To complete a LIFE HISTORY assignment, a 26-year-old graduate student chose to interview an 80-year-old member of the so-called greatest generation to ascertain how the American experience evolved during the span of the twentieth century. The interview took place in 1996, and the interviewee passed away in 2005. While cleaning out my files I stumbled upon the raw document and some additional notes, which I have edited for presentation to the reader. |
This is the second of a three-part essay. For an economy of words I refer to the interviewer as Kahuna, and the interviewee as Fuzz, which were their boyhood nicknames. In the first part we learned about Fuzz’s family, home life, and athletic interests. He also told of technology advancements and of his early experience with automobiles.
…more highlights from THE INTERVIEW
KAHUNA: What were the entertainment choices of your youth?
FUZZ: Well, we really didn’t have vacations then, but we did go a lake once for a week. Television didn’t exist, but there were two movie theaters in town, which I frequented. We also had a good community band and I went to lots of dances. Not being much of a dancer, I mainly watched. Mostly we swam, skated (roller and ice), and made up games. I was never bored.
KAHUNA: How about camping?
FUZZ: I think the only people who camped at that time were boy scouts and hobos.
FUZZ: I loved to draw, and I spent hours and hours preparing to become an artist. However, as a teenager I realized I might need a backup plan since art is a tough career to hoe at any time, but especially during the depression. So combining my interests of science and art, becoming a draftsman then a design engineer seemed to fit. My artistic ability turned out to be something psychologists referred to as spatial, which I think meant that I could see in three dimensions. Anyway I had the ability to perceive the inner workings of machines and processes in my mind and accurately record them on paper. Turned out I was a natural designer. My hobby later became my occupation. How many people are that lucky?
KAHUNA: How about adult hobbies?
FUZZ: Photography, golf, and historical writing about local factories and the men who built them. My oldest son took up golf as a kid when he worked as a caddy. One day I borrowed his clubs and away I went. My wife caught the bug too.
KAHUNA: Did you celebrate birthdays the way we do today?
FUZZ: No, but I think ours’ were better. We weren’t showered with gifts; maybe get one or two like a baseball, a bat, or a mitt. We’d play with the same ball for years. When the cover came off we’d tape it up with black friction tape. We received birthday cards, which were mostly handmade, but we really appreciated them. In my house the birthday boy or girl got to choose his favorite meat, pie, and cake. The only birthday treat I didn’t enjoy was my brother’s because he requested lemon pie. I didn’t care for it.
KAHUNA: Did your family take many photographs to pictorially record your early years?
FUZZ: Not many since cameras were a novelty. There are very few photos of the time I grew up. I remember one of me as a baby with my parents, and my graduation portrait. That’s about it. After I got a little older; early twenties, there is one of me sitting on a roof with my sketch pad. That was my brother’s favorite and my oldest son has it sitting in his house today.
KAHUNA: When did you leave home?
FUZZ: I mentioned before that we owned a restaurant, and my father died at 41 when I was an eighth grader, which put a heavy burden on Mom. So I stayed around until I was 21 or 22 working as a laborer and at the restaurant to help out at home. I left then to get married because things were pretty stable because my mother sold the restaurant and other properties, but I didn’t go too far away. Originally my wife and I lived in an apartment over the restaurant, and after it sold, in another apartment only a few blocks from Mom.
KAHUNA: Where did you meet your wife?
FUZZ: We were high school friends; not boyfriend and girlfriend, just friends. After graduation she worked in another town, and I missed her very much. That caused me to question our friendship status; knew it must be something more. Funny thing; it took another fellow wanting to marry her to get me moving. We got engaged and so far have been married for 58 years.
KAHUNA: Did your parents approve?
FUZZ: Dad was gone, and Mom wasn’t sure about my choice since my fiancée came from a rough-and-tumble, rowdy family. Thing was she was unlike most of her family. She was a brilliant scholar, and was even offered the chance to skip eleventh grade. Her mother wouldn’t allow it.
KAHUNA: But things worked out okay?
FUZZ: I’ll say. Our marriage has been the most wonderful thing in the world. It’s amazing how things turn out. I worried that we could make it together since we started out with no money and no prospects for anything better. I was employed as a laborer at a local factory for several years, even after our first son was born. It was the hardest thing physically I’ve ever done in my life. I had to handle 200 pounds a minute. When I returned home after my shift I ached so badly I could hardly stand it. All for 50 cents an hour, but I had to make a living for my wife and son.
KAHUNA: What changed to get you on a different career path?
FUZZ: This is going to sound crazy, but World War II is responsible for getting me off the shop floor and into engineering. Although I was of age, the armed services did not take men with families. A factory in a town a half hour away needed draftsman to fill the gap caused by many in their engineering department joining up. My artistic ability and taking college extension courses in drafting and science paid off.
KAHUNA: So the war had a positive affect for you…
FUZZ: First of all I can’t begin to tell of the shock everyone felt when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I hate to say there was anything good about that war, but it did get me into a career I probably wouldn’t have had without it. I was lucky. Our family, like most families, was deeply affected. My brothers, my uncles, and my wife’s brothers all served in combat. My wife’s youngest brother, her favorite, was killed in a Japanese ambush on New Georgia Island. That was a very traumatic experience in our lives.
KAHUNA: Were there world leaders you most admired leading up to and during World War II?
FUZZ: Jack Pershing took command and did his job well, Ike Eisenhower was one of a kind and a real leader, and F. D. Roosevelt led our people in a very rough time. I also admired Mahatma Gandhi; just liked the way he operated.
KAHUNA: Getting back to your career what different types of jobs have you held?
FUZZ: Many. Factory laborer, draftsman, tool engineer, plant engineer, design engineer of machines, equipment, and processes. As far as non-paying jobs I held almost every office in the church. I have also held many offices in all Masonic bodies—York and Scottish Rites.
KAHUNA: As an engineer, are there accomplishments you’re especially proud of?
FUZZ: I designed a number of good, productive machines including the world’s fastest needle bearing loader, and a 120 foot, car-type, high-temperature kiln that operated at 3200 degrees F. The kiln was used to fire high alumina product.
KAHUNA: How about accomplishments outside of work?
FUZZ: I was Sunday School Superintendent for years, served as commander-in-chief of the Scottish Rite, and received the 33rd degree in Masonry. Oh, I almost forgot the best of all; I got a hole-in-one although I suppose you’d have to chalk that up to luck rather than accomplishment.
KAHUNA: What kind of clothes did you enjoy wearing the most?
FUZZ: Getting dressed to play golf is pretty awesome, but my favorite is my tuxedo. I’ve worn out three and am working on a fourth. I also have formal morning wear, and a full-formal evening tuxedo—white tie and tails. AUTHOR’S NOTE: He was buried in a tuxedo—his fourth.
KAHUNA: What have been your favorite sights over your lifetime?
FUZZ: That’s a hard question. There have been so many. Off the top of my head: New York, especially when we circled the Statue of Liberty at low altitude in one of the company planes; Florida; the Badlands; Mount Rushmore; Yosemite; the entire California coast; sunsets on the Pacific; sunrise on the Atlantic; the Boston Pops; the beach at Waikiki; and so many, many other places.
To be continued…
Copyright by Gene Myers, author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN (2009), Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY – a hilarious account of the author’s overseas travels; and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), PublishAmerica, Fredericksburg, MD - a mildly sinister, but amusing work of fiction. Both are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and available in Amazon Kindle and Nook formats. Watch for SALT HIS TAIL, a catch-me-if-you can crime thriller.
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