Religon and Rocks

It is time to bring things up to date a bit.  In doing so I have to go back in time a bit. In 1960 we married and in 1970 had our 10th anniversary.  Both our parents had urged us to get a University education,  and with it, move up a bit in the world.  Our Moms and Dads expected to get an education that qualified us for at least, middle class jobs with a future. That future, then usually meant a job in a solid company, or public service with the opportunity to move ahead as opportunity and interest presented itself.

Women, then, did not have the breadth of opportunity as there is at this time. In my class in the College of Engineering at Syracuse, there were perhaps 200 students in our class. Of these two were women. One of them, Peggy Westfall, as I recall,  was in my department. She was quite social and attractive. Quite competent also. Her professors, all male, made a noticeable improvement in their appearance when she was in one of their classes.  I checked in my yearbook and she also sung in the University choir. Maybe I should have attended Chapel after all. Another young woman was in chemical engineering. One percent in Engineering, and maybe now 20% or a bit more.  Still a lot of room for social improvements particularly in Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology.

My real interest in high school was in History and English. I vaguely envisioned myself as a History professor in a small New England college, tweed jacket and pipe, the works. Think Harrison Ford at the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Arc.”

I went to a tiny high school, as did Marge. My school class  had maybe 30 students which I think was a record as the largest. Marge went to a similar school in Cornwall. Despite Marge having lived in different countries and places, she was basically a small town girl. I was a small town boy and I could not wait to get out of what I regarded as a stifling experience. I took up Engineering at the personal suggestion of our principal. This required me to cram a lot of math into my Senior year and it was well worth the effort. I did well while others in University dropped like flies in a cloud of Flit. When I graduated S.U. the economy was booming, the WWII graduates had moved along in their fields and there was a good market for newly minted engineers.

Marge excelled using words. She read voraciously, had won awards for her composition and speaking skills, and, as did I,  won a New York State competitive academic scholarship. Marge did not have a defined goal other that going to college. She started in the school of Theater, though without having personality for an actress. She switched to German then, I believe. She had, in high school, a German girl friend and they became close friends. When Marge could no longer coast along on her linguistic ability doing the hard work in German, she switched to English literature. She graduated in that major.

We had married in 1960, in a way because that was what couples did then. That culture did not condone living together for a while, perhaps stay together, perhaps not. This is not a personal value statement, just stating cultural changes. I think we really did love each other, though we were not ready for what marriage truly entailed. Then the hard work began.  Rocky Road was not just an ice cream flavor.

Religion, how does this enter into this monologue? I had nothing for or against religion. My mother raised me as a Methodists, that lasted until I graduated in 1954. I don’t think I darkened the doorsteps of a church, except as a tourist at European cathedrals, for at least a decade. Marge grew up a Presbyterian, I am sure this was to give her an opportunity to sing. She had a good trained Alto voice, singing in Cornwall as well as later the University choir.

When we moved to Binghamton, we joined a solid Presbyterian church, West Presbyterian, I believe. Marge’s aunt was a pillar of this particular church. As that was the denomination into which she grew up, she wanted to go there. I also joined the Binghamton church, might as well, as it was probably good for the children being raised in this environment.

Marge made some friends there. I had acquaintances, and in Vestal devoted a fair amount of time working for the mission church we attended there. I was even elected as an elder, part of the congregational leadership. I enjoyed this, had a few close friends, one quite close, and appreciated being part of the larger community performing an important, if not vital service role.

We were both, at that time, dissatisfied at the way our marriage was working out. We did not follow the script we thought we had firmly in hand in 1960. Marge was not personally secure about her psychic image, her self-esteem. During the Vestal years, Marge became part of a growing religious trend, Charismatic Christians. This meant much to her, definitely a positive force.

Myself, I tended being more an observer of life and not a participant. I was often bemused by the illogical and non-critcal thinking & behavior of the human race. By temperament and training I was 100% Enlightenment. What are the facts? Gather them, analyze them, then synthesize them into personal action or professional opinion. Unproveable dogmatic beliefs played little role for me.

In many ways, this approach worked very well though I don’t think it helped me give Marge what she really desired, as well as vice-versa. So, we drifted along, fulfilling, with some discontent, our societal roles. Not the Winter of our Discontent that Willy Shakespeare referred to. That implied an end to Winter.  Ours was more of a Four Seasons discontent. If not boulders in our joint journey, surely speed bumps.

Our first brush with the Lutheran faith happened late in 1969. The estate sales agent who had showed us many houses was Lutheran. He invited us to an evening service when he was giving a talk. I believe this was at Christ Church Lutheran in Allentown. I know it was near 7th & Hamilton where I worked. He was a WWII veteran whose background provided focus for his talk. Marge and I were completely lost when the liturgy began, while it lasted, until it ended . People were confidently flipping through their hymnals and we had no idea what was going on. We liked Wally who had spent a lot of time in our house hunting. We politely told him we enjoyed his presentation and the service, though his presentation was the only part we understood.

I think the noted organist of that time, E. Power Biggs, later gave a concert at the same church where we went to hear Wally. A prestigious church.

Rear patio

Patio at rear of Beverly hills

When we had settled in at Beverly Hills, we decided to join a church that was part of our general neighborhood. Since there was  nearby  a small German Lutheran church, we decided to go there. After some hesitation we joined. The church was officially named St. Paul’s Lutheran Blue church on 5305 Blue Church Rd, off Applebutter road in R.D. Copersburg.

It was, still is, a small stone church, a cemetery in the back dating back to the 1770’s. To us the practices and beliefs were still that old and dead. The pastor’s name was Koones, probably an Americanization of the German name Kuntz. We quit in March of 1971. We still have a copy of our letter of resignation. Marge and I both signed and the following quotes are from that letter:

“The congregation, while not actively hostile, has certainly not been congenial. While it is possible that there is some semblance of Christian fellowship, we have not noticed such. The ministry also appears overburdened with structure and formalism. Thee also appears to us a lack of sensitivity to the practice of other forms of Christian worship, based on Gospel, however not practiced by the Lutheran Church”.

In short, they didn’t like us, we didn’t like them. In fact, we never joined another church while we lived in Pennsylvania. However, we did migrate to attending a Moravian church in Coopersburg. We knew and were friendly with several of that congregation. We both became active in the choir. We never joined though. Once bit, twice shy as the old saying goes.

So what else? We had now been married over ten years, Ingrid was in elementary school, Louise was in day school. We had a new good-sized ranch house in a new subdivision with a half-acre lot. Marge formed friendships and did volunteer work at the local library. She did not want to work, did not have to, wanted mostly being a good Mom, as well as having friends with women who were similar in age, belief and background to her.

As for me, PP&L did not seem to know what to do with me now that I was there. The industry was terra incognita to me. My boss, Ed Seidler became interested in a company project to outreach to the young African-Americans who had the potential of entering the company. We had 5 divisions and I became the gofer coordinating the project from the home office. The Personnel Office hired a woman, Liz Lynch, from the Black community and we worked together on this. I think we complemented each other and had a good relationship.

So, maybe a test for me, and as I recall the project worked out fairly well. After I joined PP&L  I was dismayed to learn that the company had hired a consultant , United Research as I recall their name was. The consensus below the executive suite was that this consultant had sold a bill of goods to a senior V.P. Their idea was to improve efficiency by cobbling up a metric from available data sources in the company. This was at best tolerated by those involved at the lower levels. The contract was expiring soon and I was  to continue the program. This was done with a wink and a nod. I did have maybe two meetings with the project manager, and when he left, I did nothing, which what was expected and the program died on the vine.

The next event which was very good for me was this. There were two departments doing construction for retail customer installations. The Customer Service group had small construction crews in each division and the Engineering and Construction department also had crews doing very similar work. The overlap was obvious and a decision made at the executive level to merge the work.

My boss, Ed Seidler was given the choice of leading the project, or staying where he was as a construction manager and taking his chances on the outcome. He liked this sort of challenge and took the task on. Again, I was the gofer and was his eyes, ears, and voice outside Allentown. I attended a two-week training program at Princeton to learn a system of developing decision matrices to quantify the goals, name and quantify the alternatives, use group dynamics in this process and develop a plan. Just the thing for an engineer. Ed left his position as Construction manager, took along his secretary, Kitty Franz,  and me as staff and away we went.

All this took some time to complete. At the end, I ended up as a manager of a new department in the resulting organization. This meant a considerable raise in grade as well as pay level. Most of all, I now had the responsibility of running my own department. So, all was turning out well for me, validating my decision to join g PP&L.

What has all this got to do concerning rocks? In truth, not too much in a physical sense really, though our first PA house was a stone farm-house. I found an actual picture which I am enclosing. These old houses had a lot of charm. However this one was at the edge of a cultural and linguistic divide. Our neighbors were Amish farmers. They lived a different culture, a different native language. We were really Auslanders and would remain so. Marge, in particular disliked this isolation and inability to form relationships, so the move to Beverly Hills was in the right direction.


Our first home in PA, Siegfriedsdale Road, RD Kutztown, PA

At a symbolic level, our marriage was becoming less “rocky” though there were stony silences on both our parts. I think the joys and responsibilities of parenthood overlaid a lot of the real as well as potential problems that emerged later.

The house as we purchased it, had some exterior details still unfinished. We had paid the asking price $32,000 for $3200 down with 6% interest payments. This was a good deal for the times. There were some minor defaults in the house itself and we asked our lawyer to see if we could get a judgement against the seller for the cost of making good on these. He researched this, finding that there were judgements of $20,113 already against him. There was no way we could we could move ahead of these priorities even if we were to prevail. Of course there would be legal and court fees if we even tried. For this he charged us $68, generous enough on his part. So, in a symbolic way, these were stones in our path seeking redress.

On a strictly physical basis, there was the matter of not having a real drive up to our house. What there was just a frozen dirt track from the road to the garage. We did get around to doing something about this in mid-March of 1971. We arranged with a local building supplies company to deliver 16 tons of crushed rock, dumping as well as he could on our dirt track. The cost for this material  was only $57 delivered and roughly spread around. By spending a Saturday using a garden rake, I was able to smooth this out, somewhat, into a driveway.

Isn’t this exciting? At a least we were making progress to settling into our new home. The Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton city trio was not really a middle America region geographically. In others it was culturally. There were no really poor, there were no really rich. There were no Hispanics except for a few Puerto Ricans, not many African-Americans.

The total metropolitan populations was a bit under 500,000 in the three cities and environs. Not really urbanized in the meaning of New York, Los Angeles, etc. Not small town either. There were many colleges in the area and many cultural opportunities. There was petty crime of course, maybe 1 murder a year. Two on a bad year. 4th & Hamilton street was a spot for police to arrest “working girls”. Often really just young girls themselves. I think that $10 was the fee for a “quickie.” Of course, no Johns  arrested. All totalled, quite a safe place to live.

I now had a good engineer’s job in a large respected company. I had a fine boss and we liked and respected each other. I made enough money that Marge did not have to work, nor did she wish to. She could pursue her goal of being an excellent Mom, and socializing with friends and doing volunteer work.

In that way this was middle America, mostly WASP and a decent place in which to dwell. So there we were, middle class Americans, with a nice new middle class home, nice neighbors similar to ourselves, and prospects for a comfortable life then and in the future.

We fell a little short of average in the number of children we had. I believe the average for a couple then was 2.3 children.  We only had 2.0 We were a bit below par. We looked for a time share deal for children to pick up the missing .3 to no avail. REALLY JOKING!!!

Not an earth-shaking life, though quite satisfactory at least externally. This was our role, as laid out by our parents, as well as the society in the Eisenhower years when we were maturing.  We could have done better together, we could have done a Hell of a lot worse. We accepted and we fit in.

Not so shabby after all.


About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
This entry was posted in 1970-1980, Allentown, Binghamton, Coopersburg PA, Marital difficulties, Pennsylvania, Syracuse University and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Religon and Rocks

  1. says:

    Just excellent!!! I adored the photos!!! God bless!! Kathilyn and boys!

    • R.J.F. says:

      Thanks Kathi, it is always good to hear from you, and so glad you liked this rather long post. The patio pix was taken in June 1970 and my daughters Ingrid (the older) and Louise are out there. My mother and father had come to spend a few days with us and I recently found a few old photos from then. I scanned them and touched them a bit as they had faded and the color shifted a bit. So long from cousin Bob and his furry girls.

  2. says:

    Hi Robert, interesting, yes, Marge knew how to “talk” about almost anything, and you just felt she knew what she was talking about. Sweet price for the house, lots of land. Take Care, Allan & Janice

    • R.J.F. says:

      Thanks Allan, The house purchase was 45 years ago but the seller would take 10% down and had a contact in Scranton that would loan for 6%, at least a point below what I could get in Allentown. And then, the exterior took about another $2000 to look decent. We did like the house though. It had a feature I never saw before or after. There was a small “powder room” bath off the front hall containing a toilet and washbasin. the toilet was triangular and tucked into a corner. The area of PA is growing with many commuting to Philadelphia. The place is probably worth 15 times what we paid for it now. Take care of yourselves, hope Janice is OK.

  3. ingridmg2014 says:

    Love the photo of Louise & me with Grandma in the background; I even remember the dress I’m wearing. As I recall Mom made it for me and I wore it for my school photo in second grade. (Look how blonde my hair was then!!) I really enjoy reading your posts. One reason is because I learn things about myself from the things that you write about you & Mom. For instance, I don’t think I knew that Mom had won prizes for composition and speaking. I myself am not as voracious a reader as she was but as you know I do very much enjoy reading and writing–but not ‘rithmetic! Also the sentence where you wrote about yourself, “Myself, I tended being more an observer of life and not a participant.” I frequently do this, too.

    Of course I was just a child at the time so I did not realize that “Blue Church” was so inhospitable although I do have faint memories of attending services there. I’m glad that the experience didn’t put you off Lutherans altogether! 😉

    • R.J.F. says:

      yes mostly in High School. I have several, perhaps all of the clippings she saved. I also have a copy of the resignation letter from Blue Church, only slightly abridged in the post. That was why we never joined another church, as well as the confusing service we attended to hear Mr. Furler give his talk. When we joined Reformation, people still kneeled for prayer and kneeled at the communion rail. The Blue Church had many solid and ample German peasant type women and the sight of their ample backsides at communion is still with them. When we came here, there were still a lot of Scandinavian people and I felt at “home” with them and gave Lutheran another chance as a church home. Guess you got stuck with genes from both Mom and me.

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