug does from my own experience, from the inner world
to the outer, at a level deeper and more intense than most.
My family did not move to Santa Barbara County to become embroiled
in the oaks vs. vineyards issue. We came for the climate, the
sun, the beauty of the Santa Ynez Valley and the great horse
property we found. Little did we knew that we were walking into
a maelstrom that would transform the Valley into a wine-powered
tourist Mecca like Napa and Sonoma.
When the events that are chronicled below began to unfold, I
was horrified. Still, I wasn't an activist.
afternoon, my elderly mother was being driven to the hospital
to visit my niece. She and her friend drove through a pleasant,
upscale neighborhood in broad daylight. A drunk ran into them,
totaling the big car they were driving.
THAT'S when I became an activist.
I lose both parents to this society's acceptable addiction?"
I thought. "The last legal drug," Jack Nicholson called
alcohol in As Good As It Gets.
probably would have dawdled longer, and maybe not put this on
the net, but for another thing. We received a letter
from a neighbor. Someone wanted to have nighttime, outdoor concerts at a one-time horse facility turned premier winery. That's in addition to buses and limos of tourists going in and out for other daytime events.
We live in a residential neighborhood. It was being converted into a bar without a zoning change. Without approval. The whole neighborhood rose up.
And after legal furor and histrionics, the limos roll on, and into the winery. Along with the wine tour buses.
What's going on in this country? Is money the only thing that talks?
I hope that you will be moved by reading what I've produced.
I hope you will be
moved to speak up and urge your political representatives to
protect people and the environment. Perhaps you will be moved
to look at your own drinking behavior. I hope that my readers
drive more carefully. Designate a non-drinking driver. "The
life you save may be your own", as they say. Or your child's.
Every day is a gift. Everything can be ripped away in the blink
of an eye. I fear that more people will learn the lessons I
have as the show rolls on.
You know, I'm really glad I wrote this article. At least I expressed myself somewhere. And I bet my dad would be proud. If he was alive.
INFORMATION & PERSONAL ASSISTANCE CONTACT:
M. A. D. D.: MOTHER'S AGAINST
ANTI- ADDICTION SELF HELP
A FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM FOR YOU OLD SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA FOLK:
I BACK IN THE 50'S
passed on July 2, 2000.
No movie star was more beautiful than my mother in her prime.
I liked her best when she was older: rounder and soft. This
wasn't bad, either.
ODDSTAD & TRIFF TRIFELETTI
and shakers from the 50's and 60's. Dad and Triff were great
friends, worked together for many years.
They don't make'em like this any more. After my dad died, Triff,
Gordon Hanson & John O'Malley went on with Challenge Homes.
Stern was (is?) a professional wras'ler and a pretty darn good
He and my dad used to wrestle together the Olympic Club in San
Francisco, where my father was Commissioner of Wrestling.
Good times back then- great characters like this as family friends.
This photo has a funny caption in my dad's handwriting in our
family scrap book: "Ray finally floats." Ray Stern
was a block of solid muscle:
muscle is heavy- it doesn't float. The guys had the worst time
trying to teach Ray to ski: he'd sink. A full body wet suit
with hood did the trick!
Ray and his wife, Clare, had health studios in the Bay Area.
My dad said Ray didn't let Clare work out on "men's days"
at their gyms because she could press more than most guys.
That wouldn't fly in these liberated days: let lift who can!
ABOUT IT BEFORE YOU DRINK AND DRIVE.
INFORMATION & ASSISTANCE CONTACT:
A. D. D.
AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING
AUTHOR SANDY NATHAN IS THE WINNER OF SEVENTEEN NATIONAL AWARDS!
Click to go to sandynathan.com
STEPPING OFF THE EDGE: LEARNING & LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
A MODERN SPIRITUAL COMPANION
A TALE OF MYSTICIAM & MONEY MENON
"BILL GATES MEETS DON JUAN."
TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD
BORN PREMATURELY ON A FREEZING NIGHT, THE COLT HAD TO FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE.
THE ANGEL & THE BROWN-EYED BOY
A FUTURE WORLD ONLY HEARTBEATS FROM OUR OWN
Click the covers above to go Sandy Nathan's books on the Amazon Kindle store.
All Kindle books are 99 cents.
They are also available as print books at Amazon..The Angel and Numenon are also at the Nook store. The Angel is an iBook, as well.
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without permission of the author.
RANCHO VILASA & SPURS MAGAZINE