Oral History Project Essay

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I grew up on the edge of the city. It's hard to imagine today, but across the road was all farmland. Our block was the last one with houses, at least for a few years. But those were the years when I was first allowed to go out exploring. There was this large pond. It's a church now, but when I was little it was a pond, and my brother Martin and I would go down there to catch tadpoles. He showed me how to catch them, and once I got the hang of it, I think I must have spent an entire summer at that pond catching tadpoles.



My younger brother still lives in that house, and when I go out there now I'm amazed at how far you have to drive to get to the farms. The built this highway when I was in high school, and you thought for sure that would be the edge of the city. It seemed so far away that they would never build anything on the other side of it. But there's so much of the city that stretches past it. It's amazing – you wonder where it's all going to stop. Like at some point it has to stop, but it never does. You tell people today that where I grew up was the edge of the city back then, and honestly nobody believes you. That's an old neighborhood now. It still has a main street with shops on it, not strip malls like most of the city has today. Old community centers, immigrants, and that sort of thing. It feels urban, which I don't think anybody would have said back in the 50s when it was sort of considered to be the sticks.



But the area was built for people coming back from the war. My parents came over from England. My dad was in the Royal Navy, on an aircraft carrier. He got shot down over Malta. My mom lived in Southampton, which got bombed pretty heavily. There wasn't much for them there, so they emigrated to live in peace and quiet, away from all the rebuilding and the Communist threat and all that stuff. So everybody was a young family just like us. A big, bright, open world. New schools. Then we all grew up and left. The schools closed and for years the neighborhood was just full of people my parents' age, until they started dying off. Now there's all these young families moving back in. Last time I was out there it almost felt like when I was a kid – playgrounds were full, and there was lots of life. Just no pond, and nobody catches tadpoles. Can't get that back. But it's all a big cycle.



The sixties kind of became this mythological era, when things changed so much in our world. I don't know if I felt that way – maybe I was just a bit too young and didn't know any better. But I was just trying to make my way in the world. I worked for my dad, but neither of us really thought I would be an electrician. I think he would have hated for me to follow in his footsteps into that business. He retired at the same age I am now. We used to get calls from clients all the time. We told them that my dad was retired, and directed them to this guy, Warby, who was a friend of my dad's and quite a bit younger. When my mom passed a few years ago, the whole family was out for the funeral.
Someone called looking for an electrician. How on earth did someone still have our number, when dad retired in the 80s? We told him to call Warby. The guy called back a few minutes later. Turns out old Warby had not only retired but had also passed away. That's when it struck us how much time had really passed, like entire decades had gone by and we weren't sure if we had even noticed.



You know that a lot of stuff happened, and you were there for it, but there were these things that were constants. Like these anchors that you could always count on to never change. But they were changing, too, it's just sometimes you don't notice the changes until something has change so completely that it is actually unrecognizable to you. You have these moments. I just retired a few years ago so I think about these things. I have too much time to think these days.



My kids bug me about not having a smartphone. They think I'm this terrible luddite. I bet you would think my kids are terrible with technology. We had a Vic 20. I bought it for my sons. You never thought at the time how powerful computers would be, how they would take over the world. I think I was 40 by the time I bought one. You want to feel old, stop paying attention to new technology. Once you fall behind, it's pretty hard to catch up. My sons aren't so bad with computers now, one of them works in software, but you know my grandkids are about a million times smarter with computers. They'll program circles around you one day, I bet.



What were the big things, the big moments back in the day? People always think it was something like Vietnam, but I was in college so it wasn't part of my world. A few protests, lots of talk about it, but it didn't affect my day to day. I was too busy with my studies and working at the school paper. The big thing for me was that recession in 1980. That's my headlines. I lost my job. Two young sons, just bought a house. And I'm out of work. That's the stuff you remember, not what happens on the other side of the world. I was still young, bounced back, but can you imagine how that felt, not being able to provide for your family?



Putting a man on the moon. The space shuttle blowing up. The first Gulf War. Of course you remember those things. My son's college graduation – I never finished – that's something I remember more. My first grandchild? The big family reunion we had in 1996. That was the last time everybody on that side was together, all the people who were part of my world for decades. The next generation was just about ready to take over, but not quite. All those big events on the news seemed so far away to me; my family has always been the really big news, what I remember the most clearly. And I'm okay with that.



For me, the happy moments were camping. Every summer, we went camping, that was our family vacations. We loved it. The boys swam in the river, I went hiking, and my wife sat in a lawn chair and read about a book a day. That's….....

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