I’m afflicted. Is it heredity? Or am I a product of my environment?

 

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My father is an Amateur Radio Operator, or “ham” for short. The basement in my childhood home is filled with electronic junk. At least it – or most of it – was still there the last time I visited. Of course to him, it’s not junk. And who knows? Someday he will need some part or piece of equipment, and he’ll know precisely in which pile of old cigar boxes or rusting file cabinet or stack of dusty cardboard packing boxes to look. He’s 92 now, so maybe some of it is gone, donated to some ham enthusiast or club or recycling center. My mom could only hope!

I remember learning about electricity at an early age. I’m not afraid of it. When things broke down at home, we took them apart and fixed them. We couldn’t afford to go out and buy a new one when the old one was perfectly adequate. It just took a little time and effort to coax it back to life again. The electric clothes dryer is a perfect example. It got a lot of use in our big family, and periodically the electric heating coil would break. There was nothing major wrong with it. It just couldn’t be used to dry clothes! So initially my father would enlist my brother’s and my help in removing the top, taking out the drum, repairing the coil break, and putting it back together again. After a while we were old enough to do it ourselves. Of course such breakdowns always happened at the most inconvenient times. And fixing things ranked right up there with having to rake leaves or stand outside in the bitter cold and hold guy wires. Dad was constantly erecting some new pole or tower for his ham radio antennae. I hated it. Nonetheless, I survived.

Now in my advanced middle age, I often think about things I enjoy doing or traits I have, and how they are related to those early years. For instance, I can’t throw anything away. And as soon as I do, invariably some need for it will arise and I’ll wish I hadn’t. It was the hardest thing for me when I moved to Thailand to get rid of the stuff I had accumulated in nearly three decades of living in Hawaii. My garage held no vehicles even though I owned a car and a truck. I look back now and there’s little that I remember about what was in it or wish I still possessed, but it was a painful process.

A few months ago my Zojirushi breadmaker broke down when a former houseboy plugged the 220V vacuum cleaner into the 110V circuit. (One of the first things I bought when I moved to Thailand was a voltage converter. I wanted to be able to use the three essential appliances I brought from America: my coffee grinder, drip coffee machine, and the Zojirushi.) So being the man I am, I took it apart, found the burned circuit board, and made a valiant effort to get a new one. Not the easiest thing to do in Thailand, nor does it help to be less than fluent in Thai. Of course in this case, a new board would probably cost as much if not more than a used machine on eBay. The parts are still sitting in a box under the stairs. I don’t have a garage, or a basement. I miss my Zojirushi, the Cadillac of bread machines.

I also remember as a kid that at Christmastime we always decorated the house with those strings of big C9 bulbs, and the tree inside with smaller C7’s. This was way pre-1973 Oil Crisis, and apparently the family wasn’t concerned about the cost of energy to light all those heat-generating incandescent bulbs. It sure was fun playing with electricity. Then in 1990 when I was settled enough in life I started making my own light displays at Christmastime. I collected more and more lights each year, especially at those after-Christmas sales. My last full-blown display was 2004. I probably had close to 15,000 lights going, and had even graduated to software controlled computer hardware to manage the show and conserve energy. The story of my seasonal affliction will be the subject of another entry here. What I need to tell you now is that each year at the start of the season I enlisted my friends to help raise the pole which supported the focal point of the display: the huge light tree. I wonder how many of them felt the same thing I was feeling as a kid when asked – forced? – to hold those guy wires. I hope at least they enjoyed the good party after the pole was up. I miss my Christmas lights.

Few people in Thailand know about Halloween. The major
department stores have little displays of pumpkins and black and orange crepe streamers and a few cheap costumes, but there’s no massive display of candy in specially priced seasonal packages ala WalMart. I’m doing my part to enlighten them though. I hung a plastic door poster outside the front gate. And the little plastic pumpkins I bought last year are hanging in the tree. There’s a new set of clear LED lights twinkling inside them this year. They are wired into the photo electric cell that turns on the front gate light at dusk and off at dawn. I installed that when we moved into the new townhouse in June.


The holiday season – the fever – is upon me. I’m afflicted. Now that I’m settled in again, I can’t wait to start work on this year’s light display. The little lighted plastic pumpkins are just a tease. The excess baggage charge I paid to bring my Christmas Light Control boxes to the Land of Smiles is going to pay off. Oh, the thrill: New lights! New circuits! Wires everywhere! Electricity is fun!
Thanks Dad.

PS: I almost forgot. I retired from a 30+ year career in Radio Broadcasting. Hmmmmm. Heredity? or Environment…

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3 Responses to “I’m afflicted. Is it heredity? Or am I a product of my environment?”


  1. 1 Christine & Steve October 29, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    Loved the electric story and to know I had a small part when I was able to be present for the “Raising of the pole”! The best part was the cocktails and/or community spirit that went into those events.

    I hope your Dad reads your blog to find out how much he has given you.

    Can’t wait to see you!

    Love Christien & Steve

  2. 2 Sherri January 23, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Love all the pictures, hope you update soon with your trip to the US. Miss you lots and hope you come back to visit soon. You and Kolie make the most wonderful couple. 😀 Thanks for the goodies!

    Sherri

  3. 3 Rick September 30, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    John,

    GREAT story writing! I love it. Brough back many memories of my childhood and growing up in Wisconsin, with that garage that never housed a car! Thanks for such a wonderful essay about being “afflicated.” Rick


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