You know, growing up with a famous father isn’t all that you might think, as the oldest first born mail in a FAMILY rich with five girls and four boys. Grandfather, ABC Dohrmann, took what my great grandfather started, as an immigrant from Bohnert in Germany, to create the Dohrmann Hotel Supply firm, at the turn of this century and did a number of really great things. He grew DOHRMANN HOTEL SUPPLY into one of the world’s largest resort supply firms. Now owned by Holiday Inn as InKeeper Dohrmann. I grew up in that and our family retail business as Dad went into various forms of Training or business test phases. He in construction brought European Hydraulic dollies to America – and he imported the first go up with the building cranes from Germany which changed high rise construction. But mostly he was locked into the human potential industry from Michael Murphy and Estlan to Dr. Edward Demining and TQM process ending with his Course in Miracles modified to his own human potential class works…still going strong over 40 years later with PSI WORLD SEMINARS.
Grandfather was raising 12 children, two twins and some adopted children in his large San Francisco family. He helped rebuild the Saint Francis Hotel after the 1906 Earth Quake in San Francisco. He Contributed invested and served as Chairman for one of the larger department store chains in Western Markets the EMPOREUM STORES now merged and gone. He founded the Call Bulletin a larger Paper in San Francisco, that hired world famous Mark Twain until his death. They worked together with John Muir lobbying President Roosevelt to establish the NATIONAL PARK SERVICE and served on that board. He would later proudly usher Yosemite into the protection of the National Park service. He helped to build the Youwani Hotel in Yosemite Valley. In 2012 we hosted our family reunion in the Hotel with Grandfathers photo still hanging in that lobby with all the Dohrmann juniors of tomorrow’s generation getting to SEE the HISTORY.
Grandfather invested in cold storage, Western Airlines ( now merged ) and the growth of California in those days. It is to this prestigious wealthy family that went through the GREAT DEPRESSION as if it never even happened. It was in this family my famous father was born as a twin to his twin brother my uncle Jerry, who grew up and focused on his education truncated by the World War II and the United States Navy that he enlisted to.
Dad retired with honors and medals from the United States Navy to always retain his love of sailing and the SEA itself. He would race with my Uncle Joe, as far as Hawaii and south to Mexico and North to Alaska.
So Dad before World War II was the rich kid in the big car with the blanket over his legs, and home work on his lap, waiting for the driver to open the door, take the blanket, help him with his books, into Belmont the private school only the wealthy brats could afford. His twin Gerry too embarrassed by this routine would get out blocks away and walk himself to Belmont invisible and proud. Dad has a little Dohrmann chip on his shoulder Grandfather had put there.
This chip was washed away in the United States Navy and the action of World War II. Dad always wanted to be active in serving. Ultimately he earned his commander stripes, leaving the accelerated training camp at Treasure Island in San Francisco and leading a mine sweeper fleet. I always thought this duty was lame growing up so many years after the WAR. I was age 40 before others under Dad’s command met me, and told me, far from my Father, how Commander Dohrmann led the first vessels in to Okinawa and the one where those marines raised our flag, under the big r munitions rounds pounding and the Kamikaze planes diving directly into their vessels. Our troops could not support and come in until those mines were cleared. I then got real stories about why my Dad had all those medals, a fact he never ever talked about…not once not ever. Even when I asked he would start then tear up then put that box back on his shelf. Shacking his head. He said ..let it go B….just let it go for me.
So both the experience of accelerated training, and human potential forever changed Dad from WORLD WAR II but also the organizational theory of WAR ITESELF from the battle plan, to the execution where all battle plans fall completely apart and real leadership is born. He learned. He earned ( victory ) and he returned. Learn earn and return where his models for living life.
Piping his children to room inspection was not my favorite drill but there were so many from Navy discipline including KP that leaked over into our family of nine. My father loved the sea and even on his last journey he was gifted a last great sail vessel he would never board or sail, but just knowing he was CAPTAIN took him all across the wide sea to the Lord in style. His style. Navy Commander Dohrmann.
Anyway Grandfather, ABC Dohrmann was my father’s hero. He just loved him. His stories about his father were endless. The other uncles and aunts, there were 12 remember, made up the treasury of stories about Alpert Charles Bernhard Dohrmann, after whom I was named.
I come alone I’m sure unexpected. I believe but could never proved Dad “had” to marry my mother Marjorie a Liz Taylor look alike, which was not so hard to do at the time. Mom on that Feb 7th 1948 had a back ache after playing tennis. It was bad enough they took her into the doctor. He was washing his hands with his back to my mom, now six months pregnant, when he heard the water break. I was on the way just over three months premature.
In those days one did not survive at a weight under four pounds. I think they put me in a shoe box with a light called an incubator back then. I’m not sure. They did baptize me in that shoe box, so I was always Bernhard Dohrmann as they had to name me, versus Alpert Charles Bernhard and not being ABC was ok with ME !
They baptized me again at Saint Rafael’s Catholic Church in the same christening gown my father was Baptized in as family tradition. I still have the photo with my famous family, looking quite like a little girl. Mother said I was her precious baby and always as the first male in the family, loved me. As all the kids were step kids and I was her first children and I was a boy, I got away with murder. At least my brothers and sisters at the Family reunion in the National Park, all tell it that way. In fact they tease me pretty good. That is how I know their my family.
At age Four I took walks with a walking stick, down the open field past the LATH HOUSE, where the Boulders are from the book PERFECTION CAN BAD and down across the road, and far far up the trail into the dark woods and cover of the giant redwood forest. I would take these walks, by myself, or with a brother or two but they all got scared and so it was generally just me. At age five precisely, I came as I went further and further into these woods, over 1.5 miles from my home, to a giant fence. The fence was 12 feet high with huge spreads in its square rectangle wire meshing. Giant Green Painted fence posts, all square, and huge, pounded so deep and still over 12 feet high above ground, held the fence. The fence went up and down valleys and spanned a hard and garden of ten acres of land.
As I put my face to the gate, the enormous green gate I could see almost all of it. The gingerbread house that I was sure the witch and Hansel and Gretel were prisoners inside of. Surrounded by semi circular terrace after terrace of rock garden walls. There where countless path ways with leaves dirt moss and grass and concrete stepping stones that went between the row upon row of terraces. These circled the house and rose row after row, in uneven patterns for what seemed like forever. Orchids in fresh spring bloom stood up as “markers” here and there along the pattern of endless scents and colors, as if an Elf had magically created a sacred fairy garden for the Elf King and Queen to use.
All the many hundreds of garden were populated by over 2000 rose bushes. The ground cover was impossible accents from Sweet Williams to flowing vines. The entire garden was drowning in colorful petals all along the walk ways and lifted by gentle breezes to swirl in the air. How magical is THAT for a five year old? I just could not believe it. I stood there and watched for an hour. I was far too scared to approach the witch throne by myself so I turned with my walking stick, and making very certain to touch only specific redwood trees to negate and cancel the witches’ protection spells I just knew in 1953 – where everywhere around her garden.
Anyway within a few days I had my search party organized. We called it a posse for the light. So off we went. The search party were older boys, Doug Tobin from the neighborhood, and the infamous RICKY BROWN. Larry Bresenon was with us from the Piambo House, and there were others. Even one girl, Dory my best friend, blonde, older, taller and my pillar in times of fear.
Which was every day, hey I was five. Blonde myself with blue eyes others told me had magic inside.
As I topped the little knoll and went on the downhill side back to the enormous Fence line that cut the Redwoods like a huge green knife, I saw the little soldiers all with tiny hand on the fence looking through into the ALICE IN WONDERLAND garden. No one could believe it. Still they also believed the witch was watching back.
This of course could not stop Ricky Brown. For he was first to see the TREE FORT. Lodged far above the small cottage with its green roof covered in moss, and anchored by the three giant Redwoods we would come to call the CATHEDRALS. The tree house was a complete cottage duplicate ( I would later learn was built for the Witch’s niece’s and nephews when they visited ) and which would later inspire our own tree house. We nagged Dad until he built it for us. Running water, electricity and a small fridge but that was way later in 1957. When Dad got the 1957 Chevy we got the 2057 Tree Fort.
So Ricky opens the gate and in a rising whisper to rival the wind in the Redwoods, he takes his command troops down the farthest path to the tree fort. I was last to climb up those rope stairs with wooden planks, like a ship would throw over the side, and come into the little world. The tea china service the little tables and chairs, and the windows to peak out of, which is where we all came to be.
I had to stand on tippy toes to look out the windows and they were positioned for children, but age seven up not age five down. I peaked over.
From here I could see the entire Garden. I could see it swept past the Green Gingerbread House, stained dark red, with its green shudders and roof. The cottage was actually, one could see with telescope eyes from up here – surrounded by gardens in 360 degrees- going down down down over a half mile to the dirt road that led to the Boy Scout Camp far far away. Little wooden bridges cross deep ravines as the paths’ wound down below the Cabin and even outside the Giant Green Fence where the formal flowers all stopped and the wild nature of a theme park for God began.
But that was when things went wrong. As I remember it now, I was at the side window in the tree house. I was looking at the vegetable gardens. Dad had vegetable gardens and orchids in bloom, so that looked more like home to me. We all wondered where the children for whom this tree house was guilt where. Ricky kept staying they were Hansel and Gradual and they were locked inside the Cottage in a cage, which was not helping our mood. I was so small next to the larger two year older team mates even Dory who was 7.
That’s when the door to the cottage swung open. The huge panda like Spaniel some cross breed white and black and larger than most spaniels, as if a Newfoundland had been bred with a Spaniel leaped out parking in the green green pool of grass from the lawn in front of the cottage. Clearly the spaniel could see us.
When out came in a flowing Mumu dress, with a big broad brim hate, and an upturned broom , the Witch who stood in the warm sun on the porch at age 75 looking up as us with her long flowing gray hair falling out of her huge broad brim hat. She pounded that broom on the wooden wide porch, and I’ll never forget as if by magic the dog laid down and just stared as the barking stopped. She had said FLOWER STOP THAT YOU WILL SCARE THE CHILDREN.
She then put all her witchy spells and attention on us. I could feel the power of it as my skin shrank back and my eye sockets began to receive my eye balls for real. The entire command structure was breaking down for Ricky Brown. All the children gave a collective gasp.
The Witch, Alice Mahoney, sang to the children in her musical voice, Children you will hurt yourselves now come down from that tree house, its too dangerous to play in without adult supervision. She only pounded one time on the porch and I knew it to be a powerful spell from the witch in command of the sacred grounds between the fence. We are trapped. We would all die. I just knew it. She said, COME DOWN FROM THERE ARE ONCE NOW CHILDREN…band as the broom stick hit the porch deck BANG !
Well a gun firing could never have matched speed for Ricky Brown sliding down those rope stairs and running off the far trail to the gate with hits clang and clang as it spring loaded hinge shut closed behind Ricky’s butt fast retreating. I was surprised keeping my eyes on the Witch to prevent her from mounting the Broom though she seemed far to over weight and heavy to fly all the way up here – I was not going to be deceived as the magic here was powerful. My eyes were keeping her grounded.
When Clang, Clang, Clang, Clang, and as I turned for support, all my team, had vanished. They had followed Ricky Brown like a conga line in heat. I was on my own rapped by the most powerful Witch of Rosewood Gardens, cut off from the world, where Redwood leaves and tree’s would block out all my screams inside a never ending vortex of magic. Although such words were not used in 1953 my feeling was that I not following my tribe out the Clanging gate, knowing they would not stop until they got all the way home, or even know I was left behind, I KNEW that I was totally screwed.
Then it got so much worse. As I turned my little 5 year old eyes, back to the porch, the WITCH WAS GONE AND THE DOOR TO THE COTTAGE WAS INVITING AND OPEN. My heart started to beat so fast as I just knew, once inside that cottage I would be cooking on her huge Witch Kettle I could imagine was steaming inside with other Children long gone and turned into SOUP. I was next.
I started to shake. That’s when she came back out with a plateful of cookies. Warm and streaming. I could see the steam. She Held them high, CHILD ( Alice Mahoney sung her song of magic and spells ) I know your IN THERE. You’re the one with the walking stick. Keep that with you as it will always keep you safe. Now come down and get some cookies and I’ll get some cold milk to dip them in. Here CHILD WATCH they are not POISON, see and she SPUN ONE in the air like a Freezbie which was far from invented yet, and it sailed into the mouth of a giant Panda Dog, in mid air all legs off the ground snatching the cookie from the wind. After a doggie time to savor, there was the ruff ruff for more and another sailed in the air and FLOWER Grabbed another from the air.
The witch then said – I’ll let you throw the next ones Child now come down while I get the Milk. I give you my word you will be safe and I will walk you to a short cut home after we have our cookie time together. Cookie Time, that sounded so un-witch like thing to say, but I could fin no trick inside it , and she had made Witch Promise and witches I knew hated to promise as they could not under witch law break such a promise ever. Walt Disney told me this and I knew it was true if Uncle Walt had told me so….Dad always said Uncle Walt had a lifetime witches spell when he was my age and that he could never tell a lie. I believed my father from Age 4 to age 70 never wavering on that axiom of truth.
So seeing that the witch was inside getting Milk, I came down the tree fort stairs and began to wonder down the winding path ways, between rows and rows of thousands of roses, in full bloom, enshrined by wind swept rose petals, circling all around me as I walked. It was like I was magic here. Real magic. I put my hands out to touch those exotic petals and it was like they were telling me this was my real home.
I paused a block higher than the Ginger Bread house as the Witch returned with the tray of two glasses of ice cold milk. She said in the chairs and put the milk on the table in between, sinking in to the floral cushions with a whose of air from her own mouth. She pounded her sandaled feet down on the porch to quite the barking dog focused exclusively on eating me – as I got very small on the landing of concrete so the Flower could no longer see me.
Flower LIE DOWN or NO MORE COOKIES FOR YOU and the dog as if shot by an elephant gun, plopped down staring at me and his mommy, back and forth very rapidly, but in abject silence. Alice turned her hat up toward the landing and said,
Boy come down here this minute and sit in that chair. Your Milk will get warm and your cookies will get COLD, as she pulled the paper towel off the fresh plate of cookies laid out in patterns I could just see my tiny hands interrupting. HERE come throw this one to Flower and then another until she takes it from your hands and trusts you then loves you and Flower will protect you like she protects me. You’ll see. You will learn to ride on her back.
Flower raised her head which scared me but as she kept silent, helped by her moms clicking noises ( I assume meant no way Flower ) – one stair at a time until I was down at the porch and walking wide around the witch, as to her credit she never moved or looked at me, fixing her eyes on Flower, where I pulled myself up onto the adult chair and looked at the cookies.
Have on yourself boy. Which I did without further invitation and used the cold freezing milk chaser on that hot spring afternoon, to wash it all down with. Then I said my first words.
My name is Bernhard but my family calls me B. May I throw flower a cookie. Then came her large denture smile, and she just nodded. I took that cookie walked to the edge of the porch through it way high in the air and Flower leapt to catch it. I did two more. Then I walked off the porch with my arm out and the timid spaniel waddled over and slowly and gently took the cookie from my hand. I just stood very still. Then the spaniel came up and sniffed me 360 degrees, and then moved my idle hand to pet itself, which I did and I could see a glow in its look as Flower adopted a little 5 year old boy.
Now come back here you two and eat YOUR COOKIES. Which I did.
As I chowed down one after another ( my mother would not be amused ) she talked like we were the oldest of Friends.
Well B my name is Alice Mahoney and I’ve spent years building one of the most famous collector gardens of rare roses on earth. I chose this place for its magic. ( I Knew it of course ). My husband Bill Mahoney keeps the vegetables and the orchids up as his job. I keep all 2000 roses up by myself. In fact I need some help.
Would you like to earn some extra money helping me garden?
I was nodding my head as my milk lips confirmed my cookie mouth was too full to reply.
Do you have one of these new gadgets called a Tele Phone?
Again I nodded my head?
Ok, I’ll write my number down. You keep it in your room. You have your mother phone me and we will fix it all up. Then you can walk back up using the short cut and it will take you only ten minutes to reach me versus over an hour the way you and your friends came through the forest.
Now they can’t come back B only you are approved by the garden. The Roses decide who can be around them and who can not.
And B I always wanted a little boy like you as I have no children so I’m going to raise you as if you were my own and I will teach you the meaning of life if you will pay attention to my lessons.
Alice walked me down the very winding path way, down down and far below her cottage. Through the lower giant green gates, and down the dirt leaf covered path ways that crunched beneath our feet. Eventually we got to the dirt road. With her walking stick she walked me to the five minutes to where the road met the concrete and low and behold I was in site of my house a quarter mile away. I was so glad to discover this short cut. In fact I was not home much longer than the others, all camped out at the BOULDERS waiting to see if I would ever return. They had not told the grown ups I was eaten and turned into soup because of the spankings they would have all gotten for walking so far from home without permission, or for running off and leaving me. The word cowards came to mind.
As I came up the long field Ricky Brown who was in the worst trouble ran off the top Boulder and led the line of youngers directly to me. I was still walking with my magical walking stick. I paused to receive the flock of young eyes.
The questions all came at once. They kept coming. They were touching me to see it if I was real or an illusion from the Witch. Dory hugged and hugged me. We were best friends and in love. We just didn’t know what love meant.
Finally I shook my head as a reply, and said THE WITCH FLEW ME BACK ON HER BROOM STICK and covered me in a spell of protection. She said she could only help the BRAVE ONE who stayed and the Rose GARDEN HAD SELECTED ME. I told them you were not all cowards. And she said yes you were accept for the girl. She said Dory had turned back to get me but Ricky Brown older and ever jealous, had grabbed her arm and led her away protesting. Dory cried at this memory.
I took her hand we walked off ahead of the others, the cowards, back to where the smells of the hamburger barbecue which meant Dad was finally home, wafted into our orbits and we all began to run.
That was how the Rose Garden and a 5 year old boy, in Marin County California, in a time of innocence and rainbows, became united in 1953. I of course think all this is boring in the 2020 period, but if you are hankering for more about the story, I’ll unfold my life as best I know how. One rose petal at a time for you to savor. I wish you a return to innocence and your childhood as you read. If your child hood was less than perfect, adopt mine and heal up, as I can’t think of any place I really wish to go back to but I would like to graduate this life and return to Alice Mahoney, Flower, and her lessons and of course the ROSES all 2000 plus each and every one.
— March 31, 2015