Ancient History

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My Story Prior to 2000

last revised January 2008

I was born in 1953 in Lawrence KS, during my father's one-year stint as a teacher at Kansas University. He arrived one year too late to see Wilt the Stilt in action.

Spent early years in Amherst MA, GI Village, Little Red Schoolhouse, while Dad taught at Amherst College. One year in Providence, studying at Brown University, more nursery school. Young David is good with scissors. Mom connected with Technic, Inc., her longtime employer. Back to Amherst for more pre-school and kindergarten.

Dad worked with Theodore Baird in his Amherst years, in an innovative program of Writing Instruction that Robin Varnum described at great length in her book, Fencing with Words: A history of Writing Instruction at Amherst College During the Era of Theodore Baird, 1938-1966.

Writing instruction would be the focus of most of Dad's career from then on. Practical writing, how to communicate effectively. Good grammar and spelling useful but not essential.

I attended 1st and 2nd grades in Williamstown, MA, while Dad held a short-term position at Williams College, replacing somebody who was on sabbatical I think.

The next five years he taught at Middlebury College in Middlebury VT. A season ticket to the Middlebury College Snow Bowl ski area, and an ice rink in the back yard. More more could a kid want?

The four years in Wichita were not what I would have chosen to follow Middlebury, but there we were. Dad was running the Freshman Writing program at Wichita State University (WSU). Every freshman took the class, and they came from all over the place as far as their ages and experiences. Much more diverse than the New England small college set.

My first taste of big city life and we are just north of the WSU campus, in a nearly all white neighborhood bordered half a mile away by an almost all black and Hispanic neighborhood, attending a pretty evenly mixed school, Brooks Middle School, for my 9th grade year, 1966-67. In Wichita, we swam at Courtney Davis Lake, at the cleverly named Yentruoc Sivad Swim Club I think it was. You couldn't see very far through the water what with all the clay in the soil, but it seemed clean enough and was a more than welcome oasis on a hot day. Wichita has plenty of those.

My second year in Wichita I went away to prep school, The Taft School in Watertown, CT, starting in 1967. I dropped out of Taft in 1969. At the age of 16, I decided that boys' boarding school was not for me. I was at the top of my game in those days, number one in my class at a very highly ranked school. My college boards were top notch as well, but I burned out early on formal education.

Had a brief introduction to computing at Taft. Wrote a couple simple programs in a FORTRAN-like language, FORGE maybe? Stored programs on ribbons of yellow paper tape.

Studied at home in Wichita for a bit, with the help of a tutor for Latin and Classical Greek. Started at University of Chicago, age 17, no HS diploma. Dropped out freshman year.

By that time we'd moved to Wallingford PA, a Philadelphia suburb. The fellow who had brought Dad to Wichita, Walter Merrill, had fallen into disfavor in the WSU English Dept and was now at Drexel. Dad had found his ideas in disfavor at WSU after Merrill's departure, and followed him to Drexel the next year I think. Dad led a writing program at Drexel for two years, than moved the rest of the family to Franklin TN, outside Nashville. He taught for a few years at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, now Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, before moving to Cranston RI.

My mom had worked for a Cranston company, Technic, off and on for decades, and now began working there full time. During this time Dad taught at several local colleges, including Rhode Island College.

I moved into Philadelphia in 1972 when the rest of the family moved to Tennessee. At 19 I was living with the 24-year-old who would become my wife a few months later. We were together off and on for 5 years, but we had no children. I left her with her mother, the house, associated bills and 3 dogs.

I was a COBOL programmer at Conrail in the early 1980s, but after 13 years (1972-1985) in the Penn Central / Conrail corporate world, I decided to avoid huge corporations and make my own way for a bit.

I put an end to the hard drinking of my youth about the time I left Conrail. Spent 4 months camping out coast-to-coast in 1987, blowing most of my severance money along the way.

I've been making my way in more satisfying but less financially rewarding positions ever since. Luckily I only have one mouth to feed.

The older of my two sisters, Robin, is a wildlife biologist and her husband is a botanist. Both work for the US Forest Service at the Big Bear Ranger Station in Fawnskin CA, in the San Bernardino Mtns 2 hours east of LA.

They've had to evacuate their home twice in the past 5 years because of wild fires. For many years they have both been helping behind the scenes supporting fire crews all over the western states. Partly to help ensure the safety of endangered plants and animals in the path of the fires.

My mom, Flo, moved from Rhode Island to Fawnskin two years ago, lives with Robin and her husband, helping to babysit their little ones. They adopted a newborn boy, a year ago Nov, and a newborn girl, this Nov. They've purchased some land abutting the national forest, plan to build a house in the next couple of years for all to share.

My mom grew up near Lewiston ME and still has family living there. One of her sisters is still on the old farmstead, in a house that Mom's older brother built. Her daughter and her husband are there in a second house, also built mostly by Mom's older brother I think. A grandson has built a third house on the property, where he and his wife are raising a fourth generation. A granddaughter has built a fourth house there as well.

The younger of my sisters, Nancy, lives in Portland OR, trains the mechanics who maintain wind energy machines for Vestas Inc. Her work takes her all over the western states, and sometimes over to Vestas' home base in Denmark for more training.

Nancy is a karate expert and a paddler. She's paddled with her Dragon Boat team, theWasabi Paddling Club, in South Africa, in Taiwan in 2006, and I forget where else. Nancy has an adopted son, Leo, who lives mostly with her ex, a couple blocks away.

In 1993, age 40, I hooked up with the love of my life (who prefers to remain anonymous in my public profile). We're not living together, but she is with me almost every day. She shares a tiny row house with a daughter just out of law school.

My apartment [as of 2008], in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, is not much smaller than her house, but I've got it packed full of treasures I can't bear to part with, books, a filing cabinet full of sheet music, 2 pianos, 2 mandolins, various other musical instruments, lots of old computers. I've been here since 1999 and my landlord has given me the run of the back and side yards.

Many of the 18-inch tree seedlings I planted early on have grown to over 20 feet. My surviving plantings include mostly natives: 5 hornbeams (American, according to the vendor, they are American, carpinus caroliniana), 5 shadblow serviceberries (amelanchier canadensis), 2 Eastern hemlocks (tsuga canadensis), 2 arrowwood viburnums (viburnum dentatum), one nannyberry viburnum (viburnum lentago), one witch hazel (hamamelis virginiana), one Eastern white pine (pinus strobus), one yellowwood (cladrastis kentukea, also known as c. lutea). Non-natives include 2 Lynwood Gold forsythia, one butterfly bush (buddleia davidii). I've also propagated cuttings from the Pussy Willow tree that was already growing here, and brought in a flowering(?) crabapple (some kind of malus?) I found elsewhere.

Many of my extended family members are still living in New England. They are near Sabattus and Portland ME, Concord NH, New Haven CT, Lexington and Duxbury MA. I've vacationed with a bunch of them around Lake Sebago ME. Occasionally my mom and I have visited the old hunting and fishing camp on Brassua Lake near Moosehead Lake ME.

I like no swimming place better than a clear lake. My youthful memories of swimming in Lake Dunmore VT and Lake Sunapee NH are an ideal hard to match, but Sebago is as beautiful as any of them.

Very few of the lakes around Philadelphia are clean enough to swim in, and they are not nearly so clear and free of vegetation. Some of the nicest lakes around here are in southern New Jersey's pine barrens, but you can't see very far through the water because of the tea colored stain caused by naturally occurring iron in the soil. I think that naturally occurring tannins combine with the iron to leave an orange scum on the water's surface and stain the water so that you can't see the bottom past a depth of a foot or two.

In Pennsylvania, I've found no swimming places close to Philadelphia. I liked Promised Land Lake and Ricketts Glen's Lake Jean, but they are not close. Beltzville is closer (90 minutes) but not as attractive.

last revised January 2008



This page was last modified January 20 2015 23:37:23


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