The long, winding road…

Pugh-stone

The last few months have been difficult for me. The reality of my mother’s death didn’t really hit me until around Easter. Let’s just say I was very depressed, and my mind went into a very dark place. Mother’s Day was equally difficult.

With both of my parents gone, my connection to the past is now gone. Until that point, I had an anchor, and a connection. When times were bad, I could always turn to Mom for advice. I can’t do that anymore. If I no longer have an anchor, it’s because now I am the anchor. When I looked at my family tree, it used to be that I was one link in a chain. But now, there is no one ahead of me. I am no longer part of a line, but the beginning of one. And since I am at the beginning of my family line I am now, arguably, part of the outgoing generation.

I have become very aware of my own mortality. I have already seen and read about people in my age bracket dying. Lately I’ve been thinking about what I want to do or experience, and finding out what would be needed to make those things happen. I should have another twenty or thirty years, so I shouldn’t have to rush. But my time is still finite, and I’m quite certain that the time before me is shorter than the time behind. So I shouldn’t just sit around and wait for things to fall into place. Whatever was going to fall into place has, by now, already done so. The rest is up to me.

To anyone reading this, I would advise you to pursue whatever dreams and goals you can, while you still have time available. If you’re young, reach for the sky, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you’re old, enjoy the memories of your successes, no matter what they are. But at the same time, look around. You may still have time to squeeze in another dream or two. If you’re in the middle, like me, draw a line between the flighty dreams of childhood and the attainable ones of maturity, aim at one of the later, and forge ahead.

It’s been said so many times that it’s a cliche, but we only live once. Make it count.

Si Existo Melius For

“It would be better if…”

dlp5

Today would have been my father’s 78th birthday. He died unexpectedly in May of 1993, at the relatively young age of 56. The cause was eventually determined to be an angina rupture.

I had a lot of trouble writing something about him. I strongly suspect that my mom’s health currently being in free-fall has something to do with that. So, I’ll just feature some photographs that I pilfered from my brother’s facebook page. (Sorry, Jim.)

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At his wedding in 1964.

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With his father in 1953.

My father was a mathematician to the core. His world was defined by absolutes. He wasn’t a patient man, and he wouldn’t suffer fools. He was formidably intelligent, and apparently a very stern – but fair – professor. Many of his students at SUNY Cortland actually feared him, especially those in the 100 level courses. Though as I understand it, math and science majors actually tried to get into his 300 and 400 level courses on computer science and advanced calculus.

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With mom, Memere, and my brother, in 1989.

He also had a very wry and ironic sense of humor. Sometimes his one liners would fly over people’s heads, but those who caught them usually chuckled. Or they groaned, because he was also a lethal punslinger.

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With his brother, and brother-in-law, 1980.

He and I had many differences over the years, especially near the end of his life. He was a troubled man in many ways, but he always wanted the best for my brother and I. He did everything in his power to make sure we had at least the same opportunities that he had, if not more. And, he was a good dad. He’s proving to be a surprisingly hard act to follow.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him or miss him.

The best toys ever…

Time to bolt!It’s Time to bolt!

Erectorbook

tardis_by_homemadezombieIt’s flashback time!

This is something that appeared on my older blog, “Time to Bolt,” and was originally posted on June 15, 2012. The content has remained largely unchanged.

Most kids love toys, and most kids have one toy that is their all-time favorite. But sometimes there is one toy that you never seem to outgrow.  You may put it aside for a few years, or even a decade or so, but somehow it always comes back, sometimes when you least expect it. For me, that toy is the A.C. Gilbert Erector.

I became an Erector fan during my teens (late 1970’s to early 1980’s), largely because my Dad was one.  Somewhere around 1978, he passed his set on to me.  I had been using a smaller set at that point, and his circa 1948, “Engineers 7.5” set was a bit daunting.  He pretty much let me figure things out for myself.

I played with that set for ages.  During my teen years it was frequently in use.  I even recall using it to do my physics homework!

When I left for college in 1985, the composite Erector set went dormant for several years.  My brother had access to it, but never used it much; he was largely a Lego man.  When I moved to the Washington, DC area in 1996, the set came with me, though it was still dormant in it’s metal toolbox.

Fast forward to December of 2011.  I pulled the set out of mothballs to build a maquette of a home project.  I was trying to design a piece of furniture for the home, and the Erector set gave me a very clear view of how my design would work: It simply wouldn’t.  Oh well.

But after this, I continued to tinker and build with the set.  That chaotic collection of beams and plates was like seeing an old friend after almost twenty years.  Surprisingly, I had forgotten how much fun the Erector could be!  I have a stressful “white-collar” job, and bolting together pieces of metal has proven to be very therapeutic!  Apparently I regressed a bit, and didn’t care.  But something unexpected happened.

My (then) five year old daughter saw the Erector, with all it’s perforated girders, sheets of metal, and antique motor, and was totally enthralled!  My father was a strong advocate of building toys for children.  Erector, Lego, Tinkertoy, American bricks, Lincoln Logs, plain old wooden blocks… the specific toy didn’t matter.  So long as it inspired imagination and creativity, he would say.  My daughter has tried to build things with the Erector, but she gets easily frustrated.  I suspect that’s because the tiny parts of the Erector are a tad beyond her age bracket.  I tell her to be patient (“you’ll grow into it”), or, to try her idea using Lego instead.  Try she did, and she’s managed to make some pretty neat stuff with Lego!  And she has a renewed interest in her basic wooden blocks and Thomas the Tank Engine building materials.  She’s also been doing a lot of artistic stuff, like drawing and painting, with renewed gusto.  I can’t help but think the Erector inspired this burst of creativity.  If there is one thing Erector could always do, it was get the imagination running.  Apparently, that 60-year old set can still do that.

Now I understand what my dad was talking about all those years back. The family Erector set has been in semi-steady use ever since, and I’m now looking into doing some restoration and salvage on many of the parts.  This may turn out to be something I can share with my daughter for several years to come.  I’m hoping so. At the very least, I’m hoping I can share my experiences with this classic toy with other fans of Erector and it’s cousins.

The best toys ever made are the ones that you never totally outgrow, and the ones that always manage to provide something new, no matter how many times you play with them.  Erector was, and still is, one of the best.


Additional thoughts from 2014.

The Erector hasn’t seen much use in recent months. That’s because part of my house is being remodeled, and I don’t want to lose any of the pieces in the chaos! But since writing this essay I have managed to acquire a variety of new parts, and I’ve even learned how to fabricate some of the non-metal parts from the classic and renaissance eras. I’m looking into ways to re-create parts using scraps of sheet metal and my Dremel tool. We’ll see how that works out.

My daughter is now approaching nine years old, and she had gotten better with the Erector. She is still by and large a Lego “master builder,” though, and she’s made some pretty amazing stuff with those things!

The inspiration from the Erector set still burns brightly.