CHAPTER 1 – Birth to Adulthood
As will be noted from the accent, I’m not from around these parts, having been born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1946. The family moved to western New York State when I was seven, to a little town called Wilson on the shores of Lake Ontario. In hindsight, this was important. Growing up in a small town was a tremendous advantage compared to living in a city like Pittsburgh, and I credit it with making me who I am: a content, happy, self-possessed individual. In this small town, where everyone knew everyone’s business, I wasn’t just a kid; I was Bobby Thomas; i.e. I was a real person.
This was particularly so for my church. The Methodist church didn’t shuffle children out of worship to the Sunday school after the children’s address. We children were part of the whole service, and when Sunday school started after worship, many of the adults attended as well. I was part of a church choir from the age of seven, so as long as I can remember, I was not only a real person, but a real church member.
Another source of my strong sense of self comes from being an only child for six years. As a first child, the first in the whole extended family, I felt important. When my two brothers came along (10 months apart!), I was old enough to be involved in their growing up, and as a result I taught them to be far better baseball, basketball, tennis and football players than I was. This was just as well, for it made up for the fact that, as I was an excellent student, they were forced to put up with their teachers saying,”I taught your older brother, and I trust I can expect the same from you.”
My parents were working class people, and money for extras was not abundant, so I worked part time whenever I could. One of my jobs was as a salesman and general dog’s body in an apparel shop after school and on Saturdays, selling everything one wears from shirts to shoes and bras to belts. It was owned by a retired couple, for whom it was more a hobby than a business, but they were exceedingly difficult to work for. It was there I learned I could get along with anyone. That experience served me well and so, to this day, I have never had any enemies. I worked there until I went off to university, and I later learned that I managed to survive that job three times longer than anyone else had.
University was not the roaring success that high school had been. In Wilson, I was the proverbial big fish in small pond; at R.P.I., the oldest and most expensive engineering school in the country, I was among the brightest men in the country. (Yes, it was almost all male. The first three women had been admitted the year I started.)
I managed only average marks in my first year, but the edge was taken off the blow to my ego by my blooming social life. I joined a fraternity, from which I gained solid and lasting friendships that I value to this day. I spent five years at university, mainly because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, and changed my major field of study four times. I finally finished a degree in physics, but as to my future career, I was none the wiser.Click here for next chapter