Some have said that “if” is the biggest word in the English language. It certainly does have a lot of import on our thinking, be it blame, regret, or thankfulness. Our lives are certainly filled with choice points of our own doing or the actions of others. “If my teacher hadn’t suggested,,,, then I might not have…” “If I hadn’t asked for a raise, would I have ever gotten one.”, and on and on.
I have so many “if’s” in my life that got me to this moment of typing on a laptop that I could probably fill this issue of the Reader. And you would have fallen asleep by the fourth page.
One of my early if’s is if my parents hadn’t divorced, would my mother have moved us in with her aunt and uncle? That determined where I started school. If my great aunt and uncle hadn’t bought a house on the other side of the city, would I have have gone to a second elementary school. At that school I met many others who would become life-long friends.
I did lose those contacts when my mother decided to rent an apartment on the other side of town. By the time I started high school, she remarried and we moved back to the other side of town.
That house was in a school attendance area different than the area many of my old friends were in. I made the choice of asking for an exemption to go to that smaller school to be with my friends again.
One of the math teachers at the smaller school punctuated his remarks with “When you go to Case…” meaning Case Institute of Technology. Five of us started as freshmen there a year or two later.
But would I have been able to afford the $750/year tuition? The assistant principal suggested that I apply to the Huntington Fund for a scholarship. I did and was granted a full scholarship.
With my job at Kroger’s, suggested to me by one of the friends I met in the second elementary school and with whom I still correspond, I was able to afford books and bus fare across the city to Case.
Shortly after we moved back across the city, I attended a Methodist Church within a half-hour’s walk and was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF). This continued into my Case years.
I don’t know the exact cause, but I started losing interest in my engineering studies. I ran for president of the area MYF council and won. Also on the council was the daughter of a doctor. After I flunked out of Case, I started dating her.
We both went to Ohio Wesleyan the following fall, she as a freshman and me as a junior. Despite my flunking out of Case, the Huntington Fund kept funding me. They had long dropped their maximum scholarship to $500, and I had to take out student loans to supplement it and my own part-time job earnings to make the $1,100 annual tuition.
I got good enough grades in mathematics that Case took me back in the graduate program with a full fellowship in the computer center which included a $75/week salary! I also married that sweetheart from two paragraphs back.
I don’t think you want to put up with two thousand words of all the twists and turns of the next fifty plus years, but I have many, many “If I hadn’t done this, would this interesting thing have happened.” I’ll try to collapse those into the few paragraphs remaining of my space.
We chose to move to Minnesota and my employment with Univac because we liked canoeing. After five years I became restless and managed a transfer to Europe. We started in Switzerland for a few weeks and then lived in Italy for the next two years.
I became unhappy with the management in Rome and transferred to Sweden. We liked Sweden so much that we stayed four years. But then my wife decided our kids should go to junior high in the United States. Another “if” I must stick in is that my wife met an American women on the subway who had a cabin in Brimson. She extended an open invitation to visit them.
I gave a wishy-washy description of my interests to my previous bosses at Univac in Roseville, and so we didn’t move back to Minnesota. Instead I wound up in “exile” in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. I was “rescued” when Univac needed people to work on a new computer in Roseville. That computer was cancelled and I was put on another project, on which I didn’t shine.
Meanwhile, the microcomputer revolution started and I jumped into it. I blew that too and wound up as a bus driver. But my wife was doing quite well in her work. What we didn’t do well on was co-ordinating when we would take our annual BWCA visit. With the background of a whole bunches of “if’s” we finally visited our friends in Brimson and did so annually.
Yikes, what if I could have 2,000 words!
Our son went to Japan and when we visited him we missed an annual visit to Brimson. We went in fall instead and found property for sale. We bought it, and a few years later had built our own cabin.
This time my wife engineered the transfer and we moved from the Twin Cities to Duluth to be nearer our cabin. But she found more and more things to do in Duluth and has less time to spend in Brimson. And we’re both getting older and mowing lots of paths and cutting firewood seems to take longer and longer.
We have lots of memories of all those if’s and we know lots more if’s are coming.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
- Robert Frost
Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2016-01-07 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2016/01/06/6522_if.