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Three score and ten or more

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Daddy’s Little Boy (long)

I have a problem with grouping people superficially with names like Hippies, Beatniks, even with Conservatives and Liberals, as if, once you have plugged someone into that category you have identified everything important.  I think one has the right to define him or herself if one desires, but for the thinking person, even self definition into categories is treacherous because one has the temptation, once one is “self-defined” to expect everyone who uses that category for self, to  identify everyone using that label as fitting the same definition.  As a result, self defined folks tend to expect everyone who uses that label to be exactly alike, and to judge them if they fall short.  For instance, I have identified myself as a Conservative for long enough to have been seriously angry when the Republican Party picked Dwight Eisenhower over Robert Taft to be it’s Presidential Candidate, and I get very  irritated  at people like Rush Limbaugh who have redefined the term and judge any one who does not meet their personal redefinition as a fake Conservative (Neo-Con, RINO,  or Heaven knows what). The same holds true of Liberals, Progressives,  etc.)  No matter how one defines oneself, it is really likely to be very different from many of those who pre-defined themselves with the same name.

I could have sped that up by asserting that every one is really unique, regardless of the label.    It is true however that the tern “unique” seems to fit some people better than it does others;

My son, Eric Reid Johnson, who was born in September of 1959 and who died of lung cancer in November of this year (2010) was, in my opinion one of those.  I have titled this tale “Daddy’s Little Boy”, but in order to define those elements that made him truly unique, i will have to post a second part of the story titled “Not Daddy’s Little Boy”.  If you make it through this lengthy post you may be interested in the second part which will some along as I can convince my shaky old body to sit at the computer again.

At the time he was born, I had just begun my teaching career, teaching Speech and Drama at Twin Falls High School in Twin Falls, Idaho.  His first year was most distinguished by the fact that he began to have serious colic at about three months, and when colic hit him, we could have rented him out as a fire siren.   He screamed for sometimes four hours at a stretch and burping, rocking, or cuddling him had no effect at all.  We took him to the Doctor in the midst of such an attack (He did NOT stay in the waiting room very long)  We asked in some desperation what could be done, and the Doctor replied that he might give us a prescription for Phenobarbital.  I looked at him and asked “Phenobarbital for a baby”?   “No,” he replied, “For his parents.”

I’ve parented six children, and the most shocking moment of my life as a father came when i was home alone with Eric, the very first, and  he began to scream.  I massaged his abdomen, I burped him, I rocked him in the rocking chair (which sometimes helped, we bought it at the Doctor’s suggestion) but nothing helped.  He seemed to get louder by the minute, and I found myself with a terrible urge to smash him against the wall.   This urge shocked me so much that I was shaking all over, and I carefully walked in and laid him in his crib, then left the house and spent the ensuing fifteen minutes pacing up and down the street in front of the house, crying and shaking.  When I got my self calmed down, I want back into the house, and fortunately Eric had calmed down as well. I still shudder when I think of that moment.

 

001a

Doesn’t look like a screaming monster, does he.

The most interesting reaction to colic happened that next summer.  I had to go to Long Beach, California to take some kind of education courses (I can’t remember what courses or why it had to be in Long Beach, but I am sure that I wouldn’t have driven all the way to Long Beach if it weren’t necessary.)   I not only had to take the courses, but had to work at two jobs, and Janet had to work as well, in order to financially avoid catastrophe at the time.  For that reason, we talked my oldest sister who was then in high school, into coming with us and serving as a semi-unpaid baby sitter.  One evening Eric had been rocked, massaged, had warm cloths held on his abdomen, and finally just put to bed, while the rest of us went into the living room to avoid the noise.  Abruptly a loud knock came at the door.  When we opened the door, we were confronted with two large (probably not actually as large as they seemed at the time) uniformed policemen and a lady whom we were informed represented  some city family service organization.   We apparently had been reported to the police as child abusers.  We invited them in just as Eric doubled his volume.  We explained the situation and invited them to try to comfort him.  They took turns holding him, rocking him, changing his diapers, etc., to no effect whatsoever.  After about half an hour, they apologized for bothering us.  One of the cops grinned and muttered something like “I had one like that”.  A few minutes after they left, he fell asleep, and the house was calm for awhile, but it was quite frightening.

Not long after that, before we left Long Beach to return to Idaho, the colic just seemed to disappear, and life was better.

As we moved back to Twin Falls, we had traded our basement apartment for an old frame house, and within a short time Eric was walking, Janet found a job teaching Jr. High School (An old friend who went to our church took care of Eric while we were working—no more colic, which was good.)

Eric’s and my next memorable adventure came the next summer.  I took a job as waterfront director at a Boy Scout camp that summer.  Janet and I moved to a little cabin at the Scout camp where we did all the fun things we could fit in when I was not on duty.   The camp had a nice little lake as well as a naturally heated pool, where we often taught strokes to the complete beginner swimmers.  (And went to swim on off hours.) 

At the swim pool the camp also  had a washing machine where the camp staff could do laundry with the naturally heated water. Through with colic and ready to go swimming

Through with colic and ready to go swimming 

On one of weekend periods between troop arrivals I went up to do the family laundry and Eric who was not quite two years old came along.  He was giggling at something in the nearby woods when I reached in to remove the laundry.  He suddenly stopped giggling and I looked up from the washing machine and he was not in view.  He had been standing right beside me and suddenly disappeared. I quickly ran to the pool side and voila, there he was, calmly swimming under water, in the middle of the pool. 

I dropped the laundry and jumped into the pool to “rescue” him.  I snatched him up in a cross-body carry and took him, kicking and screaming, to the pool edge.  As I sat him on the bank, he quit screaming and dived (yes I wrote “dived”) back into the pool.  As I re-rescued him, he made it clear with his limited vocabulary that he wanted to swim some more.  I in turn made it clear that he was not to jump (or dive) into the pool again, but if he came home quietly, I would put on my swim  suit, he could put on his, and we could come to the pool together and I would teach him to swim on top of the water.  This I did, and he was swimming better than some of my Boy Scouts in about two weeks.  I still had to make it clear that he was not to come to the pool unless his mother, or I, was with him.

A few weeks later, we moved to Ohio where I had an assistantship to go back to school at Ohio University to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre.

(I had resigned my teaching position at Twin Falls High School, which I loved, because we made a decision to buy a little 12,000 dollar tract house, the payments for which would have been less than we paid in rent, but because, with my 4700 dollar salary, the bank would not approve the loan, and it was in the day when the bank would not count Janet’s teaching salary because she was “ still of childbearing age.”  The alternative was to go back to school to try to put myself in a better earnings bracket.)

Eric didn’t have a lot of noteworthy activity during this part of the Ohio  period.  As a matter of fact he was, kind of, the perfect kid.  His Sunday School teachers adored him.  We lived on the second floor of a converted army barracks, and he quickly became friends with every one in the building.  He had a bit of adventure when a new  baby brother was born.

Janet’s physician was a real old  fashioned doctor, many of whose patients were on welfare.  (Athens Ohio was a really depressed area at the time.  One of my caustic colleagues was fond of saying that, in most communities, Lil Abner was read as a comic, but in Athens they read Lil
Abner for the local news.)  Janet went several weeks past her expected delivery date and the doctor decided to induce labor.  He took her into the hospital late in the evening, induced labor and the baby was born just after midnight.   The doctor took me aside and told me that if he sent her home  before  she had been in the hospital twenty four hours that we would be billed as outpatients, and that he would send her home early if I would promise to not allow her to go up and down the stairs to our second story walk up for at least ten days.  I promised, and she went home about nine thirty in the evening.  We had been required to make a 200 dollar deposit when she checked into the hospital.  When we checked out, they had to return 76 dollars of my deposit.

For awhile, Eric was the cook, end runner and general factotum in our house while I was at the university, until Janet was on her feet (he was about three years old at the time.)  He had also to be good because, about a month later Janet had to help me by retyping my master’s thesis.

When my degree was finished we went to Rhode Island where I was the new scene designer (not my primary field, but my assistantship had been in the scene shop, and I had designed several plays.)  I only directed two plays in my two years in Rhode Island.

One major thing that happened in Rhode Island came when we agreed to foster an six year old child with downs syndrome.  We only had the little boy for four months, and we tried very hard, but he just beat up both of the children.  Eric, at first was terrified of him, but gradually he found ways to hide or bribe the boy but Stuart was too young to do anything, but the boy would sneak in and hit the baby to make him cry.  We finally reached the point where we had, with great sorrow, but some relief, to let the boy go back to institutional care.  Eric went to pre-kindergarten at the Henry Barnard school, the Laboratory School at Rhode Island College.  By the time we left Rhode Island so I could work on my PhD he knew his letters and was reading very simple picture books.

Rhode Island was a wonderful experience for our family.  I will write a future post about all the things that happened to us, but, here, I will stick mostly to things related specifically to Eric .  Several of the significant things had to do with our church.  At that time, if a new chapel were to be built in a Mormon congregation, the local membership had to raise a significant part of the money (in small units like ours, about 20 percent, in big Utah congregations the percentage was fifty percent and could be as much as seventy percent.  When the building was to be built, the church would send an experienced building supervisor, and certain elements would be subcontracted locally, but most of the building had to be done by the members.   This particular building was built in two phases, the first was a relatively large room with would serve as the main meeting room, and with portable dividers as two or three classrooms with other classrooms and a baptismal font at the side.  When that part of the building was complete, it served as our meeting hall  while we built the larger second phase to be the chapel or sanctuary .

When the second phase began, it was spring and I was off work for the summer.  I went to work full (unpaid) time on the building.  Since I had been a bricklayer for a while back in Idaho, I was given the responsibility of teaching folks to lay brick, laying up the corners etc.

Eric was attending Primary on a week day and when the meeting was over he came out to watch daddy work.  As he left the building he ran his hands over the hinge area of the door and his pinky finger was caught as the door closed.  Most of the tip of the finger was taken right off.  He let out a scream the reminded me of his colic days.  I dropped whatever I was doing and rushed to him.  We both got all bloody, and we rushed him to the emergency room, where they stitched up the finger, We took the remaining part of the finger with us, but the doctor said that it was  so damaged that it couldn’t be used to close the wound.  For the rest of his life, he had no fingerprint and just a sliver of a fingernail on that finger.

Toward the end of the summer he and I had another trauma.  I was checking a plumb line that one of the young men who was working on the building was using to lay up leads on the brick veneer for the block walls that had been finished, and he accidently kicked a piece of two by ten lumber that was (for what reason I don’t know, but I now know why  construction zones are now categorized as “hard hat” zones) sitting up on the block wall we  were veneering.  The board came down down end first and hit me on the head, knocking  me out, cutting a large gash in my scalp, and causing a concussion.  As fate would have it, just as it hit me, Eric came out of the same door where he had the accident (this time holding hands with his mother) just in time to see it hit my head and knock me silly.

I was in the hospital for the rest of the day, but Eric cried a lot and his mother had to convince him that I was injured and not dead.  Until I got home, I don’t think he believed her.  I showed him the curved four inch long stitched seam up the back of my skull, which he found interesting and, until my hair got longer he enjoyed coming up to me, sitting in my lap and feeling the “seam”.  I think he was a bit disappointed when I went in and had the stitches removed.

A couple of weeks later Eric’s younger brother, Stuart (almost three) was running around a post in our basement playroom and fell, biting his tongue almost completely in half (lengthwise, I have never figured out how his tongue could be placed in his mouth in such a position to make such a bite , but…).  Fortunately I was at home, partly because my head was hurting, and when Eric called upstairs with fear in his voice, I rushed downstairs and picked Stuart up.  He was bleeding profusely and, as i rushed him upstairs to the car, I called to Janet asking her to take care of Eric while I rushed Stuart to the hospital.   She actually beat me to the car because I was moving slowly from the head injury I had suffered. 

We got to the nearest emergency room with Janet driving and me still carrying Stuart.  We rushed into the ER, Stuart and I covered with blood and asked the admitting nurse to get a doctor immediately, I was afraid he would choke on his own blood.  She calmly told us to sit down on the bench and wait our turn.   After about fifteen minutes I walked to he desk and shouted a number of things at her that were not complementary and she said to sit down before she called security.

In response I picked up Stuart and and began to stomp down the hall screaming that we needed a doctor and asking who I had to sue in order to get medical help.  ( I have often wondered  what might have been the effect, as Eric, as well as others, to see a man with stitches up the back of his head, and coved with blood, carrying his little boy up the hall screaming  for help).

It actually worked.  No one from security came to pick me up, and someone came out of an office, guided me to an examining room, called a doctor and informed Janet and Eric where we were.  The  examining  process was almost as traumatic as the first process.  As Janet held Stuart on her lap, I had to get Stuart’s mouth open so that they could put a gizmo into it that held it open, then I had to manually hold the boy’s tongue in my rubber coated hand while the doctor stitched up the tongue.  The doctor told me that it was wise for me to have “made a fuss” but that he was already on the way.  I asked him why I was doing the nurses work and he replied that having his mother and father assisting was helping Stuart to relax enough for the surgery.  We gathered up Eric and staggered back to the car, Janet now carrying Stuart who was frustrated because he couldn’t talk because his tongue was immobilized.  By the next morning we were all back to a semblance of normal.

The fourth physical thing that happened, was an illness that came on Eric.  He had a temperature that would be high for a little while then drop to normal and he was so listless that it was scary.  We Mormons believe in healing by the laying on of hands, and I gave him a blessing twice, each time he seemed to get better for a few days.  We were  very touched when one night he came and waked me with the words “Daddy would you come put some oil on my head so I can go to sleep?”  (a blessing for illness is accompanied by an anointment of oil to the head).  I did so , and the next morning we took him to his pediatrician and told him how worried we were.  He had him admitted to the hospital for tests, and Eric was hospitalized for three days, when the doctor took us aside and told us that they thought he had “acute stem cell leukemia. (I wrote that in my journal that night so I am pretty sure those were the right words).  They were going to repeat two of the tests the following day, to be sure, but he thought we ought to know.

You have to remember that this was in the early sixties when, to most of us, leukemia was generally accepted as a death sentence and the expression on Doctor Cohen’s face led emphasis to this.  When he left, I called one of the other Elders in the church (except in emergency, we commonly give blessing to heal in pairs)  who came right to the hospital.  Janet and I and the other Elder had a prayer session in one of the rooms of the hospital, then we went to Eric’s room where we gave him a healing blessing.  It was one of the really vividly spiritual moments of my life.   Eric fell immediately to sleep, and we all went home to rest planning to come back after noon the next day, because Dr.Cohen told us that Eric would be in tests for most of the next morning.

When we arrived about eleven in the morning (Janet had wanted to sleep in the hospital, but she was so tired I talked her into coming home).  Dr Cohen was there with a big smile on his face.  He sat us down and said “I walked into the room last night when you and your friend were praying.  I don’t know what kind of an “in” you have with the man upstairs, but the next time you pray, mention my name.”  He then told us that they had done three tests that morning and had received the results of another from the lab, and that Eric had no sign of leukemia or any other malignancy.  He still had some symptoms, but they could be attributed to mononucleosis.  He gave us some prescriptions, told us that they would prefer to keep Eric till morning, but that we could pick him up any time after nine A. M.  The doctor sat with us for a while talking and when he discovered that we had a church building under construction he informed us that he owned a major part of one of the lumber yards, and he gave me a letter to the manager that any building supplies we wanted for the church could be had for cost.

As we progressed through the first year in Rhode Island the first few months were difficult because the pay was set up for faculty from June to June and during the first months the pay had not straightened out.  We were living in a little apartment in Cranston (where, as a good Republican I joined the Cranston Republican Club and worked hard in the campaign to get John Chaffee elected Governor.)but we were living from hand to mouth.  One of the best moments of my life came when we were shopping in some supermarket and were identified as the one hundred thousandth (or the millionth, I can’t remember for sure) customer since the store opened, and they allowed us to take a shopping cart and fill it completely with any foodstuffs in the store (they didn’t include small appliances) then, when it was full, it was given to us free of charge.  Meat, real meat, and butter.  Woweee.

As the pay was adjusted I received a couple of months back pay as well as my regular salary, and we moved to a rental house in North Providence.  I then became aware of the nature of Rhode Island, which. at the time, was broken up into very ethnic neighborhoods.  The one we moved into was Italian, and the wonderful people there had a ball teaching us to be Italian.   Eric and Stuart were given Italian nicknames (which I can’t remember)  and became pets of the neighborhood.  People invited us to dinner, then came to our house to teach Janet to make real meatballs, alfredo sauce, marinara sauces, a general spaghetti sauce that had chicken, pork, and other meats cooked in it along with several kinds of cheese, and it had to simmer for days. (My mouth waters remembering it, she made it for some years, and I have never found it’s like in an Italian restaurant).  I should note that Janet read this and denies that they taught her alfredo sauce.   That is probably true, but around that time Janet started making alfredo sauce frequently, and it was wonderful. (actually still is.)

At the time we also acquired a dog, which the boys named “Uncle Brownie White”  which the parents abbreviated, but which the boys used all the time.  We had a fenced back yard, but over the year most of the neighbors got to know the dog and laugh at his name.

When I came home and told Janet that I was going to resign and go back to school (which was camouflage for the fact that we had a two person theatre staff, and I was really having some problems with the other member of the staff, and moving seemed better than assassinating Joe.)  She flatly refused.  She and the boys had come to love Rhode Island so much that I began to fear that I was going to have to make a choice between sanity at work and divorce at home.

After some prayer, a lot of negotiation and the idea that school would be our in late May, and the new school wouldn’t start till September so she so the kids could go out to Idaho and spend the summer with our families (the fact that she was now pregnant, and our new child would probably be born where she could be in her mothers care when it came also made a difference).  We had purchased a new VW van which would not pull a trailer, so I had to buy and fix up a forty eight Chevy to pull a trailer with our stuff.  We got loaded up with her and the boys in the VW and Uncle Brownie White  in the Chevy with me..  It was late, so  we went to a friends house to stay overnight and leave early in the morning.  When we stopped at the friends house, I opened the car door and Uncle Brownie White decided that he liked it better at the old house and took off like a shot.  Much of the rest of the evening was not spent in bed, resting, but in the van, returning to the old house, putting up lost dog posters, alerting all of our old neighbors etc.

Suffice it to say that we did not leave first thing in the morning.  We first went to the former neighborhood, where our next door neighbor promised to keep a look out for Uncle Brownie.  We checked the pound, left them a picture and the number of our next door neighbor (who also committed to checking the pound weekly.)  When all that was finally done, we had to leave.  I thought Janet was hard to convince, but for a while I thought I might have hog tie Eric and just throw him in the back seat.  We did get away later in the day.  I thought one of the boys would come sit with me, but they did like that VW van with the sunroof.

I can’t remember the distance between RI and Illinois, where I was going to work on my PhD, but I do know that I had figured it out that we could probably drive the whole distance in one day if we left early in the morning.   That didn’t happen, and we got to spend the night in a semi- respectable motel, arriving fairly late the day after, at that.  We had contacted the church there and made them aware that we were coming, so we ended up staying with the Branch President (Mormon talk for the pastor of a small congregation) and his family.  We had asked folks to locate a storage unit so that I could empty my U-Haul and turn it in as soon as we arrived.  Some of the church folks came over almost immediately and we ended up storing our stuff in the basement of the church building. 

In the next couple of days, I met the Chairman of my new Department, sold the Chevy to one of the church members who offered me more than the combined expense I had in buying and repairing the old car.  I had reason later, to wish I had just kept the thing and stored it till we returned.

After we had met all the necessary people, made arrangements for graduate student housing for the fall, and attended church where we could thank everyone in public for the wonderful things they had done to get us organized, we left for Idaho where we would spend the summer and where Janet could have our new baby.

The trip west was largely uneventful except for the discovery I made when we entered Wyoming.  If you are driving a sixties model VW van, it doesn’t matter which direction you are going.  If you are in Wyoming you seem to be driving uphill against a head-wind.  VW van crossed the Wyoming border and dropped to a speed between 35 and forty miles an hour with the accelerator pedal pressed against the floor.  It occurred to me to try traveling in reverse, just in case, but it seemed impractical.  On the other hand, once into Wyoming, if you have a full length sunroof, you can open it and sunbathe to your hearts content, regardless of speed.

Once we were in Idaho we went to both sets of grandparents (not at the same time) where grandmothers thoroughly spoiled the boys.  I got a summer  job at the Union Pacific Railroad as a Signal assistant.  I had spent some months in that job just before we were married).  I spent most of the summer  (riding the train home on some Saturdays, to return in time to be at work at eight AM Monday.) living in an outfit car, (this is a freight card with windows and cots and not much else) setting phone poles in the ground, then climbing them to install cross bars and Johnny balls (the insulators you see on telephone and power poles) and helping to install what was called a CTC, or Central Train Control, around Nampa, Idaho several hundred miles from my family in Pocatello.  I really had no idea what Eric, his mother and brother, and for that matter any other members of my family were doing, except on the Sundays that I could make it home for church services.  By all reports, Eric was an angel at the time, and he smiled smugly every time anyone told me so.

During the last week of August our new son was born, and I quit my job to come home, dote on the baby and his mother, and pack to go back to Illinois.

Illinois was full of interesting experiences, not just for Eric, but for us all.  I was to do my doctoral work at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, but the graduate family housing we found was at the outskirts of the  little towns of Herrin and Cartersville, Illinois at a former army base where (again) we lived in a converted barracks on the second floor. 

Eric was quite thrilled to find that in one of the apartments in our barracks lived a guy named Sam Silas who was a linebacker for the the St. Louis Cardinals professional football team.  He quickly became friends with Sammy, the football player’s son.  Sam was a former member of the Southern Illinois football team and was in graduate housing legitimately as a full time graduate student.  We learned something about what it meant to be a professional by watching Sam, who worked out year round, almost constantly running, putting on his pads and beating up on the nearby pine trees, etc.  He also was a serious student, taking classes right during the football season. (St. Louis is only about an hour drive from Herrin.

The barracks was part of a larger program that had been established in what had been a military ordinance depot.  The facility also included the Southern Illinois University Vocational and Technical Institute or VTI, where they had programs in Mortuary Science, Radio and Television technology,  Cosmetology, Engineering Technology, Automotive Technology and some other things.  The room downstairs from our apartment was the drafting room, which contained an office, and thirty some drafting tables that were busy all day. The entire facility was set up in the middle of a state fish and game preserve, so we often had deer wandering around on the yard, and in the fall and spring the skies were virtually black with migrating waterfowl.  The geese honking overhead were so loud that sometimes they interfered with conversations during the day and sleep at night.  In some ways it was a virtual paradise for three little boys and their friends.  We had Mulberry trees, blueberry bushes, blackberries, quince bushes and crab-apple trees.

Turtles were to be found in a number of places and we had box turtles, ponds with snapping turtles, painted turtles and other small but relatively tame critters.  One day Eric and Stuart brought a box turtle home.  They kept it in a box on the stair landing and fed it a number of foods which were recommended by the locals.  They often brought it in the house and talked to it and played gently with it.

One day they came home and the turtle was not in the box.  They were sure it had been taken by one of the neighbor boys and they questioned (just short of accused) everyone around and never found it.  Almost six months later, in the spring, I went out into our pantry room (the place where our deep freeze and laundry equipment resided) and the turtle came walking out nonchalantly from behind the freezer.  I have no idea if it had been there the whole time or whether it wandered the apartment when no one was awake, and even less idea what it had been eating, but I brought it out for the boys to see and accompanied them down to one of the ponds where they left it in the high grass at the side of the pond.  I assured them that if he could live behind the freezer he (or she, who knows) could live nicely by the pond.

There was a free bus service that delivered vocational students to the VTI and collected graduate students for delivery to the University in Carbondale so that was convenient.  I took the bus back and forth to class most of the time, though as a theatre student I often had to go in the evenings for rehearsals etc, and I drove our car back and forth.  The University did not have on campus parking for students.  Students parked in the periphery and took the busses to class.  As a teaching assistant (actually I taught classes mostly on my own) I qualified for a parking pass, and used it when it was necessary. 

Eric started school in the the kindergarten in Herrin, and  thought it was very cool that he had already learned to read and, without really telling the teacher, he showed off his alphabet and number skills to show what a quick study he was.   When we went to a teacher parent conference just before Christmas, his teacher raved about how quickly he was learning.  “He is actually reading some of the picture books to the other students.  We told her that he was already reading  in the Henry Barnard pre-kindergarten  she was surprised, but not really.  She demanded a lot more from him and he progressed very swiftly after that conference.

Graduate School provided some real problems for us as a family since I had purchased the VW Van in Rhode Island when we were expecting to stay permanently and I still owed well over a year in payments.  My stipend was pretty good for the time, but not good enough to feed a family of four and make payments on an almost new car.  We did have savings from our job, but still. . . .

We were faced with going to the local VW dealer and “trading down”.  After some intense dickering we got enough out of him to pay off the car.  We also got an old, fragile 46 or 47 Ford Station Wagon and it was at this time I wished we hadn’t been so eager to sell off the old Chevy that I used to pull the trailer that held our “stuff” from Rhode Island.

Someone from the university came to see us on some occasion about this time and pointed out that with my income and a family of four, she was pretty sure that we could qualify for government surplus commodities (what would later be changed to food stamps).  Out of curiosity I went to the appropriate site filled out the appropriate papers and sure enough we qualified.  Once a month for the next year (maybe oftener, I’m not sure) We went to a warehouse somewhere in the county and picked up canned goods, butter (real butter, I hadn’t eaten it very often in my life) cheese, eggs and various other things that the government was buying to keep farmers prices up.   We were very grateful and a little embarrassed.  (Enough so that we didn’t tell many folks about it)  I actually got more embarrassed not less embarrassed when I began to notice how many of the folks collecting the commodities showed up in big new cars etc.

Eric enjoyed kindergarten during the year as I did all the things a doctoral student would.  I taught classes in Public Speaking, Oral Interpretation of Literature, a few basic theatre classes including one class in  play direction that included both undergraduate and graduate students.  The first school year passed and that next summer I became business manager for the Lincoln Land Summer Theatre, where the University theatre was presenting a Lincoln play Prologue to Glory for in Lincoln’s home town for the summer. (starring a Doctoral student named David Selby as Lincoln, who later became the Werewolf Quentin in the TV production of Dark Shadows) 

In the meantime, Janet had been looking for work and found that she could make more money as a graduate assistant in the Department of Family Living and Child Development.  Teaching classes and doing research also gave her more time at home.  When I went away for the summer to Springfield, life for her became more complicated as mine actually got simpler.

That next fall, Eric entered the first grade and did very well.  For his birthday in Sept, we were still short of cash, but I bought him a small bicycle from a yard sale.  For a party, Janet and I built a puppet stage from a refrigerator carton and, using a pattern that Jim Henson had placed in Women’s Day magazine (and a script from the same source) we did a puppet show called The Magic Onion   for the party attendees.   I hadn’t done puppetry for years, but it was enough of a success that we got calls to perform at other parties and thus found another source of income.  Of course the income got large enough that we had to bid goodbye to Government Surplus commodities, but gradually a bit here and a bit there we found enough to survive, and even prosper a little bit.  We added another puppet show to our repertoire and Eric had a chance to be an actor in it.

We had a next door neighbor couple who were delightful.  I don’t remember their last name, but when we both had to be away John and Paula took over the care of Stuart and Ryan.  They were wonderful and when we left that area I thought I might have to fight Paula for Ryan.  Eric was in school so that Paula was not too involved with him.  The other boys were her pride and joy though there was  one event that made her feel that we would never let her care for the kids again.  There was a program on television called “Wonderdog” or something like that, that had a hero that was a dog with a cape that could fly, and Stuart was a real fan.   As a fan he decided that the cape would work for him, and one day  when Paula wasn’t looking, he tied a towel around his neck and jumped off the stair landing (second story) and lit on his head, knocking  him unconscious.  A terrified Paula called me at the office and informed me that our period without a child in the hospital was over. (She had called emergency service and had him at the hospital and was still there since they required Janet’s or my signature before she could leave)  I went to the hospital and brought both her and Stuart home.   Nothing was broken, but he had a slight concussion.  Once I had Paula calmed down I met Janet at the apartment.  I had to calm her down as well, and life went on.   By the end of the second year, I had finished my course work, passed language tests in Spanish and Finnish and submitted my topic for a dissertation which had  been accepted.  The proposal  included my translation of Nummisuutariit, (The Heath Cobblers) a classical Finnish play  by Finland’s Shakespeare, Aleksis Kivi.  This translation was to be adapted to an English contemporary language style, presented in performance at the University, then compared to Finnish productions of the same play.

I didn’t want to leave the university until my dissertation was completed, and Janet had obligations involving her Master’s program.  I wrote a grant proposal which would allow me to become an assistant to Mordecai Gorelik, whom I considered, by then, my mentor.  I received the grant, but it worked out that I didn’t use the grant for the purpose involved, since I was offered a position working full time as an instructor teaching Public Speaking at the Vocational Education Center, with my classroom being just downstairs from our apartment.

Eric went to the Second Grade, Janet worked on her MS, and I taught classes and worked on my Dissertation.    One day Eric came home from school and announced that the teacher had assigned all the students to bring their favorite book to school and report on it.   Eric had been reading Tom Swift  and teen age detective novels for most of the summer, but he was then in the middle of a two or three hundred page volume called Bomba the Jungle Boy so he placed it in has backpack and took it to school.  He came home that afternoon crestfallen.  His teacher had accused him of lying because that book was way beyond the capacity of any second grader.  He tried to read it to her but she made him pack it up and take it home.

I took him to school the next day and walked over to talk to his teacher.  She shouted at me that I shouldn’t encourage dishonesty in my son, and he was forbidden to take the book back to school.  I took the book home, and Eric took a book to school that he had read the previous year. Because it had pictures in it, he thought the teacher would accept it.  She did.

About this time, I had a very humbling experience.  When Eric finished with “Bpmba” he asked me to suggest a book for him to read. I remembered a childhood fondness for Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans  and got him a copy .  A couple of days later he braced me in the living room with a sort of acid glare.  “Dad,” he asked “did you really read The Last of the Mohicans?  Did you really like it?”

“Yes”, I replied “It’s a classic.

He then proceeded to go through the first part of the book and point out grammatical errors, inconsistent shifts in narrator persona, and a whole potload of weaknesses in the book that I had never noticed.  It wouldn’t have concerned me if one of my students had offered that critique on my literary taste, but Eric was a second grader.  I began to feel some sympathy for his teacher.

In March, our third son Alex was born.  He was a beautiful blonde little boy where our others had had long black hair.  Janet was deep into her thesis in family and child development and was teased by some of her colleagues for “taking this child development thing to much to heart” when she took time off to have the baby. 

We had some scary things happen:  one day Alex just turned “logy”.  He didn’t cry, or laugh or do much of anything but lie in his crib.   He had been so active up to this point (a little less than two month old) that we called the doctor in Marion.  We described his symptoms and he asked me (on the phone) to apply a little pressure to his lower abdomen, and I did, to which Alex just stiffened and whined a little.  The doctor told me to drive immediately to Marion and he would meet us at the door to the hospital.  He met us there and took the baby directly into surgery.  A couple of hours elapsed (This was about seven P.M.).  At he end of that time he came out and told us that Alex had an intussusception, which was the small intestine backing up into the upper part of the intestine and blocking it.  He had removed several inches of the intestine , and, for good measure, he said with a smile, he took out Alex’s appendix.  It turned out that he had  just lost one of his grandchildren to an intussusception that hadn’t been diagnosed in time (He was not there) so he had done some research and knew immediately what the symptoms were.  We were in the right place at the right time.   

I was making good progress on my dissertation.  One of the elements in the dissertation was to finish the translation in a very literal  form, then to adapt it into more colloquial language , get it presented in America then do careful comparisons of the adaptations that had  had to be made for an American  productions with those that had been made for modern productions in Finland.  The University theatre added  my play (translation) to the regular schedule and one of the MFA students from Egypt, Nagy Faltas took it on for a thesis project.  It was particularly interesting to have an American English version of a Finnish folk classic, directed by an Egyptian. 

I filmed the performance (both as a movie record and with still pictures and got a lot of info for my dissertation.   I had the dissertation completed, using  photos and productions scripts lent to me by the Finnish National Theatre when my advisor suggested that I might apply for a Fulbright-Hayes fellowship to go to Finland and so my comparisons live.  I checked the final dates for submission and got my application in.  I wasn’t too hopeful so I continued to apply for jobs for the next year and wrote the “final” chapters for the paper.  I went out for interviews and was trying to make up my mind about which of three offers I would accept, when we were notified that I had received the grant.  I wrote off to the colleges that had made offers (Newberry College in South Carolina, one from a university in Eau Claire Wisconsin and one other that I  can’t recall, in Ohio I think) scrapped the last two  and one half chapters of my dissertation and began to plan for a trip to Finland.  We had a lot of fun planning our trip.   I had been spending some Saturdays at auctions and estate sales each month, working as a “picker” for a couple of antique stores.  It was fun spending someone else’s money doing something I loved to do.

Eric helped me a lot.  He got a list of valuable old books and read a lot at the sales to help me select things.  The other boys had a great summer running hither and yon around the apartment complex.

Janet was given the assignment (for her assistantship) to set up a head start program, go through the child selection process, and run the program for about two months.  It was a demonstration thing, one of the first such in the nation, set up so that people from other colleges, and school districts could come and watch through one way mirrors that surrounded the classroom.  It was a great success.  She was offered so many really high paying jobs by the State of Illinois, by colleges and school districts at the conclusion of the head start that we had to sit down and really think about our up coming trip to Finland.  Some of the positions were at salaries well above what I could expect, even after we came home with the finished dissertation.  I had signed a contract, so we decided that she better turn down the jobs, and come with me.

By then, I had a Saab (415 or 515, one or the other) small sedan that I turned over to one of the families in our church who needed it, and I bought, and overhauled an elderly step van, with a help of a guy in our church which we used to haul all of the stuff that we wanted to keep, out to Idaho where we spent some time visiting with family before our departure for Europe.  The departure was a little spectacular with both sets of grandparents lined up at the Pocatello airport waving as we boarded the plane. It was the first time the grandparents had seen Alex, and they both offered to keep him while we traveled.  (Paula and Johnny were so worried about Ryan going to Finland that it was hard to take him away from Illinois)

As we departed, I bought Eric a copy of Return of the King by Tolkien. (He had completed the second grade now).  By the time we got to Finland he had finished the book and we had purchased (and he had read) The Hobbit and one of the other books of the Tolkien trilogy The Lord of the Rings. 

Alex had recovered from his intestinal surgery and was a very active child, but had several allergies and some asthma and frequent  bouts of pneumonia.  When we arrived in Helsinki we didn’t instantly find a place to live, but with the help of the embassy and some folks in the church we found temporary housing in a dormitory section of Helsinki University.  As luck would have it, he contracted pneumonia before we moved into our permanent apartment.   He was in the hospital for almost a month.

While he was in the hospital, we found an apartment in Puotila, a development just outside the city, so we brought him home to a bed of his own. 

We consulted with the embassy and with some other non-Finnish residents and discovered that Eric could go the the diplomat’s school and enter the third grade, or he could enroll in a Finnish Elementary School near our apartment.  In Finland, at that time students didn’t enter Elementary school until they were seven years old.  Eric was still seven years old so he would enter as a first grade student.  Since he didn’t speak Finnish at all, even that would be difficult for him, but, consulting with the Administrator or Principal of the school, we decided that  going to a Finnish school would be the way to go.

The fact that he could already read took some of the pressure off him, so he brought home his reading books and I would teach him the pronunciation of the words and explain the grammatical structure of the language as he was reading at the elementary school level.

Within three months, he was functioning quite nicely in the school without much help from me. By Christmas he was speaking Finnish very freely and without hesitation.  Stuart and Ryan picked up enough Finnish to make themselves comfortable in most situations but they did stick together quite a lot and strengthen each other.

I found the Finnish school program fascinating.  Students had individual schedules and often went to school at different times.  Eric would go to class one day at 9:00 AM, on another day at 11.00 AM and studied different topics at different times, sometime with children from other classes.  A fair amount of time was spent in physical education, so he would have soccer practice at one time while those with more experience  would practice together at another time.  They had active intramurals and he played in his first soccer game ever on about the fourth week of class.  I was somewhat amazed at how well he played.   Later in the year, after snow had fallen, it was not unusual to look our the window at mid-day and see his teacher leading the class in a cross-country  ski hike right across our yard and out into the woods.  (Yes, the purchase of skiis for the three older boys was an early priority.)  Thinking back, I can remember being amazed that he was working Math problems that were way above whet he had learned in the second grade.  By mid year he was doing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Finnish children of that period (mid sixties) certainly had a different “style’ of dress and behavior than those children of graduate students with whom they had interacted in the states.  During the warm weather, it was not unusual at all to see children in the age group from one to three years old running around in the apartment complex courtyard in nothing but a T.Shirt (or any other shirt).  Gender had nothing to do with it, naked from the waste down was rather frequent. (Sometimes wearing shoes sometimes not.  In the winter it was almost totally the opposite.  Children dressed to play outside in cold weather were so wrapped up in jackets, leggings, hats etc. that most of them waddled rather than walked.  The only variation in that was for children who were old enough to ski or ice skate or sled on the complex.  Sled tracks around the courtyard which resembled in some ways the luge track that one sees in Winter Olympics going uphill, downhill and around steep curves were used by adults as often as children.  The courtyard also contained a fairly steep short  hill with a couple of small jumps carved into the surface.  Finally it had a skating rink about fifteen meters wide.  All told, the courtyard was a delightful place for children and adults, both winter and summer, but the dress and manners both winter and summer took some getting used to.Ryan on skis 1967

I couldn’t find a picture of Eric on skis.  This is Ryan and Janet on skis

We had a wonderful time  at church as well.  It was a fairly long tram ride, but the mass transport in Finland is wonderful.  Enough people spoke English that all the boys had friends, though they thought sermons were a bit lengthy.   Eric was baptized in September.  He was presented with a rose by someone after the ceremony and he thought that was cool.

Eric's baptism in Finland 1968

Eric on his baptism day in Finland with another boy who had been baptized at the same time

Alex contracted pneumonia again not long before Christmas and had, once more to go to the hospital.  There was a little boy in the hospital who had been there the first time Alex went in.  He was very cute and very intelligent and he and Alex played together  when Alex wasn’t under a tent.   I thought it interesting that he was here again, so I questioned the nurse who said that he wasn’t very ill, but that he had been in the hospital for several months.  His father was dead, and his mother was in a mental hospital.

This triggered enough interest that we made inquires about the possibility of adopting him.  The staff in the hospital became quite enthusiastically excited.  As one nurse said, “He is almost more of a pet than a patient, and he could use a stable home..”  Our request was rejected.  It seemed that his mother, though mentally ill had some lucid periods and her doctors felt that allowing the boy to visit his mother (or vice-versa was very important for any possibility for the mother to get well.    We certainly agreed though we were a little disappointed.  Before Alex was well enough to come home, we were contacted by the “Save the Children” organization to see if we might be interested in adopting one of the children in their orphanage.  We were interested and thus began the process where our first daughter entered our lives.Janet and Anja

Delivery day for our new daughter, Here Janet holds Anja.  Much different from previous deliveries.

“Save the Children” had a little girl that was almost the same age as Alex who was virtually unadoptable by a Finnish family because her mother was a Finn, but her birth father was a gypsy. (In Finnish, a “mustalainen,” which meant a “black one”.)  The gypsies in Finland occupied a social position very much like African Americans in the USA.  Many of them (including our daughter’s birth father) were famous entertainers, but most of them lived a traveling gypsy life, trading and training horses, some raising sheep, etc.  Her birth father was a nationally known entertainer and her mother had been what we might call a “groupie”.  Her mother gave her up because she had married a Finn  who thought she was pregnant with his child.  When the baby was born, it was obvious that  she was not a blue eyed Finn.  Ultimately her husband agreed to continue the marriage if she would give up their child (Whom we adopted and named Anja.)  So the child, about nine months old had been in an orphanage since birth.Eric, Stuart, Ryan, Alex and their new sister

Eric, Stuart, Ryan and Alex with their new sister Anja (1965)

I spent much of my time at the Suomen Kansallis Teateri or Finnish National Theatre.  I also spent many days at the Aleksis Kiven Seura, or The Aleksis Kivi Society.  I had occasion to travel , spending a week at Tampere University lecturing on American Theatre, and attending the performances of The Heath Cobblers  at the National Theatre, at several outdoor dramas and a couple of Professional regional theatres.  (In Finland, much of the theatre is government supported through the National Lottery, so that most cities with a population over  twenty five thousand had a residential professional theatre.) Although I had a fair amount of time to play with and teach the children, my traveling occupied me a week at a time so that the children were home with Janet.  When I was as staying home at night, if I weren’t at the National Theatre or Kivi Society I was often at work with Helvi Temiseva, a member of our church who was a licensed Finnish to English translator.  She spent many hours checking my translations of  the archaic  Finnish language in the play, especially to validate (or invalidate) my figures of speech and poetic imagery.  Eric enjoyed coming with me when he could.  He really loved to hear us argue, and sometimes to see his old man corrected.

Christmas in Finland was wonderful and much different than in the US.  There was a little strip mall about a block from our apartment.  When Santa came to that mall, he came on a sleigh pulled by a reindeer.  The boys all got a chance to ride the sleigh with Santa (Joulu Pukki is the Finnish name for Santa, in literal translation it means Christmas Goat, and Santa is sometimes seen on a sleigh pulled by a  goat.) On Christmas Eve, Santa would appear at the door, and knock loudly to announce his arrival.  The children then sing a particular song which welcomes Santa into the house.  He comes in the house and directly distributes the gifts to the children, whereupon he is usually offered a libation and a song is sung to send him away.  When I was a missionary a decade or so earlier, American missionaries were bemused by the number of Santas often a little drunk from the libations, riding their bicycles from appearance to appearance. (Our neighbor lady from across the hall  wearing a beard and a lot of fur, served the purpose for us, and I sneaked out a little later and did it for her)  Live candles are used on the Christmas tree, and most families go to the cemetery and light candles at the graves of their loved ones.   The cemeteries are lit up very beautifully all  the country.

Christmas in Finland 1967

Christmas in Finland, 1967.  Alex missed the picture and my computer ate the cemetery pictures.

Anja’s arrival on the scene changed a lot of things in our home.  The first thing we had to learn to understand was that in the orphanage, all or most of the attendants were women.  She drew very close to Janet almost instantly and the littlest boys were like the ones she had associated with, but she had no experience with men or big boys at all.  She didn’t want anything to do with me.  When i tried to pick her up, she stiffened like a board.  This passed after a few weeks, but neither Eric nor I received much positive reaction at all.

A second factor that became obvious was that in the orphanage little children were not encouraged to feed themselves at all.  In fact it was pretty obvious that they were punished for attempting to feed themselves.  There was something both poignant  and distressing about her attitude toward food.  We would get out the highchairs and she would be totally eager to get up into her place, but the moment the lid came down on the chair, both of her hands went up into the air and she began to scream.  She seemed almost terrified if we put any food on the tray, but if we held it and shoveled it into her quickly she would quit screaming and be excited.  Any lengthy pause in the process of food entering her mouth would bring about an repeat of the screams.

Meals, at least at first, ceased to be a relaxed and pleasant experience for anyone in the family.   It took several weeks to convince her that she wasn’t going to have her hand slapped if she picked up a cookie by herself, and even longer to teach her that she could use the spoon to pick up food.  The only time after that learning process that she reverted to the hands in the air and scream behavior was when we held a birthday party.  Her birthday was in June, and Alex’s was March second so we held a joint birthday party and with both kids in their high chairs we brought out small cakes with candles on them and put one on each child’s high chair tray.  I guess that having fire that close to her nose was too much so she went back to her early behavior.  We took the cake off her tray, encouraged Alex to blow out the candle after which he ate his cake with bare hands.  Without the candle Anja decided that imitation was profitable so she then ate most of her cake.

Life went on with one extra child in the family (We referred to Alex and Anja as the twins, their birthdays were almost two months apart) until once, a few days later,  the small ones were playing on the floor while I worked on some book work and Janet fixed dinner.  Alex and Anja were just learning to walk, and did so mostly by  holding themselves up on the furniture.  I wasn’t watching closely as Anja took a couple of free steps through the kitchen door.  Janet had set the table with a table cloth and put the main entree in a large heavy ceramic bowl in the center of the table and called us to dinner.  The entree was one of our favorites, Scandinavian pea soup.  (In the U.S., most pea soup is made with split peas, Sweden and Finland, it is made with whole dried peas , soaked overnight then boiled with a ham bone or pork for a long time.)  I will never  be able to understand how this happened, since the soup bowl was very heavy, but apparently Anja got her hands on the table cloth and pulled the whole bowl of soup over on her head.  She screamed in pain and both Janet and I jumped to her aid.  Her head  and shoulders  (and much of the rest of her) were covered in HOT pea soup .  I grabbed her up and went to the bathroom to turn on the shower with Janet accompanying me, ripping off Anja’s clothing.  I turned on the cold shower and stuck her in the ice cold water to rinse off all the soup, and cool the burn. 

From our experience with Alex, I had the number posted on the wall, and one of us, I am not sure which, called  the Finnish equivalent of EMS.  (It had to be me or Eric since I don’t know if Janet’s Finnish at that time was fluent enough to make the call)  The ambulance was at the door with amazing speed. They took her, told me we had done just the right thing, and were off with her to the hospital in moments.  The next door neighbor had come to the door (We lived on the third floor of a large apartment building, so she had been aware of the ambulance  and attendants.)  I asked her to watch the children and Janet and I were on the way to the hospital.

The hospital had an excellent burn-center, and by the time we got there they were already preparing Anja for skin grafts.  Most of the serious burns were on her face, shoulder and one hand.

She was in the hospital for over a month, receiving remarkable good care.

(Some folks who read this blog and know what a conservative cuss I am wondered at my comments during the early part of Obama’s term when I stated many times that I felt that some king of Medical Care Program was necessary should be aware that we were in Finland on a grant stipend, and our two little ones had almost three months in the hospital between them, and my out of pocket cost was about a dollar a day.  If this same stuff had been in a stateside hospital I probably would still be paying it off.)

When we got her home from the hospital, she still needed a lot of care.  Janet  had to put her in the bathtub almost every day and hold her ( most often with Eric’s help, since I was working during that time) then with Anja in the water they had to gently peel off the soaked scabs from her arms, feet and shoulders.  This was very painful the the little girl and it caused a real shift of allegiance in the child. 
When I was home she clung to me and avoided Eric and Janet whenever possible because she had learned to associate them with pain.  This was difficult for Janet, very difficult because she had come to prize the cuddling interaction with Anja (as with all our kids) and suddenly Anja was having none of it.  As for Anja herself, she healed beautifully with only a small scar beneath her chin and another on her arm.  She and Alex were quickly fitting into the “twins” category. 

Another event that affected us all was when Janet came down with an apparent food reaction (we never found the source) with diarrhea, vomiting and all those nasty things,  On the second day she  became so dehydrated  that she had little control of her limbs and even had some kind of convulsions.  Once again I called the ambulance people who came quickly and gave her an IV before anything else and she was taken to the hospital for several days.  The children were all somewhat traumatized by her illness, and had no fun at all when daddy stayed home and babysat.  She recovered quickly but was very weak for several days after she came home.

I finished up the work on my dissertation  (well, not quite) and thankfully we had no more sickness.  We spent a lot of time enjoying Finland, going to the open marketplaces (Tori they are called) or to see several outdoor presentations of the Heath Cobblers in different parts of the country), and the boys practiced music for a trio (Alex was still a bit young for a quartet) and sang at church.

We were lucky that all the final work on Anja’s adoption was finished in May since my stipend was up in June.  We had to deal with Anja’s passport still being Finnish, but we got through all the stuff and made it back to the USA.

I have to admit that for some reason, the sequence of events during the summer as we returned have just eluded my memory. Specific things that happened are clear, but even with Janet’s help, the sequence is not clear.  I know that the following events happened:   I got a job at the State University College at Oneonta, New York ;  I turned in my rough draft for the dissertation, got a list of suggestions about the things I had yet to do; We bought a Ford Econoline van that was my first absolutely new car I had ever purchased.  We drove the new car to Idaho so that the grandparents could dote on their new grandchild. We returned to Illinois where I discussed  further changes with my dissertation advisor and picked up the SAAB that I had left with a friend.  We drove to New York, and started a new life.

The effect on Eric, and his participation in these evens is also vague, except that he never caused us any trouble and that he was very helpful keeping the other kids in line as we traveled.  The trip to Idaho had some interesting components, and I ended up being very grateful for new car warranties.  We were driving across Kansas when at the request of the children I pulled off the expressway to get some fast-food dinner.  Just as we  left the exit lane onto a frontage road, my oil pressure plummeted to Zero.   Fortunately we were right in front of a Service Station (we all remember those don’t we?) so I coasted in  and cut the motor. The attendant put the car up on the rack, then came to me with a puzzled look on his face.  “I’ve never seen anything like this, so you can come see if you agree, but your oil filter and the housing that holds it seem to to missing”

I went with him to look and sure enough it was just not home.  He told me that it might take several days to get the part, but he would suggest that I call the Ford dealership that was only a few blocks down the street and have them come pick it up.  I did as he suggested, so the Ford people came and picked up the car (and us) and carried us away.  The service station man said that there would be no charge.  Except for running the car up on the rack, he couldn’t think of anything to charge me for.

We all sat calmly (or not) in the waiting room of the dealership till the shop manager came out to talk with us.  He explained that he had a couple of cars that we coming, but this was the first one of these models he had seen, but that not only the oil filter,but the oil filter housing was missing.  It apparently had not been properly installed, and had just worked its way loose.  Then he dropped the real bomb.  He didn’t have a filter housing in stock that would work, but that he had called Ford motors and they were expressing  a new one to him.  They found us a motel nearby, and sure enough , the next morning he called and said that he had the part and it would be repaired in a couple of hours.  At that moment, I didn’t have much enthusiasm for Ford Motors, but I was singularly impressed by their parts express system.

We stayed in the motel one more night (courtesy of Ford Motors) and left early the next morning.  The children were quite pleased because the Motel had a nice little pool, which they used enthusiastically. 

The trip went well until we entered Denver.   As I made my way through town, I was pulled over by a State Patrolman, who informed me that my brake lights weren’t working.  In my ignorance I argued a little with him, pointing out the the car was less than a month old, and there wasn’t time for the brake light to die.  He smiled and told me to go behind  the car while he pressed the brake pedal.  I did so, and sure enough both brake lights were dead.  We explored the front of the car and found that where the brake light switch was supposed to be, there were two bare wires hanging down.  I was beginning to get quite disillusioned with Ford Motors.  It was past time to get to a garage before closing so I determined to just go on and trust to luck that I didn’t have an accident or get another ticket,  Two days later we were in Idaho and I took the Monday morning special to a garage to have a break light installed.  This place was less accommodating than the one in  Kansas.  They had a switch in in stock and installed it, but instead of sending the bill to Ford, they charged me what I remember to have been a pretty substantial  fee, then gave me a receipt which I could send to Ford.  I did so, and was soon reimbursed and received a letter of apology signed by Lee Iacocca the CEO of Ford motor (or it was signed by his signature machine.)  I don’t remember anything special of  our visit except that Anja successfully  entranced her new grandmothers.

0350

This picture, in Idaho, includes a grandfather, grandmother, great grandmother, an aunt in the background and Eric holding Anja up for display.

We went to our new position in New York via Illinois where I picked up the SAAB which we had left there at the beginning of the trip to Finland.  I discovered  upon my arrival in Illinois that my SAAB had a spark plug that had blown loose from the head.  The spark plug hole was stripped (and may have had a small crack.)  I took it to a mechanic that I trusted and he thought he could fix it with a helo coil (whatever that is) but he had  to wait for a proper sized helo coil to come in.   I ended up driving the SAAB to New York with only three firing cylanders.  I won’t describe the trip except to say that it wasn’t fun with the kids and Jan in one car and me in the other, (occasionally taking one of the kids) but we arrived on time and went to work.

Surrounded by a brother and some cousins

Eric and Stuart (cowboy hats) and their Idaho cousins before leaving for New York.

We found a wonderful house to rent that was late Victorian, very roomy and with an attic full of stuff that the owner said we could keep or use or throw away..  While we were in New York, our sixth child was born (actually she was born in Cooperstown, which is also the mythical home of baseball.)

As far as this story goes, the most important elements were that we got Eric and Stuart into the college laboratory school, Although Eric had only finished the second grade in the US, and had returned to the first grade in Finland, we put him into the fourth grade, Stuart in the first grade and Ryan into kindergarten.  Alex, Anja, and Beth-Anee (when she arrived) stayed home with Janet.

I soon became the local Cub Scout Cub master, so I had a good bit of intense interaction with Eric and a bunch of his friends.  Ryan’s (pre?)kindergarten teacher was the head of the early childhood department for the college, and was absolutely brilliant, and he learned so much, it was astonishing.  I remember this three or four year old child sitting beside us as we watched  some nature television show about elephants when this little voice popped out beside me with the comment (roughly quoted from fifty year old memory) “Elephants are pachyderms.  That means thick skin.  Pachyderms that are alive now are elephants, hippopotamuses, and rhinoceroses.  There used to be a bunch of others called mastodons, and mammoths, and some others that I can’t remember”.   I asked him where in the world he learned that and he replied that  “Ms Kritch (I’ am pretty sure that was what he called her, to me she was Dr. –Something that started with a K but was multisyllabic) taught us that a few weeks ago”.  That was typical of what he was picking up including counting, alphabet, reading picture books by himself etc.   I was in awe all year about what he was picking up at school at his age.

Eric checked so many books out of the library and took them to school with him that, after about six weeks I became a little concerned.  About that time they had a visitation invitation for the parents and we went to the program to meet Stuart and Eric’s teachers.  Stuart seemed to be struggling with reading, and he was given some flash cards to use during our family home evenings.  Eric’s teacher on the other hand was so effusive in her praise.  She said that Eric was so far ahead of his classmates that he got a little bored, so she basically gave him a corner in the back of the room, and allowed him to sit there and read the Encyclopedia Britannica, bringing him out only for group activities and mathematics;, where she felt that he was closer to par with the rest of the class.  He finished the entire Encyclopedia Britannica that year.

I became the Cub master for one of the community cub scout programs, and Janet was his den mother, so I also got to see and participate in both soapbox and model car races (I can’t remember Cub Scoutese for the kind of model car they made and the competitions in them –I thought of it, I thought of it, it was the pinewood derby.) 

Our house for that first year in New York had an attic full of nineteenth century stuff, and books, and even an artificial leg.  It also had a double garage with an attic that was crammed with old glass bottles, picture frames and so many things that I thought were valuable keep-sake stuff that  when I first found Eric prowling through the stuff I called the landlord to tell him that Eric had been up there and had taken a few things to his room, but that I would put them back and make sure he didn’t go there again.  The landlord said that it was all just junk that he would eventually have to get rid of anyway and that he/we could have anything we wanted up there.  After that, Eric and I often prowled the attic together.  After  about a year, he contacted me and said he was probably going to remodel the house and make office suites out of it so we should start looking for another place.  A couple of weeks later a dump truck pulled up to the garage and they took everything left in that attic, tossed it in the dump truck and took it to the city dump.  I wanted to throw my body across the door to protect the stuff because, as a former picker for antique shops I knew that there were several thousands of dollars worth of antiques that just went in the dump.  If he had informed me a week or two sooner that he was going to do it, l would have hired a couple of college students to help me, rented a truck and hauled most of the contents (those that I didn’t lust after for myself) to the local auction house.  I am a bit of a hoarder, and that is nuts, but some people don’t have any idea of the value of old stuff, and that is sad.

I was paid, in New York on a nine month’s schedule  (paid the same yearly amount as in most college teaching jobs, but in nine parts with no income for three months.  We had made good resolutions to save an adequate amount of money each month to make up the difference, but you know how that goes.  As a result, I ended up with two summer jobs (I had no opportunity for summer teaching). I went to work for Breakstone Dairy in the milk processing plant.  I was fascinated in view of the advertising competition of dairy products to find that we bottled Breakstone milk, Borden milk, other “brand name” milks, at least four or five different house brand milks for supermarkets and discount stores, and it was the same milk that went into every batch.  (I quit buying name brand milks that year)

A side  benefit of working at the milk plant is that they sometimes had big milk cans (I can’t remember how much they held, but it was a lot.) wherein the heavy cream or occasionally just a can of un-separated milk would begin to sour, and I would be asked to dispose of it in a big vat.  I asked (about the first one) if I could have it if I returned the can.  I was given permission and took it home where Eric was given the responsibility to take the heavy cream out and churn it into butter.  He got a book on the subject, took all the safety precautions and churned it, sometimes with our help, but not often.  It was wonderful.  We had never eaten much butter as a family except for the year we were entitled to use government surplus.  Now we had unsalted butter , salted butter, we put cultures in the “top milk” of the cans that were un-separated and made cultured sour cream and stuff that looked like and tasted like yogurt.  The separated milk we put in bottles and let sour to their hearts content and used the sour milk to  cook with.  We still had dairy products left at the end of the following school year.

I took the last few weeks of summer to help one of the guys in our department.  They had an old Victorian brick veneer house on which the bricks had become discolored, and the mortar was crumbling and some of the bricks were falling out.   I had spent much of a summer somewhere in the transition from high school to college working for a brick contractor.  I started out carrying hod, but was given exactly this assignment for awhile.  We worked out a fair price, and I rented a compressor and sand blaster and spent much of the summer repairing the exterior brick work on the house.   I used Eric, about two days a week to pick up bricks that were fallen, remove and mark loose bricks and to mix and carry mortar when I was up on the scaffolding (which I also had rented)  Both my friend and I were very pleased with how it worked out.  It still looked old, but it was solid, and all the parts looked like they were supposed to.  I had build up some of the areas around the windows, and the wood in those areas  needed paint, but my friend chose to do that himself.

I learned something interesting during that job.  My friends wife had a little office in the house that was used for one purpose- - contests and coupons, mostly contests.  She would buy magazines and clip from other sources (Nowadays with computer she would be a millionaire) and she had office hours where she used the time to enter contests, especially the kind where an entry must include a poem or saying etc.  She actually cleared about six hundred dollars a month with contests.

Fishing  with his brother

Eric and Ryan fishing during our first New York summer

When we moved we took several things with us, (with permission), but all things considered, I was glad we moved.   We  moved into an old Victorian three story house with a big oval tower on one side.  It created a really interesting set of, I guess you would call them bay windows, on two floors.  On the main floor I put an antique barber chair that the kids and I loved for different reasons.  I loved it because it was infinitely adjustable with a head rest, and it was one of the best places to sit and read that I have ever known.   The kids loved it because you could lay it out flat, get a kid running on each end then they would  jump on it and spin for two or three minutes.  The base was so heavy that no child could tip it over.  It spun sometimes for half hour at a time, and in the circular tower cupola  it seemed so appropriate. 

Somehow in the moving  process the boys also acquired a guinea pig.  It was and interesting pet.  Eric discovered (from one of his books, of course) that to keep the thing healthy we also had to feed it some fresh food to go with the pellets.  My reputation in my family as a champion scrounger really jumped with the retrieval of “fresh” produce for the guinea pig.  I talked to the produce manager of one of the local supermarkets and found  out what time and day he tossed the cut-of material (carrot tops, corn husks and corn trimmings etc.) into the dumpster and I was often there to meet him.  Eric and I became skillful dumpster divers, especially when in the collection guinea pig produce we discovered that they were often tossing out newly expired packages of meat, butter and margarine, bent canned good and working quickly we would toss some of that into our produce bag, which we would take home toss out the obviously broken packages etc. and make use of the rest.  Talk about a bum, and we weren’t even homeless.

About the time we moved into the “new” house, we acquired a dog.  I don’t remember where we got it, but we got it as a puppy because it’s AKC registered mommy golden retriever had fraternized with a non registered English setter daddy dog.  He was a really beautiful, red furred, somewhat long furred dog.   The dominant look was the Golden retriever, and we were often compliment by other Golden owners on how beautiful he was.  The boys named him Ali Baba and he was generally called Baba.  He was an intimate and joyous part of our lives for over five years.

AS a confirmed antique furniture nut I found an auction house that was outstanding.  In shopping for our house, I discovered that all the collectors in that area were shopping for fruit woods, like cherry, walnut etc. , and their cousins, mahogany, pecan, maple  and other close grained woods.  As a lover of oak, I was thrilled to see that, either from sales or from the auction I could get good oak items at about half, or less than half the price they had brought in Illinois, so, as quickly as the budget would allow, we had a house furnished in Victorian oak (with a mahogany breakfront, a walnut writing table and the set of cherry chairs and settee, that I had bought, over my wife’s objection in Illinois.

Eric continued to do well in school, even with a new teacher who required that he study what the rest of the class studied before he went back to the encyclopedias. Stuart, in the second grade really struggled with reading (I am not sure if it was more of a struggle or that he just like TV better as a  substitute)

My teaching career went into a challenging period where i was assigned a very different group of classes than the first year, and had a limited amount of creative work.  As a result, Janet and I spent much of our time rewriting (me rewriting’ and her retyping) the dissertation.) That Christmas season required me to go to conventions etc. to seek new employment, since things were not going well on the job.  This was complicated by one of the worst winters in years. 

To go anywhere Eric and I had to crawl out  on top of the snow and probe with broom handles for our car, dig the car out, shovel out the driveway where, as soon as the driveway was cleared the snow plow would come down the street and push a three foot berm across the driveway which we must shove up without throwing any of it out into the road.  We had purchased cross country skiis for everyone while in Finland and we put them to good use going to the grocery store etc.

I had a very different summer than the year before.  Another professor and I set up a six or so week workshop in American English and culture for a group of Secondary School English teachers from Finland.  We had a wonderful time.  They toured an Iroquois Indian Reservation, did reader’s theatre productions of American literature and had a lot of English language discussions of American literature.  I was pleased when one of the ladies told me that she had heard my lectures at the University of Tampere in Finland a couple of years ago.  Eric enjoyed the social events we had with the Finnish teachers and the community.  He had forgotten much of the Finnish he had learned while we were there, but he enjoyed talking as much Finnish as he could with the ladies.  They, in turn, expressed astonishment that a boy of his age who was not Finnish could speak Finnish as well as he did.  One of my real regrets about the way our family functioned after our return from from Finland is that we stopped speaking Finnish at all around the house, and by the time he reached high school he had completely forgotten all of the language.  (and to tell the truth, I was very rusty as well.)

At the conclusion of the workshop, we packed our goods and had a major and profitable yard sale and prepared to move to a new position.  We had one other thing to do, we had to go to Illinois where I would get final approval on my dissertation, have my dissertation defense etc.

We still had the Ford Van, and I constructed an awning tent that opened up to create a sleeping and dining area, and at the last minute I bought (at auction of course) a family tent that was really good.  We drove to Illinois, where we camped for about three weeks on the bank of the Crab Orchard reservoir which was between Marion and Herrin (our old home).

0700

The boys, fishing at the Crab Orchard reservoir while father goes to  the campus and mother keeps the tent clean.

  I say “we” camped but poor Janet had to  take care of the kids, the dog,(we gave the guinea pig away and took the SAAB to the auction) and all our other stuff while I went into the college and had meetings in the air conditioned offices of the department.  Thanks to the help of my advisor (we spent a lot on postage and telephone bills, nowadays we would use email) my dissertation was in good shape and I received more complements that questions from my committee.  I wish my Master’s thesis had been as enthusiastically received.

When the summer was over we moved to Statesboro, GA where I accepted a position as Technical Director and Scene Designer at Georgia Southern College (now University).  Making a decision was hard.  Surprisingly the most highly paid position I was offered was at a technical high school in New York City but I was not sure that any amount of money would support raising six children anywhere near New York City.  (I was also informed that at that high school students were to be in their seats on the hour at which time the doors to the classroom would automatically shut and be locked until the closing bell rang fifty minutes later.  I was just not sure that sounded right to me.)

All the other offers I had were in the South where I, as a life-long Yankee who read all the popular media had some prejudices against the area.  I was offered a position in Alabama, one at a community college in a large city in Florida, another in South Carolina and the one I accepted.  I confess that we made a decision to stay in the South for only two or three years then to move back to the “good” part of the country.  On our first Christmas eve when I went out into the yard in jeans and a T shirt to play with the dog and recalled that the previous Christmas Eve I had been crawling on my belly in the snow probing with a broom stick for my car the resolve to leave in a couple of years diminished considerably

I will also have to admit that one of the main reasons I took this position was that it was the only one that didn’t require a loyalty oath along with the contract.   Surprise, when I arrived one of the first things I saw was the loyalty oath I would be required to sign.  I signed it.

I quite loved the job from the beginning.  The Director of Theatre was an extremely talented lady whose production the previous year had been invited to the Regional Competition of the American College Theatre Festival, which was a big thing.  I won’t pretend that she was always happy with me or that there weren’t times when I was unhappy with her, but it was a very creative relationship. The theatre facilities were pretty primitive and we had almost no shop or storage space, but we made out pretty well. In my first month there, I became aware that there was an old girls gym  about fifty yards from the theatre.  I conned my way into the building and discovered that it was being used primarily as a warehouse for furniture and unused equipment for the college.  I submitted a diagram showing how we could use about a third of the building and a small unused  basement area as a scene shop with a costume shop in the basement, and before we completed the first play we were using the facility.

When we arrived, we found a rental home on the outskirts of Statesboro in a little town called Portal.  It was a farm home with a pond full of bass and an acre of garden.  It was a little small, but we enjoyed it, and life started out well in Portal.  Once again I  became the Cub master for the cub scout troop at the Portal Baptist church and Jan became a den mother.  The boys went to school and liked it.  Our new home  was a little far out of town, but getting up in the morning and catching a couple of one or two pound bass before breakfast can make up for a lot of things. 

We enjoyed the house and had only one complication.  Ali Baba staked out the boundaries of our property and made himself the official warden of the yard.  He killed snakes that wandered into the yard (Georgia has a lot of snakes) and brought them up and placed the carcasses on our doorstep along with the occasional possum, rat, and even an armadillo.  I came home one day to find my department chairman standing with his back  against the door, hands and legs place firmly against the wall.  In front of him about three feet away was a crouching Baba growling in a low throaty way.  I called him off immediately and got him to stop growling and even lick Clarence’s hand.  Clarence had brought me some papers he thought I needed without realizing that I was still working in the shop.   I found that he had been standing there for about fifteen minutes and I was happy that I had not stopped for a hamburger or something on the way home.  He came to see me many times after that, and learned that if he got out of the car and stood there with his hand out, Baba would sniff his hand, then give him a tail wagging escort to the door.  We informed anyone who might be interested that they should give us a call before arrival so we could bring Baba into the house.

Our first three or four months in Portal were wonderful till one time in late November Stuart came home from school with the question “Daddy, are you a Communist?”   Me, who had worked very hard as a campaign worker for the Barry Goldwater campaign, a Communist? 

“No,” I replied, “What would give you the idea that I am a Communist?” 

“I heard Mr. Brown (the school principal) telling my teacher that you were a Communist.”  The principal of the school, Jerry Brown was an idiot who wouldn’t know a Communist if one bit him, but he had deep political roots in the Community so, of course he was an authority.  I worked in theatre, had moved from New York to Georgia, and had long hair and a beard, and in that period of time that was enough to identify a communist, or at least a Hippie, which to that kind of mentality they were the same thing.  From that day forward life was not very pleasant in Portal.

Janet and I loaded up the car in December with things that her Cub den had made as Christmas presents for their parents and we went to the monthly Pack meeting at the church.  We went to the room where the meeting was held, and they were holding a choir practice in that room.  I hunted down the  Minister for youth and asked him where they had moved the Cub Scout Pack Meeting.  He blushed, looked at the ceiling for a moment and said “Hasn’t anyone told you?  We have cancelled Cub Scouts.”  We had over forty really active Cub Scouts, which is an exceptional number in a small town and they cancelled Cub Scouts because an idiot principal spread the word that I was a Communist. 

Stuart suffered because when we considered that he had finished the second grade in New York and still couldn’t read worth a darn  we put him in the second grade in Georgia.  He was self conscious about that anyway and as the word spread about Cub Scouts he had a hard time making any friends.  (Because of his reading problem, we had sold our TV at our yard sale and let the family know that we would get a new one when Stuart could read.  His hypocrite father broke down and bought a TV when the Winter Olympics began.  He was reading pretty well by then so I rationalized that it was time then anyway.  The other real reason, in addition to the Olympics, was that we lived out in the country, sixteen miles from Statesboro and over a mile to Portal with only one car which I drove to work and Janet was going stir crazy with the two little ones and no TV). Eric was as voracious a reader as before, and he wasn’t as dependent on friends or on teacher enthusiasm so he got along a lot better.

The whole thing came to a head in the spring when the boys decided that they wanted to play little league baseball.   Some of the coached decided that they shouldn’t be allowed to play, and one of the coaches actually had to duke it out with one of the other coached to get my kids the opportunity to play little league baseball.  I don’t remember his name but I still, periodically give a prayer of thanks for his courage and kindness to my boys. We immediately began shopping for a new place to live.

We had planted an enormous garden with potatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, crook neck squash, lettuce tomatoes and cucumbers.  Everything grew beautifully though I had a watermelon almost three feet long which disappeared in the night just before we planned to eat it.  I was pleased to discover a lot ladybugs on my tomatoes and thought they would eat the aphids.  The next day I looked and they had eaten a lot of the foliage.  I took a couple into visit some of my biology buddies and discovered that in the south they have a critter named the Mexican Bean Beetle that looks just like the ladybug except it has no spots and it is a vicious creature that is hard to kill.  I did kill enough to get some tomatoes.  Leaving the garden and the bass pond was difficult even if it would get us out of Portal but we shopped anyway.

We found an elderly white frame house in a small town named Brooklet (about nine miles in the other direction from Statesboro) which we were able to buy by assuming the mortgage.  The owner was the ex-police chief of Brooklet who had been discharged for some reason and was in a hurry to get away.  We got into the house for quite a small down payment, assuming a  mortgage for eight thousand bucks.  It was comfortable and we could afford it.  Brooklet was a paradise after having lived in Portal.  The folks there were so friendly and caring (and in desperate need of a Cub master).

We found one early problem with moving to Brooklet.  We had noted that Ali Baba had a particular irritation with motor cycles on our road in Portal.  This came about when he barked at one, and for awhile a group of motor cyclists began to plague him by riding up into our yard when they saw him.  In a sense they buzzed him.  This went on for some time until one cyclist got careless and Baba jumped into his side  as he went through the yard and knocked him off his bike.  Neither Baba nor the cyclist suffered serious injury but the teasing ended, and gradually the bikers found other places to ride.

When we moved to Brooklet, Baba was happy, patrolled the yard, and even made friends with a orange striped feral cat that lived in the abandoned grain elevator near our back yard.  He had great fun chasing squirrels  and the rodents who wandered into the yard from the grain elevator.  One of the funniest sights I have ever seen occurred as I was driving home from work.  Baba was chasing a squirrel across a nearbye lot when the squirrel darted up a tree.  Baba was so close behind he couldn’t stop and he collided nose first with the tree.  it looked like one of those Wiley Coyote cartoons, he seemed almost to accordion pleat against the tree.  He stood up shakily and began to walk home.  This time the squirrel had won.

We lived only about a block from the Brooklet Elementary school and when school started, children began to ride their bikes past our house to school.  Baba  apparently associated those bike with the motor cyclists from Portal and he barked and chased and scared the Dickens out of some of the children.  We reached the stage that we had to tie him securely in the back yard before and after school.  I tried to get him to make friends with some of the children and he did, until they would get on bikes.

At the end of the first school term there in Brooklet he knocked a boy off his bike and bit him (didn’t break the skin, but still??) and I knew I would have to so something so I took him to the vet, explained the situation and told the vet to put him to sleep.  “Not on your life.” said the vet.  “A beautiful Golden like that who responds to your every command as I see that he does, is so valuable I can’t let that happen.  Is he registered?”  I told him no, and he replied “It doesn’t matter, leave him here with me and I will find him a safe home in about fifteen minutes.”

I did, and I don’t know how the timeline worked, but I saved the broken hearts of six children when I told them what he had said.  A day or so later, I had a call from a man who trained bird dogs for field trials, thanking me for the dog.  He told me that he was perfect, behaved himself very well and said that we could come out to visit the dog any time we wished if we would call in advance.  (I think the man’s last name was Tootle, but I am not sure.)  We talked it over with the kids and they decided that we wouldn’t do so because it would be too painful to come back home and leave him there. 

As we moved to Brooklet, Eric left the Cub Scouts and joined a scout troupe at the Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church.  His scout master was a terrific man who happened to be a mortician.  (He still active today though he looks younger than Eric did when he died.  I have regretted for months that I didn’t have Eric’s mortuary work done by Emery, but at the time I thought he was long retired.)  He enjoyed scouting very much.  The church had a separate building that was a scout hut (bigger than a hut really) and Eric enjoyed the situation there enormously.  He was now in the seventh grade  and decided that he wanted to play football with the Junior high or city team.  It was at that time that I learned something about Eric that didn’t show up in his pictures or in any other situation, but his head was so large that they couldn’t find a football helmet that fit him.  The had to borrow a helmet from the high-school varsity.  In the seventh grade, he wore a men’s size eight hat. blowing a balloon to celebrate dinner

The family (but me) our first year just before leaving for Georgia.Cowboy suits for Christmas, Yippee

Eric and Stuart our Christmas in New York

  Eric with the family 1972

The family with Eric our second year in Brooklet.

He did very well that first year in school enjoyed scouts, helped me work with the Cub Scouts, decided by the end of the season that he didn’t like to play football as much as he liked to watch it.  A good swimmer, he joined the city swim team as well.

Our new house got re-arranged a bit and ended up with a very large combination family room, kitchen with eating facilities.  About this time, someone advertised on the local radio station (they had a program at noon called “Swap Buy or Sell where one could place ads at no cost) and someone advertise a professional slate topped pool table, with balls and all equipment.  I checked on it, bought it  for one or two hundred dollars, and moved it into the family room.  Eric quickly became a true pool shark.  Almost no-one, youth or adult who came to the house could beat him consistently.  After a few months, his request for Christmas became to get a pool cue of his own, and he got one that came apart in two pieces and had a sort-of leather holster in which carried it.  He often carried it with him when he went out, and I sometime shudder at the use he must have made of it.

Portrait  on  the  porch

Eric as a seventh grader 

I should take a moment to clarify some of what I have told you.  Eric was not absolutely a paragon of virtue all the time.  He was pretty much completely trustworthy .   Another influence on his life had to be my profession, not just the teaching profession, but the theatre profession.   Almost from birth he was in the theatre for something.  Before he could walk he often sat in his playpen and observed my students and his mother and I building and painting scenery.  He was never brought to the theatre for a performance during his first year because of his colic.  No one needs a screaming child in the audience, but he came to, and enjoyed all the performances during our second year.  (I also spent a major part of the second year as manager of the local drive-in movie, so he was occasionally rocked to sleep by Earnest Borgnine and Burt Lancaster.  When we went to Ohio for my MFA, he only saw those plays that I directed. but by the time he finished Elementary school he had seen his father play the Duke of Cornwall in King Lear, John Brown, Biederman of Biederman and the Firebugs and a number of other roles.  He also accompanied me to plays while we were in Finland.  In other words he had more experience in viewing  live theatre than many children ever have.  I haven’t given any detail about my professional life because, other than a fairly direct contact with the  culture of education and theatre, I can’t pin down any time where the theatre had any direct effect on his actions.When we came to Georgia Southern, he became a direct participant in what was going on.  I came here as a designer and technical director, and my first three plays were particularly a process where I endeavored to create a milieu where the action of the play could happen in a “realistic”  way.

Our first play was The Miracle Worker by William Gibson, which a telling of the story of Helen Keller’s childhood,  and Hazel Hall who directed the play did a masterful job.  It was an exceptional performance and was nominated to tour to the Regional Competition of the American College Theatre Festival (which was a mixed blessing because the judges suggestion some changes in the theatre which I didn’t agree with, but Hazel wanted, and it made the scenery much heavier and more difficult to transport .  We took the play to Abbeville, South Carolina and, of the several plays that were performed that week,  Miracle Worker was adjudged one of the two best.  A musical (who remembers which) from Miami University was nominated to go to Washington DC for the National final.  Miracle Worker was nominated as the “alternate” incase some play that was nominated was not able to go.  Hazel’s production from the previous year had met the same fate.  A great honor, but still- - - .

Our second play, Look Homeward Angel was direct by a guest director from North Carolina, and was effective but not nearly the caliber of The Miracle Worker.

Our final play of the  regular school year was called Summer Tree and had a role for a young boy,  (and is the real reason for my discussion of program) and Eric auditioned and was cast in the role.   It was a great help to him since we were having our problems in Portal, and acting in the play was a great distraction from that.  He was very successful, and he was awarded the trophy for “Best Supporting Actor” of the year at the annual banquet.  The other members of the cast treated him like “one of the guys” which I thought, at the time, was wonderful.  I wonder, now, if it is good for a ten year old to be “one of the guys” among a bunch of college students, but it seemed like a good thing at the time.

 Summertree 2

Eric in Summertree (best supporting actor)

Summertree

Another shot of Summertree

We had a summer program of two plays (about the first time for summer theatre here, our auditorium was not air-conditioned and that doesn’t bode well for summer theatre in Georgia).  For an air conditioned space, we did two plays in repertory in the band room of the Fine Arts building.  I directed Antigone by Jean Anouilh, Hazel directed another William Gibson play Dinny and the Witches.  They were very successful, and Eric got a small role in one of them.  A new regular activity became part of his life.

We had moved from Portal to Brooklet, a new school and new activities.  Our next door neighbor owned the local grocery store, and one day, that winter, I caught Eric with some candy bars in his pocket after I took him with me to the store.

I questioned him, and he admitted that he had stolen them when no one was looking.   I made him return them to the store where he gave them back to our neighbor and apologized for his misbehavior.  The owner had a real hissy fit, yelled at Eric and forbid him to ever enter the store again.  It seemed to be the beginning of a time when Eric was not so much “Daddy’s Little Boy”, a normal and disturbing period for both parents and pubescent young men. When he was in the eighth grade (our second or third year in Georgia) one of the families from our church  came to me.  they lived in Brooklet near us, and were having real problems with their son who was a year older than Eric, but in the same grade.  They posed a question that perhaps Eric might get closer to their son.  Since Eric worked hard at school, did all the things he was supposed to do at church, etc., perhaps he would be a good influence on the other boy.  Amost simultaneously Eric was sent home from school for having his hair too long.  The quote to me was  “It makes you look like a sissy.”

eric_2

Eric, looking like a sissy in the eighth grade.

If I had it to do again, I might have just told him to get a haircut, and sent him back to school, but his hair was shorter than mine, and I was wearing a beard.  I got my back up, went to the School Superintendent  and generally expressed my irritation.  Finally the Assistant  Superintendent asking me in, and said that if Eric would get a haircut this time, allowing the principal to “save face”, no one would ever criticize his hairstyle again.  i talked it over with Eric, he agreed, and it was over—sort of.  The combination of defying the principal, and beginning to hang around with the guy he was supposed to help seemed to push a contrary button in Eric.  He began to stay out much later than his curfew, to smell of cigarettes, and to be a lot less cooperative in a lot of ways. 

I guess the end of the year could be summed up in the fact that he was asked to the high school Senior Prom (he's still in eighth grade) by two different girls.  My partial surrender is illustrated that I agreed to let him go.  (I wish I had a picture of him in his “tuxedo”.  He created his own tux with “tight butt” velvet bell bottom pants, a black vest and ruffed shirt. He looked like Zorro.  It was clear that he had slipped the bonds of Daddy’s Little Boy.

3 Comments:

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Thotman said...

Wow, Richard, you have lived a full life. I can't remember reading any blog that I enjoyed more than reading this one..from your education in the milk plant to the trips in a Ford, to a barber "reading" chair...to discovery bigotry in Portal... simply incredible. It is strange how many values I share with someone with an entirely DIFFERENT experience. Finland/Italy Idaho/Utah Education/Business... without a doubt one of the best 30 minutes I have spent reading in...forever.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Thanks for the compliments Thotman. A moment or so ago one of my remaining sons pointed out to me that the little car I talked about having in Illinois and New York was not a SAAB but a Peugot 503. I hope my seventy year old memory didn't screw up anything more serious than that.

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

Wow! I finally finished, but it left me wanting more. I hope you will continue "Life with Eric" (my own title) to its conclusion, because it will help me to know my grand nepheu a bit more. I admit I am very curious about what happened to all of your family in those growing up years and of their lives as adults. I hope you will indulge me but continuing this saga. I have enjoyed it so much, but as I said, I just need to know the rest of the story. It will be a wonderful legacy to the children if you were to write this history to its conclusion. So, tell me, what happened to him and the rest of the family after Eric finished eighth grade?

If you don't give me some indication that you have read these comments, I just may have to call you.

 

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