Thursday, December 29, 2005

From tailfins to hybrids!

The half century mark passes today! I used to think of people like my father-in-law having lived in two centuries, as he went from harnessing horse teams to work his land to seeing us fly home on jets; I hadn't thought of myself that way until now.

Dad was a meat cutter; he and Mom had been married 5 years and he had worked his way up to running his own market in 1955. His store was a few door down from the Ford dealer and every day he saw the new ones come and go. In the spring of '55 he decided to trade his '53 two door for a new one. He really wanted a Thunderbird; it was the first year for them, they were gorgeous, and the two seater really appealed to him. Instead of spending the extra $200 for the T-Bird, he somehow thought he ought to get something with a back seat; before they made the first payment they found out Mom was pregnant with me...

Mom is 5 feet nothing, back then she might have weighed 100 pounds on a good day. She went into labor on Christmas Day, 1955. Our family doctor practiced through a Catholic hospital, and they didn't believe in Caesarians, so they left her in labor from the 25th through the morning of the 29th, then finally gave up making her deliver her 8 pound 13 ounce son naturally, gave her morphine to "take her out of labor" and took me Caesarian. For some reason, they said I was a sleepy baby...as for Mom there are times I think she's been getting even with me ever since!

As I look back, there are a lot of things that stand out, both good and bad. Decisions, indecisions, and a lot of pure dumb luck!

The 3rd person I met in San Diego when I transferred there out of my Navy jet engine school was a Navy Chief Petty Officer. He came knocking on the door of the barracks room I had just checked into because when one of my roomates saw the trumpet case I was carrying he said "I play too" and we proceeded to have an impromptu jam session. When the knock on the door came, I thought I was in big trouble, instead the Chief said it sounded really good and we should come play at the counseling facility he ran sometime. We became quite good friends; one of the luckiest breaks in my life!

30 years ago today I went to the plasma bank in National City, California for the 2nd time that week, if I remember right I got $9 for my donation. I had been out of the Navy for 6 months, put together a 1958 Triumph 650 Trophy model I had borrowed money from my grandparents to buy, and was doing little but riding, partying and working on bikes and cars. I crashed at the house of friends who were still on active duty, living on my plasma donations. I had come out of the ship's laundry on the USS Kittyhawk weighing about 126 pounds and was around 130 at this time, with a 29" waist. As I recall I bought a pack of papers, two packs of cigarettes, filled the bike tank and went home with about $2 left.

The Navy chief had called me earlier that fall and told me his cousin had just been transferred to San Diego from Hawaii, and that she and her younger sister were living with him and I should come meet them. I did, but the Triumph wasn't running yet, and I wasn't much on dating without wheels (dummy wasn't smart enough to call a walk to the beach 3 blocks away a date). By the time the Triumph ran, the younger sister had gone back to Vermont to college, and the older one had married a guy she had lived with in Hawaii. I spent the fall sliding further into oblivion, then around Christmas got a phone call from the older sister. The guy she had married had only wanted the "Barracks and Quarters" money she drew so he could live on it in Ohio, and now he wanted a divorce; her cousin had told her she should call me up and see if I wanted to go out with her.

We went out for the first time 30 years ago today. The date consisted of a ride out to Coronado on the Triumph, down "the Strand", past the Hotel Del Coronado, and back to Imperial Beach, then a stop at Jack-in-the Box for chocolate shakes. Thank goodness she didn't want a burger, because I couldn't have paid for it! We went back to the apartment she shared with her cousin and talked for hours; the next day we talked on the phone for a long time, and went for a short ride the day after, and talked most of the night.

I moved in with her a week later; later she said she felt sorry for me because my ribs were showing, and I will admit there were stray dogs that were probably of better character than I was at that time! I knew she was "the one" even then; after her bad experience of that fall it took almost a year to talk her into marrying me; were she less compassionate and understanding she would have fled, rightly so as I'm still no prize!

When it was time for her next duty station she was pregnant with our oldest son. She was to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and would have had to leave me stateside with a newborn, only able to visit once every 6 weeks (only officers got to take their spouses) so she opted for discharge, and we moved back to my hometown. Both of my Dad's neighbors were autoworkers, thought highly of me, and GM was hiring so they turned in applications for me, and that fall I went to work at the old Buick Oldsmobile Pontiac plant in Kansas City, Kansas. North American built B-25's there during WW2; my grandmother and 2 of her sisters had worked there. I've been there 27 years now; we tore down that old building and started production in a new one next door in 1988, and 2 years ago shifted from building the Pontiac Grand Prix to the new Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Maxx.

This brings me to my header for this overly long missive; I came home from the hospital in a '55 Ford Fairlane Club Sedan; next fall I'll be helping build Malibu hybrids! The new Malibu in my driveway (the first car we've ever owned that I helped build)tells me everything from what mileage I'm getting and when it's oil change is due, to the temperature outside. I never dreamt that when I can remember gas at 15.9 cents a gallon that I'd see a car that gets 28 miles per gallon, let alone one that might get 50! My motorcycle only got 40 something...

Through all of this, I've been awfully lucky because most of it wasn't of my own making, that's for sure. It's truly been a wonderful life to this point! If I can ride this wave another 40 or so years, maybe get to watch my grandkids grow up and have some kids of their own, I'll consider myself one of the luckiest men ever!

alan

9 comments:

sttropezbutler said...

Thank you Alan.

Happy Happy Birthday and here is to as many more as you'd be delighted to see!

STB

sjobs said...

Happy birthday, Alan......

Thanks for sharing that lovely story.

Happy New Year...

Mary

nancy =) said...

great post, alan...what a lovely gift to receive on your birthday...

happiest of birthdays to you my dear friend =)...and here's to dancing with those great grandbabies...

you really deserve the best of everything...dream big...

peace...

annie said...

happy birthday, alan.
and many more.
you've had a great life thus far!

Barbara said...

Alan, what a wonderful story. Thank you.

Hope you had a terrific birthday and wish you all the best in the new year.

Barbara

I n g e r said...

Oh Alan, what a beautiful, moving tale! And to think--it's your life! I love how you can track your years in car culture. An old friend of mine does that, too; we'd leave work for a beer in some old restored car--he'd wince that I don't remember the name--with the gear shift a knob on the dash, and all his worry lines blown away as soon as the top went down.

I'm sure the next 50 will be equally wonderful! Many, many happy returns of the day.

Nancy said...

Happy birthday Alan. My brother will be 50 on the 13th. It's a big one!

You are one lucky man to have lived such a loving life with your wife for so long. I just know you will be around long enough to see those grandkids grow up and have their own babies!

Lovely story, lovely life.

Happy New Year to you and your family too!

Blogzie said...

New Year's Day is every man's birthday.

Happy New Year and Happy Belated Birthday!

Welcome to the Big 5-OH Club!

All the best to you and yours for 2006 and beyond...

x0x0x0x

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