Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Insight: A Thanksgiving I’ll never forget

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I had packed up my remaining gear in my truck and said my goodbyes to my classmates at the Department of Defense Information School near Indianapolis. First thing on the Monday morning before Thanksgiving in November 1981, I was hitting the road, making a two-day drive to my home in New Mexico.

Ed Pierce sits in his new Datsun pickup truck before leaving 
for the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin
Harrison, Indiana in September 1981. This is the same
truck he drove from Indiana to New Mexico in
November 1981. COURTESY PHOTO  
After several years of being stationed at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and 12 weeks of specialized editor training at the school in Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence, Indiana, I was ready for a break and some down time with family and friends before proceeding on to my next U.S. Air Force duty station in Arizona the day after Christmas.

This was supposed to be a leisurely 18-hour drive that would take me from Indiana, passing through Missouri, on into Oklahoma, then across the Texas Panhandle before eventually crossing into New Mexico and arriving at my home just south of Albuquerque.

In setting up the trip the week before, I had decided to not wear myself out driving, but to take it slow and stop for the night Tuesday at a hotel in Tulsa after my first nine hours of driving. My wife had flown home before Labor Day and was waiting there for me and working with her mother in planning Thanksgiving dinner.

That first part of my trip was rather uneventful as I made my way home in a new 1981 Datsun pickup truck I had just purchased in early September 1981. Part of the reason I had bought a new vehicle was specifically to take me across the country safely and then to drive it to my next assignment at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona.

It wasn’t widely known at the time, but within six months, Datsun announced it was changing its name to Nissan, so my pickup was one of the final “Datsun” trucks ever manufactured.

Like I had originally planned, I stopped for the night in Tulsa, had dinner, checked into my hotel, watched the premiere episode of “Simon and Simon” on television, went to sleep, and then got up at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the final day’s drive to my home.

The miles and highway rolled by and soon I spotted the “Welcome to Texas” sign meaning I was just one state away from my destination. Noticing I was running low on fuel, I pulled into a gas station and filled up, confident I was within range based upon the mileage I was getting in the new truck that I wouldn’t have to get gas again before arriving home.

Outside Amarillo, something strange started happening while I was driving. The pickup would sputter and act like it was going to stall when I put my foot on the gas pedal. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned the engine off and restarted and everything would be OK for about 40 miles or so. I couldn’t get up to more than 40 mph when it would start doing it again.

Time was at a standstill for me as darkness fell and I worried the vehicle was going to break down stranding me out in middle of nowhere. Slowly I made it to the New Mexico state line and drove for another 40 miles when I spotted a service station near Tucumcari, New Mexico.

I pulled in and asked if anyone could look at my truck to find out what was wrong. The attendant said the mechanic had gone home for Thanksgiving but would be back Friday. He suggested I park the truck in their locked compound and because it was under warranty, I could have it towed to the dealer in Albuquerque on Friday.

He also said that a Greyhound bus would be along any minute, bound for Albuquerque, about 175 miles away. I parked the truck, purchased a bus ticket, grabbed my bag, and asked the attendant for one last favor. He agreed to call my family and let them know what had happened. This was before everyone had a cell phone and I didn’t have change for the pay phone outside the service station.

About 12;30 a.m. Thursday morning, the bus arrived in Albuquerque and my wife was waiting for me at the bus station. I was exhausted and worried about leaving my new truck so far away. But I was glad it was Thanksgiving and at least I had made it home safely.

That Friday around noon, the dealer in Albuquerque called and said that the truck had been towed there. Several hours later, the service department at the dealer called and said we could come get the pickup.

When we got there, I found out what the problem was. Apparently, I had picked up some gasoline that contained dirt in Texas, and the $13 tiny plastic fuel filter distributing gas flow to the engine had become clogged, resulting in the stalling and sputtering. The fuel filter and the labor to replace it was under warranty, but I had to pay the towing bill, which ended up costing me $225.

To this day, I’ve never forgotten this Thanksgiving “adventure” that ended up having a happy ending. <

Andy Young: A Good Start

By Andy Young

What am I grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Well, for openers, getting 600 published words a week to use as I please.

Dudley Do-right and Nell
Also, for quality time with my children, a roof over my head, and tap water that’s safe to drink.

And for…

Friends and family who appreciate me for who I am, and don’t resent me for what I’m not.

Nice neighbors, scenic overlooks, and getting unexpected packages in the mail.

Pond hockey, beets done right, and oatmeal raisin cookies.

Waking up every morning, being able to walk unaided, and living in a place that’s currently free of toxic fumes, malaria outbreaks and terrorists.

Walking through the woods during a snowstorm, watching heavy rain from underneath a porch roof and finding enough room along the curb to successfully parallel park.

Yard sales. Farmers markets. Used book stores (as opposed to used bookstores).

Composting. Summer breezes. Fresh cherry tomatoes.

Electricity. Cloth shopping bags. Prosthetic hips.

Vegetable lo mein. Bike rides. Reconnecting with childhood pals.

My children’s teachers. Books on tape. Quiet lawn mowers.

Bugs Bunny. Dudley Do-right. George of the Jungle.

Elmer Fudd. Yosemite Sam. Boris Badenov.

Sunrises. Smiles from strangers. Applesauce bran muffins with raisins and walnuts.

Shooting the moon on the last hand to win a game of Hearts.

Fortune cookies. Walking to the library. Sunsets.

Old friends. Young friends. Friends I haven’t met yet.

A job I love. Students with unlimited potential. Supportive administrators.

Many great colleagues who are younger than I am. Several terrific colleagues who are my age. Both colleagues who are older than I am.

Generic cereals. Orange juice. Bananas that aren’t green anymore, but don’t have any spots on them yet.

YouTube. Wikipedia. Phones that identify unwanted solicitations as “Spam Risk.”

Butte, Montana. Fairbanks, Alaska. Easton, Connecticut.

People who say “thank you.” People who open doors for others. People who pick up trash that wasn’t theirs.

Human bank tellers, human grocery store cashiers, and human phone answerers.

Sharing a border with New Hampshire, Quebec, and New Brunswick, but not with Florida.

Morningstar Farms vegetarian meatballs. Red peppers. Crisp Cortland apples.

St. Johns, Newfoundland. Schnecksville, Pennsylvania. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

My children’s teachers. Comfy Sneakers. Maine’s paucity of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and fire ants.

Preservative-free cider. Real mashed potatoes. Apple pie.

A life totally free of tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, and social media.

Being less than a day’s drive from New York, Boston, and Montreal.

One of our two U.S. Senators, although in the spirit of nonpartisanship I won’t mention which one he is.

Remembering what it was like to score a goal, block a layup, and catch a touchdown pass.

Dreaming about my parents and my grandparents.

Dreaming about hitting a home run.

Dreaming about finding a Canadian quarter while walking a North Carolina beach with Oprah Winfrey, an old baseball teammate, a girl I liked in high school, and two kids who lived next door to my cousins when we were kids.

Heat pumps. Windmills. Solar panels.

The quilt my grandmother made for me. The pillows my mom made for me. My grandfather’s key ring screwdriver.

Dave Chappelle. Steve Martin. Chris Rock.

Dolly Parton. John Denver. Tina Turner.

Books written by David Halberstam. Commentaries written by Leonard Pitts. Anything written by Carl Hiaasen.

Dried apricots. Almonds. Blueberries.

Smoke-free public spaces. Pre-1973 baseball cards. Ravenous, mosquito-consuming bats.

Cribbage. Gratitude journals. Being the first to figure out it was Miss Scarlett with the candlestick in the conservatory.

But what I’m most grateful for is discovering yet again that when it comes to taking stock of my many blessings, 600 words still aren’t even close to being enough. <

Friday, November 18, 2022

Insight: A Thanksgiving memory to treasure and remember

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

In August 2021, I was asked by an elderly friend, Dave Twomey, if I could find out more about his uncle’s involvement in World War II. He had heard snippets of that life as a child, but after decades lost to the ages, his uncle’s story had been mostly relegated to the annals of history.

Dave Twomey's uncle George Edmond Tourigny served in
the U.S. Merchant Marines aboard the Deer Lodge ship in
1942. The vessel was damaged twice by bombs while making
runs delivering supplies and weapons to Murmansk, Russia.
Twomey had lived upstairs from his uncle, former U.S. Merchant Marine George Edmond Tourigny, in Massachusetts in the early days of World War II. His uncle had long since passed away, and Twomey had tried unsuccessfully over the years to learn more about him to share with his family. When he found out I was a journalist, he asked me if I could help him shed light on a forgotten chapter of history as his way of thanking his uncle for his service to America.

As a child, all Dave really knew about his uncle was that he was part of what he thought was something called the "Mermaid's Run."   

I wasn’t sure what I could do, but I liked Dave and knowing his health struggles were mounting, I agreed to see what I could uncover and maybe write a story about his uncle. When I had free time, I researched every available resource at my disposal, including U.S. Merchant Marine records and the Library of Congress, and kept Dave informed about facts I had discovered or where I would look next.

Slowly, I was able to piece together a remarkable tale of courage and not one I was very familiar with.

Tourigny was 24 and working as a lineman for the Gardner Electric Light Company in Massachusetts when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, leading to America’s entry into World War II. He visited the U.S. Navy Recruiting Station in Gardner to enlist, but the office was swamped with applicants, and he was advised that the U.S. Merchant Marines were in dire need of immediate volunteers.

He knew he could be sent to sea, which is what he wanted, so Tourigny then enlisted in the Merchant Marines and was sent to basic training at Sheepshead Bay, New York. After rudimentary training, he was assigned to a commercial vessel called Deer Lodge bound for Iceland. The ship was to be part of a convoy of commercial and hastily manufactured “Liberty” vessels transporting tons of vital military supplies for the Allies’ war effort in Europe.

Even though Merchant Marine jobs were classified as “non-military” in nature, it turned out to be the most dangerous and perilous service for Americans during World War II. Merchant Marine convoys and ships were often unarmed commercial vessels sailing without military escort and highly vulnerable to German U-boat and aircraft attacks. One in 26 U.S. Merchant Marine seamen died in these attacks, making it the highest fatality rate of any wartime duty for Americans.

Arriving in Iceland in May 1942, Tourigny’s Deer Lodge cargo ship became part of a convoy known as “The Murmansk Run” bound for the Port of Murmansk in Russia. Two days out of Iceland on May 18, 1942, an enemy aircraft’s bombs severely damaged the vessel and the Deer Lodge limped back to port in Iceland for repairs.

After being determined seaworthy, the Deer Lodge set out again for Murmansk as part of an 11-ship convoy. It made it through to Murmansk, but on the return voyage on May 27, 1942, another enemy aircraft strafed the Deer Lodge ship and dropped a bomb that exploded and burned seven of the vessel’s 17 crewmen before the ship somehow made it back to Iceland.

In July 1942, Tourigny was reassigned to another freighter, the Olapana, as a deck hand. While sailing to Murmansk carrying fuel and tanks, the Olapana was shelled and then torpedoed, and sank. Tourigny spent 61 hours among other crew survivors in a freezing lifeboat before rescue, and five of his fellow crew members died.

His next duty in the Merchant Marines came aboard a freighter called the John HB Latrobe that made six successful runs back and forth to Murmansk before being shelled and damaged in November 1942. Once again Tourigny survived the attack, but two of his shipmates were killed.

While home on leave for Christmas, Tourigny received notice that he had been drafted and was to report in January 1943 to Newport, Rhode Island for U.S. Navy boot camp. He entered Officer Candidate School, eventually rising to the rank of U.S. Navy Lieutenant.

After the war, Tourigny rarely spoke about his military service to anyone and years later, nobody in the family knew of his ordeals and heroism. I completed the article the day before Thanksgiving, and it was published in newspapers in Maine and Massachusetts in early December.

Dave was thrilled that I had discovered his uncle’s story and wanted to pay me for my efforts, but I told him that I did it for him simply out of friendship.

This spring I was notified that Dave Twomey had passed away, but before his death, he had called me to say he was grateful for my research about his uncle.

I never know where a story will lead and this one confirmed for me the true meaning of Thanksgiving and how lucky we are for those who sacrifice to defend our freedom.<

Andy Young: What was your name again?

By Andy Young

When I began teaching high school English, I really wanted to make a positive impact. But I had a problem: I didn’t know jack.

In fact, I didn’t know the name of any of my students the first day I walked to the front of a classroom.

Twenty years later I’ve picked up some valuable skills. But one thing still troubles me: the possibility that, after a few September class meetings, I'll be unable to identify the name of a particular young person assigned to me.

At my school, full-time teachers can expect to have anywhere between 80 and 100 aspiring scholars on their caseload, each one the protagonist of their own unique life. That’s why it’s essential I remember each and every student by name.

Were I unable to correctly address a child by name, it wouldn’t be the one who’s prettiest, most athletic, funniest, smartest, tallest, shortest, most musical, or outstanding in any other way. It’d be someone who’s involuntarily flown beneath the radar since they were old enough to begin forming their self-image.

These folks want nothing more than to matter, just like everyone else does. But youthful self-images can be awfully delicate, and in their own minds nothing confirms insignificance more emphatically than being the one class member whose name their supposedly caring teacher can’t recall.

It’s funny; when someone can’t remember my name, I don’t feel slighted. I just supply them with it and move on. But I’ve had several decades to develop adult coping skills that few teenagers possess.

That’s why during my first few years of teaching I was plagued by the very real fear that a vulnerable young person’s already delicate self-esteem would be crushed if it were obvious, I couldn’t remember their name.

Everyone recognizes athletic kids, attractive kids, outgoing kids, red haired kids, short kids, tall kids, kids with unusual first names, kids with multiple piercings, and kids who share the teacher’s own first name. I’ve never had any trouble remembering young people named Andy, Andie or Andrew.

Eventually I was concerned enough with this issue that I devised what I considered a foolproof way to learn each student’s name quickly and efficiently by offering to buy lunch for anyone I couldn’t verbally identify after the first two weeks of school.

But taking advantage of my generosity involved some risk on their part as well, because the deal was that if they asked me if I knew their name and it turned out I did, then they had to buy me lunch! I also warned them that while my memory wasn’t perfect, my lifelong frugality was an extremely powerful motivator.

Over the years I’ve become pretty good at quickly retaining the names of students in classes I teach.

How good? Just ask Addison, Adela, Amelia, Annie, Aidan, Aiden, Ayden, Becky, Ben, Blake, Bryce, Casey, Cassie, Cameron, Chelsea, Cody, Connor, Cayden, Dakota, Damon, Dani, Dylan, Ellie, Emma, three different Emilys, Fabricio, Frank, Gabe, Garrett, Geno, Grace, Henry, Jacob, Jake, James, Jameson, Jeremy, Jet, Joey, Justice, Kadin, Kaidin, Kaitlyn, Kooper, Lauren, Lauryn, Lidya, Lily, Livia, Lizzy, Matt, Max, Maya, Miles, Mitch, Nate, Nicco, Parker, Peyton, Preston, Quinn, Richie, Riley, Ruby, Ryan, Sam, Sarah, Seamus, Sean, Shawn, Shannon, Spencer, Sophie, Sophia, Stacey, Ty, Will, Weston, Xander, Zoe, male Alex, female Alex, both Bradys, and the quartet of Jacks who have me for a teacher this year.

I may not know much about rebuilding transmissions, the nutritional value of pomegranates, or Bolivian history, but at least for now I can state with absolute certainty that I do indeed know Jack.

All four of them. <

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Andy Young: You better smile when you say 'numismatist'

By Andy Young

I don’t care for having my personal space invaded, which explains why I was temporarily alarmed by an incident that occurred at a flea market I visited recently.

I was minding my own business, looking at some old coins when a stranger approached me and, without warning, asked if I was a numismatist.

The hair on the back of my neck immediately began rising, as did my body temperature. Instantly recognizing these involuntary physiological responses, I knew instinctively that I had to make an instant choice: engage in physical combat, or beat a hasty retreat.

Unfortunately, like many people of my vintage, the warranty on the second part of my “fight or flight” response ran out some time ago. Racing away from the all-too-eager-to-engage-with-me stranger was out of the question, since my replacement hip and I are currently incapable of outrunning anything faster than a traffic cone.

As for fighting, I’ve always preferred erring on the side of pacifism. Besides, the elderly woman who’d accosted me was under five feet tall and appeared to weigh less than 100 pounds. The image of me coiling into a martial artist’s stance and shouting, “You want a piece of me, lady?” in a public place was not an attractive one.

Plus, she could have been a black belt, or been carrying industrial strength pepper spray. These days you can’t be too careful.

Fortunately I calmed down once I recognized from her kindly tone that her words were intended to be a genuine inquiry rather than a hostile accusation. It wasn’t long into our conversation that I learned that I actually am what she had suggested, sort of. A numismatist collects coins, paper currency, or medals.

When I was a boy a friend of mine showed me his penny collection, and shortly thereafter I too began gathering them. I had some late-19th century Indian Head cents, plus several 1943 pennies that were made of steel, since copper was needed for the war effort. I never saw a 1909-S VDB, though. That was the Holy Grail of pennies. It was worth something like $200 back then, which seemed like a fortune to someone whose weekly allowance was 25 cents. I’d love to know what such a coin would be worth today.

Later I started collecting nickels, dimes, and quarters. In retrospect it’s too bad I wasn't a bit less casual about numismatics, because the U. S, Mint didn’t start using whatever alloy(s) dimes and quarters consist of today until 1965. The old silver ones were still in common circulation for at least a decade after that.

My coin collection included several Liberty Standing quarters, numerous Mercury dimes, and one Barber dime, a ten-cent piece that was only minted between 1892 and 1916. I wonder how much all those coins are worth now?

It turns out I’m more of a numismatist than I thought. Not long ago I received an odd-looking five-dollar bill as change, and a closer look revealed it was printed in 1950. That explained the unusually small picture of Abraham Lincoln on its front. I also have a 1950 $10 bill and a 1934 $20 bill. I’d sure like to know how much those two significantly-older-than-I-am pieces of paper are worth today.

A qualified numismatist could provide an estimate of what all that old money is worth, even though I already know each piece would bring at least as much as its original face value. But in reality old coins are worth exactly as much as old baseball cards, old lawn mowers, and old books are.

Whatever somebody’s willing to pay for them. <

Insight: Soldiers to the end

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

On Veteran’s Day, it’s hard for me not to look back with admiration on all of those who have worn the uniform of the United States of America.

The late Air Force Master Sergeant Lionel LeBlanc of 
Manchester, New Hampshire thanks Ed Pierce for his military
service while visiting the New Hampshire Veterans Home in
2014. LeBlanc was a tireless advocate for veterans and veterans'
issues throughout New England. COURTESY PHOTO  
As a veteran myself, I am so fortunate to have met and known some of the bravest and most heroic individuals who placed country first above their own personal interests.

Here’s a roll call of genuine American heroes I’ve had the privilege of either interviewing or whom I have met during my career.

Sergeant First Class Sammy L. Davis is known as the real-life Forrest Gump for his courage under fire in Vietnam. On Nov. 18, 1967, Davis and his unit at Firebase Cudgel in Vietnam were subjected to machine-gun fire and a heavy mortar attack by an estimated three companies of Viet Cong which flooded the area from the south and then west of the American positions. Catching sight of an enemy position, Davis stepped up and manned a machine gun to give his fellow soldiers cover fire so they could fire off their own artillery in response. While doing this Davis was wounded, but he ignored warnings to take cover, moving to his unit's burning howitzer and firing several shells at the enemy himself. Davis disregarded his own inability to swim from back injuries and crossed a river during the battle on an air mattress to help rescue three wounded American soldiers. He then found another howitzer and continued fighting off his attackers for more than two hours until they fled. For his efforts Davis was presented the Medal of Honor in 1968 by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson.

U.S. Air Force General Lew Allen, Jr. was one of the smartest and kindest individuals I got to meet during my military service. I would pass by his office in The Pentagon while working there in public affairs on Saturday mornings and he’d always invite me to sit with him while he asked me questions about my career. Here I was just an E-4 Sergeant at the time, but I was humbled to be the guest of the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff. Allen told me that he’d never served in an overseas or a combat assignment but was well-liked and respected by his superiors leading to his ascent in rank to ultimately become a four-star general and the top-ranking Air Force officer at the time. He wanted to know how I felt about the rate of pay I received for my work, where I had been stationed before being transferred to The Pentagon and what I thought about the food in the dining hall. He seemed genuinely concerned about the lives of enlisted Air Force personnel as he was about the combat readiness of fighter and bomber pilots stationed around the world. Upon his retirement from military service, Allen went on to serve as the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and played a key role in the investigation about what led to the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986.

Air Force Master Sergeant Lionel LeBlanc of Manchester, New Hampshire joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and served during World War II earning honors such as the Asiatic Pacific Theatre Medal, the American Theatre Campaign Ribbon, the Army of Occupation Medal, the Victory Medal, and Good Conduct Medal. He transitioned to the Air Force in 1947 and retired from active-duty military service with a 30-year career in 1973. But after his retirement, LeBlanc became a tireless advocate for veterans and was a fixture during events held at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, showing up in his military uniform. In 2010, LeBlanc was awarded the Maurice L. McQuillen Award from the Manchester Union Leader newspaper for his devotion to veterans’ issues. He was among the first veterans to receive an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. and he spent the remainder of his life raising money for veterans. He once told me that there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help a veteran and he meant it.

Lastly, I offer my gratitude to young soldiers like my father, Army PFC Edmund Pierce of Fairport, New York, who was drafted on the day he graduated from high school in 1943. He served with distinction during combat operations in Libya, Morocco, and Italy. That included being shot in the back by a German sniper defending Anzio Beach in 1944. He rarely spoke about his time in military service with his family or his high school classmates Joe Fazio and Frank Casella, who were all drafted together and served in the Army’s 91st Division. After years of my sincere attempts to get him to talk about his wartime service, he told me, “I saw a good friend die standing just two feet from me when he was shot in the face at Anzio. What I saw was so awful that I have no desire to speak of it ever again.”

We all owe our continued liberty and freedom to the men and women who served defending our nation in wartime and in peace. Veterans Day is more than a day off from work, it’s a time to honor that sacrifice on our behalf. <

Friday, November 4, 2022

Insight: Reflecting on outdated home furnishing décor

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Trends come and go, but every so often I spot photographs of some of my least favorite home furnishings from bygone eras that make me glad the winds of change made some items fall out of popularity and disappear.

Some of those trendy items may still be found when visiting an estate sale and liquidation, an antique store or staying at grandma’s home over the holidays, but many of them are related to magazine pages from the 1960s and 1970s and out of interior decorating vogue in the 21st century.

Here's a rundown of common items found in American homes in the 1960s and 1970s that are no longer wildly popular:

Shag carpeting. Deep thick polyester pile in outrageous and outlandish shades of bright orange, lemon yellow, bright blue, plum purple, and fire engine red. Carpet threads so long that objects falling into the rug such as Legos, silverware or earrings needed to be physically raked out before inflicting foot or ankle injuries when stepped on.

Knotty pine kitchen cupboards. A staple of 1950s and 1960s kitchens, this was as authentic as it got for anyone who wished to turn their kitchen shade to orange or simply admired the look of fresh-cut lumber. Often paired with black and white checkerboard flooring or wooden paneling, this was once the ultimate status symbol for grocery checkout magazines post-World War II.

Bean Bag Chairs.
Anyone alive in the 1970s can tell you how prevalent that bean bag chairs were back then. They were a staple of rec room lounging, college dormitories, and basement apartments without windows. Conforming to every body shape and size, these Naugahyde and plastic seats were filled with polystyrene beans and were perfect décor to go with milkcrate end tables and cinder block wooden shelving.

Blacklights. No high school or college party of the 1960s and 1970s would be complete without a blacklight or at least replacing a standard living room lamp’s incandescent bulb with a blacklight blub. Blacklights were used to turn fluorescent colors luminous and to make white objects glow an eerie shade of purple. Nowadays blacklights are used by nightclubs and amusement parks to make items glow but when first sold in the 1970s, they were mostly a party gimmick.

Egg chairs. Once a European airport exclusive, this type of seating is best described as resembling an eggshell cracked in half. Once the epitome of space-age living and home technology, egg chairs offered cocoon-like comfort fitting into quirky home decorating schemes. They could be placed close to the stereo system for sitting and listening to music with headphones or perfect for the family room corner.

Lava lamps.
First sold in 1963, the lava lamp typically consists of a waxy mixture inside a colored glass receptacle filled with clear liquid. The base contains a light bulb which heats the waxy blob inside the receptacle which rises through the liquid to the top of the lamp and then sinks to the bottom again as it cools moving through the liquid resembling lava from a volcano. Owning a lava lamp was considered a rite of passage for anyone living a counterculture lifestyle.

Stepped houseplant holders. Many interior decorators in the 1970s emphasized bringing the outdoors and nature into indoor home furnishing designs as much as possible and that included weaving elaborate planters and plant stands into living rooms whenever possible. Part of this design trend was houseplant holders created to look like spiral staircases or tiered ladders.

Vinyl and aluminum dinette sets. Nearly every kitchen in new homes in the 1950s and 1960s contained a dinette set featuring a plastic or Formica top with aluminum or chrome trim. Dinette chairs were colorful matching shades of vinyl and chrome. Homes of that era were built smaller and typically without formal dining rooms, so family dining usually took place in the eat-in kitchen using brightly colored mass manufactured dinette sets that were compact and versatile.

TV trays and portable televisions. Older television sets of the 1950s were large and bulky and eventually morphed into huge console sets that were the centerpiece of family gathering areas. But as technology evolved in the 1960s, portable televisions on rolling stands meant you could wheel televisions into just about anywhere in a 1960s or 1970s home or even a classroom. I can vividly remember how thrilling it was to have a nun wheel a large portable television into my second-grade classroom at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Brighton, New York so students could watch the launch of Alan Shepard as the first American to travel into space in May 1961. Adorned with rabbit-ear antennas, in the days prior to cable programming, portable TV sets were all the rage. Television ruled all aspects of family life back then too and “TV dinners” could go straight from 45 minutes in the oven to being served on fold-up TV trays in front of the console set for a leisurely living-room dinner.

The sheer fact that I have lived through so many outdated home furnishing fads and interior decorating trends is a clear indication of advanced age and reading too many of my mother's Better Homes and Gardens magazines growing up. <

Andy Young: Laundry Room Drama

By Andy Young

Sometimes the simplest things can cheer me up, like birds chirping early on a spring morning, the delighted gurgling of a smiling infant, or a blazing orange sunset.

But occasionally such mood enhancers are more than pleasant. They’re necessary.

One such situation began last Wednesday. I left for work at 5 a.m. and returned home, exhausted, 13 hours later. Needing to maximize my remaining hours of consciousness efficiently, I hastily threw in a load of laundry before preparing to start dinner. Piling a heap of dirty clothes into the washer, I poured in some liquid detergent, started the wash cycle, and … heard an ominous sound: silence.

Trying not to overreact, I did some quick troubleshooting. First, I checked the fuse box, but no circuit breaker was off kilter. Then I pulled the machine’s plug out of the wall outlet it had been occupying and plugged it into the one directly above it. Nothing changed.

Now it was time to panic. My ancient washing machine was full of dirty clothes, but apparently kaput. I didn’t know if I had enough quarters to go to a laundromat. Or, for that matter, if laundromats still even take quarters. I desperately tried to think of where I could find someone who’d come fix my washer, which day I could take off from work so I’d be there when the repair people showed up, and, most troubling, where I could find the money to replace a non-functioning, presumably expensive vital appliance if said repair people told me it had officially kicked the bucket. My blood pressure was skyrocketing.

Resigning myself to the traumatic days that lay ahead, I started searching for someone who does house calls for sick appliances. The robotic voice that answered my first phone call informed me that the number I had dialed had been disconnected. Strike one. The answering service at the second place advised me that they were closed until the following Monday. Strike two. The earliest appointment available with the third place was the following Wednesday. Strike three.

Out of sheer desperation I called the number listed for Sears, even though I knew they’d closed their last remaining Maine store two years ago.

Someone’s still using their name to repair appliances, though, because after getting the standard automated greeting (“For refrigerator repairs, press one; for dryer repairs, press two,” etc.) and pressing the appropriate button on my phone, I got through to an actual human being.

Reading from a script which expressed his thanks for my calling him and his sympathy for my current difficulties, he transferred me to another actual person, this one a female with an accent I couldn’t quite identify.

After greeting me with the very same expression of gratitude/sympathy her colleague had, she asked if I had checked the fuse box for any flipped circuit breakers. I confirmed that I had, and that I had also unplugged the machine and tried a different outlet, without success.

Then she proposed trying another appliance in the outlet to see if it worked. Lo and behold, the electric razor I plugged in didn’t turn on. Then she gently suggested I check the fuse box again.

Sure enough, circuit breaker number seven, which was unlabeled, was slightly out of alignment. I flipped it forward, flipped it back, and…voila! My washing machine was working again.

Like I said, sometimes the simplest things can cheer me up. Like birds chirping early on a spring morning, the delighted gurgling of a smiling infant, a blazing orange sunset, or a lightly accented voice telling me I don’t need a new washing machine. <