Saturday, August 8, 2009

Questions and Answers #1

Years ago Allison and Elizabeth presented me a book titled A FATHER'S LEGACY: Your Life Story in Your Own Words, posing numerous questions to be answered in spaces provided within the journal. I started to fill it out, but found my fingers didn't do well on the page sizes, and my penmanship - well, it is not so good. I recently re-discovered that journal, and it occurred to me that this blog page might be a good forum in which to respond to some randomly picked questions.

What was the best advice you ever ignored? There are a lot of potential answers to this question, but one stands above the rest for me. Mrs. Wilkins was my first semester English instructor at Fort Hays State, and had degrees in English and Music. Her husband in the music department must have relayed the "inside dope" to her, for she sagely advised me to forget about music and concentrate on writing - pursue a degree in journalism or creative writing. She admired my direct, no-frills approach to composition. I was flattered, but unwavering about my dedication to music. The following semester I encountered an instructor of a different ilk - one who preferred flowery, grammatically complex Dickinsonian prose, and I became merely another C student. Nonetheless, Mrs. Wilkins' advice had been excellent, and as you bear witness, still not forgotten. Looking back with regrets? No, but sometimes you just kinda wonder what if.........


What did you do in the war, Daddy? I played trombone. Saving the world from Communism in E-flat.

Viet Nam? - No, Spain - for three years during which I not once returned to the states. No combat, then? The most perilous moments I faced were marching a parade in a particularly rough section of Boston where the tubas made great targets for beer can hurlers, and trips to perform in France in 1967 and 68. Oh yes, there was another situation at a festival in Andalusia where celebrating parade watchers were throwing confetti and flower petals which I inhaled while taking a deep breath during the playing of a march. That hardly compares to a foxhole in Nam. (In the photo at left, I'm the trombone player in the far right, marching through an unidentified pueblo in Spain.)

My four years, three months, and thirteen days in uniform impacted my life in numerous ways beyond the mere influence of the military regimen and the exposure to other airmen (no women in bands in the mid-60s) from all over the country. The travel experiences expanded my outlook on life - offering the chance to become acquainted with European lifestyles. I could live there and be happy.

Don't get me wrong, I love the USA and live here by choice, but those years and subsequent visits to Europe have shown me that my country does not have all the answers for the world's problems, no monopoly on truth, love, or beauty. There are wonderful people, smart people, caring people, all over the world. And we (Americans) have a great deal to learn from Europeans and other nationalities about many societal issues, as do they from us. I used to think our edge in productivity made us superior to others, but have seen other peoples less obsessed with productivity and object accumulation, yet living less stressed, more relation-centered and relaxed lives. That has long had an appeal to me.


What was your first job?
Stewart Pitzer, at the Model Food Market in Wellington, gave me my first job other than mowing my grandmother's lawn. My father worked for him for many years. Stew was a wonderfully kind and generous man from whom I learned a lot about helping people in need, even as a businessman.

I was 12 or 13 at the time, and he insisted that I take off for school activities (he was also on the school board), and on summer afternoons just to go swimming and be a kid. My pay was 50 cents an hour for bagging and carrying out groceries as well as with stocking shelves when time permitted. I enjoyed the times when I was permitted to help with the in-home deliveries. Numerous customers called in their orders, and once or twice a day, a panel truck was loaded with heavy steel bins which we carried (usually at a run) into people's homes and set everything out on their kitchen tables. If the customer was elderly, infirm, or not home, we put the milk and eggs in the refrigerator. There was no extra charge for delivery service. What a concept!

One summer I did farm work for a whopping dollar an hour. Big mistake (for the farmer, that is). Early in the summer, I helped put up baled hay, catching the 40
pound bales as they came off the baler, then throwing them up onto the wagon that followed the tractor and baler. That was hard enough, but occasionally we would go through a low spot in the field where the hay was wetter and those 40 pound bales became 60 or 70 pound bales. Ouch. When it came time to put the bales in the barn, my hay fever took over, and they had to send me home. Later in the summer, they tried me on the tractor - a liquid-propane Case similar to that shown at right. That didn't work out too badly for a few days until I found myself in a tight spot, and not comprehending the concept of separate brakes for right and left in my state of panic, I put that huge tractor through a fence and into a drainage ditch before I managed to stop it. End of career in agriculture. I felt bad for the farmer, Mr. Pettigrew, a high school classmate of my mother.

Later in high school, I heard Dickie Byler tell two of my buddies that his uncle Ronnie was looking for a teen boy to help in the family appliance and electrical store. As the three of us walked the short distance downtown to the soda fountain at Chief Drug, I dropped behind the other two, then split off and went to the store and promptly got the job.

My job was to help the appliance
mechanics, and occasionally the electricians, a go-fer in other words. It was not easy work. I helped with delivery and repair of televisions - huge, heavy pieces of furniture with small screens in those days. I was trained to remove the picture tube and guts out of a tv cabinet to bring back to the shop for service. Scariest of all, I was part of the crew that scampered about on roof tops or shinnying up those skinny towers to install the huge antennas needed to bring in the few under-powered (grainy black and white) stations available in our little Kansas town. I still appreciate the people I worked with and for - I wasn't the strongest kid on the block, and not exactly technically inclined, but they were patient and kind, and I learned a lot from them, and I think they eventually got their money's worth.

Did the other two guys get jobs? Yes. They became salesboys at the men's fashion store next door to Chief Drug. While I was climbing ladders or loading washing machines or cleaning out one of the trucks, they stood at the front window of the air conditioned store waving to all the girls who were headed to the soda fountain.