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A Son's Tribute to an Amazing Father: "And That's All There Is To That"


Written By: Phil Davis

He felt he was different, but he didn’t know why, it was just a feeling. He was born in 1937 to a family of self-proclaimed aristocrats; at least that is what was claimed on his father’s side of the family tree. But he was different, something never seen in the stoic Davis family. They were conservative, white, Methodist, along with a membership in the Masonic Temple by his father. But he was different, as if adopted from some parallel universe.

His childhood was one of non-conformity to these vestiges of the then, modern WASP family in Akron, Ohio. He was a wild child, and if he lived today as a kid he would be put on Ritalin, or some other drug, as the school system tried to put his square peg in the round hole of their normality.

Stories of all his antics were legendary and repeated over many times by visiting relatives:

The attempts of flying off the garage roof - using bed sheets - he claimed successful yet he was un-harmed.

The many times sleep walking into various closets of the family home for a night time bathroom break.

“What are you doing son? Those are your father new shoes!” his mother would scream, while he was in mid-stream.

Being sentenced to his room for some mischief; then climbing down from the second story window with bed sheets tied together in knots and connected to the radiator. All the while, his was father observing from his easy chair while reading the paper and smoking his pipe.

“Maybe it would be better if I just tied him up with those sheets,” his father would ponder.

Removing parts out of his father’s new car, taking them apart to see how they worked, or using them on a “Junker” they bought for him - before he could even drive - in an attempt to keep him busy and out of mischief.

“I just never knew if my car would start in the mornings,” his father would later say.

He was well aware of all his antics and how they affected his mother and father, older brother and twin sisters; he blamed it all on his being left-handed. This is understandable since in the early 20th century, left-handedness was associated with criminality, which, of course, is ridiculous.

Later he would learn that dyslexia was his particular disability during childhood, along with being left handed, all of which made him abnormal in the teacher’s eyes. They tried to change his personality and habits by tying his left hand behind his back in an effort to force the use of his right hand, in the effort to make him “normal”. This went on for a while until his father found out about the abuse and had a stop to it. Maybe nothing has really changed in the school systems after all, someone different must be changed into the acceptable. But just the same, he was different, which became evident over time.

He married in 1955 at a ripe and mature age of eighteen; their first child was born one year later. His two other sons came later in three-year increments. He suffered from asthma in Ohio so it was decided to move to the dryer climate of Phoenix, where an uncle on his wife’s side might be able to set him up in business...or at least provide a place to live for a while. This was a huge risk for the family! To up and move your new family, to a new location, away from established friends and contacts, not to mention family. To move to a place never seen and no job or business arranged beforehand, and with only enough money saved to survive maybe a few months; this wasn’t an easy decision. Moreover, just to add to the risk of this venture, his wife was pregnant with a third child. But the West and his Impulsive nature were calling him; the adventures of a new life in an exotic place like Arizona, at least this was the view of easterners in the early 1960’s.

He and his family of four got as far a Denver. When a person from the east comes upon the Rocky Mountains for the first time it creates a magic moment of pause. It is the same when a land locked person first visits the ocean. He decided to pause, right there and then, in the Front Range, where he would remain for the majority of his life.

It was late summer in 1962, the family was sitting in a hot car on 14th Street while he applied for work at Mountain Bell, or Ma Bell as it was called then; this was the work he was trained for in Ohio, as a telephone line installer. Nothing came from it, so, with family in tow, he decided to explore this new land that he adopted. This led him to Colorado Springs, then Manitou Springs, and then a place called Chipita Park. It was more of a quaint community than a town and was adjacent to highway 24, which ultimately leads to the famous gold and silver mines of Cripple Creek and Victor; there was so much to explore in the coming years, he felt.

The small cottage he rented was his family’s start at a new life in the west... Colorado, Rocky Mountain High...all to the envy of his friends and family back in Ohio. Well, almost everyone; his mother-in-law did not accept the move he made, taking their beloved pregnant daughter away from the security of the close Hungarian community...transporting her and the grandchildren to the Wild West of gun slingers, saloons, train robberies, and where Indians could attack, scalp the men, and drag away their white women at any time.

He still did not have any income; still, he managed with odd jobs for the property owner, such as feeding the mules penned across the road and some other small maintenance projects. His mother-in-law, still upset, called one day, and in her broken English demanded to know how her pregnant daughter was going to get to the hospital on time since they now lived in the wilderness. And here, one can begin to see, his lifelong twisted sense of humor, the cocktail of wit, corniness, self-deprecation, and sprinkled with hard reality, would lead to somewhat, unexpected, future events.

“The stagecoach comes by twice a day and stops close to the house so we have no problem,” he said.

Within a week, the in-laws were on the new family’s doorstep in Chipita Park to assess the situation, convincing him to move the family closer to Colorado Springs and its modern hospital. The in-laws never did see the stagecoach or any Indians.

The move to Manitou Springs ensued, along with a new job as a city meter reader, and the successful birth of child number three. Their cottage this time was larger and sat next to a radio station with a little creek running between them. The road was named after a fictional Indian woman named Minnehaha and was at the top of the first switchback on the steepest road you could ever imagine.

He sometimes worked as the night DJ of the radio station for extra cash. It was one of those slow music stations, but every twenty minutes of so he would cut in to announce the stations call letters and read a few commercials to the delight of his family. It came very easy for him; he had the gift of conversation, which is why he was quickly loved by many.

For the next two decades his focus was supporting a wife and three sons, and this he took very seriously, although he had very little aspiration for gaining wealth or improving his social mobility. He viewed a job as a means to provide a living and was not very concerned about retirement savings or moving up any corporate ladder, which more than likely meant time away from his family, and extra work when more important things needed done...like making new friends. Most of his working years were spent at three places: the Colorado Springs City Utilities, Hewlett Packard, and the Wallkill Farms in New York.

For the City Utilities, he was a Lineman or a Troubleshooter - as they called it - meaning if the lights go out, he must figure out why, and then fix them. Recent winter storms of 2013 and 2014 have highlighted the role of Trouble Shooters, who risk their lives getting the power back up, or it may be that a cat gets stuck on a power pole. He hated cats; he would rather have worked in horrid weather with lightning flashing all around, before liberating a stranded cat. This could be because of all the bad experiences he had with cats, who were not happy being stranded. They could get up a pole but not down.

On one such call, the woman - or owner - of the cat also called the local newspaper. The cat was successfully removed by a unique method he invented; climbing up three quarters of the pole, then, using an expandable fiberglass pole carefully threaded between the “live” electric wires, he would knock the cat off the top of the power pole, like he was shooting a game of billiards. The cat’s seemed to survive the whole ordeal, but not his ego; the resulting newspaper article named him the city’s official “Cat-Man”.

Hewlett Packard was an “inside job”, as he called it - as if he was planning a bank robbery- a job he started shortly after helping an electrocuted co-worker, who over-reached his rubber safety glove working on “live” wires. He was with the man on the pole and had to remove his coworker’s arm from atop the sizzling wire, extinguish the fire that resulted, and then carry the man down the pole. The man survived with the loss of one arm and one leg and later became an alcoholic, but he did not survive the drama, at least, his zest for his job did not survive.

Hewlett Packard was a good move, provided more money and security with no high voltage power poles to climb. He maintained the electrical part of the machines they used and various heating and cooling equipment. He was a free spirit at HP - as it’s called - moving around the giant facility, towing an oversized tool cart, chatting with everyone, and knowing every single coffee brewing station - as if a GPS device was naturally implanted in his head - and telling jokes and stories to all as they gathered for breaks. The work was fascinating to him because of the complexity of the manufacturing machinery...the 1970’s and 80’s era circuit board manufacturing machinery, all the supporting machinery, and all the special required systems needed to keep the manufacturing process clean.

His lack of interest in accumulating money or social was interesting, since this is a rare quality in our crazy mad consumer society. But his lack of interest just freed up time and energy to delve into other things that mattered more to him.

To illustrate his attitude about money, while getting a haircut sometime in the mid-1960’s the Barber mentioned a possible investment idea. The barber could not swing it himself, and needed four or five partners, and offered a partnership to him. As the barber explained it, he found a quant house - with a few other cottages on the property that could be rented - on the main road of a small town in the mountains of Colorado, called Aspen. His immediate response to the Barber’s offer was he could barely afford to feed his family, but thanks for the offer.

The third job was in New York at a place called Wallkill Farms, a non-profit farm and printing facility for the Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society. This was a volunteer position but provided room and board for him and his wife, now unburdened of children. They needed him to do the electrical work for several used Mann printing presses being refurbished. The project would take several years and he thoroughly enjoyed the working atmosphere, as he was one of the key tradesmen of the project, and they had many coffee stations spread over the campus.

This was something going back to his childhood he excelled at; the ability to take things apart then put them back together again even better. He loved the challenge of re-configuring a machine to work better for the new assignment it was given. Again, his sense of humor was always present. When asked where he worked, he always said at the “big house” or where he has been lately, it was always at the “big house”. The response was always fun to watch, you could see it in their eyes, and they wanted so badly to ask, what were you in for...or, how long were you in?

But now the real story; why was he different? What made this seemingly simple man so beloved by many?

Being one of his sons, I can tell you, although it took some time for me to realize. He had a very rare combination of qualities, that when working together, produced results most could only dream of. I am convinced if he was able to converse with the heads of Israel and Palestine, we would have peace in that region, or Sunni Muslims would get along with Shiite, and Republicans with Democrats.

First he had the ability to emphasize with people, any type of people, any color or race, of any social class, whether poor or rich. He also could converse; have a conversation with anyone at any time. He could be in a store, a restaurant, a coffee shop, and he would start a conversation that spread throughout the establishment. Once started, people just felt they needed to know him, they felt free to express themselves in an otherwise closed mouth environment. He had the power to open people up.

It was like a super power, “if we could just talk it over, then the world and everything in it will be okay” power.

Stepping back to the past for a moment, a decision he made at an early age had a deep impact on the rest of his life. He along with his mother - when he was about eight or nine - converted from the Methodist faith to that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The family was in an uproar, this was the worst possible thing to do to the family, especially during those years...in 1945. His father forbid it, but that did not stop them. His father’s insurance business was built on contacts and clients through the Methodist church and his membership as a high ranking Mason, and he wanted nothing to ruin or risk those relationships. Still, nothing would deter them and the family eventually accepted it, begrudgingly, and life went on. He was intensely interested in spiritual things, things that have seemingly no intrinsic value. This explains, to a point, his non-interest in money or wealth.

I bring this up to explain the man, as well as how he related to others. He was so self-confident in his belief and the spiritual qualities he pursued, that he found no fault in others; institutions, yes, but individuals were different, they just needed someone to talk to, everything could be worked out if they would just talk about it.

One of the tenets of his faith was the ministry work of visiting people at their homes. A frightening endeavor, to be sure; ringing their doorbells uninvited and then talking about religion to the unsuspecting occupant. However, he excelled in it, and so did those on the other side of the door. I cannot tell you the amount of times, as a kid, being dragged out of bed, only wanting to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, accompanying him in his ministry work, a labor un-paid.

The process worked like this: a car load of well-dressed people descend on a neighborhood about nine-thirty on a Saturday morning; each being assigned as a group of two to a street or several blocks to visit every house. People were usually pleasant enough, but not at all interested. Sometimes they would accept some literature out of kindness or maybe a subject would interest them, but for the most part, it was just a small-unannounced blip on their weekend’s radar. Probably only two or three minutes of polite conversation would occur at each occupied home and that would be it. It was very rare to have a real conversation.

However, this is not what happened when he visited homes, or I should say home, because the first house was always his last. This man would come to your door, with a little boy in tow dressed in a little man-suit. The person at the door did not expect us, but a one and half to two hour conversation would ensue. This always happened no matter the person; sometimes we would just stand on the front porch, many times in the hot sun, or we would be invited inside, or to their back patio for some refreshment, and sometimes I even watched cartoons with the other kids...and yes, it was awkward.

“Why are you dressed like that?” they would ask.

He would talk to them about religion, politics, sports, cars, jobs, their marriage or lack thereof, whatever was on their minds. That was the point, for some uncanny reason he knew exactly what subject to bring up like he just performed a Vulcan Mind Meld and knew their life story. It was very common for these people to become friends and visit us at our home. We had these friends all over the city, even on the military bases in Colorado Springs. Sometimes, we were allowed to play on the tanks at the base used for a decorative display while the parents enjoyed each other’s company. At his work too, we always went to other co-workers and bosses homes, some had no kids and was boring for us, but people loved us. They loved him.

At any time with any situation, he could make things lighter for the other person, as if lifting the burdens of life from their minds, or showing them how little the issue is compared to other problems in the world; all the while cracking himself and everyone else up with some overused jokes or witticism that instantly came to mind.

On one occasion a young man, a friend, was at his home depressed, it was sometime in the 1970’s, the young man served in Vietnam several times and was suffering - I am sure it was what we now call PTSD. He was out of money, he could not find a job, and now his car would not shift gears very well and finally just stayed in reverse. How could he search for a job now, and no money to repair the car?

He told him it was not a problem.

“Just put your sunglasses on the back of your head and drive in reverse, nobody will notice”, he said.

I saw this Vet a few years ago, that conversation left an impact on his life; he still remembers it and chuckles.

As he got older his impact was slowed but still there. A few months ago, he told me of a young man he met, the man was rather untidy and was bemoaning that he could not find a job.

“Clean-up and get a good haircut,” was my father’s answer.

“Dad,” I said, “that is so 1970’s, right from the Richard Nixon era.”

“Oh, no, no, he’s fine, I saw him the other day and he found the job and thanked me for the advice, and he is good, he bought me a cup of coffee so it’s all good. He is a nice kid, and that’s all there is to that”.

That is how he always ended a subject...“and that’s all there is to that”.

These are only a few remembered images from me, there are many more. I was not around him all the time, so I think there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have had a positive touch from my father, in a way I am sure they never experienced before.

I know of no enemies or even those who might dislike him, I don’t think they ever existed. If his goal in life was wealth or the accumulation of property; then yes, he would have many enemies...and there would stories of epic battles over wealth controversies with others that would be in my memory. But they are not; only positive impressions of helping others overcome life’s anxieties and problems, to help see themselves as really not that important compared to the other more pressing issues. Why can’t people just get along without killing each other and without the great hypocrisy of some institutions, which only enslave one’s mind and hearts, ruining their lives from the inside out? He only wanted to explain life to others to help them get through the maze as happy as possible, and always with a few over-used jokes.

I think being left-handed did make him different; he - like left-handedness - was a minority in this sea of humanity. He will be missed.
John Norman Davis 1937-2014

 
   
             
 
       
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