The Old Man

The Old Man
My Passport Photo

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I know it has been awhile, but i didn't have anything to say. This started as an exercise to talk about my fifty years of work experience, but after talking about my first jobs as a teenager, it all seemed so boring. Another thing that may be more interesting is to talk about my efforts to connect with my 'real' father. I was raised by my stepfather and he wasn't very nice--to put it mildly. I suppose I wasn't an ideal child either, but I don't think I deserved the harsh treatment I received at from him. Anyway, I always wondered why my real father never made any effort to contact me. Until my mother died in 2005, she resided in Newport and was always aware of how to contact me. I finally started using the resources of the Internet to do genealogical searches to try to piece together my family tree. As a result, I not only found my father, but I've compiled over 550 relatives in my extensive family tree. My father was named Joel Norman. My original name was Joel as well, but somehow my birth certificate said I was Jack. I knew from my mother that my father was from Cleveland, Ohio so I started my search there using the internet. I found several Joel Normans. One that fit the age profile of my father, died in San Diego, CA in 2003. I got a copy of his obituary and learned the names of his other children. I then focused my search on Joel Norman, junior who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. I left several messages on his answering machine but got no response. I finally contacted a Joel Norman, III in California. I finally got an answer and realized I was on the right track. The person that answered the phone was Joel, junior's ex-wife. Joel, III is her son. She initiated a three-way conversation that included her daughter, also in California. I've learned since that her daughter is a Sheriff's deputy. The daughter widened the conversation by calling her father in Cleveland, Ohio. He answered on the first ring. I was now talking to Joel Norman, Junior, his ex-wife and his daughter. This was my first contact. It almost felt like a extra-terrestrial contact. I was pretty excited. What was even more exciting was that the readily accepted me as a family member. Joel acknowledged that he knew about the existence of other siblings. It seems our father was a true navy man with a girl in every port and children to match. However, I was the first to make contact. We had a good first conversation and exchanged contact information. I prepared a bio of myself and emailed it along with a picture to Joel. Before long, I received calls from Gerald and Fred, two other Norman brothers. We're all about the same age. Joel was born in 1941, Gerald was born in 1943, I in 1944, Frederick in 1946. Phillip was born in 1947, but died before my first contact. There are other half-siblings in California--my father remarried and had four other children by his second wife. I will attempt to contact them as soon as I fully come to terms with the three brothers I have. Since we're the oldest, and aging, it's important to get as much as I can out of the time we have available. I've had several phone conversations with the three brothers and I have had facebook entries from many new nieces and nephews. The next step was a face-to-face meeting. It took over a year, but I finally made the trek to Cleveland over the Thanksgiving holiday, 2010. It was very emotional. And it became obvious that we were related because we look a lot alike. I met Joel and Gerald and several of their children. Frederick wasn't available, but I'm sure we'll see him on our next trip. I got plenty of new information to add to my family tree; plenty of pictures; and lots of hugs. A good time was had by all. I added another set of grandparents and great-grandparents to the tree. And, after much study, I should be able to carry the history as far back as the document I have goes. I hope to complete this history so my children don't have to wonder where they came from as I have all these years.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

May 19, 1962. That was THE day. I was joining the Air Force. I was following in the footsteps of my elders; I was 'going in the service'. It started early in the morning when the recruiter came by and picked me up about 5 AM. We traveled to Boston to hook up with the other 103 patriotic souls who had committed four years of their lives to the U. S. Air Force. We were part of an Armed Forces day celebration. We took the oath of enlistment at the Boston Navy Yard in Boston, MA. We came from all over New England and we were named the 'Falcon Flight' to commemorate the occasion. There were several events that day, but what I remember was the oath at the navy yard, a banquet lunch at a fancy Boston hotel (complete with big Buxom, blond women as mascots), retaking the oath on live television on the infield at Fenway park prior to a Boston Red Sox baseball game. The culmination of the day's activities was the splitting of the group into two flights and boarding separate airplanes at Logan Airport for transport to basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. After stops in New York and Houston, we arrived in San Antonio at 3 AM the following day. It was then that all hell broke loose; reality set in. In Boston, we had Officers fetchin' and carryin' for us. Mail this for me; my glass is empty; would you see that this happens; etc... When the bus doors opened when we got to Lackland, we were greeted by our drill sargeant. I don't remember his name, but I certainly remember him. It happened just like you see in the movies; yelling and screaming to get us all shook up. Every male member of my family had served in the military so I had some inkling of what was going to happen. The DI's would push you to do what was clearly impossible, but all you had to do to succeed was to give it your best effort. The first thing we did was go to the chow hall for breakfast. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but military breakfasts were the best meals in the world. Creamed Beef on toast (affectionately called SOS--S___ on a shingle), eggs any way you wanted them, potatoes, bacon, sausage--as much as you wanted. The only rule was 'Take all you want, but eat all you take'. For three days we learned the basics of military training--how to stand at attention, how to march, how to salute, who to salute, etc... We did all of this in the clothes we wore on the day we enlisted. Hence the term 'Rainbow Flight'. Everyone knew who the newest recruits were. It was pretty hard for me, because I had dressed for the occasion of my enlistment. I had my best suit, new shoes, shirt and tie. I had even gone to the barber shop the day before enlistment so I would look good when I went away. The shoes I wore really needed a shoe horn to get on my feet, but I didn't have one when the fire alarm went off at 3 in the morning. We were supposed to slip on our shoes and wrap up in a blanket and get out of the building. I couldn't get my shoes on. I failed that test, so I suffered the wrath of the DI for a while. I was so glad when we finally got our uniforms. Another time I gave the DI something to chuckle about. We had bunk beds. I was a squad leader because I was one of the tallest people in the flight. I slept in the first bunk. It was difficult to learn how to make a military bed with 45 degree hospital corners and such. So once my bed got made to the DI's satisfaction, I didn't want to mess it up. I slept on the empty top bunk. You didn't want to get caught doing that. If you did, the DI would mess up the bed for spite. The dorm guard would turn on the lights each morning at 5 AM. Just turning on the lights was enough to get everyone up. Since I slept near the light switch, I could 'hear' the lights coming on. Usually. One morning, I was still sleeping when the DI came by the window near my bunk. Weston, Get your butt out of bed!! I jumped up and blurted out--Sorry, I didn't hear the lights come on. He cracked up; that's OK, he said; I don't usually hear the lights come on either. Some folks found the tasks levied on us to be impossible and they failed out. I didn't have any great difficulty with anything that was asked of me. My uncle George reminded me before I left--they can't kill you and they can't put their hands on you. Just try hard to do what they tell you to do. That's all there was to it. I got a lot of good advice from my uncle George. He died while I was in basic training. He was 29 years old.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I should have mentioned the Franklin Printing House was founded by James Franklin (Ben's brother) in 1727. The building I worked in was the original structure complete with wooden pegs as the nails that held everything together. The stairs were steep and narrow. Bringing materials down from the second floor was sometimes pretty tricky. I fell down the stairs more than once. I spilled the page setup I was carrying all over the place. Obviously, a redo was in order. There was a basement in the building as well which flooded whenever storms hit the area because the building was on a street that bordered on Narraganset Bay. I finally left the Print shop one day after an altercation with the boss. Aaron was always trying to help out where he could. He often helped me take the lead forms for the newspaper setup down to the printing press on Thursdays. I had been employed there for 18 months by now. I was firmly established as a valuable employee even though I was only 17 at the time. A new offset press was being delivered that day that was to be mine. I was moving up. The setup for a run on the Babcock took a couple of hours, so it was a significant part of the cost of running a job on that press. I guess I was lax in not checking everything thoroughly before I submitted a final proof to the foreman for his OK. He was irate when he noticed the pages were in the wrong sequence. The setup had to be completely redone. He was all over my butt. How could I make such a mistake???? That was his question. My response was to shift the blame to the boss. It didn't make any difference who did it, it was my responsibility to check everything before moving forward. Now I had two people yelling at me--the foreman and the boss. I did the only thing I could think to do--I walked out. I went home. I didn't even bother to change clothes; I just left. My hands were dirty; I had on my work boots and my work uniform. I didn't care. I was mad and I was hurt. Blaming me for a mistake someone else made--how dare they!! I returned the next day to pick up my clothes. The boss met me and informed me I wasn't employed there anymore. That was no surprise. I had quit by walking off the job. He gave me my final paycheck which covered a full week even though I hadn't worked a full week. He also had to pay dearly to get someone else to finish my job. And he had to hire someone else to run the new machine that was supposed to be mine. He was also nice enough to secure another job for me in Providence. He said he didn't want me working for his competition in Newport. I interviewed for a job with the Thompson and Thompson Printing Company on Broad street in Providence, RI. It's amazing that I can remember details from nearly 50 years ago, but I sometimes can't remember things that happened the day before. I was hired on the spot. I believe I started for $1.60 an hour. The duty day started at 7:20 in the morning, giving us 40 minutes to get the machines running so we would have 8 hours of productivity every day. Having the 40 minutes each morning meant we could skimp on cleanup at night. I ran a Miehle vertical machine at T&T. There were two machines in my section, a pre-war version and a post-war version of the same model. On long runs, I would crank up both machines. The bosses loved that; they were making twice as much money. That was a very rewarding job that lasted only six months. One fact that I failed to mention was I was only the second black printer in the area. Charlie Minor preceded me at Franklin; he moved on to The Newport Daily News long before I started at Franklin. No other black person had been employed in Providence in that profession before me. So, everyone that visited T&T were somewhat surprised to see me there. From sales reps down to the trash collectors; everyone had something to say to me. It was quite interesting to be such a novelty. And it was a curiosity to me as well since I was raised to believe I could aspire to be or do anything I was qualified to do. Anyway, after six months I embarked on my life's dream--a career in the United States Air Force. I also moved to Providence. While it was possible to commute every day on the bus, it made for a shorter day to live in Providence. I found a nice room in the home of Norma and Howard Cline. I paid $10.00 a week for a very large room. I had the use of the bathroom on the floor below and I had kitchen privileges. However, it wasn't long before I was included as part of their family (they had no children) and I started taking my meals with them. We spent the evenings watching TV together and doing the things a normal family does in the evenings. On the weekends I would travel back to Newport to hang with my friends. On to the USAF...
This is my 2nd posting.  Since this is supposed to be about my 50 years of work experiences, I suppose I should talk about my 1st job.  I'd had jobs before this, but none that paid a regular salary.  I'd worked for the local grocer, Harry Light, who operated Adinoff's Grocery.  I was the jack-of-all-trades for Harry.  I swept up, I delivered groceries, I filled telephone orders; all for fifty cents a day.  Plus whatever tips I earned from the deliveries.  I also worked with my uncles George and Laurence, hauling trash during the summers.  I learned from George how to scavenge at the city dump.  I picked through the garbage to ferret out the stuff that people threw away because they didn't realize the value of what we now call 'recyclables'.  My younger brothers would later work for the garbage collector and they supplemented their income by picking through the trash and separating the good stuff before it got to the city dump.  My uncle George made me a gift of a tricycle he made from recycled parts he picked up at the city dump.  My aunt Paula and I would walk through the dump looking for returnable soda bottles.  We got two cents for the 16 ounce bottles and a nickle for the quart size bottles.  We could easily make a couple of dollars a day at the city dump.  I also made money as a youngster by picking flowers and selling them door-to-door.  I learned from my uncles to show up at the fish docks when the fisherman returned with their catch to pick up their castoff fish.  They may have been fishing for Flounder and picked up Bass in the net.  The Bass may have been cast overboard except for us 'needy' folks who took the catch and either consumed it ourselves or sold it to others for a fraction of what it would otherwise cost.  This apparently was a longstanding practice because my great-aunt Rose told this same story in her book entitled 'Love My Children'.  All of these activities preceded my first real job.
I got my first job at the ripe old age of 16.  I got tired of going to school with either no lunch money or in raggedy clothes or both.  There were no 'after school' jobs I could get.  Most of the boys could get jobs at the local bowling alley setting pins, but I was too slow and too clumsy.  I couldn't bring myself to stand on the corner as a 'shoe shine' boy.  Plus, I didn't know how to shine shoes, nor could I do all the fancy things with the shoe-shine rags I saw other boys do.  This also provided entertainment for the sailors who were the likely customers.  So, I quit school when I turned 16.  I didn't have a plan.  I figured I'd lay around watching cartoons until something came up.  What came up was my mother's ire when she learned that my step-father had signed the papers that allowed me to quit school.  She thought I should continue and eventually make something of myself.  So she kicked me off the couch and sent me off to get a job.  I was back in a few hours and resumed my cartoon watching.  She again kicked me in my butt saying 'I thought I told you to go get a job'?  I told her I had a job and I start Saturday; this was Tuesday.  I had been to the Employment Office.  I took a test--I was pretty smart.  I got good grades in school; that's why my mother was upset.  There was one job I was qualified for.  I was sent to the Franklin Printing House on Thames Street.  Aaron Slom was the owner.  Harvey Oest was the Foreman.  I interviewed for the position of printing pressman.  I learned to set type at Thompson Junior High School and I learned how to run a press at the George Junior Republic.  So, even though I didn't realize it, I had skills.  I didn't even ask what the salary was.  Benefits wasn't even a concept then--this was April, 1960.  I don't think there was a minimum wage.  Anyway, I worked for a week before I knew how much I was working for.  Friday was payday and Aaron presented me with a pay envelope that had the remains of my $40 weekly salary.  I was making a dollar an hour.  He took out taxes and social security.  I remember having to apply for a social security number to make everything legal.  That was it; I earned my first real paycheck in April, 1960.  And very likely, I'll earn my last real paycheck in April, 2010.
That job was actually a lot of fun.  I was only 16 years old, but the guys treated me like I was one of them.  I played cards with them at lunchtime.  That sometimes involved gambling.  I remember Harvey was a heavy drinker and sometimes we would meet at the shop on Saturdays and play cards while he got drunk.  Needless to say, I ended up with all his money.  He didn't seem to mind.  I eventually learned to operate every piece of machinery in the shop.  They used me as the fill-in guy whenever anyone was out sick.  Aaron didn't pay if you didn't show up for work, so he loved it when I filled in.  Since I was the lowest paid person in the shop, he made more money from the jobs I worked.  I eventually became the person he used to work any overtime.  He paid straight salary regardless how many hours you worked--no overtime pay rate.  I was lovin' it.  I was learning and earning.  After six months, I asked for a raise.  I asked for a 25% raise, from a dollar an hour to $1.25.  He wanted to give me a ten cent raise.  I would have been happy with that, but his wife Rita made all those decisions.  She decided on a salary of $1.20 an hour.  Which was fine by me.  Since Aaron calculated your time to the minute, having a salary that eliminated rounding errors was to my benefit.  Six months later, I asked for another raise.  I had it in my mind, that you were entitled to a raise every six months.  This time I wanted a take-home pay of $50 a week.  With that salary, I was already making more money than my uncles who had families to support.  I was living large. 
One of my favorite tasks was to print the newspaper for the Navy base--the Navalog.  It was a six page paper.  I printed four pages on the big Babcock machine.  It used a 25 by 36 inch sheet of paper that I hand fed.  It really required skill and a certain amount of coordination.  Plus, the area where the machine was located on the first floor had a big picture window facing a major parking lot.  I used to draw audiences on Thursday night when the press was cranked up.  This machine was only used for this weekly publication and a few other infrequent publications.  It would take an hour to run 2,500 sheets through that machine.  I was printing pages 1,2,5, and 6.  Aaron's brother, Earl was printing pages 3 and 4 upstairs on the Meihle Vertical machine.  I could run that machine as well.  The concept we used was called 'work and turn'.  We laid the pages out so all four pages were printed on one side of the paper.  After the first time through, we allowed the ink to dry, then we turned the paper over and printed the same pages on the other side.  After the final printing, we'd cut the paper in half and fold producing a perfect newspaper.  Earl did the same thing upstairs with the inside pages.  I was pretty proud of that effort.
It was that same effort that ended my tenure at the Franklin Printing House.  Next time...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm not sure this is a good idea, but i'm doing it because i promised my daughter i would. This blogging comes about as a result of one of my Saturday morning conversations with my youngest daughter. She has been blogging for a while and sees blogging as therapy for anything. Honey, i have a sore elbow. She responds with you need to start a blog, Daddy; it'll be good for you. Anyway, the need for therapy comes from facing the fact that I have been down-sized. For the first time in 50 years, I will be without a job. Forget the fact that I'm already drawing two retirement checks and the latest 'retirement' will net me many additional benefits, the fact remains that I will not have a job. What's a man to do? I was raised in the era where men were supposed to have a job and bring home the bacon. Now, I'm facing the prospect of sitting home waiting for my wife to 'bring home the bacon'. Will I be OK with that? Time will tell. Will my wife be OK with that? Time will tell. One of my co-workers asked me what would I do? I responded with--'something will turn up; it always has in the past'. I have been very blessed throughout my life. Something always comes up. I should have told my co-worker that my daughter will come up with something--I will become a blogger!!
Now, my daughter told me to start a blog. I promised I would and I have. One never wants to disappoint a child, especially the baby. We talked about what I would talk about in my blog. She thinks I've had a fascinating life--I think it has been pretty dull. She has the fascinating life. She and I talk every Saturday morning. Sometimes those conversations last for hours. We talk about anything and everything. This morning the topic of conversation was my transition to the unemployment ranks. I actually didn't feel bad about that prospect until we started talking about it. She thinks I should write a book chronicling my 50 years of employment. I don't think that would be very interesting since I've only had four employers. You see one of my jobs was the U. S. Air Force. I spent 30 years in the Air Force. And the last 12 years, I worked for an Airline. So, 42 years of my life was spent around airplanes. That's quite a feat since I've always had a fear of flying.
Obviously, I'm going to have to put some thought into this endeavor. So suffice to say this particular blog satisfies the promise to my daughter to do something today. Future musings will have to have something interesting to keep both you and I interested. Until next time...