There’s a Place… by
(34 Stories)

Prompted By Hobbies

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Even the handles are shop made

…and it’s my mind, and there’s no time when I’m alone.

So, over the last 65 years, I have progressed from my room to my recliner and my shop, and I am as happy as a clam.

When I was a teenager, growing up on a farm outside a small midwestern town, with only my brothers to do things with, there was little time, and virtually no money, for hobbies.  The three of us would play “straight base” ball in the summertime, or make bows and arrows out of small branches, or skip rocks on a pond, but there was no real opportunity for mental stimulation.  I would come home after school, milk the cows, and get my other chores taken care of, eat dinner with my family, and then disappear into my room to read.  (We only had one large console record player, and few records, so even listening to music was not possible – the only time I could do that was in the barn while I was milking the cows.)

My dad would get actively upset with me for not hanging out with the family, watching mindless TV shows.  But I got a lot more out of reading, largely science fiction – I subscribed to Analog magazine and read every SF book available in the public library – but also a lot of math and science books.

Note: I thought about titling this story “In My Room”, the Beach Boys tune expressing the same idea, and so I’ll include a link to that one, too.

Over the years, as I have developed more ability to enjoy other activities, I have often gone too far in expanding my interests, to the point that I have some ability in many areas, but I’m not really an expert in any of them.  Those interests fall into four broad categories: sports, music, intellectual pursuits, and ,making stuff.


I played baseball in Peewee League, Little League, and Pony League.  My Peewee League and Little League teams never won a game, but my Pony League team won the championship one year.  I played third base, left field, and caught, and when they put up a fence in the outfield, I was the first person to hit a home run over it.  (I struck out my first at bat, but then hit the homer after my girlfriend showed up.)  I was never a real jock, however.  I stopped growing vertically after sixth grade, and so was never going to be football star.  I did, however, play on my high school tennis team, and earned a varsity letter, although tennis only awarded a small letter, not the great big letter that the real jocks wore on their sweaters.

Later, I was a bowler, and participated in several leagues.  My high game was a 257, and my high series was a 644, so I was reasonably good at that sport.

And I have played golf, usually pretty badly, since high school.  Over the last few years, I have had some  shoulder problems, including a completely separated supraspinatus tendon in my left rotator cuff, and am slowly getting my game back after physical therapy.


I have loved music my entire life.  One of my fondest memories is hearing my mother standing at the sink and singing while she washed dishes or made dinner.  I took piano lessons for about five years during elementary school, until my dad got mad at the piano teacher and pulled as all out.  Later, I played trumpet in the high school band, and sat as high as second chair, but my tone was awful, and I never practiced.  Then, about twenty years ago, I took up guitar.  We bought our younger daughter a guitar for Christmas one year and arranged for lessons.  Whenever she was unable to take her lesson, I would sit in instead, and when she finally lost interest, I just took over her lessons completely.  There was about a six-year hiatus when we moved to North Carolina, but I have since started taking lessons again from a teacher who insists on teaching me the little embellishments that make my playing more interesting than just pounding out chords.  My background in classical piano really helps, and the teacher loves to work with me because I understand what he is telling me.

My biggest interest in music, however, is just in listening to it.  As my ex-wife pointed out as we were dividing assets, I had more than 550 CDs on the shelf at that time, and the collection has grown since then.


My greatest joy, however, still is in reading.  I devour books on science, math, history, the history of science, politics, and the occasional novel, usually something that I should have read while I was in college.  (I did read “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” in college, and have read it at least twice more, trying to figure out what point Joyce was trying to make, finally concluding that he was just showing off his own knowledge of literature.  Similarly, I have read “The Stranger” three times, trying to find the symbolism of the sun, an assignment from freshman year Expository writing.  I had a friend in Columbus, a professor who is an expert on Melville.  When I told her that I really enjoyed “Moby Dick” as a great book about whaling, she just shook her head.)

My interests in math and science have been life-long.  I am still likely to pick up a math or chemistry or physics book for my reading pleasure, and as I wrote in my comment to Khati’s story, I have finally acquired a really nice telescope, and am in the process of learning more about how to use it.

Making Stuff

I started getting into woodworking in about 1975, largely self-taught – my dad couldn’t put two boards together without  bending nails.  Then, around the time that June and I got married, I also started wood-turning.  When we moved to North Carolina, the one demand I had for the house we were building was that I would have room in the garage for a shop, and I then bought all new, high-end tools for that shop.  The image at the top of this story is the cherry desk that took me five years to build, as I learned new techniques and practiced them.  I now have a top of the line wood lathe, and I turn pens, bowls, goblets, platters, candlesticks, and other objects.  I’m still learning a lot about wood turning, but it is always very satisfying to see an object when it is done.

So, over the last 65 years, I have progressed from my room to my recliner and my shop, and I am as happy as a clam.

Profile photo of Jeff Gerken Jeff Gerken

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Wow, Jeff, great to learn about all these hobbies you have had over the years. And . . . amazingly . . . you have introduced me to a Beatles song that I didn’t know, or at least didn’t remember. When I saw your title, I thought of the Stevie Wonder song (there’s a place in the sun) and the song from West Side Story (there’s a place for us), but not this one. So thank you for that too!

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      If you have the Beatles albums in their original English versions, “There’s a Place” is on the first one, “Please Please Me”. The earliest of those albums all have fourteen songs, while the American albums typically had twelve. I have the English set both in vinyl and on CD.

  2. Marian says:

    Very revealing story about your hobbies, Jeff, and your interests are broad. Enjoyed reading about your music lessons!

  3. Bravo Jeff, I think you win as the Retro writer among us with the most varied and rewarding hobbies!

    Wishing you many more years of enjoyment!

  4. Ah Jeff, don’t be hard on yourself, you’re retired and exploring!

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      Who’s retired??? During the school year, I work 4-5 days a week as a substitute teacher, in math (up through calculus), chemistry, physics, and now in French (I took one year of French in 1967-68) and Spanish (I just completed my 450th straight day in Duolingo).
      I have four weeks of chemistry starting as soon as Tuesday, depending on when the teacher’s wife delivers their son, and a calculus teacher has already booked me for ten separate days so that she can attend her son’s football games – he’s a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  5. I love In My Room…one of my favorite songs, and my room is my favorite place.

    I wouldn’t say you’re unfocused, Jeff. Expertise need not be the goal as long as you’re “happy as a clam” in your diverse and satisfying hobbies. Sometimes we dig in, sometimes we dabble. It’s all good!

  6. John Shutkin says:

    I second Dana’s accolade, Jeff; you win the award for most varied and rewarding hobbies — particularly when one considers that you spent your early years virtually hobby-less (unless one considers cow milking to be a hobby.) And I love the passion, and obvious skill, with which you have embraced all of them over the years.

    It is hard to pick out my favorite part of the story, but I am glad that you, like others on Retro, have considered reading to be a hobby (and intellectual pursuits in general).

    And just two comments on sports. First, a 257 in bowling is seriously excellent. Glad we didn’t invite you to go to Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl on Soldier’s Field Road when we were in college; you would have put me and my roomies to shame. And I very much identified with your anecdote about getting a letter in tennis in high school. While the letter we received in my high school for tennis was the same size as all the other varsity letters, it was an unwritten rule that you didn’t dare sew it on a letter sweater and wear it to school — like the real jocks who played football, basketball, hockey and baseball — or one of them would beat the crap out of you.

    Again, thanks for sharing your excellent adventures in hobbies with us.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    For a boy who claims he didn’t have time for hobbies, you certainly have blossomed through the years, Jeff (you obviously always read and listened to music while milking those cows). You do things with a passion and enjoyment that is delightful.

    I particularly enjoyed learning about your woodworking. I know nothing about it, so I learned something and that desk you made is a marvel! How wonderful that you can make useful, practical things of beauty. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing all of this with us!

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    I am amazing my your varied interests and hobbies, Jeff. I really admire you for pursuing so many interests and maintaining them as you aged. Love the songs you included.

  9. Khati Hendry says:

    Curiosity and enjoyment in all things creative–what’s not to like? Sounds like a very full and satisfying life and I understand why you are happy as a clam. Carry on!

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