Perhaps my least favorite science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein is Job: A Comedy of Justice. In it the lead characters keep getting yanked abruptly from one version of the universe to another, and from one location on earth to another, without any rhyme or reason. I wonder if my distaste for this novel reflects the abrupt discontinuities in my own life, discontinuities which I can only call “uprootings.”
My first two uprootings I do not consciously remember.
Being born, of course, is an experience shared by everybody. A consciousness thrust abruptly into a universe of space and time, a new baby, finds the world a “blooming, buzzing confusion” as the philosopher-psychologist William James so colorfully put it. It takes us all a while to be able to make sense of what is going on, like a projected slide that is totally blurred and then gradually brought into sharper and sharper focus. And then, just when I probably was starting to get my bearings, whammo!
This second uprooting occurred when, at age 2, my father jumped from being a high school band conductor in Adrian, a very small town in the boondocks of Depresssion-era eastern
I can only remember a few details about life in
At one point I came down with measles and had to stay in the dark for days on end, as it was thought that light during this disease would damage the eyes. Dad had a shortwave receiver that I played around with during this time, though I have no recollection of what I listened to. At another point I was sick enough to have an antibiotic prescribed, probably when they first came on the civilian market. There were no pills, so my mother had to jab me in the fanny with a needle to give it to me.
When I started school I learned to dread going off on the bus. Older kids once took one of my shoes away and threw it out a window. I was so scared that I couldn’t learn much, and was nearly held back in the first grade because I couldn’t learn to read. Still,
My third uprooting was in 1946 when Dad’s work at the Naval Research Lab (the development of airborne radar) came to an end and we moved back to
And then my fourth uprooting hit me from the left and from the right in 1952 at age 12. My grandfather deLespinasse, age 72, suffered a stroke in March that left him paralyzed on his left side and requiring constant help. My grandmother couldn’t handle it by herself, so as soon as school let out I was bundled off 150 miles to their residence in Hubbard to help take care of him. Hubbard was a town of 600 where I knew nobody my own age and couldn’t leave the house for more than a few minutes to bicycle downtown for the mail or to do a little shopping for the household.
I spent the whole summer in this depressing situation, becoming so bored that I listed to every word of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions that ultimately nominated Adlai Stevenson and Dwight D. Eisenhower, a rather unusual activity for a 12 year old. I very much looked forward to returning home to
Of course this move was a shock, since I was cut off without even being able to say goodbye to friends in
The next uprooting came in 1955, when Dad’s professional travels came to an end and he landed at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in
My next uprooting came when I graduated from high school in 1957, and it was the first one where I had anything to say about where I would put down my new roots. When I had gone to the
At the same time I relocated to
However at the beginning of my senior year a couple of faculty members had me come in and asked if I had considered going to graduate school and becoming a college teacher. In all honesty, the idea had never occurred to me. I hadn’t known any college teachers become coming to
So I applied for graduate school at five places (
The shock of moving from
I finally got to be quite good friends with one other graduate student and did some visiting with other Willamette graduates who were in grad schools up in the New York/New Jersey area. But Christmas dinner my first year was by myself in a Chinese restaurant, the only place I could find open on that holiday. To make things worse, the novelist Ayn Rand came in to give a talk, and to prepare for that I read her novel Atlas Shrugged, which sank me into a very bad depression! (Later, though, I used that book to good effect in a special class at