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JIm Saw

BIOGRAPHY - Growing Up (1942 to 1959)

I was born James Thomas Saw on February 9, 1942, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My father was an amateur photographer. He had a 35 mm Kodak and would use the lens off of it on an enlarger to make prints in the bathroom. Because of his interest there are lots of baby pictures of me.

My father, Thomas James Saw, was the only son of Pittsburgh natives. His father, a plumber, moved three housed down the street when he married. He did not move again until he moved in with my parents when he was almost 80 years old (he lived to be 96).

My mother, Madelyn Mary Marm, was the daughter of German immigrants. Her father, a railroad conductor, died before she was born. Her mother raised five children by scrubbing office buildings. She later moved in with us and helped raise my brothers and me.

My parents were products of the depression. My father went to one year of trade school where he studied art. He worked in a defense plant throughout the war. He worked on the Manhattan Project (or so he said).

My mother dropped out of school to help support the family. She worked as a secretary. Years later she went to night school and I attended her high school graduation.

My brother, Robert Paul Saw, was born three years after me in 1945.

I don't remember anything of my years in Pittsburgh.

After the war my father drove a borrowed 1929 Plymouth to San Diego to look for work. He told of making the trip without a spare tire and without a map -- just head into the sunset and keep left.

I remember flying to California at age four in an airplane. My father had gotten a job at Consolidated (Convair). Driving down the coast highway past the plant you could see the camouflage netting still up from the war.

Housing in San Diego after the war was scarce. We had to live with another family in a small two bedroom apartment for a while after arriving. A little later we moved into a small house and my grandmother (my mother's mother) moved in with us to watch my brother and I when my mother went to work.

My family always liked to fish. The picture to the right shows me with my first of many small ones -- never any big ones. Years later we would go to Lake Morreno and catch Blue Gills by the dozen -- all little ones. My dad was a bit more serious and caught an occasional big one. My mom, after getting over her aversion to putting worms on the hook, became a pretty good fisherwoman. My brother still fishes -- catches and releases big ones.

My father quit his job at Convair and bought into a Liquor Store with an old friend from Pittsburgh -- Texas Liquor on El Cajon Boulevard in La Mesa. I remember walking there to take him his lunch.

When I was six we moved into a trailer. Not a mobile home, this was a trailer -- 37 feet long, no bathroom and five of us living in it. I thought it was great. I loved the sense of community. Even though we were poor I didn't realize it at the time. That is me standing on the tricycle.

The only problem was that you had to go down the road to the community bathroom. I thought it would be heaven to be able to take a bath -- all we had were showers.

My dad had gotten out of the liquor business -- one too many attempted robberies -- and was working as a display assistant at Whitney's Department Store in San Diego. In other words he was a window dresser -- put displays in the store windows. He later became the head of the department.

I remember riding the bus downtown to see him in his shop. It was way in the back of the store and full of great stuff.

Next door to the trailer park was Monty Hall's Playland where you could ride a pony and play cowboy. All of the trailer park kids were big on the cowboy thing. I still fondly remember my trick rope and wish I still had some of the cool clothes we wore then.

Playing kick the can was our favorite game after it started to get dark. I'm sure I wore out many pairs of shoes playing. Yo-yos were also a big thing.

When I was nine my folks bought five acres of barley field in Santee. They wanted to start a chicken ranch. The problem was that there was no water on the property so they had to put in a well. The well cost so much that they were not able to do much more than move our's and a friend's trailer on to the place. It was desolate and way out in the country (or so I thought) -- a mile on a dirt road to the school bus stop. I loved going up onto the chaparral covered hill that overlooked the property. There was a big pile of boulders on top that became my fort. I was never much interested in crowds after that.

My folks had both been driving to downtown San Diego and by now my mother had a job as a secretary for the San Diego Union Tribune. She was later to become the Assistant Business Manager -- not bad for a high school dropout.

A year later we moved into a house in La Mesa. I remember feeling that the place was huge after so many years in the trailer. Not only that but we finally had a TV set! Up until then we had moved so often that I had not been able to make any lasting friends. Now we were to stay put until I went my own way many years later.

I was a great marble player by then. I would take one marble to school in the morning and come home with my pockets full. There was only one kid in the school that could beat me, so naturally I avoided him.

At about this time my age and lack of maturity started to plague me. I was a year younger than my classmates, small and immature to boot. In junior high school, being what it is, a kid poked me in the eye with a rolled up piece of paper. With one eye temporarily disabled I realized that I couldn't see very well with the other. I have worn glasses ever since (except for a few short lived experiments with contact lenses). My self image was zero.

About then my family took up camping for our summer vacation. We would drive all night to Sequoia or King's Canyon, put up a heavy, smelly green tent and fish for a week or two. The water would be freezing but we would swim in it . . Brrrrrrrr! That is me to the left with a fish (a little one naturally) attached to my toe.

I did OK academically in school but socially I was a wash out. Naturally I fell in with a bad element. Fortunately I did not get into any real trouble but did come too close a few times.

Some of my neighborhood friends became interested in amateur radio. I switched my loyalties and decided to become a HAM radio operator. In 1956 I became K6RRI to the discomfort of my neighbors. My equipment was primitive -- a converted WW II ARC-5 radio for a transmitter and an old Silvertone counsel, slightly modified with the IF cans detuned to make a whistling noise, for a reliever. Leaning hard on the edge of the table would fine tune it. I felt like a big shot trying to talk in Morse code to people all over the world but usually just interfered with the neighbor's TV sets. I never made it to the talking phase or might have lasted longer. With code you have to be able to spell -- my downfall.

That is me in the picture to the right with my grandmother, mother, father and brother, Bob. A second brother, Tommy, surprised us soon after this picture was taken. I resented the loss of attention a new baby represented. Boy, was I a mess.

During these years my parents were serious bowlers. We all spent a lot of time hanging out in bowling alleys. I even got to be able to knock down some pins. My dad almost bowled a 300 game once and my mom went to local and state tournaments. That is her: back row, left. Great outfits.

I went to Helix High in La Mesa and attended almost every football game for four years. I enjoyed the games (we usually won) but it was the dances afterwards that I liked the best. I loved to dance but hated rejection. Once I got up the nerve to ask a girl and made it to the dance floor I was OK. In my senior year I learned to swing dance -- the jitterbug. Couple dancing died out soon after that in favor of a "shake your money maker" style. 30 years later that I took up swing dancing again.

In high school I didn't do very well in English or history, and Latin was a complete wash. I was a nerd taking all math and science classes. I was on the math team and enjoyed the trips and competitions. Social life, other than football and dances, revolved around cars and dreaming about girls.

I started driving in my senior year. My folks gave me the family's old '52 Chevy four door sedan. I paid to have it "leaded in" and painted metallic Hunter Green. It wasn't very fast but was fast enough to get in trouble. Many a night ended with a quick trip to the gas station to wash off the eggs and oranges (we lived near Mount Helix) from the night's activities.

When I think about it I was lucky to have survived -- and I was a pretty good kid. The memory of it made me real nervous when my son was that age.

I graduated from high school in 1959 at age seventeen with a scholarship in electrical engineering through Navy Electronics Lab. It included a summer job every year and paid full tuition the last two years of college. I enjoyed the first summer's job at "The Lab" in Oceanography. We even got to do some experiments. My high school chemistry teacher, a great guy, worked with us. After that I felt being an engineer, based on what I saw, would be too boring to interest me for life.

Had enough? No? Click here to go to part II: Coming Of Age.



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