The Life and Times of Michael C. McGoodwin
High School Years 1957 – 1961

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
(Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, Book I, 1667)



Michael with brothers Scott and Russ and Father Jim in c. 1959
Mike (probably as a junior)
with father Jim and brothers Scott (left) and Russ (right) c. 1959
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High School Education and Experiences 1957 – 1961

Alamo Heights High School and Alamo Heights: In September 1957, I began my freshman year.  In those days almost everyone attended public schools and private schooling was a rarity.  Like virtually everyone else of my age that I knew, I attended Alamo Heights High School (AHHS).  It was the only high school in the small 2.1 square mile city called Alamo Heights, positioned at the northeast periphery of Texas's second-largest city, about 5 miles NNE from downtown San Antonio.  It was developed beginning around 1890 from the homesteads and ranches of George Washington Brackenridge and Charles Anderson, and had become a municipality separate from San Antonio in 1922, though now surrounded by the much larger city.  (See here for early Alamo Heights history and here for a detailed city map.)  Based on impressions from my 1950's high school days, I would say that Alamo Heights was like an enclave of comfortable middle class existence, seemingly sheltered from the tougher, grittier, more complex and multi-ethnic world surrounding it.  To my recollection, it was largely a white Anglo society (and correspondingly, in my high school class, we had only a few blacks and ethnic Latinos).  Life in Alamo Heights was comfortable, contended, probably pretty easy for many of its fortunate inhabitants during this Eisenhower era (1953 – 1961).  Although the Fort Sam Houston army base was nearby, the major Air Force bases were well off in the distance, and the major competing high school that I recall, Thomas Jefferson High School, was far to the west.  (I confess to being even more ignorant of the other San Antonio area high schools such as MacArthur, Edison, etc.)  I imagine folks chose Alamo Heights for its non-threatening homogeneity, its reputation for good schools, and its quasi-suburban lifestyle—in short, the kind of environment many people choose to raise a family in or retire to.  Lawns were large, the houses tended to be spacious single-floor ranch style homes, and everyone eventually had air-conditioning to make the fierce summer heat tolerable.

My High School Class of '61: When I began my freshman year, I was one of the shorter members of my class—as I recall about 5 feet one inch.  I attributed my short stature to being one of the youngest members of my class, an anomaly arising from the grade advancement in first grade.  Fortunately, I eventually had a much hoped-for growth spurt, and attained my current height of almost 6 feet with the next few years.  Perhaps because of my younger age and relatively delayed growth, I tended to identify with members of the class behind me, especially when it came to dating and befriending the fairer sex.

We had 339 persons in my class (of which 325 have entries in my senior yearbook).  The overall size of the school was about 1400 students, taught by about 70 teachers.  (I see on their AHHS website that the enrollment even in 2009 is still only 1543 students taught by 115 faculty, and that 94% of graduates attend some form of college.)  AHHS was a well-regarded high school, and claimed to be one of the best in the country, though perhaps just a little smug in touting its own excellence.  I have no idea how onerous the taxes were that the local citizens paid to keep up this school district, but to my eyes at least, the school was well funded, well staffed, and well equipped.  Though I raised my own children in an era when big city high schools such as Seattle's have in many ways failed our children, during my own high school years, public schools such as AHHS provided a reasonably good educational experience.  

Science on the Rise: When I began high school in 1957, there was growing interest in hard science and the math needed to support it, and unlike these days science was more widely respected then.  The Soviets launched the Sputnik 1 satellite on October 4, 1957, opening the space age and the Cold War's "space race" for real.  The International Geophysical Year began in 1957, and the great telescopes such as the Hale 200-inch reflector at Palomar (built in 1948) were making possible rapid advances in astronomy.  The potential impact of nuclear physics on everyday life and survival was made apparent by the detonations of multi-megaton thermonuclear "hydrogen" bombs by the US beginning in 1952 and the USSR in 1955.  Biological sciences and medical science were also advancing rapidly—the structure of DNA was deduced in 1953.  For me, aiming for a scientific field of study which used mathematics was an obvious choice which suited my interests and aptitudes, though it would be much later before I finally decided on a career in medicine.

High School Curriculum and Courses: Mathematics in its many varieties was a field I had long enjoyed, my best subject and one in which I generally made A's.  I had good math courses with excellent teachers at AHHS—plane geometry taught by Mrs. Hattie H. Harvey, two years of algebra taught by the well organized and primly coifed Miss Dorothy Louise Rees along with Mrs. Lindell H. Bell, and trigonometry and solid geometry taught by the inimitable Fred D. Zalmanzig.  By the time I graduated from high school, I had essentially taught myself first year college calculus—unfortunately we had no such high school course at AHHS.  My friend Tom Duncan and I once took a brief extracurricular course in computer programming, presumably in Fortran, one of the few exposures to computer technology that I had prior to the PC era beginning with the late 1970s.  We did not get to try out our code on a real computer and probably did not learn very much as a result.  I also was pleased to get to know a distinguished math professor at Trinity University, Harold T. Davis—perhaps when I was program chairman of the Math club.  In 1962 he gave me a copy of his newly published and mostly impenetrable textbook on nonlinear differential equations (note 1).  

One of my favorite courses in high school and beyond was biology, taught in my sophomore year by the award-winning Mrs. Marjorie Behringer.  I did quite well in learning the subject matter, having already developed a strong interest in biology several years prior, and made A's.  But despite my pronounced love for the subject matter, I was disappointed to receive an "Unsatisfactory" in citizenship for one biology grading period.  Apparently my excessive zeal and insufficient restraint led to overly expressive behavior that she perceived as disruptive.  (She also turned me down on an animal experimentation project I proposed that involved the reproductive tract of the rabbit.)  As a junior, I took chemistry from Robert S. Andrews, a smart but stern disciplinarian with a flat-top haircut.  I clashed with him somewhat as well, and though I learned a lot in his worthwhile course, I did not make much of a grade and was once again surprised to find myself called on the carpet and sent to the office for being too argumentative regarding a scientific issue.  I marvel a little to reflect on these adverse science class experiences, noting how students nowadays are allowed wide behavioral latitude for fear their delicate self-esteem might be injured (a theoretical concern perhaps somewhat discredited), how such enthusiasm for science would now be rewarded no matter how unpolished its expression, and how taken aback I felt at the time.  Certainly it reminds me that, with adult hindsight, I apparently lacked the needed interpersonal skills in those days, and had a lot more to learn about the behavioral boundaries established by these public school teachers.  I can recall a few more episodes from my later educational interactions where a little more diplomacy would have served me better in the sciences.

As a senior, I took physics from Joseph C. Buckley and enjoyed and did well with the subject matter.  I decided then that physics would make a suitable college major—its fundamental nature, complexity, and mathematical foundation were quite appealing to me.  Contemplating my scientific leanings and successes, I entertained a vague feeling by then, and for many years to come, that I was somehow destined for greatness and a life of high achievement.  However I did not acquire any degree of genuine academic self-discipline until my senior year of college, and before that my academic behavior and performance were inconsistent with this perceived destiny.  Furthermore, subsequent challenges in college and medical studies forced on me a more modest and realistic vision of what I could hope to accomplish in life. 

In the humanities, I had four years of English in high school, with warm and encouraging teachers including the kindly Mrs. Elizabeth McFarland, Mrs. Katheryn Hicks, and possibly Mrs. Zelma Hardy.  Reading English literature remained a fond pursuit for me, stimulated in part by my mother's own love of literature and her career as an English teacher, but I did not take advantage of this latent interest sufficiently in high school.  I took two years of Spanish as a freshman and sophomore—at least one of those years being taught commendably by Mrs. Thelma Montellano—and got to know my brother Russ's future first wife Laura Anne in my second year's Spanish class.  Unfortunately, I was not an especially good student of foreign languages, either then or later in my life, though I made B's at the time.  I also took world history taught by George Blackhaller, and an American history course as well.  Although I made A's and B's in these history courses, I perceived history as my worst subject, to my father's undoubted disappointment (since he had been a keen reader of Churchill and other historical figures)—and I have always since wished I had been able to generate more interest and ability in that important subject.  I also was fairly oblivious to the practical worlds of politics and government in those days.  (My high school years were in the Eisenhower era, 1953 – 1961, with John F. Kennedy taking office on January 20, 1961 in my senior year.)  Other than a passion for music, I had no artistic inclinations or skills, and took no opportunity to take any art or craft courses, though I did take the engineer's equivalent of art in the form of mechanical drawing for one semester as a freshman.  At the start of my junior year, I had a semester of French, and learned how to pronounce a few words (though not well according to my Francophone wife).  I also took speech as a freshman, and participated in the Christmas play, still working to overcome the natural shyness and aversion to public speaking that I felt, and not doing particularly well at it. 

Regarding other missed high school opportunities, I also look back with regret that I did not learn how to touch type, and did not avail myself of the excellent Latin course that was offered—but in those days and in that locale, taking typing did not seem very cool for a male and the pragmatic language emphasis in San Antonio was understandably on Spanish.  

High School Band: All four years of high school, I played in the Alamo Heights High School Band, as well as in the Swing Band probably for three years.  I have extensively commented on the importance of music in my life, including my high school musical experiences, on my music page.  Being in the band excused me from any physical education throughout high school, an easy way out of exercising and of developing physical fitness (an omission which I came to regret in later years). 

Sports, Outdoors, and Health: I joined the swim team in the second semester of my junior year, where I stuck to my only decent stroke, freestyle—this was the only organized school sport and physical education in which I participated in high school.  However, I took several opportunities to compete successfully in swim meets "unattached", and set a local record for "senior boys" at the South Texas Junior Olympics swim meet for the 50 meter freestyle (28.8 seconds), held at Trinity University July 30, 1960 when I was 16.  (This is of course unimpressive—the best time for boys 17 years and under as of 2009 was 22.47 seconds.)

Mike, Russ, Scott, and Jim catching mackerel 1958
Mike, Russ, Scott, and Jim probably in Port Aransas, 1958

I took up golf for a while in late junior high and my first two years of high school, playing sometimes with my friends Wm. Gresham Orrison and Tom Duncan on San Antonio's public links and at Seven Oaks Country Club.  I also dabbled at bowling, a little tennis, a little touch football (on crisp fall days, mostly in junior high), a little softball (mostly church-organized), and always did lots of swimming in the hot summers.  For family outings, we would go to dinner or take drives in the hill country.  Gas was cheap (about $0.25 to $0.30 per gallon), cars were spacious, the highways were nearly devoid of traffic, the beautiful rolling Texas countryside offered almost unlimited vistas, and the roads in season were lined with lovely Texas wildflowers such as bluebonnets, paintbrushes, Indian blankets, and winecups.  On one unusual and memorable family occasion, my father arranged for all of us (perhaps not including my mother) to go on a salt-water fishing charter in the Gulf of Mexico near Port Aransas.  We caught 97 Spanish mackerels, a few of which we eventually ate.  (Sadly, this fish now comes with a warning label restricting consumption due to the high methylmercury content.  The larger king mackerel, also found in these waters, is even more heavily contaminated.  What a grievous injury we have done to our environment, to cause such contamination even of far-ranging pelagic fish such as mackerel, tuna, shark, and swordfish.)  The photo of us was made in 1958, probably at the time we caught the mackerel, but the fish in the photo appear to be tarpon, which we did not catch (note 3).  Russ, who made several fishing outings with our father, recalls that Jim had an uncanny knack for timing his fishing effort for when the fish were really biting.

I was in good health in high school, with only a bout of acute appendicitis as a junior, requiring surgery by a surgeon assisted by our family practitioner Dr. M. A. Childers.  My mother was understandably worried as I was being rolled to the OR, and she often recounted that I sat up and reassured her that I would be alright—helping to earn me a reputation of being a stoical person.  I was not too worried, as I recall, as I indeed had complete confidence in our much admired family physician.

Nuclear Family:  During my high school years, we continued to live in the roomy two story house at 875 Estes Avenue, and getting to school required the use of a car—no really cool student where I went to high school would consider getting there on a bicycle if he could avoid it.  My brother Russ was a junior when I was a freshman.  The only class that I recall sharing with him was the band, in which he played the trombone.  He has often commented to me that his academic performance in high school left much to be desired—nonetheless, he went on to have a successful academic career as a college professor (in Anthropology at the University of Colorado, retiring in 2010).  We were not as close by then as when I was a preschooler.  We had diverged in our interests—for instance, he was much more interested than I was in masculine outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing, and he was more physically robust and assertive than I was, at times even intimidating.  In addition, family conflicts had taken their toll.  My younger brother Scott was in early elementary school when I entered high school.  We also were not very close growing up, perhaps because he was so much younger than I was and because we shared so few interests.  (However, I have often wished things had been otherwise, and have worked as an adult to reduce the distance between us.)

While I was in high school, my father, whom I greatly loved, was away much of the time, and my parents' relations were badly strained by various factors discussed somewhat more on the parents page.  When my father did come home, it was usually for just a weekend.  He had wide-ranging business development work in Colorado, particularly on Magic Mountain (a theme park project that sadly eventually failed, but see note 4 below), as well as projects in New York, Arizona, California, etc.  My mother attended to the family's needs as best she could, but she was having increasing difficulties coping.  The acrimony in their lives affected their sons, there were heated arguments, angry outbursts, rebellious behaviors, and other reactions and dysfunctions in various members at various times.  For me, it was a time of excessive internalization of and deep anxiety over family problems largely beyond my control—a time of introspection and introversion, of loneliness, and at times of despair.  My mother tended to turn to me as a confidant, and, empathizing as I did with both parents, I often tried to take on the role of mediator or conciliator, but ultimately I was largely unable to effect any real improvements.  Family life was not entirely bad, and I certainly still enjoyed many of the comfortable benefits of our middle class existence, but these were tough years for me on an emotional level.  I learned later in medical school about the so-called "mental mechanisms of defense".  The one I made particular use of in high school and beyond was intellectualization—defined as avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects of worrisome situations—though I could not dispel the deep concern I felt over family issues.

Science Interests and Reading: I recall fondly that our maid Inez prophesied that I would become a doctor someday, even though at the time this was certainly not obvious to anyone else including myself.  In junior high school and the first two years or so of high school, I worked innocently enough on various bomb-like devices (using gunpowder, sodium chlorate/sugar mixes, smokeless powder, elemental phosphorus, picric acid, etc.), zipguns, natural-gas filled flammable balloons, an alcohol/ether cannon that fired tennis balls (the spark being provided by a model T spark coil), small rockets, and other incendiary and potentially hazardous gadgets.  I was constantly exploring scientific gadgetry, materials, and various chemical and physical phenomena, especially electrical.  For several years (probably preceding high school), I had subscribed to a service that every month or so mailed out a little dark blue box containing some modest science experiment to perform.  One of my favorite if rather hazardous electrical devices was a hefty 15,000 volt 30 mAmpere neon sign transformer, with which I made Jacob's ladders and other high voltage displays and gadgets.  (Caution: do not try this at home!)  I also experimented with a model train transformer, running the current between my hands and testing the levels of voltage that were just barely perceptible versus barely tolerable.  Our Electrolux vacuum cleaner that Inez was using exploded one day in about 1957 as she vacuumed my bedroom, undoubtedly due to a gradual buildup in the rug of powders which I had carelessly swept off my desk (possibly gunpowder, but more likely an oxidizer such as sodium chlorate).  My father was understandably angry at the time—he happened to be home and came to school to haul me out of class—but he loved to recount with hyperbole in later years that she (an African-American) looked as "white as a sheet" as she came racing down the stairs, terrified but uninjured.  I look back on those days and activities as remarkably lacking in parental supervision, and potentially hazardous to the health and safety of not just myself but to those around me—certainly I would never as an adult tolerate such behavior in my own home.  At the time, however, I thought I was being careful, and never caused any other accident or injury to my knowledge.

My interests in high school were strongly scientific, but at the same time I was a little embarrassed to be associated too closely with the overtly scientific types who might now be characterized as nerds (though I note from a 1961 school newspaper article that I had been a member of the Biology Club, was program chairman of the Math Club, and was VP of the Physics Club).  Like probably many insecure and self-conscious high schoolers, I tried to thread a precarious middle course between being overly detached and cool versus being more involved but square.  Unlike some of my more overtly accomplished and self-confident classmates, I did not exhibit high leadership skills or participate in extended collaborative projects such as science fairs, and did not have a consistently easy connection with teachers.  (In contrast, my daughter Wendy had a better if more expensive private education, and had better interpersonal skills and correspondingly better relations with teachers in high school, from whom she indeed learned a great deal.) 

For unknown reasons, I did not learn well directly from oral instruction, and I had largely avoided the discipline and effort involved in taking extra courses, taking private lessons, or participating in coached organized sports, etc.  I wanted to think that I had learned much of what I knew on my own, reading text books long before I had formal course work in the subject, teaching myself lots of facts and concepts by reading encyclopedias, etc.  Because of my difficulty with learning via oral instruction, I eventually learned that I needed to make written outlines and summaries before I could learn teacher-taught or self-taught materials very well.  As an adult I have always preferred to learn a subject by studying a comprehensive and well-written text book or authoritative primary written sources, if such were available.  (In my adult life, I have found that being comfortable with self-guided independent learning using text books outside a formal course setting has been a valuable skill, one which some people seem to shun.)  When I attended AHHS, the teachers seemed to me to be separated by a rigid wall of formality and reserve which was not easily breached, at least by someone with my level of interpersonal skills, insecurity, and discomfort with their authority.  None of my high school teachers were ever the kind of first-name-basis pals that, for better or for worse, our own children experienced in these more liberal and informal times.

Non-Science Reading: I continued to read voraciously in high school, especially science fiction and fantasy novels (including Isaac Asimov's I, Robot and The Martian Way; C. S. Lewis's Perelandra; Abraham Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar; Arthur Clarke's The City and the Stars and Childhood's End; and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The October Country, The Illustrated Man, and The Circus of Doctor Lao.  Until my senior year, I rarely read other types of conventional fiction.  I also continued to read mathematics (such as the various Schaum Outlines plus the College Outline Series previously mentioned), and science (George Gamow's 1,2,3... Infinity, Fred Hoyle's Frontiers of Astronomy, Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us, etc.)  In spring 1958, I began an important subscription, to Scientific American, as a freshman.  It is a beautiful magazine that I have treasured through the years and continue to enjoy to this day.  I have saved every issue, and it is the only collection I have that lasted from my childhood.  I especially like it because it serves as a great resource for learning about scientific subjects and key concepts outside one's own areas of expertise, a much needed antidote to the narrow minded overspecialization that hinders most people in modern science and medicine.  Like most other magazines it has dumbed itself down somewhat beginning in the 1990s, now seeing itself as having to fight harder against rising scientific illiteracy and indifference or contempt for science, but compared to most general science reporting it is unequalled.  We also had the Encyclopedia Britannica, and I began an effort probably in early high school to read through much of it (but did not complete this task).  I was fascinated by the words of the English language, and though I was never a good student of any foreign language, I believe I completely read through the two volume English dictionary set that we had.  In high school, I also read some self-help vocabulary building works such as Funk and Lewis's 1958 book 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary, and Norman Lewis's Word Power Made Easy, learning such sesquipedalian words as eleemosynary (which I have never before had the opportunity to work into anything I wrote) and triskaidekaphobia.  (In more recent years, I have enjoyed furthering and broadening this interest in our mother tongue with such fine works as Robert MacNeil's The Story of English—the book and the PNB TV series—as well as Baugh and Cable's A History Of The English Language, and frequent browsing through the excellent Oxford English Dictionary, now available online.)

TV, Movies, Restaurants: As mentioned above, music was a major part of my life.  In my first one or two years of high school, I also liked to watch a few TV programs such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Perry Mason, and Have Gun Will Travel.  Favorite new movies released during my high school years included The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), South Pacific (1958), Vertigo (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), North by Northwest (1959), Exodus (1960), Spartacus (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Time Machine (1960), and The Guns of Navarone (1961).  For dining out, we continued to enjoy eating Mexican Food (especially at La Fonda) and barbecue.

Poker and Other Diversions of Male Adolescence: In about 1958, I developed an interest in poker. The stakes started out small but as time progressed, larger pots were involved (up to $100 to $200—big money for high schoolers then), and I eventually earned a fairly decent but inconstant income from this dubious activity.  The games were held at various teen's homes including my own, and were clean and alcohol free, if a little smoky and occasionally hot-tempered.  This activity was harmless enough and exposed me to a wide variety of male players from other parts of San Antonio, but overall it seemed pretty decadent to me, and I recall this phase of my growing up with ambivalence and regret.  I regard it as an example of how undisciplined, unsupervised, and unfocused my life was then, while many other kids found better and more constructive things to do with their time.  My uncle Jack visited once while I was engrossed in a poker game and voiced strong disapproval to my mother.  But I gradually lost interest in poker—by the time I entered college, the poker competition had stiffened remarkably, the easy money was over, and I developed an aversion for card games that has stayed with me to this day.  (Perhaps in a way there were valuable lessons about life learned from these card-playing competitions.) 

My father also acquired a used 1958 black Chevrolet Impala with three 2-barrel carburetors in about 1958.  This was the closest I have come so far to driving a real hot rod, and I am a little ashamed to admit that one night I was induced, by peer pressure and adolescent foolhardiness, to take it out on a deserted rolling 4-lane highway east of San Antonio to race it against some competitor of the moment.  We reached a speed of around 125 MPH, survived to tell the tale, and thankfully I never felt compelled to repeat this dubious display of manhood.  My brother Russ was disgusted to learn through the grapevine of this episode. (I might add that, in my early 40s, when it was time for me to have my mid-life crisis, I had my family role model image to uphold, and influenced also by other inhibiting factors, I opted out of acquiring the traditional Red Corvette, Porsche, or Harley Davidson of my own.)

Work: Russ worked hard at highway construction one summer during high school and also at other jobs, and at some point purchased his own 1958 Chevrolet.  But with little real parental supervision forcing me to do otherwise, I tended to favor the academic and country club approach to summer living and was also able to get by to some extent on my poker earnings, plus I just did not feel well suited to laboring for depressed wages under the scorching Texas summer sun.  My lack of assertiveness, my desire for a more refined, intellectual, and vaguely aristocratic life, as well as some basic laziness had kept me from taking entry level jobs in grocery-stores or doing paper-routes or finding any conventional summer employment.  In fact, I never had a legitimate job of any duration, excluding gambling, until after I graduated from high school and took a job in El Paso.  I can only offer in my defense that I worked very hard at serious jobs after graduating from high school.

Dating and Girl Friends: Unlike the modern era, when teens can hang out comfortably together in packs with utterly no romantic implications or entanglements, the guys and gals back then seemed to pair up one-on-one, and romance was always an implied possible outcome.  I greatly enjoyed the company of several girls, including some I initially dated but who evolved into great Platonic friends, namely Nancy A. (one year behind me, a smart and kind girl with whom I still exchange Christmas greetings) and Ilene W. (also one year behind me, an enjoyable Jewish girl with a fine sense of humor and affable parents).  I would often run into Nancy and Ilene swimming at Seven Oaks Country Club, where I whiled away a lot of time during my high school summers.

With the loving assistance of my father's mother whom we called MaMaw, I learned to drive in 1959.  Having access to a car gave me the first real opportunity to begin dating.  On my first solo car date, I took Nancy to see the movie Pillow Talk in our 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.  (Only years later did I learn that heart-throb Rock was not as romantically attracted to the ladies as we thought.)  I dated a few girls in my own class briefly (Kay, Michele, and Patti) but mostly seemed to date girls in the class following my own (including another Kay)—I always somehow felt that by age, I really should have been in that class.  During my senior year, I went steady with Jane C.  Her father was deceased, but her silver-haired mother looked after her daughters well in his absence.  Jane and I enjoyed a pleasant romance—she was smart, and her teasing and playful nature probably provided a needed counterbalance to her overly serious boyfriend's introspective personality.  Eventually, she chose freedom from entanglement and we drifted apart.  I might add that, back in the late 1950s and even the early 1960s—well before the sexual revolution and the ready availability of oral contraceptives of the late 1960s and early 1970s—and at least within the circle of kids that I ran with, there was very little drinking, young men tried more or less to be southern gentlemen, and nice girls simply did not go all the way.  The risk of pregnancy was all too real, and a girl's reputation was not to be carelessly sullied—in short, if there was much free sex going on, I was unaware of it.  I can't recall if I attended anything like a senior prom, but perhaps the cotillions played this role.

Michael as a senior in high school 1960-1961 (school photo)
Mike as a senior in high school  1960–1961

Graduation: My Commencement Exercises were held May 30, 1961 at the Sunken Garden Theater—I graduated with a respectable if not stellar 3.8 GPA.  (Of course this is unadjusted for the grade inflation rampant today.  My high school grades tended to be somewhat erratic, though no D's or F's.)  I liked to assure myself in high school that I was not focused on grades, and would study primarily what interested me and not bother much with what did not.  I was 24th out of a class of 339, was elected to the National Honor Society, was one of four National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists in our school and also a finalist, and lettered in band.  My selective service card from February 1962 lists my height as 5' 10 1/2 inches and my weight as 155 pounds, so I had a little more growing up (another inch) and filling out to go.  My school guidance counselor envisioned a Texas college such as Rice in my future, and discouraged me from thinking Ivy League.  This was probably a relief to me, as I did not have the funds, the preppy background, or the burning desire to travel across the country for a college education—though it was a little disappointing that I did not rate higher in her estimation.

Reflections on My High School Experience: Looking back, I recall my high school years as rather insecure and painful despite the many positive aspects, and I was relieved to get out and eventually go on to college.  I was generally regarded as brainy and did well enough academically, but was self-conscious and lacking in self-confidence, masculine assertiveness, leadership skills, and social ease such as the most popular or athletically successful classmates enjoyed, and was certainly no party animal.  The prevailing behavioral norm, at least among the coolest students as I perceived them, seemed to discourage intellectual interests and expression (unlike my subsequent college experience), and in any event I had a lot of intellectual maturation to go.  I was some of the following: analytical and perfectionistic, probably a little dogmatic; tended to bluntly argue my point of view without much tact in matters of science and perhaps religion; self-critical (as this list reflects) and somewhat brittle and thin-skinned in my personality, sensitive to criticism; more romantic and idealistic than pragmatic; introverted; not well informed about world events, politics, history, or other cultures; and underdeveloped as yet in my social conscience.  (But hey, as they say, God was not finished with me yet.)

Although the quality of the education and teaching I received was fairly high, especially for a public high school environment, there was room for improvement.  I have often wondered if I might have better thrived in a private high school such as my children attended, one where the joys of individually tailored learning were more emphasized, a wider variety of athletics and other pathways for recognition could have been traveled, and perhaps where one or more teachers might have chosen to take me under wing to promote my success despite my rough edges.  However, the impact of my turbulent family life would likely have remained a weighty factor.  From my current perspective, it is clear to me that I could and should have taken greater responsibility for improving on my successes, and for working harder and more effectively with the available resources including the teachers—perhaps this would have helped to boost my feelings of accomplishment and self-worth in high school.  Such is life, and the opportunity it presents us for continued growth and maturation beyond the muddle of adolescence.

Rebecca Cardiff in High School 1958 – 1962

Becky Cardiff as Homecoming Queen at Katy High School November 1960
Becky as Homecoming Queen at Katy High School
November 1960
Becky Cardiff teaching the biology class as a senior in high school (photo by the Houston Press) February 16, 1962
Becky teaching the biology class as a senior in high school (photo by the Houston Press)
February 16, 1962
Becky with classmates at 45th Katy High School reunion Katy Texas May 2007
Becky with classmates at 45th Katy High School reunion in Katy Texas
May 2007

Rebecca (Becky) Cardiff, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing before our college days, had a remarkably serene and satisfying existence during her high school years at Katy High School in Katy, Texas.  (Perhaps someday she will write her own memoirs.)  She was a brightly shining star in the constellation of Katy's best stars, not only a beautiful person to behold, but one of Katy's best students, the valedictorian in 1962 out of her class of 57 seniors, a junior high and high school cheerleader (1957, 1960, 1961), the Football Sweetheart and Homecoming Queen (1960), the Best Actress in a 1962 regional one-act plays contest, and a member of the National Honor Society.  She took readily to science and particularly biology in high school, and won an American Science Foundation award to study at M. D. Anderson Hospital, working in the experimental psychology laboratory during June and July of 1960.  This was during the summer between her sophomore and junior years of high school—she lived in Houston with her maternal grandmother Catherine's second husband Ben Morris and his second wife Marie.  When one of her school's science teachers was hospitalized during February of her senior year, she was appointed by the school principal to step in to teach the biology and chemistry classes.  She was named the Outstanding Teenage Girl of the Week in an article featured in the Houston Press on February 16, 1962 under the headline "Salute to Teen Decency".  She was quoted in the Page 4 continuation of this article that she "has long had the desire to attend medical school".  She graduated from Katy High School May 28, 1962.

Summer in El Paso 1961

In June 1961, Russ and I drove the 600 miles to El Paso in the family's aging 1949 Chevrolet, which had been handed down to me.  We had to carry about 15 one-gallon glass bottles of water in the trunk to keep the leaking radiator full while driving in the Texas heat.  

Job: I was moving there to take on my first real job, summer or otherwise.  I worked in a private analytical chemistry lab under Harold W. Wilson. This lucky break was arranged through a contact of my father, Harold K. Glasscock.  I earned what seemed to me to be great pay, $87.50 every 2 weeks, and the work was interesting.  Mr. Wilson was analyzing sands and other ores for gold content and found me fairly bright though probably a little too argumentative.  I recall with amusement a discussion in which he asserted that a longer screwdriver can deliver greater torque because of its longer lever arm (note 2).  This is the kind of scientific argument—perhaps over seemingly minor technicalities—that I used to get into (and still do), and for which budding scientists and engineers should be forgiven or at least humored.  (Why are such questions important?  Consider for a moment the minor technicality regarding which measurement units, Metric or English, were to be employed for landing the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999.  Failure to use metric units consistently in a single small software module led to the catastrophic loss of this $125 million mission.)

Lodging and Recreation:  I stayed at the YMCA in a tiny room of my own.  My parents came to visit once, bringing my girlfriend Jane with them.  It was very hot, well over 100 degrees at times, and there was little to do recreationally in El Paso with the resources available to me.  I made an outing to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico that summer, and visited Ciudad Juarez several times with a friend studying to be a barber.  At one bar/brothel we visited, he accepted an all too readily extended invitation to ascend the stairs and become a man, but I chose to stay behind, hoping I would find a better way to make this transition to manhood when the time was right.  I also went often to the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso to listen to classical music and otherwise enjoy the air-conditioned library.  I swam a lot and again competed unattached in a local swim meet, having some success in a freestyle event or two despite my lack of a flip turn.  I also experimented with making a powdered food substitute by making a beverage using soy flour.  (This was basically a noble failure, because I made the mistake of making it with uncooked soy flour, and drinking this concoction left a very heavy feeling in the stomach.) 

This was a rather lonely hot summer, but satisfying in that it gave me my first taste of actually working like a scientist and earning my keep.

Notes and References

(1) Harold T. Davis, Introduction to Nonlinear Differential and Integral Equations, Dover Publication, 1962

(2) Screwdrivers and Torque: For the record, I believed my employer's physics was incorrect (just Google "screwdriver torque lever arm" to see the elaborate discussion this topic still engenders and which generally supports my position).  He was right about preferring longer screwdrivers where feasible: (1) they allow a better attack position for the hand and body in some cases; (2) they often have a wider, longer, and/or better grip and gripping friction and thus provide a more comfortable and effective handle, and at least if wider at the grip a better mechanical advantage, and therefore a larger moment or torque; (3) they reduce variation in the slant angle of the driver tip at the screw head for the same degree of hand position fluctuations (reducing the tendency to strip the head slot); (4) they may have a wider blade through which the greater torque could be delivered, again with less deformation of the head slot; (5) they can absorb and gradually dole out more rotatory potential energy, etc.  Nevertheless, he was wrong in asserting that the length of the screwdriver is somehow related to the lever arm defining the torque delivered that ultimately turns the recalcitrant screw.  He was a chemist after all, and probably a good one at that, but not a physicist.  If this type of discussion about something that ought to be simple and self-evident turns you off, you might still find me an annoyance, though I try better to enter into such discussions in public or social settings only when they might foster greater interest in scientific knowledge, or they provide some real entertainment value, or they are simply too important to gloss over.

(3) Fishing for Tarpon at Port Aransas (a Mostly True Fish Story): My brother Russ recounts some fond memories of trying to land the elusive tarpon at a favorite summer vacation destination for San Antonians, Port Aransas: "I spent a year of Junes with the McAllisters at their coast house in Port Aransas, going for a month right after school was out from the end of 1st grade in 1948, through graduation from Alamo Heights in 1959.  Very happy memories.  They were a big happy family with a lot of kids, a lot of visiting friends....  When we got into our teens, it was snorkeling, water skiing, chasing girls, drive-in movies in Rockport, and lots of early-morning fishing in the bays and offshore...  Back in the 1950's Port Aransas was famous for its trophy size tarpon, a.k.a. 'Silver Kings', and one of the ways to go after them was from the Horace Caldwell Pier, a T-shaped pier which jutted out into the Gulf for several hundred yards.  The tarpon would be migrating up from Mexico, swimming North in the longshore (or littoral) current paralleling the shore.  When they reached the pier they would not swim under it, but rather would turn seaward and swim along the pier's South side, then around the 'T', then continue their journey North.   Sometimes you could see their long shadowy shapes down in the chalky green water as they swam along the pier's South side.   The best place to fish for them was near the inside South corner of the 'T' where many fishermen congregated, and which was called 'the hole'.  It was also nearly as good along the pier's South side.  The basic gear was a stout fiberglass rod, a medium-size Penn salt water reel with a smooth 'star' drag, fairly heavy test line, around 30-50lb. test, braided green line as I recall, with the terminal tackle being a 6 ft. wire leader with a bobber (float) on it, some weight, and at the end a strong hook with a whole mullet on it.   Completing your gear was a bucket with some mullet in it and maybe also some soda pops—which you were going to need in that muggy heat.  Basically, you'd put your line in the water directly below you and then just stand or sit at the railing of the pier in the blazing sun, waiting for hours on end, absentmindedly watching your bobber floating up and down on the waves.  But if your bobber abruptly went under, you'd yell out 'Down!' or 'Tarpon in the hole!' so all the other fishermen around you would know to quickly retrieve their rigs so they wouldn't foul up with you, and then you'd methodically count 'one-thousand...two-thousand...three thousand', and then rear back with all your might to set the hook in the tarpon's hard mouth.  The pier was known as an excellent place to catch a real trophy... the main event for the big ones.  Typically, when someone firmly hooked one it ran out to sea, rather than under the pier which would have fouled things up.   And often the fisherman was in for a spectacular fight, the powerful fish taking out several hundred yards of line and making spectacular jumps for 15 minutes to an hour or more.  And a not uncommon thing was to see a fisherman fight one for a time, only to lose it when the fish's frenzied fight attracted a giant hammerhead shark.  Suddenly the fisherman would fall back, his line gone slack, and then reel in nothing more than a big tarpon's head.  But if all went well and the fisherman eventually played the fish to exhaustion, he'd bring it in along the North side of the pier so the longshore current would keep the fish away from the pier, where somebody would gaff it with a gaff hook attached to the end of a long pole, and then they'd walk the fish to the shore.  The really big ones were too large to hoist up onto the pier itself.  And near the entrance to the pier ... they'd display any fish that were caught.  It wasn't easy, but it could be done.  Even around the peak, and even with several dozen fishers along the pier, a really big one would only be landed every two or three days.  But the big draw of the pier was one didn't need a boat, and the fish one might catch might be an exceptional trophy.  I experienced a half dozen 'downs' the several days I tried this, but only really hooked into one once.  Either the fish didn't have the mullet very far into its mouth, or it could 'spit' the hook without it penetrating its hard mouth...  But once, only once, I remember sitting there in the blazing sun, watching my bobber riding up and down on the little waves, probably half delirious in the heat, when my bobber went under.  I yelled out 'Down!' and then after the methodical count I reared back, and this silver giant—must have been 6 feet long—burst vertically out of the water, coming up to my eye level only a few feet away.  Then after it fell back in the sea it ran seaward at high speed, stripping out my line against the strong drag I had set in, jumping a few times as it ran away in a straight line, until it had stripped out all of my line and broke off.  I never slowed that fish down!...   It's that kind of excitement that makes this otherwise inedible fish so sought after by sport fishers, from the coasts of Central America all the way around to Florida.  Nowadays almost all tarpon that are caught are quickly released.  And many fish them in subtropical and tropical shallow flats with fly rods.  I have no idea how you can set the hook in that bony mouth with a fly rod, but for those who do I'd imagine even a 3 footer makes a run with many flashy jumps that is not to be forgotten..."

(4) Magic Mountain in Golden CO near Denver: I spent a few weeks in Denver including visiting Magic Mountain probably in 1959 or 1960, but Russ and Scott had much more extensive involvement there.  They were both pleased with this unusual and satisfying opportunity to work, learn, and recreate.  Russ, writing in 2014, offers the following reminiscences, which I have edited only minimally:
      "Russ worked at Magic Mountain while it was undergoing construction during the Summer of 1959.  He was 17 and had just graduated from high school.  During that summer he lived with our dad, Jim, in the Argonaut Hotel in downtown Denver, and he recalls the exhilaration they both felt on seeing the Rocky Mountains in front of them as they commuted to the site each morning.  5 days a week Russ was a common laborer, doing various low-skill outdoors tasks associated with the construction and landscaping of the park.  Compared with wages for teenage laborers in Texas at that time (~$1.25/hr) the pay was quite good, around $2.25/hr, although in order to have the job, Russ was required to join and pay dues to the local chapter of the labor union, termed the "AFL-CIO Hod Carriers and Common Laborers." 
     Weekends the general public was able to visit the nearly completed Magic Mountain site, ride the narrow-gauge train that circled it, attend a melodrama in the Playhouse, and see a bank-holdup skit in the streets of the Western town.  The talent director who coordinated the melodrama and the bank-holdup skit was a man named Arby Beardsley, who hired Russ to narrate the bank-holdup skit, for which Russ donned a cowboy outfit with boots, hat, six-gun, cartridge belt and holster.  The bank-holdup skit began on the hour several times a day and lasted around 10-15 minutes, culminating in one heck of a shootout with the stunt men firing blanks in the street and falling off rooftops while thrilled visiting families looked on.  As Russ began his narration of the skit a colorful Colorado character named "Lingo the Drifter" played banjo behind him.  Lingo had recently won a lot of money on the popular nationally televised quiz show, "The 64,000 Question," with folk music as his category of his expertise.  Otherwise, the cowboy actors in the skit were professional stunt men from Los Angeles. 
     In between the bank-holdup skits, wearing his cowboy outfit, Russ walked around the park and rode the narrow gauge train to add color to the scene.  And the train itself was spectacular, featuring a fully functional 19th century narrow-gauge steam locomotive which had been converted from a coal burner to an oil burner. 
     Our younger brother, Scott, spent part of that summer at the Magic Mountain site too.  He was 9 years old and spent much of every day riding burros bareback in the foothills that rose from the West end of the park.  Aside from a few early introductions to riding, this was the beginning of Scott's equestrian skills, and he continued an active interest in horseback riding during his teen years and beyond.  The wrangler at Magic Mountain who tended to the stock was a man named Charles "Bud" Dillner.  On weekends when the nearly finished park was open to the general public, Scott and a young friend sometimes sat through the melodrama in the Magic Mountain Playhouse, and once, after mischievously uttering the actor's lines just before they delivered them, the two boys were barred from the Playhouse.
     It was a memorable and wonderful summer for Russ.  When Jim was out of town on other business Russ had the use of Jim's new car—a jet black, Chevrolet Impala, with a huge V-8 engine with 3 two-barrel carburetors, and twin swept-back antennae at the back.  Jim never knew it, but a few times Russ drove the car at top speed in an attempt to learn what that Impala's "top end" (i.e. top speed) was, pinning the speedometer at 130 mph (with no seat belts in that car!)  [Mike makes a similar confession, above.] 
      A couple of times Russ drove that car to the top of Mount Evans, up "the highest paved road in North America," which reaches to near the summit of that mountain at 14,265 feet.  Russ also became interested that Summer in the dog races, and several times visited a dog track near Denver where he usually lost some of his earnings from his work at Magic Mountain.  And one day, after losing a larger-than-usual sum of money at the races, he got a speeding ticket while furiously driving away from the track.  A few days later Jim went with Russ to a Justice of the Peace who levied a large fine on Russ, which Russ paid with his earnings from Magic Mountain.  And right after that Jim told Russ he had "had enough fun in Colorado this Summer" and sent him home to San Antonio."