Jim first became aware of Carolyn on a Sunday evening early in September, 1954. The room in the Potsdam, NY, Presbyterian church was full of students getting to know one another at the start of the school year. The girls were all from The New York State University Teachers College at Potsdam. The guys were mostly from Clarkson College of Technology, with a few from PSTC.
At the start of the evening everyone was standing around in small groups, girls talking with girls, guys talking with guys, waiting. Later there would be parlor games and refreshments, but at the moment they were hanging around, watching to see who would show up. Jim was standing by the windows, talking with Paul Zieske. Across the room, by the bookshelves, three girls were standing together, talking with animation about the things girls talk about. Leaving Paul, Jim made his way through the crowd, desparately groping around in his mind to find something to say to the girl with the triangle earrings.
"Do they work?"
"Your earrings. Do they ring?" He could see that they didn't, because there was no gap, and, if they did work, the note would likely be beyond the range of human hearing, but it was the best he could do.
"I don't think so. They're just for show."
"They look good on you. Are you a musician?"
"Yes. I'm a piano major. And voice."
"I'm a Physics major. My name is Jim Taylor."
"I'm Carolyn Skaates."
The other girls, Fran and Susie, seemed, somehow, to drift away, leaving the two alone, talking to one other as if there were no others in the room. The rest of the party passed in a blur. She remembers it one way, he, another, but both remember leaving together before it was over. Walking to her room in the evening mist took much less time than either of them wished for. They walked slowly, holding hands, admiring the sparkling rainbow halos around the street lights along the way. When they parted, after a long talk on her front porch, she called her mother.
"I found him!"
Two months later, Jim realized that the strength of his feelings for Carolyn had given rise to an emotional dilemma. There was a girl back home. Over the course of three years he had developed some strong feelings for her. There was no formal commitment, but the concept of matrimony had come up once or twice in conversation. During Thanksgiving vacation she and Jim went to New York to see The Nutcracker. The New York CIty Ballet's new productioin had opened to great reviews just a few weeks before. The evening went well, but nothing happened one way or he other. Jim returned to Potsdam with the dilemma unresolved.
A week or so later, on December 7th, in the parlor near her downstairs room at Mammy's little place on Main Street opposite the fire station, where Carolyn lived along with a half-dozen or so other PSTC students, Jim was sitting in the comfy chair with Carolyn on his lap. The conversation was general: school, music, shoes, ships, sealing-wax, etc. Not going anywhere in particular, just sitting and talking becaause it was pleasant to be sitting and talking. At a quiet point in at the conversation, Jim said, "You're making me forget someone I'm supposed to remember."
She played it cool. "Oh? Who?"
Without realizing he had just taken a life-changing step, Jim told her about his long association with the girl back in Teaneck. She played it cool, expressing indifference, or perhaps the merest hint of curiosity about why he had raised the subject at that moment. He explained to her that he had been musing about the possiblliy of doing something along the line of a closer relationship with her.
She played it cool. "Well, we're not teenagers any more."
"Not to be going steady."
"That would be like high school again."
"It woulden't feel right."
She waited. Calm. Cool.
In the silence, Jim slowly became aware that the solution to his dilemma was at hand. "Do you think we should just go ahead and get engaged?"
"I think you're right. We should be engaged."
The details of the rest of that evening are lost beyond the reach of memory.
Carolyn could teach a master class in how to close the sale.
Later that evening, Carolyn's news was greeted with enthhusiasm by the other girls. As the news spread, Others, skeptical of of quickie romances and ringless engagements, wondered, "Will it last?" As of December 7, 2021, they've had 67 years to wonder.
The time between their engagement and Christmas vacation was hectic. There were exams to prepare for, of course, and Carolyn had to play in a recital. Recitals are a regular feature of a music school. In the early years, a student performs as one of many on the program. For the senior recital, she is all alone. Jim had not been to any student recitals, but this time he had a powerful incentive. One of the earlier players on the program was a young lady who played the trombone well. Since Jim had played the trombone poorly in high school, he was impressed.
Jim had visited Carolyn from time to time in various practice rooms, but had not actually heard her play very much. When it was her turn to play the audience was presented with a petite plianist seated at an outsized piano on an otherwise empty stage. Carolyn loved to play Chopin. Her teacher preferred Bach as a better vehicle for perfecting technique, so Carolyn played the Gigue from the 5th French Suite. Amazing! One girl, two hands, and the sound of three musicians! The gigue is in the form of a fugue, with the melodic line passing to and fro among the registers, high, low, and middle, giving the distinct impression that three performaers were collaborating somewhere out of sight back stage. It immediately bacame one of Jim's favorite pieces. Sixty years later she included it on her CD, Sentimmental Journey, at Jim's request.
After the recital Jim, inocently unaware of the mental condition of every performer following a performance, put his foot in his mouth. He told Carolyn how impressed he was with the trombone player. Now, it is essential to know that every performer who has ever lived has possessed a burning need to hear she did well the moment she leaves the stage. Later there will be time for discusing the show, the cast, whatever, but from the most obscure walk-on bit to the most exalted prima donna, "How did I do?" is the first, indeed the only, question. Carolyn was not amused.
She still gets annoyed when she thinks of how he could have been be so thoughtless.
Winters in Potsdam can be capricious. Mostly, it's just cold and snowy. The place is north of the snow belt downwind of the Great Lakes that produces eight feet on level ground in some places, but it has its moments. The last day of classes before Christmas vacation, it rained. All day. The temperature was 25 degrees. Dick Dorf was in the EE lab, working on a power experiment. Having checked and rechecked his setup, he went to the panel and applied the power. All Potsdam was plunged into darkness. For several seconds, Dick stood there, stunned, wondering what he could possibly have done wrong. Then it dawned on him that rain, freezing on the wires, had brought them down.
Though most of the town was dark, downtown Potsdam still had power. It was the last time Carolyn and Jim could be together for days. The next day she would taking the train to Yonkers, while he would be riding to Teanect in Bill Reiber's, ancient, but reliable, car. The prospect of being apart for days was bleak. They decided to use the little time remaining before the separation to see a movie. The theater on Market Street was playng Hobson's Choice, with Charles Laughton, John Mills, and Brenda De Banzie. Halfway through the picture, downtown Potsdam went dark, too. It was thirty years before they saw how the picture ended.
Wires were down all over town, some still live. As they walked, they could hear the sizzle and snap as the wind blew an occasional wire into contact with the wet, icy ground. The dancing wires defined their path to her door, one detour after another. They reluctantly parted at her door.
The separation wasn't quite the calamity they had forseen. Jim' parents were liberal with their car, so he learned to navigate Westchester County's parkways and Yonkers' vertical streets in short order. Meeting her parents wasn't the ordeal Jim had been led to expect by his friends at school. They were good- natured and good-humored about the pending departure of their youngest from the nest. Neither of her two older sisters had married, so Carolyn became an instant celebrity.
Back at school, Carolyn and Jim picked up where they left off, Jim doing Math and Physics things and Carolyn learing different instruments, practicing, and performing. And both were snatching moments out of their days to spend together.
Jim was living on the G.I. Bill to the tune of $110 a month. He was eligible for seven months worth that year. What no one had told him was that the VA habitually paid for a full semester, once you had started it. Suddenly, he had an extra check. After making sure it wasn't a mistake, Jim and Cindy Baltusnik went to the jewelry store on Market Street so she could help him pick out a diamond ring. Finding a ring for $110 was a challenge. With Cindy's help,the challenge was overcome, but with nothing to spare. Ring in hand, an arrangement was made for the formal ceremony, with the 'down on one knee' ritual and the formal acceptance of the ring and the proposal, followed by tea at the Vernon restaurant, their acustomed rendezvous.
Then it got weird. Jim had always been an erratic student. His practice, in elementary and high school, was to read the book at the beginning of the term and coast. In elementary school, during WWII, he drew pictures of airplanes in class and passed the tests with ease. In high school, he devised inventions and made elaborate engineering drawings. If the course material piqued his interest, he could do outstanding work. Passing the tests was easy in those cases. If he found the subject of little interest, or or required hours of boring practice, he did little. The Latin teacher, for example, gave him every possible mark and, ultimately, no credit for two years of classes.
College work is different. Instead of learning stuff, you're supposed to be learning how to use the stuff you have learned to go beyond it. Jim was actually pretty good at that, but not as it applied to the curriculum. Helping other students when they can't make sense of the material, sure. Bear down and slog through the stuff he found difficult, not so much. In the end, it took him four tries at three schools to learn the simple truth that, sometimes, you actually have to do the work.
Faced with being tossed out of Clarkson a second time, Jim decided to leave on his own. Carolyn's response to this was, "Take me with you." She was willing to live in his dream world, despite the fact that it looked more like a nightmare to her. They discussed the practical aspects of a wedding, and asked Father Travis, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, to perform the ceremony. He agreed and they got a license and the required blood tests, planning to be married the next Saturday. When it turned out that, contrary to what they had been told, there was no three-day waiting period, they moved it up to Thursday, with Father Travis' approval.
It was a pretty good day. Not perfect, but not gloomy or rainy. Carolyn put on her white dress and rounded up Jeff Ferrance. Jim put on his suit and collected Paul Zieske. Father Travis was waiting at the church. He lit the candles, asked them to kneel at the altar, opened the Book of Common Prayer, and so they were wed. Paul offered an emolument, but it was refused. They walked out of the building into glorious sunshine. The wedding banquet was sandwiches in the little restaurant next to the theater on Main Street.
Their honeymoon was spent in the hotel on the corner, with room service sandwiches before bed time. The next day, they took the train south to tell their families. Jim bought a ticket. Carolyn used her railroad pass, hiding her ring so the conductor wouldn't suspect she wasn't, as a family member of a railroad employee, eligible to ride free anymore.
They moved into an upstairs bedroom at Jim's parent's place, where Carolyn began her life's work: dragging Jim out of his dream world and into the real one. Within a month they were in a couple of rented rooms on Kansas street in Hackensack. Jim was working as a mechanic at the local Chrysler dealer's, doing brake jobs, and Carolyn was a typist at an insurance adjustment bureau. Later that summer they had moved to an apartment in New Milford, and jim was running a lathe and a multi-spindle drill press, helping to make automatic oilers for textile machinery.
Jim's first job off the factory floor was prototyping and testing vibration isolators. The company was housed in part of a hangar at Teterboro air terminal. During breaks he would read the flight safety notices on the bulletin board next door. Not the most cheerful reading, but you learn what not to do if you ever happen to find yourself flying a plane. Part of the job was to travel with the sales manager to technical shows and help push the product. The big show every year was NAECON, in Dayton, Ohio. It was Jim's first exposure to programming a computer. The machine was solving equations. He gave the machine an equation with repeated roots to work on, and it lost its little electronic mind.
Meanwhile, back at the adjustment bureau, Carolyn wasn't feeling well. Her co-workers noticed. When she fainted at lunchtime, it was obvious that it was time to see a doctor. Also, time to quit her job and prepare to welcome a new member to the family.
Jim's dad knew a man, Ludvig Jachimowicz, who worked for a company that made telephone cables. Jim met Mr. Jachimowicz at the end of the summer, and soon he was commuting to Bayonne instead of the air field. His new title was Assistant Research Engineer, and he got to invent stuff for real. The tensioner for paper tape insulation worked, but the safety people didn't like the first design, and the second was safer for the operator, but didn't work as well as the old one. The broadband line terminator was a big hit, and was used extensively for testing carrier-frequency cables. The only downside of the job was, the company made power cables, too, and the high-voltage test cage was right on the other side of the wall. The lightning generator was loud enough when the 345KV oil-filled cable passed the test. More impressive when it failed. And most impressive when moisture got into the wooden supports one day, and the lightning took the path of least resistance. The discharge rendered the supports into splinters, leaving the cable under test untouched.
Living in New Milford and working in Bayonne involved a long commute. Public transportation near the metropolis is focussed on getting to and from the city. All the active lines radiate from Manhattan. There are tangential lines, but they have no express service, and many stops. Carolyn made many friends among the young families in the Garden Apartmens where they lived. Jim had plenty of time, riding various buses to and from work, to become acquainted with the many small towns in Northern New Jersey and their denizens who commuted as he did.
One thing that has stuck with him over the years is a great appreciation of school uniforms. The last bus stop before the cable company's research lab served The Academy of the Holy Angels, a Catholic girls' school. As the bus worked its was down Hudson Boulevard, girls from well-to-do neighborhoods got on in the morning and off in the afternoon, as did girls from the rest of the income range. When Jim was in high school, it was obvious which girls had rich families nd which did not. Not in Bayonne, because all the girls were dressed alike. You couldn't tell those who could afford New York's finest stores from those whose whose dresses weres paid for by the parish priest. A good way to avoid the stress of invidious comparisons.
One of the company executives lived in a more affluent suburb near the garden apartments. He made an arrangement for Jim to ride to work with him on days when he wasn't traveling. It worked well, but unscheduled trips to the city or out of state made it difficult for Jim. Carolyn had the whole new mother experience to cope with, and Jim wanted a shorter, more predictable, commute. They moved to Bayonne.
And this was the moment Carolyn made her move.
Jim was bragging to her about broadband line terminator the real engineer couldn't quite make work. Big mistake.
"Does he get paid more than you?"
"Will you get a raise?"
"I don't have a degree."
And so it was that I started commuting to New York after work each day to study electrical engineering at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Cooper is a unique school. Founded by Peter Cooper in 1859, its curriculum at the time Jim enrolled was limited to Engineering and Art. Old Peter was a practical man who had little use for pure science or art for art's sake. If you went to Cooper, you were preparing to do something useful when you were done. As a member of the school board, he made it his business to sit in every classroom in New York at least once every year. He left his fortune to educate the people of New York, especially those who could use, but couldn't afford, an education. At the time, every student received a full-tuition scholarship from the earnings of his estate. It was reputed the school was free. Not so. Artists had to pay for materials, and engineers had to pay an $8/semester lab breakage fee.
The years since then have seen changes at The Cooper Union, which is now a university, as is Clarkson. Currently, every student at Cooper receives a half-tuition scholarship, and a drive is under way to retuen to full tuition for rvryonr.
Meanwhile, back in Potsdam, Fran (she was the girl on the left in the trio mentioned earlier) had finished school and married John. John had gone to work to support his family, and was now attending the Cooper Union, taking evening classes as Jim was. Similarly situated, the two couples picked up where thay had left off when Carolyn and Jim left Potsdam. When they had a free evening and money for the expense, all the cultural advantages of the greatest city in the world where theirs to share.
Carolyn kept house and raised her baby in Bayonne. Half a house in an industrial town was a far cry from a garden apartment in a comfortable suburb, but she coped. Jim was enjoying school. He did well enough to be inducted into Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. He especially enjoyed a class in metallurgy, taught by the president of a small company in the business
*** And they all lived happily ever after ***