Today, I was saddened to learn that Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, died. He was 83, I think, and died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a disease related to smoking although Nimoy (I almost wrote Spock – it is hard for me to separate the two.) quit smoking over 30 years ago. His death reminds me of two things – I guess in reality, more than two – but these two things jump out at me. First is my maternal grandfather, Travis Moring. Uncle Travis, which I called him when I was a small child and continued to call him until he died. Not that he was anything less than a grandfather to me; it’s just that I can look back and feel the love I had for that man better when I call him “Uncle Travis.” I guess I learned that name because he was not my blood grandfather. Travis married my grandmother Lucile Snow a year or so before I was borne in 1945. My grandmother had divorced my blood grandfather a few years before that, but in those days one did not talk openly about divorce. Uncle Travis was the true father-figure in my young life and we developed a special relationship. This picture was taken in 1971 while I was stationed at Eglin AFB with the 33rd Tac Fighter Wing and living in our small house on the water in Shalimar, Florida. Papa and Bubba came down for a visit just after I had returned from SEA. (Yes, David, I know you made a better copy of this photo but right now I’m having trouble remembering how to access the external hard drive it is on – the instructional video you made is on my old computer. 🙂
But I digress. When I was very small, it was quite common for all grownups to smoke. It was well before medical research was able to prove a connection between smoking and many serious illnesses. Uncle Travis was a heavy smoker until he got a stiff warning from his body and an astute doctor. Travis had started to work in the coal mines around Birmingham when he left high school before graduating to help his family finances. He worked in the mines until he developed what was called black lung disease. His then doctor advised him to get out of the mines but sadly not to quit smoking.
When I became old enough to ponder such things, Uncle Travis was smoking and working for Foremost Dairy in Birmingham. I do not know specifically what he did there, but I do remember he was very well liked and had run of the place. He often dropped by our home in West End with ice cream treats. And on several occasions when I would ride with Bubba to pick him up at work, he would let me in the tasting laboratory at Foremost and sample the many flavors of ice cream they were considering. Travis worked at Foremost and smoked until he developed severe chest pains, shortness of breath and collapsed. I can vaguely remember mother getting the call from Bubba and rushing off to the hospital, leaving me with my paternal great grandmother Big Momma (I am writing a post about Big Momma and the Birmingham Black Barons which I hope to publish on my blog soon: Here.) Hours later she and Bubba came home and told me Travis would be OK.
The next time I saw Travis, he was no longer smoking; he had kicked the habit abruptly even though Bubba and most of his immediate adult family still smoked. I did not know how hard that must have been for him, but his new doctor told him in no uncertain terms that continuing to smoke would kill him. Again, this was well before medicine formally accepted the relationship between smoking and heart disease. But like Spock, Uncle Travis’ long years of smoking combined with the black lung had already done their damage. In just a few years, he developed what we now call COPD and that killed him May 18, 1976. He was only in his late 60s, the age I am now.
In addition to the COPD, there is another link between Uncle Travis and Spock. When I was in my senior year at the Academy in C-Springs, the original Star Trek TV series started on Thursday nights. But at that time, I, like most cadets, had no time to watch TV during the week; academics were just too demanding. I was carrying 22+ semester hours of senior/graduate level engineering courses and even though, as a firstie (a senior), I was allowed to be in the squadron meeting room where the only TV was, I just did not have time for TV. I don’t think I would even have known about Star Trek if it had not been for Uncle Travis. He was in to it (we did not use those terms back then) and told me about it in a phone call just before Christmas.
Travis knew he was going to die at a relatively young age given his COPD and onset of congestive heart disease. He and I often talked of that and I tried to encourage him that medical science would develop a cure before the disease took him. I was in to science fiction as well as real science and I really believed that science would save him. I just plain had faith in what I was learning. And Travis discovered he too liked science fiction and checked out several of the books I recommended to him. That led him to Star Trek and Spock. He really appreciated Spock. Whereas Travis had no real education and was a very sentimental and empathic person, Spock was just the opposite. I think that had Travis had the opportunity to complete his education, he would have gone to college and excelled. He was very smart and I think he could see a bit of Spock’s intellect in himself.
I was able to see Star Trek (The Squire of Gothos) at Papa’s and Bubba’s house in January 1967, just before I had to return to the Academy for my last semester. I came to like Spock best too and did find a few chances to sneak in an episode my final semester at the Academy.
Spock and Auburn
While I was in my master’s program in engineering at Auburn in the early 70’s, Mr. Spock paid a visit to the loveliest village on the Plains. My ex, Cyndy, had a job at the educational TV station at Auburn. Although she was officially a secretary, C was very photogenic and smart as a whip and easily maneuvered her way onto the business side of the cameras. Most often, she helped the anchors and filled in for them when needed. She hosted several home ec episodes, sometimes doing the cooking herself. When Leonard Nimoy visited Auburn, she interviewed him on the air. And when I came to the station to pick her up (we only had one car back then), she introduced me to Mr. Spock. I did not have a smart phone either, so no selfie with Spock for me. But C has a photo of her interview of Spock somewhere; I remember it well. So we will just have to make do with this photo of Nimoy in the 70s.
Goodbye Mr. Spock. You will be missed.