Saturday, August 13, 2011

Nick Nicholson Chapter One

Nick and I riding a jeepney in Caloocan City, July 2007

Thursday August 11th 2011 marked the first year anniversary of actor, writer and director Daniel "Nick" Nicholson's passing. As a tribute to our good friend, I'm reposting excerpts from Nick's book-in-progress PINOY CENTRAL CASTING, aka FISH HEADS AND RICE, a warts'n'all account of his experiences on and off the sets of nearly a hundred Filipino B films.

This first post is from Nick's sister on growing up with a born adventurer with a big heart. Many thanks to Cheryl for sharing her memories with us.

Daniel Patrick Nicholson was born in Detroit, Michigan April 19, 1952 to Wanda M. and Kenneth A. Nicholson. He was the youngest of 3 children. Kent and Cheryl were from an earlier marriage of Wanda’s, but were adopted by Kenneth. There was a 5 year difference in age between sister Cheryl and Dan, and 8 years between he and his older brother, Kent. Kent and Cheryl were understandably very close, so Dan was the odd kid out from the beginning. He was a cute little guy though, tow-headed (white-blond) and cheerful.

Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Redford Township, Michigan, a new suburb area just west of Detroit, where we lived in a modest 3-bedroom brick home. Dan grew up there, attending Fisher Elementary School, Pierce Junior High School, and Thurston High School. He did not finish the latter, choosing to enlist in the US Navy during the Viet Nam outbreak, following his older brother’s example (Kent had enlisted in the US Marine Corps following high school graduation). Mom and Dad signed for him to do so, at age 17.

Dan was an unruly youngster, full of the devil and mischief, who loved to play more than anything. He found it unfortunate to have to follow his straight-A sister through school, sharing some of the same teachers who unfortunately let him know he fell beneath their expectations. Having to always try to ‘measure up’ put a slight damper on his school-days’ love of learning. And he never found favor with his older brother, Kent, who mostly found Dan to be a nuisance with whom he had to share a room, a rowdy invader of his space, who broke his toys and collectibles, and usually got preferential treatment as the ‘baby’ of the family.

Dan was always sharp as a tack, but continually had to strive for acceptance and success with his siblings and family. Truth be told, I’m quite sure Dan suffered from ADHD, but that was unheard of in his growing up years, and so his antics were chalked up to chronic misbehavior. I remember fondly an elementary-aged Dan’s response to my exasperated mother’s question, “Danny, why can’t you just behave?!” ... he replied pensively, “mommy, I try SO hard to be good...but I just can’t!”

Our father was a strict disciplinarian who valued obedience, determination and education. He married late in life and found the raising of his children to be more than he could often handle. Dad’s job kept him travelling much of our growing up years. He was a good man, and a loving one in his own way. He was self-taught in so many areas, due to what he loved to call “his chequered career.” Our dad was a second generation descendant of English-born parents who settled in the Upper Peninsula to work the copper mines there, before moving to Detroit. Dad served in the Canadian Air Force, and loved being near the water. He loved books and music and took several continuing education classes as an adult to learn foreign languages. He loved to tell of tunnelling through snow as a kid in the UP just to get to school – and it wasn’t just the typical “be thankful” lesson to us kids, it was true. Ours was a nuclear family; we had little to do with extended family on either side.

Mom was an only child in her family, and “Gram” (her mother, Ethel Humphrey) was the stronger, loving one from the maternal side of the family. Mom was born in Ohio, having roots from Gram in West Virginia where she was born. We all spent lots of memorable times with Gram, and loved her dearly until she passed away at the age of nearly 102, in Livonia MI. She had spent her later years being cared for by Kent, as she suffered from macular degeneration and ensuing blindness. She nonetheless stayed active until the end of her life. Our mother was sick much of her life, fragile in many ways, and suffered from depression and many chronic illnesses; she had little but stressed nerves to contribute to the family life and raising of her children. A stay-at-home mom, she did the best she could to instil love and caring into all 3 of us. She currently is cared for in Albuquerque by Cheryl, where Wanda suffers from Dementia, strokes and diabetes.

Kent was the adored oldest child but the rebel of the family. He never fully accepted our Dad as his ‘dad’. Following his tour of duty with the Marine Corps, Kent joined the Detroit Fire Department from which he retired in the late ‘90s. He now suffers from diabetes, and after-effects of strokes. He and Dan had a falling out in Dan’s teen years, for which Kent never was able to forgive him, and consequently to this day will not speak of Dan. No amount of mediating by Cheryl or Dan was successful in resolving the relationship, sadly.

Cheryl was the typical middle child who pursued perfection and achievement and peacemaking; she was the only one to attend and complete college. She exhibited a flair for languages and art, and teaching. She attended U of Mich Ann Arbor, graduating with a BA in Spanish/Russian Lang. & Lit. and a teaching certificate; and pursued her Masters at U of TX Austin, but did not complete it. Instead she married and moved to NM where she did some teaching prior to starting a family. While experiencing 2 unfortunate marriages, she and young son, Kris, found The United Methodist Church where she has worked since the early ‘70's, and where she found a wonderful outlet for her creative artwork to this day. She also met her current husband Don, who added 2 more children to their family; they have been happily married in Albuquerque for the past 31 years.

Mom and Dad moved to Albuquerque in the early ‘70s, where Dad took managership of a small outlet store for hydraulic supplies. It was here that Dan visited at the end of his tour of duty, prior to returning to the Philippines.

Dad was heartbroken that Dan chose to leave the states; he foresaw that his youngest was headed for a difficult life (Dan believed he’d left his true love there; turned out to be a bar gal who was working the sailor boys). Dad did his best to lobby against Dan leaving. Partly out of anger, I believe, Dad was consequently not forthcoming with any help for disillusioned Dan’s initial plea to come back home after realizing he’d been duped. Dan had spent his severance pay. He had to pay a price for being “foolish.” Cheryl was newly married, and had just given birth to her only child, and so was unable to offer any monetary help, either. Her marriage fell apart not long after that, and so her focus was definitely not on Dan’s problems. Mother continued downhill with depression problems and ‘losing’ Dan didn’t help her situation any. Dad died of heart failure in the late ‘90s in Albuquerque. I remember reading Dan’s letters to him as he lay on his bed during his last days. We both cried for all the time Dad’s stringent nature had robbed him of being with his young son.

Growing up, we always had cats at home. Dan and I shared that love for cats. So far as I know we both continued to have them in our lives, and always considered them a big part of our family.

Living in a somewhat undeveloped area, there were creeks and wildlife near our home. Six or seven-year old Dan brought home a field mouse he’d caught at one point and was hoping to keep it as another pet (Mom relegated it to the garage). One day while we were all at school, mom reported seeing our cat running out from under the garage door with the poor mouse’s tail hanging from its mouth! The cat was delighted with its find - Dan was heartbroken. He had a very tender side to his nature, all of his life. [Such a dramatic difference to the characters he played in the Filipino movie business!] Another instance we laughed about was the day mom was locked out of the house by a very young and delighted Danny; she finally had to get a neighborhood little child to climb through the milkshoot to get back into the house! Mother was not amused.

We had the relatively ‘typical family life’ growing up. Vacations we enjoyed were always a treat, summer outings to Kensington Lakes for boating and swimming; Dan and I would help sand and revarnish Dad’s rowboat (all that was left of Dad’s Power Squadron days of boat building on the Detroit River), so that each Spring we could then row it across Kensington Lake to the Marina side where we’d store it for the summer, and picnic. From there, us kids would trek over to the main beach area for sun and fun. Once I was able to drive, just Dan and I and a friend or two would make this summer jaunt. Being staunch Episcopalians, Fridays were often a treat with dinner out at the local fish ‘n chips place for a deep fried meal of perch. Dan and I often remembered with amusement the time mother broke down and cooked Smelt for Dad at home one day, and we kids thought we’d die of the awful smell it created! Another trip we enjoyed was to ride the ferry over to Bob-Lo, an amusement park on an island in the middle of the Detroit River, it was always a day of great fun, marked by purchases of Bob-Lo sailor hats worn proudly.

Dan was the brunt of many jokes pulled on him by sister and big brother; but there are also fond memories of Dan and Cheryl singing as they did the consigned work of washing and drying the dinner dishes...hearing it always gave Dad great enjoyment. One chore we all agreed was the worst, however, was the obligatory summertime picking-up of fallen plums from the backyard plum tree. We didn’t eat many plums, and so the bulk of them over-ripened and fell to the grass, squishy and rotten and obnoxious! Each summer, our end of school year was marked by coming home to our Summer Chores Lists being posted on the broom closet door, making the occasion most bittersweet.

I lost a lot of time with Dan once I graduated from High School in ‘65, as I left for the University of Michigan where I grew to love being in that educational atmosphere. I came home occasionally, preferring to be with my peers, and others I thought better appreciated my elevated sense of being a college student. Dan was just entering High School, and was not enjoying it much. Mother wasn’t doing well with her “nerves.” I do not remember it being pleasant at home. Dan would try to connect with me, and unfortunately I was often too busy to think he could understand who I even was at that time. He enlisted before my graduation from U of M.

His early years onboard ship with the Navy were a continuation of his rowdy fun-loving nature. I remember reports of him getting into trouble for smoking weed and drinking and carousing; and for taking a swimming test for a buddy of his; we always looked forward to word from him, but with a mix of hopeful pride and terrible anxiety (smile).

When he appeared in Albuquerque in 1973, he spent a really pleasant day at my house with me. I remember being so surprised at how suddenly grown up and reasonable he’d become. I was pregnant at the time, and not teaching anymore but doing a lot of artwork. He came bearing an armload of art supplies for me!

I remember thinking how very sad it was that just when he’d become someone I’d like to spend time with, he was leaving, and most likely I would never see him again.

And so it was.

- Cheryl Nicholson Hicks, Albuquerque NM 9/2010

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