My father was a skeptic, like many scientists, and he was often closed-mouthed about what he did, at least as far as I was concerned. For example, I found out from my son that he worked as a chemist on the Manhattan Project during World War II. I never visited his laboratory at Union Carbide, near Buffalo, New York because of security restrictions. I only remember it being open to the public one day—and I was sick.
Dad’s skeptical nature caused him to question everything. He never took advice from me except once. When I was living in Los Angeles he asked me to recommend a Savings and Loan Association where he could open an account to take advantage of higher California interest rates. I recommended the largest one, figuring it would be safe, and he opened an account by mail. All went well until his passbook was stolen out of the mail. So much for my advice. He did get a free trip to L.A. to testify against the thief, however.
Although I never knew what he did at work, we connected in another area—hiking. Dad was an avid hiker, and when my three younger brothers and I were quite small he started taking us on hikes. My first real hike with him was in Allegheny State Park on the New York/Pennsylvania border. Our family rented a cabin there for a week, and he and I hiked along a ridge trail to the Thunder Rocks, an impressive rock formation. I was more interested in sitting and whittling with my new pocket knife, but I made it. The next year we hiked the roundtrip from the cabin to the rocks and back.
As we grew older we went to the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Imposing Mt. Washington has “the worst weather in the world,” according to the locals, but it was one of our favorite mountains to climb. We hiked across the Gulfside Trail from Mt. Washington to Mt. Madison, above timberline, in all kinds of weather, including fog so thick that we had to go from one rock cairn to another. The cairns, built as high as fifteen to twenty feet, have saved more than one hiker.
I was living by myself in Los Angeles in 1962 when Dad came out on a business trip. I took him hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, which he enjoyed. The second weekend he was there I asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to go hiking again, so we did. We came to a place on one mountain, perhaps Strawberry Peak, where there was quite a bit of exposure. Dad balked at passing this point, but said he would have done so if I had a rope to belay him. I didn’t, and we returned by another route.
The other thing we did while my father was in L.A. was to go to a strip show. It was his idea, which surprised me, because he had never taken me to anything like that at home. The most risqué movie we ever saw was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which would probably be rated PG today, in spite of having Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the cast.
Long after I left home, Dad and my youngest brother would sometimes drink a beer together on nights when my mother went to meetings, but he rarely drank anything stronger than milk when she was home. Mother had a highly developed moral sense that put a damper on some activities in which men are inclined to participate.
Dad surprised me when he asked me about strip clubs in L.A., but I was up to the challenge. Even though he was ordinarily tight with a buck, I figured he wouldn’t want to go to some sleazy joint, so I took him to a club on the Sunset Strip on his nickel. The place was high-class, the girls were high-class, but Dad sat stone-faced through the whole thing, somewhat tempering my own enjoyment.
In 1965, my bride, Bonny, and I met Dad and Mother in the Adirondack Mountains, and we went on several hikes together. Dad had finally convinced Mother to hike with him; she claimed she had a “rapid heart” when she was younger.
In spite of that, my parents met on a hike at the University of Michigan in 1933, and got married in 1935. Dad continued to walk on their farm and go on short hikes even after he was slowed down by several strokes and resulting dementia. Dad and Mother were married for 58 years.