Some things, such as snow (in Minneapolis), taxes, the first robin, summer thunderstorms, fall colors, birthdays, and snow, happen every year. Other things do not happen every year. For example, it’s not every year that I retire from a career of almost half a century. Nor do I share a mountain trail in Alaska with a grizzly bear every year. In no other year have I experienced the mingling odors of horse manure coming through one nostril and hot chocolate through the other. Up until this year Thea had never broken her ankle in a hockey accident. This was the first year that I went to a Friday night performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera wearing sport shirt and running shoes. And it’s not every year that I attend my grandson’s bris.
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May: Thea and I were guests of honor at a retirement party at the University of Minnesota Campus Club. Colleagues from my department of Aero Engineering and Thea’s department of Computer Science were there, as well as friends from other parts of the University, people I had known thru ASME and computer friends of Thea, running friends, classmates from Antioch College lo these many years ago, former colleagues from twenty years ago at IIT, two of our chiidren – – all told, there were over a hundred people there, hosted by good friend and colleague Bob Plunkett.
And it was a great party. Gordon Beavers, Dean of IIT, led off with an original song Prince of Plasticity, sung to a generic Gilbert & Sullivan patter song; every line ending with a more-or-less rhyme to the title such as ethnicity, chasticity, and San Francis-city. Other people recalled incidents from our pasts and predictions for our futures.
A high point at the end of the evening was presentation of a notebook which Bob and Katie had made of letters, poems, snapshots, and artwork which had been sent to him by our friends from all over the country (make that “world” – there was a letter from Maria Duschek in Poland) who were unable to be present in person. Bob previewed that gift throughout the festivities by reading some of the juicier selections. I know we will browse through that notebook and recall that wonderful evening many times during the coming years.
How do I like retirement? I love it! We have done lots of travelling and plan to do more. We can make more and longer visits to our children and grandchildren. After a long hiatus I am beginning to get back to my genealogical research. I have an “emeritus” office at the University, and come in at least once a week when we are in Minneapolis. I am still on one ASME Committee which meets twice a year, and I have many activities in connection with being Secretary of the US National Committee/Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. I have time to do some regular distance walking and I entered a few road races last year, including two marathons. And I can do all this with a clear conscience!
June: Our big trip for the year was two and a half weeks in Alaska. We did our own over-all organization, which included three sub-tours in Alaska. Flew to Anchorage and saw that city on our own. Train tour to Fairbanks including an overnight at the entrance to Denali Park. Fairbanks on our own, then a bus tour back to Anchorage with two overnights deep in the Park. Fabulous weather. Good views from the bus of grizzlies, dall sheep, moose, caribou, and golden eagles. Fantastic sights of the massive Mt. Denali (McKinley). Flew to Juneau and took one-week cruise on the 140-passenger ship Yankee Clipper. Glacier Bay, Skagway, etc. Great views of glaciers and their calving icebergs; bald eagles by the score, both overhead and roosting atop tall trees; mountain goats on the steep slopes of the fjords; puffins and porpoises; whales, including one trio in the wild doing synchronized water ballet sounding, blowing, and breeching.
The tour included various half-days ashore exploring out-of-the way communities and/or the surrounding wilderness. One of those days I took a hike to an isolated waterfall, about 5 miles from the town. They take grizzlies seriously in Alaska. At the head of many trails there are long signs with instructions which begin with “make lots of noise so you won’t surprise a bear”, continuing through various contingencies such as “walk-do-not-run away from the bear”, to the ultimate “lie down in the fetal position and hope the bear will go away.” Well, a bear and I had both decided to use the same trail that morning, and I’m still here to write this letter. I had borrowed a bear-bell from the naturalist, and strode along singing and generally being noisy on a delightful and uneventful hike to the waterfall. The trail was well maintained and well marked and I felt totally alone. It was beautiful. But about halfway back on the return trip I noticed that over a mile of the trail was strewn with hundreds of mangled skunk cabbage leaves, and at one point I carefully observed a large dropping which sure didn’t come from a squirrel. My theory as to the cause of all this was later confirmed by the naturalist; grizzlies love skunk cabbage and are messy eaters of the same. Pavarotti might have envied the volume of my voice (though not its quality!) as I traversed the rest of the trail. I never did see the bear, but that’s my idea of a good kind of “close encounter.”
September: We stayed home most of the summer, between a trip to Des Moines to see three operas (Peter Grimes, Abduction from the Seraglio, and Madame Butterfly) and ten days at Glacier Park (Montana and Canada) with Lisa, Bill, and Rebecca. Then, the middle of September we drove around two of the Great Lakes, Michigan and Superior. We started out with brief but enjoyable visits with a niece and her family in Earlville IL, cousins on my mother’s side in Libertyville IL, and cousins on my father’s side whom we hadn’t seen in 25 years in Kalamazoo MI.
A leisurely drive north through Michigan, an overnight at a luxury motel (our room had its own jacuzzi!) at Mackinac City, and a fun day and night exploring Mackinac Island. The island is just a short ferry ride from Mackinac City, but it’s a whole different world. It boasts the nation’s only state highway on which there has never been a motor vehicle accident, i. e. the fire engine and the ambulance which are the only two motor vehicles on the island have managed to stay out of each other’s way. All other transportation is by foot, horse carriage, or bicycle – even the police use the last! The hotels are old fashioned elegance ranging from expensive to out-of-this-world. We chose the former and had a room whose comfortable queen-size bed had a frilly canopy and whose cost was only slightly more than the luxury one the night before.
One of the tourist-oriented industries is homemade chocolate fudge. Several different small stores on Main Street let you peer through the plate-glass windows at the kettles of cooking chocolate and the marble-topped tables on which it is poured to cool while the chef runs around the table with a big spatula to keep any of it from running off. The result is a delightful strong odor emanating from the store-side of the sidewalk which is a considerable contrast to that resulting from numerous horses clomping down the street-side.
The next night in a flea-bag motel (not literally, but it sure was a comedown!) just off the Sault canal. Fascinating maritime museum, and a very well run visitor’s center at the canal. They post the expected transit times of various ships, and we returned at 11 pm to watch the longest ship (over a thousand feet) on the lakes pass through. Then a leisurely drive around the north shore of Lake Superior. Weather was mostly rainy, so didn’t get a real good view of the fall colors, but still fun and beautiful.
Our last stop was in Eveleth MN. I was trying to get in shape to walk two marathons later in the fall, so our second morning there I set out on a 20-miler on trails and country roads. When I got back to our motel room 5 hours later, there was Thea on the bed with her ankle in a cast and a pair of crutches leaning against it! She had gone to the Hockey Hall of Fame which was next door to our motel. As she was backing away from an exhibit to get a better perspective, she had put her foot down half on and half off of the low platform which supported the exhibit. The ankle turned and cracked and Thea landed on her elbow and shoulder. The Hall was very quiet, but she eventually managed to attract some attention, and the manager took her to the emergency room of the hospital in nearby Virginia MN where they put a temporary cast on.
Fortunately, we were only about 200 miles from home, so it was an easy trip the next day. Once there, for a while we had crutches, a wheelchair, a walker, and a familyheirloom gold-headed cane in the house. The ankle had both a sprain and a small break, the swelling of the sprain caused problems with the cast, and the fall on the shoulder didn’t help in manipulating the crutches. However, I am happy to report that she is now almost fully recovered.
November: It was a dark and stormy night – – snow was falling – – and falling – – and falling. When our alarm woke us at 5 am on Friday, November 1, 14 inches were on the ground and it was still falling. Our plane to New York (plane A) was scheduled to leave at 7:30 am, and as far as I know, it did. But we were not on it. One taxi company had taken its phone off the hook; the other one just wasn’t answering. Fortunately, the airline phones were not yet jammed, and I changed our reservation to plane B, scheduled to leave at noon. With only a shovel I cleared the 40 foot length of our driveway and backed our car out – – only to get totally stuck in the unplowed back street. With great effort I got the car back in the garage. Still no taxis. Our good friend Wally came to the rescue and picked us up on the front street with his van. We were at the airport at 10, in plenty of time to check our baggage. Plenty of time, since at 3 the plane still hadn’t left. But plane C, scheduled to leave at 2 was about to leave, and at the last minute they found seats for us. We arrived at LaGuardia airport after 6, knowing that our baggage was somewhere on plane B, and that the opera for which we had a pair of $75 seats started at 8. Figuring that seeing Verdi’s Masked Ball was more important than luggage or dinner, we took a cab direct to Lincoln Center, thoroughly enjoyed the opera, and checked into our nearby hotel with only a briefcase to attest to our good character. Saturday morning it took only a call to Northwest Airlines at LaGuardia to have our luggage located and delivered to the hotel before noon. We rented a car and drove to Teaneck for a visit with our grandchildren Adam, Miriam, and April and their parents Sue and David.
Sunday was the New York City Marathon; our real reason for coming to New York that weekend. I had read about the NYC Marathon for years, watched parts of it on TV, and talked to many friends who had run it. All accounts agreed that it was unbelievable; and the accounts did not do it justice! The organization was incredible. Over 27,000 runners and walkers, thousands of volunteers, radio, television and newspaper reporters completely took over Fort Hamilton at the end of the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island. Our race-number tags told us in which of one hundred busses we were to leave our sweats for pick up at the finish. I can’t report on the adequacy of the women’s arrangements, but . an eight- hundred-foot open-air urinal was filled (but not to overflowing!) by the men. We were each assigned to a specific one of the three color-coded starting lines which took over the entire upper level and the east-bound lower level of the bridge. Promptly at 11:10 am the starting gun sounded and we were off. I started at the very back of the Blue start, but so fast were all the runners ahead of me that I was only 1 minute, 20 seconds reaching the starting line.
From ages 59 through 65 I had run 14 marathons, and this would be my fifth walking one in the years since then. But this one was special. It was by far the biggest, having more than three times as many finishers as the Twin Cities Marathon I had walked four weeks previously. But from my perspective, the total size was a factor only at the start, since almost all of the runners were soon out of sight. Much more important to me, there were lots of other walkers and very slow runners. At the TCM all but 100 of the 7000 finishers crossed the finish line before I did; here I finished ahead of 1500 other finishers. This meant that even after things straightened out during the first few miles, I had lots of company, with some people passing me and me passing others. Many of us back-of-the-packers started out with ambitious plans and faded, but I kept a very steady pace. On the long ramp up the approach to anyone of the many bridges, I would pass lots of walkers, but many of them would become runners and pass me on the down ramp.
The marathon route includes all five boroughs of New York. The stretch through Brooklyn was perhaps the most interesting, since we passed through so many different ethnic neighborhoods, all quite sharply defined. It was particularly fun through the Italian neighborhoods, since a large group of runners from Italy were going about my speed and cries of “Viva Italia” filled the air. From Brooklyn, through a corner of Queens, across the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan, up First Avenue to the Bronx, then back to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and Central Park. With crowds of spectators everywhere. Noisy crowds. Enthusiastic crowds. Cheering crowds. It was after 4 pm when I walked west along 59th Street, more than 3 hours after the winners had passed that way, but there was still a crowd of noisy, enthusiastic, cheering people! Back into the Park for the last half-mile to the finish line with more cheers, a medal, a space-blanket wrapped around me (it was getting cold). Found the right bus with my clothes and some food, then a very leisurely walk back to our hotel a couple of miles away.
Since we were in New York anyhow, we made the most of it and went 3 more times to the Met to see Aida, Magic Flute, and Elixir of Love with Pavarotti. And now I could dress more properly in suit and tie and black shoes!
December: Twenty-one months ago it was an overwhelming experience to be in Sunnyvale CA when my granddaughter Rebecca Rose Kelly was born, and to hold her in my arms when she was only a few hours old. This December 18 it was equally exciting to hold Joshua Philip Kelly, less than four hours into this world. I remember that the two weeks following Rebecca’s birth were wonderful, but hectic, as one tiny infant ran 4 adults ragged. But the two weeks remaining in 1991 were even more satisfying, because we had both Rebecca and Joshua. One always forgets how tiny a newborn is, but I found that fact less of a shock than the recurring adjustment in my perception of Rebecca’s size. When she sat and held her baby brother, she seemed gigantic, but when she and I went for a walk, she seemed so tiny!
She has been adapting to him amazingly well. “Amazing?” you ask; “big sisters are supposed to love their little brothers!” But look at it this way: One day your husband (or wife, as the case may be) takes you on his knee and says, “Darling, we have such a wonderful time together, and I love you so very much, that I’ve decided to have another wife to keep you company. I will love her, but I’ll still love you just as much. Of course at first she won’t be used to things around here, and I’ll be counting on you to help me with her.”
Of course, this business of imagining yourself in a child’s place can be carried too far, and you (particularly you men) probably shouldn’t try too hard to visualize yourselves in Joshua’s circumstances on the eighth day after his birth when he had his bris. Actually, it wasn’t near as bad as it sounds. The mohel really knew his business, and Joshua was less upset by that than he had been the day before when the doctor drew a few drops of blood from his heel for testing. From my viewpoint as a non-practicing agnostic, Jewish ceremonies are an interesting combination of religion, practicality, and having a good time; I was glad that I was able to be there.
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February 2, 1992: So much for the past year. I wonder what rare or unique experiences the coming year will hold for me and for you. Whatever they are, may they be as much fun as mine were this year – –