by Jerry Emanuelson
This is an autobiographical addition to my personal web page. That personal web page will be more interesting to most people. I am not sure who would be interested in this addition to my personal web page, but I am writing it anyway. (You've been warned.)
I grew up out in the middle of nowhere. As is commonly known, "nowhere" is a region in north central Oklahoma. It is near the southeastern edge of what was known as the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl days happened long before I was born. During the time that I was growing up, the middle of nowhere was still pretty desolate, and there were still occasional massive dust storms. For the most part, though, the Dust Bowl era had long since ended by the time that I was born.
The county were I grew up was officially in the eastern part of the Dust Bowl. The map above shows the dust storm that prompted the term, "Dust Bowl." The map is provided by the U.S. National Weather Service. If it seems like I must have grown up in a desolate and depressing location, I did. Although I was born well after the official "Dust Bowl" era, my main ambition in life was to get out of there, which I eventually succeeding in doing.
I have a number of memories of things that occurred when I was remarkably young, much younger that people are "supposed" to be able to remember anything. When I was a child, I often had discussions with my parents trying to determine the time that these memories were formed. In some cases, we determined that these brief memories must have been from when I was as young as 2 months old.
There was one memory, though, that I could not explain. I was sure that it occurred earlier than the memory of when I was 2 months old. By the time that I was in my teens, I had pretty much determined that this had to be a memory of being born.
I was born in a hospital. It was one of the best hospitals in the middle of nowhere. My mother was supposed to receive a general anesthetic during childbirth, but the nurse-anesthesiologist was too late, and she arrived at about the same time as I did. The tardy nurse-anesthesiologist was greeted with an angry "Get the hell out of here!" by the doctor.
The tardiness of the nurse-anesthesiologist was beneficial for me since I was born without any kind of drugs in my body. The anesthesia that they had planned to used (which was common at that time) was ether (more properly, diethyl ether), which is a perfectly horrible and noxious substance. It is also extremely flammable.
The absence of anesthesia, plus the fact that I was born a bit later than predicted, probably contributed to my remembering the event.
I actually only remember the first part of it. I remember suddenly being forced from the nice, warm, comfortable place where I had always been, and I was suddenly going somewhere. Of course, I had no words or concepts at all. I certainly had no concept of going anywhere, since I had never been anywhere else. That was the most vivid part of the memory: that I was going somewhere, at a time when I had, quite literally, never been anywhere else at all.
I was suddenly being squeezed through a dark tunnel. I had a feeling that I now recognize as suffocating, being deprived of oxygen. This didn't last very long before I blacked out.
I don't remember actually coming outside of my mother's body at all. As I returned to consciousness and took my first breath, I must have gotten a whiff of the diethyl ether that the nurse had on her tray, though, because the smell of diethyl ether would send me into a panic all through my childhood.
I have read many other birth memory stories. I think about half of them are bogus. They are often misinterpretations or are memories implanted by psychologists who happen to believe in all kinds of bizarre dogmatic ideas about the human mind. Over the years, though, I've become more and more convinced that mine was real, and that many other birth memories are real.
Much of the reason that I believe my birth memory is real is simply how I came to determine what it was. It is something that I have always remembered, and that I have always placed in time before any earlier memory. Although my mother was quite surprised that I could remember it, everything correlates well with my mother's description of the situation.
I was born immediately after the invention of the transistor and at about the same time as the development of network television. Both of these events were to follow me throughout my life. I have spent most of my adult life working for an ABC television network affiliate, and the ABC television network was launched within a month of my birth.
In reading over the following paragraphs, much of it sounds like the tales of previous generations who claimed to have to walk five miles to and from school every day through three feet of snow, and walking uphill both ways.
I lived too far from the school to ever walk there. Although I always rode the school bus, it was a 50-mile round trip every day, mostly over desolate country farm roads. In a figurative sense, the school bus trip could be considered as "uphill both ways" for me -- since I spent most of the ride every day thinking about how I would live when I got out of there, and I eventually ended up living one mile higher in altitude. I also spent much of my later career working nearly two miles higher in altitude compared to where I grew up.
At the farmhouse where I was raised out in the middle of nowhere, we actually had television for about 10 years before we ever had a telephone. In fact, we never had a telephone out on the farm at all. Our indoor plumbing in the house consisted of a single cold water faucet. There was a second cold water faucet in a separate sheet-metal building in a laundry room that we called the "washhouse." That sheet-metal building also contained a garage for the car, an outhouse (our only restroom), a general storage area and a very nice chemistry laboratory (about which, more later).
During the summers, we rigged up a shower above a drain in the floor of the laundry room. It was only a cold water shower, but it was sufficiently hot in the summer in Oklahoma that cold water was often all that was needed.
Heat for the house was provided by three propane stoves. There was also a propane cooking stove in the kitchen. The cooking stove had to provide all of the hot water for the family, including what we needed for baths.
All of this sounds pretty primitive by today's standards, especially with no telephone out in the middle of nowhere. It was one of those cases where the family was poor, but we did not know it. I learned later that my parents had plenty of financial worries; but living on a farm, we were never in real danger of going hungry or anything like that. In fact, we ate more nutritious food than the average family. My mother even made sure that we always had vitamins to take, and we even got our daily omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil (more precisely, cod liver oil, which was the only fish oil that was commonly available then).
Our water supply was the rainwater that landed on the rooftop of our farmhouse. It was filtered through a large charcoal filter, and stored in an underground cistern. There was a water pump and a pressure tank in the storm cellar to provide water pressure to the two faucets. Water acquired and stored this way is quite pure and drinkable. A few hundred feet away, we also had a well for watering the chickens, but that well water was not always safe for human use.
We did often have the entire family going down into the storm cellar to avoid severe weather. I did see tornadoes on a few occasions. This was Oklahoma; and, on one occasion, I saw three tornadoes on the ground at once.
After we moved away from Oklahoma, the strongest winds ever recorded on the face of the Earth were measured in a tornado about a mile from where I went to school. This "highest wind speed on Earth" record lasted from 1991 until 1999.
YouTube has pictures of the town where I went to school (as part of its Ghost Towns of Oklahoma series). The color pictures are much as I remember it. I even remember some of the buildings in the black-and-white photos in the YouTube video. This is the town where I went to school until I got my high school diploma. My main ambition as a child was to move far, far away and to never go back.
Throughout much of my childhood, I got 25 cents per week for taking care of the feeding and the watering of the chickens on the farm. I often used that 25 cents to buy chemicals and equipment for my personal chemistry laboratory. I knew the pharmacists in the nearest town of any size (not the ghost town where I went to school). In particular, I knew a pharmacist and pharmacy owner named Monte Jones, who would sell me 25 cents worth of chemicals from an old chemical storeroom that he had in back of the pharmacy. Monte Jones had purchased the pharmacy in 1946 from an old-time pharmacist who had been working since the time that most medicines were compounded by the pharmacy from powdered chemicals in the storeroom. (Monte Jones died in 1995 at the age of 87.)
Chemistry has become second nature to me. Throughout most of my childhood, I wanted to be an electrochemist. I somehow managed to go through many years as a childhood chemist without suffering any kind of injury at all (except possibly for a few very minor thermal burns). Many of the other childhood chemists that I have encountered in subsequent years have not been so lucky.
I did enjoy the more spectacular chemistry experiments, though. Farmhouses, back then, had a remarkable array of chemicals stored around the place. When I got bored visiting relatives, I would sometimes ask if I could look through their cupboard for certain chemicals that I needed. When I found the right mix, I would pour the combination into an old tin can in their yard; and the adults would watch in amazement at the fire and smoke that resulted. I never caused an uncontrolled fire, though. I was, quite fortunately, always adept at making precisely-controlled pyrotechnic displays on the ground.
I also enjoyed hypnotizing chickens. The first time that I ever did this, my mother didn't believe it when I told her about it. So she came outside and tried to snap the chicken out of its trance, but she couldn't do it.
I also maintained a pretty good radio and electronics lab throughout my childhood. Most of my materials for this came from very old surplus parts from TV repairmen in the area. The fact the parts were very old was useful for me because the local library only had electronics books that were about forty years old. So I first learned about electronics from an era twenty to thirty years before I was born (when broadcast radio was just beginning).
Because I read such a great volume of books, even as a child, I became good friends with the local head librarian. She would often rely on me for suggestions on newer books on science and technology that the library should purchase. So I gained access to many books purchased, mainly for me, by the local library that I could never have afforded to buy myself.
I grew up in a Christian family, but after listening closely to what the ministers in my church had to say, I concluded that religion was nonsense. I am still listed as a member of a Christian church, although regular church attendance later convinced me that I was an agnostic with respect to a deity in general. With respect to the god of the Old Testament, such an entity could not possibly exist. Such a childish and ill-tempered entity as the Old Testament God could never have the intelligence to create anything useful, and certainly not the universe.
I have always had respect for Christianity whenever it was deserved though. My parents were Christians all of their lives, so my sisters and I continued to respect their beliefs, even after they died; and we were careful to give them both a funeral in a Christian Church. (They both died in 2005 after 62 years of marriage.)
I still always celebrate Christmas with my extended family, although I don't think of it as a religious holiday.
One of the rare luxuries that our Oklahoma farm family was able to afford was a trip to Colorado every year or two. I always knew that I definitely did not want to live in Oklahoma, and it didn't take me too long to decide that I wanted to live in Colorado.
By the time I became a teenager, the last thing that I said to my parents every night (and I do mean EVERY night) was, "Good night. And . . . when are we moving to Colorado?"
By 1964, even my parents began to wonder when we would be moving to Colorado. We began a postal subscription to the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, which at that time was a truly remarkable newspaper. (Its editor became the model for a major character in a famous science fiction novel.)
Wheat farming is a risky occupation. Although chemical fertilizers and carefully selected seeds had greatly increased crop yields by the 1960s, weather could still cause a crop failure. In 1966, we had one of those crop failures. We did harvest some wheat, but not enough to support a family of five. So on July 22, 1966, with nothing to lose, the family packed up everything and moved to Colorado Springs.
My father kept some farm interest. I did go back for about four weeks in the summer of 1967 to help with the farm work (in spite of my strong protests). That was the last time that I have ever been to Oklahoma.
Most of the buildings that I have written about so far have been torn down. There is now no trace of the Oklahoma house that I lived in or any of the associated buildings on that farm. The school that I attended in that ghost town, and most of the associated buildings, have been completely torn down. There is a nice modern school now, with a different name, about a mile to the east of that ghost town. It was paid for by taxes from an Oklahoma Gas and Electric power plant that was built in 1972 and is located on the northwest edge of Sooner Lake. Sooner Lake was built as a reservoir for cooling water for that OG&E power plant.
Besides Colorado Springs, the only other city where I have ever seriously considered living is Vancouver, B.C.
Although I had worked on a farm for as long as I could remember, and had worked 14-hour days plowing and doing other field work since I was about 12, I had no documented work experience, and therefore found it difficult to get a job after moving to Colorado Springs. Even though I was going to college, I wanted to get part-time work.
My first serious interview was inside of Cheyenne Mountain at the newly-constructed NORAD Combat Operations Center. It was for a job with the AT&T Long Lines Division. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was apparently for EMP (electromagnetic pulse) hardening for communications into the interior of the mountain.
I didn't get that job, but I did get the early "inside" tour of the interior of the mountain. That included seeing things like the big water reservoirs inside the mountain and the massive springs upon which the interior buildings were suspended.
I had gotten a First Class Radiotelephone License when I was 17. (Those licenses were later restricted to 18-year-olds.) That license was my only "credentials" for a job. That paid off in 1968 when I got two different jobs in broadcasting.
At that time, directional AM stations and all television stations required someone with a First Class Radio Telephone license be on duty at all times. So at one of the Colorado Springs AM stations with a directional antenna, from 6 p.m. until midnight, I would be engineer, disk jockey, news reader and everything else that needed to be done. It was mostly playing music and playing commercials. The on-air speaking that I had to do was fairly brief. I did have to put together a 5-minute newscast and read it over the air at the top of the hour after the Mutual Broadcasting System newscasts were over for the day. I assembled the local newscast from material that came in on the Associated Press teletype machine.
My other job was on top of Cheyenne Mountain at the KKTV television transmitter site. Somehow, I just can't get away from Cheyenne Mountain. I have made more than 4000 trips to the top of that mountain, and I have been on top of the mountain at least once during all but 5 of the past 48 years. Four of those five years that I missed going on top of Cheyenne Mountain were during the years that I was working for Ampex Corporation.
During my Ampex years, I was the principal audio test engineer for the company. Ampex was best known for inventing the video tape recorder. I did some test engineering and design modification work on video recorders as well. For a time, the Ampex plant where I worked made most of the world's video recorders.
In 1978, I went back to working on top of Cheyenne Mountain. This time, it was for the ABC affiliate instead of KKTV. I had to take a 50 percent salary cut from my Ampex salary to get back into broadcasting. The transmitter site on Cheyenne Mountain, 3000 feet above the city, had a much better view than the Ampex plant did.
Actually, a major factor in getting back into broadcasting was simply the fact that I tend to be nocturnal. My circadian (day-night) rhythm also tends to be abnormally long. It is as if I come from a planet with a 30-hour day. Conforming to the hours demanded by a manufacturing plant left me chronically sleep deprived. When I worked at the Ampex factory, I would use up much of my weekends catching up on sleep.
Working at mountaintop transmitter sites sometimes involves working very long days. That doesn't seem to bother me. In transmitter engineering, I have always had enough flexibility in my hours to prevent all but the most temporary sleep deprivation.
Until 1980, the television stations were required to keep a licensed engineer on duty at the transmitter site at all times that the station was on the air. This meant that an engineer would essentially be living at the transmitter site for 40 or more consecutive hours. Prior to 1980, the Cheyenne Mountain transmitter sites had full living quarters including a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Until 1980, being a Cheyenne Mountain transmitter engineer meant working 40 consecutive hours, then getting a 5-day weekend. That was one of the most appealing things about the job (although it was closer to a 4-day weekend because you had to spend much of one day catching up on sleep).
I became the Transmitter Supervisor for the ABC affiliate in August of 1979, and I supervised the transition to remote control. In December of 1980, all of the transmitter engineers, except for me, were replaced by transistors (or at least their jobs were). The area of the living quarters was reduced by half, but the basic living quarters were still there, enabling me to work whatever schedule I needed to work. For decades, my workplace was literally a second home.
At the beginning of 2008, with the broadcast industry in a severe financial squeeze, my job as Transmitter Supervisor was eliminated. Knowing that the station couldn't continue to function completely without a knowledgeable transmitter engineer, I immediately volunteered to be an independent transmitter electronics consultant.
With mid-sized television stations still financially much worse off than they have been since the beginning of television, recent years (especially 2009-2013) have been pretty lean ones for consultants who work in a broadcast market of this size. Still, I've somehow managed to get by.
I been involved with many other activities in the intervening years. Many of those are mentioned back on my primary personal web page.
I have lived in the same house since 1972, not long after graduating from college. I've never been married, or even been in a serious relationship. I don't know why this is. It probably has something to do with that "Small is the number . . ." quote from Einstein back on my main personal web page. I actually have always preferred the company of women (smart women, that is). I've just never found one who wanted to be more than just a friend (and that I've simultaneously felt the same way about).
Also, I seem to be very much out-of-sync with the world in general. I would have done better if I had been born many decades later. Even though I have seen many great wonders during my lifetime, I admire the people who are lucky enough to be born right now.
If I were to succinctly describe myself as of right now (February, 2015), I might paraphrase one of my favorite science fiction writers, Eric Frank Russell, after he was asked the succinctly describe himself.
My answer. Age: 66. Looks like: 56. Feels like: 36. Acts like: 26. Thinks like a 6 year old.
By "thinks like a 6 year old," I am simply referring to an unending curiosity about the world. I also think that I have been able to maintain a sense of wonder that most people lose by late adolescence.
In general, children do seem to me to be more alive, and more resonant with the world, than most adults. Dr. Suess said that adults were obsolete children. Most people lose their sense of wonder and resonance with the world and fade out in late adolescence, literally losing a critically important part of themselves.
There is a subtle shift from a sense of wonder and endless possibilities in childhood -- to a sense of quiet desperation in adulthood. I've tried to help some people in late adolescence avoid this fade-out. I don't believe that I have ever succeeded. Those who don't fade out are the ones that do everything that is really important in the world, although avoiding fade-out doesn't necessarily mean that one will ever do anything that is visibly significant.
I think that I've largely been able to avoid fade-out. I don't think of it as a personal achievement. In my case, it was just in my DNA. In many ways, maintaining this childlike sense of wonder and resonance with the world makes me a freak. However, as the main character says in the last episode of my favorite television show, "I'm proud to be a freak."