26 August 2022
recently saw the movie Seabiscuit, a great horse story.. It
reminded me of a story my mother told me.
Charles Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit, apparently lived part of the time in a
penthouse directly across the street from the little flat where I grew up. My
mother became friends with his housekeeper.
This was a story I'd never heard before.
She told me that when my sister was a baby (which would have been 1947), she
was walking past the apartment building where Howard kept his residence and
stopped to talk with his housekeeper. Howard was out of town and the housekeeper
invited her up to look at the penthouse.
We lived on Leavenworth St., between Union and Filbert Streets. The window of
our dining room had a direct unobstructed view of Coit Tower. From where Howard
sat, atop the tall apartment building across the street, he could see from
bridge to bridge--from the Bay Bridge past Coit Tower, around Fisherman's Wharf,
all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
He also could see right into our back yard.
We lived in a bottom flat of a building that had three flats. Our back yard was
a tiny patch of concrete with a raised bed where my mother tried planting a few
vegetables occasionally. She hung her clothes out on clothes lines which
stretched from our house to the flat of the neighbors. As kids, my sister and I
would occasionally ride our tricycles around on the concrete, or play house
under the stairs of the adjoining flat. Stairs went down to the dirt-floored
And Howard could look down into our yard and borrow small pieces of our lives.
The housekeeper told my mother that Howard would stand at his window, high atop
the penthouse and look at us playing. "People think that happiness is up here,"
he said to the housekeeper, "...but it's really down there," he said, pointing
I don't know why that story tickles me. Perhaps because I'm so engrossed in his
story at present and to find out in the middle that while our lives didn't
exactly directly touch, there was some sort of connection.
Perhaps it's just thinking about the nature of happiness.
When I thought about Howard's statement, I remembered my grandmother, a woman
relentlessly determined to be unhappy. She felt she'd been dealt a bad hand
because she knew God intended for her to be rich. Instead, she married a man of
modest means, thwarted his opportunities for advancement, and until she was no
longer able to live by herself, lived in a two room apartment in San Francisco,
never having a bedroom to call her own (she slept in the living room; my
grandfather slept in the dining room).
She pinned her hopes and dreams on the last wills and testaments of her richer
friends and as each one died and left her nothing in their wills, she became
more bitter about her lot in life. It was particularly difficult for her when my
godmother died. She had been married to my grandmother's cousin and, while not
exactly wealthy, wasn't exactly poor either. On her death, the material goods
which my grandmother expected to be left to her were left to my mother, who had
befriended her during her lifetime and especially at the end of her life.
Maybe remembering my grandmother is one reason why I place so little value on
"things." While it is true that I live in a house which could qualify as a junk
shop, surrounded by more "things" than anyone has any right to own, it occurred
to me recently that were someone to break into the house, they would find little
worth stealing--there is little of real monetary value. And pretty much nothing
someone might steal would be a tremendous loss for me. There would be the loss
of my sence of personal security, but the things? They're only "things."
Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or
not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged...it's how I arrange my
mind. I already decided to love it. It's a decision I make every morning when I
wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I
have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be
thankful for the ones that do.
Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I'll focus on the new day and
all the happy memories I've stored away ... just for this time in my life.
Old age is like a bank account ... you withdraw from what you've put in .. So,
my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of
Remember the five simple rules to be happy:
1. Free your heart from hatred.
2. Free your mind from worries.
3. Live simply.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less.
Good words to live by. I hope that, as Charles Howard looked down from his
penthouse at a young mother playing with her two young children, he managed to
find some happiness, in spite of his wealth.