Postcards from Iowa #11

Photo Credit: The American Scene Collection, American Oil Company 1969.

Reverse side: Washington Skyline, Washington, D.C. Located on the axis of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building is shown in the foreground with the Washington Monument illuminated in the background. See the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet. As you travel ask us.

Life would have been simpler if I had stuck to the same path as friends in high school. Maybe follow a narrative such as after school and military service find a job, raise a family, work it until retirement, then settle back and relax in the golden years. Simple.

Actual living was not simple. While many in my cohort married and started a family immediately after high school, I did not and that made a difference.

The trauma of being injured while young, and the subsequent hospital stay, removed me from conventional pathways. I wrote about it in 2009:

My earliest defining moment was the day, at age 3-1/2, when a swing-set set up in the basement of our Madison Street home collapsed and injured my head. My parents were horrified. I remember the pool of blood on the basement floor, holding the thumb of the ambulance driver, taking ether dripped into a funnel to anesthetize me for the stitches to mend my gashed head. I am lucky to be alive. What I learned through the injury and recovery in the hospital was that there is an infrastructure of knowledge and caring to support us when things happen. I watched the routines of the hospital staff, the doctor checking up on me, changing room mates and bed linen, daily visits from my parents and the handling of my propensity to get out of bed and walk around. This experience assured me that although we are vulnerable, we are not alone.

Over the years, Doctor Kuhl would examine the scar on my forehead and talk about my recovery when I visited him in his office. Today, I don’t think of the scar, and suspect most people do not even notice it. What I do think about is that while we are not alone, we must be part of a society that helps protect those who are most vulnerable, including the injured and infirm. When I was very young, I made a withdrawal from this bank and now the debt needs repaying.

Big Grove News, Jan. 18, 2009.

Little has changed since I wrote this. While I relied on the infrastructure of society, at high school graduation I had neither the interest nor skills to get married and start a family. I went to college instead.

In late 1968 or 1969, I sought Father’s approval while figuring out what to do after high school. Maybe I would study engineering, I told him. The practical, rational approach of an engineer to problem-solving was appealing. He neither approved nor disapproved. He looked surprised it was on my mind. He was completing his own education and perhaps was preoccupied. He would be gone soon afterward.

During senior year in high school we made a class trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. It was my first trip on a commercial aircraft. We saw the U.S. Capitol and Washington monument depicted in this postcard at about the time it was printed. We played cards for nickels and dimes in our room each night. My winnings paid for incidental expenses through New York. In some ways the class trip was the beginning of living on my own and experiencing the world outside my home town. It seems appropriate it would start with the nation’s capitol.

My life divides into segments: preschool, education, work and family, moving to Indiana, and moving back to Iowa. Each was important for different reasons. As I went through time I didn’t know how each step would unfold.

My education, including military service and graduate school, had the momentum of youth. When I finished school at age 29, I was ready to do great things. Available opportunities were a disappointment. The trajectory of youth found me alone and unsettled, without a career or path forward. I would have to make my own way and that complicated things. In retrospect it was a good complication. If I hadn’t left my home town permanently for university, life may have been simpler.

I’m glad my circumstances gave me the chance to leave home and be different.