“What did you do in the war,” I asked my Dad.
“I was in the Air Force. Didn’t you know that?”
“I know that much, but I don’t know what you did exactly, and for school we’re supposed to write a one-page history about something one of our parents did that is dramatic.”
“My service during the war wasn’t dramatic. I was drafted, they put me in the Air Force, they “Radio, radios, so troops could listen to music?”
“No. I mean the radios on B-52’s?”
“Radios that had been shot up on bombing runs?”
“Sometimes. But usually planes that were shot up never made it back. Mostly the radios needed repair from vibrations in the planes as they flew. The pilots said it was flying in a tin can that was constantly being shaken.”
“Do you have any stories about that?”
“About fixing radios?”
“About something that happened to the pilots of the airplanes.”
“We didn’t associate with pilots, and there wasn’t a lot of drama in radio repair.”
Our teacher had told the class to take as many notes as possible when interviewing our subject, but so far Dad hadn’t mentioned anything that I couldn’t remember without notes.
“We are also supposed to ask how the thing that happened influenced the rest of your life.”
“How WWII affected me?”
“Maybe just how working on radios affected you, if it did.”
Dad thought about that for a minute; then, he said, “At first after the war, I didn’t want to have anything to do with being in the military. I never wanted to wear a uniform again, or salute anyone, or be shipped across an ocean where attack submarines were patrolling. But when you were born and we bought this house, I thought I might make a little money on the side repairing radios again. There isn’t that much difference between the technology in one kind of radio and another, but the problem was that no one wanted their radios repaired anymore. When I was your age, a radio was a piece of furniture like TV’s are now. Radios were in the center of the living room or dining room, and people gathered around them to listen after dinner, so they spent money on them when tubes wore out or the wiring went bad, butl that changed after the war. Radios stopped being furniture and started being appliances that were cheaper to replace than repair. That’s when I decided to learn about TV’s because they basically operated like radios with tubes and wires and speakers.”
“I remember the correspondence course that you took.”
“I bought a tube tester and tubes for the most popular black and white tv models, and for a couple years I kept busy; but then that all changed too. No one was repairing their black and white tv’s anymore; instead, they were buying color TV’s, and none of my tubes and testers worked.”
“Could you have bought new equipment and tubes?”
Instead of answering right away, Dad looked out the kitchen window for a few moments. I thought he was going to light a cigarette, but instead he finally said, “I could have started over again with color tv technology, but you can’t handle change that way anymore. Something is different now. Change used to happen somewhere else first, and we could plan for it here, the way we plan for the seasons because they had happened before. But if I had shifted to repairing color tv’s that use tubes, I don’t think that technology would have stayed put for me. They would have come up with something different than tubes. I don’t know what they’ll use, but it will be something I wouldn’t have prepared for because engineers are in charge now, and I can’t tell what they’ll come up with anymore than I could tell during the war which ships in my convoy were going to be torpedoed and which ones weren’t.”
Dad turned from the window and back at me, and for a moment he looked like he had to remind himself what we were talking about. Then, he smiled and asked me if he’d helped me with my assignment. I told him that he had.