Papa's House: What Do You Want To Be If You Grow Up?

Saturday, January 29, 2005 10:39:58 PM

Some of my family recently forwarded another round of one of those e-mail chain letters that asks a bunch of personal questions and encourages you to fill in the answers and then forward it to all the folks you hope are your friends. These can be a fun way to get to know one another a little better. Sometimes, though, the questions provoke a response that requires more than the single-sentence answers that are typical of that e-mail format.

This one included this question: "What did you want to be when you were little?", which folks tended to interpret as "When you were little, what did you want to be when you grow up?". (It might actually be interesting to interpret it more literally.)

When I was young I wanted to become a nuclear physicist. When I mentioned that to my wife she wasn't surprised, she said "you probably could have, you know". Perhaps. I had expected a response more like "that's kinda weird, most kids want to be firemen or policemen or doctors; but a physicist?" She's probably learned not to give me such an opportunity.

Nevertheless, I can carry on here as if she had asked that question.

So how did I come to such a preposterous aspiration as nuclear physicist? It was the late '50s and the world was caught up in the excitement of the Atomic Age. We had a set of Compton's encyclopedias at our house, and a series of books written for kids about my age, the titles of which all began "All About "; All About Automobiles, All About Airplanes, and dozens more. My favorite at the time was "All About Atomic Energy". And the guys who got to do all the cool stuff in this exciting new Atomic Age were the "nuclear physicists".

So how did we, as a struggling young family, afford encyclopedias and sets of children's books? They may have been a gift from grandparents or other family (I just don't remember). What I do remember is that my father sometimes had extra jobs. Seems like he might have even sold encyclopedias for a while, and maybe he sold copper-clad pots and pans for a while. He was one of the dreaded door-to-door salesmen, like the Fuller brush man, and the Avon lady, and the vacuum-cleaner guy -- it was a much bigger part of our culture then.

The one thing I clearly remember him selling was a product more closely aligned with his interests and skills. It was the Porta-Shop. I remember him occasionally conducting his sales presentations at home and describing the wonders of this product. To emphasize its durability he would pack all the tools and components into the case and then jump up and down on top of the case. He was not a small man, so this made an impression (on me, at least).

Porta-Shop

So what did I want to be when I was little? I guess I sorta wanted to be one of the cool kids. Safety Patrol was almost cool, and that's about as close as I got.

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tags: #goals #family #ambiguity