Mario Pechetti Manetti and Stanford Steinbeck

A fella came in to Buck’s one evening and I stopped by his table to say hello. He was a man “of an age’ and the first thing he said was, “Did you tie that tie?”

I had on some comic tie hanging from my typically comic shirt. “I did tie this tie,” I answered.

The man took me be the hand and said, “Well, that, is a well tied tie. I like a man who knows how to tie a tie.” With this huge economy of language I was sold. We got to discussing the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. My new friend had been there. I mentioned the Pan Pacific, which was the fair in San Francisco which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. He remembered being there as well and he described some of the installations such as a working Model T Ford assembly line and the kids rides. I asked him where he came from and said Hollister, California. This fellow had to be in his mid 90’s and with the Hollister connection I asked him if he had ever met John Steinbeck. He said he had met the man.

I then thought to introduce myself and I asked his name. “I’m Stanford Steinbeck,” he said.

“So, you did know John Steinbeck, then, eh?”

“Oh, yes. He was my cousin. We grew up together.” This grand character was fooling with me. I like that. Stanford’s mother was in the first class which admitted women and he was named for that fact. Stanford had been an oil wildcatter in his day and although he might not be able to scurry up a drill rig today I could see that he was the quintessential 20th Century Californian. When he was a kid you cranked cars and phones and movie cameras to get them to run and he has shared these memories with me as well as the interesting things which have happened last week. I got to know Stanford better as he would with come by with some frequency.

A few months later Mario came in. Mario asked me if I would consider carrying his wine. He sat down with me and I explained that we never change the wine list because it is sort of fixed in time and since I don’t drink I can’t even taste it. Mario Pechetti Manetti shot out his cuffs smoothly and I saw monogrammed cufflinks emerging from his impeccable suit. In about 30 seconds I decided that it would be an excellent idea to carry his wine because of his tremendous personal magnetism. Mario has been in the wine business for 90 years. His father had little Mario jumping around on grapes for 10 cents a day at the age of four. He says that his feet are still red. I soon discovered that Mario had been around the area for his entire life and that he had gone to Stanford. I thought, hum.. “So Mario, do you remember a fella named Stanford Steinbeck?”

He looked at me with interest. “Certainly, I remember him. He was the student body president in 1930. Stanford was what we called a BMOC (Big Man On Campus) and everyone knew Stanford.”

I said, “Well I know him too, he lives right down the street.”

Mario looked at me and thought, “Now isn’t that something, I haven’t seen Stanford, in. 73 years. Then there they were at lunch, 189 years between them. It seems that Mario was also a legacy and his father went to school with Stanford’s mother. Back in the 1890’s Mario’s father was part of the four-man relay on the Stanford track team. As a gag someone handed him an axe instead of a baton and he quickly handed it off to the Cal runner. With this began a tradition, which still endures, that he winner of The Big Game (the Cal Berkeley /Stanford football game) possess the axe for the coming year.

We discussed matters deep and shallow. I asked them if they recalled ever seeing the great airship Macon. The Macon was over 4 times larger than the Goodyear blimp and anyone who ever saw it during its short life remembers it. Stanford said he had seen dirigibles but the only one which stuck with him was when he was in New Jersey and saw the Hindenburg go down in 1937. “Stanford, ” I asked. “you were there for the Hindenburg?’

“Oh, yes” he said.

Stanford pulled gently at the leaves of his artichoke and said to Mario, “You know you married the prettiest girl at Stanford.”

Mario looked at Stanford and down at his quesadilla said, “Yes, and she was also the smartest.”

As they left I looked out the window as they slowly made their way across the parking lot to Mario’s car. Two old friends meeting once again. When you get to be “of an age” so much has happened and it could look a life of lose but it is clear that these two continue to make new friends and that is their secret.