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Meet Harold: Keeping memories bright

Posted March 2, 2013

MOWSF Blog | Senior Stories

In a small striped photo album on his living room shelf, Harold S., age 83, keeps a sample of some of his favorite photos. There’s a picture of him as a boy proudly sitting atop a pony, photos from his many fishing expeditions and, of course, pictures of he and his late wife, Sally. Nestled amongst them is a copy of the hotel receipt from their honeymoon night. On Aug. 16, 1952, he and Sally, who both grew up in San Francisco, were married at the home of a friend. They spent the first night of their married life at the legendary Fairmont Hotel, where the bill upon checkout was $14.61.

Harold and Sally’s wedding portrait is displayed proudly on a stand in the corner of the living room where he and his dog Pacco spend much of their time. Though Sally passed away in 2006, her presence can still be felt throughout the home.  “Sometimes I still talk to her,” says Harold. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, Sally, look at this,’ and then it dawns on me she’s gone.”  Tharold-2he two were married for 54 years.

Harold grew up in the Mission District, just below Bernal Heights. For 30 years he worked at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s San Francisco shipyard — primarily in the company’s fire department. He’d accompany the welders onto oil tankers, passenger liners and the like, ready to put out any fires caused by the flying sparks. Harold was also an avid fisherman and a hunter, downing wild pigs, deer and even bears.

These days his mobility issues keep him from many of his former pursuits, though a neighbor still takes him trout fishing. Both knees have been replaced, his hands shake and he walks with a cane. After his left knee gave out entirely, it was replaced with a metal rod.  He walks unsteadily, using a cane, and can no longer drive his van. Harold has been a MOWSF client since 2009, when he heard about the organization from a friend. And, after a MOWSF social worker noticed the state of his old microwave, she ordered him a replacement.

Harold and Sally weren’t able to have children. But in 1970, he says, they did unofficially adopt a 19-year-old “kid.” Sally had met Kenneth Ortega backstage while he was working on a San Francisco production of “Hair.” Kenneth went on to become a famous choreographer, director and producer, working with iconic stars like Michael Jackson, creating dances for films like “Dirty Dancing,”  and eventually directing Disney movies.

“Sally brought him home and said, ‘Can we keep him?’,” Harold says. Though Kenny does have a family of his own, he often stayed with Harold and Sally while he was in town.  And, to this day, he still visits Harold, who has kept “Kenny’s room” intact. Every time one of Kenneth’s films is on TV, Harold watches it, faithfully — recording the event on a calendar he keeps beside his couch. “I’m so proud of him,” Harold says.

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