Friday, June 9, 2017

Waking Up White


Reflections on Growing Up White in Danvers


This spring my daughter urged me to read Debby Irving's 2014 book, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. I borrowed a copy from a library, and have just finished reading it. I'm now inclined to purchase a copy or two to hand to white friends. This is an important book, well-written and well worth sharing.

Debby Irving reveals, humbly and gently, her personal story of awakening to realities that for years had alluded her. Puzzles and frustrations in her adult life, involving teaching in multicultural settings, are seen in new light as she learns more about the perspectives of others, and re-examines her own assumptions and habits.

For me, the book rang many bells. It was both a "page-turner" – as I eagerly read forward, following her engaging story – and a thought-provoking book, causing me to re-read sections, reflect on my similar experiences, and occasionally grab my journal to write pages of reactions and reflections.

Danvers, of course, came instantly to mind. Like Debby, I thought I grew up in a "normal" family in a "normal" town. It happened to be all-white, but that wasn't thought of or commented on in any way; it was just normal. The first section of Debby's book is titled "Childhood in White" – entirely recognizable by those of us who grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, in the 1940's and 1950's.  She could have been writing my memoir. Debby's descriptions of her New England upbringing, family values, and habits ring true in many ways. Details differ (her parents were more affluent and well-connected), but in essence we were raised the same way.

Like Debby, I was innocent (ignorant) and inclined to believe that the world was a nice place, and that hard work would lead to happy outcomes. For our families, that was mostly true. We had no idea then about the unfair and discriminatory policies in America that had led to unequal treatment of different people, and that led to all-white enclaves like Danvers and Winchester, where Debby grew up.

I remember the total shock I felt when my mother wrote to me about a lawsuit filed by a young black couple who were attempting to buy a home in a new housing development in Danvers, somewhere near the high school I'd attended. Discrimination against a black family? In Danvers? Could that really be happening? News of that case shattered my long-held belief that Danvers just happened to be white. The couple won their case, but chose not to settle in Danvers. My mother was keenly disappointed, but understood why they might wish to avoid Danvers after the controversy.

I was raised to believe that ALL people were equal. Not much was said about race, but illustrations in a favorite children's book influenced me greatly. I loved looking at the different faces. I saw multiculturalism in action, long before knew that word or idea. My parents were accepting of people from different ethnicities and cultures. They hosted international students.

One day my mother was proactive in resolving a potentially awkward situation that she suspected involved racial discrimination against an African guest. She wanted the guest to accompany my sister to school and observe a full day in an American high school. Permission for the school visit was granted, but the principal insisted that my mother drive the guest to and from the school. Why couldn't he simply ride the bus with Jean?  Not possible, according to the principal.  My mother resisted the unnecessary extra driving, which would cut into her working hours. The principal, when pushed, stated that HE would drive the visitor home, if necessary. My mother did the morning drive, but called in the afternoon to say that she'd be unable to leave work in time. The principal, now needing to interrupt his own busy schedule, decided that perhaps the bus ride made sense, after all. My sister and our guest traveled home together on the school bus. My mother was delighted by that outcome, which is exactly what she had hoped, and guessed, would happen.

Last night, after I read the final chapter of Waking Up White, I lingered over the notes at the end, and the Acknowledgements, impressed by the large teams of people Debby thanked for assisting her in the work that led to this small, self-published book.  For more information, see http://www.debbyirving.com/the-book/

And now, like my daughter, I am urging others to read it.  It is very readable!

Each chapter is short (often only 3-4 pages) and to the point, revealing one new step or puzzle along her journey.  I was intrigued by the way she figured things out and began to apply new understandings in her life, in some cases repairing old hurts and improving relationship with others.

There is optimism in this book – hope that by listening to others, and being open to learn from others, we can improve communication and relationships in our workplaces and communities. But first, those of us who are "white" need to acknowledge aspects of our "white culture" that get in the way.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

UNEX Jet

My father's factory in Danvers was called UNEX Laboratories. UNEX was the brand name of the hearing aids he designed and manufactured there. He liked to say that his products were "unexcelled" – hence he selected the name Unex. Over the years his company, Nichols & Clark, Inc., developed a variety of other products that carried that name. One of them was a plastic molding machine. In 1996, reflecting on his working life, he wrote, "To produce our products we even developed a hand molding machine and built a side business of custom injection molding plastic parts for the Route 128 trade!"

I remember his early experiments with plastic. Plastic material in the form of granules was poured into a machine that heated the material until it melted and became soft enough to be injected under pressure to fill a mold. This process could create many exact copies from one mold. While he was learning the process, he used pre-made molds for small toys, such as cowboys or animals, and shared the results with us, his young daughters. We enjoyed this influx of colorful plastic toys, and were not bothered by imperfections of some of his early trial runs.

These memories came flooding back when an unexpected email arrived in February 2017. A correspondence ensued, photos were shared, and I learned more about the plastic molding machine that my father developed. He not only used it in his factory, but also began selling the machine itself as a product called the UNEX JET.  The photo at right was sent to me by Jeff Saxton of St. Louis, MO, who still actively molds plastic parts with it!

Jeff's email inspired me to write the following piece for the Danvers Herald.

UNEX Jet: Daddy’s plastic molding machine 
by Sandy Nichols Ward

During my childhood, my father designed and redesigned hearing aids, gradually making the units smaller and lighter. The old metal cases, recycled from boxes in which nails were once sold, gave way to plastic cases for the newer models. Daddy was an electrical engineer, not an expert in plastics. For a while he had to rely on other companies to produce and supply the plastic parts needed for the assembly of his UNEX hearing aids. At some point he decided to learn how to make plastic parts himself.

Daddy’s early experiments with plastic were fun for us as children. The first molding machine he acquired came with molds for shaping small plastic toys. As he learned to operate it, he made soldiers, cowboys, Indians, and other figures in bright colors. The pieces were not always perfectly formed, but we weren’t fussy. We enjoyed the output of his molding experiments.

It was like getting prizes in the bottom of our breakfast cereal boxes, but these came freely, without having to eat the cereal.  I recall some talk about whether Daddy might begin selling plastic toys to cereal companies, but I don’t think he was serious. He also laughed off a crazy proposal that came his way about making an electric toothbrush. He exclaimed, “Who ever heard of such a thing?” (Years later he admitted that he’d missed an opportunity on that one.)

Daddy did proceed to make plastic parts, and in fact he designed a much better molding machine. He named it the UNEX Jet. With that injection molding machine he not only could make parts his company needed, but could make parts to sell to others. His factory, UNEX Laboratories on U.S. Route 1 in Danvers, advertised
“Fast Service – Low Cost
PLASTIC MOLDS & PARTS
For prototypes, short or production runs
of small injection molded plastic parts.”

I believe this became a good part of his business after hearing aid sales, because of medical advances, had decreased. He also began to market his improved molding machine. Later, the rights to that machine were sold to another company.

Last week I was surprised to receive an email from someone who owns one. Jeff Saxton, of St. Louis, MO, wrote, “Hello, I own a Unex Jet benchtop injection molder, and wondered if you had any further information on the Nichols & Clark firm as it relates to these small molders?”  I provided some information, and he shared a photo of his machine, which I recognized instantly. He bought it, used, in 1995 to make plastic parts for model train kits. With it, he has made thousands of parts (in eight different dies that he machined expressly for this machine). “It still works great, and that's a testament to your father's design.”

Jeff added some history that I had not known. These machines were sold by Hinchman Manufacturing  (Roselle, New Jersey) in the 1960’s, and later by Kissam Manufacturing (Mountainside, New Jersey), a company founded in 1976. Trade schools and small machine shops were the major buyers. Jeff’s machine wears a Kissam label. On the Internet we found a photo and description from Hinchman. To my eyes, the UNEX Jet looks identical, whether sold by Nichols & Clark (UNEX Laboratories), Hinchman, or Kissam.

I’m glad to know that some of them are still around and being useful. My father, Nathan P. Nichols (1912-1996), would have been pleased.  I certainly enjoyed being reminded of his role in plastics, and the toys that came from his early tests.
______________________________

Below are additional images sent to me by Jeff Saxton, who has been researching the history of the Unex Jet, and trying to trace the source of his machine.




Unex Jet Benchtop Molding Machine (#I2033)
Manufactured 1969
Specifications: Model 128MM
750 degrees
115/1/60
600 watt heater
5.2 AMPS
(from ad at jstrading.bizland.com/I2033.htm)


Jeff added an interesting note about the image above (from an ad). "See the cardboard box tucked under the machine? It's not just there as junk. I did the same with mine – the funnel that you feed the pellets into often spills over and so that box catches all the loose stuff that falls through, for re-use later. Mine doesn't do it quite so bad, as I rigged up a set of thin brass 'flow directors' that closed off a number of the places where stuff could escape. Also makes the floor easier to sweep up and walk on, since it's not covered in plastic pellets." 

Jeff also wrote on 3/7/17, "Another small piece of the puzzle I have found. It's a PDF of a trade publication from 1966 -- the ad in the lower right of page three for Cope Plastics..."  That ad, in the January 1966 issue of American Vocational Journal, lists "UNEX JET Injection Molding Machine" at the end of a long list of items under the heading "COPE PLASTICS for ALL Your Needs in Plastic Craft Supplies."  Jeff commented, "I've been to the Cope location hundreds of times after they moved into St. Louis proper from their original Godfrey, Illinois, location. So Cope was active in promoting the use of Unex Jet machines locally to trade schools or Industrial Arts programs. I would even bet my machine was bought via them by whoever the original owner was."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Eloise!

Eloise came to Danvers when I was almost a teenager. My cousin Janet, then probably twice my age, brought her. I didn't know what to think, at first. Eloise was such a city girl; I was a country girl and couldn't immediately relate to her life. But Janet really loved Eloise, and soon I too was laughing heartily at the escapades of young Eloise.

Eloise came back into my life this week, and it was a joyous reunion. Oh! Eloise!

On Wednesday March 1, while driving from one errand to another in Amherst, MA, I passed the sign for the Eric Carle Museum, paused, turned the car around, and drove into that parking lot. I'd recently read in the newspaper about their newest exhibit, and was curious to see it.  I only intended a 5-minute peek, but I probably stayed half an hour, delightfully revisiting the world of Eloise, and learning more about her origins.

This very LARGE, life-size image greeted me as I turned from the open lobby area into the small passageway to the special exhibit room:



Here are a few more images from this remarkable exhibit.  I am so glad I stopped to see it.  I was surprised by the strength of my emotions for this little girl I'd almost forgotten.




What a clever invitation to join Eloise and her Nanny for tea!  I immediately wished I could invite my cousin Janet to join me.  (I'll invite her to view this blog entry, as soon as I finish typing it.)   I'm sure Janet will enjoy the fact that the Eric Carle Museum drew on the walls.  In Danvers, Janet and her husband Jed drew colorful characters on the walls of their sons' bedroom to entertain those boys. Janet now lives in Maine, in a house with many examples of her artistry painted directly on the walls.

I'll thank Janet for bringing that book to Danvers, back in the middle of the 1950's, and introducing me to 6-year-old Eloise.

"A book for precocious grown-ups, about a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel."  
And, I'll tell my friends to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  For seniors like me, the entry fee is only $6.