Sunday, April 18, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.23: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 23

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Remembrance as a Father: Parenting in the Neighborhood

After we returned to the United States, my parents held cocktail parties for their block in College Park. By the time I was eight, they had learned their lesson and stopped hosting them. Neither of them drank. The parties introduced them to the neighborhood but otherwise, didn't do them much good other than letting them discover that a few of the neighbors drank to excess and most of them disagreed with our family politics.

One night, a woman with short, light brown hair who had appeared at our parties burst through our front door and screamed, "He's going to kill me." She rushed down the stairs and out through the back. After her, through the still-open door, ran her husband with an axe. He roared after her, almost stumbling and stabbing himself with the axe blade as he bounded down the carpeted stairs.

Then she circled around. They ran through a second time. At that point, my father had the sense to shut and lock the front door. He did the same to the back door although my mother worried aloud about the woman and whether we could shelter her somehow. She belonged to the heavy-drinking, conservative neighbors in the house behind us. Fortunately, she escaped that night and returned to her husband the next morning to make him breakfast.

That wasn't an unusual incident for the couple. The neighbors in back of us drank and fought about two days out of three. So did other couples on the block. We saw our share of their conflicts. In retrospect, I understand that our little development on Patricia Court and Mezzerot Road housed a mix of academics in single-family homes, and also mechanics, plumbers, and electricians, and then a few folks who would have to be called nearly-broke although they had somehow afforded a house alongside everyone else. That was a major difference in those days, the fact that a family on a single disability income could own a home or at least a mortgage with reasonable terms.

Another difference of the age is how the adults in the neighborhood shared their child-raising duties. Some of them had permission to administer corporal punishments. Others, really all of them, were expected to rat out misbehavior in children when it happened, which was nearly every day.

Lots of people have written about this so I'll only touch upon the wrinkle that mostly is not addressed. My parents were liberal (pushing for civil rights, supporting women in the workplace, and fighting the war on poverty). Most of the neighborhood was not. That led to some of the adults in the neighborhood trying to raise me with their values. They explained their theories on race, which they felt were more accurate than my parents' naive beliefs.

This is hard for people to picture nowadays. Some adults in the neighborhood pulled me aside although I was a boy of six, seven, or eight years old, to explain that I was black (because I was Irish) or low-white (again, Irish) or that Italians were black.

One of these was the man who had entertained me at Halloween by frying up a pan of spare change and throwing the contents into the street. Kids rushed to pick up the change and burned their fingers. Within about twenty seconds, though, most of the children realized the right thing to do was stomp on the coins you wanted. If you waited half a minute, they would cool down. For the younger ones, that meant the big kids couldn't steal your change. It was a pretty fair game. The biggest kids stomped on the quarters. But the younger ones got dimes and nickels. Toddlers scooped up warm pennies.

The other adults in the neighborhood made that guy stop after a few years. In retrospect, it was probably the wrong move. Not only did no one get seriously hurt but all of the kids learned to be clever. It was not a bad lesson.

The same man, though, was one of those who had to explain his ideas about races. He ranked groups, top to bottom, and kept up a criticism of his own ranking system as he explained it because I did not contribute to conversation. I was waiting, as most kids did, for adults to finish rambling and give me permission to leave. His ranking ideas were a lot like the others and so, at the top, were the English. Following them in order were the Dutch, Swedish, Germans ("They would be higher but they keep on losing wars"), French, Spanish, low whites, Armenians, colored people, and Jews - these last three being an indistinguishable mass to him. This was how a lot of people thought and, although I'm glad I don't hear such rankings nowadays, I'm not sure that our loss memory about this kind of thinking is good. Our neighborhood, and many others, felt divided along the ethnic lines of Europe.

One of the mothers on the block explained that mixed marriage was a sin. She meant Irish and Italians. That was the type of mixed marriage that gripped our neighborhood. At least three adults lectured me about how wrong it was and how the race-mixing would end in tragedy.

One time, an adult stopped me to explain something and I waited, not listening. I was thinking about snakes, then pennies, then frogs. My attention returned for a moment when I heard him say, "Well, you're basically all right because of your mom. You're half English."

At that moment, my brain achieved something it didn't do often back then: it replayed the previous monologue where the grownup had explained how terrible it was to be Irish. He told me that my father was Irish. Burning with curiosity, I made a mental note to tell my father.

When I got home, I found my parents in the kitchen. I managed to relay to my father the exact words that had been said about the Irish. (I don't remember them now.) Then I watched as his pale skin slowly turned light pink and finally hot pink. He couldn't get any words out for a moment. He stomped around the kitchen.

Finally, when he regained his composure, he said, "Do you know what those words mean? Never mind." He waved off the idea looking at my blank expression. "Just don't talk to that man again."

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.22: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 22

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Remembrance as a Father

My father said, "Every parent has an age they're best at," and he meant it seriously. That still feels to me like a line that should be followed by a joke (e.g., "Mine is just after grad school"). If it's true, and I think it's not, he was probably his best as a parent when we were young.

He followed through with his ideas about Skinner's research. He exposed us to as many activities as he could afford and, through the virtue of community centers, that was a lot. We took swimming lessons, wrestling, and tumbling. We played pick-up baseball games, kick the can, and tennis. He and my mother tutored us early on, in math and in reading, so that we could manage simple books in nursery school.

One evening, he passed by as I read to my mother. My mother had gotten me to enjoy Go Dog Go, Hop on Pop, Are You My Mother, Green Eggs and Ham, Yertle the Turtle, The Big Honey Hunt, and similar books before I got into classes and encountered Dick and Jane, that curiously bland pair of kids. At some point in our family evening ritual, I switched from listening to my mother to reading to her. My father caught me reciting the pages before turning them, however, and realized that I had done a lot of memorizing. But it was still a good head start that they gave.

My father's ideas were good but the problems in them are paralleled in the current generation of super-parenting or tiger-parenting. The Skinner concept of "you can train your child to do anything" is a powerful one. It works. It also highlights some human limits.

One of the consequences of over-parenting is that it removes children from solving problems on their own. It prevents them from inventing games and gives them no time for outdoor exploring. Given my father's philosophy, I grew up in a lucky time, the start of what would be called Generation X. Super-parenting at that point meant learning foreign languages or odd sports. That's what we did, not always well, and meanwhile we did normal things like chase snakes in the woods, defend ourselves from bigger kids, hunt mean dogs with pointed sticks, and crash into one another with bicycles. We also weedled our way into neighborhood kickball and baseball games.

To my father, a campus protest at the University of Maryland over the continuation of the Vietnam War meant an inconvenience or an argument with the neighbors, many of whom supported the war. To me and my younger brother, it meant a chance to run across the field to Route 1 and beg the people in the traffic jam to play frisbee with us. They did.

It was an age of hands-off parenting. It matched well with my parents, who were teachers and very much hands-on.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.21: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 21

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Remembrance: His Uncle

There are odd bits of history in the scrapbooks made by Jack Light - restaurant menus, poems, letters from politicians greeting his ship, notes from basketball coaches scrimmaging against the ship's team, cartoons, and more. For most of his career, Jack served on the First Contact radio watch.

I notice that my father decided to join a signal company in the US Army, a parallel choice that seems likely to have been influenced by his life with Jack. At the least, it's an odd coincidence that Jack knew morse code and that my father learned it, too, in order to write down the North Korean messages.

Most of Jack's sailing career took place before my father was born. In his scrapbooks, he pasted his re-certifications in the new-fangled technology of radio. Radioman certification didn't even start until 1921 but in one of his early entries, already Jack was re-certifying. In another scrapbook entry, he included U.S.S. Asheville logs from 1926 including his account of surviving a direct hit by a typhoon. Later, he added his Vibroplex Key Certification, which demonstrated that he was a Morse Code operator for his ship.

He saved a lock of hair from a woman, leave passes, and Chinese money that he could afford to paste into the book. He last visited the Chinese ports about a year before the Japanese invaded them.

Later, as he continued sailing around the world, Jack visited France. He spent time in Hamburg, Germany, a city that could only have been accessible if his ship sailed up the Elbe. Years later, my father taught at the Army base in Hamburg. I went to nursery school there. But Jack got there before us.

After all of his travels, though, Jack retired from ship life and settled down in Baltimore. He started a new life there. Then, when his sister's family turned homeless again as well as fatherless, he rented a car and drove to Elmira, New York.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.20: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 20

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Remembrance as a Father

My father was born in 1934. His father died in 1936. For a while, he had a stepfather but that man and his mother said that they despised him. Before he finished first grade, he was homeless. Before he finished elementary school, his stepfather was dead. His uncle came to take him to Baltimore.

Since my father was disliked by his mother and mostly raised without his father, where did he get his ideas on parenting? In my twenties, I started to learn his family history, so I asked him.

"Mostly from psychology courses," was his answer.

I looked through his library for major influences, probably Skinner and Maslow with a lot of Jung and Freud as well. In the psychological literature of his age, I noticed there was an overabundance of diagnoses of hysteria. Doctors thought that many people had psycho-somatic illnesses. In such circumstances, it was natural for my father to believe the same thing. Psycho-somatic illnesses appeared to be a proven cause. He was convinced that, when I was four, my mind caused allergies. My bouts of congestive failure were the result of the power of suggestion.

There is a certain amount of truth to this. Attitude makes a surprising difference to recovery. Over the years, though, my father observed that my attitude couldn't solve my physical problems entirely. In fact, ignoring my asthma sent me to the hospital more than once. So he let the doctors and scientists convince him that differences in immune responses are physically, not simply products of the mind, and are dictated in large part by genetics.

He learned as he went. That was his secret in teaching and that was how he did it with parenting. It wasn't simply a matter of translating theory into practice. He had to notice when the books were wrong. What's more, I think he passed over important elements of parenting in his own self-assessment. When I became a parent myself, I could see where some of his ideas had to originate. So in reverse order of priority, I would say that his influences were:

3. His philosophy classes, psychology classes, and other reading (what he felt was most important)
2. My mother (although he never admitted it until later in life)
1. His uncle, Jack Light

My great-uncle Jack spent a career in the merchant marines before settling down in Baltimore. When I was five or six or seven, I didn't know much about him except that I loved and admired him. In my childish view of the world, he was the most wholesome person in it. At the age of six, I came to understand that Jack was the only one who could stop my grandmother and my father from fighting. No one else had that power.

I have vague memories of my father once or twice saying that he couldn't be like Uncle Jack or that he didn't know how Uncle Jack did it. Jack had been so calm and so sure of himself, strong but gentle. He had the implacable force of patience that comes with self-assurance.

Jack died when I was seven. I begged to go to his funeral. Maybe I cried my way into attendance. I'm not sure. If so, I expect that my father regretted taking me because I cried at the funeral, too. Then I cried after the funeral and on and off into the evening.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.19: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 19

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Second-Half Teaching

When we got back to Maryland, my father settled into his teaching career with a grace that surprised even him, I think. In his personal life, he could be awkward. He could be too skinny. Or too fat. Maybe sometimes he dressed like a professor. As a teacher, he transcended all that. Students returned to tell him so. Some of them came with their revelations in psychology or philosophy. Those are personal subjects, of course, so maybe no surprise. Former students returned to tell him how his math teaching had improved their lives, though, and that seemed more remarkable.

Some of that may have come from how his teaching burbled with philosophy. Math and philosophy relate closely, particularly in boolean math, analytics, and other types of formal logic. So my father could, and did, use math to promote critical thinking. Additionally, he was a fan of Polya's "How to Solve It." He could switch from the county-promoted method to, for instance, solving a problem backwards. He tried to help students ease up from their frustrations by adopting a carefree oh-well-let's-try-this attitude.

One student I dimly remember returned to say how my father had transformed his life through math. This was a young man who had dark hair, stood maybe five foot eleven, and who as a student had caused trouble all through calculus class. Almost every day, he would say "This is useless" or "I'll never use it," and every time, my father had to come up with a reply like, "Maybe," "Maybe not," "The smart students will probably use it," or "Humor me. Maybe you'll need to fill a half-cylinder tub with jello."

This student was bright but he was politically-minded and stubborn. At the University of Maryland, he changed majors from journalism to engineering. Somehow he had been inspired by the practicality of making tangible changes in the world. But then his engineering friends, some of the same friends who had changed majors with him, started failing calculus. He didn't. He realized that he was going to use the math he'd railed against for so long, that he was using it right then. What's more, he understood it. He could even help other students. After he passed his required calculus, he came back and told my father.

There are only a few students who return to see their former teachers. Throughout the 1970s, my father seemed to hear from some every year. Even in the early 1980s, the trend continued. Northwood High school closed in 1985, unfortunately. My father transferred to Poolesville. The school was close to home. They needed precisely his position. The student body was different, though.

Although Poolesville students did return, at times, to tell him how good a teacher he had been, the numbers never quite matched Northwood. It was a smaller school and more rural. Fewer students went off to college and of those who did, many never came back.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.18: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 18

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Tea, Shchi, Trapeze Artists, and Hula Hoops

The itinerary of our Soviet Union trip began in Leningrad, I think, but my memory is of it is poor. I was ten and suffering from eight hours of jet lag. At any rate, I think we took the train twice. On the map, that makes sense if we took the bus from the border to Leningrad, rode the train south to Moscow, and took a train back to Leningrad.

The first train ride was the one in which I discovered tea.

That may sound strange because my grandmother served me unsweetened tea every day, sometimes for months on end. I never liked it. That was partly because I compared it to sugary cola. The tea tasted bitter by contrast. Even if I added sugar, it remained bland. Sometimes, on a hot evening after chasing fireflies for two hours, tea seemed really good anyway, but only for a moment. The brew in Russia tasted different and I had no idea why.

When I returned to the United States, I tried to figure it out. I read the labels on the tea. I found that my mother used instant tea mix, which in some ways wasn't much like tea at all. My grandmother brewed hers from Lipton tea bags that said 'orange pekoe.' That was the bitter, sour taste. Back on the train to Moscow, I drank from a cup that was hot. The liquid swirled darkly like smoke and tasted like a campfire you'd enjoy lying down in so that you could surround yourself with the smell. The service came with communist party sugar cubes. (Each cube was individually wrapped, either in red with a gold hammer and sickle, or in black with a red or gold star.)

The first sip of the dark brew did it. I wanted more. As it turned out, I ordered tea at every restaurant on the tour. I didn't even need to do that. The Russians served tea on every time regardless of what I said. On a few occasions, the waiters seemed amused by how much I loved it.

Soviet food was never very good although we probably ate some of Russia's or Siberia's best produce at the time. The highlight, for me, was the shchi, which is cabbage soup. That came with nearly every meal and it varied from delightful to half-hearted but more often it was on the delightful side. I could trust it when I couldn't trust anything else, not the meat, the peas (seven per plate), not even the onions (once or twice cooked dark to try to hide spoilage).

My father, for his part, had expected bad food. But he hadn't expected to wait on lines for everything that wasn't part of the tour. He tried buying candies and ice cream. Each time, it was a struggle. Even when he was amused by the non-American-ness of it (gosh, here I am standing in a line out on the street to by a mystery item from a box), he couldn't help feeling bewildered.

The entertainment was equally foreign to him. The Soviets had almost no western-block tourists before us, so they reached deeply into their bag of tricks. We saw almost every State-approved, patriotic act there was. First, we listened to balalaika strummers; and they were virtuosos. After the next statue visit, we piled into a huge auditorium made for operas and watched the Soviet military kick dancing. To our hosts, the dance was clearly high art, as worthy of praise as paintings, poetry, symphonies, or ballet. Better, it gave glory to the revolution, as the dancers showed us their skills while in uniform.

Back and forth we went between museums or monuments and the performances. We saw a swimsuit girl with a hula hoop; she did acrobatics. We watched a magician with an assistant who handed him hula hoops. We went to the circus one evening, which had a high-wire act, trapeze artists who were easily my favorites of the tour, and a dancing bear with a hula hoop. Later, we saw lesser balalaika players, an amatuerish magician, and a pair of out-of-shape schoolgirls, again with hula hoops.

"I guess they really like hula hoops," my father said eventually.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.17: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 17

Robert Gallagher, Wake

The Soviet Way

As a ten year old on a twelve hour flight that left me, after a three our bus ride, eight hours off my usual sleep schedule, I don't think it's remarkable that I was only conscious part-time during the first days of the trip. The weirdness of my body trying to sleep in the afternoon, my motion sickness on the bus, and the loudness of the teenagers around me made parts of the tour impossible. I couldn't stare at a second or third Lenin statue in a row without wobbling.

Technically, my father and the high school students kept me awake. That was only my body, though. My brain went on its own dream-addled trip full of golden hands, concrete slabs, and cloudless skies.

Once, on the first day on our tour, I came alert long enough for the most beautiful girl on the bus to tell me I could sleep on her lap.

"Your hair is so soft," she said as she patted my head. A moment later, she turned to the girl next to her. "Did you feel this little boy's hair? You should feel it."

A couple of her friends joined in, messing and combing my hair. My unconscious and conscious selves got together for a moment and decided this was just fine. I snuggled in next to her. She smelled terrific. Later, in an extended moment of consciousness, she talked with me long enough to discover that I didn't know what the Mickey Mouse Club was - that it had gone off the air. I'd never seen it.

"How can you not know the club?" she exclaimed. She led her friends in singing the theme song, a surrealistic joy in my state of mind. One of the young men in the seat across from her made a comment about Annette Funicello that I didn't understand. I still don't really remember the words but I understand now why the mention got a reaction from the other teenagers. At the time, it was just another mystery. Older kids are aliens when you're ten. Teens seemed far beyond my comprehension, more so than adults.

When I did start to wake up towards the end of the second day, I noticed how communism in practice was different than in the propaganda. We got a tour of the Communist Party headquarters in Leningrad. The party leaders occupied the palace of a former Tzar. We got to see ordinary people standing in lines everywhere for fruit or bread. Not the party leaders. They had everything they wanted.

I had read Animal Farm by George Orwell in the year before. (My father's library was an odd place in which to grow up. Animal Farm was one of the shortest, easiest volumes in it.) This felt very much like the communal farm gone wrong. At one point, I scowled about Communist Party leaders getting into a limousine. My father, standing nearby me as usual, seemed to know exactly what I was thinking.

"All animals are equal," he said, "but some are more equal than others.”

"They're doing it right in front of us!" I stomped my foot like Snowball outraged by the betrayal of the revolution. The party leaders weren't even embarrassed by their hypocrisy.

"That was something I was glad you could see for yourself," he told me later.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.16: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 16


Robert Gallagher, Wake

Remembrance as a Teacher - Inside the USSR

My father spoke Russian. That's why he was able to teach it. However, holding actual conversations with Russian speakers of various ethnicities and accents gave him different results than in class.

"Was she even Russian?" he wondered aloud when someone gave him directions in Moscow. He had said the same thing in Leningrad about the street directions he'd received there. "That sounded like a different slavic language."

At one point, he had a brief conversation with a Polish man who spoke Russian. That man had been lost and asked my father for directions. Naturally, my father couldn't help. They lingered to talk for a moment and shared common exasperations about the language they were using.

"He had a terrible accent. I guess I do, too," my father said as we got on our tour bus. He repeated the phrase again years later. "I think we understood each other better than anyone else we talked to."

Despite the relative innocence of our tour with high school teachers and their students, the Soviets restricted our itinerary sharply. They made only two cities available to visit, Leningrad and Moscow, with parts of them off limits. They assigned handlers to travel with the groups of students. They brought in KGB agents to trail after us and make sure we didn't engage in spycraft. My father once or twice suspected that the agents might be casually helping the tour. Certainly, there seemed to be plenty of kind Soviet citizens who helped students who got lost or who berated Russians when they were were rude to the students. There were helpful strangers to make sure everyone got on the bus or to stop the tourists from trying to buy snacks in the subway station and prompt them to run, quick, and get on the train with everyone else.

When we had breaks between tours of statues and basilicas, my father struggled with the Soviet transportation systems like everyone else. He had always loved the trolley cars in Baltimore, so at one point he decided we should take the trolley in Moscow as sort of a comparison. He lined us up at the stop after taking us on a walking trip for ice cream. It was going to be a straight ride back to the hotel.

The trolley arrived. I leapt aboard and pulled my brother with me, his hand in mine. Behind, I heard a shout. To my father's surprise, the crowd would not let him follow. They pushed him out of the way and boarded the trolley until men were hanging off the outside. There truly was no room. Finally, one Russian man saw what had happened and that my father was struggling to get on the already full car. He grabbed my father by the arm and pulled him in. A wrestling match ensued between the man and the other passengers. The fellow barked something at the others. Although some of them barked back, they allowed him to pull my father inside the trolley car. He gave my father a push into the aisle in the general direction where I'd been carried by the crowd.

"Sometimes I do wonder about that guy," my father said later. "Was he an agent we hadn't noticed or was just a helpful person? Well, anyway, I'm glad he was there."

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.15: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 15


Robert Gallagher, Wake


Remembrance as a Teacher - To Moscow, With Love

In 1973, politics spilled over into teaching, this time for the better. The Nixon administration began a series of discussions with the Soviets. The leaders of both countries made peace offerings to ease the Cold War tensions. The Soviet Union offered to allow tourists. The United States offered to send some.

That, in a compacted telling, is how the US decided to send its first high school trip to Communist Russia. It was a package deal that included four high schools from around the country all traveling together. Students taking Russian language courses qualified. There weren't many of those, of course, but my father taught two levels of Russian at Northwood High plus an option for independent study. He and his students applied and got picked.

The slightly odd part is that my father elected to take his family.

"When will we ever have this chance again?" he asked.

My two-year-old youngest brother wasn't allowed. My mother didn't want to leave him behind and pointed out, "What would I do, really? I don't speak any Russian. I don't know any of your students."

That left my middle brother and I as the ones to pack bags and trundle onto the 747 bound for Helsinki, Finland.

There were no flights between the US the USSR. The Soviets wouldn't allow Americans to fly through their airspace. For the trip, the high schools had to take a FinAir jet from DC to NYC to Helsinki. Then they drove by chartered bus to the Soviet border.

At the border, the Soviet guards gave everyone a hard time. They alternated between stern commands and bureaucratic lectures. Everyone stood in eight lines with two customs agents at the front of each line. After a while, my father got his turn. The Soviets spent a while making sure the passport picture was his. He spoke Russian, so he insisted that it was. They laughed at his young, beardless visage from 1960 and held it up next to him to show the difference between it and his bearded, middle-aged face. After that, they searched his bag and felt satisfied. My father ushered me forward. The guards chuckled. Behind me and to my left stepped my younger brother. They noticed him and, for the first time, they started to laugh.

At this point, the guards made a big show of not inspecting our bags. They opened mine but they waved their arms over the contents as if casting a magic spell. When my younger brother tried to give them his bag, a smaller version of mine, they brushed it off. One of the men returned the bag to my brother and tried to pinch his cheek. He saw it coming. With a shout, he dodged it.

For whatever reason, that made the guards laugh even harder. They waved us through like we were comedian celebrities. In less than a minute, as our group took our positions beyond the border, the two border guards got back to shouting sternly at tourists and demanding to feel their toothpaste tubes.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.14: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 14


Robert Gallagher, Wake


Remembrance as a Teacher - Buying In

The first few years as a teacher are usually tough. But by the time my father started in Montgomery County, he had six years of experience. After a year on the faculty at Northwood High, they offered him the math resource teacher position, equivalent to being the dean.

"Well, no one else wanted it," he told other grown-ups when I was a child. "I think they offered it to everybody before me. It's extra work. And the extra pay isn't much, a lot less than my hourly rate. But it's not so bad. My principal asked me to do it. The type of work suits me. I get a budget. I get to make the class schedules. If things work out, I give myself classes I want to teach. Even if things don't work out, I can make sure I get a class that's fun."

This was probably the year that he started hiring minority teachers to get them into the county system.

"I found that I had to go back to the University of Maryland," he told me later. "Math was just something I hadn't studied much. Suddenly, I was teaching it."

By the time I was aware of him as a teacher, around 1971, I could tell that he was good. It was a strange realization. Even in elementary school, you get a sense for the good teachers wherever you meet them. You notice how everyone reacts to them. I could see how his students got excited by his ideas. They liked to talk with him. The other teachers found him intruiging. It was weird, as a child, to realize that he was very good at what he did.

He was starting to realize it, too. Although he was the head of the math department, he taught psychology, philosophy, and Russian language classes. He enjoyed himself enough that he studied the math for the teacher retirement system like he was going to spend his career in the classroom. He found that it made sense to "buy in" his years as a federal teacher for the army. So he did.

Besides heading his department, teaching other subjects, and buying extra seniority, he allowed other teachers to nominate him as their union representative.

"What's wrong with these people?" he asked about the union. The union job meant extra work, too. He had to go to teacher conventions in summer. He engaged in unpaid battles with county or state administrators. That much, he'd expected. But he had to fight battles within the union, too, and those were the ones that dispirited him. He didn't mind the struggle for better work conditions but he felt that the petty fights over prestige within the union or even within the teaching system were a waste of time.

In two years, he convinced another teacher to take the union representative job. My father settled back into teaching four subjects. That was enough.