TAKING THE RIGHT TURN (October 31, 2021)
This month I’ve invited Agile Aging subscribers to share their recollections of formative life choices that worked out well. How and when did they come to a fork in the road? What factors influenced their chosen direction?
The resulting “Taking the Right Turn” conversation is a sequel and complement to our July 31 blog post on “Paths Not Taken.” Rereading both collections, I’m struck by how all of these seniors made the best of their pivotal challenges, emerging stronger and wiser.
See what you think. And my heartfelt appreciation to this month’s affirming quartet.
Alison Anderson: MEANT TO BE
The concept of taking the right turn evokes Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” (at least it does for me, a former English major who had the privilege of sitting in a class where Robert Frost came to read his own poetry). It suggests a lonely wood and a massively significant choice consciously taken. But after reflection, I conclude that my “right turn” was a rather unconsidered and casual choice.
In the fall of my senior year at Radcliffe College, I realized that I needed to think about the rapidly approaching future. In that era, the common choices for a woman, no matter how well-educated, were marriage, teaching, nursing or secretarial work. Not for me. Graduate school was of course a possibility for those of us educated within Harvard’s ivied walls, but I had had enough of endless hours in the stacks of Widener Library. My thoughts drifted to law school, as a less academic but still serious professional path. The drift resulted from three facts: I had just finished reading a biography of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, and I somehow assumed that all lawyers were as interesting as him; my older brother had decided to start law school the following year (following a two-year post-college fellowship); and President Mary Bunting of Radcliffe, a serious scientist herself, had regularly encouraged us to pursue serious careers. But I never talked seriously to anyone about my choice or systematically weighed the pros and cons. There were no lawyers in my family. I just signed up for the LSAT.
So in fall 1965, I was among the small group of women making up 5% of the class of 1968 at Berkeley Law School (then known as Boalt Hall and tuition-free to me as a California resident). Why was this the right turn? Because (aside from meeting Russell) through my law-school roommate I was several years later introduced to the man I married and with whom I had two wonderful sons. And because at Boalt I saw that women could be law professors. (Boalt was unusual in actually having two women on the faculty.) I joined the law faculty at UCLA in 1972. Long after that casual Radcliffe decision, here I am in Los Angeles with my wonderful children, in-laws and grandchildren, looking back on a 49-year career of law teaching which I loved.
Alison demonstrated exemplary pluck by composing her essay while recuperating from a fractured vertebra. Her regular fitness program includes daily walks, weekly tennis and annual hikes in European hills.
Helen Dennis: SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
This is a story about taking the right fork in the road. I was very fortunate to have dated many young men in high school and college with several boyfriends here and there. Although feeling fortunate about my full social life, I could not imagine spending the rest of my life with any of these men. (Note: This was in the early 60’s when women married quite young; I was age 22).
And yes, I continued dating – a wholesale banana importer, an economics professor from the Wharton School, a business owner, etc. On occasion I would meet their mothers who loved me. I did like the mothers, their sons – not so much.
Although having less than optimum experience on blind dates, I decided to entertain just one more. I was living in Philadelphia with my newly widowed aunt. We had a visitor, David, who recently returned as a POW from Korea and was working for Goldman Sachs. Prior to his tour of duty, he had been a frequent guest at my uncle’s restaurant on the University of Pennsylvania campus. He’d last seen me when I was age 12.
When I answered the door upon his arrival, he was shocked. Yes, indeed I had changed and actually had grown up. After getting reacquainted, he announced he was living in an apartment in downtown Baltimore with his wife and had this terrific neighbor, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He added that this neighbor had just relocated from Washington DC where he’d finished a graduate degree in international relations, adding that prior to the DC stay, he’d studied in New York and worked part-time for the New York Times. I was intrigued. “And what was he doing at the Times?” I asked. David replied, “He worked as a copy boy for the noted journalists Arthur Krock and James Reston, and occasionally wrote feature stories.” I thought, “One more blind date; how bad can it be?” I was invited to spend the weekend with David and his wife and to meet my blind date. I accepted the invitation.
One our first date, we attended the Governors Ball in Baltimore. I even danced with the governor. We had a great time. I found my blind date exciting, a good listener, well-informed, having a point of view, kind…and with a sense of humor. We sat up talking until the wee hours of the morning in his apartment. I dutifully returned to David’s next-door apartment to spend the night. And yes, for the first time, I could envision spending the rest of my life with this man.
Saying yes to that blind date was the best decision I ever made. It led to 40 years of a wonderful marriage. Clearly, I made the right decision. When speaking with my mother, I often noted that Lloyd was not only an extraordinary person; he was always a great date. (Unfortunately, he passed away 18 years ago.)
Helen is much in demand as a nationally recognized speaker, author and syndicated columnist on “Aging and the New Retirement.” www.helenmdennis.com .
Earle Jones: UP, UP & AWAY!
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Supposedly, that wisdom came from Yogi Berra. About 70+ years ago, I came to a fork in the road and took it. It was 1948. I was just about to graduate from high school in Birmingham, Alabama. I had just turned 17. With no funding for college and with my mother’s signed permission, I visited the US Air Force recruiting office and decided to join. After Basic Training in Texas, my permanent assignment was at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
Next, a year of Radar and Electronic school in Biloxi, Mississippi. Then back to Wright-Patterson. In June of 1950, I was watching a movie at the base theater when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “Come outside.” Then came the words, “Get your stuff together.” After an extra day to write some letters, we were off by C-47 to Travis AFB near San Francisco. Following a few lectures and a few injections for things like Type-B encephalitis, we were bussed to a small Army station on Yerba Buena Island in the middle of the Bay Bridge. We visited San Francisco for the first time. After several more days of training, we boarded our ship, the Private Joe Martinez, at Fort Mason.
In my radar training, I had become an expert in the airborne radar called the APQ-13, the bombing radar in the B-29. The Air Force was hastily setting up B-29 bases in Asia to support the Korean War.
After 17 or 18 days at sea, we docked in the port at Naha, Okinawa. That island, the “Garden Spot of the Pacific” (the sign said), became my home for the next two years.
A total of four years in the Air Force bought me four years of GI Bill and an Electrical Engineering degree at Georgia Tech. My advisors in Atlanta suggested I look into Stanford and its newly-established Honors Coop Program for graduate students. With a new job (the title was “Research Intern”) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), I was a student at Stanford for the next 12 years!
The SRI position took me all over the world, including eight years in Tokyo, three in Seoul and many, many shorter visits all across Europe. In my opinion, I took the right fork!
Earle is 90.5 years young. Still committed to public service, he volunteers as Air Traffic Controller for 250 fellow residents sharing intranet communications within our Bay Area retirement community. His memoir, Why Me? The Luck of the Outlier, was published by Xlibris in 2018.
Nancy Taylor: THE RIGHT TURN FOR ME
I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1966 amid massive Viet Nam War demonstrations with a determination to make a difference in our world. I wanted to be something other than a secretary, nurse or teacher as most young professional women were at that time. I was unsure how I would make that difference but confident that I could.
I married in the spring of 1968 and moved to Hawaii. Challenging career opportunities were abundant and my first job in Hawaii was working as the speech writer for the Speaker of the State House of Representatives. Other job opportunities and offers rapidly followed. I didn’t think about starting a family because I was focused on “making a difference.”
I embarked on what became nearly a 20-year career at Bank of Hawaii, with intervals of employment elsewhere. At that time the Federal “Community Reinvestment Act” required that all FDIC-insured financial institutions have meaningful involvement in low-income communities. I was the focal CRA entity at the Bank, initiating and implementing all government-subsidized home-ownership and rental programs for low-income families. These programs were unique in the State, groundbreaking in targeting sorely under-served communities. I became the youngest female officer (and one of only five female officers in total) at the Bank. I was a young star, often speaking on behalf of the Bank at major conferences. Several insiders predicted I might eventually climb to the presidency of the Bank.
Then, after seven years of marriage, my husband and I decided to have a child. We reached that decision after two separate trips to Europe, where we’d watched amazingly cohesive family units functioning in a way quite different than what we often saw in the States. We decided to create our own “European family.” To nurture this degree of dedicated harmony, I would have to reduce my working status to part-time. In making this transition, I knew that future promotions, as well as continuation as a Corporate Officer, would no longer be a career path open to me. At that time, there were no part-time employees at the Bank and certainly none with lending authority. I became the first but had to step down as a Corporate Officer.
The transition I made in 1974 was vastly different than those that similar women can make today. This was well before widespread recognition and acceptance of a woman’s ability to perform capably in a senior professional capacity while also raising a family. While many more steps remain to be taken, I’m grateful to have played an early role in my State promoting greater accessibility and equality for working women/mothers.
Making the decision to participate in the lives of five spectacular daughters who have brought me immense joy and prideful satisfaction is a choice I’ve never regretted for a moment. Did I make the kind of difference I expected to make in 1966? Perhaps not. But I believe many of my professional and volunteer endeavors both past and present have had a positive impact on my community. And, may I add, I certainly now know that being a wonderful teacher or a competent compassionate nurse are two of the very finest professions any person can ever hope to have.
Nancy and her husband Carroll live in Kaneohe, Hawaii where they recently celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. She continues to serve on community boards, including the Hawaii Watercolor Society, where she is a Signature Member.