Huell Howser: Nothing Gold Can Stay
Huell Howser died this week. Calfornia’s Gold is gone. I feel like I need someone to bring me hot tea while I watch tv under a blanket and try to recover.
I never met Mr. Howser. I never saw him do his show. I hadn’t even gotten around to playing the drinking game that affectionately mocks his enthusiastic phrases:
The longer this sad, startling news settles in, the more I wonder why it elicits such a sympathetic reaction in someone not remotely connected to the man, other than a shared passion for the state of California. As a matter of fact, I started out mocking Howser, myself.
I was in my twenties, living with my grandmother, licking my wounds after an ill-fated romance. Watching Huell Howser was a ritual. Every weeknight around five, with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, there my grandma sat. Reading the paper, watching tv, and taking a moment before starting dinner. Evening. A solid, pleasant transition from day to night.
I would join her because I liked to be with her. She is fun. She is kind. She’s a great sport and surprisingly up for anything. She offers a healthy stock of opinions, asked for or not, and has the rare delivery of a cheeky diplomat. With dimples. She’s a cute old lady, and she gets away with a lot…like watching oddly enthusiastic television hosts talk about rocks.
My grandfather had passed away several years earlier and my grandma’s dimples, blue eyes, and openness to life weren’t on the market long. While I lived with her, I loved watching her and her new companion, Al, enjoy their ten year run at a second young adulthood. They traveled, had cocktails in the patio, made bawdy jokes (Al), hummed (Grandma), and took RV trips all over the west – in their 80’s. Al even began to join us for the evening viewing of the sunset and California’s Gold. The ritual expanded.
As the years wore on, I moved on, but I still caught California’s Gold now and then. Boyfriends who were privileged enough to be trusted with my deepest secret, would make fun. As well they should. I did, too. But I also began to enjoy learning about folks in small towns, obscure history, and the natural lay of our California land.
The boys came and went, but Huell was always the same. He never changed. His delivery was so consistent I wasn’t sure until I read the reports this week if the shows I now record are reruns or new. The production value, the fashions, and the expressions (“Well, this is an adventure in ITSELF!”) remained the same. Familiar. Cheerful. A little kooky. And comforting.
I will miss Huell. Not just for the connection to my grandmother. Not just for his shows. I will miss knowing he’s out there, grinning, finding crazy things to get excited about (“is that SALT?”), casting the limelight on the unlikeliest of characters. He was so earnest, you couldn’t help but get on his side.
Cute Banker suggested we finally play a round of the Huell Howser drinking game in his honor. I don’t know his friends or his family, so it’s all I can do. It will be bittersweet. But I’m sure it will literally be amazin’! As was Huell.
Rest in peace, friend I never met. California won’t be the same without you, nor would it be the same, had you never lived.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.