Thursday, July 4, 2013
Saturday, May 18, 2013
WATCHING THE RAIN
We left the City in Friday afternoon traffic and followed the parkways along the Hudson River North. The tall buildings fell farther and farther away in the landscape, replaced by taller growing trees, wildflowers, grassy meadows and the depths of forest darkness. So too did wide roads gently narrow into the winding country side.
On top of a hill, past a crooked mailbox and row of tall pines we arrived at the vintage cottage for which this trip was intended. Built from 18th century timber this 1930’s era stone cottage overlooks the Hudson Valley and the distant Catskills beyond. The apple hedge lines the driveway with giant spruce, ferns, and tiger lilies throughout the large groomed landscape.
The gray skies were looming as the view vanished to the approaching rain. We opened a bottle of wine and waited. The first drops fell slowly, dotting the teak wood deck and immediately soaking in. As I looked across the yard, I could see the entire rain event as the drops became larger and fatter – first in the distance and then falling before me on the now soaked porch. Lightning and thunder and heavy rain, the gutters spilling over –drains blocked by fallen needles – and ripples as if in a pond on the flooded deck with each new juicy drop of rain. With a flash of lighting, the thunder followed – the lights flickered and the alarm sounded. We’d arrived in America’s Loire Valley for the weekend.
IN THE NIGHT:
The wild turkeys ran on the lawn. Water droplets sparkled like diamonds and covered the shaded plants. The dusk turned blue. We drove into the one town near hear – the back yard of BARD College of Liberal Arts. On their campus stands the new $64 million stainless steel Frank Gehry designed theatre arts building. It is the second most expensive private liberal arts school in the country with exceptional schools in both film and photography.
It is a strangely odd place – between the Hudson River and points beyond – a land grant, protected indefinitely from development – destined for eternity by the Getty fortune. Dark and deep forests abound – intertwined by multi-million dollar estates – the names of which include Liebowitz, Cornel, Clermont, Wilderstien, Livingston, Brokby and Gould.
I had a Mexican fusion pork tacos for dinner – and a couple of the best margaritas ever. I could not be in New York.
IN THE MORNING.
The skies were still threatening and plans to fly by private plane to Lake Placid are put on hold. With my first cup of coffee, I showered outdoors on the deck at the side of the shed – overlooking the forest and meadow and barn and pond below. It rained lightly throughout. There is a small road just past the barn – but unfortunately no one drove by.
With antique auction in the town square this morning and a circus performing at BARD and Tea tonight at Edgewood – the eighth oldest country club in the country, founded by the Livingston’s when King George was in charge here – we have a lot to see. Tomorrow I will gather my gear and shoot the house and grounds.
My pants are sagging but I’m not wearing boxers.
It has been a long haul and you’d think after the flight from Puerto Williams I would have figured out this Chilean airport thing. Here I am, only an hour early and I’m still 30 minutes earlier than anyone else. As the sun rose across the Tierra Del Fuego, I recalled for a moment of my worry in Puerto Williams that I might miss my flight. No one else seemed concerned. The airline office had one desk and a wood burning stove, a cord or two of stacked wood and they sold school supplies as well. The twin Otter sat on the runway not 40 feet from the security area. Check-in was not performed in the traditional sense. You just handed over your ticket and then walked with your things around the magnetometer – which was turned off - and then outdoors onto the runway, putting everything you carried on a cart by the loading door of the plane and then quickly hopped on board – No ID required. My new Chilean friends Andres and Rodrigo were the last to board, arriving three minutes before takeoff. We were off the ground in about 100 feet, with the co-pilot looking back from time to time to be sure everything was buckled down. We headed North – for from here, there is nearly nowhere South to go. Five minutes before take-off is enough here. It’s about fifteen minutes for a real jet.
Perhaps Ferdinand Magellan was blessed by such a sunrise when he named this place the land of fire, the sun just cresting the Eastern landscape and lighting the dense shroud of clouds over the calm morning straights.
As I look now down the aisle on the plane and see the many passengers loading their things in the overhead cabins, smiling to familiar faces – it seems everyone knows everyone here - the flight attendant carrying a stack of newspapers, Chilean hugs and kisses among the flight crew – including the mechanics and baggage handlers, and the flamenco guitar playing overhead, I too am saddened about leaving.
What a great adventure this has been, with Brian and Christopher along for a good bit of it. I could ask for little more in travel companions. My computer is filled with new images, my imagination runs wild in excitement with the possibilities - new friends and new places . I am heading home. And waiting at my door will be my loyal peroita negra Kodak– who will have sat anxiously at the foot of the door since the day I left. I will again be allergic to everything, will have a gym to workout in, will have students to talk to, a fraternity to advise, rent to collect and responsibilities abounding.
It has been a long haul down here in Chile. My feet, my ankles and my back are sore. I am completely out of clean clothes. My bag is as dusty as the Chilean road. I paid as much from my overweight bag as I did my ticket. My pants are sagging but I’m not wearing boxers and I’m on my way home.
My mom is 90 now and still sharp as a tack - although she is not so good with valences. A few years ago, she was the guest speaker at the American Chemical Society meeting at the University of Texas. She was a hoot, telling stories from back in the day about washing her hands with benzene and the creek behind the lab occasionally spontaneously combusting. Best to my mom - for without her good Chemistry, I would not be nearly the concoction that I turned out to be....
Career Synopsis for Virginia Z. Deal
Virginia Zerfass Deal (Mrs. Carl Hosea Deal, Jr.) “Ginney”
Born Sept. 20, 1922, Dansville, New York (up-state near Rochester in farm country)
Education: Dansville Schools, Duke University (BS Chemistry)
U.C. Berkeley, Diablo Valley College, Mills College.
Children: Julia Z. (1956)
Carl H. (1958)
Milton Z. (1959)
Nicolaas R. (1964)
Hobby: breeding Burmese cats
Ancestor Johann Adam Zerfass was born in Pennsylvania in 1742.
The family came to New York State in 1813 in a covered wagon for the rich farmland.
Virginia played in that same wagon, still in the Zerfass barn, as a child.
As a child, Virginia was interested in science, music and doing pen and ink sketches. Her parents bought her a requested chemistry set and a wonderful $3 microscope. After a few unplanned explosions, Virginia’s chemistry was moved to the concrete basement of their home on Zerfass Road.
Her family raised fruit trees and shrubs for the wholesale trade, and fared relatively well during the depression years. At least, on the farm there was food to eat.
She was graduated from High School in 1939 and continued on there one more year as was allowed, because of the economic depression. Her last summer there was spent working gratis in a hospital assisting at autopsies and other laboratory work.
She was accepted at Duke University in North Carolina and entered with the help of a government loan available to science students. During this time she held a part-time job involving analytical problems with an analysis for fluorine on an NDRC project (The National Defense Research Committee was formed in 1940 to fund scientific research toward the war effort). She was Art Editor of the “Archive” (a Duke literary magazine), president of the Pegram Chemistry Club, Staff Artist for the Zoology Dept. and was also a member of the Phi Mu fraternity (“sorority”).
While at Duke she met her future husband, Carl Deal, who was a North Carolinian in chemistry graduate school. She was the only one in his “Quant and Qual” class who asked questions, he said. Her lab notebooks were full of “why’s.” They were given permission to “date” by Prof. Paul Gross (“Pappy”), head of the Chemistry Department.
On April 15, 1944 they were married in the Duke Chapel. They accepted jobs with Shell Development Co, the research labs for Shell Oil in the San Francisco Bay area of California (sometimes referred to as “Petroleum U.”).
By now the U.S. was in WWII. Shell was in a hurry for the new chemists to arrive. When Virginia went to CA to start work, Carl was still in graduate school in the East. Ginney went by train from Raleigh NC, changed in New Orleans, changed in LA and again changed trains in San Francisco. She was met at the train in Oakland CA by the personnel manager of Shell, Mrs. Elizabeth Ainsworth, who was holding up Ginney’s wedding picture. Mrs. Ainsworth took Virginia to her own home in Berkeley, as she thought it improper to put a young lady in the same hotel where they put the “men” hirees. Mrs. Ainsworth became a long-time friend and was also the sister of John Steinbeck.
Working in chemistry was very different in those days. In 1949 Virginia’s annual salary was $4,632 with $595.20 withheld federal taxes. Carl’s annual salary was $6,036 with $813.60 federal tax withheld. Even so, their combined salaries were more than the salary of the company’s president. This was very different from today, when CEO’s now may take 1000x or more of the salary of an average worker.
Virginia’s official job as a chemist was analytical research in the fields of viscosity, molecular weights, polarography, potentiometry and the development of test methods. She had 4-5 lab assistants whose work she supervised. They were doing the first potentiometric titrations.
Most of her “bench work” was applied research, working with all sorts of concoctions that only an oil chemist could cook up; finding a method of analysis for some compound which might be so transitory that no one had ever had it in hand and, if necessary, designing an instrument to aid in its analysis.
There were many semi-official tasks which added variety. One was an assignment outside the analytical department to compile and illustrate a manual on the preparation and presentation of technical information. It was called “The Report Manual” and was 3” thick when finished. It was for the staff to use in writing their various kinds of reports and in giving verbal presentations.
She and her husband designed and constructed an ACS (American Chemical Society) exhibit for the California State Fair (Subject: Chemistry in Agriculture) which was awarded a gold plaque as the outstanding educational exhibit.
She was requested to design pages for a Shell “Safety Calendar” in which each month showed many safety violations – game: find the violations.
She made many cartoon posters to facilitate the sale of War Bonds during WWII.
She illustrated many a farewell card for departing friends and decorated service anniversary cakes.
When she first came to Shell, the Physical Chemistry Department was making penicillin in the “The High Lab” (this was a multi-story room for accommodating very tall distillation columns). Cutter Laboratories were just around the corner, and Shell was doing the first pilot plant development for mass penicillin production. That was one of the first things Virginia worked on.
The only other women in her department were lab assistants and office help. There was only one other female chemist in the whole company, Eleanor Mitts, in the Organic Department.
Virginia was featured in the “Women at Work” section of the Petroleum Engineer Magazine in 1954. She was a California nominee for “Oil Woman of the Year” (Desk & Derrick Club) and she was the first woman to give a paper before the API (American Petroleum Institute) in the West – and only the second in all API history.
Virginia enjoyed her association with the ACS, especially the California Section, which always met at U.C. Berkeley. She once sat beside Linus Pauling at a dinner meeting where he was to be the speaker. There were many interesting people and names around in those days that made marks in history. The Deals would often picnic in the Berkeley hills with George Pimentel and his wife in the ‘40’s. Carl knew Robert Oppenheimer, and was friends with Dave Packard, before his name became forever hitched to Bill Hewlett. Carl’s first “office mate” was Al Nixon, who later became President of the ACS. There was a Shell Research Club which was an affiliate of Sigma Xi: this group had regular meetings with splendid speakers.
When the war ended, Virginia had several PhD’s as underlings (back from the war). They worked together very well, and were good friends. It was thirty years later before Ginney learned how much these men resented coming back from war to work for a “woman.”
Some of the (now) funny things that happened in the lab those days were: people using the lab ovens (meant for lab samples) to bake potatoes, lab assistants snuffing out cigarettes in acetone, sinks equipped with benzene for washing hands and people not often wearing goggles or gloves.
At the sink in the analytical lab was a big vat of hot chromic acid for cleaning glassware, and stored beside it the glass cover. Next to this were three cans of solvents: acetone, MEK and benzene. These had a pinch clamp on a spout of tubing which dribbled into the sink and out into Emeryville Creek and into the Bay. Every 2-3 weeks the creek would catch fire and one time it burned down the railroad trestle!
When Virginia was about two months from giving birth to her first child she was “released” to give birth and to return whenever she wanted. Well, she did in fact return at the age of 66 to the relocated Westhollow Research Center in Houston. But times had changed. They refused to hire her as an employee, but used her as a “temp” through Kelly temporary services. In this way they avoided any benefits and prevented her the few remaining years of service needed to earn her pension. When her husband Carl died three years later, she lost all pension benefits.
This is another big difference today in that big companies no longer “care” much about employees. There was a time when people had real loyalty to their company, and the company would take care of its people – but seldom any more.
Late in life Virginia went back to work at the Westhollow Research labs library in Houston. She did things for them which usually never got done, because they needed a chemical background, some technical know how and computer skills. She put their 1500 periodicals into a very fancy database, set up the library CD-ROM system, and provided instructions for the library staff and chemists for how to use it.
Two of the papers Virginia co-authored were:
Determination of Basic Nitrogen in Oils
V.Z.Deal, F.T.Weiss and Theodore T. White
Analytical Chemistry 25 426 (March 1953)
Potentiometric Titration of Very Weak Acids
Virginia Z. Deal and Garrard E.A. Wyld
Analytical Chemistry 27 47 (January 1955)
Virginia’s career in science came at an extraordinary time and place. The post-war years carried the momentum of war-driven efforts toward peace-time objectives. The San Francisco bay area was a western crucible for science, with U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University, the Lawrence labs and a host of emerging industries closely aligned. The atmosphere was positive and ambitious, and R&D efforts looked forward beyond the horizon. Shell Development Co. had the culture of an extended family, and the president of the company knew the face of every employee. Social gatherings and company outings were common, and there was a real sense of camaraderie in the workplace.
Her interest in science began with a chemistry set, a microscope, and some unplanned explosions. She pursued this interest through college, and launched into her career as a woman, by filling the void of absent soldiers. Her first project was the penicillin pilot plant in support of those soldiers, some of whom later made it home to work under her at Shell. Today there aren’t those barriers to “women in science” which Ginney launched through long ago, but there are still chemistry sets and microscopes.