My grandfather
Carlton M. Caves
1987 March 25

My grandfather, Fred Caves, was a farmer. He lived in southwestern Oklahoma, and he farmed the land a mile west of the small town of Blair. He died last Friday, 1987 March 20, at the age of 93.

I am a physicist. I live in the urban conglomerate known as Los Angeles, and I work as a research physicist at the California Institute of Technology.

From farmer to physicist in three generations! That's one way to think about me and my grandfather. There are discontinuities aplenty, accumulated in the passing of three generations, but I prefer to think about the continuities that connect me to my grandfather. The differences are important---they cannot be denied---but I believe the connections run deeper.

My family often visited my grandfather and grandmother. An inevitable part of such a visit began when my grandfather turned to my father and asked, "Morris, would you like to take a look at the farm?" I can still feel my heart sinking as a child, because the next question came from my father, and it was addressed to my brother and me: "Would you boys like to come along?" That question we rightly interpreted as a command.

We all clambered into an ancient pickup truck and rattled down hot, dusty roads at speeds approaching five miles an hour, all the while viewing endless rows of cotton or wheat or maize. There wasn't much to grab a twelve-year-old's attention.

Only later did I come to appreciate those farm tours. My grandfather didn't say much, but what he did say showed that he knew every inch of his land. He kept up with the latest farming practices and techniques, and he constantly improved his land. He did his work with evident care, and he took pride in doing his job well. That farm was his canvas, and he painted on it for 50 years, adding a little shading here, changing the composition there, aiming always to do the best job he knew how.

In a world full of shoddy work, where it sometimes seems that nothing is done right, I like to think of this as my heritage from my grandfather: he found out how to do his job right, and then he did it right.

This heritage was not transmitted to me directly from my grandfather, but rather through my father. He manages a large manufacturing corporation in eastern Oklahoma. His work, like mine, is quite different from my grandfather's, but one can see in him the same devotion to doing things right.

Physics is not immune to shoddy workmanship. I like to think that my work---different though it is from my grandfather's---shows the same dedication to quality. I try to do my physics right, in part because my grandfather did his farming right. That's the connection that stretches across three generations, and I thank him for that.

   Index to CMC commentaries