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July 1968
Added to website July 1, 2018


It was a Saturday night in Richwood, Ohio — July 6, 1968, the middle of summer vacation from college.  My high school friends Terry Rockhold and Carl Martin were looking for something to do, so they paid me a visit.  They suggested visiting the bowling alley across the street.

I was reluctant to participate.  Having taken bowling as a physical-education elective in college, I knew I was uncoordinated.  However, they eventually prevailed on me to join them.  “Although I was delivering my slow straight ball reasonably well,” I reported afterwards, “I was having trouble sliding on my left foot.  I'm surprised my right knee isn't black and blue; I toppled over onto it enough times after releasing the ball.  This lack of balance and stability on that last step adversely affected my accuracy.  High game was a 102.  Low game I've forgotten about.”


Whither Next?

Jan Olson had written about various medical schools to which she was considering applying.  “My guess,” I replied on Monday, “is that for sentimental and other reasons you'll end up at Wisconsin.”  She did, but not until her residency six years later.

As far as I was concerned, though presumably I was going to pursue a post-graduate degree in physics somewhere, “I can't even supply a similar list, although at this point in time I ought to be able to.  Oh, I can name some possible grad schools, but I know practically nothing about them.

“The situation was the same four years ago when I started wondering about what college to attend.  I had no idea then and wasn't terribly interested in the subject; I was enjoying high school and didn't want to think about moving away from home if I could help it.  So it is now.

“Part of the problem is that I still haven't decided what I want to be when I grow up.  I still seem to be best suited for physics, but I'm not all that interested in it; I'm more interested currently in radio work, but I'm not really talented enough (though I suppose practice and experience could make up for that), and Mother keeps saying I should use my intelligence on something more worthwhile.

“You are moving towards using your intelligence for something more worthwhile than either protons or pop records, and I admire you for it; but I'm just not made for that kind of work myself.”


 Office Shenanigans

My temporary summer work was in the office of my father's Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership.  In the first six months of 1968, Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet Inc. had sold over a million dollars' worth of automobiles, parts, and repairs, making a profit in the range of ten thousand.  I saw those figures every year in typing out the financial statement, but they always amazed me.

Now it was July, and the May-June campaign had come to a close.  Every year, each General Motors dealership was given a quota for new-car sales during those two months.  The dealers who sold the highest percentage of their quotas (often almost 200%) won a trip.

My father was often a winner in these contests.  The previous year he and Mother had taken a cruise to Bermuda (right) while I stayed at home alone for a week.

This year the prize would be a trip to Hawaii.  However, our dealership's previous successes had led GM to assign us a quota that was 60% higher than before. 

Because only sales in May and June counted, we delayed completing the paperwork on late-April transactions, holding them until May 1.  According to the official scoresheet, on that day our salesmen sold 25 cars.  That gave us an early lead.

For the rest of the campaign we legitimately sold only about 25 cars per week.  Having gradually slipped behind other dealerships, we decided to have an end-of-June promotion.  But there were three difficulties.

Our local weekly newspaper was closed for vacation, so we had to do our advertising in the daily Marion Star.  But in that paper, GM allowed us to advertise only used cars.  Had we tried to sell new Chevrolets in the Marion publication, we'd be invading the Marion Chevrolet dealer's territory.

To move our new cars, we slashed the prices.  But to preserve our profit margin, we also reduced the amount we allowed the customers for their trade-ins.  Some customers didn't understand.

Guy comes in, sees $4,300 Olds marked down to $3,700.  He asks, “How much will you give me on my old car?”  Answer: $1,200.  (Therefore he'd pay $2,500 difference to trade cars with us.)

Guy says, “But up at Marion they offered $1,600 on mine!  They're giving me a $400 better deal.”

No, they aren't, we tell him.  They're charging full price for the new Olds.  Not only that, but they're figuring sales tax on that higher price.  The difference he'd have to pay is actually $224 greater.

But the guy isn't convinced.  “Gotta get more than $1,200 out of my car,” he says.  We lose the sale.

By selling cars to so many local people earlier in the campaign, we might have exhausted the market.  We made only ten sales the last week of June.

The last business day that month was Saturday, June 29.  We closed at noon on Saturday.  However, as twelve o'clock approached, there were several additional cars we knew we had sold that hadn't actually been delivered yet.  I was instructed to ignore that technicality.  I typed “June 29” as the delivery date on the corresponding IBM cards, put them in an envelope, and mailed them off to Chevrolet.

But then my father had second thoughts.  He did some figuring and realized there was no way he could win the May-June contest.  On the other hand, he suspected GM would offer a separate sales incentive for the remainder of the model year.  For every 1968 model still in stock on July 1, if the dealer managed to move it off his lot during the 2½ slow months before the 1969 models were introduced in September, he might be reimbursed as much as $100.

Therefore my father hurried down the street to the post office and retrieved the envelope!  (It helps to live in a small town and know the postmaster.)

I unsealed it, removed the IBM cards, got out my little typewriter eraser, and changed every “June 29” to “July 1.”

But wait, there's more.  It seems there was also a May-June contest for sales managers.  The prize was a trip to Puerto Rico, and our office manager Gene Cheney (right) was entered in that one.

We had just received the penultimate weekly standings report, and we discovered that Gene had somehow vaulted into first place!

We decided to try to keep him there by moving those sales back into June.  We hadn't remailed the envelope yet, so I got out my little typewriter eraser and rubbed holes in the cards.


Middle of July

Three weeks later, a man came in to buy an auto part on Saturday morning.  Before paying for it, he handed our parts manager, Ray “Waldo” Sine, a heater switch for a 1958 Chevy, along with a receipt showing he'd bought it from us for $1.75.  It turned out he hadn't needed the switch, so he was returning it.  Waldo gave him $1.75 off his bill. 

But after the customer had left, we noticed the date on the receipt:  March 12, 1963.  He'd kept the part and the receipt for over five years!  With inflation, the price of that switch was now $2.90.

Later that day, July 19, I went to the First Methodist Church.  I occasionally was the organist there, and I had been enlisted to play for a wedding the next afternoon.  This would be my eighth such ceremony.  Eventually I would supply the music for 14 of them.

The couple were Bernard Ballard, a widower, and Barbara, a widow.  Each had children, and since it was the second marriage for both, they didn't want a big wedding.  Twenty minutes of music beforehand would be plenty.  I had gone to the church for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon, practicing and timing my selections so they would come out to exactly twenty minutes.

The ceremony was planned for 1:30 Sunday afternoon, July 20, but when I arrived at 1:00 the church was absolutely empty.  Nevertheless, I followed my schedule.  As planned, I started playing at 1:10, beginning with a repeated chime note that sounded through a speaker in the belfry outside.  On the organ inside the sanctuary, that led into my playing Sir George Henschel's dramatic “Morning Hymn” (which had been sung on a 1911 gramophone disk).

Audio Link


Thirty-five years after the Ballard wedding, I recorded the same piece on the same chimes and organ.  You can hear my 2003 performance by clicking the link on the left.

When there was still no one else in the building at 1:20, I began to think the engagement must have been called off.  But I kept on playing, all by myself.  Eventually, however, the wedding party made it to the church on time.

Of course, I was merely an amateur organist playing rather simple music.  Earlier that year, I had been stunned when I heard an out-of-this-world composition by Olivier Messiaen at Oberlin College's Warner Concert Hall.

Click the photo of Katelyn Emerson, a 2015 Oberlin graduate and Fulbright grant winner, to experience Messiaen's “God Among Us.”


Local News

What else was happening in Richwood in July?  I made a list.

(1)  A golf course will be built on a farm north of town, if the local promoters can raise the construction money by selling an undetermined amount of 6% preferred stock, and if they can finance the operating expenses by getting 200 local people to pledge to buy $100 of common stock every year for five years.  Want to take any bets?  (The local newspaper wrote, “Richwood golfers, if you are weary of driving 23, 30 and sometimes 50 miles to play, here is an opportunity to do something about it.”)

(2)  The same farmer who has the golf site also has a succotash field.  Eight rows of corn, eight rows of beans, eight rows of corn, eight rows of beans . . . .  No one can figure out exactly why he did it that way.  It might be to block soil erosion, except for the fact that all the land around here is very flat.  (A level golf course would not be very interesting, would it?)

(3)  Last Christmas the local high-school biology teacher painted, for a fee, a lovely winter scene on the window of a vacant building downtown (right across from the bank).  Snow-covered hills, a frozen pond, pine trees, the works.  It's still there.

(4)  We had a motorcycle gang in town for a couple of days.  Unwashed, long-bearded types, but not particularly belligerent.  However, the townspeople were uneasy about their presence, so our village marshal (i.e., chief of police) followed one cycle around with the town's police cruiser and finally stopped the cycle and cited the driver for a loud muffler and an improper left turn.  The driver paid the fines, but the gang left town the next day, apparently convinced that they weren't loved here.

The 1968 Presidential election was coming up.  The conventions wouldn't be held until August, but the likely nominees were Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon.  “No one around here,” I wrote, “gets excited about Hubert or Tricky Dicky.”

But there was also a third-party candidate, the former governor of Alabama.  He had once blocked the door of the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop black students from enrolling, declaring “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

I wrote, “There is a fair amount of support for George Wallace in this area, not so much on racial grounds (though that is part of it) as simply a rural protest against big federal government.”  His supporters likely would have been the ones to back Donald Trump 48 years later.

“But so far,” I continued, “George hasn't been able to get on the ballot in Ohio.  If he does, I'd guess he'd take away maybe half the Republican strength in Union County (which is about 70% Republican to start with).”

My guess was wrong.  Wallace took less than 18% of Union County's non-Democratic votes. 


The Shshflumper

From Wilmington, Delaware, Jan wrote, “I am really enjoying my work as nurse's aide.  It is even more challenging than the list of duties I sent you would suggest.

“For three days, one of my patients was Mr. Reilley, who had broken nearly all the bones in his face in an auto accident.  He and the driver had been ‘all boozed up’ (Reilley's words) and had been going 95 when they ran into a barricade.

“Mr. Reilley seemed to think that I was about the best nurse's aide he had ever come across.

“After ten days in the hospital, he decided that he needed a shave, and he asked me to do it.  He knew that I had never shaved anybody before, but he said, ‘She's a good girl.  I trust her.’  Halfway through, I seemed to be having some trouble with some very stubborn bristles, and one of the other aides offered to help.  Mr. Reilley was quick to come to my defense.  ‘No, let Miss Olson do it.  Let her learn.’

“For the next two weeks, as I worked in Pediatrics, reports would drift to me from my friends still working in 4th-north that Mr. Reilley was still talking about me!”

I replied, “Mr. Reilley sounds like a very perceptive man.  His conclusion, ‘She's a good girl.  I trust her,’ which he reached in three days, matches with the conclusions your friends reach about you in three years.  Fast learner, that Reilley.”

Jan continued, “One very embarrassing thing happened to me last Sunday, though.  I was helping to hold down a very tiny baby from whom the intern was attempting to draw blood.  The baby was screaming at the top of its longs as the intern tourniqueted off a limb, probed for the tiny, elusive vein, and tried to suck some blood into the syringe.  He tried four different veins on three different limbs, getting only a little blood each time, and running off to get a new sterile syringe for each fresh try.

“After about twenty minutes of this, I said to another aide who fortunately happened to be in the room at the time, ‘Linda, could you hold Rachael for me, please?  I think I'm going to faint.’  Linda said, ‘Okay.  Just a minute&ldots;’  Shshflump.

The next thing I remember was awakening on the floor with five or six nurses around me.  One of them was holding ammonia-soaked cotton balls under my nose.  Another handed me a damp washcloth.  My whole body was drenched with cold sweat.  I would have blushed with mortification except that I was white as a sheet.  ‘I'm sorry,’ I murmured.

“‘It happens to the best of us,’ a nurse comforted.”


COMING IN AUGUST:  I attend a Cleveland Orchestra concert and check in with WOBC.  Other destinations with my parents include Massachusetts and Kentucky.  And my lab partner writes that she's about to promise to "live according to the grace given her."

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