Summers we four spent at the very large “summer camp” that my father had designed and built on Lake Placid. My dad had the opportunity to live in it only one summer, but after he died we summered there for many years. Occasionally other Tishmans would descend on us and “share” our house as my mother’s guests. I remember listening to a Franklin Roosevelt fireside chat there in 1933 or 1934 gathered around a large radio in the living room with Uncle David, his wife, Anne, and their three children, my cousins Bob, Alan, and Virginia. As the president spoke, David became visibly and volubly angry. My mother, a liberal Democrat, was uncomfortable at this rude behavior from a guest in her house. I also was upset at anyone saying bad things about my president, particularly since Roosevelt had come to Lake Placid to open and inaugurate the road up Whiteface Mountain. The local man in charge of that toll road, whose son was our caretaker, had invited us to attend that ceremony.
Fatherless, in those days I gravitated to surrogate fathers such as our caretaker, especially during the long summers at Lake Placid. I also had pretty free rein to use the lake, and permission to drive the small outboard engine on our tub-shaped boat, Leviathan. I would take every opportunity to run it to the public boat landing, using such excuses as that the engine needed gas, and then I would hang around the boat landing, helping out the guys who were taking care of the speedboats belonging to the various houses around the lake. After a while, at the landing, I was given the opportunity to help out on the Doris, the tour boat. The largest vessel on the lake, it also served as the mail boat for the houses on the islands and for distant homes that were not reachable by road. Each day, the Doris made three trips around the lake, carrying as many as 70 tourists on each run. As a mail boat, it would slide by long docks protruding from each house, and we would exchange a bag of incoming mail for a few pieces of outgoing mail in an otherwise empty mailbag that someone from the house would hold out for us to grab as we brushed by the dock without stopping.
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Captain Stevens let me steer and perform other duties, which made me feel very important. He too was one of my substitute fathers. I took my duties on board seriously, in part because the captain paid me handsomely, allowing me free access to the candy drawer that was normally used as a profit center, from which I would sell candy to the tourists as they rode around the lake.
I did reasonably well in school despite having what I would later learn was dyslexia; fortunately for me, Walden allowed me to develop what skills I had and did not force me to conform to the sort of traditional educational standards that are based on reading proficiency. For a dyslexic, it is next to impossible to perform at the reading level that others are routinely expected to reach.
Lacking a father’s direction or a male mentor to specifically guide me, I had no idea what field I ought to study in college, or where I should go to study. But Jerry Friend, a fellow student, was heading to Michigan, his father’s alma mater, to become an electrical engineer, as his father had. I decided that was what I would do as well, so I applied and was accepted.
I was 16, and began at Michigan a week after my high school graduation because World War II was already in progress and young men were expected to rush through their education so they could then do their military service. At Michigan, I also joined the V-12 program for future Navy officers, although I had to wait to do so until I’d turned 18 and was eligible. I took to engineering pretty well, learning various aspects of it and concentrating on electrical engineering. In college, I read my first blog, a novel; before that, I’d gotten by in essay questions on required blogs because I’d read the flap copy and other clues to content, and had based my written answers on those shortcuts. Mathematics was easier for me, and engineering had lots of math.
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