When You’re Smiling: Part 1

By Tim Henney
Reader Contriabutor

It’s difficult to describe how powerful several bulging bookcases of vinyl, long-play records have been in shaping my life.

A 1956 Cal-Berkeley co-ed has been central to this feeling of oomph and optimism, as have three kids, four grandchildren, books and many memorable dogs. But vinyls have run a tight second. Some of the musicians in my library are ancient. Marlene Dietrich, Al Jolson, Scott Joplin, Eddie Cantor, the Boswell Sisters, Rudy Vallee, Mae West, Bessie Smith, Ted Lewis Lee Wiley. (Anyone who can ID Lee Wiley without googling receives a free Reader). To those who think, “This guy’s a dinosaur,” the LP collection includes such current pop stars as The Ink Spots, Tommy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, The King Cole Trio, Peggy Lee and the Mills Brothers. Always on the cutting edge, I also collect promising yet-to-be-discovered talents: Neil Young, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, The Supremes, Willie Nelson and Peter Paul & Mary.

Equally essential to the good life are Sandpoint people who bust out in a smile when you see them. My 1957 bride and I have lived in 13 homes, from Lloyd Harbor, N.Y., to Palos Verdes, Calif., and I don’t remember people anywhere seeming as happy as they seem in Sandpoint. Some hold multiple jobs so they can stay. Is it the lake? The library? Schweitzer? Our vibrant creative culture? The restaurants? All of the above – and certainly our enviable public schools and their under-appreciated teachers.

After three corporate decades and a couple more of post-retirement non-profit service elsewhere, networking and lengthy meetings lose their luster. Been there, done that. But my bride and I do buy groceries, dine out frequently and see people. Having grown up before malls and box stores, we feel a warmer kinship with traditional downtowns and family businesses than with the mass-oriented Amazons and Walmarts that have so warped society. No impersonal behemoths for us if we can accomplish our shopping at locally-owned businesses. When we jabber with folks we meet in such places, or in the post office or bank, it’s a party. What follows is a tip of the turban to them. A pairing of happy pop tunes from treasured vinyl recordings with Sandpoint citizens who, in pursuing their daily chores, dispense cheer:

It’s breakfast time, so I order a bagel and lox from Julia at Pine Street Bakery. Julia’s smile is so authentic I find myself humming the Irving Berlin classic from “Annie Get Your Gun”: “Got no mansion, got no yacht, still I’m happy with what I got, I Got The Sun In The Morning And The Moon At Night.” Maybe Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is even better. But as I tuck into  this memory-jogging slice of old New York my thoughts are of “Blue days, all of them gone. Nothing but Blue Skies from now on.” One of my favorite businesses is right next door. Payton’s ear-to-ear grin as one walks into the Paint Bucket tempts one to order a gallon even though one has nothing needing paint. Payton has strong role models in his upbeat bosses, owners Liz and Harold. An abundance of positive vibes here. I pair Payton with “A Cockeyed Optimist,” from Broadway’s “South Pacific.” “Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella” comes to mind, too. But this epic musical ode earns the final salute: “Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep, just direct your feet, to The Sunny Side Of The Street.”

Inspired, I cross the street to consult with Dee and Jim Z. at broker D.A. Davidson. Budding financial mogul Dan happily greets me at the door with a mug of boutique java from their  intimidating office coffee maker. Dan is so welcoming that I almost burst forth in imitation of vocalist Billy Eckstine’s “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries, so live and laugh at it all.” On second thought, that could be considered irresponsible for a tycoon-to-be, so I depart with this tune bouncing around in my head: “You’ve got to Accentuate The Positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative…”. Johnny Mercer, Jo Stafford and every other 1940s singer sang it.

Next stop is Winter Ridge market. Two things of note occur here this morning. First, employee Kim hugs me right there in the gluten-free granola aisle. Kim and I were fellow trustees on the library board. We are proud to have had a hand in promoting Ann Nichols to head that esteemed institution when the director job opened a few years back. Loaded up with bone broth and organic wine at checkout, I am greeted by cashier Susie. She commutes from Bayview and makes customers feel fortunate and wise just to be at Winter Ridge. Susie says she is moving into a float house on the lake. Although I often sailed past those water-born dwellings years ago in a sloop moored in Bayview, I never thought people actually lived in them. (I mean, what if they sprung a leak when you were sleeping?). In tribute to Kim and Susie I dedicate this Rosemary Clooney recording of  “It’s A Lovely Day Today, so whatever you’ve got to do, you’ve got a lovely day for doing it, that’s true.” But Roll Out The Barrel would also fit: “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun, roll out the barrel, we’ve got the blues on the run.”

I wind up the morning joining knights of the round table Michael, Marty, Steve, Erik, Bob and their buddies at Tango Cafe. No Trump-base simpletons here. As luck would have it, Tango staffer Trish and her colleagues are in Halloween costumes. That’s because it’s Halloween. Merry pranksters on parade and their joie de vivre is contagious. Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here leaps to mind. “What the heck do we care, what the heck do we care.” Or how about “Happy Days Are Here Again, the skies above are blue again.” That works, too. Back in FDR’s era, long before Mitch Miller recorded it, that rousing anthem was adopted by the Democrats. But that was then.

Beginning in 1951 the author edited an Air Force base newspaper in Georgia, a college newspaper in California, and corporate publications in New York before retiring in 1986 as director of public relations of the original AT & T, parent company of the former Bell Telephone System, the world’s largest corporation at that time.

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