As I approach my 87th year of residence on planet Earth, I find myself thinking a lot about two things:
First, where my appearance first started and how my life grew through childhood, then through the struggles of finding an identity in the work-a-day world into what became an invigorating career as a small business entrepreneur and on into an enjoyable retirement.
Second, my birthday thoughts are about my father and his life. We’ll get to that shortly.
So now with some fading physical agility, I guess it’s only natural to spend more time looking back. It’s been a good life, so come along with me as I reminisce.
I was born in the Rockaway Beach Hospital on the southern shore of Long Island, New York. Two years later, all evidence of that occasion was destroyed when the hospital burnt down.
About that same time, we moved to Jackson Heights, on the north shore of Long Island, where three of my father’s siblings and their families all held forte.
I was an underachieving but passable student in the relative ease of elementary school. I was average height, but not slim. When I fell down at about eight or so and broke my collar bone, it became clear I had very poor eyesight.
Although I loved sports, my limited sight kept me from playing baseball or football. I helped organize and be a manager for our independently organized Spades and the Jr. Dukes. Couldn’t we have thought of better names?
A basketball was big enough for me to see, but I was mediocre at best. I had poor stamina; and my shooting was inconsistent at best. I could pass, but you don’t get points for that.
From about age 11 on, I went to camp every summer—not because my parents could afford it but my mother was the year-round bookkeeper for a camp of 1,000 kids, separated in five age groups, built around a nice large lake in Port Jervis, New York.
Camp was fun over the years. I was a camper, waiter, dishwasher and a salad chef’s flunky.
High school was kind of an entertaining merry-go-round. I took up smoking and got involved in student government, but I have no recollection of what the politics were all about.
I failed French I with the textbook my uncle wrote. My mother was quite upset. My uncle thought it was a hoot. The teacher failed me because she said I was cheating by copying from my neighbor’s final exam. What she didn’t realize is that with my poor eyesight, I could barely see my neighbor’s paper.
So I repeated French I, and then they put me in the French Honor Class, where I sat in the back of the room reading Howard Fast novels. By the end of French IV, the teacher realized I hadn’t been very attentive so she promoted me, but not in the Honor Class.
By the third day in Mr. Eckstein’s French V class, he said, “What are you doing here? You don’t have a clue. So he sent me back to French IV, where I somehow managed to get through the State Regents exam
The rest of high school was mostly uneventful. I got away with a lot because my brother-in-law’s sister Esther always kept the attendance records (Delaney Cards) and she covered up a lot of my transgressions. Couldn’t have made it without her!
Moving on to college at the University of Oklahoma was a venture into another culture and a different world. Instead of moving into a college dorm, I went into an off-campus rooming house (big mistake). I hung out with a bunch of older veterans, who gave me a different kind of education. The only part of college life I participated in was the O.U. football games. That was exciting!
I enrolled in the School of Drama, because I thought I wanted to pursue a career in stage design and lighting. I had to take some beginning courses in speech and acting with all the young aspiring actors.
To be honest, they were all naïve and terrible. I, who had no interest in these courses, was the outstanding student—and then Dr. Morteman, who oversaw my area of interest, wanted to know why I wasn’t up at school six days a week instead of going to play basketball or just hanging out.
That kind of settled it. On to UCONN and a more familiar cultural environment, as well as my immersion with Beta Sigma Gamma I have blogged about several times.
After a crash course one summer in French, I got all the credits I needed for graduation. The irony was, Professor Croteau, the French teacher, was probably the best teacher I ever had. He made a year of French fun and a breeze to get through.
All in all, I was not unhappy my school days were over. So much growing up!
As I have passed into my 80’s, I think of my father a lot and how our lives have been so different.
Through only a high school graduate, he was well-read and far more capable in the work world than he was able to demonstrate or achieve.
At age 87, he had suffered back pain for 30 years or more without the availability I had with pain management and relatively-minor corrective surgery.
For many years, prior to WWII, my father was a printing broker (independent salesman). He met my mother at a small S&L where she was a clerk. The war essentially put the printing business on hold. After that, he had series of unchallenging jobs, including his last working years with his brother in a small ceramic tile jobbing business.
Different than mine, retirement for him and my mother was not all that happy. At age 84, he and his wheelchair became residents of a nursing home.
He didn’t write a blog. All he did was listen to music and the weather. I watched with great anguish his struggles to open and turn the pages of a newspaper. I think it was more a symbol than a meaningful reading activity. I’m starting to have that same difficulty.
Although we shared the discomfort of a bad back, my life has had much more fulfillment.
So that’s my story. At 87, I have a lot to be thankful for—lots of good friends all over the country; a marriage that works with a partner who has been a traveling co-pilot; two independent kids, successful in their own way; and a lot of great memories.