This is the future!
My uncle Malcolm McAfee was a Futurist before that was even a word. In the early 1970s, he gave family member a 8 “ floppy disk in a thin black cardboard shell for Christmas, before any of us had ever seen one, telling us, “You always give me gifts of art, but This is the Future!” His life was a voyage linking God, Heart, Spirit, Technology, Social Justice, Education and the Expansiveness of human potential. He was a truly unique and wonderful man, always interested in everything and everyone, with a gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face. I had no computer to slide my first 8” floppy into, so I have no idea what glimpses of the future were stored and encrypted on that Christmas gift.
I started my computing life in the early 1980’s using a primitive PC painting program on location at school, since very few people had home computers at that point. The machines were in a classroom at Foothill College and used 5 1/4” floppy disc drives encased in a flimsy black cardboard shell. Color printers had not been invented yet so our graphics professor built a cloth shrouded booth to cover the screen to reduce glare and took photos of each student’s work and gave us each a positive Kodachrome transparency 35 mm slide of our creations. The screen refresh scan lines were clearly visible in the images, but it seemed like the dawn of a new era of electronic magic.
Oh my God, I’m telling you, this will change your life!
This tech tip on how to use Apple’s new OSX version of the finder, told to me by my friend Erik, actually did change my life. The previous versions of the Finder utility had been case sensitive, demanded proper spelling and were not user friendly and displayed very little intuitive, artificial, natural or machine intelligence. The “Finder” should have been called “The Loser.” I often spent far too much time trying to retrieve images or files whose names or locations I could no longer remember. The Finder was more like a Flounder. Apple’s newer version that Erik introduced me to saved me countless hours of fruitless searching and maddening digital frustration.
My first search was for “The Statue of Liberty” and instantaneously I was directed to those files on my computer and using the ensuing command to “Show all in Finder,” my images of Lady Liberty were enumerated and liberated. It was and is a tremendous time saving search feature that has changed my life countess times now, many years after Erik first introduced it to me.
At the dawn of the internet I saw my niece Caitlin suddenly open several tabs and screen windows simultaneously, something I had never know was possible, having erroneously thought that only one window at a time could be displayed. It was another quick tech tip that changed my life for the better forever.
Chickens! Chickens! Chickens!
My house mate Tommy Agnew described our situation with the shouted exclamation Chickens! Chickens! Chickens! The fifty Rhode Island Red chickens he had bought as day old chicks had grown up into adolescence and were living in a bedroom in our house in West Virginia and had grown so large that they kept us up all night with their incessant crowing, clucking, chirping, squawking, and pecking order wars. Tommy and I got busy and built them a large chicken house down the hill from the old farmhouse we called home in French Creek, West Virginia. It was my first experience building a bird palace, or any other kind of finished structure using standard building materials from the ground up. When we moved them in they could live outside in their own fenced barnyard and fowl palace and were finally safe from raccoons, possums, foxes, feral dogs and bobcats and we were able to sleep at night again.
In the Land of the Blind, the one eyed man is king!
I first heard this aphoristic proverb from, Lucky Farr, a neighbor of mine in French Creek, West Virginia. Lucky was an older gentleman, somehow quite prosperous and living in a simple tidy house amongst his shack dwelling neighbors. Lucky did not have a life time supply of ravaged, abandoned, rusted machinery and dead cars strewn about in his front yard, as so many of his neighbor’s did.
The house of Cece Bennet down the hill had walls that were covered with pages torn and pasted from Sears’ catalogs as wallpaper. Sadly, Cece was born with congenital syphilis and was missing most of his teeth. Poverty had laid a dark and heavy hand on many folks who lived down the holler from us. Cece made most of his money “splitting rails,” making posts and rails for split rail fencing for farms and suburban homes. He lived with his very old mother and seemed to spend most of his split rail profits on moonshine, having an insatiable thirst. He often told me that he was “High as Georgy Pie!” I later figured out that he was actually saying that he was “High as a Georgia Pine.”
When Lucky Farr took Tommy and me out to his barn to show us his cattle and sheep, he always pulled out a mason jar of moonshine from behind a hay bale and gave us all a swig, as the women sat in his living room drinking sweet iced tea. Lucky told me he didn’t like to go to church because he just sat there and felt bad thinking about all of the sinful, evil things he had done in the last week. There was a lot of Bible thumping and talk of damnation in his church and he said it frightened him to think about burning in Hellfire for eternity.
I washed my hands so many times during Covid that I found the answers to my seventh grade chemistry quiz.
This Covid-19 joke/revelation came to me in an e-mail from a friend a few months into the 2020 viral pandemic. My grandfather worked in public health all of his life in China, Japan, Korea and Iran, finishing his career working with the World Health Organization with the United Nations. From an early age he showed us how to properly wash our hands with soap and lots of hot water to protect ourselves from silent, deadly, invisible germ and viral menaces.
Just below the border between Heath and Charlemont, Massachusetts there is a narrow hollow bisected by Mill Brook with a small overgrown hay field that was ringed with several dilapidated shacks. This was the center of the known universe for Floyd Sherman and his family. His two story shack standing closest to the road was sided with green asphalt shingles, as if the entire house was a vertical roof. All of the spaces one could see through the windows inside the house, visible as one drove by, were filled floor to ceiling with whatever treasures Floyd was storing in there, and just across a log bridge over the brook lay the rest of his domain, ranging far up a mountain side. In later years I lived in very rural poverty stricken West Virginia for a time, and Floyd’s domain was much more like what I had seen there than the usual well ordered Yankee farms that dotted western Massachusetts. Floyd was a large and very strong man, good with an ax. He looked more like a big human version of Popeye than anyone else I had ever seen, with massive forearms and a huge head. The look on his face was always quizzical yet firmly certain. He was not unfriendly, but as a child I was always a little scared of him. He had a couple of emerald green art deco 1930’s and 1940’s Diamond T pick up trucks with enormous chrome plated grilles that could have been used on the front of a locomotive. His trucks looked like terrestrial versions of Flash Gordon’s space ships and his truck beds were always filled with whatever treasures Floyd had discovered or what had been given to him in his rural wanderings.
Floyd was obsessed with “Vandals” on his property who he thought were stealing from him or vandalizing his shacks and shanties. He once mistook his neighbor, the very pregnant Dorothy, for a vandal and chased her away with an ax. Some people called him “Crazy Floyd” but my friend who lived across the road from him just called him “Pink Floyd.” Floyd’s very old Native American mother “Grandma Sherman’ was always sitting on the front porch of their shack in a rocking chair, watching the world go by and waving to the passing cars and tractors. She had taught Floyd to recognize and use naturally growing herbs and spices that flourished in the woods and meadows. There were many tall mystery saplings, drying out and leaning against her house – twelve to fourteen feet long, probably maple. There were more and more of them over the years. Finally they began to obscure the porch after she died. It was never clear to me what they were going to be used for. At the funeral for his wife, Floyd’s daughter released a jar full of butterflies, one of which landed on Floyd’s fly. Everyone laughed and laughed while Floyd blushed.
Some said there was not enough sunshine down there in the hollow where the Shermans lived. Floyd and his wife drove up the steep mountain into the light at least once a week on Sundays to get provisions at Peter’s General Store, the only store in Heath, in one of his classic Diamond T pick up trucks. Property lines were iffy in the holler and it was unclear which Sherman owned which shack. Floyd’s father had died when he was in fourth grade and he had to drop out of school to work and support the family and never went back to school. He got his considerable learning from reading books by the light of kerosene lamps at night, mastering practical subjects such as plumbing, carpentry, wiring and car repair – he could do or fix almost anything.
Floyd’s son Lawrence built an enormous house on the mountain top far above Floyd’s shacks and shanties down in the hollow by the brook. I saw Lawrence’s place once in the early 1970’s when he was still building it. He had cut and scraped the entire mountain top clear of trees and it was just down to rocks, dirt and his enormous buildings, as if forest baldness had suddenly come on early and young upon his hilltop domain. All of the trees were gone and a few large rock outcroppings were all that remained. The rest was just mud, reddish dirt and the fresh new buildings, encased in black tarpaper at the time. He had built two huge barn sized structures 20’ apart with an enclosed second story bridge between them. It later became unclear if he had actually built the structures on his own land, and a neighbor thought that the structures had been built on her land, but property boundaries were as fluid as water down in the hollow and up on the mountain top with the Sherman family. Lawrence later moved to the Philippines, about as diametrically and climactically opposed to Charlemont as any place on earth. During the summers for some years, Floyd was the driver for the US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who spent his summers in Heath, just up the road from Floyd’s compound in Charlemont.
Some people in Heath had very descriptive surnames. There were several family outposts of the Livleys (originally translated from the French Canadian “Joyal”) and there was Dick Sleeper, a U Mass physics student, master builder and shipwright who moved from Amherst to Heath after graduation.
Dick Sleeper stated that “The Sherman’s were a wily, clever, resourceful lot who could make anything out of nothing and played by their own rules.” Dick worked for Floyd at one point. Here is his recollection of having Floyd as a boss: “I had the great pleasure to have Floyd as my Boss on the Heath CETA Brush Crew in the mid 1970’s & what a unique leader he was! While our scraggly crew of hippies and returned Vietnam Nam Vets were chainsawing everything in sight 8’ back from all the roads to make plowing easier in winter; Floyd was telling stories, dancing a jig, occasionally punctuating both with a quick flourish of his trusty axe that would remove limbs faster than any of us imagined possible. Balanced perfectly and sharp as a razor; Floyd’s quickness with that tool let there be no doubt whose family had lived & worked in the woods for generations. Going back to the construction of the Davis Mine 150 years ago; his forebears were there clearing the woods to make it all happen. He cleared the mountain to build the ski area, Berkeshire East, in Charlemont as well.
He knew how to work safely and cared about all 8 of us deeply. While he wasn’t breaking too much of a sweat; he certainly was tuned in to all the multiple tasks swirling around him and made sure no one got hurt. We were working in the roadways and the fact that no one ever got injured was a testament to his vigilance.
His storytelling was incomparable and I believe there were videos made of him in the 80’s or 90’s that could be excavated to recapture the unique style of this gentleman of the holler.”