The Tender Years

I spent my tender years on the East Coast.

  • My youngest memory of my neighborhood in which I lived is a long hill, that I think I rode my tricycle upon.
  • My next youngest memory is when I was four years old, when I cracked my head on my maternal grandmother’s buffet (I was running through the house at the time). I am told I had three stitches, and that there was blood everywhere, but I happily don’t recall the aftermath .. just the running and hitting part.
  • I am told that when I was three years old, my maternal grandfather disassembled a duck rocker (presumably for moving) and that I raised holy hell. I don’t recall this, but I do recall the rocker.

I grew up in Watervliet (which translates to “Water Wall” in Dutch), New York, a small town (1.1 square miles at the time), just six miles north of Albany. The only reason it’s on the map is because of The Watervliet Arsenal, which was founded in 1813 to manufacture munitions for the War of 1812. My family lived in an apartment on the second level of a building a little over a block away from PS #1, where I attended school.

  • I remember practicing pronouncing the word “ridiculous” at the top of the stairs every morning before going to school. I did this for a few weeks, until I finally got it right.
  • The people below us were always cooking cabbage .. or it smelled like it.
  • My best friend Arthur, lived two doors down, in a single-family house.
  • There was a park two blocks down where all the bad kids hung out. It was full of broken glass and cigarette butts.

My primary school was a brick building with high ceilings and tall windows. It had wooden floors and real chalkboards.

  • I do not remember my kindergarten teacher’s name, but I do remember her putting me in the corner as punishment for tossing a shoelace tip (the little plastic thingy) at her leg during reading time. I’m still amazed I hit her, that she felt it and that it was me who got caught.
  • I remember nap time in Kindergarten. We had mats.
  • I remember being sent home at noon the day JFK was shot. I was five.
  • I remember that the day it was finally my turn to play with the shoebox-sized blocks during playtime in kindergarten. Unfortunately, we were sent home after lunch because of snow. I never got to play with the damn things .. I think I’ll go buy some.
  • My first grade teacher was my great Aunt Marion. She never showed me any favoritism and made me read advanced books. She retired after my sister had her for her first grade, three years later.
  • I remember being dubbed “the smartest boy in the class”; Debra was the “smartest girl in the class”, and I adored her.
  • I gave Debra a bunch of my maternal grandmother’s antique jewelry to express my adoration; my mom went with me to collect it.
  • I went to my maternal grandmother’s for lunch every day as Mom was attending school for her teaching degree. Grandmother lived on Sixth Avenue, and Second Street which was a pleasant walk.
  • In fifth grade, I met the love of my life (for fifth grade). I walked her home from school, carrying her books. Her name was Cathy. I was totally lovestruck (compound adjective, for you grammarians). She lived in a walk-up on Third Avenue, quite out of my way, but it was worth it. I never kissed her.

We bought our house on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street in Watervliet around the time I was in First Grade (my mom may correct me on this), but I recall my sister (Virginia, now Gini) and myself being the kids who lived the second-farthest away from the school .. just inside the school bus zone line, hence, we walked.

  • My room was upstairs, painted a medium blue and faced north. It was heated by a radiator that went bump in the night when it needed air to be bled from the system (being the topmost radiator in the house, the air naturally found its way to me).
  • I pretended the oil furnace was a nuclear reactor and the house a space ship.
  • I had my own desk that I converted to a space ship control panel, a-la Sulu and Chekov.
  • As I got older, I built a train set on a 4×8-foot board in the basement, using telephone wire scavenged from a dumpster.
  • I was the first caller to WPTR 1540, winning seven albums. Dad went to pick them up; the most interesting of which was “Savage Rose – Refugee” .. the rest were crap; promotional albums.
  • I have the original “A Hard Day’s Night” album, unhappily not in mint condition.
  • I rode my bicycle everywhere.
  • In the winter, we’d sled down the hill next to the house.
  • As there was lots of snow, I’d go door-to-door, shoveling walks.
  • When there wasn’t any snow, I made and sold potholders door-to-door.

My paternal grandparents (Papa and Grammie) lived in a house on the way to school.

  • The house was divided into three apartments; Papa and Grammie lived on the first floor, my great Aunt Marian (my first grade teacher) lived with Aunt Mabel on the second floor and another aunt lived in the attic space.
  • Papa had a shop in the basement and always had nuts that I’d crack with a workbench vise and eat.
  • He also had a reel-to-reel tape recorder (about the size of an Osborne). He kept tapes of the kids growing up, to which we’d listen on rare occasions.
  • They had their own chairs, with a shared table in between, facing the TV. They’d keep books and coffee cups on the table. They replicated this setup sans the TV in their summer cottage at Lake George.
  • Papa smoked a pipe; Grammie was hard of hearing and needed an earpiece to hear the TV.
  • Papa’s funeral was the first I’d ever attended.

I was 10 around the time Mom received her degree and started teaching. She and I spent two summers at the Winter Harbor Reading School (now long gone; the link is to the general region), a summer school for well-to-do high school kids. For me, it was all advanced placement and gave me a good head start: it was here I first read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. I also took my first Algebra lessons, speed-reading tests, tennis lessons and fished for mackerel.

My folks split around the time I turned 12. This represented a milestone in my life and a logical place to end this post. More to come in “The Middle School Years” post.

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About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

2 Responses to The Tender Years

  1. Pingback: The Middle School Years « OpsanBlog

  2. Pingback: Artifacts of a Life « OpsanBlog

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