30 July 2011


I worked, as I have said, at "Space-General Division" of Aerojet - itself owned by a company called General Tire and Rubber - which provided some high-jinx at work.  The whole company structure had offices in France and England - and there was system of telphoning amongst them.  You could dial a number that got you to the General Tire headquarters in Akron, Ohio.  Then you had a dial-tone and could do another to get you to France or England - and so forth.  The switching was all mechanical, so to get a connexion all the way from your office to Akron to Paris to London back to Akron and back to El Monte to ring the guy in the neighbouring office was ... well, stupid, actually, and getting the connexion took minutes.  But we thought it fun.  I was, after all, just 20.
I had my first practical lessons in computer use there.  I had done various bits and pieces at UCLA, but at SGC (Space-General Corporation), though I was not programming, I was running programmes, sometimes helping to debug them (all Fortran), driving back and forth to Azusa, where Aerojet (and the computer) were located - running card sorters, printers, etc - it was all quite instructive, and did, in fact, set me in practical computer work.

Life in Los Angeles at the time was riding on an economic high.  Men (mostly men, in fact) were being paid high salaries.  President Kennedy's space programme was in high gear.  There was money everywhere.

Nevertheless, some people seemed to spend it faster than it came in.  Edna and I had a friend named Phil Sollow.  Phil was an engineer.  He had bought a house, and a lot of furniture, all on debt.  He was paid a lot more than I was.  Nevertheless, the time came when he could not service his debt.  This was short-term, as I recall, but he became our paying passenger, to save money.  He was a race-car enthusiast, so I suppose his Alfa-Romeo (or was it a Lotus?) took a lot of petrol.  For several months, he paid us $15 a week, I think it was, to take him to work.

He regretted this decision at times.  It is a wonder that I survived.  I was a very scary driver - put it in the fast lane, keep it there at top speed it would go (not all that in my old Renault Dauphine) until a couple of hundred metres from the exit, then zoom through whatever traffic happened to be in the way.  Phil, the racing enthusiastic, found it ... unnerving, and said so.

The Renault caused some consternation the day it caught fire.  It had a rear engine.  Driving to Aerojet one day, I was surprised to see a car pull up beside me, gesticulating.  Look in the rear-view mirror.  Flames coming from the bonnet.

I was near an exit, so I pulled off - and stopped right in front of a petrol station.

As I said, I was 20.

No, he didn't have a fire extinguisher, and get that thing away.

The fire brigade came soon and put it out - and the petrol station was able pretty quickly to replace the tubing that had leaked.

It's a wonder we survive to reproduce.

Edna and I had some nice times together then.  We became fairly enthusiastic ice skaters, at the local rink.  And I loved the Arcadia Arboretum, which we went to probably weekly for a while.  We had dinner with a Romanian friend, an engineer at SGC, Elliot Kleinman.

All of this changed, if not instantly, at least very quickly, on 14 August, 1963, when Kathleen was born.

24 July 2011


There were several more important things that happened to us, or that we did, in El Monte - such as the birth of our daughter Kathleen - but I thought I would write here about one of the lesser matters - lesser in fundamental importance, but a matter of some poignancy to us.


I don't really remember how we discovered the possibility of having a wild cat as a pet.  Perhaps I had already been interested in the subject.  I do recall getting to know quite a lot about ocelots and margays.  But Judy was a jaguarundi.

We got a bank loan to buy Judy - I think it might have been $120 - or even $180? - quite a lot of money, anyway, for a young couple on a single, rather junior, salary in 1963 - and probably not that sensible.  But we did.  We bought her from a pet shop that specialised in wild pets - cougars, monkeys, all sorts.  It is no longer legal, I understand, to have wild animals as pets in California, which is understandable.  In many such cases the animal - especially exotic animals, like jaguarundis - has been seriously victimised in order to become someone's pet.

Judy's situation was certainly an example.  We were told that typically, these small cats (maybe twice the weight, and 50% greater in length, of a house cat) were trapped in something like the following fashion: a trapper, perhaps in Mexico, finds a female with kittens, kills the female, and takes the kittens.  He may go around looking for several such litters before returning to sell them.  During that time, the kittens, perhaps taken from their mother's milk quite early, are fed on whatever he is able to supply them.  This is a recipe for serious dietary deficiencies.

Judy suffered badly from rickets, a deficiency of calcium or vitamin D - or both.  She couldn't walk properly.  Her joints were in bad shape.

Edna and I had to feed her, daily - or perhaps several times a day? - from an eyedropper, medicine containing supplements of these nutrients.

Judy's bones and joints were not in good shape - but her muscles were just fine.  It took both of us to feed her.  I held her wrapped in a towel between my legs, whilst Edna fed her the medicine.  The towel was to be wrapped around her forelegs, to keep her from scratching.

The towel did not always stay wrapped.  I was scratched repeatedly.  Eventually I developed a rash, that was not limited to the places she had scratched, so I went to the doctor.  He said it was "cat-claw disease."  At the time I thought this was his way of saying that he didn't know what caused it, but that he thought it was certainly related to being scratched all the time!  I turned out to be wrong.  Wikipedia has an article on "cat-scratch disease."  He gave me medicine - presumably antibiotics - and it cleared up.

When, in May, 1964, we left El Monte and flew to Hawai'i - with the idea that I might go into farming with my father - it never occurred to us that there were any laws about bringing cats into the state - and neither did I stop to think that Judy might be considered different from any other cat.  We flew on PanAm - part of the American past, that company, which disappeared in 1991.  We had Judy carefully put into a cage, with instructions.  PanAm said they could certainly fly the cat safely there.  We flew to Honolulu, then transplaned to fly to Hilo, were driven up the coast to Pa'auilo, and up to the house that my parents then rented - my father not yet having built a house on his farm.

There, at the house up Pa'auilo mauka (Hawai'ian for "up the mountain"), the next day, we had a telephone call from an agitated man at PanAm freight.  Our own agitation was the greater because at the time we had had no experience of Hawai'ian English.  The PanAm man said that this cat had been brought in - "dirty-kine cat!" - 'dirty' because they had opened the cage to feed it and the cat - Judy! - had escaped under some of the various benches in their freight room and was using the location as its toilet - that this cat had been brought in, and what were they to do with it?  Cats being imported had to be quarantined for 120 days, he said, because there was no rabies in Hawai'i, and they didn't want any.

"Fine," we said, "then quarantine her."

"No can!"  Wild animals cannot be imported into Hawai'i without a permit - and we had no permit.  What were they to do.

We were heartbroken.  Offer it to the zoo?  After a day, the zoo said they didn't want it.  Judy would have to be destroyed.

End of story - not quite.  In 1966 we moved to Honolulu, from California - more on this later! - and I began flying weekly to Moloka'i to work in the Peace Corps training programme on Yapese language.  Edna took me to the airport each time.  One of those times we were walking through the airport, to come upon a display of "animals that people had attempted, illegally, to bring into Hawai'i."  They had snakes, coconut crabs - and Judy.  She had been mounted, stuffed, with her lips pulled back in a snarl - on a branch, stalking a bird, as I recall.

We - and particularly Edna - were outraged!  Edna 'phoned them and demanded the return of our cat.  "Yes, you can have it, when we have finished with it."  When might that be?  "Oh, about twenty years."

Somewhere here I have some old 8mm movie films we made that have pictures of Judy in action.  One day I may try to get them into an video file.  Until then, she lives only in our memory.

16 July 2011


If Edna had not become pregnant, I suppose I might have gone on and finished my astronomy degree - but I think it questionable.

I was in the first semester of my 'Junior Year', still majoring in astronomy.  American Universities, or at least the ones I have experience of, are based on a four-year undergraduate course.  The course is divided into two two-year portions - 'Lower Division' and 'Upper Division'.  In those first two years you generally are taking more general courses; concentration on your major occupies the last two years.  This semester was the beginning of my 'Upper Division' years.

In the United States, except for the 'professional' subjects, such as medicine, engineering, and law, everyone is doing a BA - Bachelor of Arts - degree.  This is true whether your major is astronomy, as mine was, or linguistics, as I changed to later, or any of the many other BA majors available.

And everyone is expected to broaden his interests at University.  In particular, at the University of California, all subjects were divided into three broad groupings: science, humanities, and social science.  You had to take a certain number of courses in each of these groupings, regardless of what your major was.

I mention this because this was my last semester studying astronomy - and my studies point to my eventual shift to linguistics.

There were three strands to this linguistic thread.  The first actually began whilst I was still at UCLA.  To do a PhD - and if one were to be an astronomer, that appeared necessary - you needed either three semesters of one foreign language, or two each of two.  I had French in high school and was able to credit that for one semester of French.  I took the second semester at UCLA - and then did Russian.

Well, that might have been reasonable for astronomy, but at Berkeley - in my second year, I believe - in order to satisfy simultaneously the 'breadth requirement' for social science and for humanities, I took a course in linguistics for non-majors - and was quite captivated.

Now in my Junior Year, when I ought to have been concentrating on the physics and mathematics I would need, I signed up for Spanish.  My course adviser, who had to sign off on the course, did so, but reluctantly, telling me that I was never going to get my PhD in astronomy that way.

He was right, of course.

What 'would have happened' is something we are not given to know, but I rather think that I would never have become an astronomer.  The above remarks show how my interest was growing in language matters.  I had even, at one point, the year before, considered changing my major to music.  I had played the horn in the orchestras at UCLA and at Berkeley.  When we married, I left the orchestra - and, necessarily, the horn, since I used their instrument.  And I confess I was beginning to find the more advanced mathematics of my third year very challenging.

I don't know exactly when we knew that Kathleen, our daughter, had been conceived, but it must have been quite soon.  I wish I had a clearer memory of subsequent events.  I know that the following things happened:
  • I applied to work at IBM as a computer specialist
  • I applied for the Oakland police
  • I applied for a job as an operator at a factory in Oakland
  • I tried to enlist in the US Air Force
  • I tried to enlist in the US Navy
  • I tried to enlist in the US Army
  • We moved out of our apartment and moved into the basement room of Edna's parents' house in San Francisco
  • I actually took a job as night operator in the Bank of America's cheque clearing house
IBM turned me down after a medical.  They said I had signs of developing back trouble.  Right again!  In 1980, 1982, and 2006 I spent several months each time partly disabled from my back issues.

The factory turned me down.

The Oakland police required you to be at least five feet eight inches tall.  I was five-seven-and-a-half.  Someone told me if I hung upside down from my legs from a bar, I could stretch my height.  This was true.  When I applied I was five-seven-and-a-quarter.

I told the Air Force I wanted to be an officer.  They told me that was great, I should finish my degree and then talk to them.

I told the Navy the same, with the same response.

I told the Army the same and they seemed ready to promise me anything.  This scared me and I didn't follow up on it.

So we moved to Edna's parents' house.  I rather think we did move only after all the job applications failed.  I went to work at Bank of America, working night shifts, running machines that sorted cheques - very noisy and rather amusing.

But I worked there three nights.  After the third night I had a response from another job application that I had made.  I was offered a job as a 'data analyst' working for a company called Space General Corporation, which was a sub-division of Aerojet General - located in El Monte, California.  I stiffed Bank of America (it never occurring to me at the time that there might be anything wrong with this), and - when? - in March, I think, of 1963 - Edna and I drove there, and rented a two-bedroom apartment.

08 July 2011


Edna and I were married at her parents' house on 2 September, 1962.

At least I remember the date!

What has struck me in writing these memoirs is the great variability in my memories of things past.  My parents had not attended my and Susan's wedding.  "Well," I said to Sue, "they didn't attend my and Edna's wedding, either!"

Sue then showed me a photo of that wedding with both my mother and father in the picture.

Had this been in the days of Photoshop, I might have defended my position.

Well, it was a long time ago, after all.

Yes, but I remember very distinctly a lot of details of things from those days.  The adventure with Edna, Peter, and me on the Feather River was quit vivid.  I fear the reason for my selective memory is simply that self-centredness - which is not always the same as selfishness, but which is closely akin to it - that has always characterised me, and that still does so.  I am just not that interested in weddings.  That the wedding might be of deep interest to others - to my wife, for example - does not appear to have been much of a reason for me to pay attention.

But we were definitely married, and definitely on that date.

Initially it was proposed that we should be married in the Presbyterian church that, as I understand it, Edna's family were members of.  I rejected this in no uncertain terms.

Why, I wonder, should my rejection have been so absolute?  My interest in the God question did not even rise to the level of atheism.  My interest in the God question was about on a par with my interest in the legitimacy of the latest Jacobite pretender - less, perhaps, since romantic stories about Bonnie Prince Charlie had at least some human interest to me.  So why should I have objected to what I would, no doubt, have thought just a meaningless human ritual?

I do not really know, but I confess I suspect some unconscious awareness that there might be more to this marriage business than I really wanted to confront.  In any case, in the event Jim and Peggy McVey, Edna's parents, very patiently and accommodatingly, set up in their house for the wedding.  The Presbyterian minister - I think it was, though, again, my memory is vague - married us.  The reception - with my parents in attendance, I now know! - and probably my brother and sister, for all I recall - was in their basement room.

I blush at the ways in which Edna's parents, family friends, my own family, all were so kind and helpful to one - myself! - who was as completely self-centred a young lout as one could imagine.  Edna's father gave us, as a wedding present, an amount of money that, in 1962, could have been used as a down-payment on a house.  I do not think such a thought even occurred to me.  Edna and I went on a road trip, in our Volkswagen 'bug', and that was the money we used.  I do not regret that - but I wish I had had more sensitivity to his goodness and thoughtfulness to us.

I have just been struck with a question: was the 'Presbyterian minister' who married us, in fact, Edna's uncle Tom Patterson?  Edna's mother's sister Ruth and her husband Tom came from Northern Ireland to visit.  Was it for the wedding?  It may have been.

I have prayed, daily, for a long time for Tom and Ruth Patterson - now for their souls, for Tom is dead, and Ruth may be - for I blush, again, to recall my dealings with him when he visited.  I had pushed onto him a book as being a great and wonderful revelation of mysteries.  Tom read it - itself an act of charity to a young know-it-all - and told me, clearly with some desire to try to help me, that he found it shallow.  The book was, in fact, one which made a big noise in its day.  It presents a deeply false Gospel - but very definitely a Gospel.  The book was Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land".  It is consciously a Gospel, whose Christ is a man and whose Sacrament is human sexuality.  No doubt it was, in great part, the latter that attracted me.  Yet I am deeply certain that it was the Gospel image itself that was the reason I was excited.  Tom Patterson may have sensed this.  Alas, he was not in a position to offer me the true gold to replace this false coin, but it moves me to think that when I have seen something of Christ - even in a terribly distorted medium such as Heinlein's free love - I have wanted something - something that was beyond my reach, yet something that I knew was desirable.

Edna and I moved into a flat in Berkeley near the University, and I started my junior year - third year of a four-year undergraduate course in a US University - in astronomy.  Edna was working, I believe, as a 'temp' for Kelly Girl.

In November Edna became pregnant.

02 July 2011


Why did I think I wanted to marry Edna?

That may mean two things:

  • Why Edna as opposed to someone else?
  • Why did I want to get married at all?
As to the first - I do not really have an answer, but the fact was definite.  When I first sat down to write this, I had thought I would say that Edna was there, was attractive, and that was all there was to it.

But there were any number of girls around who met those criteria.  One might thing that Edna was available - only she wasn't.  She had a boyfriend, an engineering student named Bill, as I recall.  I had to win her away from him.

I do not know why, therefore, it was Edna and no one else.  These things are a mystery, and I can well believe that in these matters, as, indeed, in every detail of our lives, a Providence is at work.

I do not know why Edna, but I do know why marriage.

What else was there?

It is strange to me to be asking that (rhetorical) question in 2011 - it is strange that it is not strange.  I fear that to anyone under, say, the age of 40, the question must not seem rhetorical at all.  What else is there?  Well, you could just live together, couldn't you?

I am sure that in 1962 there were plenty of couples "just living together," but it was not a thought that could possibly have come to me.  Anyone with anything like a conventional upbringing, born, as I was - and as Edna was - in 1942, simply would not have thought of any other way for a couple to live together except married.  Indeed, I do not think it would have been easy to find a place to accept such a living arrangement.  That young men and women were together - in every sense of the word - in 1962 is undeniable.  I was not, I am afraid, ignorant of such things.  But living together was not something that could have occurred to me.

It is a question - the question of why I wanted to get married - of some interest.  This is not the place to go into the question, which must be examined later, of my marriage to Edna in relation to my and Susan's entering the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless, as will appear, I did meet at least one obstacle to the idea of marriage, when details of our wedding were discussed.

But anyway, I was determined that I wanted Edna and me to be married - and I exerted considerable pressure on her to agree.

So I set a good start to our wedding plans by nearly - albeit unintentionally and as a result of thoughtlessness - by nearly killing her.

The University year ended at the end of May or beginning of June, 1962.  I went home to my parents' farm in Oroville, and arranged for Edna to come up to spend a week with us, meet the family, and so forth.  She arrived, one normally hot day - perhaps 40 Celsius degrees (104F) - on the Greyhound coach from San Francisco.  I met her, dressed, as was my normal summer clothing, in nothing but cut-off jeans.  I saw her walk along the aisle of the air-conditioned coach and when she came to the door, she seemed to hit a barrier for a moment - then came out.  "Is it always so hot??"  "Oh, is it hot?  I guess so."

Edna had lived her early childhood in Northern Ireland - where, I am assured, the temperature quite often rises above freezing, in summer, that is - and had then lived all her life in San Francisco - where a really hot day might be 30 (86F).  This ought, perhaps, have been a warning.

"Let's go swimming!!"  Good thing to do on a hot day.  Peter and I and Edna went to Bidwell's Bar - which is under Lake Oroville now and there, under the bridge, would have been a fine place to swim.

Fine, but boring.  Peter and I liked to walk up the railway tracks - as I think of it now, I wonder what we would have done had a train come along - scramble down the cliff face to the river (which there is no climbing up), jump in above what we called the Black Rock Rapids, shoot the Rock a few times, and finally swim across to the other side and walk - or swim - back down to the Bridge.

Edna showed some signs of nervousness, I think, but I was not very sensitive to such things in those days - and perhaps enjoyed showing off.

Peter jumped in.  Edna jumped in.  The water was, indeed, a bit cool - but at least a few degrees above freezing.  Edna immediately began to climb out - by walking on top of Peter.

We made it to the other side.  No one died.  We walked back down to the Bridge.  Perhaps you would think I had learned my lesson.  I fear I am a slow learner.

The summer passed.  Plans were made.  On 2 September, 1962 - Edna 20, me 20 days short of my 20th birthday - we were married.