Sunday, December 21, 2008

a winter's day

Today is the beginning of winter, the winter solstice, shortest, darkest day of the year in the northern Hemisphere. It is also the day my father, Carroll Lee Greer, was born, 97 years ago in 1911. He was born in a small town called Troutdale, "the highest incorporated town" in Virginia, at a time when the town had a booming economy based on timbering and furniture factories. His father, my grandfather, Charlie, was mayor of Troutdale at that time, and a small entrepreneur with a farm implement store and a sawmill.

My father had the misfortune of being a senior in high school in 1929-1930. The stock market crash meant that instead of going to college like his brother and sisters, he stayed home to work in Charlie's sawmill. He drove logging trucks, and dreamed of a day when he would learn to fly. His hero was Charles Lindbergh. He did eventually learn to fly, and to repair airplanes, and earned his living as a gypsy mechanic moving from airfield to airfield. In the 1930's he found work through the Civilian Conservation Corps (like lots of young men in Appalachia), and enlisted in the army air corps, to pursue his dream of flying. Unfortunately, within months of enlisting he dislocated his shoulder and was given a medical discharge. So instead he turned to the Boeing School in the San Francisco Bay Area and learned to be a machinist. When the war came in 1941, he tried to enlist again, but the propensity for his shoulder to dislocate caused him to be declared 4F -- highly stigmatic in the 1940's. He worked as a machinist manufacturing planes for war instead.

My favorite story: In one of the airplane factories that Dad worked was an inspector with the last name of Kilroy. When Kilroy signed off on a plane or a part as okay, he wrote "Kilroy was here" in chalk on the part. To poke fun at him, some of the guys started adding a little sketch over his name. When the parts and planes were shipped to the war zone, the sketch and the phrase "Kilroy was here" went with them. [From the Internet, I've learned that most people attribute the origin of the phrase and sketch to an inspector in a shipyard, rather than plane manufacturing plant.]

After the war, he returned to the life of a gypsy mechanic until he met my mother in Virginia 1949. After a brief fling with work in Florida, fatherhood compelled him to accept a steady job in 1951 as a machinist with United Air Lines at their maintenance base in south of San Francisco. He remained with United for twenty-five years. Through completing his Associate of Arts degree, he worked his way into the position of engineering technician where he turned the engineers' conceptualizations into real prototypes.

He has now been retired for more years than he worked for United. [Photo of my dad in his late 80's taken by my cousin Scott Crittenden.]

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