pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: California's a little less gold

09 January 2013

California's a little less gold

Not infrequently, we, along with the spouse's family, celebrate special occasions at the spouse's and his father's alma mater. The school has a lovely private club--we held our wedding reception there--and it usually offers Sunday brunch at the holidays. It's elegant without being overly stuffy, an interesting combination of old Pasadena and old science, and the food is relatively good.

So that was the scene. Christmas brunch, a number of years ago.

I had the son--all of 7 years old--in hand, and he was making a bee line for the large and attractive display at the end of a long row of buffet tables. It was an ice sculpture festooned with enormous shrimp and crab legs,  a seafood delight the boy was not going to pass up. Because I'd rather my children return to the buffet 1,000 times instead of taking 1,000 items and wasting 998, I'd given the son a firm number. He was allowed to take a half dozen shrimp and two crab legs, and once those had been consumed, I'd consider allowing a return visit. So, there he was, resplendent in his boy-sized navy blazer, white dress shirt, tie and khakis, carefully balancing the large plate while he consider the display. I stood a little way off to supervise but not hover.

As the boy began to carefully fill his plate, a tall and handsome man, middle-aged but well-built, resplendent in his navy blazer, dress shirt, tie and khakis, came around from the other side of the buffet. Rather than immediately delve into the food, he stopped to watch the son who was quietly counting out his allotment. And he continued to watch as the son proceeded methodically, careful not to spill. Finally the man couldn't contain himself any longer, and he asked the son in a friendly and amused way, "Are you really going to eat all that shrimp and crab?"

"Yes, thank you," said the son solemnly. "It's my favorite."

"You must really like seafood!" the man exclaimed.

"He would eat his weight in shrimp if allowed," I told him while the son nodded vigorously.

And Huell Howser, the man in question, laughed out loud.


Huell Howser certainly seemed to be one of the good guys. Monday night, hours after we learned of his passing, tributes to him poured in, and many, many of the people who wrote about him wrote that they felt like they'd lost a member of their family.

If you don't live in Southern California, and if you never watched KCET or one of the other So Cal PBS affiliates, you probably have no idea who I'm talking about. In our family, Huell was affectionately known as "the mudpot man." And we called him that because the mudpot episode of his television show California's Gold happened to be the first one that we saw. We watched him talk about the mudpots out in the desert. He was thrilled and excited. We were charmed. Watching his shows became habit.

You can read about Huell in the LA Times or any of the other local papers, so there's not much point in duplicating what's already been said. Some people thought he was corny, that his unbridled (and unrelenting) enthusiasm was an act; frankly, we thought he was hilarious in the best way possible, and his endless (and unrelenting) curiosity mirrored our own, so his shows were always a pleasure to watch. And we knew from experience that his pleasant personality and interest in everything--including how much shrimp a small boy could consume if a small boy were to consume shrimp--were quite genuine.

I do, in fact, have a photo from that day, though I was not the person who took it.

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