Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Take It From Me ...

There is something that has bothered me for a long time but I have never told anyone about it until now.

First I should share how that my mother tried her best to train me in the right ways to live life. I still remember some of the rules she taught me back in the late 1930s while we were living in Beauxart Gardens, a small settlement across the highway from Nederland.

Some of those early rules were: Always say, “Thank you or you are welcome.” Always say, “Yes, ma’am or no, ma’am” and “yes, sir or no, sir.” “Always open the door for ladies.” “Never run through the crowd at church when old folks are standing around visiting.” “Don’t play in the street.” “Don’t go into the chicken yard by yourself and especially don’t play with the king snake that lives in our chicken house. He keeps the bad snakes away.” “Always tell the truth” and “never take anything that does not belong to you.”

There was an additional rule my mother taught me that seemed to hold special importance. She said, “Don’t ever borrow anything from anyone but if you do, be sure that you return it immediately to the rightful owner.”

A few years later, my family moved to Beaumont and we lived on Pipkin Street in South Park. I started school at J. L. Giles Elementary in 1941 when I was five years old. Then I skipped the second grade because our school district implemented the twelfth grade system. This resulted in my beginning third grade at the ripe old age of six years.

Mrs. Saxon was my third-grade teacher. She was a wonderful lady and I fell in love with her the first day of school. But almost immediately a problem developed. Mrs. Saxon began teaching us arithmetic. We started by learning how to subtract one number from another number.

I felt really competent about adding one number to another. Mrs. Ruth Hill had done a fantastic job of teaching us addition in the first grade but I began to wonder, “What’s the point in learning how to add then turn right around and learning how to subtract?”

But the real problem came up when Mrs. Saxon told us that, “Sometimes you have to borrow one number from the next in order for subtraction to work out.” She would explain subtraction problems such as the following:

“OK class, let’s subtract 4 from 20. You will notice that we cannot subtract 4 from 0 so we will borrow 1 from the 2. That will make the 2 into a 1 and also will cause the 0 to become 10. Now we can subtract 4 from 10 and that leaves us with 6. But then we still have the 1 left over that started out being a 2 before we borrowed 1 from it to make the 0 into 10. So let’s bring down that remaining 1 and place it beside the 6. Now you can easily see that 20 minus 4 is 16. Are there any questions?”

The class sat in stunned silence. Then I spoke up. “Mrs. Saxon, we borrowed a 1 from that 2 and we never returned it. My mother told me always to return anything I ever borrowed.” Mrs. Saxon explained that in this case, borrowing and not returning was OK because we were just solving an arithmetic problem.

I went home and told my mother that Mrs. Saxon was teaching us to borrow numbers and not give them back. My mother said that Mrs. Saxon was right and that it was fine to borrow and not return when you are subtracting.

You know, that still bothers me just a little bit.

Winston Hamby

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Atomic Age Is Mushrooming ...

Our country and most likely our entire planet were ushered into the Atomic Age in 1945 when I was only ten years old. That is when the U. S. detonated the first atomic bomb in a test carried out at what we know as White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Our country was in a hurry to have the bomb first because it was reported that Germany was on a similar track. We could not afford to have that happen. And sure enough, within a few short months of that successful test at White Sands, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. But I am not referring to the end of WW2. You see, officially I entered the Atomic Age in 2007 at the ripe old age of 72. Allow me to explain.

November of 2007 came and went and Christmas was fast approaching. So I ventured forth one day to do what all respectable dads, granddads and husbands do. I went Christmas shopping.

There was a product down at the local electronics store that had caught my eye. The printing on the box read, “Atomic Clock.” Now this fascinated me. I had seen pendulum clocks, spring-operated clocks and quartz clocks. And I had seen various forms of sun dials and the like. But this was my first occasion to run across an atomic clock.

To make a longer story shorter I ended up buying an atomic clock for my son, one for my daughter’s family, one for my bedroom wall and one for the den. Then I bought an atomic alarm clock for my wife. And while in Nuclear Craze I bought myself an atomic wrist watch. You cannot imagine just how atomic I felt as a result of these purchases.

There now was a need for reality. The clocks and watch should be set to the correct time. OK, the clocks set without much problem. All you had to do was insert a battery and stand back. The clocks set themselves to within one second of the world time clock.

Here is how the instructions explain it. “… consists of a crystal controlled clock movement which includes a very special AM radio receiver that is tuned to receive the 60kHz WWVB time signal broadcast from the U. S. Government’s Atomic Clock in Boulder, Colorado.” There, I couldn’t have worded it better myself.

Now it is necessary to set the alarm on my wife’s atomic alarm clock. Please follow closely as again I am quoting. “If you would like to be awoken to the station you are presently listening to press alarm button 1 or 2 for more than 2 seconds. Next depress the days you wish to be awoken at time selected.”

OK, let’s set my atomic wrist watch. “Depress button (A) for 2 seconds. When the digital display begins to blink depress button (C) 6 times. Then depress button (B) one time. You will please notice that the analog minute hand begins motions forward with the analog hour hand following along in the normal way. When the time seeked is showing depress button (A) to once again be in the Time Mode. If watch does not properly set please to read Trouble Shooting in the instruction booklets.”

All you really have to do is be sure that you are in the correct Time Zone. Then when Daylight Savings Time rolls around, stand back again. The clocks will reset themselves as they did in the first place.

I have heard that “Old dogs cannot learn new tricks.” Don’t you believe it. I am 72 and I can set any atomic timepiece you care to place before me. Do you know why?

I have officially entered the Atomic Age. No unconditional surrender needed.

Winston Hamby