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December 1968
Added to website December 1, 2018


On Saturday night, December 7, the Oberlin Yeomen played their first home game of the basketball season.  However, I wasn't in attendance at Jones Field House as usual.

Instead, I took Jan Olson to the fourth and final performance of an operetta presented by the Oberlin College Gilbert and Sullivan Players.  According to these ticket stubs, we were in seats 6 and 7 of row N in the center section of Hall Auditorium.


In a letter ten years later, I mentioned seeing The Gondoliers on TV.

“As I watched a recent PBS telecast, I recalled nothing, and I began to think perhaps I'd never seen the play at all.  But near the beginning of the second act, a fragment of dialogue clearly rang a bell.

MARCO.  It is arranged that until it is decided which of us is the actual King, we are to act as one person.

GUISEPPE.  But we are, in point of fact, two persons.

MARCO.  It's all very well your saying we act as one person; but when you supply us with one ration between us, I think that's taking things too far.

MARCO and GUISEPPE.  We want our tea.

“I wonder why it is that my memory allowed the entire operetta to be erased, yet preserved this little bit somewhere.”


Not Good Traveling Weather

It snowed steadily all weekend, and though there were only about four inches on the ground by Monday, December 9, I was sure that more than that had fallen.

From 1964 Hi-O-Hi

Normally I would have gone to Cleveland on the basketball bus to broadcast Tuesday night's game at Case Tech.  But, I wrote, “a meeting came up, and then when that meeting was switched to Wednesday night, another meeting came up to take its place on Tuesday.  So we're sending another guy in my place; he was really eager to do a game, anyway.”


The Quantum World

I would finish my first-semester course in nuclear physics in December.  January had been reserved for Oberlin's first-ever Winter Term, an unstructured month before the second semester began.  Students would work on independent projects, an arrangement that continues to this day.

My physics professor suggested a Winter Term project for me:  to collaborate with him in writing a workbook on angular momentum as it applies to introductory quantum mechanics.  It would be called

Angular Momentum Operators, Eigenfunctions
and Eigenvalues in Quantum Mechanics

A Programmed Learning Unit


Thomas B. Thomas
Robert E. Warner
Oberlin College

According to Mr. Warner's foreword, during that semester we seniors had experienced difficulty in “following derivations and solving practical problems in atomic and nuclear physics which require the use of angular momentum operators and wave functions.”  He said the book was designed “to bridge the gap between formal instruction and problem-solving competence.”

To do so, we would make use of programmed learning.  This was a relatively newfangled idea involving “step-by-step development and drill,” with students encouraged to “work through it steadily and without looking ahead.” 

Today this would be implemented using personal computers, perhaps of the tablet variety.   However, in the primitive 1960s we actually produced a two-pound book.  Included with it was an 8½" x 11" sheet of card stock called a Masking Shield.  The student was instructed to place the shield over the bottom part of the first page, covering all but Frame A1, then read the material and fill in the blanks.


You recall that any dynamical quantity (any number which is a function of position, momentum, and time) has associated with it a certain differential operator.  For example, the dynamical quantity p, or linear momentum, has associated with it the differential operator pop.  Similarly, the ___ ___ E, or total energy, has associated with it the ___ ___ Eop.

Next, sliding the shield down the page would reveal the answers; in this case, dynamical quantity and differential operator.  “Whenever the printed answers differ from those you gave, figure out what you did wrong before proceeding.”  Sliding the shield down would also reveal the next frame (A2).

During January Mr. Warner and I would compose 255 of these frames.  I tried to maintain a conversational tone.


However, something's wrong with a representation like this.  All the L vectors are shown to be lying in the y-z plane, which seems to indicate that for each of them Lx = ___.

Answer:  zero


But in actual fact, do we know Lx exactly?  ___

Answer: no

Then I recruited Jan Olson to test a preliminary section of our book by working through these baby steps.  Today, of course, half a century later, it's all Greek to me.


From the Earth to the Moon

On Saturday, December 14, as the first semester was drawing to a close, WOBC's 9th semi-annual classical music marathon began at 5:30 pm.  It continued through a week of final exams.  Then we left campus for the holidays.

On Saturday, December 21, just after I arrived home, the mail brought the card below.


That same day, I was glued to the television as I watched the astronauts of Apollo 8 lifting off.  It was the first manned flight of the huge Saturn V rocket.

Then they fired up their third stage and became the first humans to leave earth's orbit!

Three days later, on Christmas Eve, they arrived at the moon and began circling it at an altitude of 60 miles.

Only half a megahertz was allotted for television transmission from the spacecraft.  Therefore their camera was only black and white with only 320 scan lines, operating at 10 frames per second.

It had no viewfinder, so Mission Control in Houston had to radio up frequent instructions concerning aiming or exposure.  But we marveled at the pictures from a quarter of a million miles away.

For a special prime-time broadcast on Christmas Eve, the astronauts spoke for an unusually long time, transmitting continuously for more than two minutes.  The camera was aimed at the lunar surface as it passed beneath their window, but I worried that if the picture needed adjustment, Houston would be unable to interrupt them.

With the whole planet listening, the crew took turns reading from the book of Genesis.  Frank Borman closed with “Good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”


Cursive Runes

A year before, Jan and I had conducted a silly correspondence in a Runic alphabet.  For this Christmas, I revived the idea but with a variation that I called Anti-Runic.  Jan had no trouble decoding my letter and using my alphabet to reply with three pages like this:

The translation of what she wrote:

Dear Tom,

Isn't this a nice blue pen from Union Park Pontiac?  Why doesn't Vernon Thomas Chevrolet give out such nice pens?

On Christmas Eve, all of us traipsed over to our next-door neighbors' to visit.  Suddenly a car drove up and Mr. Defrade, another neighbor, ran up to tell us that our burglar alarm had been set off!  The six of us, plus the Hamms (more neighbors), all arrived at our house at about the same time.  The siren was screaming and the huge beacon on top of the roof was whirling and flashing.

Art Defrade and Mr. Hamm quickly ran around the house to see where the burglar might have entered.  The living room door was unlocked, though closed.  The burglar probably closed the door quickly when he heard the alarm go off, hoping to make the alarm be quiet.  Of course, the alarm kept on being alarmed for twelve whole minutes.

You surely must have seen all the Apollo 8 telecasts.  Wasn't that whole flight simply fantastic?  It's the most exciting event of ante-Runian times!  Imagine actually orbiting the moon — and with an apolune of only 60 miles!

It has been good to have everybody home — except that everyone but me has had the flu!  No one has brought up the subject of boys (and me) yet, so all has been relaxed and peaceful in our house so far.  This will probably change soon, as I plan to talk to Mom about a certain young man who lives in Florida.



Apollo 8 returned to the good Earth on December 27.  Two days later, I brought “my favorite year” to a close by playing the organ for the morning worship at the First United Methodist Church in Richwood.

I still have the bulletin for that service, which noted that the chancel flowers had been provided by my parents.  On the back of the bulletin, perhaps bored by the sermon, I doodled some wordplay such as “don't hatchet your count before he chickens ... I come to seize your berry ... knighting an awl-puller.” 

My music began with a Praeludium by George Böhm.  Then the processional hymn was “Come, Christians, Join To Sing:  Alleluia, Ah Amen,” set to a tune we all recognized as the Ohio State alma mater “Carmen Ohio.”  Later I closed the service with a Postlude in D Minor by Gilbert M. Martin.

In between, I played an offertory from a two-year-old issue of The Organ Portfolio.  There it was labeled “A Christmas Pastorale” by Johann Mattheson (1681-1764), arranged by Van Denman Thompson.

However, when I first tried out the Pastorale (November 19, 1966, on a practice organ like this one at Oberlin's Conservatory of Music), I had been inspired to pencil in some words to this shepherd's flute tune.

Thus it was that for the service on December 29, 1968, I listed the offertory in the bulletin as “Wake, Rejoice, for Love Is Born King.”  No one sang the words I had written, but I was reading them to myself.


Audio Link


In 2003, I played the same piece again on the same organ at the First United Methodist Church, although by then I was 35 years out of practice.  Click on the box at the left to hear a recording of my slightly awkward performance at that centennial celebration.  Don't be afraid to turn up the volume.  The words are below.

While the weary village doth sleep,
I stand all alone on this hill with my sheep;
This is my labor:  my flocks I do keep.

  Ye who slumber now, and do dream,
  Think now on your life, and what good it doth seem.
  Think on your life as you fitfully dream.

Life is but a striving for gold,
For favor, or pleasure, or smiles bought or sold.
Happy success is our aim, so ’tis told.

  Work we then, and labor, and strain,
  But all of those pleasures which we were to gain
  Fall to the earth, and the earth they do stain.

But now we hear the angelic refrain:

"Wake, rejoice,
  for Love is born King!

From His birth
  new life will now spring!

A life of true joy
  and peace we do sing.

O praise ye the Lord,
  who is good!"

            God is good.

In man’s soul is planted this rod:
The Spirit of Good is the Spirit of God,

  For to love one another creates true joy.
  To love is good.  God is good.

    And new life shall be given to those who love,
    Who love not themselves, but their fellow man.

Sing we glad
  this Christmas morn,

For heav’nly peace
  to man is born!

Alleluia, alleluia,
  Alleluia, love is born!

Love is good, 
    And goodness is God,
          Goodness is God;

For God is good,

   God is love,

      Love is God,

         Good is love,

            Love is good.



And so we've reached the end of this 14-part series on My Favorite Year, which was fifty years ago.

In January we'll start a new series, about a year in the life of another Oberlin College student.

Actually, make that two years, beginning in the summer of 1835 when the college was only 18 months old.



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