Skip to main content

Forty years

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, rambly, disjoint

I don’t really have time to muse tonight; I should be grading [1]. But I don’t know that I’d forgive myself if I did not write today’s musing.

My father, William Bill Rebelsky [2], passed away forty years ago today. He died from oat cell carcinoma, which, at the time, seemed associated with smoking. Since he started smoking unfiltered Luckys at about the time that Lucky Strike Green went to war, that’s certainly a possibility [3].

As Michelle said, forty years is a long time. And it is. But I still miss him. And I wonder what my life would have been like if he’d lived longer. What would he have thought of me, my kids, my wife, my life? Would I be doing the same things? How would mom’s life have been different; he empowered her in so many different ways. What would my kids be like if they’d had the opportunity to get to know this grandfather? [4] How would he react to the state of our country? What else would I have learned from him? What would he think about my sons attending Boys State [7]?

I would have loved to have more opportunity to talk to him about his early life; what it was like to grow up in a commune, what his time at UofC was really like, his early business ventures, and, most importantly, the source and range of his core moral convictions.

Speaking of those moral convictions, it would also be nice to be able to separate the man from the myth. Are the stories mom told me true? Are my memories of mom’s stories correct? I’ve talked to enough people who considered him a mentor that I know that he worked hard to support others and that he had strong commitments to equal opportunity [8].

When I ask are the stories true?, two spring to mind.

Mom told me that there was a point at which Polaroid was experiencing a downturn in sales and planned to lay off a number of employees. Dad apparently said something like Laying people off will harm them and their families. The downturn is likely temporary. Training new people is expensive. Why don’t we continue to pay these employees for a while and have them do things to support the city of Cambridge in that time? If I remember the story correctly, by the time they finished negotiating with the city, the downturn was over.

At some point, they were discussing insurance benefits for employees; my understanding is that at the time, the general thought was that women did not need health insurance benefits because they could use their husbands’. Dad said something like I could become unable to work and I would hope that my wife’s insurance would cover me. At least as mom told it, that helped ensure that men and women got equal benefits at Polaroid [9].

Have I remembered them correctly? Do they approximate reality? It’s nice to believe that they are true. They certainly give me an approach to the world that I should strive to emulate.

I’m glad that I still have a lot of memories. Strangely, many of them are from summers on Martha’s Vineyard: Walking around Stonewall pond catching crabs; swimming off of Squibnocket beach; just hanging around [10].

I think I’ve written enough that future me will not chastise me for having mused today. I’ve cried enough for tonight. I have grading to do. So I guess that’s all I’ll write for now. I’ll be back with rants and musings in a few weeks.

Postscript: Writing this reminds me that I need to take better care of myself for my wife, my children, and my grandchildren [12]. I’ll get on that as soon as the semester is over.

[1] I really haven’t had time to muse at all this semester. I’ve been behind on grading, and grading takes priority. Don’t worry; once the semester is over, I plan to start musing again.

[2] Mom told me that dad’s mother put Billy on his birth certificate; I don’t know if that’s true.

[3] My quick Web search suggests that it is found almost exclusively in smokers.

[4] Of course, I also wonder what would have happened if they’d had more time with their other grandfather [5], or their grandmothers [6].

[5] Gone for seventeen years.

[6] Gone eight and ten years, respectively.

[7] While dad was a Boy Scout, he also grew up in the Stelton, NJ commune. I’m guessing that he likely attended the Young Pioneer Camps that Boys State was created to counteract.

[8] If I recall correctly, his final position at Polaroid was VP for Equal Opportunity.

[9] Hmmm … was that story also about salaries? I don’t remember.

[10] Yes, I am a child of privilege [11]. Both parents worked at a time when it was rare that women worked. So even though mom was underpaid and dad refused raises, both were compensated as professionals.

[11] It took me surprisingly long to realize that.

[12] I don’t have any grandchildren yet. I assume I won’t have any for a decade or so. But I do hope to have some eventually.

Version 1.0 of 2019-05-11.