Just My Luck – Chapter 4 Part 1
8:00 p.m. January 14, 1965. Shippan Duck Pin Bowling Center. Thursday Night League, Lane 34
Dad bowls a strike.
Smiling, he returns to the bench behind the scorekeeper. It’s been a good day: his first full day at work since his heart attack, dinner with the family, and now rolling some high scores. After lots of hard work, he’s finally healthy again. He’ll sleep well tonight.
A stranger behind the bench catches his eye.
Hey man! Nice strike!… Wow! Look at you! You look a lot better than I expected
Do I know you?
What, you don’t recognize me?
Think hard. Who do you know that wears a hooded black robe and carries garden tool?
Listen, I’m kinda busy here. Is there something I can do for you?
Yeah, Sure. Can you tell me what time it is?
Looks at his watch and then looks at GR questioningly.
My time?… My time?… What’s that supposed to mean?
Whadda-ya think it means, man? Your time in this world is done. I’m here to take you away.
A bony hand grasps Dad’s shoulder. Dad takes out his little bottle of nitro pills and puts a couple under his tongue.
C’mon with me. It’s your time.
8:25 pm, January 14, 1965. The Living Room at 56 Palmer Street, Springdale
The telephone rings and my mother, who’s been watching television in the living room with my sister and me, gets up and steps into our small dining room to answer the phone. My sister, Marge, 17 years old and a Senior in high school, and I, 13 and in 8th grade, continue to watch the show.
As my mother picks up the telephone receiver, none of us has the slightest inkling how drastically our lives are about to change.
A Member of the Greatest Generation
Consistent with all good fortune in my childhood, I was extremely lucky that James Fredrick Ash was my father. A veteran of World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Patton’s 3rd Army in Belgium and was among those who captured the Mauser Works, the main manufacturer of rifles, hand guns and artillery for the German Army. Dad almost never talked about his experiences during the war. I know he saw combat and assume there must have been some difficult memories carried home when the war ended. Part of the “greatest generation” and co-contributor of two entries to the Baby Boom, he was reticent about his Army days but was proud that the Army had “made him a man.” So much so that he’d told my mother he wanted me to join the Army when I came of age too.
Dad suffered his first heart attack in June 1964, a decade or two before doctors made the connection between high cholesterol and heart disease. He spent several weeks in the hospital, initially under an oxygen tent. Absent any effective treatments for heart disease at the time, the standard protocol was painkillers, lots of bed rest, avoidance of physical or emotional stress, the blandest of diets, and gradual recuperation. Only about 20% of heart attack victims in the 1960s survived the ambulance ride to the Emergency Room. Thankfully, Dad had been among the 20% – the first time.
His recovery was slow but steady. After several weeks he was released from the hospital. A couple of weeks later, my cousin, Dad’s God-daughter, was married in the church we attended. Though no longer hospitalized, Dad was still confined to his bed so he missed the event. Between the ceremony and the reception, my cousin and her new husband were driven in their wedding limousine to our house to surprise my Dad. I remember how touched he was to have been brought into the wedding day. He was a happy and thankful, loving and well loved man.
My Dad took his doctor’s orders seriously and followed them to the letter. He walked a couple of miles a day, every day, along the sidewalk separating the beach from the parking lot at one of the municipal parks in our city. He wore a pedometer to be sure he fulfilled his obligation to his recovery. He changed his diet and lost weight. He took his medicines (such as they were at the time) strictly as prescribed. When cleared by his doctor, he returned to work for half-days at first and gradually lengthened his working hours as his strength returned. In short, he did everything in his power to stave off another heart attack.
After six months of recovery, my father’s doctor finally cleared him to return to full workdays starting Thursday, January 14, 1965 – the day after his 44th birthday. This marked the culmination of his recovery and with it, our whole family’s return to life as it had been before his heart attack.
All was well.
A Great Place to Work
My Dad went to work right out of high school in 1939 on the loading dock of Pitney-Bowes, the maker of postage meters and related equipment for sorting mail and expediting the deliveries of the US Post Office. Pitney-Bowes was a great place to work – they genuinely cared for their employees, so much so in fact no labor unions were ever able to organize the workers at PB. PB management appreciated all of the company’s workers, paid them
well, and recognized and upheld workers rights in their shops. The company made safety a priority, was generous with vacation time, and annually hosted an all day summer picnic for all employees and their families at an amusement park. When my Dad was drafted into WWII he, and every other PB employee who joined the military in wartime, was guaranteed that his job would be waiting for him when he returned to civilian life. And it was.
PB’s health insurance paid all the medical bills from his heart attack and the company kept him on the books at full pay while he was away. And, like it was when he returned from war, his job was waiting for him when he was able to go back to work after his heart attack.
On top of all of this, PB recognized every employee who reached the 25 years of service milestone by giving him or her a paid, three-month vacation. My dad surpassed that goal while on his coronary sick leave and so he and my mother were planning a cross-country trip for us in the upcoming summer months. Dad was well again and I was finally going to Disneyland!
Dad had a great sense of humor and was devoted to my mother, my sister, and me. Like others of his generation, my father wanted his children to have a life better than he had. He had no notions of going to college after high school; the idea wasn’t even on the table as he and his family, like so many others, couldn’t afford the tuition. He went to work and he went to war instead. He and my mother married shortly after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army and, like so many other returning veterans and their wives, they wanted to start of family.
It might not have been audible, but the Baby Boom was plenty powerful.
Though he never went to college, my dad was quite intelligent. He was very mechanically inclined and had both a talent for model-making and a natural deductive logic that saw him quickly emerge from the loading dock to the tool & die machine shop at PB. Always intent on promoting from within, PB then sent him to night courses at Cooper Union in New York. Eventually he was promoted from the tool and die manufacturing group to the tool & die design group, working side by side with newly graduated engineers from colleges like Rensselaer, Brooklyn Polytechnic and the like. Ten or more years senior to these wet-behind-the-ears newly graduated collegiate colleagues, my father was determined to save the tuition money needed for my sister and me to go to college so that we might have the head start he’d never had.
Of course I was to go to college only after the Army had made me a man.
After more than 20 years at PB, my father became the second in command of the Tool & Die Design Group. With no engineering degree but with years of experience at PB from the ground up, he was managing a group of degreed engineers. The Chairman of the Board of Pitney Bowes, Walter Wheeler, knew, liked and respected my father. Like so many of his peers, he was simply a good, hard working, fun loving, responsible man. It’s hard to be exceptional when the normal standard is that high, but to me he was wonderful.
(to be continued)
©2016 James Ash