Friday, January 28, 2022


I’m taking today off, as it is my last chance to do that before the semester heats up in earnest.

My advising job is 80%, so in theory I can get it all taken care of in four days rather than five. My first year seminar class (“How to College”) is part of my advising load so that gets folded into it. But I have my US2 class as well which isn’t part of that, and the time I spend on that needs to be made up for my advising job which means that I’m on campus five days a week during most of the semester.

Except that the campus where my US2 class is hosted doesn’t start classes until next week, and my boss basically told me to take the opportunity while it was in front of me.

I’ve got a few things to take care of today – most pressingly to try to find a place to get a haircut. The marvelous little barbershop I found here in Our Little Town didn’t survive the pandemic, and since then I’ve been using the clippers I bought. The joy of not having much hair left is that it’s pretty easy to take care of. Set the clippers to a given height, set up a few mirrors so you can see everything, buzz away, and clean up when you’re done. I like to do this outside, though, as it simplifies the cleanup, but it’s winter in Wisconsin now and that makes things a bit impractical that way. Wednesday morning it was -13F (-25C) when I left to go to work, and that’s without counting the wind chill. It’s slightly warmer today (real square roots!) but still.

Otherwise my main project for today is to continue scanning family documents. I inherited a pile of them when my mom died, and my goal is to get them all digitized. This way they can be shared with those who are interested, and it will help with preservation.

I’m working my way through the letters that my parents wrote to each other when my dad was in the navy in the late 1950s. They were voted Cutest Couple of their high school class and then graduated into the depths of the Eisenhower Recession – my dad once told me that he and his friends basically had three choices at that point: college, unemployment, or the military. So he joined the navy and spent three years as a radioman on a small engine repair ship that was based out of Norfolk VA. He saw the northern lights on one deployment and spent a couple of shore leaves in pre-Castro Cuba on others, but otherwise it was mostly watches and cleaning. Norfolk was close enough to Philadelphia that he could usually get back there on weekend leaves, which he did every time it was practical to do so. Long after he was discharged the ship was sold to Taiwan, and I think they scrapped it sometime in the 1970s.

My parents wrote to each other every couple of days or so, in an era where long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive and the internet was decades away from appearing, and it’s interesting to follow along the conversation as it develops over time. I know how it ends, of course – he’d get out after his three-year hitch was up, they’d get married two years later, and they’d stay together for more than half a century after that. That’s the thing about history. You know how it turns out.

But they didn’t know.

It’s kind of strange to realize that they were eighteen or nineteen years old when they were writing these letters. I’m used them being my parents – responsible adults in their 30s and 40s or older, paying bills and having careers and all that. My children knew them as grandparents in their 60s and 70s. Yet they were once younger than Lauren is now, unsure of how things would turn out, and deeply in love.

That, more than anything else, is why these projects mean so much. They remind you that the people you know had lives before you knew them, lives that got them to where they were when they showed up in your own, lives that had nothing really to do with yours. 

There is a certain melancholy in these projects that way, especially when you start them after the people involved are gone. But there is also a sense of discovery, of warmth, and of knowing the people you love more clearly than before, and that’s a worthwhile thing, I think.

No comments: