My father worked many years at a factory on the Second Shift. Because of his schedule, when I was awake he was usually asleep. When he was at work or awake and puttering about the house afterwards I was generally asleep. As a matter of fact, I could go for three or even four months in succession without ever so much as laying eyes on him; which is pretty amazing considering we had a total of 11 people living in a very small, three-bedroom house. I was the youngest of nine.
Over the years I’ve often felt somehow cheated and alienated from my father by this arrangement. While I understand my parents suffered much during the Great Depression and my father first found steady work during the Second World War, and the factories, especially then, were run at a frantic pace, there seems no justification at all, aside from holding onto the job, and for what he did (manufactured) later, to work the Second Shift throughout the whole of the Fifties and Sixties.
Industrialization in general caused a chronological and physical separation and thus a breakdown in basic family relationships, especially between fathers and sons.
Prior to Industrialization a son would generally spend all his time at his own father’s elbow.
I would, therefore, if I could, outlaw the Second and Third Shift unless it is absolutely necessary to a function or manufacturing process.
I hardly knew my father or anything about him. I overheard a few conversations now and then but when it came down to direct communication, everything he ever said directly to me would fit on one side of a single sheet of paper. Part of the problem may have been that he already had eight children and by the time I came around he was pretty much talked out and was tired of repeating himself. He assumed much with me. And as for affection I recall only one occasion when I planted a reluctant goodnight kiss on his bewhiskered face at the age of five.
Buying the Farm:
Although he never expressed it, my father was, like most men, partial to sons rather than daughters. While feminists deride this cultural discrimination one must take into consideration the historical circumstances that gave rise to it. My father and most others of his generation were swept up in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and its population shift from rural to urban life. Most of the civilized world was changing from an agrarian to an industrial society and moving away from the farms and into the cities. In an urban and industrial environment it seems absolutely senseless to have nine or more children, but given the mind-set of the day; that is to say, the mind-set of a farmer, especially that of a subsistance farmer, and having no Social Security program in place – having many strapping sons, or as many as possible, made perfect sense. From the time of Abraham, having strong and vital sons was an old mans’ only real social security.
However whimsical it may be, owning your very own subsistence farm still exists as an unrealized ideal in the minds of many. Strong sons and good soil represent time-honored filial piety and social security. The expression “buying the farm” (likely, a grave site) persists as a euphemism for dying and is perhaps rooted in never realizing the ideal.
At first blush then, and like most 20th Century American men who fathered too many children, mine seems to have had a dick but no particular plan.
Born in 1902, my father was too young to serve in World War I (1914-1918) and too old to serve in World war II (1941-1945).
To be fair, life is in a constant state of flux even in the best of times.
In the cultural chaos of the Industrial Revolution that removed, first the father, then the mother as primary role models and mentors, it was my eldest brother who became my surrogate father.
Some people claim to remember their own birth – I have no reason to doubt this. Only recently did I recall my earliest recollection of my infancy and it involved my oldest brother. As I said, I was the youngest (and last) of nine children and my oldest brother was already 17 when I was born; so it fell to his lot to mind the young ones.
When you hold a baby in your arms they are highly inquisitive and have a natural tendency to want to explore the big new world around them. They’ll reach out and, if you’re not careful, snatch your eyeglasses off your head, grab a fist full of hair, pull on your ears, examine your teeth, see how far they can press your squishy eyeball back in its socket, or thrust a highly intrusive finger up your nose. It’s what little kids do, you know?
The earliest scene I recall was my brother lying prone on the living room carpet watching TV. He was on his elbows with me between his hands, preventing me from rolling away. I didn’t know what was on the TV and neither did I care as I was busy seeing how far I could stretch my brothers’ lips and cheeks and later trying to see if I could fit my whole bare foot into his mouth.
Because my father worked Second Shift, over time my brother became my surrogate father. He’d take me everywhere with him. Over the years he’s taken me to innumerable basketball, baseball and football games. I was too young to participate in all his league sports activities but I was there. He’d take me fishing and swimming as well. But that was later on.
I had an epiphany of sorts recently. On his 80th Birthday I told him “I just realized something. You were just babysitting me. All this time I thought you liked me.”
I was bonded to my brother, so much so that, when I had just turned three (August 1953) and he was drafted into the army, I missed him terribly.
On one occasion (while my brother was away in the army) I was out on our porch talking to our next-door neighbor Pete (Pedro) about my brother. I told Pete I wished I could fly away to be with my brother Ronnie. Pete, in turn mentioned it to my mother. The next day I was flexing my climbing muscles (exploring) and climbing the porch railing on the outside of the railing. In transiting from rail to rail across the face of one of the brick columns the detached concrete capstone slipped and turned and sent me tumbling to the ground, at most, a fall of four feet. These stories got back to my family and one of my idiot siblings put two and two together and came up with 17: that I had attempted to fly to Ronnie – by eating Sugar Jets breakfast cereal. This bit of stupidity persisted for years afterward. Even at the tender age of four my synapses were sparkier then that! I’ve always taken it as an insult to my intelligence.
First of all, the Sugar Jets cereal commercials were poorly drawn cartoons.
Second, the TV set was black and white.
Third, kids can’t fly.
Fourth, I knew Ronnie left in a propeller driven airplane.
I don’t think there ever was a time when I actually believed what I saw on television. At about the age of five or six I had a friend staying overnight. We were camping out on the living room floor with blankets and pillows and watching Shock Theatre with The Advisor. Everyone else was already in bed; the only light was the glow coming from the picture tube. During the movie I glanced over at my buddy. Every time ‘the mummy’ showed up he’d cover his head with his blanket. I thought:
“Are you kidding?” We’re watching an old black and white movie (Boris Karloff – 1932) on black and white TV, the Mummy has a foot-dragging gimp and still somehow manages to catch his victims, the story is interrupted frequently by commercial breaks and you’re still scared? Wow.
Not that I was a particularly brave little boy or anything – but somehow I’ve always known the difference between reality and television. Sadly, some people don’t.
I positively rejoiced when Ronnie finally came home. By that time (age five) I’d already accumulated many toy soldiers and toy guns and had been exposed to hours of actual war footage from WWI, WWII, and of course the Korean War – mostly on TV of course.
Fortunately for all of us my brother was drafted and entered the Army only a month after the Armistice was signed. When he came out I asked him who he’d fought with. He answered simply: “The Aggressors.”
To my five-year-old mind, and for many years after, his answer sufficed me.