Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Post Dad's Memory / An Experiment With a Path

That reminds me of another of Dad's experiments.  Not that he set out to make an experiment, just that it ended up being one and he told us about the result because it was a valuable thing to know.

I've previously mentioned that Dad was moved around a lot as a child.  I have a vague idea that this might have happened in Rolling Hills, back before there were many houses up there.  Wherever he was located, there was a field along the route between his home and the grocery store.  

As the oldest boy, he was the one sent to the grocery store to get random things.  If he cut across the field it was a shorter route, so that's what he did.

Other people also cut across the field to that store.  There was a meandering pathway through it.  To start with he followed the path.  Then with the inspiration of a kid having to do a chore and wanting to do as little as possible (not his words), he started to wonder why the trail didn't go straight.  It wouldn't be as far to walk if it was straight.  

Perhaps the trail was avoiding rocks or holes.  He explored that idea.  No.  There seemed to be nothing for the trail to avoid.  He considered.

Then he decided that it was better to cut straight across the field, even if he had to push through tall grass, than to meander for no particular reason.  At first, there was no lingering sign that he was doing that.  The grass bounced back.

Then the grass started to be pressed down, so that you could see an impression of a path, if you looked.  Later, it was obvious that the grass had been tramped down.

Within a few weeks, other people had started to use his shortcut.  Additional feet meant that the grass became worn quicker.  The more worn the grass became, the more people would take the new path instead of the old one.  As soon as both paths were worn to bare dirt, the majority of the foot traffic traveled the straight path.

Dad watched as slowly the grass in the meandering path grew and eventually hid it from view.  Now people didn't even think of it as an option.  

Telling the story, you could hear pride in his voice.  Pride for his younger self, and pride at recognizing that this was a memory that was important enough to keep and pass down.  

Post Dad's Memory / An Experiment in Knuckle Cracking

A Youthful Experiment.

My Dad often talked about his memory and how good it was.  He stated that he remembered things back to two years old.  He often complained about how his mother, sister, brother, and other relatives did not remember, or claimed not to remember, things that he remembered clearly.  He resented this because he remembered many times when they had been wrong, or had done something that harmed or upset him, that they did not, themselves remember.  This allowed them to keep presenting themselves as knowledgable and kind people.

Father presented his memory as a beacon into his family's past.  He told us about these old transgressions that everyone else ignored or left behind so that we could see the family illuminated in his memory's light.  

But I was going to talk about his experiment cracking his knuckles.  The warmup paragraphs are here because it is a memory about a time when people were wrong, but it's not an unpleasant memory for him.  

His family had, and still have, for the ones that are left, a standard operating procedure of Stating Things.  Usually these were Things That Everyone Knows.  Sometimes they were Things That I Remember.  Sometimes they were aphorisms.  They would state and counter-state in an ongoing competition to be The Authority In The Room.  Admitting that something you had said might not be totally accurate was just not part of the game.

Dad's mind didn't work that way.  He was introverted and also didn't like arguing.  But most important, he though that things were either true or not, and that when a person made a statement, what counted was wether or not it was true, not how well a person could use it to chin themselves up over anyone listening.

So when his mother and her sisters all told him to stop cracking his knuckles because it would make them grow big and knobby, he decided to test it.  How, you might ask, would a child do that?  If he cracked his knuckles, they could all say that they would have been smaller if he hadn't, no matter what size they were.  And if he used a friend as a control, they could argue that the two were just growing differently.  

What he did was start only cracking the knuckles on one hand.  I don't know if he ever let them know that the experiment was ongoing.  He could have done it completely for his own information and satisfaction.  He did it for years and there was never any difference between the knuckles of his two hands.

This proved that Those So-Called Experts On Everything were simply parroting bad information.  He told us the story so that we would know that he had proved that they were wrong at so basic a level that we should always assume that they were probably wrong, especially if they were sounding particularly sure of themselves.  We didn't need to argue, but  it was good for us to know.

I thought that it was a clever experiment for a child.  I'm still a little pleased with it by proxy.  

Post Dad's Memory / Bee's in Berry Bushes

In my last post I talked about memories my Dad had that were not unpleasant, not harrowing, and that did not cause him to simmer in bile and resentment.  Most of them were about his children (us) growing up.  But one was about his own childhood.

He resented having to move around as much as they did.  And when I say he resented it, that was probably him resenting it as an adult, looking back.  As a child, things were probably more complicated.  But that's a story for another post.  

For this post, the pertinent thing is that there was a mound of overgrown berry canes near one of the places that he lived as a child.  I have no firm idea where that was.  And he would have found when he was exploring a new neighborhood and thought of it as a nice thing that had to be appreciated while it was available.

The nice thing about it, as far as he was concerned, was that when he found it, it was swarming with bees.  These weren't just honey bees:  generic, small, pale, striped things.  These were conglomerations of other species.  Some were large and black and velvety.  Some had shiny blue backs.  Some were tiny.  

He would catch them in an old jam jar.  Turn the jar, lidless, upside down.  And cover the open bottom with his hand.  The bees would explore the jar as he watched, looking for a way out.  They would land on his hand and tickle as they walked around.  

He told us about this as part of his explanation of why there was no reason to be afraid of bees.  Be respectful, yes.  But don't assume that just because you see bees, they're going to come after you.  If you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone.  

Post Dad's Good Memories Were of Our Childhoods

I've mentioned before that my Dad tended to gunnysack.  That's a pop psychology term for carrying around a bag full of old resentments, for use in the present time.  

So it was unusual for him to share memories that were pleasant ones.  Most of his pleasant memories were of us when we were younger.  He really enjoyed watching us grow up.  It's nice to be able to make someone happy just by being there and being yourself.  

One story he had about my sister, S-2, illustrated what he thought of as her superior attunement to nature.  When she was about 3, she walked up to a fly that was sitting on the wall.  Now flies are skittish.  It's just their nature to flee if they see movement.  So he was surprised when she slowly and calmly held out her finger near it and it crawled off of the wall and onto her finger.  It didn't stay there long, but while it was there, she just calmly observed it.

He had another story that illustrated what he thought of as her emotional intensity.  At probably about the same age, something made her sad or angry and she stood and dried.  The standard response of adults to crying children, in our house, was to politely ignore the trespass until the child regained control.  

Dad was therefore standing nearby while S-2 cried.  I picture him standing with a cup of coffee and a cookie, but he probably didn't describe the scene that thoroughly.  That's just the way I picture him, when I think of him standing around.

Dad watched as she cried.  It hadn't been a big thing that set her off but, being emotionally intense, she was desolated.  The house we lived in at the time was the house that he and Mom had built themselves, with the help of other relatives.  The floors were hardwood, throughout.  As he watched, her tears hit the hardwood floor.

He wasn't paying particular attention.  He was just relaxed and in the area.  (Which is why I think there was a cup of coffee and a cookie involved.)  Slowly he noticed that the tears weren't falling at her feet.  They were jumping out nearly a foot in front of her.  This was mildly amazing to him.

I can picture him sliding quietly to the side for a better view as they arced from the top of her cheeks to the floor ahead.  I'm sure he never said a word to her at the time, but he remembered it and talked about it later.  More than once.  He always told it with fondness.

That was another sign that he enjoyed and loved us.  Because a person can't help being born with emotional intensity, but they need to learn to control it.  Yet I never heard any trace of disapproval in his voice when he told the story.

Post Back Rubs and Toe Popping

Some things my family did right.  Or, at least, they did things that weren't particularly wrong that I'm able to look back to in fondness.

I particularly liked the back rubs.  I think they started out as back scratches and morphed into rubs when Dad decided that scratching was inferior to rubbing because while scratching feels good over an itch, it can sometimes provoke the itch into spreading or remaining.  Rubbing, while feeling less like it's fixing the itch, will slowly soothe it.  So although it takes longer, and you have to be more patient, rubbing will fix the problem more thoroughly, and is therefore the superior method.

Dad made a series of such decisions, expecting them to be the Answer For All Time.  But that isn't what this post is about, I'll let that short note be a reminder to post about that later.  Assuming I read back through the posts, it should work.

I never told Dad, and at the time he was pontificating about rubbing vs. scratching, I might not even have been aware, but when I asked to have my back scratched, it wasn't because I had a particular itch, really.  

Oh, I might have felt a prickling when I saw an adult relative sitting on a couch with space available beside them.  But that would have been a prompt from my subconscious.  What I wanted was the contact.  And rubbing worked as well as scratching did.

In my family, in our family, any kid who sat next to an adult and laid across their lap could ask for a back rub.  Not in the middle of the adults talking, necessarily.  And not when Dad had a cup of coffee.  But in general.  It was a soothing and bonding thing.

Even if there was conversation and coffee, it might be possible to lean over and settle in.  Which might possibly lead to desultory rubbing, without asking, if you were lucky.  The desultory rubs were never as good as the deliberate ones, but they were better than nothing if you were in the mood.

On a more active level, Dad, and a couple of the younger uncles, used to pop our toes.  Sometimes a big play would be made about trapping the bare foot of a sitting child and slowly pulling on each toe, one by one, until each joint cracked.  Of course, sometimes we asked for it, too.  We'd lay on the floor near a seated adult and wave a bare foot.

As we got older, we started doing it to each other.  And to ourselves.  We learned that tipping the joint sideways would often crack the joint with less effort.  But you had to be more careful using that method, because it would hurt if you cranked down too sharply.  

So, back rubs and toe popping.  Two things that my family did right.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Apologies for the delay

Sorry for the delay, but first my computer stopped talking to outside devices, like the screen and keyboard, then I had to prepare for a trip and Christmas at the same time. I'm not sure I'm doing either one well, but they'll both be done after a fashion.

We're not sure what's wrong with the computer, but it works as long as there's nothing plugged into its rear USB ports. So my USB hub and external hard drive are both unplugged.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Post PORAC and Uncle B

Uncle B, my mother's older brother, was president of PORAC, possibly twice.  when I was young, I had no trouble remember what the initials stood for. . . Until U Nicole B told me that the way to remember the initials was to think of poor old raggedy-assed cops.  After he said it, that phrase was the only thing I could remember.  It totally pushed the real title out of my head.

Let's see if I can guess at it now.  Police Officers Research Association of California.  I'll look it up online later, to check.
Going through the things that Mom had in boxes, I found a memorial resolution by the California State Assembly.  I thought it would just say that he'd been president of PORAC, but it went on a good bit.  I'll put it in here, later.  I'm not at home, now, and it's in the file cabinet.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Post Girl Scout Camp and Cheesecake

I wrote in another post about the aftereffects of my sister and i going to Girl Scout Camp.  This is possibly something that happened while I was there, or it might have happened another year, when I went, but S-2 didn't.

I suspect that it was the year that I went to the "primitive" camp.  By primitive they meant that we had to pitch tents instead of sleeping in permanent half tents with raised wooden floors and demi-sides. We had to dig our own latrine instead of using the permanent toilets.  We had to rig a camp shower instead of . . . You get the idea.

Oh, and we cooked food over a campfire and prepped at a table we lashed together ourselves.  The camp provided the twine.  It was, you know, camping instead of going to camp.  I had been camping before and was an introvert raised by hermits, so it was right up my alley.

The other campers ate in a mess hall, with the regular amount of Girl Scout singing before and after meals.  The cooks liked us because they didn't have to cook for us.  All they had to do was pack up boxes of food cans and boxes and packets for us to pick up. One night there were a few big, square trays of cheesecake left over from dinner, and they slipped them to out councilors, who were up at the main camp for something.

It was my first experience with cheesecake.  It was probably from a mix. We didn't care. It was grub.

My Dad wouldn't let us buy cheesecake for dessert. He proclaimed that it was too rich, in a voice that implied that therefor people with unjaded taste buds would find it vile. 

Out taste buds were definitely unjaded.  We usually weren't allowed to order dessert at all.  Milk with dinner was compulsory and soda was frowned on. 

The cheesecake that night was sweet and had a nice graham cracker bottom.  I provisionally considered that maybe it wasn't real cheesecake and that maybe it was just impossible for a jello pudding type mix to be too rich. I'd have to test real cheesecake some day.  Meantime, I think I had five pieces. There was enough that everyone could.

Later, after I had gone away to college, I tried real cheesecake.  I went on to try many different types of cheesecake.  I can state definitively that I never found one that was too rich.

But that wasn't what this post was meant to talk about.  It also wasn't meant to share the fact that my father went to his grave never having tasted real maple syrup. 

It was a conscience choice on his part.  We always used home made syrup.  I learned to make it pretty young.  You put a cup of sugar in a pan.  Then add a half cup of brown sugar.  Pour in a cup of water and bring it to a boil.  Stir occasionally as the sugar dissolves, then turn it off and let it cool.

When it's cool, stir in a teaspoon of vanilla and a quarter teaspoon of maple flavoring.  Put it in the Tupperware syrup holder.  Put the extra in a small mason jar.  Or in our house, an old peanut butter jar.

That was the syrup that Dad used. Even Mrs. Butterworths was a corporate trick to fool you into paying more money for an inferior product, just to show off that you used store bought syrup.

Maple syrup, on the other hand, was a different sort of trap. It was a good product, but it wasn't anything that anyone really needed.  If a person were to taste it, and find it to be good, forever after they would remember the taste whenever they used any kind of syrup.  The home made syrup that was sweet and tasty and economical would become that stuff that wasn't quite maple syrup.

So he decided to never taste maple syrup, in case he should like it.  That way his regular syrup would remain a happy treat, complete in itself.

Sorry to digress, but Dad was a pontificator and believed in the efficacy of repeating certain lessons to impress them on young minds.  Must of my memories aren't far from a memory of Dad going on about something, and the generous pontificating is easier on the memory than the angry ranting.

But on to the point of the post.

On some occasion, when I was at camp, I got a letter from home.  Dad was the one who wrote the letters in our family, so it was no surprise that it was from him.  It said, "I'm sitting here with pen and paper. Your mother thinks I'm writing you a letter. She doesn't know, does she?"

He ranted and pontificated, but he also had a sense of humor.

Post Take 5 things in case of zombies

Someone posted a question online.  What 5 things would you grab in the case of a zombie apocalypse.

Me, I have bad knees. But then I don't get far from my van, so I'll just make that one of the things I take. In fairness, I won't stock the van for zombies, so it just has what's in it regularly. Which reminds me that I need to get my gym bag back to the van, so I'll have a towel.

Maybe I shouls also grab a bicycle in case I run out of gas. That's two.

Three would be my dog. Four might be dog food. Nah. I'm going to need a blanket or sleeping bag.

I don't have any typical anti-zombie weapons around. The closest thing I can think of is a shovel. If I get to shop around, I'd look for an old style bung tool. (That name always makes me smile.)

Bung tools are used for opening the bungs on 55 steel gallon barrels. Back in the day, bungs weren't standardized, so the bung tool was this roughly club shaped brass thing with various protrusions on the end, meant to fit different styles of bungs. I had a job once that called for me to use one fairly regularly, and I was never able to pick it up without thinking "blunt instrument." It was a hefty, nasty looking sucker.

More modern ones are streamlined and lighter. The brass is to prevent sparks against the steel, since a good number of 55 gallon drums are used to store various solvents and other flammable things. Sparks would be bad.

Heh. Bung tool.


Damn, I hate it when things pop out of my mind after less than a minute. What was I thinking of? Something about Dad that was to go into the blog Patchwork Riddles. Food related? (The memory popped into my head while I was taking a hamburger out of its bag.)

Not Ichabod. Ah, yes. The stack of napkins. I've been getting cheap hamburgers lately. Why isn't pertinent, but I don't promise not to write about it later. What matters is that lately several different fast food outlets have been putting wads of napkins in the bag, even with a single hamburger. And it's wasteful to just throw them out. And it would fill up the landfill to just throw them out. And several dead people in my life would frown on just throwing them out. Not to mention that they might be useful at some point.

So I have a small stack of them in the car and a growing stack of them in my desk drawer. This reminds me of Dad, one of the disapproving dead people mentioned above. He didn't buy quick hamburgers while driving through to somewhere else. Oh, sometimes he would eat a hamburger or a taco if Mom went and got them and brought them home. But if he was going out for food he wanted to sit down and have someone come to the table to get his order.

While my parents lived in Willow Creek, California, they ate twice a day at a restaurant called The Flame. I do not recall that The Flame handed out multiple napkins. Possibly my father collected them one at a time. He was both a very neat eater and a germophobe, so the napkin probably stayed under his dining utensils to protect them from the non-sterile public table.*

Another possibility is that he would bring partial portions home, and they would put a napkin into the bag with the boxed leftovers. There may also have been napkins put in with the jimmies** that were sometimes purchased from the deli counter at the grocery store.

However they came into his life, they would be stacked on the counter of the kitchen island, on the outside corner to the left of the stove. They were available for use in any situation that warranted it. Mom still bought paper towels, and there was no nagging about using a paper towel that had to be paid for when there was a perfectly good free napkin available. They were just there.

I don't think the stack ever got more than three inches tall. And I seem to remember there being different styles and colors of napkin in it. So either they came from more than one source or The Flame liked to mix things up napkin-wise.

There was never any stated attempt to use them from the bottom of the stack, so the lowest napkin was probably the eldest. I wonder if it was possible to do napkin archeology on them, peering down through the strata and reconstructing a culinary timeline. That would be complicated, I suppose, by the fact that he didn't just collect them, he used them too. That would add erosion to the deposition of the stack. Hmmm.

I also wonder if they packed them and brought them along when they moved.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post Safety lists are a Daily Dose of Death

An unintended consequence is something unforeseen that happens because of something you did, but which is outside of your strict effort-to-goal plan-line. I started presenting monthy safety meetings for my section at work. Then a few other sections noticed that they hadn't had a safety meeting in a long time, and they asked if they could join ours.  Soon I was presenting to more than half the floor. 

Then my name got on some safety marketing lists. Now I get emailed newsletters that have hook questions like this:

"Employee injury or death while traveling to or from work is usually not covered under workers' compensation insurance, due to the coming and going rule. But what if the employee was killed while on the way to pick up a co-worker to go to an employer-required conference?"

For awhile, I would dutifully read these little newsletters.  They were quick little warm-ups to start the day and once or twice I actually found something that my section should know about, and I'd include it in the next meeting.

But soon they started to affect my mood.  I came to think of them as my daily dose of death, because there were usually one to three little articles about someone dying on the job and the safety violation that caused it. I had expected that taking on the safety meetings would be an odd amount of work that didn't exactly fit in with the other things I was doing.  The unintended consequence was a darkening of my outlook. 

I decided it really wasn't worth it to read the newsletters.  Now I very rarely open them.

If you're curious, the answer to the quoted question is that the widow got workers' comp survivor's benefits, but only after she appealed and then appealed again to the Texas Supreme Court.

The final decision was predicated not on his driving of a company truck and not on his having been assigned to go to the conference and not because he was on his way to pick up another employee (who had also been required to go). Nope, it was because the conference was a multi-day conference, so that what the employee was doing was considered to be "overnight travel".

"Overnight travel" is not covered by the coming and going rule.