Threads: Now an Orphan
Friday, June 5, 1998
I have a few days off this coming week, and I'm going to make a quick trip back to Richwood to visit my 88-year-old father. He's slowly going downhill. A year ago he was using a walker, but now he can hardly stand up long enough for his caretaker to help him from the bed to the wheelchair. He's becoming more confused mentally, too. It's becoming difficult to talk to him on the phone because he's having trouble forming and expressing ideas. He sometimes reports his dream activities as if they were real, and he sometimes insists that his house is not his house, that he has another one just like it and he wants to go there.
Tuesday, June 8, 1999
My father, whose health had gradually been declining throughout the decade, died on March 18 at the age of 89 at his home in Richwood, Ohio.
The local health-care workers had grown attached to him over time, and they helped greatly in organizing the funeral and so forth, even writing little remembrances that the minister read during the ceremony.
For nearly 2½ years he had been receiving 24-hour care at home; caregivers helped him in and out of his wheelchair, fixed his meals, took him to the doctor, and so on. He had arthritis, prostate problems, and chronic atrial fibrillation, among other things. In March he was hospitalized with pneumonia. After a week or so they sent him home, but he was too weak to get out of bed or to eat solid food or even to speak. A couple of days later, as the home health-care nurse was giving him a "breathing treatment" to clean out his lungs, he stopped breathing, and that was it.
When my mother died of a heart attack in 1982, it was an unexpected shock. But this was much different. I had had plenty of time to prepare myself for my father's death. And, in a sense, it didn't take place on March 18; it was spread over several years, with only the final step on March 18. We used to have 20- or 30-minute conversations on the phone; but as his mental faculties gradually faded and he became less involved with local activities in Richwood, we found less and less to talk about, and he found it more and more difficult to talk, so the phone calls dwindled to five rather awkward minutes. My father left me slowly, bit by bit.
So now this "only child" has become an orphan.
Settling the estate is not difficult, since I'm the executor and sole beneficiary. But I do have to dispose of the house in Richwood and its furnishings.
We built the house in 1962-63 (I actually made a couple of the "architectural" drawings), and some people have asked me whether I might not want to move back to it. But my work and my contacts are based in the Pittsburgh area, and if I were to move back to Richwood, I'd have to start finding work in Columbus instead.
More to the point, Richwood is just too small a town for me now. The population is about 2,200, and the're only one or two or each kind of establishment (café, dentist, grocery stores, drugstore, barber, attorney). One has to drive at least 15 miles for other things (restaurant, hospital, discount store, stockbroker, optometrist). I now prefer the outskirts of Pittsburgh, where I've lived for 25 years.
But before I sell the house in Richwood, I have to dispose of its contents. With the help of local folks, I've already gotten rid of the clothes and the car. I intend to auction off the furniture and other items. Currently, though, I'm still going through mementoes. I'm sorting out pictures and letters and financial records, discarding much of what I find (like canceled checks from decades ago) but also keeping a lot.
I'll probably keep a dozen or so large boxes of materials like this. I've been able to get to Richwood and work on filling those boxes for only a few days a month. Sorting and editing them could keep me busy for years.
My closest relatives now are three pairs of aunts and uncles living in western Kentucky. I drove down there this past week to see them (and five cousins and some other folks). Of course, my parents and I used to visit Kentucky regularly; but my father couldn't make the 400-mile trip the past few years, so it had been a while since I had been back to where he grew up.
Now, however, it's time to get back to my regular summer activity: baseball telecasts. I'll be in Cleveland Thursday for the Brewers-Indians game on Fox Sports Net.
Thursday, December 16, 1999
Just in the nick of time, I've joined the '90s by buying a modern computer! For fourteen years I had been using a little Radio Shack Model 100, but now I have an up-to-date Gateway and have started learning about e-mail and Internet resources and whatever else has the young people excited these days.
Selling my late father's house in Ohio turned out to be easier than I expected. I was not yet actively trying to sell the house when I got a call the last week of June from John and Barbara Wiley, whom I've known for years as members of the church in Richwood. John said that his sister Joan Wells, who at the time was living in a small house next to his farm, was looking for a house of her own. (It turns out that she's the mother of Mary Wells, one of my high school classmates.)
After some discussion, I quoted him a reasonable price for the house on the condition that he would take care of getting rid of whatever contents that neither his sister nor I wanted. Since I'm a five-hour drive away from Richwood, that would save me a lot of trouble. I couldn't spend a lot of time in Richwood myself, so I had assumed that I'd need the services of an auctioneer to sell a lot of things in the basement and elsewhere, and some of those things were just junk that would be hard to sell to anyone.
Joan took a tour of the house and seemed very pleased, especially with the size of the rooms and all the closet space. Everywhere you turn, there's another closet. She agreed to the price with no hesitation. Her brother, who also sells real estate, drew up a contract, and I arranged with my father's attorney for a closing on August 23.
The weekend of August 1-3, I rented a van and drove to Richwood to bring back the things that I would be keeping. Mainly this consisted of 24 boxes of pictures, papers, and small objects, including my notebooks from high school and college. Those boxes are now in my basement. I didn't bring back much furniture, because I don't have room for much more in my apartment; but I did take the marble-topped table, which is now in my kitchen beneath the marble-silled window.
The closing went off without a hitch, and Joan started moving in August 24. I visited her on November 9. The house looked much the same, because she ended up keeping much of the furniture. She has plans to replace the carpet in some rooms, but that hadn't happened yet when I was there. So it still sort of looks like home.
You wrote that you took 50 Perry Mason mysteries with you on your Lake George trip in August. I can recall having read only one, many years ago, maybe even before the Raymond Burr TV series began. It was a paperback with a title like The Case of the Flirtatious Fan-Dancer. My mother saw the title and the cover art, and she warned me against that kind of paperback.
I do, however, have a complete set of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which are good reading late at night. Aside from the stories, they also offer contemporary glimpses of life in England a century ago. Just one example: the summer-morning light that people in northern latitudes slept through before Daylight Savings Time was instituted.
Friday, February 18, 2000
Six miles south of my hometown of Richwood, Ohio (population 2186) lies the even smaller village of Magnetic Springs (population 373). The village has the same number of residents now as it did when it was incorporated in 1883, but back then it was a booming resort with up to 10,000 guests in the summer months.
The place got its start when J.E. Newhouse discovered a spring in his park, Green Bend Garden. The water from the spring was deemed to be "magnetic," whatever that means; liquids can't be magnetized because the molecules don't hold still. Visitors to the park claimed relief from a number of afflictions after drinking from the spring. According to a county history, "a devout minister told Newhouse that he would be committing a very grave sin if he did not put the water to use to help heal suffering humanity." So he opened the Magnetic Springs Bath House. "Soon, over 500 baths were given daily. Invalids came from all over the country seeking relief from such ailments as Bright's disease, diabetes, rheumatism, paralysis, kidney disease, nervous disorder, etc."
Eventually there were seven hotels, an amusement park, and an airport at Magnetic Springs. Richwood residents could get there by interurban streetcar, and some of them were looking to get in on the action. An item in the Richwood Gazette 100 years ago this week said, "The water discovered recently at Richwood (while an effort was being made to procure oil) is to be bottled and placed on the market. The water is said to contain certain wonderful medicinal properties."
The county history continues, "After World War II, advances in medicine and drugs made mineral bath treatments obsolete. Business declined and eventually closed. The Park Hotel was converted into the Magnetic Springs Polio Clinic for a time." I remember going there with my church's Junior Choir to entertain a handful of patients, some in iron lung machines. "But it closed after a vaccine was discovered for the disease. By the late 1960's, baths were no longer given in the town and most of the springs were closed up."
But what goes around comes around, and people are still willing to believe that magnetism (even non-existent magnetism) can relieve their arthritis or whatever.
Last month, according to the Gazette, "Magnetic Springs welcomed approximately 60 visitors when representatives of Shering-Plough drove into the village to film a commercial for Dr. Scholl's foot care products. Several residents had been given the opportunity to test Dr. Scholl's insoles fitted with magnetic additives.
"Filming was done at Classic Hair Beauty Salon and at the former Village Grocery building, where the empty shelves were re-stocked with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. The country store setting, of course, featured a corner display of Dr. Scholl's products.
"Gary Cunningham tested the magna-energy, magna-gel insoles. According to the area resident, after wearing them in his work shoes for about a month, he realized his feet didn't hurt. 'There was a marked difference which I can't explain. Even though I'm skeptical, the insoles are impressive,' he said.
"After a few day's excitement, the village has returned to its former calm. They will, however, remember those few days in January 2000 when Dr. Scholl's, the foot people, came to town."
Monday, March 27, 2000
Last week I made a trip back to Richwood to close out my father's estate, and I also called on Joan Wells, who bought my father's house. It still looks very familiar. One bedroom still has the same furniture, although she's furnished another with antiques. She did replace the floor in the kitchen and baths and has new wallpaper in the kitchen, a green-and-white country look that includes some rabbits and chickens.
The electronic organ is still in the living room, and when I visited, so was Mabel Gill. She's the sister of Margaret Weller, who taught me piano and organ when I was young. Mabel ran her late husband's paint store until retiring last year, and for a long time she's played the pipe organ at the local Baptist church. She wanted me to show her how my old organ works, so I gave her a quick tour of the controls. In no time she was playing from memory: popular songs, hymns, all sorts of music for half an hour or so. She plans to entertain when Joan hosts a club meeting later this spring.
So it's nice to know that the organ, for which I have no room here, is still making people happy.
Monday, June 5, 2000
Well, no, the year isn't 1968 any longer. That baccalaureate service at Finney Chapel was finished long ago.
As hard as it might have been then to imagine, we have moved on to a new century. Now your children are in college, and I've been living in western Pennsylvania for half my life.
But memory's time machine can take us back in an instant if we wish: to family vacations in the '50's, to campus dorms in the '60's, to new beginnings in the '70's, to whenever and wherever we like. And the time machine can filter out much that was unpleasant at the time, leaving the good memories.
We are not 53 years old now. Not only 53, anyway. We are also 35, and 7, and 21.
If light can at the same time be both a particle and a wave, as they taught us in physics class, we can at the same time have both the wisdom of maturity and the enthusiasm of youth. We can have 1968 within us as surely as we have 2000 around us.
Wednesday, July 12, 2000
I didn't make it to Richwood for the Class of 1965 reunion; I was in Atlanta that weekend for a baseball game. But I did receive this photo of those who attended. Then I had to ask Lynne Ledley who all these people were, because I could only recognize about half of them. Some of us change very little, while others look totally different from the way we were in high school.
Standing, L to R: Nick Taylor, Lois Smith Weber, Sally Ballard Glover, Linda Congrove Dean, Dee Ann DeBolt Payne, Joann Prichard Young, Mary Wells McVay, Pat Ransome Beatley, Barbara Bugg Brake, Tonya Davis Payne, Pat Hoffman Hall, Bonnie Bell, Lynne Glass Ledley, Bill Maugans.
Kneeling, L to R: Roger Daymude, Dennis Roberts, Ron Pratt, Spencer Jordan, Gene Somerlot, John Caudill.
I'm resolving actually to attend our 40th reunion. That's five years away, so at this distance it seems a safe resolution to make. We'll see how things actually work out in 2005.
Tuesday, July 18, 2000
According to Lynne, you are not alone in failing to recognize Bill Maugans. She wrote that he "threw me when he walked in Friday night at the Country Club. Barb Brake told me last night that she studied him and she studied his wife trying to figure out who it was."
And Lois Smith "said she went blonde after we graduated and moved to Cleveland."
I was able to guess Denny Roberts and Spencer Jordan only because I remember how they had changed at the previous reunion I attended, probably 15 years ago.
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
I'm a little late replying, but September and April are my busy months: baseball is being televised along with another sport (in September college football, in April hockey). Plus we have extra college football this year. Tomorrow I'll be in Louisville to set up for a Thursday-night game, and from there, we go to West Point for a Saturday-afternoon Army game.
Sorry to hear about Amy's death. [Amy was a black cocker spaniel.] I do remember meeting her that one time in 1983 when you brought her by the house in Richwood; that would have been about a year and a half after my mother passed away. We let her out of her travel carrier in the basement so that she could trot around exploring. I remember her almost falling into the sump, and wagging her tail continuously except when she sniffed around the gas furnace. But all her puppy energy deflated when she had to go back into the carrier for the trip to the airport.
You may have seen the "In Retrospect" column of the September 7 Richwood Gazette: "75 years ago, September 10, 1925. Four local men motored to Noble County Thursday and saw the battered wreck of the dirigible, Shenandoah. Fourteen men were killed when the monster airship was wrecked. Many souvenirs of the wreck were secured." So some of the pieces made their way back to Richwood, where there still may be one or two in an attic somewhere around town.
Even I have a piece, though I got it via a different route. Among those who came to see the wreck were my uncles Ralph and Jim Buckingham. The two teenagers drove down from their home in Byesville (ten miles to the north of the crash scene); they brought back a piece of the airship's silver skin, 21 inches square. It was made of cotton cloth painted with aluminum "dope." My grandparents folded the relic and stored it away. It was passed down eventually to me, and on this 75th anniversary I've cut off several samples for present-day friends who might be interested.
The authorities did want to recover the wreckage, of course, to determine the cause of the crash, but in rural Ohio they were greatly outnumbered by thousands of the curious. "Women came away from the wreckage staggering under yards of fabric they had ripped from the frame. The looters were armed with knives, hatchets, pliers, and even wrenches. They went away with the ship's logbooks, with fragments of girders up to eight feet long, with blankets and valuable instruments."
From Columbus, the Ohio governor ordered to the scene National Guardsmen, who threatened to open fire. But by the next day, "the control car too had been picked clean. Many instruments had been stolen, all the toggles ripped out, everything movable torn free. The Annapolis class ring was missing from Zachary Lansdowne's finger." If somebody took the ring, perhaps remorse led them to return it to the scene afterwards. Many years later a farmer's wife found it growing on a mustard plant about 15 feet from where Lansdowne's body had been.
Ponder that for Halloween.
Saturday, December 23, 2000
"Happy anniversary!" "Merry Christmas!" And "great weather we're having this winter, isn't it?"
Friday, January 5, 2001
It was good to hear from you, although not so good to hear about your various conditions that require medication.
Myself, I'm taking four medications on a permanent basis, one for high cholesterol and the other three for high blood pressure (although the BP treatment suddenly became less effective in late October and is in the process of being revised). Let's hope that the pharmaceutical industry can keep up with our corporeal malfunctions.
I've started a personal "T. Buckingham Thomas" website, to which I'm posting various things that I've written or photographed over the years plus some new material. I have a list of a couple of dozen additional articles that need to be written or exhumed from the archives, with more ideas to come. And I can work when I choose to. If the mood strikes me, I can spend most of a day putting some material together, or I can ignore the project entirely for a week or two.
This is a good long-term project, whether or not very many people see it. And it's a better use of these old pictures and stories than just letting them sit around in boxes in the basement!
Wednesday, April 11, 2001
In reply to your e-mail of last Friday, I'm keeping very busy, thank you. That's why it's taken me five days to answer. Yesterday was my only non-working, non-traveling day between April 3 and April 24.
Friday, June 8, 2001
I visited our alma mater a couple of weeks ago, resulting in a little birthday present for you: the pictures attached to this e-mail.
The reason for my visit: the 50th anniversary celebration for WOBC. (More pictures including some of actual people plus some articles are on my website.)
Because I was working in Cincinnati for most of the weekend, I didn't arrive in Oberlin until around noon on Sunday, after most of the anniversary festivities were over. But I had talked to a lot of folks at a reunion in 1988, and the early history of the station probably hasn't been revised much since then.
The physical layout of the station is actually more like it used to be than it used to be. At one time, WOBC had expanded to include the whole west half of the third floor of Wilder; but now it's back to exactly the square footage that it had in our day, including even the conference room in the back.
Monday, June 11, 2001
I vaguely remember the 8th grade graduation party, at which you and I were partners in learning to square dance. I can well imagine that I was "a little stiff." That's me.
In college, there were certain physical education classes that I couldn't take because of concerns about my eyesight. So I ended up in ice skating, where I learned to skate forward and to stagger around a wide turn; in bowling, where I did okay but later lost the knack of not falling over sideways after releasing the ball; and in folk dancing, where I reprised the 8th grade experience. I was glad when I became a junior and no longer had to take P.E. classes and display my uncertain coordination.
Monday, August 13, 2001
It's funny how we remember little details. I recall that one time when you met my parents, world travel came up. You had been to Japan, and my father had served in India in World War II. To prove it, he said in Hindustani, "Ayk, do, teen, chaar."
"See," I said, "he can count to three."
"To four!" he proudly corrected.
Well, it turns out that he had to count a lot higher than that. He served as a payroll clerk near an air transport base.
This summer I've put the whole story on my website, a story that turned out to be somewhat larger than I expected.
Thursday, October 4, 2001
On Thursday, September 6, we had a telecast scheduled in Boston. I got into town late Wednesday afternoon. This time our hotel was a couple of miles west of the ballpark, just across the Charles River from Cambridge. I had been across that river to visit MIT in the summer of 1968 when it was still possible that I would go for a graduate degree in physics, but I had never seen Harvard. So I walked across the bridge and gave myself a tour.
"Now this is what a university campus should look like," I thought as the sun was setting. In the Yard, there were groups of students returning for the new term. In Harvard Square, I was reminded a little of UC Berkeley and a little of a "high street" in London. As I made my way through it, I passed a musical combo: a bagpiper and a bongo player.
When we were freshmen at Oberlin, the Historic Elm had just fallen to disease, but the college retained the iron fence around the Elm's former site on the corner of Tappan Square. Well, there's a similar tree on Cambridge Common, and it's still alive and healthy after 300 years. Circled by a similar iron fence, it's called the Washington Elm because it marks the spot where George Washington took command of the combined colonial militias in July of 1775, while the British were still in control of nearby Boston.
It was dark by the time I returned to the hotel. The next morning, I walked down the south bank of the Charles and through the Boston University campus to Fenway Park for our baseball telecast.
After that, my next baseball game was scheduled to be on Tuesday, September 11, in Pittsburgh. That morning I turned on a TV set to program my VCR and saw a picture of a damaged building with the graphic, "Breaking News: Airplane crashes into World Trade Center tower." I was watching when a second plane hit the second tower, although it wasn't clear for a few seconds what was going on (there was some kind of large aircraft to the right of the towers, followed by a fiery explosion to the left). By the time to leave for the ballpark at 10:30 am, the towers had fallen, the Pentagon had been hit, and there were reports of the crash of a fourth plane.
I knew there was a good chance that the game would be cancelled, especially since the visiting team was the New York Mets; but the official word had not come, so I went to where I was supposed to be. Meanwhile, most of the people who worked in downtown Pittsburgh were being sent home. Only four of us showed up outside PNC Park at the scheduled time. A quick cell-phone call confirmed that the game had just been called off, so we left.
Because the two Mets telecasts were cancelled on short notice, according to our contract we got paid anyway. Most of us donated the money to a Salvation Army relief fund that one of our fellow freelancers, Joe Ferlic, quickly set up for us. It was the least we could do; we got the money back anyway when the games were rescheduled.
I was supposed to fly to Minneapolis on Friday, September 14, for a weekend series, just as the airlines were beginning to resume service. It was not until Thursday afternoon that the weekend games were called off and I knew I wouldn't have to go. As it turned out, the flight for which I had been scheduled on Friday morning was cancelled anyway.
But since then, things have more or less returned to normal. I went to New York for the last Saturday's Orioles-Yankees telecast; the plane was mostly empty going in on Friday, but almost full coming back on Sunday. The pedestrians in crowded Times Square, the subway riders after the game, all seemed to be going about their usual activities, but without "the effervescence, the swagger, the loudness that so characterized our pre-Sept. 11 lives," as one columnist put it.
Our analyst, former Met Keith Hernandez, was willing to work in New York but was afraid to fly to Houston for an upcoming game. Among the guests in our hotel were the entourage of a Puerto Rican boxer whose fight at Madison Square Garden had been delayed for two weeks, as well as several FEMA workers, identified by their blue and gold jackets.
Life went on, but nothing was quite the same, nor maybe ever will be.
But then, it never is completely the same, is it?
Thursday, October 18, 2001
I don't think I'll be writing anything for Mr. Palmieri and Mr. Warner. I thought about it for a couple of minutes and, like you, came up empty. Perhaps if one of us had gone on to become a physicist, one could have said something like "When you made that comment about the single-particle partition function in a Maxwell-Boltzmann system, it changed my whole career!" But we went in other, presumably better, directions.
And no, I'm not starting a retirement scrapbook of my own. Working as a freelancer, I may not have a well-defined point of retirement. I will probably just gradually work less often when I reach my sixties. I might even follow your example and un-retire a time or two.
When I wrote my web article "Fear Not" (don't worry about things over which you have no control, and by the way, each of us has to die sometime and they can only kill us once), the thought occurred to me that I was talking to myself, reminding myself not to give in to fear. But I'm a single person. I realized that my thoughts might not mean as much to someone with a family, with several lives to worry about.
Hopefully, we won't reach the point where the government has to revive the military draft, and your sons won't be touched that way; but President Bush avoided that issue in his press conference one week ago. The last question concerned what specific kinds of sacrifices that Americans should expect to have to make. The President mentioned waiting in longer lines at airports, which is trivial. He could have mentioned the sacrifices expected of the military and their civilian friends and families. "I've told you that this will be a long-term operation. It's not going to be finished quickly. And in any war, there will be casualties. Americans will be wounded, Americans will be killed; perhaps a lot of Americans. This nation hasn't had to face that possibility since Viet Nam. But we must face it now, if we are to rid the world of terrorism."
My closest relatives now are a couple of uncles in western Kentucky. I made my annual visit last weekend, driving 1500 miles round trip. Uncle Phil Thomas and his wife Sue have three sons, three daughters-in-law, and four grandsons, and they all joined us for dinner Friday. It was on or near the birthday of three of the guests, so we had presents and cake and homemade ice cream as well. Then I visited Uncle Hubert Thomas and his wife Martha in another town. No one else came over, so the three of us stayed up past midnight (my time) telling old stories, many of them about friends and family members that I'd never met.
Friday, December 14, 2001
Perhaps it's been colder where you are, but we've had an extremely mild autumn in this part of the country. Winter will probably arrive in January. However, I won't have to shovel Pennsylvania snow for long. I'm leaving on January 29 for four weeks in Utah.
This will be my third Olympic Games, after Seoul 1988 and Atlanta 1996. I'm scheduled to be working in the International Broadcast Center at the convention center in downtown Salt Lake City. Beyond that, I don't have many details.
Thursday, December 20, 2001
I too have forgotten parts of that 1964 student council campaign. In fact, I've forgotten almost everything about it except what's written in my 1965 article.
I assume that the reporter who observed Kelly's reactions when he got the letter on Monday morning, and again when he learned the vote count on Friday evening, was me. I also assume that I was the one who told him the vote count. Few others on the football bus that night would have been interested enough to have that piece of information.
I used to have an FCC license, but it didn't require 12 weeks of study to pass the test. It was a Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit, which we were required to have when we were on the air by ourselves at Oberlin College radio station WOBC-FM. We had to know about giving station IDs and reading the meters on our 10-watt transmitter. In addition, the study guide taught us irrelevant information about painting and lighting antenna towers and the responsibilities of the captain of the vessel. It was relatively easy to pass the multiple-choice test, which was administered several times a year in an office in downtown Cleveland. However, at least one engineer on our staff had to have a First Class permit, which was much tougher to obtain and required detailed electronic knowledge.
It sounds like very few of us knew that Gene Somerlot was in bad health. I recall that he was in the photo of the 2000 reunion; other than that, I hadn't thought about him until a couple of weeks ago, when I was listening to a tape of a 1965 basketball game in which he was playing for Richwood.
But I have thought about Carl Martin recently, enough to put a few anecdotes on my website.
As Lynne says, we never know. Thoughts of mortality keep me working on that website; I have an urge to tell my stories while I still can.
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