Saturday, November 15, 2008

Playing with Fire: Please Respond!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," purveyors of perfect pantheons! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. It's a wonderful name, and I'm proud to bear it.

There's a faerie living in my computer who will not allow me to post YouTube videos on this blog. That's okay. I'm more or less a word person.

But just yesterday, my awesome friend, the computer Yoda, handed me a DVD that had been rendered from an old VHS that had in turn been rendered from reel-to-reel footage from the early 1960s.

That footage shows my beloved father setting stuff on fire.

Dad taught high school chemistry in Appalachia. He was a hands-on kind of guy, someone who taught science with dramatic flair. His students remember him fondly as someone who expected them to maintain flawless lab books, but who in turn allowed them to do many more experiments (and much more dangerous ones) than would ever be allowed in these ergonomically correct times.

At some point it occurred to the Powers That Be in my hometown that they could put Dad on closed-circuit t.v., and he could set stuff on fire while being watched all over the county. And thus to me has been bequeathed two of my most precious possessions: video of Dad, and the black mortar-and-pestle that he uses in his videos.

If someone were to ask me, "What exactly is a Druid?" I would give them my father as an exemplar. He was college-educated. Fascinated by nature. A believer in -- and teacher of -- science. He loved to sing. And he was extremely skeptical of much religious teaching, being at heart a scientific rationalist.

Remember that Druids were the educated class of people in Celtic society, not just religious leaders.

At the end of his life, Dad told me he saw Peter Pan standing in the doorway of his hospital room. So I know the faeries claimed one of their own. His daughter says, "Pish tosh on that scientific rationalism!"

So, readers, please do me a favor. Go on over to YouTube, search "Principles of Combustion," and watch "Principles of Combustion 3." It's only three minutes long. Then give me your honest opinion of my dad, the Wizard of Western Maryland.

PS: I'm not sure how long the federal government will allow this footage to be on YouTube, so time is of the essence!


Aquila ka Hecate said...


What a Druid.

Terri in Joburg

Erik said...

That's very cool!

I was a kid in Barnsville, MD (Montgomery County, midway between Poolesville and Frederick) in the mid-70s, not too far from Hagerstown - we used to go over there after church of a Sunday to visit my great-uncle and great-aunt.

Kate Petersen said...

Hmmm... inquiring minds would like to inquire... how did he wash out the mortar when the experiment was completed?

I am not a Druid and can't comment on that aspect, but I tell you what. Watching the video and knowing that the black mortar and pestle are now in your possession, I could feel your pride, Anne. It's obvious how much you loved your father.

I am smiling and a little teary-eyed.

yellowdog granny said...

wow, anne...that was so cool...he really was a druid..and you know what i noticed?..he had kind eyes and nice hands..

Pom said...

Ok, I know I was supposed to learn something about chemistry while watching those videos. The truth is I was always miserable at chemistry. All I could think as I was watching them is just how incredible it is that you have these wonderful pieces of your father to hold onto! I could just hug everyone who had a part in conserving these pieces for you. Such a gift and such a handsome man.

Mama Kelly said...

What a wonderful thing to have - not only your dad's mortar and pestle but film footage of him in his glory.

It is so obvious and apparant that he is just tickled by the experiment he is running. His eyes seem to shine with a hidden smile. He seems to be having so much fun!

sageweb said...

Very cool! Your Dad had to be the coolest dude around.

THE Michael said...

I want THAT recipe!

Thalia Took said...

Oh my Gawd your dad was totally the archetypal 1950's science teacher, lab coat, haircut and all. That is wicked awesome.

Was that potassium in the mortar? Sodium will do that too, I think, though I know he mixed up two things.

heydaya said...

Oh my - that is an amazing video. If only I'd had your Dad for any science class, I would have turned out much differently. What a cool way to turn kids on to science!

And that mortar and pestle are simply awesome - what a tremendous thing to have. :)

I've described my Dad as a Druid too - but I'm sure he'd never think so, even though he knows more about trees than anyone I've ever met. Dads are good.

onelittlepagan said...

Oh, now that is just fantastic. You're dad was obviously a wonderful guy, and was having a blast. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Anne, there must be a way to embed these on your blogspot. You must add the text in the HTML part of your posting. It will not work to just place in your text like typing, you must be in the tab that allows code to be read.

Thanks for sharing your dad with us.

sabrinam82 said...

As a middle school science teacher I love demonstrating or having kids take part in discrepant events such as the one your dad showed. Thanks for sharing!

Maebius said...

very nice!

Maeve said...

This made me smile. :)

And it reminded me of how much I loved my chemistry set when I was a kid.

Auntie Meme said...

Dear spouse's father was like this. A ChemE who served as an expert witness in explosion and arson cases and would take the passel of kids out to watch him recreate things--like the burn time of a telephone pole. Taught the eldest how to make smoke bombs. Bad move. ;-)
My daughter's chem teacher was like this, too. First day of class, wrote her name in some flammable liquid on the desk and lit it. The new chem teacher built a volcano for the homecoming parade, replete with bright green flames shooting out of the top. (And yes, the fire department is part of the parade every year.)

Sravana said...

I loved how careful he was to open one jar, then close it before he opened the other... all I could think was that he really *knew* his tools.

Thanks so much for that video. You are very lucky to have that, and the mortar and pestle. :)