|Chester T. Raymo Sr. at the American Lava Corporation, Chattanooga, Tennessee—ca. 1950s.|
It was not as a literary document my father wished to share his journals, but as science. He thought the value of the journals lay in the record of his illness, that the exhaustively tabulated data might be of use to medical science. In this he was certainly mistaken; no doctor would be likely to find a cure in his mass of numbers, graphs and diagrams. Yet there is something in the journals worth sharing, worth putting into the context of a life, something that will be recognized as brave and true by anyone who has ever had a mechanical or quantitative bent. If you have ever used a hand plane on a piece of timber, replaced a tube in a radio, gapped a spark plug, computed with a slide rule, or taken a course in statistics or algebra, my father would have recognized you as a kindred soul. If you have ever had motor oil under your fingernails or sawdust on the basement floor, if you have ever smelled burning rosin as you soldered an electric iron or ran your hand lovingly over a piece of tissue-thin graph paper, you will recognize something of yourself in him. If you have ever taken something apart just to see how it works, you will understand what motivated my father when faced with the malfunction of his own biological machine.
I have told parts of his story before, in essays and books, and always the response of readers has been positive, not because there is anything heroic or particularly poignant about my father’s life, but because his life encapsulates what is heroic and poignant in the lives of every handyman and engineer. Chester Theodore Raymo Sr. loved the world. He loved the “thingness” of the world, the bits and pieces and the way they fit together. He loved the world especially when it was running smoothly, like the engine of the family Ford when he had finished a tune-up, and when the world did not run smoothly, as when sickness or violence or natural tragedy intruded, he aspired to be Mr. Fix-it, God’s local repairman. Find the cycle, figure out where synchronicity has gone astray, twiddle, fiddle, adjust and jiggle—then, when the metaphorical spark-plug spacings and carburetor settings were optimized, whatever knocks and backfires this poor world experienced would go away.