Ground Hog Day, 2001

ghd-1999-header-1Dear Friends-and-Relations,


August 10, 1945

I am on a ship.  The ship is traversing the Panama Canal.

More specifically, I am at the wheel of a Liberty Ship.  We are carrying troop supplies from Europe, where the war has ended, to Japan where it is still going on.  It is my first wheel-watch in several months.  My previous two trips were as an “Able-Bodied Seaman” (AB) which involved two 2-hour stints at the wheel every day, but this trip I have signed as “Deck Maintenance” – – a sort of general assistant to the Bosun which does not involve wheel watches.  But one of the AB’s developed eye problems and can’t see the compass, so we have to switch places.  Am I nervous?  Yes!  In the open ocean one can be off a degree or two and there is plenty of time and space to correct any error.  Here, in the narrow canal, it is advisable not to hit anything.

But I survived – and felt good about it afterwards.

We didn’t know that Japan would surrender four days later.  I continued to stand regular wheel watches all the way to Yokohama where we sat in the harbor for two weeks.  With the cargo still untouched we then brought everything back to New York, arriving a few days before Christmas – but that is another story.

March 26, 2000

I am on a ship.  The ship is traversing the Panama Canal.

More specifically, I am a passenger on a charter cruise ship along with 80-some other passengers.  Thea and I have no responsibilities except to enjoy ourselves.  This one-day daylight transit will be followed by a week’s cruise in the Pacific, ending up in Costa Rica. Lots of scenery, great hiking, pretty-good snorkeling, and lots of good food. Unfortunately, Thea got some sort of heat stroke and we had to cancel the proposed land-extension touring Costa Rica.


The Millennium

If you are a pragmatist, like me, last year was the first year of the new
millennium.  If you are a purist, like my late brother, last year was the last year of the old millennium.  Either way, the year 2000 represented the milestone of a change from one millennium to the next.  (Of course, the Jewish Calendar says that the year was 5760, the Mayan calendar has 5113, the Chinese is 4698, and the Islamic 1421;  on the other HAND, if our ancestors had evolved with 6 digits on each hand, we would count in duodecimal and come up with 11A8, whereas if they had only four, they would have invented octal, and it would be 3720.  Oh well, you can’t please everyone).


For the past ten years I had adopted the French system of counting which goes sixty-nine, sixty-ten, sixty-eleven, . . . , sixty-nineteen.  Somehow, I liked the idea of being a sexagenarian teen-ager better than being called a septuagenarian.  But what comes next?  The French would call me four twenties, which I find rather frightening.  But to continue on to sixty-twenty just sounds silly.  So just call me an eighty-year old octogenarian.  Whatever.  11/9/00 was a personal milestone.


For the past 18 years I had been Secretary of the United States Committee for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.  The USNC/TAM is an umbrella organization whose primary members are representatives of 14 national societies which have an interest in mechanics.  It represents the United States in the international mechanics organization IUTAM, it holds a national technical meeting every four years, and it generally tries to coordinate mechanics activities among the various engineering and scientific organizations which have an interest in the field.  Nominally, the job of Secretary is to take and distribute minutes of our annual meetings and take care of various correspondence matters throughout the year.

In practice, I did much more.  Individual members of the Committee generally serve 4 to 8 years, and the chair changes every two years.  We do have a few ex-officio members with longer terms, but their activity is usually rather limited, so that I soon became the “Grand Old Man” of the Committee.  The chair counted on me to remind him of his routine responsibilities, such as appointing our various subcommittees; it became my job to bug our member societies when it was time to appoint new representatives; I had to keep track of deadlines in appointing the US delegates to IUTAM and making suggestions as to who they should be; for most of my terms I was responsible for soliciting and evaluating proposals from US institutions to host international meetings in specialized mechanics topics; people turned to me on questions of history (how was this problem handled last time?); et cetera, et cetera.

GHD page num 3My term was always for two years, but my re-election was just a formality.  Two years ago I decided that it was time to end the cycle.  At our 1998 meeting I announced that I was willing to serve one more term, but that it would be my last.  At our meeting this August I was delighted when the Committee made an excellent choice as my successor, and on October 31 my term of office came to an end.  With this milestone I was now fully retired from professional activity.


Well, almost fully.  For all of my eighteen years as Secretary of USNC/TAM, I had been one of our delegates to IUTAM.  This too would end, of course.  But the IUTAM proceeded to elect me to a four-year term as a “Member At Large”.  If all goes well, I will attend the next two meetings of the IUTAM General Assembly: in Cambridge UK in 2002 and Warsaw in 2004.  (And I am now one of those “ex officio” members of USNC/TAM that I mentioned a while back!).  There are only three other living Members At Large from the US, so this international recognition is certainly a personal milestone.

More recognition

I joined the Applied Mechanics Division (AMD) of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) fifty years ago when I was still a graduate student.  During those 50 years, the Division and the Society have published my papers and given me the recognition that led to a happy and successful career.  In return, I have served on and contributed to numerous committees both in AMD and in the parent ASME.  It was an ideal symbiotic relationship.  They did a lot for me; I did what I could for them.  And as a bonus I had the friendship and respect of my numerous colleagues in the field of Applied Mechanics.  I asked for and expected nothing more.  Imagine, then, my delight and surprise when last April, out of the blue, I received notification from ASME that I was being awarded the Drucker Medal.  For those of you in the field of Applied Mechanics I need say no more.  For the rest of you, let me just say that it is one of the three top awards offered by AMD and that it is named after a man whom I greatly admire and respect.  And the fact that my friends and colleagues in the Division wanted me to have the medal made it a doubly sweet milestone.


The millstones for the year are our aging bodies. Thea had 3 operations during the past year.  I had frequent visits with 3 doctors and a physical therapist arguing as to whether or not I should have a hip replacement (as of today I’ve decided not to).  I won’t bore you with all the year’s details, but here is how I spent one day last month, starting at 7:30 am:

GHD page num 4Drive to Health Center to see physiatrist.
Drive back home to get Thea.
Drive Thea to Health Center for post-Cataract operation visit.
Drive direct to dentist for Thea to get a broken tooth replaced.
Drive home for a quick lunch
Drive to PT center for an hour’s treatment
Get home about 5 pm to collapse.

Oh, well, as someone older (even) and wiser than I once said,
“Old age ain’t for sissies”


The Background

We had planned this weekend of August 4 months ago.  Spend three nights in Santa Cruz seeing one company do a comedy by Sartre in a theater on the UCSC campus on Thursday and then going to both performances of Copeland’s The Tender Land by the Cabrillo Music Festival in the Santa Cruz Civic Center on Friday and Saturday.  Plus a pre-concert al fresco buffet dinner on Friday and a “lunch with the composers” on Saturday.  Tickets all bought and a room reserved at the Holiday Inn.

Then Thea tore the meniscus in her knee early in May.  It got worse instead of better, and after various x-rays, an MRI, and appointments with three doctors, arthroscopic surgery was scheduled for July 12.  “Not to worry,” said the surgeon.  “Two days after the surgery you’ll be walking better than the day before.”  So, with more than three weeks to heal, no need to think about changing plans.


The healing did not go as planned.  Lots and lots of swelling.  She could walk only a few steps and could not straighten the knee.  No way could she sit three hours in a theater seat.  The time drew nearer.  Already it was Tuesday.  What to do?

The Solution

Our friend Lora suggested, “Rent a wheelchair and go!”  So we did.  We rented a collapsible chair that easily fit in our car.  We called the Holiday Inn and they switched our room reservation to one that was wheelchair accessible.  We called the UCSC theater and they switched our tickets to the special wheelchair section which did not involve any steps.  We called the Civic Center and told them the problem.  They said, “I’m sure we can work something out – we’ll call you back.”  They called and told us that they had arranged a switch with someone who had aisle seats and would take out one seat to make a place for the chair.  They also said that we could use those same seats for the composer’s lunch, and that “there would be no problem with the buffet dinner.”

GHD page num 5The Results

Everyone was so helpful and everything worked perfectly.  We arrived early for the buffet dinner and moved one of the folding chairs to make room for the wheelchair.  I scouted out the buffet line, and asked the head honcho if I could go through early to fill a plate for Thea and then take my rightful place in line for my own plate.  He said, “No,” to that idea, but called to one of the many attractive young assistants and asked her to walk through the line with me and fill a plate for Thea under my direction.  And it worked!

All three performances were great, but Friday night was really special.  It was opening night and the atmosphere was electric. Our seats were “two on the aisle” in the third row center.  When the final curtain rang down, there was standing applause and all of the principals, women and men, were presented with fancy bouquets.  After the applause finally died down, the company all left the stage by walking up the center aisle.  As the lead baritone walked by Thea’s chair he leaned over and handed her his bouquet!  Wow!

What with one thing and another, it was nearly midnight when we got back to our motel room.  What to do with the flowers?  Nothing in the room would hold them.  So I carried them to the front desk, and before I could finish saying, “I have an unusual request,” the clerk on duty said, “I know, you want a vase!”

But it was night time and everything was locked up.  The clerk called a bell-man who went off somewhere.  He returned several minutes later with a key to the closed restaurant, disappeared again, and returned with a water pitcher of just the right size and shape.  We enjoyed the flowers the rest of our stay there and for another week after we got home.

All in all, we had a marvelous time in what we did, and it was made more enjoyable by so many people going out of their way to help us.  Despite all the road rage and stress burnout and stolen elections, our experience helps us continue to believe that it really is a world worth living in.

During the coming year, may you have many experiences to help you “believe that it really is a world worth living in.”

GHD page num 6Thea’s Page

I am walking well again and doing physical therapy, so that crisis bit the dust! Also, the right eye surgery was wonderfully successful; I assume the surgery in the other eye will be as good. If your doctor ever recommends cataract surgery, go for it! It’s remarkable! I now have almost 20-20 vision in the corrected eye.