My father would have been 86 today.Â He always made sure that people knew that when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, it was August 6 in Japan but only August 5 in the USA, and therefore the bomb was NOT dropped on his birthday.Â He was pretty adamant about that.Â
He went his own way in life, from the very beginning (although I don’t think his parents appreciated the fact that he was a world class picky eater–certainly my mom didn’t).Â He chose his own profession, teaching, and was a genuine star.Â There are still people who took his classes decades ago who tell me and my brothers how good he was.
He handled the inevitable slings and arrows of life and even though he faded out through the last decade of his life with Alzheimers he never stopped being Dad.Â For that, my brothers and I are forever grateful.
Happy birthday, Dad.Â You’re still the greatest.Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.
I know I haven’t updated in way too long.
I went to my 40th high school reunion, halfway across the USA, and I didn’t take a computer with me. I stayed with a good friend, and I could have used her computer if necessary, but there just flat-out wasn’t time to think about it.
I hadn’t been back there in 25 years, and it was so much fun to be welcomed back and to find out that the old high school cliques and exclusionary groups were well and truly dead and gone. People I never hung out with in school welcomed me back with just as much enthusiasm as did the people who were closer friends. It really truly was like going home, even though my family only lived in that town for three years and I didn’t actually graduate with my class (we moved away after my sophomore year).
I have met people who are still nursing old school grudges and wounds decades later. And people who always felt they were just too tragically hip for the room and no one could possibly have understood them, back then. Me, I didn’t have those problems. I was adequately popular and although I was no way part of the in crowd, several people who were, were my friends. I look back on high school as a good time.
The really sad part is that I am sure that if all those people who still hold grudges would just for pity’s sake go to a reunion they’d find soon enough that none of that stuff matters any more. To anyone. But it’s the people who really ought to go and have that revelation who don’t show. Their loss.
I’ll write again when I get done catching up on emails, LiveJournal, CompuServe, Twitter, Gizmodo, Lifehacker… you get the idea.
I was very happy I went, and I’m just as happy to be home!Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.
My current book is Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest by Gerard Degroot. The subtitle, I think, should really be A Cynical Luddite Curmudgeon Looks at the Space Race.
I’m among the first children of the Fifties, and we grew up with the wonders of the “space race.” The people in our neighborhood, adults and children alike, gathered out in the street to watch Echo fly over. We saw the very first satellite broadcast from Europe (although I was royally irked that it interrupted a perfectly good rerun of “Wagon Train”). We read the Life magazine stories about the astronauts, and when Americans went into space, if someone’s parents had an extra TV they could spare for the day (not a common thing in those days) then our school classes came to a halt while we darkened the room and watched the launch, and sometimes the splashdown. (No TV available for Alan Shepard’s flight when I was in the fifth grade, but we listened to it on a transistor radio in class.)
Of course, it wasn’t all wine and roses. My father, a combat veteran of WWII, had absolutely no use for Wernher von Braun, and every time his name was mentioned, Dad would sneer “That Nazi.” Girls were told flat-out that they couldn’t be astronauts, and Valentina Tereshkova’s flight was airily dismissed as nothing more than a publicity stunt. (Well, it was, but that wasn’t the point.) Astronauts died in plane crashes, and of course there was the horrendous fire in Apollo 1.
But the idea of going to the Moon was magical, somehow, even if women were excluded and not much really came of it and most people don’t remember much about the Moon landings nowadays.
Degroot’s unwavering criticism of the whole affair proves quite soundly that even if the individual elements of an argument are true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the argument itself is valid. He points out that the whole “space race” was built on a tissue of lies and disinformation (true) and that Russian technology wasn’t anything like the propagandists told us it was (true) and that even Kennedy, who issued the challenge to go to the moon “before this decade is out” wasn’t really that much of a fan of NASA (who knows; we’re not mind readers and JFK is long gone). He sides firmly with the people who felt that the billions of dollars spent getting a few men to the Moon ought to have been spent making lasting changes here on Earth (possibly true, but given the limited success of all the various Earth programs into which billions have been poured over the years…)
In short, he says, we wasted our money and we wasted our time. Wernher von Braun was an SS used car salesman, the directors of NASA were glad-handing idiots who knew how to work a crowd, and all the emphasis on “science and technology” really didn’t get us anywhere. Most of the inventions credited to the “space race” were actually products of the pre-NASA years, our focus on putting people in space made things needlessly complicated and costly, and we should have been trumpeting our achievements in areas of space other than the launching and retrieving of humans into the cosmos.
All true. But I don’t happen to think that we wasted our time or money. The journey to the moon did give us some common ground as a nation, in a time when all sorts of other world events were fracturing American society and driving wedges between parent and child, neighbor and neighbor, city and city, state and state. We needed something to spur our collective imagination. We needed to believe that we were indeed taking one small step on a much larger journey.
My own commentary: It shouldn’t have taken 20 years for American women to follow Valentina Tereshkova into space, but that mistake was a product of the Fifties mindset. The women who applied for the Mercury program did better than the men on the tests. It was only Eisenhower’s insistence that the astronauts be test pilots that screwed women out of any chance of equal standing. But that was the Fifties mindset. Eisenhower was born in 1890 and shaped by his upbringing and his military service. He wouldn’t have seen a woman as his equal if she’d run him over with a Jeep. It took 20 years to get an American woman into space because that’s how long it took for American space jockeys to grudgingly acknowledge that women could maybe actually do it. Sally Ride was a child of the Fifties too (in fact, she’s about six months younger than me). I’m sure she was told she couldn’t be an astronaut. I’m glad she didn’t listen.
Degroot’s argument comes across as a longwinded case of sour grapes.
In this day and age, when we see so many rotten people getting far too much attention, sometimes it’s best to remember the truly good people of the not so distant past.
I haven’t been writing much lately. One of our cats, Calypso, is very ill and my mind has been occupied with that. There isn’t much we can do for her other than make her comfortable and assure her that we love her, but that doesn’t keep me from fretting.
However, I think writing about miscellaneous “good stuff” is an appropriate way to take my mind off that, so herewith…
When I was a kid, the book A Hole Is To Dig was one of my all-time favorites. My grandmother gave it to me, and hearing her read it in her cultured British accent was a real treat. I can still hear the way she did it. One of my fondest memories.
That book came back to me today when I spotted a link to a really nifty web site (thank you, userfiriendly.com Link of the Day) that lets you plot on a map exactly where you’d come out if you dug straight down. We always assumed it would be China. It isn’t. Who knew?
I’ve been seeing more and more links to “How to keep your house cooler” tips these days, and quite rightly so. Unfortunately, one of the best tips is “Live in a dwelling that was built before people assumed everyone was going to have air conditioning.” This house was built in 1930 and does a reasonably good job of keeping us cool sans a/c on hot days if we just do a few simple things like pull in as much cool air as possible with fans at night, close up all the windows before the air starts heating up for the day, and go spray down the southwest-facing wall with the hose late in the afternoon to help cool the hot stucco wall. But I don’t suppose that kind of common sense advice will fly with just everyone. I wonder how people like me and my brothers survived all those years without air conditioning. Three out of four of us are children of the 50s when a/c was a luxury for the rich and nobody ever heard of air conditioning a public school. Not that I’d want to go back to those days and make all the kids swelter in class with only a fan or two and an anemic “blower” under the window to try to push away the sticky, sultry heat, but still…
There were several things that parents did, that I swore that I’d never do when I became a parent. I think I’ve done pretty well on “Don’t tell your kids they aren’t entitled to their own opinions” and “Don’t make arbitrary rules about curfews and bedtimes without considering the individual kid and his or her needs” and “Don’t view boys and girls as differently important,” but I’m still having problems with “When I was your age…” and I utterly failed in the matter of “Because I said so.”Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.
My final two years in high school, we lived in a little armpit town called Beatrice (“Bee-ATT-riss”) Nebraska.Â My dad had been teaching at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, and its president Millard “Doc Bob” Roberts was hoping to expand the Parsons “we take anyone as long as they can pay the bill” system of college education to a wider potential audience.
So two new Parsons-affiliated campuses had opened up starting in the summer of 1966, one in Beatrice and one in Albert Lea, Minnesota, with at least three more in the planning stages.
Unfortunately, Doc Bob & Co. hadn’t done too much in the way of research in Beatrice.Â They might have been able to get the land cheap, and get the buildings built, and all the other things physically necessary to put in a college, but they didn’t take into consideration how the people in Beatrice might feel about the presence of a campus filled mostly with students from Elsewhere.Â You know, those slimy people from New Jersey who didn’t appreciate the finer points of life in armpit towns in Nebraska.
My dad hired on as Dean of John J. Pershing College without knowing much about Beatrice other than that the poet Weldon Kees came from there.Â My mom tried hard to fit into the mold of Dean’s Wife, among a faculty that was pretty heavy on East Coast pretensions itself.Â My brothers and I settled in to school among peers whose parents were mostly vocal opponents of the college and did the best we could.
One of the worst hoity-toity faculty families ended up as our back-door neighbors.Â I forget what Mr. Leland taught–probably something like business administration.Â Mrs. Leland was short, fat, and had obviously dyed auburn hair, and tried her best to lord it over the other people in the neighborhood.Â Of course, my parents had inadvertently bought property in the snootiest neighborhood in town–the city had torn down an old elementary school on that block and had put the land up for sale very cheap–so Mrs. Leland was trying to out-snobbify people who’d already been lording it over Beatrice for generations.Â With predictable results.
Which left her and her three obnoxious little brats to try to lord it over my parents, neither of whom could possibly have cared less about that kind of crap.Â My dad was the Dean, and he also had his own kind of internal stratigraphy where the pure academics (who had Ph.Ds and taught English literature, like he did) had little use for the people with lesser degrees who taught lesser subjects like business administration.Â My mom came from New York City society and knew what real rich folks were actually like, and Mrs. Leland’s pretensions amused her mightily, when Mrs. Leland wasn’t pissing her off by telling her kids to tell my brothers and me to “Git off our poppity!” if we came close to the fence that separated our yard from theirs. (It wasn’t even their “poppity” to begin with–Mrs. Leland would happily put people to sleep telling them how smart her LeRoi had been by taking the “lease, with option to buy” approach.)
Most kinds of fireworks were legal in Beatrice in those days, so in the days before the Fourth my brothers and I stocked up on firecrackers and bottle rockets (the days when our dad refused to let us have anything more lethal than sparklers were long past).Â After dark, the four of us and a couple of my brothers’ friends settled into the back yard with a bottle and our supply of rockets.
It took us a few tries to get the range, but eventually I had the bottle situated perfectly so I could launch a rocket in a shallow trajectory over the fence to explode right outside the Lelands’ back door.Â I’m not sure how many I managed to launch before all of a sudden the lights went on at the back of their house.
We all hotfooted it in through the sliding glass doors to our darkened dining room and huddled in the back of the room laughing our heads off.Â Pretty soon the phone rang and my mom answered it.Â Now, my mother got her first job as a professional actress when she was four years old, so she was prepared.
“Hello?Â Yes, Audrey?”
“They what?Â No, my kids aren’t here tonight, they’re out with their friends.”Â (we’re all rolling on the floor trying not to make a sound in the next room)
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“How dare you accuse my children!Â They’re not here.Â You’re imagining things.Â Are you sure all your kids are in the house?”
“Audrey, I’m not interested in listening to any more of this nonsense.Â Good night.”Â *click*
One of my mom’s finest hours.Â But she did advise us we’d better aim the bottle rockets somewhere else for the rest of the night.
After all these years that still makes me smile.Â Let’s hear it for the Fourth of July.Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.
In the mid-70s, I was browsing the local newsstand and came across a magazine called The Mother Earth News. It was printed on inexpensive paper, and chock-full of the kinds of information that people would need to be self-sufficient in the last days of hippiedom. I bought one magazine, and then over the next few months went back to the newsstand again and again to pick up every back issue I could get my hands on. And I subscribed.
The magazine had been founded by John and Jane Shuttleworth, and it was their personal philosophy that dictated what appeared. Many of the articles were geared toward people who were giving up the urban life to go “back to the land.” Of course, people raised in suburbia who were embarking on a glorious quest to become self-sufficient farmers needed plenty of advice, so there was no shortage of material.
The one main complaint I had about the magazine in those days was John Shuttleworth’s constant whining that the readers just could not comprehend how HARD he was working to keep the magazine alive. It began to seem like he thought we’d forget that he was working his tail off if he didn’t bring it up in endless variations in every issue. Yes, the magazine was being run on a rather frayed shoestring in those days, but what could we-the-readers do about it? We were, after all, buying the magazine and subscribing. They even offered lifetime subscriptions in those days. I think originally those cost $100.
Time passed, and the Shuttleworths moved on, and the masthead changed so that they were listed as “founders.” And then it changed again so that John Shuttleworth was the “founder” and Jane Shuttleworth was the “co-founder.” Maybe there was a divorce in progress, who knows? At any rate, the content of the magazine itself changed with the times, and eventually became (to my eyes) nothing more than “Better Homes and Gardens” for rural residents, with mediocre article content and even more mediocre editing.
So, the time came when I canceled my subscription. But I still had a nearly complete collection of about the first ten years of the magazine. And they were thick, meaty publications that took up a lot of room, but they were still worth re-reading and chock-full of useful information.
Alas, the first year in this house, we had a flood in the back yard, and lost 15 cartons of books and my boxes full of old Mother Earth News magazines. I hoped to save some of them, but when a magazine is printed on inexpensive newsprint-like paper and gets soaked… sigh. Out they had to go.
Yesterday, I was reading Gizmodo, one of my favorite blogs, and came across an article describing someone’s construction of a solar heater with black-painted soda cans inside a glass-fronted frame. “That’s not new,” said I. “The Mother Earth News did that ages ago.” So, on a whim, I put “mother earth news heat grabber” into a Google search.
Be still, my beating heart. The Mother Earth News has put their archives online, going all the way back to the beginning! I haven’t yet explored enough to find out if there’s a comprehensive year-by-year index… but I’m going to.
Everything old is new again. I love the internet.Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.
Iren was my grandmother’s partner, and they lived together for the last thirty years of my grandmother’s life. I grew up listening to her practicing, which for any less accomplished pianist would have been a concert performance. Arbiter Records has begun issuing compliations of her performances, and the liner notes to the first CD (Bartok in the Desert) give a succinct account of Iren’s life.
I wish Gran and Iren were still in Independence, giving their monthly soirees. I would walk there every step of the way if I knew they’d be waiting for me when I got there.Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.
Today I scanned photos to send to my newly-found relatives. I don’t have a lot of old family pictures here, so I decided to try to find those that might be most interesting to someone of my father’s generation who was seeing us all for the first time.
So I had photos of my parents with my dad’s parents, photos of my grandparents with me and my brothers when we were young, some pictures of my cousin and her family and some of me with F’zer and the kids. I threw in a picture from our wedding because it’s pretty funny to look at, with all those hot 1972 fashions, and because it shows my Uncle Barry, whom I don’t have pictures of otherwise, and my parents during the last few years of their marriage.
The whole process of picking out photos that are representative of a family is interesting in and of itself. Do you pick the ones with the family looking serene or looking goofy? Do you include a photo in which everyone is patently Not Ready For Prime Time, because it’s the only one of its kind, or leave it out because you don’t want anyone seeing you like that? (I made a copy.) Do you include photos of relatives in their last years when they’re plainly showing the ravages of time? (Yes and no.) What best represents the family as it is, and was?
I have some slides that were taken just prior to my oldest brother’s wedding, which turned out to be the last group photo of our nuclear family together. (Nuclear, indeed, since our parents’ marriage blew up only a few months later.) The slides are very dark, and my attempts to scan them and reprint them have not been successful. I guess I need to take them to a professional photo finishing place and see what they can do. Now, the question is where such a place can be found, these days. The camera store I worked at is long gone, and the only other local camera store has also closed its doors.
After I get done looking up camera stores, I suppose I should start researching the possibility of buying a newer scanner. There is always a good reason to buy more peripherals, right?
My family. I think I’ll keep them.Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.