Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Key People Who Shaped Who I Am

With maybe too much time on my hands, I’ve begun lately to think about the greatest influences on my life from the beginning.  This not to diminish in any way  unmentioned family, children or friends over my over three quarters of a century who gave me so much and to whom I am forever grateful.

Maggie Merriman-Whose pain over my father’s absence in Europe in WWII was visible to me as a child and in later life made me think hard about war and its terrible toll on those involved.  Through her I learned too about religious discrimination and exclusion and fanaticism  as non-Mormons in Utah. Her enrollment of me as a kid of 10 or so in an integrated YMCA summer camp forever shaped my affinity for my black brothers and sisters.

Stan Worthen-My maternal grandfather who fathered me for the two WWII years we lived with them.  He charmed me with his cowboying stories, took me to his work as a movie projectionist and introduced me to the magic of film art, sat me beside him when he tied amazing trout fishing flies and regaled me with stories of his work as a labor organizer/leader in hostile territory, Salt Lake City.

Taylor Merriman-My father who taught me the meaning of patriotism with his father’s and his own service as an officer in the U.S. Army in WWI and WWII respectively.  It gave me my sense of duty to do the same with ROTC and active duty as an junior officer.  Another lesson important to my values was being chastised for beating up a bully when I thought my report on this event would earn me praise.  A major lesson in violence as a solution of any kind.

Mrs. Woodruff-Old Mill Elementary.  A kind, grandmotherly teacher who gave me love and love for learning, the most influential teacher I ever had.  It was a combination of love, support and hard work on lessons that shaped my appreciation for educators.

Pete Gross (Goldstone)-My first really close buddy, particularly as an only child.  His Mom made us roasted lamb ribs and roasted potatoes on those many Friday nights when I stayed overnight to box with him on the street below and then listen to the Friday night fights on the radio.   My first exposure to Jewish people, loving and kind which forever gave me a strong affinity for Jewish friends and social groups.  Pete in those early years was an avid sports fan and always wanted to be a sports announcer. He lived his dream and became a huge sports broadcasting icon in Seattle.  The lesson here, grab a dream and chase it hard.

The Priest who shuttled me to Marin Catholic High School- Sadly, I cannot remember his name but I needed a ride from our nearby town to this school each day and evening and he taught there.  He did not recruit me hard but his kind and generous help endeared me to Catholicism to which I converted.  It gave me an affinity group and a family outside my very tolerant non-believing family.  Later in high school, at my confirmation ceremony the Archbishop of Baltimore, who officiated, planted my seeds of doubt with his words of anti-semitism in his sermon which rang as false with me that years later led to my departure from the Church and religion and magical belief.

Aunt Jane Angel-Among the first unapologetic liberals and early feminists (1950’s) I was exposed to, bending me further in that direction in high school.  She also was a completely non-homophobic person as was my mother. My mother and Aunt Jane adored my Uncle Tommy (dancer actor, out-gay man) as others shunned him.  He was a brother of my paternal grandfather and this for some was too close for “comfort”.  I too, due to their influence loved and enjoyed uncle Tommy’s stories of his life in Hawaii studying the hula dance tradition.  In high school, in my father’s absence due to a two year military post in Korea, Aunt Jane and my mother brought Jane’s next door neighbors in D.C., two professional very out gay men into my life as kind of surrogate fathers.  They were enthusiastically part of major family events including Christmas, birthdays and my high school graduation in Maryland.

Steve Tobash-Golf pro at the Ft. Meade, Maryland golf course.  Steve gave me my first jobs in high school, teaching me lessons about being on time and doing my best work.   I graduated from running refreshment stands at the course to shagging balls for him on the practice range, to caddying for him both at the course and in some Eastern PGA tournaments.  I met his Polish Parents and stayed with them in a PA. mining town when we were on Tour.  Steve taught me well at the best sport I excelled in and even assigned me to caddy for President Eisenhower when he played our course. 

Grandma and Grandpa Merriman-With whom I lived my freshman year in college, sold me my first car to commute to my University of Santa Clara and taught me many life lessons.  Bernice was a college educated woman with a new England background and member of the DAR.  She later resigned from the DAR when their board protested the appearance of the first black Opera singer at Constitution Hall.  She was both an ardent feminist and abolitionist.   Fred was also a college graduate in Pharmacy and invented a coffee brewing system which provided them a more than comfortable living for much of their lives.  He taught me about entrepreneurship which served me well later in life.

Father Austin Fagothy S.J., Ethics Professor, Santa Clara-This Jesuit singularly stands out as a huge influence on my thinking and life.  He is/was an acknowledged expert on ethics and taught well and hard.   So hard in fact, when I became snarky in class and challenged him, he assigned me the task of getting up and serving Mass for him in the chapel each morning for a semester at 6 a.m.  Those marble alter steps were cold and hard.  But he taught me not only ethics but humility, a huge Jesuit value.  I went on to become active in the Catholic Worker Movement (Dorothy Day, founder) there and began shaping a left world view, though my Dept. Chair  mentor tried very hard to turn me right wing.  That is the wonder of the Jesuit order; both left and right strongly represented in their ranks.  I mainly attribute my atheism to Fr. Fagothy and the Jesuit intellectuals who taught me that I could  think my way out of the Church and organized religion which I regard as magical, wishful thinking. 

Lt. Rick Melton-My co-briefing officer for the 2nd U.S. Army.  Rick also a poly sci major from Syracuse U.
Rick and I devised a “Huntley-Brinkley” style of co-presenting our weekly world events briefing to a audience of mostly sleeping Generals and Colonels.  We got a jeep each week from the motor pool to drive to the Pentagon.  There we learned what a joke top secret files were and the primary source of the Pentagon and CIA’s intelligence….Reuters News Service published reports.  Rick further reinforced both my anti-war views and general left-liberal view of world events.  He went onto a distinguished career with the State Department.  He was thrown out of Nicaragua for protesting their shutting down of newspapers during their 70’s revolution.    His Uncle was Sen. Byrd from West Virginia.  He and I also taught an enlisted guy in our unit a course in Marxism, who happened to be a son from the Rockefeller family !

Mary Katharine Green Merriman-My first and only love for 46 years.  I fell hard and quickly when my army buddy Scott Riley fixed me up with a double date.  Blond, beautiful and vivacious she was throughout our lives together.  She gave us our four also very blond children.  We shared triumphs and heartaches; we fought for reforms in the Catholic Church which gave us both university educations and lost; we fought for equal rights for women, and lost mostly.  We fought the racism we found in the south and mostly lost.   We fought together for a better Democratic Party and society and mostly lost.  We fought for an integrated Houston school system and after 3 years of integration, mostly lost. But we lost together and it was, with all its bumps along the way, a great life together, most of it in Houston.  She gave me also my second great love, besides my children, Sylvia Green, her mother.  I adored my mother in law and am also so grateful for her.

Bob Flowers, Bobby Valz, Jim Hardenberg, Sam Keeper and Berkley Cooke, Dick McDonald-Six  business mentors whose sage advice prepared me for the best and the worst.  Flowers-endure the trivial and more interesting things will follow.  Valz- take care of the “little people” and they will take care of you.  Hardenberg-crying when I resigned to move to Houston- you can do it.   Keeper-you’re really good at this.  Cooke-I trust you to do the right thing.  McDonald-find a niche and work it.  My advice to those starting careers, find a good mentor. Listen hard.  Ask questions.  Earn their support with your loyalty and attentiveness to what they are teaching you.  These good leaders helped me flourish at Kroger, Hormel,  Daigle Merriman & Associates, Bozell,  McDonald Davis, MarketCare Services.  They gave me a good retirement and plenty of creative freedom  both as an employee and entrepreneur. And the strength and discipline to endure losing Mary Kaye and the 10 years I was caregiver to Tim.

Fr.Wm. Tinney, Houston Pastor-The one primary negative influence in my life.  Fired me from my parish volunteer job as Adult Education Director because I introduced dissident Catholic theologians to my fellow parishioners, information apparently they should not have been given.  This liberated me to first create a Catholic worship community called the Community of Hope for other Catholic dissenters hoping Pope John XXIII and his Vatican Council II might give us a modern church.  They didn’t and we lasted about three years.  Mary Kaye and I then liberated ourselves from the Catholic Church.  She found community years later with a group of Catholic women and I with atheism.

Terilynn Murray-Mary Kaye’s cousin in Baltimore who became really the one remaining relative who gave me a sense of family in the latter stages of my life.  She constantly checks on my physical and emotional well being like no one else connected to me excepting my adorable spouse.  Opened her home to us, introduced us to her friends, introduced us to the possibilities of moving to the northeast.  Smart, fun and generous in time and attention.  Most of all, a wise advice giver.  She has made this transition to the northeast so pleasurable after 45 years in Houston.

Julie Jackson-I swore to myself on losing my first love that I was not going to be like my father and his father and marry soon again after losing Mary Kaye.  But, events over which I had little control took over and I fell madly in love with Julie Jackson, who had been an 8 or 9 year platonic political friend.  I could not believe the rush of feelings, so very much like the falling in love stages with Mary Kaye.  I knew these feelings were real and authentic and all for the right reasons.  At this writing,  after 8 years together as husband and wife, my love only grows.  Julie give me life, laughter, so much love and incredible companionship.  I adore her and hope I show it all the time.