One of my earliest memories is the day my oldest brother Bill let me have a look through a little microscope he’d just gotten from somewhere. From that moment on, I wanted one.
I mentioned that memory to Mom years later and she looked surprised. She told me Bill got that microscope on his 15th birthday, which means I was only 3 at the time. So I guess I began longing to own a microscope from a very young age.
Couldn’t mess with Bill’s, though. I remember Mom laying down the law — don’t touch it, don’t even look at it too hard. Or else!
With little dummies you have to be very firm.
I can relate to that.
Maybe seeing Billy’s microscope is the reason that owning a really good microscope became the “impossible dream” of my life. I’m not sure about that though. I have a strong feeling that some things are in our genes. In fact, sometimes I’m sure of it.
The reason I feel that way is all the people I’ve known seem to prove it.
And while I was in the service I met A LOT of people because they moved us around a lot.
In civilian life you tend to stay in one place, in one job, with one group of coworkers and one group of friends for long periods of time, in rare cases for your entire life.
But in the Air Force, I no sooner got to know the batch of men and women I worked with on one base than the Air Force snatched me up and dropped me somewhere else. The only exception to that came during my first hitch, when I was moved three times, but always along with the rest of my outfit, the guys in the good old 103rd AC&W Squadron, Air National Guard of the United States, a bunch of guys I kid around about a lot, but loved like a band of brothers. We stayed together for three years.
But the rest of my career ... ?
A year at Sampson AFB in upstate New York and off to Sheppard AFB in Texas.
A year and half there and off to McGuire AFB in New Jersey. A year there and off to Tachikawa Air Base, Japan. A year there and off to Karachi, Pakistan. Two and a half years there and off to Travis AFB, California. A year there and off to Hill AFB in Utah. A year there and off to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. Two and a half years there and off to Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. A year there and off to Richards-Gebaur AFB in Missouri. A year there and off to RAF Upper Heyford in England. Four years there and back to civilian life.
In a little over 18 years, from May of ’55 to August of ’73, I served on 11 different bases — with 11 different groups of men and women. And while I was stationed in Missouri and England, my job called for periods of time spent on temporary duty at other bases, from three weeks to three months at a time.
The importance of all that is not the places I saw, but the people I met.
I’ve had a lot of good friends, very good friends, and the more I think back about them over the 36 years since I left the Air Force, the more I become convinced that many of us, not all I suppose, are predestined to be what we are.
I had a good friend in the Air Force, a weapons technician of all things, who talked about horses every chance he got. It was obvious that horses were in his blood. There was nothing about horses he didn’t know, and listening to him talk about them was a wonderful experience. He just lit up from the inside.
If the cavalry were still using horses instead of charging around with loaded cannons in armed chariots the way they do these days, I’m sure Sam Cox would have been a cavalry man. I swear, Sam could talk horses until I began to believe that I was a horseman, and I’ve never so much as sat on a horse.
Why was he a weapons technician then? Easy, Sam had a second love — weapons.
Weapons of all sizes and kinds, right on up to and including the amazing 6,000 round a minute Gatling guns mounted on the F-111 aircraft we had on RAF Upper Heyford. He could talk weapons too, by the way, and often did, much to my pleasure.
Sam had to make a career choice between his two great loves, and you don’t find many horses on an Air Force base, so the choice was obvious. On the other hand, if you went off base to the place where Sam was located at any given moment, the chances were you’d find a horse around somewhere. And whenever Sam was sitting around our outfit with nothing to do, the “nothing” had something to do with horses. He could take a flat strip of leather, cut some slits in it, and turn out the most beautifully braided pieces of leather I’ve ever seen. And it was still all one piece!
I had another friend who was like that about woodworking. Ski was an electronics technician, but he could make anything out of wood, and I mean anything. I have watched him turn out everything from full-size Queen Anne chairs to tiny little carvings carried around in a pocket and worked on when he was sitting around doing nothing else.
And get this: When Ski made a mortise and tenon joint he had to cut a groove in the tenon to allow air to pass around it as it was driven into the mortise. Why? His work was so perfect that without that small groove it would have acted like a piston and cylinder and blown the wood apart!
Let me tell you, I could work on a mortise and tenon joint from now until the day I die and it wouldn’t be that good, but Ski routinely did that kind of work and thought nothing of it.
My conclusion? He was born to do it. Sam too, of course.
So maybe I was born to spend a lot of time looking down the barrel of a microscope or up the barrel of a telescope. Lord knows I’ve done a lot of each. I had to. It always seemed that there was something I wanted to get a look at that human eyes just weren’t quite good enough for.
The first microscope I ever owned was one I made myself, even including the lens. All you have to do is take a glass rod and ...
Uh-oh! Running out of space again. Next week I’ll tell you how to make a real 100 power microscope lens in just five minutes.