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A Story of my Life, Part 10: 1976
A lot of things happened over the summer I turned 19. Dad retired early from his job at Sylvania GE, where he had worked for 35 years. He didn't miss a day of work, not in 35 years--he got a perfect attendance medal upon retiring. He was also awarded seven patents during his work there, mostly for integrated circuits. Sylvania was a company that made televisions. We had no water often, and we slept in the upstairs bedrooms without any heat, all through our growing-up, but we always had the latest in televisions. We had the first color TV. We had the first remote control for a television.
Dad brought them home from the test lab, to beta-test them, before the company invested in a production run. Dad had a corner of the dining room set up as a miniature electronics lab, with volt meters and wires and soldering guns and tubes and circuits and things, and would often spend part of the evening "tinkering" to make the test-models work better.
Sylvania had moved the plant from upstate New York, to North Carolina, where minimum wage was lower and there were fewer taxes for businesses, and factories weren't unionized. Dad decided to retire early, rather than move with the company to North Carolina.
Mom and Dad bought a house in Tennessee and had made plans to move there at the summer's end, instead.
It was strange to me to see all the odds and ends from the house set up on long tables on the front lawn with little price stickers on them. It was even stranger to think that soon strangers would walk into the front hall, and veer left, going to the living room, or head right on back to the kitchen, making this place their home, where no one but us had lived and suffered and giggled and grew up, for so very many years. It was the family home, the old home place. I had never lived anywhere else until I went away to college.
It was strange and more than a little sad to think of this place in the hands of strangers.
Mork and Mindy
It was the summer of 1976, I had been coasting along in my factory job for about a year and a half. I had started at Albany State U and only went there one semester, the autumn I turned 17. I had a little bit of money saved towards going back to school, but no where nearly enough. It was starting to look hopeless, to save enough to go back to school while still working full-time to support myself.
I understand fully well how sometimes very bright and intelligent people end up underemployed for their whole lives, here in America. I was still doing the same mindless, soul-numbing job with the shirts, and, truthfully, I had got a little too comfortable with it. Sometimes I thought you had to either be born with a silver spoon in your mouth or not mind starting your young life out up to your butt-cheeks in debt, in order to escape this peculiar doom.
That wasn't the only problem, though, I realized. The other part of the problem was, that feeling of marching in place was hypnotic, soothing almost--at least I had a place and a function in life and society that I could fulfill comfortably (while standing on my head, even), and my brains were going peacefully to sleep. If I had a little more ambition, a little more determination, I could figure out a way. I just...got...too comfortable? Lazy? I don't know. I lived only 35 miles from my parents' house, my old home. I got into the routine of working from 6am to 3pm, getting out of work, changing into something cool, taking a nap. I'd wake up, read a little, eat a little dinner, watch the TV for a while, then take my bath and go to bed. Monday through Friday, this was the routine. On weekends, I'd pay my bills, clean my little apartment, and do my laundry. I went bargain-hunting at used bookstores frequently, and was a K-Mart blue-light special shopper. I found bargains all over the place--I was a real bargain-hunter. Sometimes on Friday or, more often, Saturday night, I'd go out with my friends from work and have a couple beers and play a couple of pool games. It was a life, of sorts, and it was already a lot better than the life I had growing up. Plenty of water, plenty of heat in the winter, and I wasn't afraid of anything.
The parents moving to Tennessee woke me up from this day-by-day, dreaming awake state of being.
I felt like the last one standing. Carole went to New York City with Jesus a year and a half ago, and hadn't been heard from since. My eldest brother Jerry was in an IBM think-tank, in California. Louie went to Rome, Italy, and had finished his doctorate, and since he didn't get the professorship he wanted, was now going to Rutgers, working on an MBA. My brother David, the middle child, had finished a Bachelor's degree from a state university and was now working for a Mobil Oil job shop, someplace in Texas, as a draftsman (the guy who draws the blueprints for machinery).
My brother Danny had been dead two years. My eldest sister Faye (who had not come home for about 11 years, and she was about that much older than I, about 11 years older), was now married for the third time and living in New Orleans. She had three kids. Her first marriage was at age 17, an elopement which was later annulled, and it was a marriage for purely escape purposes. She always lived south, after that. That frigid bedroom in the wintertime in the old home place where saltwater froze in the room and you took your clothes off underneath the covers was enough to convince her that she NEVER wanted to be cold again!
So there I was. When the household goods had finally been settled and what they couldn't or didn't want to sell was all packed up inside the moving truck, I waved goodbye to them as they pulled out of the driveway at the old home place for the very last time. It was like being at the train station, seeing someone off, waving goodbye to the face at the window as the train departed.
I kicked around the gravel on the driveway, circling our old home place restlessly for a little while. I laid my hand on the place where my brother Danny, who had died at age nineteen, had carved his initials in the maple tree.
The people coming in now would have no idea of our laughing prince who died so young or what those initials meant. He carved them in an act of defiance when he was eleven years old. Danny, who could make us laugh at the holy terror (Dad) who ruled our lives. Danny, so gallant, so bitter, so brave.
I circled the driveway one last time. I felt like the very last person standing on the planet--the last one left standing there while everyone else left me behind.
It was then I determined, with a new and wholly adult resolve, to find a way to get back to school. Hell or high water, I didn't care. I was completely on my own now. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, "I make my circumstance". It was up to me to stop treading water and get off my dead butt and DO SOMETHING.
It was 1976. Gerald Ford was President of the United States. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who made Idi Amin look kind, was the dictator of Cambodia. Our nation celebrated its 200th birthday. Legionnaire's disease was rampant in Philadelphia. It was the year of Superbowl X--yes, that's right, the tenth annual Superbowl. (Trust me--that means something to Americans!) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was playing in the movie theaters. Alex Haley had released a terrific book, called "Roots". Viking 1 landed on Mars. It was the year of the first SST flight--the first flight of the supersonic transport. Cosmic string theory was first proposed by Thomas Kibble. Agatha Christie died that year, and Paul Simon, with Columbia Records, got Album of the Year, with "Still Crazy After All These Years."