Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas 1968

I didn't realize on Christmas eve 1968 that the next year will be the most pivotal period of my life. Overstatement? Not really because when we're 18-20 we're discovering the world outside our home, beyond the news on the television, stories in the newspapers, and the world outside the town limits. All by ourselves. And that's the pivotal point.

We had a normal Christmas with all the family, from the grandmothers to all three of us kids. My older brother had married and lived in Denver now after a year in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My older sister was home from community college in Grand Junction, Colorado. And I had finished the first quarter of my sophomore year at the University of Denver. I hated going there. My Dad required that I worked fulltime and pay a third of my tuition, something he didn't do for my other siblings. I wanted to go to Colorado State University or the University of Colorado.

In short, I wanted to go somewhere away but not far away. Both offered engineering schools, but my Dad has decided I should be a mechnical engineer, and within driving distance of home. But he said there wasn't the money. He had blown it on five years for my brother college at the University of Denver and the two years for my sister. There wasn't any more money and we had split the tuition costs between him, my brother and myself.

I worked 40-plus hours a week as a warehouseman at a local area department store. I worked at a local branch as the sole warehouseman unloading, stocking, and inventorying the goods and helping customers load their purchases into their vehicles. I also helped at the central warehouse unloading and stocking from trainloads of goods. All for $1.60 an hour while taking a fulltime engineering course load.

That is a recipe for disaster and it was. After my freshman year I was put on probation for my C average. There was just too little time and too much work and college. And I wasn't really ready for college. I enjoyed working for a change and having money, although most of it went to pay expenses to Dad for living at home, having a car and paying tuition and books (I bought all my books and supplies).

And the first quarter of my sophomore year wasn't any different. I thought I had a year to clean up my act, but I guessed wrong. On Christmas eve I got a registered letter from the College of Engineering. The family was cheerful and doing the things family do on Christmas eve in the house with too many people. Being joyous.

I took the letter to the top of the stairs to the basement, away from everyone. But Dad saw the letter and followed me. He sat down next to me. The stairs led to the basement Dad had refinished to have two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, a laundry room and a workshop. I was the only one using it after my brother left for work and marriage. I hated it as it was dark with only a few small windows.

My Dad had designed the floorplan around the steel support jacks holding the floor. The house was underbuilt and before we could really use it, all the floorbeams had to be reinforced or doubled and a longitudinal beam with support jacks added every 10 feet. This restricted the arrangement of the rooms. And I got the room farthest from the stairs and the darkest with one small window that wasn't much help.

I hated it for being so isolated in my home and in my life. It's why I often studied at college until I had to go to work and then go home to eat and sleep, to start the next day again. I hated weekends having to stay home when I wasn't working or studying. I was 19 and wanted to leave but didn't have the money. We all know this story of our youth.

I slowly opened the envelope and took out the one page letter. Addressed from the Dean of the College. It was short. It simply said I was hereby expelled and prohibited from enrolling in any more engineering classes. My name was sent to the university to decide if I could enroll in general education classes or other colleges. And my name was sent to the Selective Service that my student deferement should be reviewed.

I handed the letter to Dad, who silently read it, paused and said to me, "Son, I want you to have a life, just don't have it here." I asked him, "How long can I stay?" He responded, "Three months." He handed the letter back, stood up and returned to the family celebrations. I didn't say anything about the letter, and neither did Dad, and later in the month said I wasn't enrolling in the winter quarter.

In January I started receiving letters from the Army which stated, "Please feel out this form at your convenience and return it in 3 days." Really. I've never understood that statement. I even had to go through the Army's physical while filling out all the papers to enlist in the Air Force and given a March 7th report date. Just before I reported, I got my 1-A status from the Army.

My Dad and I didn't really speak after that letter. He had spent a 23 year career in the Air Force and only encouraged me to enlist in the Air Force and not the Army. I knew that because I didn't really want to go to Vietnam. I hate combat but I wanted to serve my country. The morning I reported no one said goodbye, I took a cab because both of my parents had to go to work and I had to report at 5:00 am even though I didn't leave for airport until late in the afternoon.

And so it was an interesting Christmas, and spun my life in a direction I never expected. My Dad and I never really reconciled our differences, but that's another story.

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