Stanford; Stanford Axe; Cal Stanford Big Game; The 21

A Last Big Game

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The  Melba Notebooks* chapter X

11/20/97 8:10 AM Sophie: Dad called this morning at 7:00.  Told me he was going to go to California. Left orders of things he needs done. WOW!  He says Di is going to “put in a few extra hours.”  Called left message.  Dot must have just about driven off the road when she got her call. Mother in chair- couldn’t answer phone when I called. Took her cordless.  Di not here yet. Dot can come tonight if needed.

Dot: 10:10 PM Can you believe the absurdity of this?   When I got here Mom was sitting in Chair & her walker was in kitchen- so she absolutely would not get up from the chair- Very safe, Dad!  I’m here for the night but am off to work at 7:30 AM.  Hope all goes well Friday. I’ll be back for the night  Fri. 10:00.  Mom got up when I went to say goodbye.  Gave her 2 aspirin to see if that might help her Stiffness.

Sophie: 10:25  PM Well. Dad’s in CA to see Dr Stamey and go to the Cal Stanford game.  Friday he will see the Dr.  Sat he will go to the game.  Sunday he will fly home.

Li or Di here at 10:00

S will visit at 1:00

Dot back at 4:30

Melba ate breakfast.

Dot: 11:00 PM Went out for dinner- the wheel chair cart makes it easier. Watched “Sling Blade” with Ni.  I told Mom I’d be leaving before she gets up (7 AM) but she keeps forgetting.  I think she’ll be fine- She does keep thinking that Dad should be home any minute.  Clothes for tomorrow are on the bed.  I turned heat on at 7 AM when I left

11/21/1997  7:30 AM Di: Call from Jeff at SF newspaper re:  AX story.  He will call back.

The newspaper calls are the first Di hears of the Ax or that Bob is going to the “Big Game” between Stanford and U C Berkeley. I’m to meet him at the Oakland airport at 6:45 PM on the 20th to take him to his appointment with Dr. Stamey on Friday the 21st, and to the Big Game Saturday 22nd.  We had last gone two years before.  This time Bob didn’t mention, or didn’t fully realize he would take part in the 100th anniversary celebration of the Big Game. He is one of only four surviving members of the storied “21”,  Stanford students who in 1930 recaptured the Stanford  Axe  from U C Berkeley in a caper that amounted to a bank robbery. Bob had ended up with the axe head under his sweater after the robbery.


11/22/97 10:00 AM Di: Melba confused about Bob.  Ate about 2 waffles-cantalope, hot dog. Dryer not done. Clothes in washer also. She seemed lonesome followed me and talked.

11:20 AM Upset some- Wants to know why Dad has not called her.

1:30 PM: Sign (Another one in living room and bathroom.)

A sign is hardly transcendental in the ordinary sense of the word. But here it’s evidence Melba has been unable to reach the toilet in time; a sign that she was mortified and tried desperately to hide the mess. 1:30 PM this day, when the sign appears, is just shortly after the start of  the 100th Big Game, i 900 miles away.  

11/22/1997   6:30 PM, Stanford  Ja: ( From Ja’s journal rather than the notebooks.) 

We arrive without any problem despite the traffic, are directed to a privileged lane, skirting the parking area crowded with tail gate acolytes and RV-ers who congregate biannually for several days to worship the past, drown the present in alcohol, calories and dubious memories.   Thanks to Bob’s exalted status we we’re directed to reserved parking close to the stadium entrance, then escorted to the privileged seats reserved for survivors of the ’21’.

At halftime the bands perform first. The Cal marching band is no doubt among the finest in the country, elegantly attired, performing faultless formations and music. The Stanford band, whether fearful of competition or hoping to refute their image of rich spoiled kids, fields a ragged crew of people in a variety of dress/ undress who play marches passably, and are as shocking and vulgar  permitted.

The Big Game Centennial ceremony lasts about 40 minutes, for which the Stanford team was assessed a delay of game penalty declined by Cal.  After fireworks and more band antics, fly-overs in biplanes, and a performance by the navy seals parachute team, the history of the big game and the axe is recounted at some length. Then the three 21 survivors are paraded around the field in a golf cart and deposited on an Olympic style platform at mid field to the ovation of the spectators.

Bob admits the day has been OK, except he was taken from his seat just before half time, and missed about 10 minutes of the game due to a delay returning! Stanford wins this year and I feel very fortunate to be with dad for his last Big Game. In the old photo below, Bob, somberly handsome, is in the back row second from right.  

Involvement with the axe was a family matter. It was originally stolen from the custody of Bob’s uncle Leon at the second Stanford Cal baseball game, in 1897.  He became a linguist, a poet, an artist, and an Art and English teacher who always shaved his head after serving with US Army Intelligence  in Turkey during WWI.



* Five spiral bound Melba Notebooks, dated from 1995 to 2002, contain the hand written entries of numerous caregivers and family who make it possible for this couple, whose lives spanned the entire last century, to live in their home until their ashes are scattered in places meaningful to them. The notebook entries were the way caregivers communicated with one another, not only to help Bob and Melba to avoid nursing home care, but to shelter Melba from the idiosyncrasies of her difficult and beloved husband Bob.  This scene is adapted from one of the hundreds of episodes recorded therein.  The Notebooks tell, often in moving or hilarious terms, of getting old and dying; of being a child or a caregiver to the very aged whose death approaches.  Names and places are altered, but the voices are genuine. Italics are the author’s comments.