Thursday, March 12, 2020

#61- I'm the Lucky One-John Higgins

I'm the Lucky One
You cannot pick your children or any of your family, nor can you pick your parents. I consider myself lucky because my parents (though very different people from very different families/backgrounds) were loving to one another. And,that set a pattern in my life. This is post is how my parents "found" one another. From my mother's perspective, but had my father written it, I know he'd echo her sentiments.
Her Early interest directs path

I have to reach back for this memory to the time when I discovered I liked to draw. We were visiting Gram Tyson (my maternal grandmother) for a few weeks in the summer. I was on the front lawn in front of the Colonial period stone farmhouse where they lived. I told my mother that I’d dreamed about a white bear and she suggested that I draw a picture of it. That had never occurred to me, but I did. I have no idea what it was like or what happened to it, but I can thank my mother for getting me started. One of the things I enjoyed was making books of pictures. I remember I did one of a girl standing on a boat with a spyglass at her eye. Her legs were both straight, but one was shorter than the other, so I solved that visual problem by drawing a block under the shorter leg. My mother saved a watercolor I did in grade school of a house in which I added an attached shed. The teacher seemed delighted, but I was embarrassed because I heard her chuckle and tell another adult that I must have eaten butter with lunch because of the grease spot in the corner of the sky. (Note to teachers: Be careful what you say.)
Jenkintown, a Philadelphia suburb, had an excellent school system and I was able to have art all the way to 10th grade when we moved to the country. My father was in the Air Corps (as it was called at first) so I went to Biglerville High School, starting in the 10th grade.
There was an art teacher, but no art classes for the high school. Our teachers were either women or older men. I’m reminded of the popular song during the World War 2: it was a young woman’s complaint about the man shortage:
“The pickin’s is poor and the crop is lean. What’s good is in the army, what’s left will never harm me. I’ve looked the field over, and lo and behold, they’re either too young or too old.”
I couldn’t take art there, so I took first year Latin in my senior year. It was easy. I was in with freshman and spent many classes of kids reciting, sketching on the lined yellow tablets they gave us. I mostly drew young women.

College: Finding the Right Fit and Financing It
When we realized that I really wanted to study art, we looked at options. Moore Institute in Philadelphia had a good reputation as an art school, but it wasn’t co-ed and neither my mother nor I thought that was what I wanted. And I wanted some academic subjects, too. 
(At this point it looked as if I wasn’t going to follow the Tyson tradition of going to Penn State!)

We realized that the Rhode Island School of Design was the perfect fit. It was co-ed, it offered academic subjects, so I’d graduate with a bachelor’s degree. And it was a fair distance from home in what seemed like a rather exotic place, Rhode Island. It lived up to my expectations in every way. Plus, I met my future husband in my second year there.

Friends Introduce the Spouse-to-Be
My mother somehow got RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) to allow her to pay my tuition and room and board in installments, but that meant there was no extra money for me at all. Her sister who was childless, Aunt Margaret, sent me a dollar bill about twice a month, but that was it!

I got the names of my two roommates. One, Bette Jean (“Beej” to us pretty soon) Dukes whose divorced mother was well-off and owned homes in both Maryland and Delaware, not far from each other. The other was Shirley Thomson from Montclair, NJ so I took the train to her home and stayed overnight, and we went on to Rhode Island by train the next day. I thought they lived a rather elegant life, but knowing Shirley, I’m sure her mother was very good at keeping things in good shape. [For example, in school, every Saturday after we 3 cleaned our dorm room (imagine!).
Shirley would take out all her clothes, examine them for repairs, clean and press them! So, her modest wardrobe always looked great.] It was at their house the night before we left that I first tasted alcohol--wine. I didn’t care much for it then.

At college, we had a fairly large room with a skinny bathroom attached to it. (the only room with a bathroom. It was a charming very old building. A typical New England colonial building.)
>Rhode Island School of Design & Brown University Share Providence, RI<
Shirley was a beautiful blond with a gorgeous figure and had many more dates than Beej and I. We had some blind dates that were pretty awful. The dining hall was in another dorm (an elegant house dating from Edwardian times, I guess, which was my dorm for my other 3 years). The dining room was in that building (called Waterman house, it was on Waterman St.) and we walked about a block, through an alley between houses to get to the dining hall for all our meals. There was a fraternity house (for Brown University) across the street from Waterman house and the boys there sometimes dated RISD girls and invited us to their parties, sometimes.
Brown, and its female division shared the hill above the downtown part of Providence with RISD and several other colleges, I forget which, exactly.

As Luck Would Have It: One Man’s Loss Is Another’s Gain
In my junior year, a friend, but not very close, Nancy Dale, lived in one of the other dorms halfway down the hill [It’s still there, but no longer a dorm. They’ve torn down Waterman house (sinful!) and built a big, boring modern dorm].

One day Nancy asked if I wanted to go on a blind date with her and her friend Ed Muldoon’s classmate and friend. Of course, I said yes.
I don’t remember what we did...probably just walked downtown to Joe Bonana’s where you could get 5 cent beer in a big room with no d├ęcor, just low-backed booths. And then we ended up in Ed’s basement room on the hill.
Ed had been in the army and was older than all of us. Overweight and not very good looking but intelligent, witty and very funny. (He and Nancy married, lived in Connecticut, she free-lanced her typographical design work to NYC, and they finally retired to Florida. Nan is very athletic, owns a very small sailboat. Ed was not at all athletic, but a great talker). 
My Blind Date
My date was a super handsome, well-built guy, who was as intelligent as Ed and witty and funny…John Higgins. It turned out he wasn’t supposed to be on this date. They’d set it up for their buddy (whose name I forget. I never met him) who was very depressed because he was flunking out. He backed out and so John Higgins was called in at the last minute! I remember how handsome and funny and smart I thought he was.
It was the end of the school year. John walked me back to my dorm, but I don’t remember how many other dates we had that year.  I knew I would be in a different dorm next year, but for some reason, didn’t tell John. I didn’t hear from him. Finally, the following fall he had to get Ed to find out from Nancy where I was.

John's Schooling:
John Higgins Sr-poss Freshman year
John could have attended Fordham for free because a local priest had gotten a scholarship for him and took him to visit Fordham. The iron gate clanging shut just turned him off and he didn’t accept it. How did he select Brown University? He had a list of colleges on offer with the Navy and choose the first on the list…Brown.. but it was alphabetical. 
It was our lucky day, though we didn’t know it.

John and Ed Muldoon were among the men on the GI bill who were getting their education from Uncle Sam, but with no frills!
I felt, even then, sorry for the young boys right out of high school, competing with these battle-hardened men, experienced, serious about their education and a few years older. John was at Brown because he joined the Navy ROTC. He got his education and $50 a month which had to cover everything else. These GIs didn’t live in Fraternity houses or dorms, but in rooms around Providence. RISD didn’t have dorm rooms for men, any of them, either. And we had men on the GI bill who were a good example of seriousness.
We did have some extra-curricular stuff including a chorus, which I joined.
A lack of $ was his problem all the way through. At one point he went to the authority at Brown to see if he could arrange a loan of some sort and was told to ask his father to send more money to him and they couldn’t seem to understand why that wasn’t possible.

Dating and Marriage
So, none of the 4 of us had any money. But it didn’t matter, we all loved talking and could make a glass of beer and a walk through the streets of Providence into a perfect evening out. John and I did lots of walking on our own.
JV Higgins Freshman Navy ROTC

We’d walk up the hill through the rest of the city all the way to the river (which one, I’m not sure). I think it was the Seekonk. We’d stop at a diner and have apple pie and coffee sometimes.
And sometimes he’d take me to Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet which was a dance hall and we’d dance the Polka all Sat. eve. It was a largely Polish population there and could they Polka! Lots of fun.

John and I were married the year I graduated but he still had a year to go. I’m not very proud of our behavior then. Yet both of our families were so patient with us although they knew we were being foolish. So, he worked that summer, or what was left of it. Brown did not know he was married (against the rules for the Navy). 

We lived in a large room on the 4th floor near the Brown campus. I was pregnant. One of our good friends then was John Kinghorn (JK) who was the son of a well-off dr. from NY state. JK was the son of his old age, I think, and although intelligent, a little absent minded. He had made a foolish bet with some guy that he could gain a certain number of pounds by a certain time. John had brought his weights (for weight lifting) with him in our second hand car and we had them in our room.
JK would do the exercises my husband had scheduled for him in our one room.
Neither of them graduated that year! John missed graduating because somehow, he missed taking a music or art class in the required distribution list.

The friends from our double date Ed and Nancy got married, and our friend John Kinghorn stayed in Providence and did another year at Brown.
Luck Runs out?
But John had to resign from the Navy, of course, and we moved back to his home in Woodbourne, NY and lived with his folks (imagine!? They were so good to me!).
John worked at 2 jobs that summer and our first baby was born June 5. 
Our first years were difficult financially and probably a waste of our talents and his brain, but, we neither of us wanted to live in a city so we never moved far from that area.
Turning Hard Work into “Luck”
As it turned out, we lived where we wanted to.
John went on to earn a bachelors, Masters and, eventually a PhD in Economics, all while working full time and travelling and raising 4 children and becoming active in local government (the Town Planning Board Chairman for many years).
I knew he wrote scholarly articles but had no idea how many until after he died, and I found a folder of them in a desk.
I always thought he was the most handsome, intelligent man I ever knew.
Mr and Mrs Higgins about 1955

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