Using my emails as vehicles to visit the past has, for a couple of reasons, become part of my mental activity as COVID eases. First, because when I run across someone who opens my Flynn’s Harp column whom I haven’t been in contact with for some months, I find myself now feeling the need to reach out to them to see that they are ok. I’m sure that’s an urge that many living with the shuttering brought by the virus share with me.
The second source of email memories is via a manner that’s admittedly pretty unusual, but I recommend it to any who, like me, haven’t cleaned out the email backlog for years. Make that more than a decade. One day when the backlog passed 110,000, stretching back over 11 years, Google basically said “clean them out or you won’t get any more.”
Since the cleaning began with the oldest emails forward, I have been enjoying visiting a “living” past that first put me back to 2009. The visiting of more than a decade via emails that seem current when you open them anew has been an amusing, intriguing, and fun (or sad) experience, And so too sharing them with those who were either senders or recipients back then. So I decided to share some I saved in this week’s Harp. With apologies for the length.
My first stop on the ancient emails purge was 2009, wiping out a few hundred. Then I encountered an email exchange among some who had seen a column I did that year on the fact it was the 50th anniversary of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s heading off from Spokane and Gonzaga University to seek their fortune in New York.
The column was recalling an interview I had done in 2005 with Chad and wound up with the suggestion the trio deserved to have an event in Spokane to honor their 50th.
Several readers of the column happened to be, at that time, members of the Gonzaga Board of Regents and so I was able to look in as they shared copy-all emails, including me, discussing the idea of a Chad Mitchell anniversary event.
Since Don Nelles, a current neighbor of mine who was board chair of the regents at the time was leading the email discussion and included me, I sent him the collection several months ago as ancient history revisited, to his amusement. A 50th was never held. Chad and Mike Kobluk live in Spokane Joe Frazier, who had become an Episcopal priest, died in his sleep on March 28, 2014, at the age of 77.
Another e-mail train related to several 2010 emails exchanges with Liz Marchi, the Montana angel investor who was just becoming a friend that year and about whom I’ve done maybe half a dozen columns since.
My first column on her about that time focused on the fact that, as the overseer at that point of a Montana Angel Network, she hoped to create awareness on the part of promising entrepreneurs seeking capital that “angels are gathering in increasing numbers under the Big Sky.” Indeed that has since become the case.
Soon after arriving in Montana’s Flathead Valley in 2003 with three daughters and her then-husband, she decided to create the state's first angel fund, Frontier Angel Fund I. The fund closed in 2006 at $1.7 million, $300,000 more than she had hoped.
She eventually guided the Kalispell-based fund, which had attracted investors from around the country who were either fans of or summer residents in the Big Sky Country, to lead three deals and gather a total of 12 active investments and was soon also overseeing angel groups that had sprung up in Missoula and Bozeman.
Today she is business development vice president for an intriguing venture fund in White Fish, MT, called Two Bear Capital.
Then a train etched with sadness popped up, relating to what was a soon-to-be gathering of Vietnam reporters in 2011 for a lunch at a Thai restaurant in Little Saigon in Orange County, where they planned to gather to recall and reflect. It was sad because two friends who were frontline reporters for United Press International and were at the luncheon, Tracy Wood and Ray Herndon, had quotes in the column. Both have died of cancer in the past two years.
Bob Page, who was my old boss at UPI and is now a friend as a publisher in San Diego, was UPI’s boss in Asia during Vietnam and knew all the reporters and was at the 2011 luncheon. He recalled for me in advance of the gathering: “I'll be there. I'll sit with Maggie Kilgore and Tracy Wood. That's the main reason to go, to see those two tougher-than-nails gals. They were fearless as were Kate Webb and Sylvana Foa. Four of the best. You could match them up with any four guys anywhere (referring to four of the women whom UPI sent to the war zone without hesitation because of their talent while many news organizations hesitated to send women).”
Then I ran across and saved from the delete key, a column, and numerous replies, reflecting 50 years later on the hanging I covered at the state penitentiary in June of 1963, the execution of Joseph Chester Self for the murder of a cab driver in a $12 robbery. I was 23 so it had an impact when Self, wearing a straight jacket and noose, was brought into the chamber by the warden and positioned to stand on the steel trap door, which was sprung open and he fell to his death before our eyes,
At the time of Self's execution, the state didn't have a gallows in the Old West style, but rather a large room at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, a "death chamber" as it was referred to, a short walk from Death Row where those sentenced to die awaited the outcome of their appeals process. Some 30 years after Self’s hanging, a legislature made fatal injection an option for the condemned prisoners.
Only men were executed in Washington and, interesting in light of the State Supreme Court’s statement in a 2018 decision outlawing the death penalty that the death penalty’s imposition in this states was "racially disproportionate," of the 14 who went to their deaths on the gallows between 1947 and 1993, 13 were Caucasian, including Self, and one was Hispanic.
Washington's governors long routinely passed on the opportunities to interfere with the death penalty being carried out until current governor Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and has now announced he would veto any effort to restore it.
I decided that column deserved to be preserved, partly because a high school student who was one of a group working on a paper on hanging reached out to learn more about my experience. But also because of an email, it was prompted by my boss of the Spokane UPI bureau at the time, Roberta Ulrich.
“I still owe you thanks for volunteering to take on that task and letting me hide my cowardice,” she wrote. “I always said I could do any assignment any man could do but I admit I really didn't want to cover a hanging. As bureau manager it was my job and, at any rate, I couldn't have assigned you so your volunteering saved face for me - to say nothing of my qualms. You did a fine job.”
With the avalanche of crises cascading down on those involved in legislating, arguing, and lobbying in the Nation's Capital, a column I ran across on what was then an annual event for Montanans laboring in D.C. was a must save. And must share. Only those with roots in Montana could come up with a party like the annual "Testy Fest."
The gathering came into existence in 2004 as the more tastefully titled "DC Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival," but by the time I did the column in 2011, it was known and promoted simply as "the Testicle Festival."
Between 400 and 500 "cowboys and cowgirls," including Capitol Hill staff members who hailed from Montana, transplants from the Big Sky State, and people who just wanted to be seen with Montanans regularly attended the event.
The attraction that lured attendees wasn’t just the Montana camaraderie but also the featured fare, a western delicacy that is also known as "Prairie Oysters" or "Calf Fries."
Can you imagine the bridging of the current political divide that might occur if lawmakers from both parties got an invitation jointly signed by Chuck Shumer and Mitch McConnell to "come join us for a beer and a ball."
Two columns and emails I decided were to be saved because they tied the columns of the past to current relevance, as with Liz Marchi.
Thus the column on Mikal Thomsen's "dream come true" when in 2011 the prominent cellular executive and his wife, Lynn, purchased the Tacoma Rainiers.
The other is a 2010 piece marking the 25th anniversary of the ownership of the Spokane Indians baseball team by the Brett Brothers.
Northwest minor-league sports continues to be synonymous with Brett Sports, which has owned and operated the Spokane Indians baseball club for 36 years since Bobby Brett and his three brothers bought the Indians in 1985. They added the Spokane Chiefs hockey team in 1990.
There was a touching aspect to Thomsen's story. It's that when Triple-A baseball returned to Tacoma in 1960 after a 55-year absence, one of the fans in attendance that opening day to watch the team then nicknamed the Giants was 3-year-old Mikal Thomsen, there with his father, seeing his first professional baseball game.
That ignited a life-long affection of a kid, then a man, for his hometown baseball team.
Although he grew up to make his name and fortune over two decades as he became a leading figure in the cellular industry, Thomsen's "dream come true" is played out each year as CEO of the Rainiers.
Then there was the 2010 column that when I ran across it and the email exchange that followed had to be saved as one of my first love affairs…a man and his car.
So the column read: “As summer gives way to autumn, longings for the long-ago can creep into the days for the sentimental among us and so it is that I sometimes find myself revisiting the days of youth when, somewhere between girlfriends, I fell in love with a '55 Thunderbird. She was white with a turquoise interior and had both a soft and a hardtop."
As I wrote then: "I thought about her recently because it's a special anniversary of sorts: 55 years since the Ford Motor Co. debuted in 1955 what its marketing folks described as a 'Boulevard Sportscar.'"
The original T-bird was already a classic by the mid-'60s when I saw one on a car lot in north Spokane, swung in to try it, and drove out 30 minutes later, sitting proudly behind the wheel -- one flashy car richer and $1,200 poorer.
Of course that $1,200 has grown by as much as 30 times for those T-Birds who've kept their shape and sharp looks and are still nurtured and occasionally driven by those whose love affair with the car remains, making it one of the best investments ever for anyone who held onto one.
The T-Bird was more sophisticated and urbane in its concept than Chevrolet's muscular Corvette, which debuted at the same time and shared the stage with the T-bird as the first two-seat American rivals of the European sports cars.
There was something about the jump and roar of the White Lady, half of whose length was hood and the high-horsepower engine that churned beneath it, that stirred the blood.
The car lured Betsy, a co-ed I'd met in math class, and I taught her how to drive a stick shift as she sat behind the wheel of the T-Bird. To this day I'm not certain, 55 years of marriage later, if she didn't fall in love with the car and thus, of necessity, fell for the owner.
But then in 2002, the automaker undertook the tallest of orders, seeking to reinterpret an icon, reintroducing the two-seated Thunderbird. It couldn't be too much of a copy of what had gone before, but it couldn't depart too much from the inspiration.
But for me, growing older had brought the slow realization that the longing that stirred occasionally wasn't just about a car, it was also about a time.
I could own a re-creation of a car, but I couldn't drive it back in time. My wife and family understood that long before I did.
And among emails from friends for whom their memories included a T-Bird was a priceless one from Joe Galloway, the famous Vietnam correspondent who has been the topic of numerous Harps.
“Ah, Mike. I somehow knew we were blood brothers. My second car in this life was, yep, a 1955 white Thunderbird with soft and hardtops. I was just 19, working my first newspaper job at the Victoria, TX, Advocate. my first car, a 52 Chevy convertible, red, had about crapped out. My dad co-signed and the Humble Oil Credit Union choked up the money.
“Not long after that, I was hired by UPI for the Kansas City bureau and I loaded the T-Bird up with all my earthly possessions in the trunk and passenger seat and headed north. it was Jan. 1961 and the No. 1 song blaring on the radio was Wilburt Harrison's “Goin' To Kansas City!” I howled right along with him.”
“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end......”
And on that memorable note ends the recollection of a string of memories embedded in all the thousands of deleted emails.