I blame my dad for making me a geek and a nerd. The rest of the family didn’t help but it was my dad first. Dad used to tell me stories and show me pictures he’d taken before mom caught wind of some of them and made him stop. After that the stories came with a “Don’t tell your mom.” And I never did.
He used to tell me about what he did in WWII. Not any battles or bad things but about the places he went where he was stationed during the war. For most of the war he was stationed in Naples, Italy and all he would say about his job was that he dumped confiscated guns in the harbour. But Dad was a history and art geek and when he came home he got his degree from UCLA in History and Math. He spent his time in Italy in art museums and historical sites and he loved to talk about his visit to Pompeii which of course was not far from Naples. I guess they got to go in a lot of places that are now off limits and talk to the few archeologists that were working there during the war. Where he got in trouble with mom was telling me all about the house of prostitution he had gotten to go through and the art work they had. Mind you I think I was 5 or 6 the first time.
These talks and scrapbook showings usually took place in the really early morning right after the farm report when mom was still sleeping. In the 50’s there wasn’t much on TV yet on a Saturday morning even in LA. Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy movies and Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle were about it. We only had Channel 13 on at that time in the morning. The networks wouldn’t come on until later in the day. After you had seen them all it was up to Dad to entertain us so he brought out the scrapbooks he had made.
Dad was amazingly open minded and not judgmental about other people’s customs for someone raised on a farm in Illinois but he’d already been through the Depression at this point and had had to do some traveling to live including joining the CCC and being a hobo and then a telegrapher for the railroad before WWII.
He would talk about the wonders of Pompeii and about the people they had cast where they died. He would talk about artwork and explain about volcanoes and why the city had been buried. He also told me about falling in love with the artwork of Florence and Milan and about all the sights he saw in Rome.
When he really got in trouble was when he showed me postcards of the Folie Bergere and mom caught him. That and the photo he’d taken of a sidewalk toilet in Paris with a man’s legs sticking out. He told me about all the artwork he’d seen in Paris and in Switzerland and about how beautiful Lake Lucerne was but it was Italy and its history that grabbed his mind and I, as the oldest got to be the crucible he dumped his stories in. My brother was enough younger, behind me a year and a half, to not be interested in anything but Lincoln logs, jigsaw puzzles and breakfast. Alison never got to hear them because she came along 10 years later and I guess by then he wasn’t telling stories.
This combined with Dad’s love of museums and history here in LA meant that every holiday and vacation we were going to the Natural History Museum or the Museum of Science and Industry, (now the California Science Center), It was Jungleland and Marineland and the old Zoo before they spoiled it building the new zoo. (where a lion peed on daddy to our everlasting delight) It was a trip to Olvera Street and Chinatown or to ride Angel’s Flight and through Grand Central Market to gross us out looking at tongue and brains for sale at the butcher’s counter, the Santa Monica pier, the Southwest Indian Museum with their awful, scary elevator up the side of the mountain and the dioramas in the dark tunnel at the bottom and if we went out of town with mom too, it was to Santa Barbara (botanical garden and museum) and Solvang. Sometimes we had to visit the missions and every year went the family went with the choir to Carlsbad we had to visit Scripps Marine Institute. When your dad is a teacher you get to see cool stuff.
First, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. That lasted until I found out they had to swim and I had failed Beginning Swimming 7 times before I told Dad I wasn’t doing it again. I couldn’t pass the test and you had to be able to float then to pass and teeny gymnasts/dancers with no body fat don’t float. They sink and lay on the bottom of the pool and scare the lifeguards into rescuing you. He did teach me to climb trees and took me to the men’s gym at the park and I learned how to do the pommel horse and the rings. Dad would tell me only really strong people could do the rings so I would try my best to do an iron cross.
I think I disappointed him when I just couldn’t swim and the one time he took me to the park Easter Egg Hunt and I couldn’t find a single egg, It was before my eye surgery and it never occurred to him that maybe an almost blind kid wasn’t a good thing at an Easter egg hunt. I remember being disappointed and crying my eyes out about that one and I think he was hurt too. I know he never did it again except in the backyard and with help.
Then I wanted to be an archeologist. That lasted until I was in college and a professor from UCLA told me if I didn’t have a rich daddy, no one was going to hire a woman.
But I took 4 years of Latin in high school and an ancient history class and before I finally gave up took every anthropology, art history and ancient history class my college had. I ended up getting my degree as a Naturalist with 6 minors and I don’t regret it a bit nor the fact that I can still read my way through Winnie Ille Pooh, Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis, Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum and my copy of Beatrix Potter in Latin.
So I think my dad would have approved of my 60th birthday expedition and Father’s day trip. I bet he would have had a great time. Yeah Dad, you helped me be a nerd and a geek. Thanks!