Sunday, 8 July 2007
My dad's birthday was on Tuesday and he would have been 74. I still miss him and thought about him a bit more than usual this week. And, as often happens with my dad, I was reminded of a Fred story ...
From the time I was born and through the first couple of years of school, my dad was going to graduate school and getting first his Masters degree and then his PhD in Mechanical Engineering while also teaching at uni and working full time. Part of the unfinished basement was fitted out as a combo den and office so he could study. The old TV and lounge were put down there as was an old Franklin stove (cast iron wood burning stove) to keep the cold Connecticut winters at bay. He had an old china tea pot, white with royal blue swirls and gold accents, that sat on top of the Franklin stove to keep the tea warm. I've never been able to find a teapot that looks anything like that one I remember from the basement.
My dad worked hard at everything he did and our family life in those years was organised around his very busy schedule. As a family, we still celebrated birthdays, but always in the middle of the night. Dad would get home from uni well after we'd gone to bed. So we'd be rousted out of bed in the dead of night and sit around the kitchen table in our jammies singing 'Happy Birthday' and waiting for the lucky parent or kid to blow out the candles before tucking into cake and ice cream. When we were finished, we had to brush our teeth AGAIN and go back to bed. The family dog must have thought we were nuts.
It was years before I found out that normal families celebrated family birthdays during the day. I felt a bit sorry for them.
We always used the backs of my dad's draft thesis and dissertation papers for drawings and writing stories and colouring. I remember when his final draft dissertation was stolen out of his car at uni. This was well and truly in the days before computers so the entire document had to be recreated from the previous drafts and notes and stuff. I'm not sure who I felt sorrier for, my dad or his typist!
Finally, the big day came and my dad was going to get his PhD. I was in the 5th grade, so I was about 10 or 11. My brothers and I were kept home from school, a very rare event because at my house, the only way you got to stay home from school when I was a kid was if you were projectile vomiting, going for both accuracy and distance, or had blood squirting on the walls or had a temperature of over 107F. Otherwise, off to school you go. But today was special and we going to the commencement ceremony at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs.
Let me digress for a moment ...
When I was in primary school, the classes were overflowing with kids. Each class was full to the gills. The only exception was the class for the mentally retarded kids. They did lots of things together with the other kids in the school, called 'main streaming' at the time, but they still had special classes every day that were just for them and there were about a third of the kids in their entire special class compared to my 5th grade class.
So, back to my Fred story.
We sat upstairs in a huge hall; I can still remember looking down at all the little people in their caps and gowns. We sat there as groups of UConn graduates get their diplomas. First they do the Associate degrees ... gowns and mortar boards (those flat graduation hats) ... calling out the names, handing over the diploma case and shaking hands. Then, group after group of Bachelor degrees ... gowns and mortar boards. They went on forever. Then a couple of small groups of Master degrees ...gowns and mortar boards. Then, finally, the PhD gradates ... just a couple of people (including my dad) with gowns but, instead of mortar boards, they wore funny baggy beanie hats.
I was devastated. My dad was retarded! That was why it took him so long to graduate. All the other kids on my street had a black&white photo at home of their very young-looking dad in a gown and mortar board. My dad was old in comparison, really old. So, my dad was retarded. Small class, funny hat ... the proof was overwhelming. No denying it. My dad was retarded.
When I went back to school the next day, all my friends asked where I'd been. I was too embarrassed to tell them the truth so I lied and told them I was sick.
I figured out the truth later and don't know if I ever told my dad this story. But it makes me laugh now.
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
This week we celebrate a special birthday. Monica Lewinsky turned 31. Can you believe it?
It seems like only yesterday she was crawling around the White House on her hands and knees and putting everything in her mouth.
They grow up so fast, don't they?
(Thanks to Shirley for this one. --MG)