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My Favorite Teacher was an Ironworker
By Rick Taylor
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 RICK TAYLOR
All right reserved.
Cat Stevens sang "Morning has broken, like the first morning" which reminded me that each day is a new start. Cat sang those words before he was declared a terrorist and banned from visiting our country. The words of that old hymn remind me that each day, every moment, can be the start of a new adventure. Every moment may offer something new to learn. Many situations are clearly identified as learning opportunities others occur unexpectedly.
I started my formal education at a small country school in rural Maine. On the morning of my first day at kindergarten my mother woke me so I could get ready to go to school and learn things that would make my life better. I didn't realize I would spend more than twenty-five years accumulating my formal education.
On another day many years later I woke myself and went to the hospital where I was an intern. I was learning to be a doctor. I didn't expect the birth of my son on that same day to begin an entirely different learning journey. For the preceding twenty years I knew I was learning important information and I knew who my teachers were. I never expected I would learn so many amazing things about life from my son while I thought I was the teacher.
All Learning Has a Beginning
By the early 1950's a large segment of the American population, including my parents, accepted education as the answer to all significant problems. In the fall of 1951 I was approaching my fifth birthday which signaled the beginning of my journey to the college education intended to provide a better life. No one seemed to be concerned by my inability to stay within the lines of a coloring book so college was the planned destination that morning I left home for kindergarten. There would be many morning classes and nights of studying facts and theories ahead. No one cared that those teachers would never provide the important lessons of life. Education can provide the answer to most questions; however, I was destined to learn my most significant lessons of life from an ironworker with no lesson plans. Of course none of that was known when I awakened on the morning of my first day of school.
"Ricky, you better get your assout of bed if you want breakfast before you go to school!" Mom yelled this urgently up the stairs toward the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, Dick.
September sunshine was already pouring through the Partially opened window in my bedroom when I woke on my first day of school. I'd anticipated the first day of school for several weeks. When that day marking the beginning of my education arrived I wasn't sure I wanted to become a student.
Mom had experienced first days of school before and she knew I'd need help getting ready on time just like her other kids. I was a couple months short of my fifth birthday but my parents thought I was ready for school. I wasn't so certain. Maybe I should stay home for another year and see how I felt about leaving home then. Mom knew I was ready. Mom knew she was ready to have one less kid at home all day.
I washed my face and hands and Mom combed my hair. I went downstairs and ate a bowl of Cheerios then went back upstairs to dress in one of the new mail ordered shirts from the Sears-Roebuck catalog. My dungarees were outgrown hand-me-downs from my older brother, Skip. My pair of lace-up brown shoes was a gift from my aunt whose son could no longer wear them.
Mom wrapped a bologna and mustard white bread sandwich in waxed paper and placed it in my new Lone Ranger lunchbox along with a couple of molasses cookies. She poured some milk into the small Thermos with the picture of Silver, the Lone Ranger's horse, rearing up on his hind legs. By the time the station-wagon school bus stopped in our dooryard, I was ready. I climbed into the station-wagon along with Skip and headed off for my first day at Surry Grammar School. The path my education would take was beginning. It was the first step on that path destined to cover many miles and many years. I had no idea what adventure learning would become. However, on the morning of my first day at school, I was aware I was going to school because I had a lot to learn.
Years later, on the morning of the birth of my second son no one awakened me. No one told me to get ready to learn. No one made me get up to embark on a new learning experience. On that morning, I got myself out of bed and headed off for what I expected to be another ordinary day as a medical intern. I had no idea the birth of my son was to be the start of a great new learning experience. I didn't anticipate how much I would learn from him while I believed I was the teacher. Scott, my second son, used teaching techniques so subtle sometimes I didn't realize I was learning. On the morning of Scott's birth no one informed me I should get ready to embark on a new learning experience. Instead, I got myself up and headed off for another ordinary day as a medical intern.
Scott's birth took place at the military hospital where I was learning to be a doctor. The delivery room at the Naval Regional Medical Center in San Diego was the same as delivery rooms everywhere in the nineteen seventies. Blue squares of tile lined the floor and continued about four feet up the walls. Tile made for easy cleansing once the delivery was done. Function was of great importance in the nineteen seventies. Rapid change over and cleansing was especially important at San Diego Naval Hospital since many deliveries took place there each day. There was a distinctive smell of sterility in the delivery rooms at the Navy hospital. It was the same sterile smell of every delivery room I was ever in. The odor was a mixture of detergent and isopropyl alcohol. Every doctor's office and dental office of that time held that same acrid aroma.
All the delivery rooms at the Naval Hospital not only had the same foul fragrance but they were identical in every way. Someone designed one delivery room then cloned it. The responsible person decided a tiled delivery room was the best that could be designed and made every other room just like it. The tiled floor was blue with white grouting. Standing coldly on the tile floor were the steel legs of a delivery table with its chilly metal stirrups at the ready in case someone had to be delivered in a hurry. Those stirrups stood ready to provide support when the next laboring female arrived in a hurry to enter motherhood. The customary dark blue-grey paper drapes were lying on the table encased within their plastic wrapping. These plastic covers would be torn asunder when the nurses brought the next screaming woman in and pushed her onto the delivery table. Her legs were jammed into the stirrups as the soon to be mother reclined onto her back with her butt at the end of the table. The dark blue-grey drapes were to be placed over the patient's legs and abdomen. A small open space was left where the baby could be pushed out. The drapes lent the appearance of cleanliness, of sterility, commensurate with the smell of the entire room. At the business end of the table a large metal bucket was positioned to collect blood, amniotic fluid, the placenta and any other birthing leftovers. I was comfortable standing in rooms like this. I was the DOCTOR. Actually, I was the intern.
However, I was going to stand in that cold blue-tiled sterile-smelling room for a different reason on the sixth of April in nineteen seventy-seven. I would stand there because the next laboring female to be wheeled in was my wife, Lynne. Lynne was about to deliver our second child. My status in that room would be much greater than DOCTOR. I would be there because on that sunny afternoon in southern California I was going to be a father. I was going to be Dad.
Our family was in San Diego because the Air Force said that was where I would go to become a doctor. San Diego was just what Lynne and Chad, our first son, needed after three years in Des Moines, Iowa. Three years in Iowa included three winters in Iowa. Those years included days, weeks and during one of the winters, it involved months without the temperature outside climbing above zero. Three years in Iowa also meant days, weeks and sometimes months of summer when the temperature outdoors exceeded ninety degrees and the humidity exceeded ninety percent. In San Diego, people went to athletic clubs to make themselves sweat. During the Des Moines' summers, Lynne and I sat in front of our box fan wishing we could stop sweating. San Diego was just what Lynne and Chad needed. The Air Force didn't consider whether I needed San Diego or not when it sent me there to do my internship. What I needed didn't matter. None of us were sorry when our days in Iowa were over with.
Des Moines had never been a dream destination of mine. It was just a required stop on the educational path I chose. I didn't have any great expectations when I arrived there but I knew I wasn't in Maine anymore. I don't think Lynne or I wondered out loud if we would survive our time in Iowa, but there were times when I had my doubts. We left Maine in late June 1973 and drove our Chevy Nova out west to Iowa. My years at the University of Maine were finished. I never planned to be a doctor during those years at the U of M. I majored in zoology without any thought of what a degree in zoology would be useful for. My education pathway was not carefully considered in the way many other students weigh their choices for the future. I chose zoology as a major at the university because I enjoyed taking care of animals. The animals I treated included birds with broken wings and sick creatures that needed food to survive for a few days. My least successful doctoring of other creatures involved turtles with fractured shells.
Every spring the turtles from the beaver pond that filled the low area between our house and my grandmother's home migrated to the lake we called Toddy Pond. At the lake the turtles buried their eggs in the sand along the shore where the sun would warm the eggs until they hatched. Eventually, the turtles would migrate back to the beaver pond. This ritual required the turtles to cross the road that ran between the beaver pond and the lake. No matter how carefully a turtle looked both ways for traffic before racing across the road, some would be hit by a car and suffer a fractured shell. Many of the turtles blamed this on bad luck since only eight to ten cars traveled our road on a busy day.
When I found a turtle with a broken shell I would wrap the shell together with adhesive tape or tie it with string and hope the turtle survived until its shell healed. I don't recall a single turtle surviving this ordeal but I always hoped I could become a turtle doctor. For as long as I could remember, I enjoyed taking care of injured animals. I still hoped for that when I approached the end of my time at the University of Maine. What options do you have when you major in zoology because you enjoyed taking care of injured animals your whole life?
I started the application process for veterinarian school but found out early in the process I didn't have a snowball's chance of getting in. I didn't have any "tag along" experience with a veterinarian nor had I grown up on a real farm. Our farm was just a dilapidated farmhouse with no farm animals except some roosters who got mad when a kid went into their henhouse to collect eggs. I didn't have a chance of being a veterinarian so I chose the next best option and went to medical school. I was excited when my letter of acceptance came from the medical school. Still I always wanted to be an animal doctor not a people doctor.
When my acceptance arrived I knew it meant leaving Maine behind and being broke for another three years. Lynne and I had an advantage many young couples don't have because we had nothing when we got married. The knowledge that we faced three more years of having nothing didn't seem all that much of a problem. Medical school seemed like a good place to start life. Once I received my acceptance to medical school, Lynne and I started working on another project we had put off for a while. We had been a couple for four years and now we wanted to be a family. By the time Lynne and I left Orono, left the University of Maine in the rear view mirror of our Nova, Lynne was nearly six months pregnant.
The thrill of a new adventure makes ignoring reality possible. Lynne and I avoided reality until we arrived in Des Moines, Iowa. While I was a student at the University of Maine, I worked nights as a janitor and part time as a stock boy and parking lot attendant at the J.C. Penney store in Bangor. Lynne worked full time as a secretary for a local insurance agency. We arrived at Des Moines with no means of income. Medical school required a lot more time than college had. There was just no way I could work and be a medical student. Lynne was not only six months pregnant; she showed that she was six months pregnant. There were no jobs for a woman who was six months pregnant and intended to be a stay at home mom.
We decided I should sign up with the military medical school scholarship program. Along with all the other things, the scholarship provided us with a stipend of four hundred dollars per month. That stipend provided us with enough income to afford a subterranean apartment in an ancient building. The building rules didn't allow tenants to have children. We pointed out that we didn't have any children and they let us have the basement apartment. By the time Chad, our first son, was born Lynne had eight older women in that building who thought of themselves as our son's grandmother. Those eight grandmothers wouldn't let the landlord evict us. There was no way they would let anyone make their new grandson move.
My first memories of that building are not good. However, there were very few apartments available in our price range. We were relieved to get a place to move our belongings into and feel like we had a home. Everything we owned fit very easily into the small-model U-Haul trailer we towed behind our Nova. We furnished that apartment the best we could with the furniture relatives gave to us. We had a small table, a couple of chairs, a worn couch, a mattress and most importantly, we had a crib.
Once everything was situated, I sat on our couch and looked around. The floor in the kitchen area was old, dirty and worn. The stove and refrigerator were ancient. There were all types of pipes running around the kitchen and bedroom areas. Most of the pipes hung about a foot below the dirty ceiling. The hard baked mud and burnt brown grass yard outside was even with the lower sill of our windows. Most of the windows were cracked. Cracked and dirty.
The bathroom had a curtain that could be pulled across the throne area for privacy. The bathtub was chipped and stained and it stood on legs. There was no shower. I sat on our worn out couch some relative had given us instead of throwing it away and thought about crying. What had I got us into? How could I have dragged Lynne half way across the country for this? How could I have dragged the Murphy's only daughter way out west for this? How could I let my first son be born into this mess?
One strength Lynne and I shared was our somewhat similar backgrounds. Her family was of higher income than mine but whose wasn't. Her dad, Ken, was a machinist. Ken worked steadily for one employer after he left the Navy at the end of World War II. The work was hard but that was how Ken provided for his family. His hard work supplied the necessities and comforts his family wanted. Because of that hard work, Lynne grew up in a nice home with her mom, dad and two brothers. She may have not known luxury but she knew security.
My father, Rollie Taylor, was much like Ken Murphy. Dad served in the Navy during World War II just as Lynne's dad had. He left the military service and its regimentation behind as soon as the war was won. He knew his hands were meant for other work. Dad worked wherever there was a building to be built. He took his construction skills, which were damn good and went to work wherever there was something to be built. Sometimes that meant going from Bangor, Maine down to Portland. Sometimes it meant going all the way to Boston or even as far south as Pennsylvania or as far north as Presque Isle. Sometimes it meant there were no buildings to be built. When that was the case, Dad did whatever work was available. Dad did whatever work there was so he could take care of his family. The Taylors always had the necessities. We didn't always have comforts. We didn't get a television just because they became popular.
Excerpted from My Favorite Teacher was an Ironworker by Rick Taylor Copyright © 2011 by RICK TAYLOR. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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