It’s a long way from Wheeling to Anaheim

Henry earned his paycheck as a rocket scientist. There were other items in his curricula vitae: Announcer on his radio show, freezing California O.J. and working his father’s coal retail shop. But most of his income came from North American Rockwell’s Rocketdyne group. His design team produced engines for the 6 million pound Saturn-B rocket that carried men, a rover, and equipment to the moon. 

If Henry had been mentally challenged it would have been so much easier for our family to put up with his infuriating ideas. His Master’s Degree in engineering from MIT, his rocket design work, his 60-year marriage and strong family life all suggest he enjoyed a stable mental functions

Yogurt bacillus die in stomach acid: Ergo the yogurt enema

 My buttoned-down mom, Henry’s younger sister, was the most appalled about her wayward brother:

“He grew up such a devoted, normal child back in Wheeling. Then he took calculus at MIT and it fried his brain. He never recovered: Gave up West Virginia coal and moved to southern California. From there he got worse. Henry’s mind was off in the stars. He joined a nudist camp, got a guru, and became a vegetarian. He spent most of his life working with spacemen. He started eating acidophilus yogurt, orange peels, and ground-up eggshells. Even in the end, he got thrown out of the hospice center: Something about demanding yogurt enemas.”

Sibling rivalry aside, Henry was not a spaceman. More like a sunny optimist, free-thinking Southern California rocket scientist.  He deeply believed the orange peel to be more nutritious than the fruit inside and felt ground eggshells were a wonder drug. Guys like that were never cut out for life in a small coal town where the gentry is comfortable with conformist, status quo. Such townsfolk perceive attacks on their conventional path as a threat to all they’ve accomplished and accumulated. They, along with many others punished Henry for his crazy ideas all through his chaotic life. But he remained a monument to every unlimited possibility beyond the status quo. He was happiest when he could adopt his laid back beach-boy persona and defecate on tradition.

He wasn’t born a beach boy. He worked at it. 

This persona may have been a rebellion against his stern/rectitude father; it may have been disgust with the 1920’s era of King Coal, the product that heated, transported, and dominated America. What ever the cause, in his teens, Henry said “Goodbye Wheeling!” and never looked back. With nothing but homeschooling and neither high school nor college degree, he talked his way into MIT. Against all odds, he graduated with a Master of Engineering and immediately headed for sunny So. Cal 

During the 1950’s Henry would come back East to visit and stay with us. Mom would lambaste him for his dissolute lifestyle; while we kids could not wait for his arrival. As a 10-yea,r-old, he would inflame my imaginations with adventures of coming space travel and a world Mom never told us about. To Mother’s horror and our delight, he would fill the kitchen stove with pots of acidophilus cultures, and the garbage cans with the orange fruit and egg yolks.

Can there be any significance in a chaotic life?

What was the meaning of Henry’s rambunctious, rebellious existence? Seniors like me are troubled by all discontinuity and disarray as we struggle to program the remote or Un-mute Zoom. In Boston we think of California as the land of fruits and nuts, but Henry’s life life of imagination and possibilities meant a great deal to me. It’s not always easy to find the sunny uplands through life, but my uncle pointed the way.

 At his funeral, some saw Henry’s life as a breath of fresh air, a plea for open-mindedness, unconventional thinking all backed up with solid education. Others were simply too polite to dwell on his failures, and dashed dreams. His critics were careful to note that while he always succeeded in annoying conventional thinkers, his innovations did not enjoy equal success. In retrospect, I conclude that rebellious disruptive guys are necessary if we are ever to challenge our inner creativity.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs are growth and contribution. If you remove all the pain of confusion and insecurity, what will stimulate your inspired vision? How the hell can you grow or contribute wallowing in the comfort of status quo?


Categories: Humor

1 reply

  1. Being a SoCal Native I rather like Henry and is permutations of “normal” behavior. He reminds me of my own Great Uncle Charles who served me an odd looking breakfast one morning while visiting him as a child. “What is this? It looks funny!” Eggs and calf brains…really good for you! I somehow kept it down. This is the guy who would go into a cafe for breakfast and order burnt toast and a cup of hot water. “Charcoal and hot water are excellent for your health” he would say. He lived into his 70s, played golf 6 days a week and died on the 5th Hole of his favorite course. My dad bought Charles a golf cart when he got a bit old to walk the entire course. Charles took off in it to see “how fast it would go” and promptly hit a chuck hole with enough force the snap off the front wheel and toss him over the front. Yes, he was my kind of guy. I was once telling a companion about “My strange Uncle Charles” and he stopped me and said “No Gary, YOU are the weird one in your family!” He had me there.

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