Thursday, September 25, 2014

Walk on the random side

“Life is a journey, not a destination” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

This concept can be put into a single word: serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole in 1754.  It means finding good things where you weren’t looking for them.  It comes from “The Princes of Serendip”, an Arabian tale.  Serendip was also featured in Prokofiev’s “Love of Three Oranges”.

Ah, this whole column is going to be very serendipitous.  I thought of this column as about the twist and turns of my own life.  But like my life, this column is going to turn up ideas I wasn’t looking for,

The March from the “Love of Three Oranges” by a Soviet composer was, irony of ironies, used as the theme song for the radio program “FBI: In Peace and War”.  One of the FBI’s tasks at the time was finding Communists.  On the other hand, many of Prokofiev’s works were anti-establishment.  Think of “Lieutenant Kije”!

After my parents divorced when I was about five or so, my mother moved in with her aunt and uncle.  Once I started school, I was often free to roam.  I knew all the vacant lots and stores, where the library was, and where a super-duper playground was.

When I was nine, my aunt and uncle bought a house on the other side of town.  I don’t know which came first, a new job or a new house.  Whichever, my mother’s uncle still worked within walking distance.

Again I explored an ever wider area, learning where the movie theater was, a great sledding hill, and the community center and the Y.  I had a take a streetcar to the downtown library.  I made a new set of friends, and eventually joined some of them in a Boy Scout troop.

After my first year of junior high, my mother decided to get her own apartment back on the other side of town.  Again, I had freedom to roam.  No sledding hill, but a vacant lot for baseball and an actual ball diamond a bike ride away.  I also frequented a drug store for malts, ice cream sodas, and sundaes.  That lead me to drop my paper route and work 5-10 after school three times a week.

After I started high school my mother remarried and we moved back across town.  I was supposed to go to a high school with about 3,000 students, but I got district permission to go to the high school where my Scout friends went.  And this road made all the difference.  Would I have gone to Case if I had a different math teacher who didn’t punctuate his remarks with “When you go to Case…”

When still in high school I also decided on my own to go to a Methodist Church within walking distance. I wound up being active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) even into my college years.  This lead to some pressure to go into the ministry.  This and the long daily commute to Case created several conflicts.

While in college I decided to run for the President of the MYF subdistrict.  Also sitting on the subdistrict were a couple of attractive high school girls, both of whom I dated.  But I preferred the second one.  Fifty-six years later, neither of us regrets the choice.  And my wife still doesn’t regret voting against me because she thought MYF was not for college students.

During my tenure on the council I didn’t do so well in my junior at Case.  I was asked not to come back for the spring term.

I don’t remember what led to my choice of Ohio Wesleyan University other than it was Methodist.  Possibly it was my new girlfriend was starting there in the fall.

When I visited OWU before applying, the registrar recommended that I major in mathematics, which I did.  Surprisingly, after my dismal last two semesters at Case, I got all As in math except for a single B.

Prior to graduation I applied to Case for a graduate assistantship in the computer center.  I also applied for an assistantship at the University of Michigan in communications, which included computer science.  I heard from Case right away and was even offered a summer job in the computer center.  I didn’t hear from U of Mich until late July or even early August

When I graduated from OWU we got married and rented the upstairs of a duplex in Cleveland.  This also meant that my wife would have to go to college in the Cleveland area.  She chose Baldwin-Wallace way the other side of the metro area..  Fortunately, she could commute with an instructor who was friend of her mother.  By the way, this friend was also the one who recommended the duplex.

We both liked canoeing and made a few day trips to Portage Lakes.  But our dream was to go to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.  We did so in August 1961.  The trip was a mix of adventure and misadventure.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it changed our lives forever by offering a wide range of unexpected choices.  Many of them were “the least traveled” and “made all the difference.”

That covered about 25 years of my life. I have notes for the next 50 but have run out of space and have other articles lined up for the next few weeks.  If you really, really want more, tell me so when you see me.

Mel thinks he has each day well-planned but something else always arises.

This was also printed in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2014-09-25 at