This hardly constitutes a complete autobiography, recounting every detail of my existence, for my life and contributions to the world certainly do not merit an exegetical treatment; however, I do attempt to set forth some important events that had an impact on my development, which, in turn, might explain more about who I am to my daughter or, for that matter, to anyone else who cares to know. With that said, I will continue to withhold some things, for I also need to protect some who might find my disclosures discomfiting because of their own part in things. I doubt most people are willing to divest themselves of all secrets, and I am no exception; but relatively few remain for me at this point. Maybe I will relate more one day; in the meantime, this represents many layers of my onion. I claim that all I have said here is true to the best of my recollection; of course, fallible human beings can never be altogether certain of their memories, and it is certainly the case, as Immanuel Kant said, we necessarily apprehend things through hardwired prisms in our own minds, which renders even the most vivid experiences less than truly veridical.
off the Washington coast. The old house and the surrounding grounds were converted into a summer resort years later. Carol and I stayed in one of the cottages near the big house where my great-great grandparents lived. Michael returned to live in Prosser in his last couple of years, Mary having preceded him in death. He was said to have been a heavy drinker, not an unusual preoccupation in my family.
Michael and Mary had twelve children, eight girls and four boys, all hearty and hale, having survived infancy, rather unusual in those days. Among them was Edward Ward, my great-grandfather, who was born in Oregon in 1872. He briefly attended St. James College in Vancouver, Washington, and went on to riding the range in Washington for several years. He ended-up in the New Castle coal mines in King County for awhile when he was 21. By 1897 he found himself managing a general store in Prosser Washington working for a Mr. Sprinkle, the husband of the sister of the woman he would marry that year, my great-grandmother, namely, Charlotte Anastacia Lyon. My daughter bears her middle name as her given name, though spelled with an s in place of the c, and it has long been one of my favorite names.
Everyone called Charlotte by her nickname, Dolly. She was originally from Kansas, and she was born in 1872, the same year as Edward. Her parents, Henry and Margaret Lyon, moved to Washington in 1882. Edward would eventually become a prominent businessman in the local area, and, along with his partner, Mr. McFarland (their business was named Ward & McFarland), he owned a liquor store along with several other real estate interests in the city. He also owned a small farm near Mabton. Edward and Dolly had two girls, my grandmother, Margaret, born in 1901, and her sister and my great aunt, Edna, who was born in 1904. Edward died in 1935 at only 63; he also was reputed to have been something of a drinker, that being the family curse. I met Dolly as an infant, but I have no memories of her, as she died in 1953. I heard many stories about her gentle, kind nature. It was from her sister's marriage to the aforementioned Sprinkle that Dolly one day would come to own several sections of wheat land.
Noble Sproull and Margaret Ward, my paternal grandparents, met in Prosser, where they presumably met in school. Prosser was a small farming community, and I suspect everyone knew everyone, or leastwise, knew about everyone. My grandfather was nicknamed "Nobby," and he and his older brother, Virgil, helped their father with the newspaper business they would one day inherit. Many years later when visiting Prosser in the early 1980s, I met several who knew my grandfather when he was a young man. My grandmother, Margaret, was a shy and pretty girl, who, along with her more extraverted sister, Edna, learned piano at an early age. While Edna would go on to college in Seattle, Margaret married Noble, and in due course my father, William Edward Sproull, was born in nearby Yakima in 1929. VIrgil and Noble would eventually sell the newspaper, and my grandfather took a position with Kaiser Industries and would eventually be relocated to Vancouver, Washington, which is where my father and mother would one day meet.
I did not really know much about my mother's people beyond her parents, other than her brother by adoption, Charles Shauman, and her biological mother's sister, Bee DeFreitas. Uncle Charles lived with us for a while after mom's divorce when we were in Lakewood, California, and he later married a wonderful woman, perhaps possessing the finest temperament of anyone I've ever known, my Aunt Ruth. She never had an unkind word; was immersed in charitable activities in the Pismo Beach area, where they eventually lived; and she was always cheerful and upbeat. I loved my uncle, and he was a good man, but he was rather gruff and curmudgeonly. I remember causing quite a ruckus when he was staying with us in Lakewood (I might have been about 5) when my pet hamster got loose in the bedroom; Uncle Charles could hear it in the night scampering about over a period of several days ... and while we looked high and low, we never found it. It gave us many laughs years later.
I met Aunt Bee as a teenager at the same time I met my mother's sister and my biological maternal, grandmother, Mary. My wife, Carol, and I got to know Aunt Bee well when we were young adults living in Los Angeles. She was very kind to us and cooked us many nice meals. She lost both of her legs in an airplane accident in the 1950s. The other passengers in the small plane were killed, and she was stranded in the Tehachapi Mountains in the dead of winter for days before she was discovered by a search and rescue crew. The family lore is that they made a movie based on the incident. She got along just fine on two prosthetic legs, even to the point of being able to dance quite well. She was a devout Christian and spent a lot of time unsuccessfully trying to convert me, providing me with various books that were largely silly. The only one that was somewhat worthwhile was C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which, while mostly preposterous in its conclusions, was nonetheless well written and at times quite moving.
My mother's biological mother, Mary Hemmert, was a chorus girl who hoped to become a movie star. She gave my mother (and her sister and brother) away as an infant when she ran off to Hollywood. My mother was raised by her adopted mother, Maude Shauman, who was in her late forties when she took my mother in, a grandmother's age by the standards of the day. My mom did not meet her biological sister until she met her mother, though they had exchanged letters as young adults, one of which I still have, and she never met her brother, who, I was told, was mentally disabled, and whose twin died shortly after childbirth. Many years later he would write my mother from Florida. I recall reading the letter and it did seem as though he might have been a little slow, but certainly not completely incapacitated, having had the ability to write a letter. My mother talked to him on the phone once or twice. I well remember Mary, my grandmother, driving up to our ranch-style, tract house in Westminster, California in her new convertible Mustang accompanied by her two poodles for our very first meeting. This was in 1965 when I was 13 and my mother was in her mid-thirties. She had not seen her biological mother since she was an infant. Mary was quite flamboyant and, in retrospect, I can see many similarities in both personality and physical mannerisms to my mother, though they were never together more than a few times. Mary would later commit suicide by shooting herself, an unusual way for women to commit suicide, I have heard, the prefered method being less violent by overdosing. She was in her early 60s. I don't know what precipitated it: a depression, knowledge of a serious illness, or just dissatisfaction with the way her life had gone. Her husband at the time was a man they called Dutch, and he worked in the film industry designing sets. She was not a very warm person, I do recall, and I had the impression she did not care for me. She did dote on one of my cousins, Joe, who was my mother's sister's boy. We were about the same age. He got into a lot of trouble as a youth and he died quite young. He and I got along fine and I in fact rather liked him. Had we not lived quite a ways from one another, we probably would have gotten into trouble together. Jeannine had several more boys younger than me. I did not keep in touch with them, but I heard that they all did very well both family and career-wise.
My maternal grandfather, Maurice Haines, was involved with organized crime back in the 1930s, and he served time in prison in Indiana for several years. Mother used to tell me he was responsible for inventing the smoke screen used on automobiles to evade the police. It seems unlikely to me that he invented it. He was a mechanic for a time, I do know that, for he is listed as such on several official records. In any case, my mother corresponded with him while he was in prison when she was a teenager, and she eventually met him in her late teens. I have read a letter that he wrote to her while in prison, and I have several letters he wrote to her when she was a young woman. It was clear he adored her and wanted to have a relationship with her. He would eventually marry a nice woman named Helen, whom I met several times. He was apparently intellectually gifted, at least, according to what my mother told me that the prison warden told her. He told her that he had a very high IQ. I first met him as an infant, but my first memory of him was when we were visiting Chicago, I was probably about 10, and saw him two or three other times when he came to visit in California. He was very handsome and charming, and he gave me a silver and gold, western belt buckle, which I have to this day.
By all accounts, I was a happy, extroverted child, indeed, a bit of a show-off who very much enjoyed being the center of attention. I was apparently very talkative, physically active, and I loved to explore on my own, so my mother would put me on a halter leash when I was a toddler to keep me at hand when we were on shopping excursions and such. I have a vague recollection of this when we flew to Indiana in the early 1950s. Apparently, one of my favorite pastimes was to memorize the years, makes, and models of cars and point them out as we travelled about town. I do remember frequent visits with my Sproull grandparents in Long Beach. I could find the street they lived on, Fashion Avenue, today ... it was not far from the then new Long Beach freeway. There was an A&P market within walking distance that my grandmother and I would sometimes visit, which was always a big treat for me. My grandmother never learned to drive, and so she was a frequent user of the city bus system. The bus stop was only a couple of blocks away and she sometimes took me on a ride downtown to one of the big department stores or the library and park where we'd feed the pigeons. It was a very special treat when my grandfather would drive us to the big chicken pie restaurant in downtown Long Beach. The restaurant had a giant chicken on it. Years later, Carol and I would go there, too.
My great-grandmother, Dolly Ward, gave my father a part of a section of her farm acreage, the land that she inherited from her sister, Mrs. Sprinkle, which he promptly sold, using the proceeds to buy a small tavern on the island. His sale of the property shocked family members, especially my great-grandmother, who wanted him to keep it for the farm income and for his progeny. I recall that the bar had a parachute draped across the ceiling, and that the place reeked of a boozy stench. The business was not a success, apparently, and he didn't keep it for very long, returning in due course to the insurance business. Years later my mother and I returned to the location on Balboa and it had been converted into a restaurant.
In my early years, I spent a considerable amount of time with my paternal grandparents on the weekends. As I said earlier, Noble worked as a newspaper editor and publisher (along with his brother, Virgil) and later as an executive for Kaiser industries. He also dabbled in real estate and co-owned a parking lot facility in Long Beach for a time. Some of my fondest memories are of the time we spent reading together in his home library, a converted bedroom, as he puffed away on his pipe, often with a book by Zane Grey or Earl Stanley Gardner in hand. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack when I was only 10, so I never knew him as would have liked. My mother always thought highly of him and spoke of him often. I remember that he drove an old Studebaker, the kind with the cone-like grill in front, and that he was an especially slow and cautious driver. He loved music, and he played Bing Crosby and George Gershwin records often. One time, in fact, I attended a concert with pianist Oscar Levant at the Hollywood Bowl with him and my grandmother. The concert featured Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue ... Levant was one of Gershwin's closest friends, and I believe that he was the first to perform it publicly years before. My grandfather also loved westerns on television, and I looked forward to several of them, especially Rawhide, featuring a young Clint Eastwood, and Gunsmoke.
On my visits to my grandparents, my grandmother adored and lavished me with attention. She was very kind and loved to play children's tunes on her spinet piano for me, where I'd sit along side her and sing along. I remember teasing her by hiding from her and causing her some stress as she looked all over the house for me. She seeed to be a nervous and high-strung person. I to this day have an old electric, miniature grandfather clock that my grandfather bought her as an anniversary present, probably close to a hundred years ago when they were first married. It is the very same clock that made a noise that comforted me as I would fall asleep on the couch in their living room, which is where I'd stay as a boy. In recent years we had to have the original works replaced and it is now battery driven, but the original casing is in respectable shape. It is the only thing I have of theirs.
I opted for more thoroughgoing juvenile delinquency when we moved up north to Campbell, California, a small suburb outside of San Jose in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966. I went downhill quickly at that point. There's not much in the petty crime arena that I didn't try. But things turned more serious when my friend Skip and I robbed a donut shop (I was the lookout, he was the robber... no gun, mind you, he faked it... with a face mask) when I was 15. He was apprehended while running away, and he later told the police about me, and they showed up and arrested me at my parent's house later that night. I spent several months in juvenile hall and, thankfully, after a year of probation, my record was expunged or I never would have received my security clearances in the Army. Oh, and I also stole a car, hubcaps, stereos, credit cards, gas, and shoplifted, among my other delinquent activities in this phase of my life. My time under incarceration for the robbery was a transformative event for me. I was lonely and scared, and I vowed then to never return to such a place and to fly straight and narrow.
Carol is the most straightforward and unpretentious person I have ever known. She is devoid of guile and duplicity. What you see is what you get, one never has to wonder what she thinks, because she will surely tell you if you ask. She is incapable of dissembling. What is more, she is fiercely loyal and will go to the ends of the earth for a friend or loved one. She is the strongest and most reliable person I have ever known. Like any relationship, Carol and I have had our ups and downs and things to work through over the years. Marriage takes work, but it has many rewards, and in time, given the effort, the partnership becomes an essential part of one's existence. Today we are hand-in-glove and can finish one another's sentences. I am most comfortable when I know she is nearby, knowing that when I call out and she will answer. When she is gone for long periods, I am anxious. I am completely dependent on her now, and she and I are inextricably tied to one another. She is indispensible to me, as I think I am I to her, and I live a life of utter contentment with her. I have not always been the best husband, but I have not been the worst, either, and now after many years, I think I can say I have learned to be the kind of companion and partner that she deserves. We have been together now for over 40 years, and from my perspective, life without her is unimaginable. She is my best friend, and she is the person upon whom I know I can rely through thick and thin. And I love her with all my heart.
While I have grown very suspicious of business enterprise, and I do not see all businesses as inherently efficient or good, I hasten to add, here, that the average leftist intellectual promoting Fabian-style syndicalism, with decentralized units of production owned by the workers or the state. with democratic control in the workplace, has absolutely no conception of how organizations or people in groups work and interact. This quite aside from the left's opprobrium for profit-making and competition, both views being strongly rooted in biases that developed over the centuries with the influence of Platonism and the Christian ethos.
I started with White Crane kung fu, but in later in life I took up the Wing Chun school, a species taught by famed grandmaster Ip Man, whose student was the martial artists and actor, Bruce Li. I willed myself through teaching my last couple of private students such that it was not obvious to them, but it was clear to me that I was no longer up to the task of sparring. I started to bruise and bleed easily all over, especially on my arms, in part due to age, but also because of blood thinning medicine. My balance was always very good until recently, so perhaps I have taken too many blows to the head. I was a firm believer in sparring as a pedagogical method. It is important for a number of reasons, obviously to learn to apply the various forms and maintain the all-important Wing Chun structure in real-life situations, but it also is essential that one learn to accept and give pain ... we do not inflict death blows or excruciating pain, mind you, but just enough force to learn not to fear giving it or receiving it. It is vital for students to have the confidence that comes from it. It will surprise many to know that giving pain is nearly as difficult for most as receiving it. It is not natural for normal humans to want to inflict pain. Overcoming both fears is important. One of my former students was a boxer, and a good one. But he had to unlearn everything he had been taught, for boxing is a sport, not real fighting. The structure and stance are all wrong as is the punching habits that are geared for wearing large gloves. Moreover, gloves do not give the correct feel for receiving or giving pain.