Less Than Perfect

Grant Hart 1951

A Tribute to my Dad

When Grant Hart died in 1985, he was only 55 years old.

During that short lifetime, he had served as a U.S. Marine, briefly tried acting, married, fathered three children, designed rockets, succeeded as an electrical engineer in the aerospace business, owned a candy-and-ice-cream store, and broken ground on a camping/RV resort in Northern California. He had survived the Great Depression, served his country in the aftermath of World War II, trudged through the idealistic hype of the 1950s, shepherded his children through the drug-addled 1960s (some of us more successfully than others), lost one of those children to an early death, and tried his hand at several small business ventures plus one major one in the 1970s before finally succumbing to cancer in the 1980s. He was young when he died, but he had led a life that, if not perfect, was at least full.

Grant in 1933 – Age 3

Grant was born in San Diego, California on February 19, 1930 — which also happened to be his mother’s sixteenth birthday.

Although my grandmother Cecelia was married at the time of my father’s birth, that marriage would be over two years later. By all accounts my grandmother had been a wild child and, at the time of this first divorce, had not outgrown that. She would be divorced twice more before she turned 26.

My dad was raised by his grandmother and, occasionally, foster parents – some more brutal than others. Mostly, however, he was left to find his own way in the burgeoning suburbs of San Diego.

Dad was 10 years old before his life gained a modicum of stability when my grandmother picked as her fourth and final husband a most gentle, generous, and responsible soul. Edward “Ted” Carter was a miracle that stepped into Daddy’s solitary and unstructured life. Quiet and self-effacing, he was a ballast for my dad, an engineer who fell in love with the wild Cecilia and her beautiful son. He was the perfect step-dad. Daddy loved and admired Ted. Despite that love and admiration, however, my dad was not to completely shake off his own wild ways; Dad’s adolescence would prove a challenge to his mom and step-dad.

In 1941, the “new” Carter family moved to North Hollywood, one of the many places where the phenomenon of tract housing was emerging after war-time America. The Carters bought one of the new homes on Radford Drive as did the Stakes: Sue, Byron, their daughter Jeri and son Doug.

As construction in the area continued, the building sites proved perfect places for children to play and meet the other kids in the neighborhood. According to family legend, young Jeri pushed my father off of a roof of one of the unfinished homes (into a sand-pile that nearly reached to the eaves), thus establishing her interest in the 11-year-old Grant.

Ten years later, she would become his wife.

Grant in 1946 – Age 16

Uncle Sam Wants You!!

He lied. When my father was 16, he told the Marine Corps recruiter he was 17 (which was the minimum age for enlistment at the time). World War II was officially over, but there was still much for a patriotic young man to do for the next four years in service of his country. Dad enlisted.

It wasn’t all bad: the fighting was over, he got to see the Orient and Australia, and he was forced to be disciplined for the first time in his life. Sure, the wild ways were not completely tamed (he ended up in the brig at least once, according to family legend), but the Marine Corps made an impact on my father that would last throughout his life.

Plus, Australia was where he decided to propose to my mom. He was on a date with an Australian woman (who apparently looked nothing like my mother) when Mom’s face suddenly appeared to him. He surmised that he had either had too much to drink or he and my mother were destined for each other — he chose to assume the latter, or so the legend goes.

Grant & Jeri – February 3, 1951

First Comes Love…

After he was discharged from the Marines, his hair had grown out (they shave your head in the brig, apparently), he had covered his tattoo of the name “Julie” with another tattoo of the head of a black panther on his bicep, my dad was ready to tackle marriage. With my mom. Whose name was not Julie.

My mom was thrilled at the prospect – she had been in love with Grant since that fateful day she pushed him off the roof of a house. The idea of Grant Hart as a husband could not have been more perfect for Jeri.

My Uncle Doug, Mom’s younger brother, was thrilled, too. He thought my dad was “cool” because he wore hirachis and listened to jazz and drove a great hotrod (Doug was 13). My grandmother Sue was not so thrilled. She objected to the union so strenuously that she did not attend the low-key wedding which took place on February 3, 1951. My mother’s dad didn’t attend either, but that was for a completely different reason – she had hated him for years.

Nineteen months later, I showed up, followed at 3-year intervals by my brothers, Scott then Lynn Grant. By 1958, the Harts met all of the statistics epitomizing the perfect American Family: two and one-half children, a house in the suburbs, and a car in the garage (the hotrod was gone). Whether they wanted it or not, my parents had become the norm.

Dad & me – 1954

Look at those drapes! And the tinsel on the tree! And the phonograph! Is there any mistaking the decade in which this picture was taken?

To all outsiders, the Harts were the typical American family, just like those portrayed in the iconic TV shows of the 50’s such as Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver. Mom didn’t wear pearls in the kitchen, but you know what I mean.

I don’t think my dad wanted to be typical, however. He was progressive in his tastes in casual clothes, music, and even home decoration. He was a tall, good-looking man who, living so close to Hollywood, had even tried acting before I was born.

However, he was soon to discover how abysmally ill-suited he was for the make-believe of a Hollywood career – my dad was shy, with an engineer’s creativity and curiosity and temperament. Mathematics came easily to him and he generalized his mastery of numbers to carpentry and car repair and the new and exciting field of rockets and missiles. He was much more comfortable with numbers than with people and, so, he became an electrical engineer.

His first engineering job was with a company called Radioplane where he was part of the team that built rockets (most of which were tested in the parking lot, sometimes to the hazard of the surrounding fields and fences) — a real backyard operation, a 1950s “start-up” if ever there was one.

With three children and a mortgage, however, Dad soon opted for a more conservative job at Lockheed Corporation. He traded his casual clothes for suits and ties, returning to school in hopes of finally earning a degree (although even without a degree he was successful as an engineer — another trait typical of my dad, but not typical of his industry).

Gender roles in our family were clearly defined, as was the custom of the day: Dad worked hard to provide for his family; Mom had the less glamorous (but no less important) duties of caring for the house and the children, both physically and emotionally. Daddy’s idea of a perfect evening was to be greeted at the door with a martini and children scrubbed and ready for bed. He’d kiss us goodnight and enjoy a peaceful dinner with my mom. Weekends were Daddy’s time to “unwind.”

Just Perfect

Above all, my dad was a perfectionist. That applied to every aspect of his life – his work, his play, his family. The discipline he’d learned in the Marines was applied everywhere.

None of us knew much about his work, as even his security clearance was so hush-hush he could not tell anybody what level of clearance he had. Given that, he didn’t talk about work much at all, which made it difficult for my mom. It’s hard to ask “Honey, how was your day?” when he couldn’t tell her.

He expected dinner at a certain time and a house that was neat and clean and free of screaming – things he had not enjoyed in his own youth. The regulation of his work as an engineer carried over into his everyday life: the tinsel on that Christmas tree in the picture above? Each piece placed on the branches one at a time, the ends adjusted to hang evenly. Although my brothers and I decorated the tree each year, sometime during the night, Daddy rearranged the ornaments into a design of perfect symmetry.

Every inch of our garage was clean and well-organized, automotive tools absent any dust or grease, the garden tools without a hint of dirt on them after use. His yard was immaculate and he even tended the gravel pathways that surrounded the house with precise raking.

The only aspect of his life where he asked no perfection was in animals. My father never met an animal he didn’t like — and our household was never without a dog or a cat (or a couple of cats) throughout my lifetime. My brothers and I used to joke that we wanted to be reincarnated as a Hart animal because we knew we would be loved unconditionally.

Don’t get me wrong — my father was not all work and discipline. He joked and roughhoused and played games with us when the opportunity presented itself. He was there when we learned to ride our bikes. When the new game “Slip-N-Slide” came on the market, Daddy set the bright yellow slide on his pristine front lawn of dichondra and tried it out with us! Hidden beneath the quiet engineer was a little kid, and we were given brief but cherished glimpses of this boy throughout our lives.

Primarily, however, he was a reserved man who rarely expressed his joy or pleasure or love in words, although we came to know those emotions were there. He simply believed that his “job” as a family man was to keep his children from experiencing the deprivations of his youth — he didn’t need to talk about it, he just needed to make it happen.

Dad & Mom – early 1960s

In the 1960s California’s Santa Clara County had not yet become known as “Silicon Valley.” There were few, if any, hi-tech software companies there; computers were still the size of a football field. Since the majority of the population of the county was employed by Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation or other companies that offered services to that industry and its employees, it probably would have been more appropriate to call it “Aerospace Valley.” But that was in the 60’s. In the summer of 1964, the Harts moved from our San Fernando Valley home to the town of Sunnyvale, California after my dad accepted a job transfer.

Lockheed was wrapping up its missile operations in Southern California and moving them north – so we went, too. The move was welcomed for several reasons: even at 8 years of age, my brother Scott was already developing a reputation for trouble in the small Southern California town of Granada Hills where we had grown up. My parents were increasingly embarrassed by his antics and thought a complete change of scenery would benefit both him and them.

In the 1960s California’s Santa Clara County had not yet become known as “Silicon Valley.” There were few, if any, hi-tech software companies there; computers were still the size of a football field. Since the majority of the population of the county was employed by Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation or other companies that offered services to that industry and its employees, it probably would have been more appropriate to call it “Aerospace Valley.” But that was in the 60’s. In the summer of 1964, the Harts moved from our San Fernando Valley home to the town of Sunnyvale, California after my dad accepted a job transfer.

Lockheed was wrapping up its missile operations in Southern California and moving them north – so we went, too. The move was welcomed for several reasons: even at 8 years of age, my brother Scott was already developing a reputation for trouble in the small Southern California town of Granada Hills where we had grown up. My parents were increasingly embarrassed by his antics and thought a complete change of scenery would benefit both him and them.

The Hart Family – 1969

Hiding in Plain Sight

The move did nothing to correct Scott’s problems. He was thirteen when he was first arrested for burglary — but that was only because he had not been caught earlier. My parents tried everything: therapy, physical punishment, grounding, shouting matches. The outside world knew nothing of this. My parents hid their troubles as best they were able, even though they were frustrated beyond coping.

The worst was the rift in the family caused by the difference in my parents’ respective philosophies about Scott. My dad believed that boys will be boys (and refused to participate in the therapy sessions), thinking that Scott’s behavior would change with age, just as his own had. Scott didn’t need all of that new-fangled psycho-analytic nonsense – he should be punished, but he wasn’t a nut. Dad’s own troubled youth may have contributed to this philosophy – he was convinced that his stint in the Marines was the only thing that had kept him out of jail. However, Scott was too young for the Marines just yet. He wasn’t even old enough to have gotten away with lying about it.

Mom, on the other hand, was horrified to discover that her baby boy was rapidly headed in the direction of her father: thief and liar. Scott had only once met his maternal grandfather, so her terror went deep – he hadn’t been around Grampa Byron enough to have learned such awful behavior. My mother began to think of my brother as a bad seed about whom nothing could be done.

Therefore, Scott was trapped between an almost tolerant father and a cautiously terrified mother. His behavior reflected that. The drama that whirled around Scott took its toll on my dad, even though Daddy never discussed it. He spent more time in the garage on various projects ranging from car repair to development of plans for a series of businesses that were sure to improve the family’s circumstances. He continued to advance at Lockheed, but I believe my father was looking for something that would offer a modicum of freedom and self-expression.

Dad – summer 1969

Restless

During his search for the perfect job, Daddy dabbled in the music-recording industry — but that soon faded as most of that work was happening in Southern California and we no longer lived there. The tragedy was that even with no musical talent himself (not even any sense of rhythm), my father could accurately predict the songs that would make it to #1. He loved The Beatles in an era when most of my friends’ fathers were dismissing them as trash. He may not have been personally musical, but he knew music.

Next, he invested in a firm that distributed a glue-like substance that was guaranteed to hold a woman’s nylons in place without a garter belt — except that pantyhose were introduced about the same time, rendering his product obsolete before it made it out of our garage.

He bought a Corvair (before they were pronounced unsafe) and a 1965 Mustang which he kept in prime running order — you could have eaten off of the engine block on either of those cars. What he could not do for his family (keep them in order), he did for his personal possessions. At least this one aspect of his life would be controlled and enjoyable. In his restlessness, he even tried facial hair (see the picture above) — but only on vacations!

Mom & Dad in the workroom of Jeri’s Confections – 1969

How Sweet It Is

Ultimately, in 1969, he bought a candy store.

Thank goodness he didn’t quit his day job, but he did work nights and weekends alongside my mother at Jeri’s Confections in San Jose, scooping ice cream and measuring out hundreds of varieties of loose candy (very little of the pre-packaged variety was sold there) to all who entered. Amazingly, Dad’s shyness seemed to vanish as he stood behind the counter teasing and coaxing

people into trying new flavors of ice cream (“That’ll be a double scoop, right?”). The store barely broke even in the three years my parents owned it, however. Still, I think my father enjoyed the freedom of self-employment and continued to pursue other options. Scott, too, continued to explore options – much to his and the family’s detriment.

Pinewood Cove – in its heydays

We thought we had moved to Northern California in 1964, but we were wrong. As it turns out, a great deal of the State exists above the San Francisco Bay Area. Who knew? In the early 1970s that’s where my dad wanted to be.

The NorWes Passage

No, it’s not a typo. My father started a company called NorWes Enterprises which was dedicated to his dream project – “Pinewood Cove.” Pinewood Cove was to be (and actually still is) a camp resort and RV park on Trinity Lake in Northern California. It represented everything my father had ever wanted: self-employment and challenging work in an outdoor setting.

When my dad was younger, he, his step-dad, and step-brother would spend a couple of weeks each year on the Kern River camping and fishing — events that my dad remembered as some of the best times of his life. Although there were a few family vacations to Disneyland and the beach, the majority of the Hart’s summer vacations were spent by lakes and rivers surrounded by tall trees and fresh air – we camped. We sang songs around campfires, waterskied, and swam. It was nearly idyllic. Well, it was nearly idyllic for Daddy, although I remember liking very little of the work that went into camping and I know my mother was less than enthused. Pinewood Cove may have been Dad’s attempt to relive those moments he loved. Pinewood Cove became his obsession.

The Grand Obsession

Whatever the reason for his fixation on Pinewood Cove, Daddy worked tirelessly on the project: raising money, having plans drawn and approved, obtaining licenses and permits, arranging EPA studies. Whatever had to be done to make this dream a reality, my father did it. Every moment he was not working at Lockheed was dedicated to making the resort a reality. There were other investors in NorWes Enterprises, but it was Dad who drove the machine.

In the summer of 1974, ground was broken on 22 acres in Trinity County owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad (leased to NorWes Enterprises for 99 years with an option for 99 more). The next year, Dad took early retirement from Lockheed, sold our Sunnyvale, California home, and poured all of my parents’ money and all of his efforts into this new campground. Grant and Jeri Hart and their youngest son, Lynn Grant, moved into a 22′ trailer parked on the future Pinewood Cove property in Trinity County. This was to be their home for the next 5 years. Neither Scott nor I accompanied them: I was in college and Scott had not yet been released from prison.

Lake Trinity during the drought

The Grand Disaster

If anything could have gone wrong with this business venture, it did:

An abandoned osprey nest was discovered on the property, prompting the EPA to impose restrictions that delayed work and required new plans and licenses and permits be issued – all at a cost and all delaying the opening of the resort. 1

Already granted permits and licenses had to be modified by any new regulation that happened to be passed in the State or local

legislature – at any time prior to their implementation. With the delays caused by the EPA, existing permits and licenses were rendered virtually obsolete.

America experienced a widespread gas shortage that curtailed hundreds of thousands of Americans from traveling and spending their money at camp resorts such as Pinewood Cove.

Finally, California was burdened with the worst drought it had experienced in years, rendering the Trinity Lake a wasteland: we could walk for 3 miles from Pinewood Cove to Cedar Stock on the dry lake bed. Who wants to camp on a lake where there is no water?

With delays and natural and man-made disasters congealing, the investment money for Pinewood Cove dried up like Trinity Lake. The resort never ran in the black. My parents survived its operation for only two seasons.

Dad & Mom – 1978

In 1980, Pinewood Cove was auctioned off to the highest bidder. It garnered pennies on the dollar. My parents’ life savings was gone, their livelihood gone, their home gone. While both still only 50 years old, my mom and dad were spent. They had worked for no pay (taking only money for absolute necessities like food and toilet paper and gasoline) for five years, yet had nothing to show for their efforts. Daddy’s dream had become a perfect nightmare.

NOTE 1: I am a dedicated environmentalist. However, even I found the bureaucracy and myopia that pervaded the EPA during this period maddening. That osprey nest had been abandoned for years.

Scott – 1973

A Short and Tragic Life

With Pinewood Cove lost, but not wanting to leave the pristine area around Trinity Lake, my parents moved to the closest town (Weaverville) and took odd jobs. They did not prosper, but they did survive. Then, worse than any of the other burdens that had befallen them, on July 1, 1981 my parents received a phone call: my brother Scott had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Southern California. He had been drinking and had left his helmet on the dresser of his hotel room before plunging alone off a San Diego cliff. Scott was 26.

My father did not talk about Scott much, either before or after his death. I knew he loved his son, but had been deeply wounded by him. Scott had worked briefly at Pinewood Cove before being sent back to prison for breaking in and burglarizing businesses in Weaverville. At his trial, he had used the excuse that my parents were destitute and needed the money. Of course, my parents had nothing to do with the burglaries, never benefitted from any money Scott had taken (and wouldn’t have, if offered), and were appalled at Scott and his contrived excuses – they were not surprised, however, as this had become typical of Scott’s behavior.

Still, my father’s grief was deep.

Mom & Dad – 1983

An Abiding Faith

One day in 1984, I received a phone call at work from my mom. Dad was in the hospital – he had passed out and fallen. No broken bones, but the doctors were administering every known test to determine the cause of the episode.

The cause was a cancerous tumor that had lodged behind one ear, pushing his brain into one-half of his skull. It was a wonder he had not had prior symptoms. Looking back at the pictures (such as the one here in this section) we should have seen that something was wrong — Daddy had aged twenty years in the last few and one eye drooped more than the other. We were all older, but Dad looked particularly haggard.

Daddy underwent surgery to remove as much of the mass as possible. The cancer had not originated in his brain – it had simply lodged there.

Despite countless tests, the doctors were unable to determine the actual source of his cancer, prompting a full-on assault with their chemical weapons. Radiation was used to reduce the size of the tumor that was left after the surgery, but could not completely eradicate it.

Dad – 1985

After a month of sessions, Daddy opted out. He had lost all of his gorgeous, thick gray hair and was unable to eat or keep weight on (he was already underweight for his 6’4″ frame). He did not want to spend whatever time he had left being miserable. He was 54 years old and looked as if he were 90.

As it turned out, he had another year. During that time, he worked on various projects around the house where my parents lived, collecting hats to hide his nearly bald head. He got to meet and enjoy his first grandchild, Bryan Grant Hart (my brother, Lynn Grant’s boy). And he talked – something Daddy had never done before. With the burden of “breadwinner” lifted from his shoulders, he relaxed and began to tell us more about himself.

This chattier father was something my brother, mom and I had never before experienced.

Raised in the Catholic faith, my father had not actively participated in the church since his stint in the Marines. However, I knew him to be a deeply spiritual man. When I asked, he told me he was not afraid of dying because he believed he had been a good man and was going to heaven. How wonderful to have that kind of faith; how comforting.

“I have the easy part,” he said “the hard part is for those I leave behind.”

He made this horrible time easier for his family because of his grace. The night before he died, he told me that he loved me. He had never been a demonstrative person and Mom had always been his voice for the mushier things in life, so I had never before heard these words from him. I knew that he loved me, but it was nice to hear it from his lips. It was perfect.

Dad – 1951

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Each year on February 19, I sing “Happy Birthday” to my father. I am alone when I do, for good reason. It is not the usual rendition of “Happy Birthday,” but one sung in a tiny voice at breakneck speed, the way that he used to sing it to his children on our birthdays (because he couldn’t sing and wanted to get it over with quickly).

Dad died in 1985, but I refuse to remember the exact date. I am happy to remember the day my dad was born, however.

This tuneless little ditty is my annual tribute to Grant, my wonderful and less-than-perfect father.