My writing had fallen off during the mid-years of the 1970’s. Life had become too crowded and busy. I had continued my studies at Temple University until the end of 1971 and I didn’t formally enroll at Camden County College until 1977, so there was no formal education going on in the center of that decade. I did take a couple courses there in between for my own self-development, I guess you could say.
I took a two month course in Basic Auto Repair, it being a time when you could still get under the hood and have a chance of recognizing something. There wasn’t a computer dictating every move. I had such tools as a timing gun, battery tester and did such basic tune up procedures as gapping the points and changing the spark plugs, timing the engine and adjusting the carburetor, putting in new filters and so on. I think the last car I ever changed spark plugs myself you had to take half the engine apart to even see them.
The scariest part of this course was the first assignment; take your car to a car wash and wash the motor. Everyone was sure their car wouldn’t start after power spraying water all over it. The day I went I stopped at a Pep Boys and bought some wire drier. Lois and I drove to a nearby do-it-yourself car wash. I was shaking when we got there, I was that nervous. Since I was a kid I had seen cars sputter out after driving through a deep puddle and the idea of actually hosing down the motor seemed crazy to me. But I flipped the hood, and with trepidation, made that engine shine. Much to my surprise I had no problem starting it.
I took a second course the next year. This had nothing to do with cars. This was a Japanese form of Martial Arts called Aikido, or loosely translated, “The Way of Harmony of the Spirit”. What I liked about it was everything was self-defense. With a name like that one might think it was a gentler, kinder self-defense than some of the other forms of battle. True, there were no offensive or aggressive movements and you were urged to avoid a fight if at all possible, but if your attacker persisted the object was to disarm them quickly and effectively. Effectively usually meant you left them dead or maimed. It did have its brutal aspects. For instance, if some bully grabbed your shirt front you could easily twist him away and drop him to the ground. As shown in the illustration this was not particularly gently done. It might just leave him writhing about with a broken finger and dislocated shoulder, but it effectively took any fight out of the bully.
There was a good bit of that “harmony of the spirit” stuff mixed in because it was all wrapped around Far Eastern religion and philosophy, even though my class was a modern form. There was a lot of talk about your “ki” and your opponent’s “ki”. Ki is kind of like your essence or spirit and aiki is focusing on that spirit and controlling it.
An example of one exercise was this. Imagine you are fallen into mud on your hands and knees. You now focus on the “ki” of the mud, that it is sucking you down and you cannot pull free. You are pulled deeper and deeper. Soon, without a sense that it is happening, you find yourself flat on the floor imprisoned by this nonexistent mud. To escape you reverse gears and focus on your own “ki”, and soon you have pulled free and are standing.
This kind of thing seemed silly to me, frankly, perhaps a form of self-hypnosis. Nonetheless, it worked magically. You could use that imaginary mud to your advantage to pin a much bigger opponent and keep him contained. You are on top and now you key on that mud and it is pulling you down, further and further, except now your opponent is beneath you and the mud is sucking him down and down and he can’t push you off. The mud's suction has become your strength. I saw some of the smallest young women in the class hold some of the largest men helpless applying this technique. I learned to apply it to a number of life situations. Am I trying to open a pickle jar for the first time? I could picture some force turning it beneath my hand and pop, the stubbornest jar would surrender to the force. Maybe I was becoming a Jedi Knight.
I had become very engaged at Welded Tube, especially in 1976 when I took on the duties of the Computer Systems Manager along with being Assistant Controller. More and more of my time outside of work was taken up by Church. Still my writing career continued to some extent.
Into the early ’70, of course, I was still writing features for “Philadelphia After Dark” and poetry here and there. In 1970 two of my poems had been selected for inclusion in an anthology of modern American poetry, Dance of the Muse. My last short stories from “Magazine of Horror” also appeared at the beginning of that period. In 1974, “Animal Lover’s Magazine” bought and published my essay, “Ian”. Other of my work was being published unawares, so I never received the payments due me. “Conjured” appeared in the March issue of “Startling Mystery Stories”, which featured me as one of the authors listed on the cover. This was the same magazine that published Stephen King’s first professional story in 1967, a year before I sold my first to “Magazine of Horror”. Both publications were owned by the same publisher, Health-Knowledge, Inc. of New York, NY.
Meanwhile two of my previously published stories were included in overseas anthologies. “Last Letter from Norman Underwood” (entitled “La ultima carta de Norman Underwood”) was included along with work by Robert Bloch and others in La Chica de Marte y otros relatos (The Mars Girl and other stories). “Les Oeuvres D’Elwin Adams” (“Writings of Elwin Adams” was in the collection, Histoires D’Objects Malefiques (1975) edited by E. C. Bertin, which also contained a story by Robert Bloch, Agatha Christie and others.
By then I wasn’t writing about the kind of spirits that go bump in the night, but about the Spirit of God. In 1976 I helped the teens in the Word of Life Club do their own magazine, “Teens on the Scene for Jesus Christ”, for which I occasionally wrote an essay or poem, but mostly edited what the kids wrote. Then in 1977 came my play, “Words of Life”, which I directed and we performed about the area.
I did manage to put together a collection of short fiction in 1976 called Sins of the Sons. Most of these stories dealt with psychologic crime, including one conceived by my wife and written by us both (she used the pen name of Jean O’Heaney). Three of the 12 stories would be called ironic humor and two were semi-autobiographic, both based on occurrences during my Boy Scout years: “Death of a Scout” and “A Brother to All”. These dealt with prejudice, hazing and bullying. One story in the collection, “Homicide”, was taken many years later (2011) by Fantasist Enterprises.
They had a toddler son named Andrew.
Another person we became friends with from church was Wayne Bonner (left). He was a young man and independent contractor who was building homes in South Jersey. We had discussed buying a house at the time, but we just couldn’t decide, which was probably God guiding us away from a bad decision.
It was in this period we went with several other couples to the Poconos. We did this both at the end of 1975 and 1976, driving up the day after Christmas and remaining until the day after New Year. We had occasionally gotten together with these people over the years. We met them through Mary Lou Marple Pappolla, one of Lois’ longtime friends from her grade school days. Mary Lou had been one of the Bridesmaids in our wedding party.
Most of the others had been or were coworkers or college friends of Mary Lou and their husbands or boyfriends. Mary Lou, Ruth, Judy (napping on the left) and a couple others were Social Workers and I think all had graduated from Penn State. I had been a Sociology Major at Temple University, so I was somewhat familiar with the field. There were a number of very interesting conversations indulged in during our gatherings.
Tommy (in the ledge kitchen on the left and helping get the Christmas Tree off the car roof on the right) and Mary Lou wee so diametrically opposite in all except height (both were rather short, Mary Lou was only 4 foot 10) it was as if Archie Bunker married Maude. She was the college grad, champion of the downtrodden, a vocal Liberal. He was the street-savvy, self-made construction contractor, and a vocal anti-liberal. I can’t quite imagine what dinner table conversations were like at their home, just as I have trouble picturing James Carville and Mary Matalin co-existing.
I liked Tommy. He was funny and honest, and always ready to help someone. He had poor health in the decades that followed our Pocono outings; I believe he lost his legs probably to diabetes. He died at age 75 in February 2007. His children by a previous marriage, Wayne and Donnamarie sometimes spent those New Years with us at Nemanie Lodge above Lake Wallenpaupack.
We rented out all of Cottage #1, which had room to sleep 10 couples, I believe. It had a kitchen and a great room where we usually gathered in the evenings before a large fireplace and held our discussions. Every couple brought food for the week and we took turns with the cooking. I remember the first night we planned to pop popcorn over the hearth, but no one had brought popping oil. The only oil we had was garlic oil, which cooked up an odd tasting and smelly popcorn. Richard, Tommy and I drove down along the mountain next day and found an open general store where we could buy some oil. (Right, me at Lake Wallenpaupack cabins, 1975.)
While on this trek, Richard spotted an iceboat for rent and we hauled that back to the lodge atop the roof of his jeep. I don’t recall seeing any other people around during those end-of-year trips, we always had the Lake to ourselves. There was a rugged drive from the cabin to the lakefront and we drove down and right out onto the ice. That is how cold was that winter. The ice was thick and strong enough you could drive a jeep right across it. We launched the iceboat and took turns riding the winds. It had a triangular frame with ice blades at each point and a sail. The wind really carried it across that ice and you had to learn how to control the gusts and currents, but man, what fun.
We had a big spread on New Year’s Eve and then blasted in the New Year itself. Those are times I do sometimes miss.
My wife was a very sexy looking snow bunny. We did a lot of sledding down the long slope of the mountain side onto the ice, but of course, like life, afterward we had to make the slough back up with sled in tow.
1975, ’76 and ’77 went by in a blur of activity and really a kind of peace. As is often said, all was right with the world and the hope was it wouldn’t change.
And then in the midst of everything, Lois looked at me one day and said, “I think I’m pregnant.” Hey, she had been pregnant seven times so she ought to know, but how was this possible. She had said she her tubes tied after the last loss? Well, she lied and now she was sure she was two months along.
It was, as they say, a pickle.