1978, mid-July?: Letter from Peter to G&H

Two-page handwritten letter on lined yellow paper. Undated, but internal evidence suggests mid-July, 1978.

Note: where it says “P.S.I.” at the beginning, that I is a Roman numeral 1. “P.S.II.” comes at the end of the letter.

P.S.I. An heir-hunter called named Arthur Creech (Phone number redacted by Jed in Boise): are we related to Mary or Cecil Hartman, or Quinten or Cora or Archy Warchess. If so please call him...


Dear Parents—

Well mostly I don’t write anyone because there’s not much new, and people get tired of my standard letter: “Hello, how are you? We are fine. Here is a list of 79 far-out books I finished reading last week. You might enjoy some of them. Love, P.”

Written sideways in margin: (written on bus, excuse lurchinesses)

But this time there’s something new--


I’ve got a new job! Yay! It promises to be a very wonderful & interesting position, as a programmer-analyst for Continental Grain (Oroweat bread, some other bakeries, a grain-shipping line, some grain elevators, some metals interests, I don’t know what all...) in Menlo Park. A condition of the job is that we move to the Palo x Alto / Menlo Park area, so we’ll be busy packing & moving in the next 2 weeks. (I start on Aug. 7, I think ... first assignment will be a 3-wk class on the macro-language for certain mini-computers; the class will be in either Chicago or L.A. ... (They have 2 big (370/148 IBM) computers in Chicago running a string of minis all over the country, and programming for whole system is xxx done in L.A.) They are just now expanding/upgrading the system, so it is a ground-floor opportunity. It is an OS shop, using 60% Assembler language (which I like) & 40% COBOL (which I don’t care for much) ... I will probably be assigned to the Technical Support Group--don’t know what this will involve...

The starting pay is $18K/yr., which is what I asked for ... It seems perfect in every way, except for having, once more, to uproot Jed & Joaquin from their schools. But my new boss says that Palo Alto schools are the very best in whole Bay Area, so maybe that’ll be good too.

Marcy & Joaquin are planning to peregrinate to Japan Sept. 30, and Jed & I will stay home -- we don’t have enough of a ‘yen’ to go I guess --


Love, Peter & all of us...


P.S.II. By any chance do you still have the violin you bought me so long ago? Jed is getting into music and ... ??


new job
After several letters’ worth of Peter and Marcy talking about job opportunities over the preceding year before this letter, one might be forgiven for thinking that Peter did not in fact have a job. But it turns out that this time, it really was a real job.
Until I read this letter, I didn’t know that Oroweat did anything other than make bread. I still don’t know what kind of “metals interests” Peter was referring to.
As I understand it, Oroweat is the west-coast US name for the same bread that’s sold under the brands Arnold and Brownberry elsewhere in the US. These days, all three of those brands are owned by Bimbo Bakeries USA (the US branch of the Mexican company Grupo Bimbo), which also owns Entenmann’s, Sara Lee, and Thomas’s.
“370/148 IBM”
The IBM System/370 Model 148 mainframe came out in early 1977. It came with either 1MB or 2MB of memory. (Yes, that’s megabyte. A gigabyte is 1,000MB (…or thereabouts; it’s complicated), and modern Mac laptops mostly come with 16GB of memory, which is to say 16,000 times the memory that this top-of-the-line mainframe had in 1977.) (…Though when the linked-to press release says “memory,” I’m not sure whether it’s talking about the equivalent of what we call memory today, or the equivalent of what we call disk space today, or some combination.) The 1MB model could be purchased for the low low price of $689,000 in 1977 dollars, which is about $3.4M in 2022 dollars. It could apparently run any of a few operating systems, one of which was OS/VS1, which I’m guessing is what Peter meant when he said Oroweat was an “OS shop.”
Online inflation calculators tell me that $18k in mid-1978 dollars corresponds to about $82k in late-2022 dollars (that being when I’m writing this).
Five years before this letter, in mid-1973, while working at Awareness House, Peter received a raise that brought him up to a $750/month salary, which is to say $9k/year. So Oroweat was paying Peter twice the amount that he had been making five years earlier as a counselor. I don’t know how much Peter was making at the school district computer job, but I strongly suspect that this $18k was the highest salary he had ever made.
“Technical Support Group”
Until now, I had no idea what work Peter had done at Oroweat, other than that it was computer stuff. I vaguely recall that they had him ride around in a bread-delivery truck for a few days to give him a sense of what the company did, but other than that I don’t remember ever hearing about anything he did at work. In particular, I don’t know whether he did end up doing tech support or whether the job ended up being more programming-related.
I’m pretty sure that Marcy did go to Japan at some point, but I’m not sure when. I don’t think Jay went with her.
I did end up playing violin in school, but not until three or four years later, and my reason for that at the time was a practical one: iIrc, in middle school most instruments required two years of lessons, but violin only required one. (…Now that doesn’t sound right. It was something like that, though.) Anyway, I have no memory of being at all interested in violin this early, nor of being particularly interested in any other music-playing. And I certainly didn’t have any particular talent for it. As with the bit about my playing recorder in a previous letter, I still don’t know whether I was interested in playing music and just don’t remember it, or whether Peter and Marcy were reading too much into my reactions and thought I was a lot more interested than I was.

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