Saturday, November 26, 2011

LOST IN SHANGRI-LA



Before I go one line further I will let Publishers Weekly tell you about the story.
Mitchell Zuckoff skillfully narrates the story of a plane crash and rescue mission in an uncharted region of New Guinea near the end of WWII. Of the 24 American soldiers who flew from their base on a sightseeing tour to a remote valley, only three survived the disaster, including one WAC. As the three waited for help, they faced death from untreated injuries and warlike local tribesmen who had never seen white people before and believed them to be dangerous spirits. Even after a company of paratroopers arrived, the survivors still faced a dangerous escape from the valley via "glider snatch."

Jerry was sitting beside me doing crossword puzzles while I read this book, and he doesn't have to bother to read it now because it was SO good I just had to keep reading parts of it to him, interrupting his train of thought. To say this is a fascinating story is a real understatement. I could not put the book down. And women will like it as much as men will.

It is not a book of war stories, but rather the setting is in wartime (WWII, that is) and the people in this story are in the military service -- well, except for the tribesmen in "Shangri-La" who are native warriors and thought to be cannibals and head-hunters! In spite of the terrible disaster that befell these Americans, the author has the reader laughing over and over, sometimes about native customs and costumes, sometimes about miscommunications and once about requesting an air-drop of Kotex sanitary napkins for use in padding the backpack straps on the final long trek out of the jungle to freedom.

The story also leaves the reader proud of the men and women in our military service, especially the Philippino-American Paratroopers, who offered themselves up for this rescue operation.

Zuckoff has a short video of footage from the rescue itself on his website at www.mitchellzuckoff.com. Watch it, but don't stop there. The book is well worth your time to read.

I had it on reserve at the library for a long time, due to its popularity. But it certainly was worth the wait. It also will make a good holiday gift for any reader in your family.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

ANNUAL THANKSGIVING MESSAGE


Back in the late 1990s I read one of Joan Beck's annual Thanksgiving columns and was stunned by its beauty and simplicity. I wanted every one of my friends to read it, so I wrote her at the Chicago Tribune asking her permission to put it in my Christmas letter to family and friends. The season wasn't the issue; its meaning for anytime of the year was what I was looking for. She wrote me back a lovely letter giving me that permission. She died a year later.

I think she would be pleased to extend that permission to me now, as I pass on this slightly dated but still as stunning as ever column that was a bountiful gift from her to all of us.


Thursday, November 27, 1997
For these things, we are thankful ...
By Joan Beck

As we gather together to count the Lord's blessings, 376 years after the first Thanksgiving Day, we are grateful, Dear God, for Mir if it's safe and the Mars Pathfinder when it worked and the bull market while it lasts, for browsers and brownies and brothers, for cells and cell phones and cedars, for planes and plumbing and e pluribus unum, for tea and T-shirts and a T-rex named Sue.

God of grace and God of glory, we thank you this November day for stock prices that go up and a budget deficit that went down, for the fragile peace in Bosnia and for Wei Jingsheng who is now free, for dividends and diversity and one nation indivisible, for e-mail and eagles and Edison and Easter, for salsa and cilantro and cinnamon.

For new drugs that fight cancer and new techniques for heart surgery and new progress on a vaccine for AIDS, we are grateful, O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, and for newspapers and newborns and new jobs and new years, for cats and catalogs and catfish and CT scans, for caterpillars and calculus and cathedrals and catsup.

O Lord, our God, when we in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made, we offer praise today for modems and mothers and grandmothers and Mother Teresa, for the infinitesimal mysteries of the genome and infinite stretch of the heavens, for bonding and books and brooks and bootstraps, for carryouts and carryons and carryovers.

For teachers and preachers and all creatures great and small, we thank you, Lord God who made them all, and for vacations and cash stations and gustations and dalmatians, for faxes and fairies and fathers and farms, for fireworks and fireflies and frequent-flyer miles, for health and hearths and hearing and healing.

O God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, we are grateful this day for the World Wide Web and weddings and weekends for galaxies and galas and gardens, for hymns and hugs and heffalumps, for cars and caramel and carnivals, for carols and carillons and cancan, for www.travelocity.com and www.lonelyplanet.com and hhtp://whyfiles.news.wisc.edu/.

Septuplets when they are all healthy and normal we count as blessings this Thanksgiving Day, our Father who art in heaven. We thank you, too, for nests and nest eggs and neonatal intensive care, for mentors and Mendel and Mendelssohn and positive mental attitude, for Disney and Dilbert and dill, for caregivers and carpools and "I now pronounce you husband and wife."

Lord of all to thee we raise our grateful praise for 911 and 1-800, for 98.6 and 20/20, for 401Ks and 403Bs, for I Corinthians 13 and John 3:16, for Beethoven's 6th and Brahms' 4th, for 12-step programs and three-ring circuses and second-day mail, for Title IX and a half point over prime and 8 gigabytes of hard drive space.

Daughters and daisies and daydreams we count among thy blessings this day, O God, who moves in mysterious ways thy wonders to perform. So, too, sons and soul and soup and soap, comforters and comfort food and common stock, flextime and flu shots and flags and flamingos and "Yea, through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."

Our Father who art in heaven, we thank you for general assemblies and general practitioners and generics and Genesis, for Gen X and geniuses and the Geneva convention, for solitude and solitaire and serendipity, for sequels and soccer and Sesame Street, for "It's benign" and "You're covered" and "I lift my lamp beside the golden door" and "When in the course of human events" and "They all lived happily ever after."

For sisters and salads and salmon and saints, for Seuss and Sousa and Santa and Strauss, we give thee thanks this special day, O God from whom all blessings flow. And for docks and doctors and doctoral dissertations, for Meals on Wheels and blood banks and food banks and shelters, for psalms and samaritans and salt and salvation and that "surely the presence of the Lord is in this place."

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices for angels and auctions and anesthesia, for potatoes and poems and Poe and Paine, and for Lincoln and liberty and libraries, for licorice and luminaria and light at the end of the tunnel, for overtures and overalls and outlets and ova and "I have a dream" and "We shall overcome."

The mysteries of egg and electricity and eternity, of prenatal development and prairies and prayer fill our minds with wonder this Thanksgiving Day, immortal, invisible, God only wise. Our thanks abound, as well, for preludes and pralines and paramedics and pacifiers, for physicists and pharmacists and pianists and pragmatists, for gadgets and goslings and gorillas and godparents and "until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, we thank you once again for dawn after dark, for rest after work, for healing after hurt and for life after life, for a bridge over trouble and a shelter from the storm, for love that will not let us go and an eternal home and always, that "neither death nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God."

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THIS 'N' THAT

Last year about this time I was not feeling well at all. It turned out to be nothing more than bad side effects of new blood pressure medicines I had been prescribed. A trip to the ER identified no reason for my problems. A second trip a few days later to Urgent Care merely caused a second medicine to be added that promptly made me sleep all day for three days in a row.

Finally I woke up and had the presence of mind to Google the medicines I’d been prescribed and discovered I had classic signs of known side effects of both of these medications. I took myself off them, then took myself back to the doctor and told him I’d cured myself but I still needed to try another blood pressure medicine. I do like my doctor, but I’m afraid he just doesn’t have time for me. He does well by Jerry, because Jerry has a case that needs monitoring (diabetes). But until I can show him some real breathing issues, his parting answer to me is “prn.” (As necessary). I guess I should be thankful, not irked.

************

I read in the business section of last Sunday’s LA Times that the CD is on its way to the same graveyard where old floppy disks are and that shortly we will be ordering all our music in the mp3 format via our electronic devices.

I’ll be seeing my son Sean this Thanksgiving weekend and I’m going to ask him to translate that for me. I mean, I know what it means but I don’t know how I will make it happen. I do not have any kind of equipment having an “ i” in front of it and in or on which I am to download it. The only mp3 files I have (that I know about) are ones my son made for me of some old music – me on the violin and some Raunch Hands Against the World songs. If I could remember how it was that I listened to them using my computer a year ago, I might be able to do it again. But for sure I don’t know things like how I’ll be able acquire a CD’s worth of, say, Brahm’s Requiem by way of mp3. So I’ll wait for my guru to tell me how to do it, like he does all the other technical things I don’t know. I KNOW I’m lucky to have him, and if he’s not available he has produced a son who is equally knowledgeable and who would help me if Sean wasn’t available, but I do hate to let Brendan know just how backward his old grandma is. Pitiful, I say.

And as a matter of fact, today I went to Barnes and Noble to purchase a CD for a little Christmas gift for a good friend and oops, they don’t carry CD’s anymore.

************

I have never been a person who particularly enjoyed athletic activities for the “athletic” or “exercise” part of them. There was a time in my life when I really enjoyed bowling, and that included a fair bunch of what I would call exercise. And then later I took up square dancing, and believe me, that was a whole lot more strenuous than bowling. I never jogged, or swam, or played tennis, or even golfed. It wasn’t my thing. (I always said my idea of the perfect exercise is making my eyes go back and forth across the pages of a good book, and that has never changed.)

But I was active to this extent: I could spend an eight-hour day at work, which often entailed a whole lot of running from one end of a warehouse to another, come home and put a dinner on the table, and then head out to a library where I would work on my genealogical research until the library closed at 9 or 9:30. I’d be up at 5 the next morning, getting ready to repeat the process. This was not work at all! This was fun, and I continued doing it right up until 2000, when I retired.

As I get close to entering my 12th year of retirement, I have to be very thankful that I seem to be aging gracefully, although when I look in the mirror “gracefully” is too kind a word to describe the wrinkles on my face. But I know I am slowing down. I recently made a 5-hour drive from home to Fresno, and the next day turned around and drove back home. Not everyone my age can do that, I know. But it’s really not all that much fun anymore, fun like when we were young and would drive up and back from Long Beach to San Francisco just for a “fun” weekend. That’s not fun anymore. And I have to confess, at this stage in my life I wouldn’t want to work all day, cook a meal and go research for three hours all in one day either. I suppose I could do it if I had to, but you know, I don’t even want to do that anymore.

************
And just in case you have missed it, this is making the rounds online right now:

INNER PEACE

If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without alcohol,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
...Then you are probably...
The Family Dog!



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

LEARNING TO READ IN OLD AGE


I am always happiest when I am learning about new things. Well, I am now tempted to backtrack and say I'm really happiest when I'm reading, but in today's particular case both statements are true and really about the same thing.

Back in mid-October I posted on the blog about my delight in reading Jose Saramago's book "The Elephant's Journey." Today I discovered a book discussion group on Seniorlearning.com that has set aside November for discussing this book, and of course I immediately joined the group.

Here's a disclaimer: I am always just a reader and a watcher in any book discussion groups. I am a real "dodo" when it comes to understanding all the ins and outs of novels. I am always shocked and surprised that there is so much more to the book than what I read, and rather than humiliate myself by being outed as such a shallow reader, I simply read or listen to others as they discuss the book. I learn a whole lot that way.

Anyway, already the discussion in this online group has been SO eye-opening for me that I can hardly contain myself. So I want to share some of it with you, in case you decide to read this book too.

First as to "white elephant." The elephant in this book is not white. But have you ever wondered where the term "white elephant" came from?

Wikipedia said this about white elephants: A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam (now Thailand) were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance

One of the participants in this discussion had this to say:
"Elephants disappeared from Europe after the Roman Empire. As exotic and expensive animals, they were exchanged as presents between European rulers, who exhibited them as luxury pets, beginning with Harun ar-Rashid's gift of an elephant to Charlemagne."
She noted this came from The History of Elephants in Europe.

In The Elephant's Journey, King Joao is giving this elephant to his relative Archduke Maximilian of Austria - and I learned that this giving of an elephant, white or otherwise, was not unusual.

But I learned more than that. The King's wife is not happy about giving the elephant away, although the writer lets us know that she had not been very concerned previously about the elephant. In fact, she tries to convince the King that he might consider giving a monstrance as a gift.

I read this and never batted my eye at this word that I didn't know the meaning of. Did I stop and look it up? No, like a dodo I read right over and past it. What did I miss? This, according to one of the participants.

...monstrance comes from the latin - "monstrare" - meaning "to show." Monstrances were often used to carry the host in processions.

While we were in Toledo, Spain, we saw a real monster of a monstrance! Toledo was the capital city of Spain until the 16th century, when the capitol was moved to Madrid, but Toledo remains the seat of the Catholic church in Spain - what is called the archdiocese.

Here we saw so much of the "treasure" from the 13th to the 16th century, by the time we saw the monstrance we had reached that state where we were no longer overwhelmed or over-impressed with what we were looking at. Like looking at the treasures of the Louvre for too many hours.

But the Great Monstrance of Arfe! This thing is 9 feet tall! Enrique Arfe sculpted it in the early 16th c. - originally in silver and then plated in gold! I have to believe that Saramago was aware of this Spanish treasure...it would have been a splendid gift to any monarch, don't you think?

The author probably was not imagining this very gift, but it was obvious that he intended his queenly character to be thinking of something more than a little bit ordinary.

So today, in addition to being reminded once again of my terrible inadequacity in understanding what I read, I've already learned enough to have my tongue hanging out and panting for more, more, more.

Unfortunately I do not still have the book in my hands, so I can't follow along in the reading. But that's not going to stop me from learning.

And the funniest thing is that since reading all this today, I've wandered about my house looking for white elephants. Mine, probably like yours, are the kinds of things shown in the picture at the top of the blog. No hay, no special food and no cleanup necessary.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DONALD ORVILLE SMITH - 1938-2011


Don, the husband of my late sister, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. Anyone who knew him will understand when I say it is a huge and a very sad loss. There is nothing good to say about this except it was quick and he was kept from much of the physical suffering.

He had not so long ago met and married a warm and kind woman who matched him in grace and they shared a time together, but with his terrible illness, growing old together was not to be. The family's only consolation is their faith in a better world.

He loved children, he loved animals and he had a unmeasurable amount of kindness and goodness in his heart. Don made being around him fun. In the 53 years I knew him I saw a man who truly loved his family, including all the animals that also inhabited his life - dogs, cats, birds, iguanas, snakes and frogs. (Surely I have missed some that his kids - or just as likely, my sister - brought home through the years). And then there were his grandkids... shown below before darling Makayla made her appearance; he was truly a proud and adoring grandpa.



Jerry and I, along with Sean, Erin, Bryn and Kerry - his nieces and nephew - will miss him a lot. Rest in peace, Don.

Friday, November 11, 2011

...AND TWO IN A BUSH?


I'd like to say that getting excited over a bird is a good thing, but actually I think it more accurately indicates that Jerry and I are old codgers who birdwatch and that it doesn't take much to excite us any more. Nevertheless, today I report on a new "happening." Jer actually missed out on it because he has an uncanny ability to fall asleep while his head is moving toward his pillow, and he didn't take the second look out the window that I did, right after lights out.

Every year about this time a lone black-crowned night heron shows up on our front lawn. We do not live anywhere near water. There is a river bed about 6 miles to the south of us but certainly nothing like a lake or a pond or a stream that one would ordinarily think of as a place where water birds might hang out. We have tried to figure out just what it is that draws "our" night heron back to the lawn year after year and we really don't know. Worms? Slugs? Dog poop? (the later being in abundance from all the jerks who walk their dogs across the lawn and don't clean up after them.

This heron shows up any time between 8 and 9 p.m. There are still people out walking their dogs at that time and the heron will fly off as they come near, but he (or she) returns once the danger is past and continues feeding. Before we turn the lights out at bedtime we always check at the window to make sure he is there. He almost always is.

I've tried to take his picture before with my little digital camera but lacking a long lens and infra-red shooting capabilities, all I've ever managed to capture is two glinty eyes in the distance. That makes for a funny picture but it sure doesn't show him off.

Although the night heron is what I think of as a "harumph" bird, sitting all hunched over with no visible neck and looking really bored with it all, this bird actually has quite a decent neck which sometimes we can see if a car's headlights happen to catch him in the process of snagging a morsel a few feet from where he is standing. He also has a huge wing span for his size and certainly looks much bigger in the air than he does on the ground. The bird book says (yes, we have one of those too) he roosts in trees during the day.


But here is why last night was so exciting: there were TWO of them on the lawn! And they either were having an argument or were twitterpating (or trying to twitterpate.) In the five winters we've lived here, there has never been more than one on our lawn. Whether it is the same bird night after night I can't say, because one dark blob on the lawn looks like another. But for sure now we know that there are at least two that hang around.

After seeing the TWO last night it was hard for me to drop off to sleep. It was exciting, but I had no one to share it with. Jer's snoring indicated that he was beyond getting excited over anything. So you lucky readers are the ones who get to hear my exciting news.

WE HAVE TWO HERONS! (and maybe will have more if they were, in fact, twitterpating!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NO, NOT NOSY!


As most of you know, I am a very inquisitive sort of person…not “nosy” inquisitive, but just interested in knowing lots of little obscure things. That probably accounts for my abiding interest in genealogy, where there are just -- oh, so many things to be discovered.

I do not need to know a fact about every leaf on my family tree, but I admit I try. The strange thing is that I even enjoy knowing things about other people’s leaves, and when I find out something interesting, I want to make sure that distant family members have a shot at knowing it too.

Here’s an example:

When I was in Istanbul I learned about an old Protestant cemetery where burials had started in the late 1850s. Seven protestant powers, as determined by Sultan Abdul Medjid (Prussia, Great Britain, the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Hanseatic Cities), each had their own section in that cemetery. As a good genealogist, I did a tombstone transcription of all the existing tombstones in the American section, with the goal of eventually putting them into some kind of a record and dispersing that record to major genealogical repositories. It was hard work, but was a chore of love.

One day I was walking through the Grand Bazaar and in glancing into one of the shops I saw a tombstone embedded into a side wall. I can’t remember for sure but it probably was a carpet shop. I braved the salesman’s pitch and stood at the tombstone, simply copying the information for my records. It said:

George Cushing Knapp
Born Lyndon, VT USA Oct 30, 1823
Died Bitlis,Turkey, March 12, 1875
For 40 years a missionary in Turkey


My first thought was that I needed to get this information into my book, but because I was so interested in everything, to keep from producing a huge tome I’d had to set pretty rigid parameters for inclusion in this book. My criteria was to be limited to 1) Americans 2) buried 3) Protestant Cemetery. The man whose tombstone I saw did not fit that criteria. Oh dear, what to do?

Five years after I returned from Turkey, I readied the book for publication and mulled over poor George Knapp. Was he to be in? or out? I finally decided that if I had to err, I would prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness. And besides, it was MY book and I was paying to have it printed and I could break any rule I chose. So in 1998 the book was printed and George Knapp was there for posterity.


Within a year I found a place on the web to post the basic “vital stat” information from these burials, leaving my e-mail address so I could personally deliver information I had beyond what I had posted.

In March of 2001 I received an e-mail from a woman in New York. It said:
I recently happened across the website you posted with information about cemeteries in Istanbul and saw that my great-great grandfather, George Knapp, was one of the people in it. I was fascinated to find him on your site. I had known he was a missionary in Turkey, but very little else and had no idea that he lived out his life there.

I would be grateful for any additional information you might have regarding him or the cemetery where he is buried....
I had the fun of telling her that he was not buried in “my” cemetery; he had been buried in Bitlis, which is so far east in Turkey that it is actually closer to Iran than it is to Istanbul. And that his tombstone managed to escape resting in that cemetery to mark his grave but instead made it to a final resting place embedded in a shop wall in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. I told her that this embedding often happened to smallish pieces of stones in Turkey. As we traveled around the country we would see very old pieces of stones used as part of a much newer building, such as this one below.


Now, these kinds of wonderful discoveries are what keep me posting information on the internet – on this blog and elsewhere. I try to match something I know for sure with a similarly shaped blank in someone else’s knowledge. I’ve got so many stories begging to be told, and oh, how I love telling them. I’m sharing the story of the Protestant cemetery with a local genealogy society this weekend; it's my favorite subject to talk about.

But am I nosy? Nope. I just think this is darn interesting, don’t you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

FUN WITH FONTS


This is a book about fonts, not about personalities. I hope there MAY be one of my readers who thinks this is an interesting subject just like I do, but probably not. Nevertheless, fonts are what I am serving up today.

It seems like I have always been aware of fonts – or type styles – but I suspect it was really because in school I started typing early and focused my extracurricular efforts in working on school newspapers, where it was important to match size and style of letters to the needs of attractive and readable newspapers.

I think the average computer user, if they use a word-processing application at all, understands what fonts are. But there are lots of stories to tell about them – and Simon Garfield in this most interesting book has a knack in telling them, stories about

• Losing your job because of using the wrong font
• When to use a font with a sexual stereotype
• Dotting your “i” with a square
• The Third Reich outlawing Gothic script
• What your choice of font can say about you

And it goes on.

Some of his stories are instructional. I’ll quote one of them here:
“Upper and lower case?” The term comes from the position of the loose metal or wooden letters laid in front of the traditional compositor’s hands before they were used to form a word – the commonly used ones on an accessible lower level, the capitals above them, waiting their turn. (Did you have any idea that is why we call letters either upper case or lower case?) Even with this distinction, the compositor would still have to ‘mind their ps and qs’, so alike were they when each letter was dismantled from a block of type and then tossed back into the compartments of a tray. (And who even suspected this?)

Some of his stories are just plain funny:

He tells of Lexmark, the printing manufacturer, having some fun with a promotional exercise designed to get the company name in the paper. It was more or less an analysis of emotional connotations of those who used fonts in writing gleaned by the recipients of those writings. As an example, those who used the Courier font might be thought to be nerdy, and be a librarian or work in data entry. Those using the soft and curvy Shelley font might see themselves as a sex kitten and project that image via type style. Those using San Serif fonts seemed to like safety and anonymity, while the Comic Sans users tend to be self-confessed attention seekers.

Garfield reports that this was not scientific research but simply a PR tool to get some newpaper space! That made me feel good, because I LOVE the Comic Sans font!

This book is interesting, readable, instructive, funny, surprising, and worth reading at least twice, which I will do. The chapters are short and sweet. The book is one that can be picked up and put down, which is good for busy people.

All in all, this book is just my type! Let me know if it’s yours, too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A TEEN & A FIRST JOB


When I turned 15-1/2 in 1951 I was eligible for a work permit and I knew just where I wanted to work: Horgan’s Pharmacy on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach. Horgan’s was a corner drug store, small by today’s standards but fairly large by 1950 standards. There were three separate parts of the store: across the back was the pharmacy itself, along the north wall was the soda fountain and the rest of the store was where the sundries were. I wanted to work the soda fountain for a start.

Pat Horgan, the owner, hired me. We had lived in the area for 6 years and my folks were his regular customers, so the minute I approached him about a job he put me on the payroll. My hourly pay was fifty cents, which at that time was minimum wage.

I had to be trained to make malts, milkshakes, cokes, phosphates, root beer floats and ice cream sundaes, in addition to making coffee, heating up cans of soup, slicing up pies and cakes, and serving donuts and Danish, most of which needed to be heated before being served. The fountain seated about 10 people, and it became my domain once I was finished with my training. My other duty was to be waiting at the door when the boss opened up on Sunday morning so I could lug inside the morning newspapers that had been dropped off by the distributor at the locked door by the soda fountain. Those papers sold like hotcakes as the “regulars” came for their Sunday morning coffee and donuts.

I was a quick learner and loved what I was doing!

My dad had his own small business – a sales and repair shop of both big and little appliances like stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, TVs – and radios, waffle irons and coffee pots. He built it into a good business and because he was good to his employees, there was very little employee turnover. I’d grown up hearing what he expected from his employees: a full day’s work, in place and ready to go when the doors opened, clean and neat, and a smile on their face. Those were the values I took with me when I started behind the soda fountain that first day.

Before long, Mr. Horgan asked me if I would like to work in the sundries. I didn’t think it would be nearly as much fun as working the soda fountain, but I wanted to have as many sellable skills as I could acquire and I accepted his offer. My pay didn’t increase but my knowledge of what retail selling involved did. My first chores were learning to restock the shelves, and if I was able to finish the restocking, then I spent the rest of the time making sure the merchandise on each aisle was neat and in the right place. I never just stood and talked to other employees; we were expected to stay busy, and to ask what we could do if we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.

About the same time, Mr. Horgan hired a young kid to work in the stockroom, a fellow a year behind me in school but whom I knew quite well. I was glad to have Miles working there with me; up until that time I was the only teenaged employee. I might not have remembered this job as clearly as I do because of one of the very embarrassing things the job required. In those days, boxes of women’s sanitary napkins were not just set out on shelves like they are now. There were two brands: Kotex and Modess, and there were also different sizes – small, medium and large. Every week Miles and I had to schedule a time in the back room where we wrapped the boxes of sanitary napkins in plain paper – dark green for Kotex and dark blue for Modess. And on the end we had to use a black marker to place letters to indicate the brand and the size: K-S, K-M and K-L; and M-S, M-M and M-L. Only then would we take them out onto the shelves where they could be purchased.

The subject of sex and bodily functions were not commonly discussed among youngish teenagers of the opposite sex during those days. Of course both Miles and I knew exactly what these were used for, but in the year I worked at Horgan’s and wrapped these boxes each week, Miles and I never said anything more about them than, “It’s time to wrap the boxes.” Oh gosh, we were such a na├»ve bunch of kids – or maybe we were just polite, and probably a bit prudish. The only other embarrassing thing I ever had to handle was to be shown where the men’s Trojans were kept (in a drawer behind the counter). No one ever asked me for one; I’m sure any man who came in went to one of the “old” ladies who normally worked the sundry side for his purchase. He had to ask someone, because they weren’t in public view.

I worked at the drug store – sometimes filling in on the soda fountain but mostly on the sundries side for the two summers on either side of my junior year of High School – and then on weekends and holidays during that school year. I really didn’t want to work during my senior year; I had been elected Editor of the weekly newspaper that year, and with that and the extracurricular activities that seniors were involved with, I knew it would certainly be easier for me if I didn’t have to make a choice between obligations I felt to Mr. Horgan at work and what I wanted to experience at school.

I went to my dad to ask him how I should let Mr. Horgan know that I would be quitting the job. I wanted a good reference from him for future work, so I knew my dad would know the right way to handle it. I’d guess, since my mom and dad were good friends with Pat and his wife, that dad clued him that I’d be leaving. However, I followed the guidelines my dad gave me and I referred a younger friend to replace me who I knew would be a good match with the store. Pat and I separated on good terms, and he did, in fact, provide a good reference for me later on.

Although Horgan’s Pharmacy was a larger store than usual for a corner drug store in a residential area, we just don’t have drug stores like that anymore, at least in the big cities, stores where the owners are there and willing to train young kids.. I was lucky to have a father who set a model for me to follow as I put my teenage toe in the water of retail sales. I was lucky to have a boss who set standards for his employees and expected them to perform up to them. And between you and me, I was lucky to live in a time when life was a bit slower, a bit more simple, and when society was a bit more polite.

When did that all end?