Remembering Huell Howser

A little bit of California passed away Sunday night with the death of Huell Howser, the everyman who taught us many things about our Golden State.

Howser’s genius was his enthusiasm for life, zest for adventure and his ability to connect with people.

It didn’t matter if he was interviewing someone for his “California’s Gold” PBS television series or if you were watching the show from your living-room couch, you felt the connection.

Howser was corny, yes. But he was real. And, in a time of slick television often shaped by market research and technology. it was refreshing to see a man and his microphone searching California’s nooks and crannies for regular folks and interesting stories.

Who couldn’t relate to Huell?

He admitted he was out of breath climbing stairs to a lighthouse. He got spooked while kayaking through coastal caves. He was a big, strong Tennessee-born Marine who loved life and people, as well as California’s natural and man-made wonders.

For a Baby Boomer like me, “California’s Gold” rekindled memories of simpler times. Watching the show was like taking a family vacation in the 1960s — the kids all packed into a car, and Dad telling us what sights to watch for.

Comedians made fun of Howser. I did, too, especially his habit of repeating information gleaned from a person into the very next question.

But imitating Howser and his dawdling interviews was, as they say, a form of flattery and expression of our approval.

He worked his way into our hearts one episode and mile at a time, all the while teaching us about California, its places and its people.

All together now, let’s honor him by saying, “That’s amazing!”

Ken Burns’ lastest documentary: ‘The Dust Bowl’

The award-winning film maker Ken Burns has put together a four-hour documentary called “The Dust Bowl.” It will run on the Valley PBS station Nov. 18 and 19 beginning at 8 p.m. each night. I have a personal interest in the subject because my family has Dust Bowl roots, fleeing Oklahoma in the early 1930s to seek the California Dream.

My grandparents, and their children, including my father, headed for California looking for work and a better life. It was a difficult trip west, but they finally reached the California border looking for work. They picked crops in the San Joaquin Valley — mostly cotton — and lived in farm labor camps along the way. They faced hostility and prejudice at a time when “Okie” was a term said with great anger by those looking at these new immigrants to California. The family rule was to ignore the insults and prove you belonged by making your own way.

My family eventually ended up in Fresno and later found work in the construction industry. My grandparents and my father instilled an ethic of hard work — you make your own opportunities by working hard. They didn’t have much, but it was deeply appreciated. That philosophy has guided me from the days I picked grapes and cantaloupes to make summer spending money, through dozens of fast-food jobs in high school, and finally finding a career in the newspaper business. I have been blessed with opportunities, and I’m thankful for a family that lead the way from Shawnee, Oklahoma.

I’m looking forward to Ken Burns’ history of the Dust Bowl. It’s good to be reminded of where you came from. Sometimes we forget what it took for our parents and grandparents to allow us to have so much today. Here’s ValleyPBS’ description of the program:

“The Storm is coming! This Sunday night tune in to watch The Dust Bowl. It is the newest film from award winning director, Ken Burns. The Dust Bowl is a two-part, four-hour documentary chronicling the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history in which the actions of thousands of individual farmers, encouraged by their government and influenced by global markets, resulted in a collective tragedy that nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation.

“The decade-long natural catastrophe of Biblical proportions encompassed 100 million acres in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. During this time, the skies withheld their rains, plagues of grasshoppers descended on parched fields, bewildered families huddled in dark rooms while angry winds shook their homes and pillars of dust choked out the midday sun.

“In this documentary hear the compelling stories of 26 survivors sharing what will likely be the last recorded testimony of a generation that lived through the Dust Bowl. You’ll also see rare film footage and previously unpublished photographs.

“Experience the magnitude of this ecological disaster. Tune in to watch The Dust Bowl, Sunday and Monday starting at 8 p.m. only on ValleyPBS.”