Lucky Number Thirty-three
I live in the moment.
What happened yesterday is in the books, and what will be, will be. In my entire life I only actually “planned” and carried out one specific “big picture” action, and although the purchase of twenty acres of land and subsequent move to Bell Springs Road was a biggee, I did it in conjunction with several siblings.
Having been raised in the cloistered setting of a big family, much of my early progress was dictated by family norms, my three older brothers smoothing out some of the rough parts of my path, while creating potholes at the same time.
|Summer, 1996: Back row Eric, JT, Mark, Laura, Tom, Brian |
Front row: Kevin, Matt, Pauline, Robert, Noel
On the one hand, by the time I hit high school and started extending boundaries, my older bros had WD-40ed Mama’s iron grip on her supervision, so I that got away with more than they did. On the other, there were those pesky high expectations that the good priests at Bishop Amat Memorial High School had, after having experienced my two oldest brothers before me.
I inherited more than my share of my mother’s 161 IQ, and excelled at anything centered around the written word. However, when it came to mathematics and the sciences, I was an abject failure, incapable of maintaining anything but the most marginal of passing grades.
I was to find out at age 58 that it was all tied up in my mood spectrum disorder, and that one of the symptoms was an inability to process information when it is presented orally.
Did I agonize over higher education? Not so’s you’d notice it. My father had not completed high school but it was made clear from my earliest recollection, that we kids-all nine of us-would further our education after high school graduation.
Two of us ended up with doctorates, four with masters and three with degrees: that adds up to nine.
My father envisioned a different life for each of his kids, than that of a welder laboring in a steel factory, making an annual salary of $7,000. So thus it was that I ended up applying to Cal Poly, Pomona, no more than twenty minutes away, although I waited until April of my senior year to do so.
No problem, Admissions responded, as long as you’re good with being an ag major, which was big at Cal Poly. I have a vague remembrance of being on-site at the university’s dairy facility, and of having this feeling of being carried down a meandering country brook.
Whatever came floating by was fine with me, as long as I continued playing Spades in the cafeteria any time I wanted. We also played sandlot football games on the expansive college grounds, and attended weekend keggers, where the suds flowed like the sunshine in SoCal, abundantly.
Out of the blue one fine November day in 1971, I got a notice in the mail which read, in part, “Having submitted yourself to a Local Board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining your availability for training and services in the armed forces of the United States, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for training and service in the _______ [Army].”
This was the result of winning the one and only lottery that really mattered, and having been assigned lucky number 33 in the upcoming draft. Since they made it to just over a hundred in 1971, I was a shoo-in.
Aside from being terrified beyond comprehension at the thought of leaving my eight brothers and sisters and going “out into the world,” there was that insignificant police business going on over there in Vietnam.
Country Joe and the Fish sang all about it, “…Be the first one on your block, to have your boy come home in a box…”
I got lucky, I guess you could say, as a result of being sent overseas to the Republic of South Korea instead. And seeing the ease with which my fellow army brethren were bringing over their wives/kids to join them off-post, I proposed to my girl friend of slightly more than a year, Nancy. We [she and her mom] planned a January 1972 wedding, while I was home on a thirty-day leave.
Would we have married if I had not been in the military? Who knows? My point is that circumstances propelled me into making a hasty decision, one that I may not have chosen had I not had the overwhelming loneliness of being 7,000 miles away from home.
While overseas, I also engaged in incessant correspondence with my siblings, as we planned a “commune” together, which entailed purchasing land in NorCal, going to school and then moving to our property to establish homesteads.
Left to my own devices, I would/could never have made these plans solo. It was not my style; I was not an independent individual. Smack in the middle of seven brothers, with three older and three younger, I was a model of dependency.
But in conjunction with others, I was a locomotive, and made those life-changing goals with unity in mind and a community in the works. Indeed, making those checks out for $68.00 a month on twenty acres, for a total of thirteen years, was the easiest part of the whole deal.
$400.00 an acre, maybe what a weekend up in Eureka might run these days, is what I paid.
Would I have remained married, had either one of the two children Nancy and I conceived, come to full term? I don’t have to even ponder that one except to admit that the ramifications are immense.
Nancy and I took a trial separation in 1979, during which she hooked up with another dude and ended up pregnant. Any thoughts I had about a reconciliation were gently laid aside by Nancy, who told me she thought the baby would be better off in the long run, if he was with his father.
It took me until January of 1981, before I broke my self-imposed solitary lifestyle and asked out the first person I had since my breakup, and that was Annie. We were deliciously happy and when we found out we were expecting our own bundle of joy, it brought my friend Ken’s words to mind, “The first one comes any time-the rest take nine months.”
We got hitched a couple of months after Casey Tomas was hatched, so it was not as though there were any pressure for a shotgun wedding. We got married when we did because we woke up one day and decided the time had arrived, not because we had a baby.
When it comes to ultimate career choices, my entry into the field of education was initiated by a desire to repay my community for their support when I got “camped” on in 1985. The crime was the dastardly deed of helping my dad grow his thirty-three cannabis plants.
Even my entry into the world of growing this miracle plant, was prompted by the existence of an already-flourishing family opportunity. On my own I would never have had the wherewithal to pull it off. I would have been too worried about, well, being camped on.
Lucky thirty-three, you know.
Luck was not a factor when I hired Ron Sinnoway, however, and paid the $17,500 1985 dollars to get my twenty acres and home out of the hands of the federal government, which had seized it. That was pure desperation mode and I have appreciated what Mr. Sinnoway did for me all these years ago, ever since. I am painfully silent when the subject of lawyer-bashing comes up.
I wanted to show my supporters that I did not take their help lightly, so when the little school up on the mountain was threatened because the current liaison at the school district was leaving her station, I stepped up.
I borrowed the bling to attend Dominican College, out of Talmadge, and we starved as a family for several years until I did my student teaching and established tenure in the Laytonville Unified School District. For the first time I had medical insurance for my family.
Anxiety issues forced me into early retirement, and I have been on this mountain since. Major life decisions these days include whether to include beefsteak tomatoes this year (yes) in addition to the heirlooms, aces and cherry tomatoes that we normally produce.
I find it hard to envision any major life decisions I will have to make in the immediate future, but that may be a matter of self-delusion.
After all, if I wake up to rain tomorrow morning, the first thing I will have to decide is whether or not to let the chickens out into the orchard or not.