The Family Project
It was music and song before it was words and books.
The chestnuts: “Happy Birthday To You,” “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” and every night, that sing-songy prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep/If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
“If I should die…” really did a number on me, for the longest time. This is getting ahead of what I wanted to originally write about, but seems apt to include it here. After we moved out East, when I was probably between 6 and 9 years old, I had terrible insomnia. I thought I would die in my sleep.
Motivated by sheer terror, I wrote a farewell letter to my family and kept it under my pillow. Can’t recall when I gave that up, but obviously dying wasn’t in the cards yet.
We left Indiana sometime in 1966. Right now I’m looking at Dad’s résumé dated May 1969. It’s a great window into details I never knew as a kid. My father, Paul Jr., was born Jan. 1, 1932. There’s no listing on the document of his place of birth, but I’m fairly sure it was near Hannibal, Mo. Mom was born in New Castle, Ind., on Feb. 10, 1935. Apparently Dad graduated from high school in May 1951. So based on this document, I’m thinking it’s his application to the University of Minnesota, since we moved to Minnesota in the winter of 1970-71.
Here’s a thumbnail portrait of my pop: a mix of Huck Finn and Don Draper. Trouble-making prankster as a kid, daredevil who didn’t want a conventional job so enlisted in the army when a buddy was called up for Korea in October 1952. Dad went to Korea but was almost immediately sent to Japan to participate in a special forces operation set up by MacArthur. Honorably discharged in 1955, he went to Lane Technical Institute in Indianapolis to learn architecture.
His first job was as road designer for the Indiana State Highway Department. He made $4,800 a year and stayed at the job for nearly that long. About that time he started dating Mom, who was a nursing student. They were set up on a blind date. They made a second date, but he stood her up. When he tried to apologize later, she refused him. He persisted. They were married on Dec. 21, 1957.
I was born two years later.
Dad worked on roads and bridges projects, hospital designs, then, in June 1963, landed the position of Research Services Department Manager for Dow Chemical Company, finally making $10K a year. Within the Pitman-Moore Research Center at Dow, he was able to maneuver his way and land a plum internal contract job as Project Manager at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md. By contract’s end, he was making $16,000.
That job meant we’d have to sell the house in North Indianapolis, leave the grandparents and travel east, where we rented a house at 17119 Old Baltimore Road in Olney, Md., ostensibly owned by some distant relative of Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne. Dad bought a new blue Chevy II station wagon and off we went.
Of all my dad’s projects, our family was definitely one of them.
We were going places, and he was going to shape us to fit his vision.