My “Long And Winding Road” to the Age of 70 (the short version)

Special preview

Posted this day, Saturday, 24 September 2016, on the occasion of my 70th birth…
My license plates from very state I have lived in, except Pennsylvania.

Preface 

Here are a few photos of your humble Quoran: Does parting your hair one way or the other influence how others perceive you? (https://www.quora.com/Does-parting-your-hair-one-way-or-the-other-influence-how-others-perceive-you/answer/Tom-Byron) (Contains photos) This note will appear throughout, to speed up this post loading.

Let me just say that my children and grand children matter a lot, a whole lot. They know about most of all these events, and maybe there will be a surprise or two. It seems as if our family has taken roots up in several states, none real close to me. But once your children have their own families and careers and their own children that is wonderful in its own way. Enjoy this abbreviated recount of my journey. I love you all!

Introduction The yelling will never stop! “Why can’t you ever make up your mind! You are the most miserable person ever…!” Then, more yelling, I refuse to listen to, my poor mother never has a moment of peace. She is trapped here in our house, does not drive a car. She has six children to deal with for weeks at a stretch, while the bully, our father, is out of town. He is never referred to by the familial name “Dad”, for justifiable reasons, as you will see.

When he gets back home he barks orders like an obsessed drill Sargent! No one is happy. We prefer him to be “on the road.”

One summer afternoon, my younger brother ran away from home. It was a family tradition; my older brother would do the same in a year or so. My memory has been fried. He never returned. Ever. My father ran away from home back in the 1930’s. My little 14-year-old brother couldn’t stand it anymore, and he was too young to drive so he hitchhiked west bound on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, an adventure I would take a few years later. I came home from an adventure, he came home to the terror of his father. Trapped. He was too young to be treated this way too, others knew this but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help. The bully was ever-present—always mean, and always our father. I was, and I still am, a seeker of balance, a good “Libra”. Some take drastic measures, I would go into the military and never live at home again.

We all knew that Ricky was smarter and gentler than our father. He was my “younger-smarter brother”… A lot smarter (IQ 160+)! He and I were a few years different in age—three—and played outdoors together. We built a fort, one could call it a hideout, from old lumber we found near our house. It was only 5 feet high, by 6 feet long and 3 feet deep. The roof always leaked a little. We were mischievous little buddies, and could hide without leaving our backyard.

When our older sister got married and lived a block away, Ricky was introduced to guns by his brother-in-law Cesare, who was an avid gun user. He practiced safe usage and proper use of such a deadly weapon. He didn’t use and own guns to hunt with, they were for personal protection only.

The note on their apartment door, several years later, in central Philadelphia comes to mind. “If you haven’t been let in here, please leave. There is a loaded shotgun behind the front door.” The sign was correct, I saw that weapon personally.

One afternoon, in that last spring of his life, he asked Cesare, “What happens if I put this rifle into the ground and pull the trigger, will it make a loud noise?” Cesare explained the physics in his typically interesting English/Italian mangled English and thick Roman accent, “No, why do you ask a question like that?” The reply has been lost to eternity. I forget, and Cesare is dead now too.

My brother has run away and I’m scheduled to be on a camping church retreat for the week end. I go on my adventure assuming he’d come home by the time I got back Sunday. He did come home. He wrote his suicide note. His time remaining on earth was growing shorter by the minute. If I were there could I have talked him out of this? I will never know.

The events of my camping trip are also lost to eternity, as is much of my childhood. Lost in a fog of yelling and bickering that was the background noise—the sound track of my early years. His younger sister was told, “Go up and tell Ricky there was ice cream served downstairs.” When she entered his room, her world was turned upside down. She was around 10-years-old….such horror! I can not imagine.

While I was camping, my brother came home and asked (about his father), “Is he home?” He was told, “He isn’t home, I don’t think he’ll be back until next week.” Our older sister raised most of the four younger kids. Her older brother, completed the sextet of the Byron Clan.

We all think we are unique, and at the same time we realize that we are not. I have pondered this and have explained events in my life and many times I get the same response: “You should write a book!” I smile and agree. I have reviewed a few events here, and I’m either afraid to put this together, or I’m the worst procrastinator in history. I agree with the former and hope to disprove the latter. This is a start, there will be more added to this foundation.

My parents’ first child was conceived out of wedlock. This is key to understanding the family hostilities, which I am trying to discuss. Everyone was lied to about this for 50 years. I researched and found their original marriage license in a Tennessee court-house, and confirmed the lie. I never confronted him with this detail. But my father stoically preached the same morality and honesty, until his death. Common? Probably. The only reason to mention this is that prior to my parents wedding, my father’s life was a tumultuous series of “incidents and accidents.” He, too, had been a run-away. He rode a 1938(?) Indian motorcycle. He was wild and reckless, there are stories I’ve heard. Around 1938 or 1939, he told his then girlfriend, not my mother, that he couldn’t marry her, he was 24 or 25 then. She was pregnant and she then committed suicide. That refines my unique history a little further. Another item is that my younger brother was born in February, the real month that they were secretly married. They lived in New Jersey and drove to Tennessee, where there is no waiting period for marriages. Did our father remember his phony wedding anniversary every year my little brother had a birthday? No one alive to ask that question.

My father was the traveling salesman, the “proverbial type”, and if it were only one comment addressed to me, as a young man, “You sure look like ‘Jimmy’, is he your cousin?”, I have wondered along with the questioner, and I always have.

My father’s family is buried in Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island, New York City, the same Cemetery where the more famous Vanderbilt family are interred. How is that unique you ask, rightly so? My family, on that side, was in a contentious battle for years with the Vanderbilt’s over ferry service in New York City.

Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1834. Vanderbilt competed on the Hudson River against a steamboat monopoly between New York City and Albany. Using the name “The People’s Line,” he used the populist language associated with Democratic president Andrew Jackson to get popular support for his business. At the end of the year, the monopoly paid him a large amount to stop competing, and he switched his operations to Long Island Sound.[7]:99–104 Cornelius Vanderbilt (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Vanderbilt)

You know, obviously, who won. Now they are together for eternity—only a few hundred feet apart.

Robert Fulton and the steamboat: an interesting history here, as well. A member from my father’s family worked as an engineer with Mr. Fulton on that project. That led to the Vanderbilt conflict. Steamboat Voyage, 1807 (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/fulton.htm)

1946-20xx

What a journey it has been, living my childhood in the midst of hostility and anger; and, begging your indulgence, I will relate some detailed thoughts (year by year); opinions and experiences which I have observed along the way. As Paul Simon’s song said, “There were incidents and accidents”, along the way. There would be, as I will relate.

When “I got here”…
…prices were quite low, as were wages, but post-war expectations for consumption were high. The war-time economy would transition into a peace-time economy and there was plenty of pent-up demand. The production of cars, houses and consumer goods was growing rapidly. Our baby boomer generation was huge and we received a lot of attention; all 3.4 million of us, many of whom went (not me) to the largest rock concert ever—Woodstock 1969. We are turning 70 this year, or would have turned 70 (Vietnam would take a lot of us). We are the largest numbers of births ever recorded in America for one year. I went through schools in two different brand new buildings as I progressed through junior and senior high. They are still in use today, but still as crowded as they used to be, since my small town keeps growing. The world war was over, and our generation was going to be in the next group to be charge, in a few decades.

  • Gas prices were @15¢/gal
  • Average new car cost was $1200.00
  • U.S. postage for a letter was 2¢ ($0.02)
  • Minimum wage was 25¢ in the U. S.

Chapter One

1946 I was born just 13 months after the first nuclear weapons were used in war, I have been on quite a journey in America ever since. I was conceived in 1945 on a Christmas leave. Why was I ever told that I do not know. Truman was my first President (# 33), politics was not in my blood…just yet.

1949 I distinctly remember being this old in 1949:
This was a few years earlier than the walks I will mention with my older brother (9 then) and sister (8 then); but they were young too, my older brother and sister with our father (the one who told me about his time on leave in 1945)!

We used to climb the rather steep hill behind our house and make it an adventure. There was a “monastery up there”, so I remember being told. It may have been only a block or two away, but it was far from home at the age 2 or 3.

I also used to help my neighbor Bill get rid of the bees on his front porch.

I was having a fun early life up until I was two…

I had plastic surgery when I was two. I was hit in the mouth with a lead pipe thrown at me. It hit me in the mouth and split my lip wide-open. Never can catch a ball thrown at me to this day, 64 years later. My chances at playing football and baseball were dashed at that point!!

While I was recovering from this, I was helping my neighbor burn some yellow jackets (bees) out from around his wooden porch steps. I was stepping on the bees that were getting away. The last step I remember was a bottom one, that collapsed under my little foot.

BuZzzzzZzzZzz…I was stung over 200 times. Covered head-to-toe with bee stings! (https://www.quora.com/What-is-one-interesting-thing-about-you-that-most-people-who-know-you-do-not-know/answer/Tom-Byron)

I can also remember playing here on the steps in front of my house. The wall was pretty high for a little tot like I was then. I had to have plastic surgery after getting hit in the face with a piece of steel pipe I did not catch! It hit me right in the mouth— ooowie!!! I can never play baseball or football due to the fear of things thrown towards me. What is your earliest childhood memory? (https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-earliest-childhood-memory/answer/Tom-Byron) (Contains photos)

Chapter Two

What was it like to grow up in America during the 1950’s? (https://www.quora.com/What-was-it-like-to-grow-up-in-America-during-the-1950s/answer/Tom-Byron) (Contains photos)

1951 I have a few faint recollections of this time, but much of who I was has been destroyed in my being brought up in such a disharmonious home. I related those few highlights I can remember in the introduction.

I (think I) overcame all of this and it made me a stronger person. You decide; I gave up wrestling with this issue too many years ago for it to matter now. Occasionally I stop when I see a family from the 50’s and ask myself, “Am I really over all this?” “Was this how my childhood was?” The answer to the first question surely must be an emphatic, “No!” To the second, a tentative “Yes…” I have been told that I am a psychoanalyst’s nightmare or best customer ever. I don’t know which; or, I just refuse to admit my answer.

I “ran away” one afternoon with my neighbors to go shopping. 1951 or 1952. I never told my mom where I was for several hours. In the 60’s I would travel 300 miles away and tell my mother I was a mile away at Johnny’s. more on that later. I had to have been 5 or 6 on this misadventure. I never got yelled at and looking back on that, now, I wonder. Why I didn’t get asked if I was o.k.. My mom just asked, “Where were you?” Odd. My childhood is terribly fuzzy. Much of what I remember are the arguments between my parents. About stupid stuff. Petty arguments over going out to see a movie or not going out to see a movie; escalating into yelling! Random, but upsetting to a 10-year-old.

I knew that my father was a closet alcoholic; was that the reason for the mood swings? The reason I erased my childhood? His rationale was, “You never see me stumbling around, do you?” I do remember a late night event where all six of us children were lined up and grilled to find out, as our father demanded, “Who stole my pencil!!!?” It was scary. All of us were quiet. Either, one of us was a liar, or he was drunk. I decided the answer was, “I did it!” This stopped the madness; I forget what my punishment was, but the yelling ceased! My sisters still praise me to the present time for this valor.

My childhood is blank except for some of these flashbacks.

On yet another night, I remember being woken up one night (around nine?) in the evening and being told I was going to the drive-in; they used to show movies outside, in large empty fields. Drive-In Theater (http://www.driveintheater.com) You put a speaker hanging from a post on your car window and watched from the comfort of your car. My sister had one she purloined, and still had it for decades after she stopped going there. An alternate plan was to go to the movie with a girl friend and “watch” the movie from your “car-bedroom”. Who wants to guess what really happened. I remember I was (half) asleep, in the backseat, and my father and (?) were in the front seat. Just another weird piece of memory from what’s left of my childhood. Redacted.

My father was rarely home, for weeks at a time. He was the “proverbial” traveling salesman of which old jokes were/are told. They were jokes, but I saw them as real. Maybe this explains where the child in me went. Maybe “he” is hiding inside me? Maybe “he” is dead; my brother took that option at age 14. I can’t ask him, and I can’t really remember much about that, except one telling exchange.

I came home from having been camping up in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania Sunday. Another escape, you say? Probably. When I came home that day, a hot July afternoon, I carried my pack into the house. It became apparent at this point why our narrow street was crowded with parked cars. My older brother greeted me when I came inside. He said, “I thought you were dead!!!” I was not, but soon found out our little brother committed suicide the night before. The rest is also blank, as I have previously mentioned.

Perhaps, not long after this, this same older brother left home. He never returned. He went to Washington state, as far west as you can go. He had just graduated from high school and I was in the 9th grade. It was a long hot summer, we never had air conditioning at home or in our cars back then.

My child-self died on one of those hot summer days, 50 years ago. I am here as his (unauthorized substitute) replacement. The show must go on, right? What happened to the child in you? (https://www.quora.com/What-happened-to-the-child-in-you/answer/Tom-Byron)

Chapter Three

1952 I remember flying for the first time at age 6 in a red bi-plane with my father. Open cockpit, two-seater, pilot in the back, Stu Dowdey, and I sat on my father’s lap when I wasn’t standing up looking out over the edge of the plane.

Air travel has changed a lot since then. Then you could go to a commercial airport, walk in and go to the departing area and even get on the plane to see someone off. No screening. Everyone dressed like they were at church; we always dressed well in public unless it was just play time. No security. No X-rays. The airlines let you smoke and even gave you small 4-packs of cigarettes…gave, as in free.

1953 There were only 48 states (no Hawaii or Alaska) and my phone number was 1619J, my friend Johnny’s number was 0211J. There was no dial on that phone. I had “voice-dialing” then, “Number Pahleeze?” Funny that I could have seen a dial without glasses then, now I need glasses to read, but I can use Siri….full circle.

1955 Polio was being fought as I grew up, we had all heard about how President FDR was crippled by this disease. Years later I would visit Warm Springs, Georgia where he visited and later died. There was finally a pill you could take, and I remember, around 1955 or so, those white paper cups like the ketchup holders at McDonald’s. We were handed a pill and that small paper cup of water, or was it Kool-Aid™? So many kids had been crippled by this disease, only a few years earlier. We also got those scar producing shots to prevent Smallpox (finally eradicated by 1980) which we wore on our arms, even to this day, with the scars as proof. The girls could get them on their upper thighs to hide the scars, if they ever chose to wear sleeveless dresses.

Our health, as “boomers”, was important, but curiously, our cars did not have seat belts then, even until 1968 were any laws passed. Kids didn’t wear helmets or knee pads. I did drink creek water though and real spring water, ate wild berries, crab apples, honeysuckle, etc. all summer, every summer. We didn’t have gyms to go to for exercise; we never needed them because we never sat around watching TV or playing board games in our homes. I was “thin as a rail” until I got married and settled down. Then? Well, unless the weather was horrid we were always found outside doing something. I built my own skate board from a broken old metal roller skate and a board I found someplace. No helmets were used, they weren’t invented for home use then. Sledding all winter if there was snow, or swimming all summer, if we were lucky. I’m surprised I never grew gills—maybe that contributes to my skepticism towards evolution theories…?

1956 There were not even any interstate highways until President Eisenhower decided, from his experience in WWII seeing the German Autobahn, that we needed better faster roads. That was 1956, I was 10-years-old. Now we have 46,000 miles of non-stop highways. Amazing. You can now drive non-stop across the U.S. except to change drivers and get gas. This is why we now have motels and fast food chains everywhere too.

Perhaps I have some family influence to blame for my political interests. My Uncle Clarence Francis (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Francis) was in politics, and a very successful “fruit peddler”, as he referred to himself. He retired as Chairman of The Board of General Foods and also served as President Eisenhower’s Economic advisor. I actually did vote democrat in 1972 for McGovern. War protest vote, as I recall; I was two years post-active-duty then.

I became very active in politics beginning in the mid-1980’s. I became interested in a local annexation battle. A current U.S. Senator now, but Governor then, wanted me to run for the state legislature. I was part of a political group who then sued a major city and won in court. The adage, “You can’t fight city hall”, certainly isn’t true. My “future-ex-wife” at the time said I couldn’t run. “Harrumpf!!” But I acquiesced. Regrets? Not a lot about the political part of the decision, but I would probably not have gone on to meet my lovely second wife; life would have taken a totally different path. Life, I’m finding out, is exactly that—odd twists, turns, and joys, sorrows. “Incidents and accidents.” Unexplainable at the time, but valuable reference points in retrospect as we age.

1957 One summer day, my brother Ricky and I built a crude “Huck Finn” wooden raft, and traveled down stream for an adventure. No one drowned and we didn’t make any discoveries, only that we could build something creek-worthy and fun.

1958 I was about 12, and I was with a church group one summer afternoon. It was in New Jersey, or near Philadelphia—I don’t know, memory wiped clean. The day was meant to be an outing to enjoy a fun time swimming at a state park. It has become one of my most vivid memories of my youth. Like it was yesterday. At least parts of this day are etched in my mind like a carving in an Egyptian tomb.

I was thrust into adulthood quite suddenly and permanently. It was a preparation for another event to happen a few years later. My youth ended this day, as you will see.

I met death head on, face-to-face, from my personal experience, not to read about, but to see for myself. Up close. Only censored by time that has passed these 55 years later. But the details that matter have remained…I will re-visit now.

There were about 15 to 20 of us and a few adults. There presence and their names and faces have been shoved from my memory. The mind is like that. It is laser-focused on the details that are important, not the trivial details surrounding the day. Month? Day? Place? Gone. But not what I will relate, from a kids-eye view.

I do not remember the date. I do not remember the place by name. But I do remember the landscape, the view, grass, trees, as if I were there as I type. It was hot! There was a wide, slow moving, idyllic creek. Muddy, but inviting on that hot summer day.

Along the bank of the creek, wide and muddy, was a large overhanging tree with a big rope dangling right over the water. We took turns pulling the rope back to the shore and grabbing hold of the rope and swinging out over the creek and letting go. KERSPLASH! We fell into the water. I had never seen such a contraption. We took turns laughing as one of us would try to show off and do a flip as we let go. Some were more athletic, some were lucky, but it was fun. It was a hot day and the water felt great. We had no concerns about the muddy water, or any hazards doing this. I think the water was plenty deep, nothing to worry about.

As we gathered under this tree, maybe 15 or more of us, I wondered who this young man was laying before me and my companions before us. On the ground. Surrounded by panicked adults and kids talking to each other, walking around confused.

Moments earlier we had been watching a group of older kids, playing out towards the middle of the creek. Perhaps 100 feet from us. They were yelling and rough-housing and splashing. We were jumping off this tree-rope, they were not with our group.

There were perhaps four of these older kids grouped together out in the middle of the creek, separately having fun away from us. I noticed, as I waited my turn to grab the rope, that their playing suddenly changed. Their voices came across the water in shouts. Staccato. Replies. Screams! Commands! Urgency!

As my attention focused on them, I noticed one, then another would disappear beneath the water for a few seconds. They were not playing any more. Then another would surface and yell, followed by another who would dive below the water and suddenly pop back up to the surface. I could sense their panic and fear as I watched this. But what exactly was going on?

Here I am, standing with a large group of 30 kids and adults, trying to see what was going on. An older kid was laying on the ground. There was an ambulance parked near by, on my left. As I watched, he was splayed out on the ground, face down, with his arms extended over his head. A grown up knelt across him, he was trying to get him to breathe. The old fashion method of leaning on his shoulders and pulling his shoulders up after pressing down on him.

After I heard some of his friends talking to other adults I found out. He had been pretending to drown, but wasn’t drowning. He would pop up out of the water and surprise the others!

Not the last time. Not now! He didn’t come up and they kept waiting, laughing. Their wondering became panic. He really was in trouble. THEY knew something was wrong!!!

Now he was near my feet on the grass. He wasn’t moving. They kept trying to get him to breathe. After a long time (5 minutes or 30 minutes?) they decided to turn him over. This is where my memory of this ends. I saw his face, and his color, and I knew…

About three summers later, my younger brother would die suddenly. Was this a cosmic preparation for me, a preview of the “Death Angel’s” visit? A harbinger..

p.s. …harbinger indeed. As I finished this answer and got a cup of coffee and looked out the window here at my apartment.

The “Death Angel” has just visited an elderly neighbor. He was taken by ambulance. This is downright eerie and spooky. I am shaken…What did you see as a child that affected your life (https://www.quora.com/What-did-you-see-as-a-child-that-affected-your-life/answer/Tom-Byron) (Contains photo)

Chapter Four

1960 The last two weeks in July, for many years, we all packed up (5 kids and parents) and went to the ocean. My oldest brother had already left home. His reasons, and that story is a long and tedious road for another tale. They did not mix, like oil and water…another time I might cover that. I remember loading up in the family’s 1958 light green Ford station wagon (no air conditioning) and heading to the Jersey shore. I remember the smell of tobacco every time he lit up. Most of us children went on to become smokers. I have since quit after a clean bill of health—50 years was enough.

What an adventure, walking two blocks every day down to the beach. What a troupe that was! It wasn’t until decades later that I would learn that the great white sharks would berth their young in Brigantine Bay. Right where we swan when not in the ocean. That was before the movie “Jaws”, a shark thriller. I didn’t know to be scared, no one really did. Not while we were there out in the ocean. Alone.

One afternoon I swam and wadded out to a sandbar (1/2 mile out?) with my little brother. On our way back to shore we had to stop swimming and wait for a shark (between us and the shore) to swim across in front of us. Too close, even though it was 200 yards away. We didn’t even worry. Those days will never return…

I have fond memories of Steel Pier and the more famous Boardwalk. We were given a dollar or two for candy and allowed to walk around. It was memorable once to see the real “Mr. Peanut (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Peanut)”.

Every fall, before school started, we would go to the local shoe store, “Reagans” and get new shoes. They had a fluoroscope where you could look into a small screen and see an eerie green moving X-ray of your feet to make sure your toes weren’t being smushed in your new shoes. Clever. More here: What existed when you were a child that doesn’t exist now? (https://www.quora.com/What-existed-when-you-were-a-child-that-doesnt-exist-now/answer/Tom-Byron) (Contains photos)

1961 The world was a crazy place. It still is and my childhood is always remembered because of the odd things I remember. Take 1961 as an example of my own craziness. My grandfather was 3 in 1881. I was 15 in 1961—both “upside down years”. Flip 1881 or 1961 upside down (literally) they read the same. I actually thought about that THEN! If he had lived 2 more years he would have seen two “upside down years”! 6009 is the next upside down year.

I was told a few fibs, by my parents, as a child, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” (Or the devil’s back?) There was a “Sandman”, a “Toothfairy”, a Santa Claus, and an “Easter Bunny”. Odd that two of those myths were religious-centric…but that’s another story of my time as an acolyte at the local Episcopalian church. Getting to church for an early morning mass on a weekday, on a school day, on foot. 30 minute walk to and from, then walk to school before classes started. All kids were a bundle of energy, and a shame to waste it on kids. But I digress.

I had to clean my plate when the eight of us sat down to supper, six kids grabbing and fussing, if you didn’t eat it someone else might, plus waste was a taboo in those days! I grew up eating my meals without drinking my milk during the meal. Our mother got tired of cleaning up the inevitable spilled milk. I still don’t drink and eat at the same time.

One Easter morning, I entered the dining room where we ate (fought over food), I expected to see (the usual) six Easter baskets resplendent with colored eggs and candy chocolate bunnies etc. it was another childhood moment for history. Never to be forgotten.

All six baskets were empty; except for the green straw, the baskets were devoid of jelly beans, candy, and colored eggs. They had just been plundered by who knew? Years later I heard my older brother that he and his pal did this nasty stunt. What a screwy family!

Fall, 1961 The Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuba, occurred while I was in high school (1961) and America was trying to oust Fidel Castro. He’s still alive in Cuba today, and his brother Raoul is now in charge. We came so close to war during that time. The Russians had our military ready for war. It would be ironic that five years later, I would join the United States Air Force and be assigned to a squadron of F-101’s. Those Voodoos, as they were called, were used to as reconnaissance aircraft (the RF version though) to photograph those weapons all over Cuba. Details later of my chance to fly in one of these happened in 1968.

1961 From 1961 until 1989 there was a wall separating East and West Berlin, I had grown up under communist threats; we practiced “Duck and Cover (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_and_Cover_(film))” in schools. We also read a bible verse in class to start every school day. That is true! The wall is down and I have a piece of it.

Summer, 1962 I hitch hiked 600 miles on a weekend. I hitch-hiked 600 miles at the age of 16 to visit a girlfriend. I did this in 3 days, and told my mom I was a neighbor kid’s house.

Several rides were in large semi trucks (18 wheelers) and I was fascinated by the tandem gear shift requiring some fancy shifting. “No wonder, I thought, they hate to slow down and down shift.”

Many years later I confessed to my mom about this adventure, and we both had a good laugh. It was a pretty dumb stunt!! Tom Adventures: What is the most insane thing you ever did? (https://www.quora.com/Adventures-What-is-the-most-insane-thing-you-ever-did/answer/Tom-Byron)

November, 1963 As I would prepare for my senior high school year, President Kennedy made a campaign trip to Dallas, Texas. Only after 40 years did I visit Dealey Plaza. It was a surreal visit. Indescribable. Sad. Moving.

I remember that it was the last class of the day. 22 November 1963 was my future wife’s 17 birthday—we would not meet until many decades later. This was a Friday and Thanksgiving was the next week, we might have had that week off, I do not remember, but we were all relaxing and goofing off in the Shop Class I was in. I was not an academic student, I was just trying to “have fun”. I was a kid, we would all be turning 17 that year. I never looked at a clock, but I heard the radio in the teacher’s office. A crowd had gathered. We were all about to become adults at the same moment. Here’s how we saw the news on B&W TV: JFK assassination: Cronkite informs a shocked nation (https://youtu.be/6PXORQE5-CY)

One of those rare and momentous events of life you can remember and date yourself by and with. Where exactly were you when…(Blank)…happened. It was one of those times. I don’t remember anything after that. Life was fractured and we were collectively a nation of “Zombies”. It was mortifying.

Getting married in the famous 1967 Chicago blizzard (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1967_Chicago_blizzard) was another moment I would not forget. The 1969 Moon landing was one of those dates. The 1986 Challenger explosion was one of those dates. The 1987 murder I witnessed was one as well.

New Years Eve, 1963 A New York City trip with two friends from high school. After a short 90 mile train ride to Grand Central Station in mid-town NYC, we were going to join in a party with a 1/4 million others. All strangers to the three of us. Aaaah, youth! Why not? Police on horseback monitored the crowd. A small town suburban kid knew nothing about horses. Intimidating to stand next to a horse that towered over you….and you had to look up at them and you needed to look down and watch what you could “step in” if you didn’t smell where you were walking.

A grand time was had by all, and I even had a bonus to cap off my night. My cousin lives in Queens, NYC along with several millions of other people! Crowded for a kid from a town of 3000 where everyone knew everyone. I literally was standing in Times Square and was backing away from a moving flow of people celebrating when I ran into my cousin. Not seeing who he was I said, “Excuse ME!” and then turned around and we were both flabbergasted. Neither of us knew the other would be here. Try telling someone, “Hey, meet me in Times Square on New Years Eve!” That ain’t happening….but it did.

Jan 1, 1964 I slept on a bench in Grand Central Station from 2:00am until the train back to Philadelphia was ready to board at 6:00am.

June, 1964 52 years after the Titanic sank, I worked at my first job two days after graduating from high school, in the same building where the SOS signals were heard that dreadful early morning. There was also a telegram sent.
Telegram from Titanic proves owners lied about hearing nothing from it (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3305298/Sinking-fast-Newly-discovered-telegram-sent-Titanic-proves-owners-lied-not-knowing-peril.html) “Yes, here is one. I have not held this telegram in my hand but, a Telegram from Titanic proves owners lied about hearing nothing from it, this copy says telegraphs do still exist from that night.” ref?

I might point out that the founder of NBC (Mr. Sarnoff) was listening to his radio on the upper floor of John Wanamaker’s Department store in Philadelphia (USA) and received many messages from the Titanic that night.

I used to work in that same building in 1964. Radio to the Rescue: “David Sarnoff and the Titanic Disaster”

June 8, 1964 My first job was selling film cameras at Wanamaker’s Department Store. It took almost a week to actually see the photo you took was out of focus and my friend’s head wasn’t shown in the photo. Oh well…I did come from six generations of photographers. Byron of New York (http://photo-sleuth.blogspot.co.nz/2011/06/sepia-saturday-78-byron-of-new-york.html?m=1), and James Byron Clayton & Joseph Byron Clayton, Photographers of Nottingham (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~brett/photos/eng/ntt/jbyron.html). Color film was fun, since TV was still B/W with only 3 channels to watch: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Sunday nights around 7:00PM “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” (1961–1969) was a treat. If you had an expensive color TV, you were lucky. It was probably an RCA model that weighed around 30 pounds. If it happened to be a warm summer evening there was never any air-conditioning in our house or most houses. It was a sweaty evening, but the color was great to watch, I don’t remember it being hot, I was used to it. There wasn’t even air-conditioning in our family car.

Summer, 1964 The New York World’s Fair was only 90 miles away. I went, I don’t know how many times. I do remember on one visit saying to my mother, “All these buildings are crooked!” This, after coming out of an island exhibit that sold Rum punch. I had my first taste of booze and inebriation with my dear mother! I was nearly 18 and nearly legal by a few months—but mom was there by my side.

July 11, 1964 I went camping with my, then girl friend’s, Dad and a few other guys. I remember very little about that weekend. I do absolutely remember arriving home on a hot Sunday afternoon and noticing there were several extra cars parked along the street in front of my house.

As I walked up those 7 or 8 stairs, I was oblivious that my world had been turned into a nightmare.

Saturday evening around 8:30pm my brother took his life. Upstairs in his bedroom. Alone. At the time I entered my front door I was met by my older brother. Unaware of the details at this time, my brother met me and after he gasped and then inhaled, “I thought YOU WERE DEAD!” He had been told, “Your brother is dead!” They didn’t explain and he didn’t ask which one…(we were a little dysfunctional anyway, this didn’t make things better.)

The rest of that day, and the next, and the next, must have been traumatic. Very! They have been blocked out of my mind. I remember being in the church a day or two later. The priest said, …blah blah blah, …”We know what Ricky did was wrong”,… blah, blah, blah…

September, 1964 “The Belly Dancer” incident. I’m the only survivor of this event, of which I would be remiss if I excluded it from my “Long And Winding Road”, even the short version.

My sister worked in Philly, as did I. She and her Roman husband, “not Italian!”, his words, invited me and our parents to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant on Sampson Street named Eddie Taeoon’s (phonetic spelling) Middle East Restaurant. The restaurant was old (I was young), dark paneling, a live band, made for an intimate dining experience. The dining area was long and narrow with tables along the walls with a center aisle for waiters and servers. There was room along here for a belly dancer as well, with music and alcohol it was festive. As we were eating our appetizer of Hummas Tahini a young lady came down the aisle, her colorful silken dress flowing and finger tambourines jingling in her hands. My eyes followed her as she went by, slowly, as she reached the end of the restaurant and turned around. She was now coming towards our table and facing me and my father. My sister, her husband, and my mother had their backs to her as she approached our table. To my delight, she stopped right in front of me. Smiling she said, “Hi there…” Then I secretly realized what had just happened as she continued on down the aisle. My father looked at me with a very puzzled look. You obviously don’t know this epitome of “the traveling salesman”. The look was pure and unadulterated jealousy. Shocking!

I knew this young lady as a customer from Wanamaker’s Camera Shop…My father was clueless!

1966 The Vietnam war was a huge mess. I registered for the draft in 1964. Life began to require choices, risks and responsibilities. I would exit civilian life and really grow up quickly in uniform, away from home, in a place where I was in charge. In charge of who and what I wanted to become. Would military rules be for me, would I rebel? I had to find out. By the Spring I had been trying to understand South East Asia and the Viet Cong, etc. life was demanding my closer attention now. Consequences for which I had some input. I was 19 and knew I would get drafted soon. My choice to “volunteer” was the best option with the most choices. I would become a “fly boy” that April and never live at home again. Instant adulthood. Besides…(What’s the most awesome thing you’ve ever done?) my answer on here, to this question was sailing on Titanic Memorial Cruise… in 2012. I would also consider a very risky adventure of mine occurred during my time as a hydraulic mechanic in the U.S. Air Force in 1968.

One of my adventures in ’66, while courting my first wife, was to sleep on a park bench, under the stars, in Grant Park. That was bold, but that was a long, long time ago.

July 2, 1966 Chicago, Illinois

I went into Chicago for the weekend with a fellow Airman from Chanute, Illinois AFB. We rode there on the Illinois Central Railroad City of New Orleans (song) (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_New_Orleans_(song)). Not expensive if you went in uniform.

I met this Midwestern young man who wanted to ride on a subway…groan…I was from Philadelphia, PA. I was tired of subways and the hassle. Too crowded, not real safe, noisy, and dirty!

I am a nice guy so I decided I would humor him.

We started the weekend by taking what would become Amtrak in 1971, north to Chicago. We were having a good time, but the entrance down into the bowels of the city was still ahead. I don’t like subways.

Oddly, and as an aside, my parents also met on public transportation. The Staten Island Ferry, New York City many decades earlier. It was going to be my turn in a few steps— but I didn’t know that. Yet.

I forget my friend’s name now, after all, it was 49 years ago! Here we were, on the subway platform. In uniform. I suppose women will always like “a man in uniform…” Waiting for our train, we noticed two young ladies waiting for a train like we were.

“Do you mind if we ride with you on the train? It is kinda late and we will keep ya safe…”, I said. Or something like that.

We talked for 10 minutes as the train stopped every few blocks, station after station. We had no particular place to go, so we decided we were exiting when they exited. Brave, and soldiers! A dangerous mix, but it was a lovely 85° degree summer evening.

We were allowed to walk them home. Yak for a while and see them home safely.

6 months later, in the worst blizzard ever to cripple the city of Chicago, I married one of these young ladies. History repeated itself.

Life was never to be the same! What incidental encounter changed the course of your life? (https://www.quora.com/What-incidental-encounter-changed-the-course-of-your-life/answer/Tom-Byron)

January 1967 The worst blizzard in the history of Chicago! (Google it) The October before I got married, and a view from my barracks. (October is not a typo.)

My first marriage—Mother Nature was trying to warn me. Not much to say, no wedding photos, no reception, no guests, her parents, her sister, us, and the preacher. My second wedding was my friend, my bride’s friend and a judge, and one photo. Strange that years later I would be a wedding photographer.

1967 What does AWOL mean? They shave your head.
 They give you a new mug shot.
 They put you in the brig. 
You walk around all over the base picking up trash and are publicly humiliated.
 You are busted down a rank.

Now, after 5 days away from your job, you get out of jail. Jail wasn’t much worse than boot camp anyway.

Finally a few months later your First Sergeant (CMSGT) comes to your defense. He finds out you were wrongly charged. You were off base for the week-end with permission from your superior (SSGT). You did not go AWOL, you took a week-end off. One big lie from your staff sergeant has been made right.

Then you find out that your First Sergeant (CMSGT Clayton Teem) has sent your boss (SSGT) to Viet Nam as punishment for you getting put in jail. OUCH!

Fast forward 15 years. [Note: I will post photo of the newspaper as soon as I find it in “my pile of stuff”] I find out that my now ex-staff sergeant has experienced a tragedy in his life. We haven’t seen or spoken to each other in a decade, at least. I noticed a big headline in the paper that his son had been killed in a military plane crash. I find his phone number after a few hours of searching and call him expressing my condolences.

Of all my military experiences, this AWOL story is my most vivid memory of my time there.

Also see story about this plane I worked on at this same base. What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? In the military, what is it like to go AWOL? (https://www.quora.com/In-the-military-what-is-it-like-to-go-AWOL/answer/Tom-Byron) (Contains photo)

1968 I was a hydraulic mechanic on the F-101A_Voodoo. Having pestered many test pilots for a “free ride”. I was suddenly offered the chance one August afternoon in 1968. The pilot took me over to flight ops and found me a flight suit that I could wear, and a helmet. [Background to this flight], it was not approved to fly in these fighter jets unless you passed the course of “altitude chamber” school. I never did this since it was not part of my work routine. I was a ground crew member, not a flying member. But, oh well.

After getting some quick instructions on when and how to eject (good plan for just a fun ride), the engines were started and off we went out on to the runway. It would be pertinent to mention two minor details at this point. (1) I had just finished a minor hydraulic repair to a flight control system. (2) One of the two engines had just been replaced. The purpose of the test flight was to make sure the new engine worked properly. NICE…mmm?

I love to fly. First flight was in open cockpit bi-plane at age 6 or 7. I assumed that as we got airborne I would experience a nice view of my air base…and flying like it was a routine flight. Wrong!!

The pilot and I sat at the end of the runway, (he in front, me behind him) and prior to take off ran the engines up to take off power. He then idled a few moments and got radio clearance to take off. As he released the brakes and we accelerated we began our take off roll! At this point (80 kts?) he flipped two switches on the throttles and lit the after-burners (180 kts.) !!!

There was no view to see with 3 G’s pressing me back into the seat as we took off and climbed straight up! Boom! We were at 25,000 feet in no time. We leveled off around 35,000 ft. and it was surreal. The glass canopy allowed a view. Rolling over, the view of the ground was even more it was an amazing feeling while being inverted in flight!

The real reason for the flight was the next phase and the reason to go flying. Test the new engine. Simply put, this involved turning the engine off in the air. (what were those ejection rules?) Nice! We immediately slowed down dramatically, and then using the forward movement from the remaining engine, he air-started the new engine. Whoa! More G-forces again. Having completed this part of his job, he decided to do a little “showing off” for me and put the jet through some loops, rolls, twists, and turns. Interesting, to say the least! Very expensive roller coaster.

The landing was not what I was expecting, nor was it your typical commercial jet landing where it takes several miles to descend 25,000 feet. We did this in 3 or 4 miles, not in 50 to 75 miles; landing like a brick!

I was glad to finally be on the ground. The ride of a lifetime, 44 years ago, as if it were yesterday! Dangerous? Yes! Scary? Yes! Fun? Heck yea!!!

Engine and hydraulic repairs all checked out fine… Now time to be sick to my stomach and hope after my ears stop bleeding my hearing is still ok…What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? (https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-riskiest-thing-youve-ever-done/answer/Tom-Byron)(Contains photo)

Chapter Five

1970 I served 3 years, 9 months and 27 days. Time for civilian life again. I was a civilian again, but married and having two small children it was more serious than April 1966 was! I had fun in the service, and only spent 5 months in jail.

1971 I started my college career. This is not the easiest way to get an education, but why not try. Uncle Sam said this was my benefit for being in the USAF. What a great time the next 17 years were. A family, a mortgage, a fledgling career and night school. Read about this learning experience here: What is your “Dawn Wall”? (https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-Dawn-Wall/answer/Tom-Byron)

1976 My career began afresh this year. I finally had the title of Engineer. I also moved to Tennessee and would stay in the south, even as I type this. I began to listen to country music, join a Baptist Church. I was entering my “Thirties”, had a real mortgage. This telephone work would get me sent to Louisiana, and Alabama and then Kentucky. My kids liked/hated this, but they have friends from several states. Now I have a son in Ohio, a daughter in Kentucky and a daughter in Alabama. Life is full of additions, changes, and corrections as we get older.

Chapter Six

1986 During a training class in Northern New Jersey, a group of us decided to visit New York City, not my first visit, but a memorable visit. Part of our day there we saw a Broadway play but that, as memorable as “Cats” was, does not compare to my first visit to the Twin Towers.

A short cab ride from midtown down to lower Manhattan was fun. There were 7 of us and we had to take two different cabs. The traffic was terrible, or normal, depending on your perspective. NYC is a noisy, crowded place all the time. We separated and got in our cabs, and ended up getting separated by traffic and the cabbie’s route he chose. It was interesting both cabs arrived within moments of each other to The WTC site. Both cabs took different twists and turns and the fares were both the same as we figured out.

1987 My second life began this year when I divorced and remarried, and also graduated from college. My oldest child was now graduated from high school, and her younger sister was married this year. It was a difficult year.

Witnessing the murder of someone close to you is traumatic. It is not like the Hollywood depictions—ever! I don’t talk about this but it is also in the deepest reaches of my mind, like a catacomb. There but rarely disturbed. It is a coping mechanism I learned from childhood. Partition and leave alone. Over the years I did this to my childhood and much has been locked away in a catacomb of my mind and irretrievable. Is that good? Is that bad? Do I want to find out?

Chapter Seven

1993 Elvis stamp issued. I was there for this event and it was my first time to be interviewed by CNN. The second time was in 2012 (see video interview 2012).

For the stamp event I waited in line for hours and hours. I was the first person, actually and my wife (major Elvis fan) wanted to be seated down front to see Priscilla Presley. Earlier in the week we met Patsy Presley (Elvis’ double-first cousin).

Rain and fates were not aligned this night, in January. Chilly rain fell all afternoon. The celebration was a tent event, like a Southern Gospel Meeting.

My wife and I were seated in row two, the front row was for the dignitaries—Post Master General, the Governor of Tennessee and the Mayor of Memphis.

As the festivities began and a large group of singers came on stage, the mood was festive. Within moments I heard an odd sound behind us, to our right. Nothing loud, nothing scary, just out of place. Back to the music. The Hume High School girls chorus was singing something from the 50’s. Elvis was the theme and the focus. It was grand.

Not 5 minutes after the first noise the was a second noise. Louder. Sharper. It was followed immediately by low murmurings which continued to grow louder, as I turned from the singers on stage, I looked back where I had looked a few minutes ago. The folding chairs for this event, were on their sides and people were standing. Uninsured but confused.

The music suddenly stopped as the emcee came to the mic. “Your attention, please.” Firm but not panicked. “Will everyone please calmly and immediately proceed to the exits.”

The seating area was built on plywood sections raised above the ground about 4′. As I said it had been raining. What no one knew was the cinderblock pillars holding up the flooring had been slowly sinking as the rain continued all afternoon and now into the evening.

We were the last ones out since we were the first ones in. No one was happy, except the big shots got to watch the show and see the presentation and unveiling of the Elvis stamp. As a final insult, Elvis’ wife Priscilla and their daughter Lisa Marie showed up. A rare public appearance and we missed it.

October, 1998 I was living in rural Western Kentucky. A short walk down the road from home was the closest point I could see the Northern sky with fewer trees, and my favorite place to watch the stars. Only a year earlier I was able to view the less famous Hale-Bopp comet; this was a comet that history said help the Norman Conquest in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. Any time I get a chance to see anything periodic that is viewable without a telescope, I’m game. Both of these comets were fun to watch with binoculars.

Chapter Eight

2001, 11 September, Tuesday, my generation’s “Pearl Harbor” moment. A day that would never end, and would touch everyone deeply. Much has and will be written about this moment that is still not over, 15 years later as I write these words. 15 years before this day, I was in New York City and made my only visit up to the observation deck. Stunning. As their brochure said, “The closest some of us will ever get to heaven.” Irony. Tragic. Commemorated in our family, from 2002 onward, as my grandson’s birthday. Celebrated by my step son’s being named after his father’s college friend who died there, that beautiful blue-sky morning.

2003 My mother dies in Vermont, near my youngest sister. My parents decided to move from Florida to Vermont to be with some family in their final years. They had alienated five of their six children. One daughter lives in California and one in Arizona. My brother lives in New Mexico and one has committed suicide as his means of escape from what he perceived as a tyrant.

March 27, 2004 My dear sister passes away in Arizona, in my presence. She waited for me to arrive from Kentucky. It was so, so sad to see someone survive lung cancer only to succumb to a super-bug, caught in the hospital.

The 2000’s aren’t starting off too well; but they will close with us moving to Georgia and having a new President a few years later.

Some retrospect about these 70 years before I end:

  • Politics was always, and still is, interesting: For the first time since Presidents Adams (#2 and #6), father and son, we had another father and son Presidency—history rarely repeats like this, let alone witnessing it. Presidents Bush #41 and 43
  • George HW Bush was the first sitting VP since President Van Buren (1837) to be elected President. History was continuously being made and it was interesting.
  • I saw the first President to be impeached since Andrew Johnson in 1868. The spectacle was riveting and I hope we never go through that mess again! I saw the first President to resign in 1974, and prior to that VP Agnew resigned, only the second since 1832 when John Calhoun resigned after serving only 16 days.

I remember before VISA™ and MasterCard™ I could tell who the rich and the poor were very easily—the car they drove. The fact that new cars are now $25,000 and can be financed, new cars dominate the roads. Since 1966, the credit card began to replace cash, and interest payments became a significant revenue stream. When Were Credit Cards Invented? A Complete History

Now, we have a large amount of wealth being created by businesses who produce no physical product, no factories. Sports franchises produce games or events and billions in revenue; Hollywood makes billions in revenue and produces only images on a screen. The music industry makes digital songs, nothing physical, without records or albums—just downloads. Factories are fading from America. Skilled trades are declining. We have no repair shops for radios and TVs, everything is thrown out and better models of everything are bought. We hire cheap labor to fix things around our home if we even do that. I remember people who could fix most anything I used that broke. I became one of those home handy men. From the age of around 6 years old I began taking things apart. My mother was always after me, “Stop that, you’ll never be able to put that watch back together!” My children and grandchildren never do that.

It would be no surprise to anyone that I ended up as a telephone engineer designing phone systems and where to place poles and cables. I got to actually see the physical results of what I figured out was needed for customers who requested telephones. Those days are gone now, all cellular. A foreign company makes and launches a satellite and a person in China makes the phone I use. My old job doesn’t exist.

All this while growing up, there were no satellites, no computers, and color TV was still years ahead, as were seat belts in cars—but I survived that.

Chapter Nine

2007 My father dies at 93, finally, the generation he leaves behind begins to heal. Though we in this family are too old now to fully recover, we have learned a lot. We understand manipulation, and being mentally abused—alcohol, tobacco, drugs and suicide are the escape mechanisms. And moving away from home.

2012 It would be 48 years later I would actually visit the scene where the Titanic sank. That ocean was blacker and scarier in person seeing it at 11:40 PM, 100 years later. What is your most memorable travel moment?

The following paragraphs may become one of the few focal points in my life, aside from births, marriages, and deaths.

Here is my interview with CNN: Celebrating on Titanic memorial cruise (http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2012/04/07/pkg-somra-titanic-memorial-cruise-couple.cnn) (A Journey Of 100 Years, follows)

Here is my novelette about that memorable trip. We were one and two of 220 people from the U.S. to travel to Titanic’s resting place on her 100th anniversary of her sinking.

2012 (See: A Journey of 100 Years)

 Chapter Ten

In conclusion—

September 5, 2016 Not a happy way to close out my 69th year, but I am now the oldest member of my immediate family. We were six kids originally, plus mother and father. Now we are only three, myself and two younger sisters. RIP my dear brother—This is also my step-granddaughter’s 20th birthday, celebrated while she’s at college. Time adds and subtracts to all of our lives as it sees fit…

Speaking of adding and subtracting, my brother won’t get to vote anymore. He would be thrilled if one democrat switched their vote this year and voted for Trump—which I will claim that vote as his vote, in his honor.

Titanic Memorial Cruise Belfast Reunion 2014

20140428-151954.jpg

Chapter 1

TMC Reunion 2014, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Friday 18 April 2014
It was with heavy hearts and much sadness, with a long goodbye, that we left Northern Ireland just now.

image

Leaving Belfast

As the wheels went up on our plane, leaving George Best City Airport, we looked back on those few days with many many warm memories. We could never have imagined this trip as it now lives in our memory.

Thinking back to when we arrived at our new international terminal, where we set out from on 9 April 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia, ready for a lifetime adventure. It was 6:00 PM and the security and ticketing was much smoother than we expected. Time for dinner, and then wait to board our British Airways flight to London.

It is never easy to sleep on a plane, but we tried. It reminded me of Christmas Eve as a child, you fight sleep thinking about what the morning would bring.

I woke up somewhere over the North Atlantic several hundred miles before we saw land.

The Irish coast was as pretty as we imagined. Green open pastures and small farm houses. We were going to be over Ireland for a little while as we headed for London.

The London airport was noisy and crowded. Very much like any airport New York City, except they all drive on the left. We never got used to seeing that.

After some shuttling around through a rat maze of buildings and tunnels, we got from our arrival terminal to our departure terminal.

More waiting.

Leaving London behind, we headed north back over some of the same terrain we had just travelled over, but with anticipation growing as we got closer and closer to where we would spend the next 10 days.

Claire met us and made our short trip to our temporary home very easy. After a few hugs we were ready to head to the Ramada Encore. Again, as I got in the front seat, it felt awkward to see the steering wheel on my right as I sat where I sit when I drive. Weird. But we were in Belfast, and didn’t care that it was raining just a little. Northern Ireland is the rainiest part of Europe, so we felt lucky that we never had to use our umbrellas.

The rain does make Ireland as green as you can imagine, especially in early April.

Sitting in the bar at our hotel, listening to someone singing Bob Dylan music, was not exactly what we imagined, as I drank my Guinness and Sheila drank her Stella (no Bud Lite!). The music was good enough though, especially after listening to the whine of those jet engines for 8 hours over the Atlantic and 1 1/2 hours over Ireland.

Now our on going chore we would never complete was the 5-hour time change! I kept reminding Sheila that as we drank our -nth beer it was only 9:30PM back home while it was 2:30AM in Belfast. We were told to stay up as late as possible the first night (or until they ran out of Guinness- which didn’t happen) to get on local time.

Chapter 2

Thursday 10 April 2014
Our first surprise met us in our room. It was dark and the lights would not turn on. A trip to the front desk made me feel stupid, I forgot you need to use the room key to activate the lights. But your room key could not help the bathroom situation—shower and loo area all common. No shower enclosure separated the bath from the loo, but a nice hot shower in the morning still felt good, even as I wondered if I was missing something as I missed about those lights earlier. Lovely people, the Irish are. I am proud that my mother’s parents are from Ireland.

Off to sleep— too tired and had a wee too many pints to battle this odd shower. Tis off to bed for me and Sheila. Tomorrow is an off day but the group of about 60 Titanaracs will be arriving.

Friday 11 April 2014
We have until 3:00PM to relax and get unpacked, sorted out and then our first adventure begins. What time is it? Should I be sleeping now? Why am I tired?

I am watching people in the Encore restaurant and looking at people as I drink my 3rd cup of black coffee. Sheila’s sleeping, but since I don’t know if I recognize this couple from the Balmoral or not.

Off to the room with coffee for Miss Sheila and get ready for our first tour on the River Lagan. It is not real warm, but it is damp and overcast. We didn’t come here for sunshine and beaches. Titanic is on our brains, and we expect there is no test when this trip comes to and end, so we will listen and pay attention.

image

River Lagan tour boat

There are about 11 of us leaving the hotel at 2:30 PM to find our way to the statue of a fish near the River Lagan and where our very small boat will carry us up and down the Lagan to see several Titanic landmarks. It is exciting, but the wind is biting, did I dress warm enough?

After some confusion (no one would admit they were lost or where the building was to buy our tickets) we made it through some construction and detours and it was nice to get inside.

The boat we climbed aboard was about 50′ feet long, all outside seating. Our Cap’n. navigated and explained the sights we were chugging past. We made our way past The Belfast Titanic Centre, the H&W cranes, the reconstructed bow section of the Titanic (for The Discovery Channel TV show), the Pump House and docks. All these would be visited individually over the next several days. This was a great boat tour and last a little over an hour, giving everyone a preview of our upcoming adventures. Our “den mother” Claire and her two assistants Maureen and Susie would see that all of us were organized and on time for each of all these trips down “memory lane”. Photos and excitement enough to last forever was in store.

image

Encore Hotel Bar

Back to the hotel for another round of refreshments for most of us, and a nap for others. Our adventure had begun, I was snapping a few photos and trying to sort out the myriad of sights, where we were, and pausing to think, “We are really really here in Belfast after waiting so long for this reunion!”

The meet and greet begins at 8:00 PM and we will then realize this trip is actually underway!

The name tags are great idea, since we didn’t meet everyone on Balmoral, even though we were on the same ship it was quite a large “place”. Lots of fun meeting people and putting names with faces and hearing their accents: German, Australian, Danish, Irish, British, Canadian, American, and Scottish.

Saturday we will be on our first bus trip, but for now, “All ees vell from zee bridge…” Time for a pint and off to bed by midnight. Leaving early tomorrow morning.

Chapter 3

Saturday 12 April 2014
Today is another early trip out and about. We better be assembled in the lobby by 8:45AM for our briefing and instructions for a visit to Thomas Andrews’ home, “Dunallen”. This is our first venture away from the centre of Belfast.

Mr. Andrews said goodbye to his wife Helen and his daughter Elizabeth on 2 April. The sailing date was delayed one day due to weather. He assumed he would return to his family after a maiden voyage to New York City. He was only 39, and had just recently celebrated his last birthday— 7 Feb.

We were greeted by Thomas Andrews (impersonator) who explained that our visit to his home was poorly timed. He was headed off to board the Titanic, which he explained to us was an amazing feat of engineering! He was quite charming but here is a video that might explain it better. Thanks to Mal Stocker-Jones for this great video and permission to re-publish! https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=545471572239424&id=100003297593076

After about 45 minutes (?) we were back on the bus. Next stop was Comber. What a beautiful ride through some country before we arrived here. (We took Kings Road, A22)

We were greeted by several school children at the Thomas Andrews’ Memorial Hall. This lovely old building was now being used as a school and was Immediately across from an old linen mill. This was owned by the Andrews’ family and that was where they earned their fortune.

Andrews' Linen Mill (historic photo)

Andrews’ Linen Mill (historic photo)

The Andrews Mill papers comprise 544 volumes relating to the flax spinning mill in Comber, Co. Down, and 55 volumes pertaining to the various Andrews family farms and estates, Cos Down, Cavan and Kilkenny. Once the volumes had ceased to be of administrative use they had been placed in the attics above the mill offices for safekeeping and there they had remained relatively undisturbed. The archive was uplifted in its entirety from the attics during the summer of 1997, and transported to PRONI in two van loads. This massive business archive, perhaps one of the biggest in PRONI, provides a unique insight into the life not only of a major manufacturing company but a whole community.

The archive has been divided into two principal sections comprising: records of Andrew flax spinning mill, Comber (D4189/A-D); and farm books (D4189/E). Before describing the archive and the wealth of information recorded within it, it may be helpful to give a brief introduction of the family which created it. The Andrews family loom large in the history of the mill and of the town of Comber, which to a large extent is a mill village, dominated by the spinning mill which was the major source of employment in the town.” http://www.proni.gov.uk/introduction__andrews_mill_d4189.pdf

We will visit PRONI in a few days, but for now we shall return to our visit.

imageThe children were dressed in costumes representing various settings. A soldier, a bride and groom (two girls as they didn’t have enough boys). They had also made drawings and paintings. They had just performed “Joseph and His Technicolor Coat”. The children also made drawings of the Titanic. Very delightful welcome they gave us.

Thomas Andrews' home

Thomas Andrews’ home

Back on the bus and a trip to Thomas Andrews’ church, the Comber Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It sits a short distance off the main road over looking a lovely valley. The view spread out along and in this valley was so pastoral and serene I hated to leave. The patches of different shades of green and the sheep grazing with those hedge-lined fields was photogenic. Typical of what anyone who has not been here would seen in a photo of Ireland. I am glad I had the opportunity to see this with my own eyes, and feel the wind in my face and smell the Earth. Beyond description.


On the vista side of the church is the Andrews’ family cemetary, with the memorial stone to Mr. Andrews who was lost at sea when the Titanic sank. It is a very peaceful place next to this quaint and small country church. The church does not tell the story of its famous congregants by merely looking at this modest building. Upon closer examination, the observant viewer is rewarded with several beautiful stained glass windows depicting scenes of the Andrews’ family.

After a few more photos of our group, followed by the ladies and gentleman of the church serving us tea. The custom of an afternoon tea is quite nice, and I could get used to this practice…

We were soon back on the coach after a short walk. The driver had been kind enough to move the coach closer to the church while we are, so our return walk was shorter. It would be a short drive to our next stop.

We arrived at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for our final stop of the day. The museum was dedicated Titanic, old cars, and trains. Lots of walking here. Several levels needed to house all odd these displays. We all went past the rains and cars, the Titanic was our focus. Wow!

We all enjoyed the Titanic displays, but we had already done a lot of walking, so I know Sheila and I were a wee bit tired. The scale model of the Titanic sinking which showed how many perished and how many survived based on classes was interesting. A shame Conor Clarke will need to call them to discuss a few things: I think he said the bow was too high out of the water at this point in the sinking and there was not enough starboard list to the ship. It was still a dramatic depiction of that event where we all sailed together to, 24 months ago, on the Balmoral out on the cold dark North Atlantic.

Time to get back on the coach and head back to the bar- I mean the hotel…

Chapter 4

Sunday 13 April 2014
9:15 AM the coach leaves for the Belfast Titanic Centre, time for a 3 hour walk around and then Tea at 1:00 PM followed by the Titanic Grand Staircase group photo.

Belfast Titanic Centre

Belfast Titanic Centre

I must relate that by this point in our visit everyone knows that we had better be on time. Miss Claire gives us our orders, but Susie report around midday concluding that, “… and from zee bridge, all ees VELL!”

The Belfast Titanic Centre is an amazing piece of architecture— depicting the bow of the Titanic as the four corners of the building. There is already a crowd here touring this collection of Titanic memorabilia. There are nine interactive galleries. http://www.titanicbelfast.com/The-Experience/The-Galleries.aspx

Walking all over this place is a real treat, which we are told will conclude at 12:45PM sharp on the 5th floor. There would be a group photo and many selfies made on the grand staircase. The clock reads 2:20, and was the center piece of lots of photos. We had a group photo made here and then we had lunch— but not before one of several surprises.

I was told by Maureen that, “someone wants to see you!” This fellow sticks a video camera in my face and starts by asking me a question or something. Before he gets very far I realize it is Craig Lee! What the…!!! He was only able to attend our reunion for 2 days and sneaks into our tea hiding behind a video camera. It was great to see my photo-running mate from the Balmoral. He had already surprised Claire. The video is on the TMC 2014 video page. Very well kept secret, and quite a nice surprise.

Some tea, pastries and sandwiches were very delicious. My feet needed some rest too. Then we were all ordered to gather on the staircase for a group photo. Sort of like “herding cats” as they say, but we behaved long enough for several “snaps”. Now, time for all of us to photograph each other on the staircase, make some selfies and generally clown around.

Now to go back out to the bus. It was a short ride to the Hamilton Dock at 3:00 PM for a tour of the SS Nomadic. This was something many were really anxious to see.

image

S.S. Nomadic

Nomadic was built as a tender ship for the Titanic. The ports were not designed for ships as huge as the Titanic and this ship was a H & W built beauty. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Nomadic_(1911) Nearly the same age as the Titanic, her keel (#422) was laid 22 December 1911 while the Titanic’s was laid 31 March 1909 (#401).

This was like being transported back in time. Some of the people that were on Titanic’s maiden voyage, for example Molly Brown.

H & W Drawing Offices. Tour and another iconic photo event. This was another “time-travel moment”. Walking into this cavernous building and visualizing all the drafting tables in place and the design of the Titanic being put into construction plans. From this room came the life of the Titanic, as those workers from Belfast would put iron and steel to life into Thomas Andrews’ ideas.

Back to the Encore, and Claire gives us our briefing for when where and what for the next day. We better pay attention and report promptly. She will call names and check her list…counting noses so she has all her “peeps”.

…It was a very good day…as Frank Sinatra once sang!

Chapter 5

Monday 14 April 2014
By now we all know the drill. Wear comfy shoes, get a good nights rest, and eat a good hearty breakfast.

image

Thompson Dry Dock (H&W)

We are going to the H & W dry dock where the Titanic was “fitted out”. Remember this ship was over 882 feet long, so the dry dock is a massive piece of construction. Everything about the Titanic is gigantic. Largest ship ever built, so imagine this ship floated into a dock and set down on steel and wooden blocks so that it could be built after the hull and keel were constructed.

We walked from one end to the other, staring in wonder and in amazement at the scale of this dock! We were shown photos taken from where we were down in this cavern and could most visualize this ship in front of us.

This physical labor (non-mechanized) that was done to build this ship, the sheer muscle power was staggering. But, as the tee shirt says, “She was ok when she left HERE!” she was an engineering marvel, grand and opulent like none before her, nor since.

We made a short drive to visit PRONI (the Public Records Office Of Northern Ireland). Not just any public government office, but a very secure, and as it happened, a very interesting repository of documents. They are all searchable and printable. You can find out about property, marriages, deaths, public information galore— but also an abundant amount of Titanic memorabilia. Stunning glimpses into the letters, news articles, photos, and everything you ever wanted to see about this ship. If was built not far from this beautiful building. You can see the H & W cranes (Samson and Goliath) from the building, they make an interesting reflection on the building.

Before we were able to get Into the secured part of the records area we had to lock up all of our belongings in a locker. No phones, cameras, pencils erasers, pens, etc allowed near the documents.

We filled out a form and got our photo taken by a polite clerk, just like you would if you were getting a drivers license.

The document tour was great and we spent over an hour here. Exciting!

Albert's Tower

Albert’s Tower

A short Walking Tour of the downtown was our next stop for some of us who didn’t have enough walking for the day. Aidan McMichael, Chairman of the Belfast Titanic Society was very informative. We saw where Thomas Andrews went to college, we saw the Europa Hotel to conclude our tour. This hotel was ground zero for “The Troubles” in the recent past. We are all grateful and hopeful all of that is PAST history never to happen again. We spent about an hour or so looking at landmarks and statues, places of interest all around the City Centre. Great history lessons and decent weather- no umbrellas needed.

The evening was dinner at a lovely place: Robinson’s Pub, and some pints of ale were had by many, including your humble author.

To cap the evening off we left the pub around 1:30 AM and walked to City Hall for memorial service. It was a short walk, but leisurely, we were sort of tired by now. We spent our time eating, not drinking.

The memorial service was respectful, somber and tearful.

We experienced the loss of Titanic this night, 102 years after the tragedy, as we did 2 years earlier on the North Atlantic—tears and song in the deepest respect. Their was a small chorus singing and there was also a small group of drunken young people milling about. Not much different than the screaming that must have been heard from the lifeboats in 1912 as survivors rowed away from the Titanic; the darkness and the cold waters drowning so many lives, and dreams.

We took a cab to hotel around 3:15 AM. We would return later on this morning for another official memorial ceremony. It was a long day and part of the next day before we were finished with paying homage to so many lost souls!

Chapter 6

Tuesday 15 April 2014
We have a public ceremony today at City Hall. There will be press coverage, politicians and photogs, reporters and the general public watching this event. Time for flowers, wreaths, and more tears.

Amy & Maurine at City Hall memorial

Amy & Maurine at City Hall memorial

The Belfast City Hall encompasses an entire city block. It is a magnificent building, and we will see only a fraction of it. What we do see is opulent (Titanic-esque).

There are a few treasures to be seen here, but not until after a public recognition of the contribution and lives that Belfast people have invested in the memories of Titanic. Here, at the centre of Belfast’s government is the heart of Titanic’s story. Her citizens who built this ship, created her in steel and rivets. They spent nearly 3 years building and equipping her for what resulted in an extraordinarily brief life. From our first gathering of our band of Titaneracks until today was almost as long as Titanic’s time on the waters of Ireland and the North Atlantic. Her memory will live on well beyond our years, our descendants years, on into generations as yet unborn. We will do our part to strengthen and uphold this bond we feel towards Belfast and her Titanic. Forever.

There are interviews, photos, prayers, proclamations, politicians and clergy involved in setting aside this day as an honor to those lost in peril on the sea that night in 1912.

Chapter 7

Wednesday 16 April 2014
There are a few things to take away from this visit to “The Emerald Isle”: Memories of friends, the Titanic’s Legacy and all the world’s fascination of her, and her birth place. Titanic’s womb was in Ireland, her birth was in this magnificent place. The lovely people, the lovely country, and The Antrim Coast. I have been to Hawaii also, and I now know where Hawaiians go when the die and go to heaven. Ireland. What an amazing place we are about to cap off our visit to when we climb aboard our tour bus this final morning.

Tired and with little sleep after a very long day, Claire rounds up her charges one more time. We are going to live to tell about seeing heaven. Stupendous.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

The roots of the word have been defined[4] as follows: super- “above”, cali- “beauty”, fragilistic- “delicate”, expiali- “to atone”, and -docious “educable”, with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” According to the film, it is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say”. [wiki]

We will see scenes that defy our previous definitions of nature’s gloriousness. The green spring of Ireland is beyond description. We see little nameless hamlets as we are transported up the north east coast of Ireland and County Antrim.

It was these waters that we see out of the right side of our coach that carried Titanic away fro her birth home and into history and everyone’s hearts. Joy and sadness, commingled. Bonneybefore, Northern Ireland is stop #1. http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Andrew-Jackson-Cottage-and-US-Rangers-Centre-Carrickfergus-P2801

The view from here would allow a glimpse of Scotland out across the Lough, but not today. A wee bit misty and hazy.

We were surprised to hear our guide report to those who were interested (your author and his wife!) that the HBO series, “Game Of Thrones” was filmed in this area. “If you will look to your left, she said, you will see some white buildings at the foot of those hills.” Many scenes were filmed right there along an old abandoned quarry. Dumbfounding. I was “gobsmacked!!” http://www.ireland.com/en-gb/articles/game-of-thronesGetting back on the bus, we would continue to notice spectacular coast lines, rocky sea cliffs and fishing boats in harbors. Cameras were a buzz and our guide would describe scenes that were noteworthy. I continued to be in wonder like the school kid I was decades and a lifetime earlier!

HBO's Game Of Thrones set location.

HBO’s Game Of Thrones set location.

image

A pretty irish country scene.


We passed old churches, rugby fields, pubs, shops; we saw first had with no scripts exactly how these simple people lived. No huge mansions or estates, but tiny row houses and cottages along the road.

We arrived at a place to pull off the road an take in the Irish Sea’s coastal view. We were near a town which I forget the name of at the moment, but we (me, anyway) shall continue on. Photo ops we evident and we all got out our smartphones and took loads if photos that would be shared around the world. There are 9 countries represented on this bus.

We continued westward along County Antrim’s coast and if was approaching meal time!

Bushmill's Distillery

Bushmill’s Distillery

Bushmill’s Distillery was granted a license to produce Whisky in 1608 (406 years ago). I tasted their Whisky and I know why they are still in business. Yummmm-EEEE!
This was our lunch stop: they have a restaurant here and the food was as good as their Whisky. The dining room was not fancy nor large, but it was a lovely break to enjoy, and build up our strength for the rest of our afternoons walk.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

The legendary Giant’s Causeway! If you haven’t seen it, the photos don’t do it Justice. Rocks! Huge boulders and oddly shaped stones
Strewn about— as if by a giant. The walk from the parking lot to the sea was about 1/4 mile. All down hill, I am wondering why such beauty is so hard to get to. I can walk down this hill, but can I and others walk back up? For a £ each the problem is solved. A wee bus runs back and forth, up and down this hill side. I decided to save time and ride back up the hill, but not before I saw some unbelievable scenic ocean views. Fortunately, nature was not cluttered by any signs of buildings, pasture fences. It was just like it had been for millennia. It was undisturbed, and not destroyed by man.

I left my mother’s ashes there, now at peace, she is home where her roots are. Ireland. By the seaside. R.I.P.

We had heard the story of how the giant of lore had created this place in a battle told by those who had heard the story passed down by generations whose bones are not even dust now. Fascinating place, but we have 2 more stops to make before we rest our weary bodies.

A 14th century castle and a rope bridge, over rocks and water- the Irish are clever lads.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

The Dunluce castle has been old since before the Colonists settled in North America. It fell into the sea in 1639 during a storm, and has been abandoned ever since. http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Dunluce-Castle-Medieval-Irish-Castle-on-the-Antrim-Coast-Bushmills-P2819

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge is scary but beautiful. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede/

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge

For a few £ you can risk life and limb and cross this contraption. Pray that your knees don’t rattle your bones right off this device and into your demise and oblivion. Photos as proof were made by all (all of the others) who dared to cross. Some made their own photos, but all made it across and back- “shaken AND stirred” by the adventure to quote Mr. Bond.

Back to the Encore for libations and stories and posting photos to the internet. What a way to end a great visit. Well, not quite, but the organized part anyway.

Thursday 17 April 2024 was our day off. No travel plans, just a time to relax.

We decided even though it began to rain, we should walk next door to take a peek inside the cathedral next to our hotel. We saw the back of the church from our room and we went to take a look see.

St. Anne's Cathedral

St. Anne’s Cathedral

What a place! This cathedral was built in 1904, but the church dates back to 1776. it was a work of architectural wonder. Vaulted 125′ high ceilings, stained glass windows and candles lit all around. Time for my last selfie. Why not? http://www.belfastcathedral.org

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Anne’s_Cathedral,_Belfast

Chapter 8

Saturday 19 April 2014
We are safely home. It is both sad and joyful. We had an almost uneventful trip home. The “almost” is what nearly happened and I did confirm it with the aircrew as we disembarked the plane in Atlanta.

It was a very bumpy ride almost from upstate New York flying south to Atlanta. As we approached Atlanta airport we descended through the clouds we were in and the bumping was over— almost. We were going about 150 mph (the 777 has a display at each seat) and the runway was in sight. As we touched down, it was obvious we were not landing level. The right wheels touched first and a second later the left wheels touched. THEN, it got interesting very fast. We veered to the right about 10-15° from straight down the runway. There were audible gasps and mumbling conversations heard as the plane shook as the crew fought back and bounced and quickly turned the plane back straight. We had briefly begun a skid heading off the runway. Everyone must have wondered if we were going to have a “bad” landing. We had a scary landing.

As I passed the crew a few minutes later on exiting I remarked to the three crew members, “Nice SAVE on the landing!” One crew member nodded towards another and said, “Thank HIM!” I said, “GOOD job!!” and he sheepishly grinned knowingly that it was correct. We skidded unexpectedly and he recovered nicely.

Home safe. Home sad. Home with a lifetime of memories.

Goodnight, Claire, Maureen and Susie, wherever you are. We are home but ready to return.

Chapter 9

Saturday 19 April 2014
We are safely home. It is both sad and joyful. We had an almost uneventful trip home. The “almost” is what nearly happened and I did confirm it with the aircrew as we disembarked the plane in Atlanta.

It was a very bumpy ride almost from upstate New York flying south to Atlanta. As we approached Atlanta airport we descended through the clouds we were in and the bumping was over— almost. We were going about 150 mph (the 777 has a display at each seat) and the runway was in sight. As we touched down, it was obvious we were not landing level. The right wheels touched first and a second later the left wheels touched. THEN, it got interesting very fast. We veered to the right about 10-15° from straight down the runway. There were audible gasps and mumbling conversations heard as the plane shook as the crew fought back and bounced and quickly turned the plane back straight. We had briefly begun a skid heading off the runway. Everyone must have wondered if we were going to have a “bad” landing. We had a scary landing.

As I passed the crew a few minutes later on exiting I remarked to the three crew members, “Nice SAVE on the landing!” One crew member nodded towards another and said, “Thank HIM!” I said, “GOOD job!!” and he sheepishly grinned knowingly that it was correct. We skidded unexpectedly and he recovered nicely.