About Phillida

When you reach the three-quarter century milestone you reflect on what has happened in those 75 years. Friends have told me I should write my life story down. I hope you get something from it and NEVER GIVE UP when life throws problems in your way.

First, I am a true “Baby Boomer” at least in age. I was born less than three years after the end of World War Two.  Though apparently not politically, or socially, or religiously since I’m a progressive liberal independent, cosmopolitan, humanist. I am very much a well-traveled citizen of the world.

Saying I am proud of the man who gave me life is an understatement. Unlike most Americans of the “Greatest Generation” Dad made the service a career and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. Not bad for a boy who grew on a farm during the great depression in the southern part of the United States. He even earned his degree by correspondence when he was in his forties.

As they say I’m an army brat. I even spoke Japanese before English since I had a nanny in Tokyo. Unfortunately, today when it would be useful, I can’t speak a word. Like most Americans the only human language I speak fluently is English. 😢

My first memories are when we lived in northern Virginia and Dad worked at the Pentagon. It was the only time I got a spanking. I guess it made and impression on me. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun.) Dad found it was much more effective to let me know my behavior disappointed him. So, he never had to hit me again.

Continuing the gypsy military lifestyle theme of my life soon it was off to San Francisco. (A little side note for 21st century people. We drove a car some three thousand miles across country to get there.) I started Kindergarten in San Francisco.  Apparently, I wasn’t too crazy about starting school because I got off the bus at the next stop and walked back home on the first day of school.

Then it was off to Heidelberg, Germany by way of the Commanding General Staff College for Dad while my mother and I stayed in an apartment near her sister. (Another aside for you 21st century people. We sailed on a ship from New York to Bremerhaven, Germany after another drive across the United States.)

The first minor hiccup in my educational career greeted me in Heidelberg. Where I went to school in San Francisco they promoted at half year terms and since I was born in February, I had finished the first grade. But the school in Germany didn’t do that so I got to repeat the second half of the first grade rather than start halfway through the second grade.

I enjoyed Germany although it was a bit weird coming home in the dark from school in the winter. While in the summer it was still light at 10:30 pm. But I did get to go to Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, and Ireland. Then it was back to the United States and Indianapolis where Dad retired. This time it was by air. Sixteen hours listening and feeling the props rumble around. The plane also stopped in Ireland and Newfoundland. Then on to Indianapolis.

One amazing thing happened in back yard there, I saw the trail of the first satellite humankind object launched from the earth. The other amazing thing I didn’t appreciate till I got older. A frequent guest at our dinner table was the man Dad shared an office with. That man was one of the last post-Doctoral assistants of Albert Einstein. It would be fair to say my interest in the sciences began then.

Military related moves have just one more installment. Dad was hired to work in the Pentagon as a civilian, so it was off to Alexandria, Virginia. The Pentagon assignment didn’t last long because the Civil Service Commission did what today is called head hunted Dad to install the first large scale civilian computer system in the Federal government.

The next five years were almost idyllic from the seventh grade on I began taking advanced placement courses in almost everything. It turns out while I may be good at computer languages with human languages it’s not so true. I can sort of figure out French with the help of Google Translate. Otherwise, it’s just English

By the way I’m not a one-dimensional science nerd. Nerd yes but I not just only a science nerd. I learned to play piano, guitar, and accordion. I sure wasn’t as good as one of my eight grade classmates. She would play some Debussy or Rachmaninoff for our class. Yes, we had music appreciation but, in our class, it wasn’t always just recorded music.

During this time Dad would bring me specialized material on computer systems. Dad told me if I ever wanted a specialized book just to tell him and he would get it for me. Remember we lived just outside Washington DC so universities and even research labs are everywhere.

On Saturday if Dad needed to work, I would go to downtown Washington and wander around the Smithsonian and other places of interest. (Remember this was over fifty years ago. I’ve been to Washington more recently. The idea of a thirteen-year-old going around downtown Washington alone today is unbelievable.) I even got into the AAAS library to do some research. I accumulated quite a library.

Two major projects took up my time. Project number one was a telescope mirror. I had always wanted a telescope, so I started grinding an eight-inch mirror. I had finished the rough grinding before progress was interrupted by another gypsy move.

My second project was a science fair entry on how overcrowding causing stress in mice colonies. Remember this was 1964 so little had been done in the area yet. I was all ready to attend Johns Hopkins on a scholarship. I knew where I wanted to go to university from the age of thirteen. Then as they say the feces hit the atmospheric propulsor just after I started driving.

Dad was crossing a street and a truck hit him. My mother decided to sell our house, leave Dad in the hospital, and move the two of us to the small rural area to be near her white supremacist relatives in the southern United States. Saying I didn’t fit in is an understatement. This may sound strange considering I can’t walk now (We will get to that.). In the long run nothing was more devastating to me than that move.

After the move the lack of educational resources was extreme. Here I had just finished the second year of high school and had already taken the most advanced math course the new school had to offered. I ended up taking Business Math since that was the only math course, they offered I hadn’t taken. The coach that was teaching it was often called away and would leave me in charge of the classroom. As you can imagine this made me real popular with the other students. Another note for you 21st century readers. This was before the Internet so educational resources were almost nonexistent in this rural school.

The new school was bad, but I didn’t realize how different I was socially until I had what I call my “Forest Gump Moment”.

Trying to fit in I joined a group of my fellow students collecting money for a local charity. The town was on the main two-lane road between Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia so we setup in a parking lot beside the highway. This car of several men stopped talked to us a while and gave us a donation. Then the soon to be Nobel Peace Prize Laurette Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drove on to Atlanta.

One of the other students also recognized him and the N-word was repeated over and over with various obscene words added. I knew right then I would never fit in or even want to.

After wasting two years in the high school, I spent a bit over two years at the state university. My hopes of going to John’s Hopkins were dashed because of lack of money and no scholarship. I didn’t find the course work very challenging so one of the professors arranged for me to attend a weekly meeting with the chemistry graduate students. Yes, I was still involved in the sciences. That was interesting but unfortunately a mosquito bit me and gave me a form of encephalitis so all that went away. I could not walk, barely write by hand, or talk, and was bedridden at first. (I told you we’d get there.)

What was worrying to Dad, I was pretty delirious at the time, is that it can affect the cerebrum or more modern thinking part of the human brain. They cut into my skull and found out only the more primitive parts of my brain were damaged. I could still think!

After a three-year adjustment to my different body, I went back to university and earned a degree.

There wasn’t a university in the state that was accessible to a wheelchair, so I had to go out of State. Those around me convinced me I could no longer do anything in the sciences, so I changed majors to Political Science.

It is sort of strange but educationally the final two years of college were almost a repeat of the final two years of high school. Except for advanced courses in Political Science, I had to take non challenging introductory freshman and sophomore courses. I lacked all those general knowledge courses needed for a Bachelor of Arts degree. I even took “Appreciation of Rock Music”.

A wonderful sight happened on December 7, 1972. Dad came down to drive with me home for the holidays. We made a detour on the way and saw this.

I couldn’t do science anymore. But I was still interested, and Dad knew it. (No, I didn’t take that picture. Cell phones were just a dream back then. But I did see the launch from almost that position.)

After I got my degree, I lived in a mobile home on my own and started doing photograph seriously. I even talked my father in to converting another trailer into a dark room and a home office. I only processed black and white film and prints. Back then to process color you had to keep a tray of chemicals withing half a degree of temperature or the color balance went wonky.

My plans to produce art photography didn’t pan out and even holding a college degree didn’t seem to be much help in finding a job. So, more relevant education was needed. I drove three days a week to a college about twenty miles away and took three beginning computer programming courses. That was quite an experience and not one I would recommend. Trying to keep three computer languages straight is very confusing. I eventually had to drop one for an incomplete.

The classrooms were on the ground floor, but computer was in the basement. Luckily the building was built on a hill so I could go down the hill on the outside and get to the computer itself. I shudder when I think of the physical effort today, but I was still in my twenties and determined.

The computer itself was in a large, sealed room with its own air-conditioning system. A modern smart phone is more powerful.  Jobs had to be submitted on punch cards that you gave to the operator who would run your job then give you the results. It was not exactly a fast turnaround system. If you got more than two runs a day you were lucky. I remember seeing thrown away punch cards saying, “run pl1 “(space which told the computer to ignore what came after)” you damn computer”

Then “surprise surprise” one of my professors noticed me and gave me my first real job. During the summer I designed the computer software part of a Remote Job Entry system in Basic. It is fair to say I was under qualified I had never used the Basic language and had to learn it on the job.

It was on one of the first microcomputers built from a kit by some physics students. With an old teletype as major input/output and a paper tape reader. To start the computer, I had to flip switches on the front of the machine to tell it how to read the paper tape and recognize the teletype that was connected to it. Then load the Basic Compiler from another paper tape. (Hay 21st century people that is real computer boot strapping!) BTW I did learn Basic, and we did get it working. But the end of summer was coming and still no permanent job. So, I got the state vocational rehab people involved.

After a lot of testing my vocational rehab contact came out and brought his boss. They had two interviews scheduled and the college wanted to hire me permanently. The two interviews were in Atlanta and would require moving. That was fine with me since I was very much out of place in that rural area and really wanted to move. So, it was off to Atlanta.

One interview was a bust. They had me fill a long form but since I can barely write by hand that did not go well. The other interview was more successful. After they interviewed other applicants, they offered me a five-hundred-hour computer programming temporary position at the GS-5 level which I accepted eagerly.

To this day I still wonder why I had the strength of will to move to a new city and start a whole new life when I wasn’t sure of more than five hundred hours of employment. At the end of the five hundred hours the job was converted to permanent, so it ended up being a good move.

You be the judge, but I think I did well by usual American financial standards in the next twenty-two years.  After forty trips to Washington, I retired as a GS-12 Computer Specialist on the professional staff of the investigative arm of the United States Congress. By the way as we always told people, “We only tell congress what the situation is. Politicians are the ones that must do something. So don’t blame us if things are messed up.”

Before I took early retirement.  I had a condo in this building.

Where my neighbor was Reginald Kenneth Dwight better known as Sir Elton Hercules John CH CBE.  I only spoke to him once and that was to ask him to move out of the middle of a hall so I could get by.

My condo in the building shown above was on the 28th floor. When you looked out you could see the line of crud floating above skyline of Atlanta. I developed some respiratory problems, so I got out of there. Although I do miss coming home and just letting the valet park my van. I never did know where they parked it. 🤣 When I wanted to drive somewhere I just called the valet, and my van would be there to meet me.

I retired early. The new house I found had the outer walls up, so I designed the interior to fit my needs. For the first time I actually had a house that fit me!

Looking back on the last twenty-two years is a bit strange since I left behind the gypsy lifestyle of moving so often. I’ve lived here over two decades. An unexpected thing happened. Now that I had a kitchen that fits me, I found I enjoy cooking. So, I put in new cabinets with granite counter tops and a rack for most of my pans. It’s nice to take a hot pan out of the oven and put it right on the counter and not worry about it melting the surface.

Barramundi and Chickpea saladRiviera Salmon with Baby Spinach SaladSeared Pork Over Rice with Mango Chutney

Over the years I’ve become a good Chef.

I even sort of got my dream of having a telescope. Maybe I don’t physically have one. Using iTelescope I can produce images like this:

I’ve seen a lot in my first 75 years.


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