From the Places Where They Played

Today was one of those days when I just never quite got to writing. I had the Neo and the notes out, and I worked through some scenes in my mind; but I just didn’t write. I’ll chalk my foot-dragging up to one third laziness, one third caution [treading very carefully this close to the end of the story, not wanting to rush], and one third reluctance to finish — writing this book has been so pleasant that I’m sad to reach the end . . . but not really, and not for long — it’s good to get things finished. I’m estimating there are about three major scenes to go before the end. (Which probably means there will be five or six. Or ten?)

Concerning writing days, I’m a notoriously slow starter. I’ll do any number of things before I get around to writing: oversleep, dust some obscure shelf somewhere in my apartment, ride my bike to the store (the day never really begins for me until I’ve been outside), file some piece of paper that’s been waiting in some pending pile for too long, stare out the window, check e-mail, read some long-forgotten files in “my documents,” notice a book on my shelf that I really want to read soon, review my story notes, chew my fingernails, eat lunch, make coffee, take a long walk, open the refrigerator for no reason, lie down on the floor for awhile. . . . But once all the grains of sand build up to the point at which everything overbalances and the poles reverse [What kind of metaphor was that?! I don't think that was legal, even with an artistic license.] — once that happens, then I’m scary. It’s like in the movie Troy, when Achilles gives Odysseus a good-sporting jibe for taking his sweet time in getting to Troy, and Odysseus says something like, “I don’t care whether or not I’m there for the beginning of the battle, as long as I’m there for the end!”

Be There For the End — See It Through — Go the Distance — those should be our goals as writers (or in doing whatever we do). Remember why the “Dead Poets Society” is called the “Dead Poets Society”? — It’s because the members are committed to living out their lives as poets. Poetry is a path that you must live to the end, and not turn aside. You’re finally really a poet-all-the-way when you’re a dead poet, when you’ve lived deeply and drunk life to the lees.

Anyway — I have to quote here from a comment that came into this blog last week, because it’s so well said that I wrote it out on a little piece of paper to keep in my “great quotes about writing” notebook. It’s from Catherine, who I’m quite sure will be writing professionally in the near future.

Last week, Catherine wrote:

“The settings and the music, especially, remind me of some idealized time in the past, when everything was wonderful except for what wasn’t; a time that I can only return to if I have a character whose life envelops me so completely that I can’t look out the window without seeing her through the trees.”

That describes so well the writing process when it’s working (for the kinds of stories, of course, that so many of us love)! If you get a character who’s absolutely real to you, and if you immerse your imagination in a setting that evokes that yearning for a remembered time that maybe you never actually lived through (because it’s been improved by your memory and the passage of years), then I think you’re well on your way to creating something extraordinary. Catherine, I’m in awe of how well you’ve summed this up! We’ve talked before about that C.S. Lewis concept of the longing we sometimes feel that does not have its fulfillment in anything we live through from the cradle to the grave — yet still we feel that yearning: and logically, when there is a yearning, there is the corresponding satisfaction of the yearning [there is food for our hunger, there is sleep for our tiredness, there is companionship for our loneliness, etc.] — and therefore, the longing that has no fulfillment in this life is a powerful indication of the existence of Heaven — of more to the picture than we presently see.

Hope Mirrlees explored that idea (indirectly) in Lud-in-the-Mist, and I think a lot of the other great stories do it, too.

A time in the past, when “everything was wonderful except for what wasn’t” — such is also true of the present, of the mundane — right now in our lives, everything is wonderful except for what isn’t. (When we’re older, these will be the times we look back to with our wistfulness and see all the magic that is here!) Yet a great deal of what is really true and what is beautiful seems to come into focus only when we’re well past it on our careening ride into the future. So, I think, so many of us writers look to our childhoods for the clarity and the perspective that makes a worthwhile story. Not that we always write directly about the things we did and thought then; but that we revisit something of what we felt and perceived in those distant days and shine a light on it through the filter of our experiences since then.

Here’s from Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees:

“In [man's] mouth is ever the bittersweet taste of life and death, unknown to the trees. Without respite he is dragged by the two wild horses, memory and hope; and he is tormented by a secret that he can never tell.”

Memory and hope, the two wild horses that drag and thrash man like a pair of Untowards — these, writers, are two of our most important tools. Bring them to bear!

When I was born, the road I lived on didn’t have a name — it just had a

Old Oak Road, looking north from in front of my yard

Old Oak Road, looking north from in front of my yard

 rural route number. Little by little, the city limits of Taylorville drew closer, and eventually the talk was flying fast and furious of naming the road. The default, front-running name was “Glen Haven Drive” — not because of any careful thought on anyone’s part, but because there is a Glen Haven Cemetery at the first bend in the road. My two childhood neighbor-friends and I intensely disliked that idea, because for one thing, who wants to live on a street named after a graveyard? For another thing, we didn’t like the sound of “Glen Haven” — it seemed ill-suited to a country road in central Illinois. So we thought about it for awhile and came up with “Old Oak Road,” because the road does have an abundance of old oak trees, particularly along its inhabited stretch, before it gives way mostly to fields farther north.

Following some advice from our parents about how to go about getting support for our idea, we boys took a petition up and down the road for the various homeowners to sign if they liked our name. (I don’t remember how old we were; I want to say I was about 9 or 10, which I think is pretty close.) Our dogs also came with us, as they did pretty much wherever we went on our bicycles or on foot; and when they encountered the homeowners’ dogs, they all went through the standard dog protocol of barking furiously at one another.

So our signature-gathering typically went like this:

“Hi! We’re BARK BARK BARK BARK to get BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK if you BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK.”

Sometimes the homeowners had questions, such as:

“What BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK?”

Old Oak Road, looking south from in front of my yard

Old Oak Road, looking south from in front of my yard

Most often, they just signed the petition so we’d take our dogs and go. Then came a city council meeting at which the issue was debated (without dogs); and by, as I recall, a fairly narrow margin, we were awarded our tree-loving, heritage-rich name, and there were three happy little boys who got to live on a road that they’d named. I wish I had here in Japan the picture my mom took of us three kids with the road sign, but you’ll have to settle for the one I’ve got.

the corner of Lincoln Trail and Old Oak Road

the corner of Lincoln Trail and Old Oak Road

 

Abraham Lincoln might conceivably have passed within sight of this oak in my front yard, since his law circuit would have taken him along this route between Allenton and Taylorville.

Abraham Lincoln might conceivably have passed within sight of this oak in my front yard, since his law circuit would have taken him along this route between Allenton and Taylorville.

Anyway, that story is the background for telling you about a long poem my mom wrote shortly thereafter. Her poem was titled “Old Oak Road,” and it began with the creation of the world . . . yes, those six days when everything came ex nihilo by the spoken word of God. She traced the history of that region through the time of the undisturbed trees and the animals . . . to the long ages of the moccasined feet . . . to the coming of the white man . . . to the days when Abraham Lincoln rode along the dirt path there and saw the oak trees . . . to the era of the burgeoning community of Taylorville . . . and so at last to the time of the three boys with their bikes and dogs, who gave the road its name.

Yes, my two friends and I were the culmination of history! We all used to laugh together (Mom, too) about the grandiosity of the poem. It’s never been published except in a volume of my parents’ writings that I printed and bound as a surprise for them a long time later. But Mom did capture a certain intangible something there . . . some echoes of the fulfillment behind the yearning.

One quote from the poem that I’ve often used is this:

“Something whispered in their ears — something spoke from out of time . . . / From the places where they played. . . .”

Mom understood that the “places where we play” in our earliest years become for us a sacred well-spring, from which we draw water for various purposes all our lives. In most of what I do even now, the road and the oaks are whispering still.

And finally, one of the main places we played as kids was the barn behind my house. It’s described best in that same story, “Glory Day,” that I quoted from in the previous post. I promise not to do this every week, but let’s go there one last time. Again, there’s nothing fictional about this except the name “John.”

The barn had always called and whispered to John. If the fields and woods were sacred, then the barn was the chapel at the center of it all. It was entirely wooden, built eighty or ninety years ago. Though it no longer housed horses (Dad had sold Banner to a friend shortly after John was born), it was full of the memory of horses: ancient gray carpets of well-trampled manure and straw on the stall floors, the teeth-marks where horses had gnawed at the boards, and in one trough where mama cats sometimes had their kittens, there remained part of a salt-block for horses to lick — it shone in the dimness like a chunk of snow that never melted.

My barn: this photo was taken by my Cousin Steve either when I was a baby or before I was born; the barn as seen here is in slightly better shape than it was during most of our "glory days."

My barn: this photo was taken by my Cousin Steve either when I was a baby or before I was born; the barn as seen here is in slightly better shape than it was during most of our "glory days."

A central concrete walkway separated the lower floor into two rows of stalls. Those on the north were dark rooms with doors that closed, and where toadstools sprouted in the cool half-light. Virginia creeper thickly blanketed the entire north face of the barn outside, from the ground to the high hay-door. The vines’ roots sealed shut various hatches and trapdoors, and framed the windows that were open, so that what light entered was a green glow among fringes of bobbing leaves.

 

The south stalls were more open and airy, their walls mere rail fences that only rose chest-high. More of the outer wall on that side was missing, so that the sun had free access to bake the floor in shifting patches. Insects droned in and out; up under the rafters, mud daubers built nests resembling panpipes. Riots of foxtail and burdock, timothy and poison rhubarb spilled in through gaps near the foundation like crowds of clamoring fans desperate for glimpses of the inner world.

1968: That's me, with the barn in the background. That's a good friend of our family's, and I think that's her horse, not Dad's.

1968: That's me, with the barn in the background. That's a good friend of our family's, and I think that's her horse, not Dad's.

The wide main door on the west always stood open and could no longer be closed, its rollers rusted, its planks in the grip of maples that had grown up along the walls and become, with their counterparts on the north and east, a natural, supplemental framework, steadying the aged structure against the winds. At the barn’s east end, a ladder climbed to the hayloft.

 

The hayloft occupied the whole upper story, the roof arching high above its hay-littered floor like the keel of an overturned ship. Wooden beams transected the space in struts and arches. Birds nested in the eaves. The loft still saw active duty — the tenant farmer from up the road stored his hay bales there in stacked banks that rose to the upper braces. He would remove them a few at a time as needed, so that their cliffs changed as the seasons unfolded. But John and his friends considered the bales to be their own private set of giant building blocks. They could be positioned into tunnels and fortresses — hot, itchy, pitch-black crawlspaces delightfully scented of alfalfa and timothy. Bound at times into these hay-block walls were long, papery snake skins.

The loft was the perfect place for the long, aimless conversations of boyhood — the plans, the fancies, the arguments, the make-believe. And when no friends were available, it was the place to read. John sat in the open hatchway on the west, his feet dangling above the ground far below, and read Lovecraft and Dunsany and The Martian Chronicles.

And so the barn was. It was the best. Suggestion for comments: how about describing that place you played as a child, when summers went on forever, and you could read all day with impunity?

1968: Mom and me in the field. What, am I EATING the corn we're gleaning?!

1968: Mom and me in the field. What, am I EATING the corn we're gleaning?!

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22 Responses to “From the Places Where They Played”

  1. Chris Says:

    “…how about describing that place you played as a child, when summers went on forever”

    Well, that would be, that barn! The barn was one of the few places worth actually being in Taylorville. It sort of sums up what a a central IL childhood _should_ be.

    When I ultimately moved away from that I remember reading “Dandelion Wine” and enjoying it immensely because it brought all that back to mind.

    (And as I recall Bradbury grew up in Peoria, IL, correct? Maybe there _is_ something great about Illinois. Or at least as I like to say “it’s great to be _from_ Illinois.”)

    I wish I had some more pix of those times and places. I have a few old faded photos but few and far between of that time and place. Do any pictures still exist from the expedition to the top of said barn? As I recall a photographic record was made, correct?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I’m delighted to hear that the barn was a bright spot for you in the Illinois experience! Yes, you were there from the very beginning.
      You know, I have yet to read Dandelion Wine! Maybe I should do that this summer. Everybody I know says I should. I knew that Bradbury grew up in a town much like Taylorville, though farther north in Illinois. It was a fairly small town, wasn’t it? Maybe in the Peoria area?
      Most of the best images from our childhood are either on my parents’ color slides or on our home movies, both of which require projectors, and both of which are buried in storage in Taylorville. I truly hope for the time and opportunity in life to do a major archiving rescue mission before everything is lost to calamity or the ravages of time.
      Yes, in some album, there are definitely pictures of the expedition to the top of the barn — the pitons, the ice axes, the flag we planted there, the goggles necessary only because Maurice Herzog wore goggles when he climbed Annapurna. . . .

  2. I jumped from the barn Says:

    I wonder, Chris, if you, like I, were temporarily slain by the ethereal hands of nostalgia that reaches out from this post, in especial, for those of us who WERE there then …

    Fred and several of his friends, myself included (and, I presume, Chris) used to sit on the edge of the hayloft door and jump. As you can see, this was a ridiculously stupid thing to do, but was perfectly in keeping with the indestructability inherent in boys. Later, as adults, we would look up at that edge, some 10+ feet in the air, and wonder what the hades we could have been thinking! ha ha

    Fred — I LOVED seeing the old pics of the barn. While I can recall the building still being in good shape, it is true that time had already begun its destructive attack by our high school years. I still cannot pull in the drive and not see its grey shape looming above and behind the root cellar. And the looks up and down Old Oak Rd. stir so many memories … and, as I will be in Taylorville for a week very soon, I will now definitely have to stop the car and stand in these places, soaking in the spiritual residue fond memory has left forever imprinted in my mind and heart.

    As for the hayloft, I remember RH tearing up after impaling his hand with an enormous splinter while playing up there. His terror swiftly turned to machismo, though, as he plucked it out of his finger, and, with no geyser of blood and no sliver left behind, began to realize the wound was not mortal.

    Ahh, the barn …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Yes, you too are a “native” of the barn! There’s something about these fading old photos, isn’t there?
      Remember that footage we took when we were using up film at the end of the D&D movie we made, in which we’re all jumping out of the hayloft one after another, like lemmings?
      Say hello to the location for me this summer!
      The worst injury I remember receiving in the barn was once when I was walking across the hayloft floor. I stepped on one end of a board that was loose. My foot went right through the floor. The board was lying across a brace which acted as a fulcrum, so as my foot pushed the near end down, the far end came up and whacked me in the forehead. So there I was, hip-deep in the floor with my leg dangling into one of the dark northern stalls, and blood gushing down my face. Like RH’s, it wasn’t a serious injury, just dramatic. I think our guardian angels had to call for backup in those years. . . .

    • Chris Says:

      Yes, I jumped from the hayloft as well. In fact it is likely between jumping from the hayloft and jumping from the apex of the chicken house that I terribly injured my heels during my early pre-teen years.

      Apparently there’s a thin sheath of bone that forms on the heel about the time one nears puberty and repeated jumpings, if I remember the medical stuff from that time, resulted in my cracking those bones and being nearly unable to walk without immense pain for about a year or so.

      (Fred, you can expect to hear from my lawyer soon.)

      I think back to the amazing risks and stupid things we did back then. I recall as a “safety measure” we used to pile a small bit of hay about a 3/4″ thick to “cushion the blow” upon landing. Then Fred and I climbed the to the top of the barn once in our “Anapurna” Phase using only a rope which we had cleverly tied to an interior beam and then poked out through a hole in the roof. As I recall at the base of the slope we scaled a series of giant beams were broken to reveal 3′ long spikes of wood, to’ “catch us” in the event of our falling.

      Now, to assume there is some “reason” for event in the universe is one thing, but realize how many statistically unlikely survival chances we took is, to me quite amazing.

      Guardian angels indeed. More like a phalanx of guardian angels.

  3. Catherine Says:

    (Of course now I feel rather embarrassed to write . . . no, thank you, that was really *very* kind of you–made me smile!)

    Our house’s main entrance is actually practically on a second floor, so we have a large front porch with thirteen or fourteen steps. Actually, we’ve had two porches: this one is all natural-wood brown with a beautiful roof — but the one that we had until I was about eleven or twelve was very old and very ratty, with beige steps and railings covered with a peeling bright blue that matched the house’s color exactly. The steps had bits of black gritty stuff laid down in strips — I don’t know what it was, but Mum would fix them every so often, since in the winter rains they would curl and break and be more of a hindrance than a help. Anyway, it was one of the props in drama of the country of Our Yard: everything from the main lodge in some third-world culture’s community, to the roof of our fort, to Rapunzel’s tower, to a boat (it was a boat quite a lot of time), to an apothecary’s shop (where the medicine was red blackberries, since medicine always tastes bad), to a guillotine (I won’t explain about the last one). I especially remember rowing the boat: I would sit on one of the steps with the PVC pipe threaded between the railing and the stairs and whisk it (the Pipe) back and forth in the air. Below the porch was Silken Cord Fort. One day I discovered that if you bundled cherry leaves in your hands and scraped them against the wall there would be an indelible, distinct green mark. So I shared this knowledge with my sister and my friend and to this day you can still see our names and the names of our celebrities and the name of the fort and everything else, right below the porch. (I told you it was indelible!)

    There were places where you could jump off the porch, too, (like the Taylorville Crowd has been saying about their barn) but I was always afraid to stub my toe, so I only did it off the first four steps. So. There you have it.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you for this beautiful visit to an amazing front porch, Catherine!

      Kids do have an overwhelming urge to write their names indelibly! I remember when Mom sent three of us up onto the roof to use up the very last dregs of a can of paint by painting the wooden frame of an attic window. We finished that and still had a tiny bit of paint left. . . . So on the green shingles of the window housing, for years and years after that, you could see our three names from the back yard. (It was only about 6 or 7 years ago that the roof was remodeled and that window — our names and all — was removed.)

  4. I jumped from the barn Says:

    Catherine,
    As “the Taylorville Crowd” will attest, I grew up with one the great porches in town. It spans the entire horinzontal dimensions of the large house, is close to 8 feet wide, and is approachable by a flight of six steps.
    This platform (which in summer has a great old swing on it) served as spaceship, mountain-side cave, the board for games of “mother may I?” and countless other oddities.
    It had the great distinction of always serving as “base” for games of ‘capture the flag’ ‘bloody murder’ ‘elimination’ and numerous other neighborhood games.
    As it had never been enclosed (but is bordered to the north and south along its western axis by bushes) the open northern and southern ends were launching pads for flights off U.S. aircraft carriers, for Battleship Gallatica launch tubes, for cowabunga leaps into snow drifts and for hurry-up runs over the buddies’ houses (why waste five seconds on the steps when you can just bail off the end of the porch?)
    The northern end is just over four feet high, the southern just over three feet (due to the elevation of the yard). These leaps were all made from a standing or running position, not from sitting down and dangling legs only a foot or two off the ground (like a wimp would).
    How on earth I or numerous others did not bust ankles of legs is, as Chris (Mr. Math) might say “statiscally improbable.”
    We had long since concluded that, snow being soft, especially reckless leaps could be made, provided the snow was at least as high as the top of our boots (this would, of course, soften our terminal velocity to an acceptable tolerance). Again, incredible is not the word for it.
    When I return home for a visit next week I will measure the porch to satisfy myself that I should be lame. Were I to attempt a leap now, the resulting impact would uproot nearby trees, knock the house off its foundation and send me halfway to China.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Isn’t it something how little actual space is required by children for these journeys of the imagination? A single porch. . . .

  5. I jumped from the barn Says:

    All: My apologies for the silly typos. You might never suspect I am paid to wryt for a living!

  6. Eunice Says:

    I’m glad my daughter has been able to find such magic on our run-down, urban half-lot! Rural upbringings are the ideal, but a creative child finds magic anywhere, I guess!

    I grew up at the very edge of a mid-size city, but the neighborhood had more of a suburban, and sometimes even rural, feel to it. A block away were two empty lots each a city block square, overgrown with blackberry vines and Scotch Broom, criss-crossed by winding trails perfect for bicycle treks or journeys on foot. Lots of room to roam; only the imagination was needed. There was a slight depression in the ground in one of the lots, and when it rained (often–we’re talking the Pacific Northwest!) it filled with water. It was about a yard across and three yards wide, but it was “the pond”, perfect for sailing toy boats, pretending to fish, or cross on a precarious old two-by-four. Since the water was only about three inches deep, that wasn’t exactly a daredevil stunt, though!

    One of the lots was quite hilly, and the trails included some hills that truly were a feat of daring to attempt on a bike. I will never forget the thrill of careening down the hills on a bicycle out of control! My sister fell and cut her hand badly once, but I never did.

    Unlike the old barn, which is still standing, these lots are now a strip mall and a block of apartment complexes and assorted businesses. Very sad.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      You had some great empty lots! Thanks — this was a delight to read, too!

      Sadly, the old barn is not still standing. Some 7-8 years ago, it fell completely to ruin. The hayloft collapsed into the stalls beneath, the walls all buckled, and the roof (more holes by that point than rotted boards) crashed down on top of all the rest. In the summer of 2006, I hired a guy with a bulldozer to scoop and haul and burn the ruins of the barn, the chicken house, and the tin shed. The messy, dangerous cottonwood trees are gone now (they were leaning precariously toward the house), but the old Glory Day grove is still standing! There will always be trees all around that plot of land, as long as I have anything to say about it!

  7. SwordLily Says:

    First, I just posted a belated comment in Reels in the Dark (one of my favorite posts, by the way).

    And now I will comment on this post (also one of my favorites).

    Fred, how I wish I could have seen your barn at its prime, and I love the name “Old Oak Road” — it sounds mysterious and enchanting.

    Catherine — your porch sounds wonderful; who knew so many worlds could exist in the confines of a front porch :)?

    My golden childhood memories are mostly in Germany. My mom is an immigrant from that country so all of her family is there. My family and I would go to the house my mother grew up in for a few weeks to visit our Oma (that’s how you say grandma in German if anyone’s wondering) and other relatives every summer until Oma passed away.

    Oma’s house had a barn behind it, but I didn’t play in it. It stank too much. The only memories I have of that barn are of pinching my nose before running through since that was the only way to the backyard. Now the backyard, that was a dream land for any child. It stretched down the entire dirt road to town and was impossibly large for my city-pampered self. It had a giant apple tree that my uncle used a net to get apples from, for me and my siblings. The yard had lots of other fruit trees too and a fenced off area full of berry bushes. I remember smiling in delight at my red, red hands as I tried to pick the biggest handful of berries to stuff into my five-year-old face. Oma would make so many pies and other pastries with her bounty and I would help her as best I could, which basically included licking the whipped-cream spoon and watching in fascination.

    The coolest thing in the whole yard was a little cabin Opa (my grandfather) had made for us. It was tiny enough for us to feel comfortable and excited in it. It had built-in benches that opened to accommodate all of our coloring books. It even had a little porch where we would place plastic chairs and have tea parties.

    Past Oma’s house were fields that we would go walking in. Around one particular field was a great play ground with old rickety metal equipment that was probably not up to American safety standards. The seesaw was so high I felt like I was flying when I rode it. Maybe that particular memory is distorted with time and size, but even my dad said later that the slide in that playground is one of the biggest he had ever seen.

    The true magic of all these memories is that Oma only spoke German and I could barely speak English, yet I don’t remember ever having a problem with understanding her. Mom told me much later that Oma would come to her wondering what we were saying, but I had no idea she couldn’t understand me. I would trail her helping feed the chickens and such in absolute bliss.

    Everything was simple back then, like it never is when one “grows up.” Every year in mundane life was always balanced by those few weeks on another continent, in another world.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Wonderful! Isn’t it incredible how language is no barrier at all for children and grandparents?

      The rickety playground equipment you described reminds me of some that was in our local Manners Park when I was little. Now it’s all gone but the very safest stuff — swings and a slide or two. But as late as my junior-high years, there was a thing we all called the Ocean Wave. Imagine a cone made of metal rods: the bottom rim of the cone is a wooden seat; there are braces to hold onto, and the top (apex) of the cone, where the braces come together, is mounted on a central pole, so that the cone can move freely and spin. At rest, the seat is only about a foot off the ground. Kids can sit all around the circular seat, facing toward the center with their feet on the ground. Depending on how they all push and pull, the seat rises and pitches and revolves around the pole. It is like being on the deck of a ship in the roughest seas. But when one side goes up, the other side comes down with a shuddering impact against the ground. I never actually saw anyone get a body part crushed under the rim, but the potential was certainly there — which is why, in the litigation-happy present, such playground rides no longer exist.

      There was a teeter-totter, too — at least that’s what we called it — that was like riding on a battering ram.

  8. Marquee Movies Says:

    Hello, Fred – I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while – but I’ve been reading everything, including all the fascinating responses. Quickly, I think your blog about being troubled by using war as a backdrop for entertainment was one of the best you’ve ever written. It made for powerful reading, and I appreciated how openly you were explaining your conflicted feelings. In a film class, I once showed the opening scene of “Apocalypse Now,” with the slo-mo helicopters, the Doors music, and the entire bank of forestland exploding at once. My students agreed it was hypnotic and disturbing and beautiful (which is certainly is), and I asked them if they had any idea how many birds and land animals were obliterated in the beautiful shot – and the destruction of so much forestland for a movie – was it worth it? That lead to an interesting discussion. And for your next blog, dealing with memory, I was reminded (also by the interesting comments that followed) of that great line from “Magnolia,” You may be through with the past, but the past is not through with you. But I have a main reason for posting here, and I apologize if I offend any readers. But I’m feeling quite guilty about not speaking up earlier. I chose not to, because I didn’t want to start an exchange which could involve hurt feelings. This site on the internet is a place where story lovers can come to be edified by your thoughts, and encouraged by the responses we share with each other, without having to wade through the negativity and anger that seems to pervade most of the internet. (On imdb.com, the greatest movie site in the world, I have to slog through some hateful comments that just stun me in their cruelty.) Nobody’s gone that far here by a long shot – but – my point. It has really bothered me that I did not respond to a comment about Walter Cronkite. Some of the comments by this person (I think it’s just one person) are very insightful, thoughtful, and he’s terrific at quoting good lines. (I loved the examples by Crane.) And this person often makes his political feelings known – which is fine, of course. He and Chris had a very interesting back-and-forth on their feelings about the government. But it’s when his comments degrade into name-calling that I feel the spirit of this site is being negatively affected. For several reasons, I happen to know the great regard for America and American soldiers that Walter Cronkite had. The years that he put in working with soldiers, and trying to get their many stories out is one of the many reasons he is one of the greatest journalists of all time. Now, in a time when soldiers are very easily and tragically forgotten about by far too many Americans, we should be all the more grateful that at least there once were men like Mr. Cronkite who never, ever wanted people to forget the young men and women who were putting their lives on the line for all of us. But I read the insult to Mr. Cronkite’s name, essentially calling him a “Commie,” which apparently is the worst thing in the world one can be (To quote Mr. Wonka, I can think of a worse one.), and accusing him of being responsible for many deaths of American soldiers. I feel an incendiary insult like this stems not from a reasonable look at facts, but rather sprouts out of hatred. And that is what I object to. I read the comments saying he was responsible for the deaths of American soldiers, and I burned inside at how grossly unfair that was, but I said nothing, and then he died. No, I never met him – but I feel I did not do the right thing by staying silent. So – my very respectful comment is this – please don’t resort to the name-calling, the insults of who would vote for this or that person – that’s not dialogue, that’s hatred. And just as Fred said that young readers read this, and to please watch the bad language, I would respectfully ask to pull back on this vitriol. There are millions of places where those comments are welcome, even encouraged – I just (as a guest) again RESPECTFULLY ask that the insults be used somewhere else. I want to say again that very often, I find your comments great to read (all the comments by everyone have been great to read!). You once recommended a book – you praised the science of the book, I believe, but then went on to insult the writer as a low-type of Communist, I think. My point is this – I would hope that the lesson you’d take from that is that even people with different political views than you have much to offer – we ALL do. That’s one of the themes of this blog, I think, that we ALL have something to offer. I’m glad you found a book that you enjoyed that was written by someone whose politics you don’t agree with. Good for you – you’ve shown us that all human beings have much more in common with each other than we do different. God bless the storytellers, and those who love them.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you! This point is very well made. Thank you for making the clarification that you did . . . for your willingness to express the things that matter . . . and for supporting the true spirit of this blog. I deeply appreciate this comment.

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    I was raised in a suburb, so we didn’t have the wonderful barns and great sloping porches that children should grow up surrounded by. The yards were quartered off, and tame, and the only consolation to my poor, Romantic heart is that we did not suffer the indignity of a sidewalk.

    When I was a child, the neighbors were older and there were not very many children my age to speak of — I can remember the joy I felt when a family with a girl my age moved into a house around the corner, and the wonder of having finally a friend nearby.

    My favorite childhood space was the basement of our house. It was huge and dark and one entire wall was just bookshelves, filled with the books my parents, especially my father, had gathered over the years. We also had a very large set of yellow shelves, much taller than me in those days (!), which my mother used to wrangle our toys.

    My younger sister, Christy, and I played in that basement for hours. It was the home for all our games, centered around our myriad of toys. I remember the My Little Ponies (pink and purple creatures with their pink castle), the He-Man and She-Ra toys (and castle Greyskull, which by virtue of its dark appearance was always home to the villains) our Barbies and plastic Barbie furniture, and a brownish, small dog that had come with some farm set years ago (back when they still made toys of quality for small children).

    We would pull out all the boxes from the yellow shelves, which would become a mansion home for our Barbies (the He-Man & She-Ra toys would serve as their children, sometimes badly behaved). We put the one room house of the “poor” Barbie family under our great-grandfather’s wooden desk nearby. Other times the yellow shelves were mountains where the Little Ponies would hide, or attempt to trick, the evil forces of the He-Man toys centered around Castle Greyskull.

    These games could go on for days, particularly in the summer, and my mother would come down the basement stairs and demand to know when things were going to be picked up (particularly close to bedtime) and we would explain that we were in the middle of a game, and we couldn’t possibly pick up until it was finished. I imagine it was a trial for my mother, although I’ve never asked her.

    My last, favorite memory of those “games” in the basement, though, is one particular school week when Christy and I were both sick with sore throats. Whether it was simply that, or the side effect of some other illness, I don’t remember. But we stayed home that week, and my mother let us have as many ice pops as we desired (on orders from the doctor, who clearly didn’t have to spend all day at home with us). We played a long, long game that week and ate our ice pops and left, inevitably, the plastic strips on the carpet in our wake.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      What a wonderful account of those long games of imagination with toys! Thank you! My Cousin Phil and I did much the same thing with our dinosaurs. We had two ways of playing with our dinosaurs: in one type of game, the dinosaurs were monstrous animals, and the main characters of the game were our green plastic army men who had gotten lost and wandered into a valley of dinosaurs. They discovered a miraculous natural pool of refined gasoline, which kept their tank and Jeep running, and they had a way of easily making bullets, too (mining saltpeter and iron ore and rolling it all up together, as I recall — insant bullets and cannon projectiles!). So it was a constant struggle for survival against the waves after waves of attacking dinosaurs, hostile cavemen, and a few random farm animals from other play sets.

      In another version, there were no army men: the dinosaurs themselves were the main characters, and they talked, and their leaders were two Tyrannosauruses (one of my cousin’s and one of mine). They were an alliance or “gang” of “good” dinosaurs, and they had to fight against rival gangs of “bad” dinosaurs that would try to move in and take over the valley . . . or else the good dinosaurs had to try to survive a tidal wave that destroyed the valley, and they all got onto a raft we built out of sticks, twine, and a foam rubber pad. (Isn’t that a great combination? Just the sort of raft dinosaurs would build! You make do with what you’ve got, right?)

      Most of the dinosaurs talked: I remember that all the Glyptodons ever said was “Glyp! Glyp!”

  10. I jumped from the barn Says:

    The plastic dinosaurs! Wow, that takes me back! Remember when most of the bipeds stood upright, and not in the “crouch” that more recent science has suggested? And, of course, there was always the climatic battle of T-Rex vs. triceratops!

    Marquee Movies — thank you for you comments, to which I will respectfully (in the spirit that you suggest) not respond, other than to say that I was saddened by Mr. Cronkite’s passing and, as a professional journalist (though, admittedly, it is sometimes hard to discern the fact) I certainly appreciate his contributions to the field and to our society as a whole (I’ll leave it at that).
    However, I genuinely think Chris and I go back-and-forth just for the fun of going back-and-forth.
    The book you noted that I mentioned is “Guns, Germs and Steel — The Evolution of Civilization” by UCLA professor Jared Diamond, It won a Pulitzer Prize and I do highly recommend it (and thanks for the opportunity to put in another plug for it!)

    Fred is correct in his recollections of the “ocean wave” which was, indeed, a series of serious injuries waiting to happen. Just looking for an extended period at the chipped garish orange paint job was painful enough! My parents expressly forbid my siblings and I from venturing onto it (we did anyway). Such a monstrosity would NEVER be built today — the lawyers would scrap it in the design phase for certain!

  11. Marquee Movies Says:

    I jumped from the barn: Thanks for your classy response, and I’m very glad I didn’t offend you. I’m also glad you had another chance to plug the book you enjoyed so much – speaking of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” I’m reminded of a strange incident that happened in a History of Math class I was once taking at DePaul University. (Fascinating subject, by the way!) This was a master’s program, and the class was full of math teachers. The role of China in mathematics was where we were in our book. A woman, who I recall was a high school math teacher, raised her hand to ask our professor a question. (I don’t recall if it was in the book, or if she had read this somewhere else.) It had to do with the four inventions that China is most famous for, because they influenced humanity so greatly – (no, not spaghetti) – paper, the printing press, the compass, and gunpowder. The teacher said she understood why paper and the printing press were so important, but what about the compass and gunpowder? I was too polite to roll my eyes at this question, but I did mentally slap my forehead. The professor calmly explained how the compass helped sailors explore and map out the world more easily. Then there was a pause, and the teacher said, “And what about gunpowder?” Finally, the class couldn’t hold back – they began chuckling, and the professor, with a “C’mon” look on her face, held out both her hands, and yelled, “GUNPOWDER?!?”
    Not meant to be a mean story, but it does showcase that sometimes some teachers are so insulated in their classrooms that they forget to practice thinking outside of it. Anyway – Fred, having grown up in a very suburban suburb, I didn’t have the cool nooks and crannies that you and many others had to play in, but one toy that turned our lives inside out for a while was walkie-talkies. Those were the coolest things ever – imagine, being able to talk into a small box, and have your voice shoot through the air and come out a different box almost three houses away! Talk about space age stuff!

  12. Eunice Says:

    My school playground had a “high tower,” when I was a kid. It was a metal platform about 15 feet off the ground. Of course, I was little, and memory fades, so it may not have been quite that high. You climbed to the top by chain ladders hanging from two sides. There were metal rails around the platform you could easily climb under. When I got older it was cut down to a much lower height. Now it’s disappeared.

    All those accidents waiting to happen . . . I wonder how often they really did? There’s a theory around that kids have a much greater sense of self-preservation and what they are able to safely do than we give them credit for. I don’t know if I agree, but I do think it’s amazing that more kids didn’t get hurt once upon a time before litigation and precisely engineered safety.

    One thing is for sure, we used to have a sense that some cuts and bumps and bruises and even broken bones were a perfectly normal and healthy part of growing up, and not grounds for litigation!

  13. Nick Says:

    The “wood pile” behind my Nan and Grandad’s cabin-trailer in the woods. The wood pile was mostly dirt, left over from when the trailer was installed. The wood came from the pine trees that had been cut down to make room for the trailer, and was mostly buried under the heaping dirt mound, acting as a foundation and giving it its shape.

    It wasn’t so big, really, but to my cousins and me it was our own private mountain fortress. How many times did we flop down on it for cover as Injuns shot arrows at us, then return fire over its crest with our woodknot guns. Or other times the woodknots were machine guns and we were fighting Nazis. But most often we played on the wood pile with our small toys, dumping out buckets and buckets of plastic army men and knights and dinosaurs and cowboys and indians, Star Wars figures and G.I. Joes. Epic battles were waged on that wood pile, wars that transcended time and space: a band of horseback gunsinglers taking down a t-rex? Why not? We could fix the timeline when we were back in school.

    Sometimes a small, porous hole would open up in the wood pile, a dark cavity tunneling down between the buttresses of the gnarled, worm-gnawed wood. Erosion and the pressure of many small feet would cause these holes to open: in scale with our action figures they were gaping caverns–and if a figure happened to fall down one, abandon all hope of ever getting it back.

    Years later, when we were all grown up, builders had to use the dirt from the wood pile for foundation on a new build-on to the trailer. My Nan recalled with fondness the long-lost army men and cowboys and indians that the diggers turned up in the dirt. Stirred from their graves, testaments to those battles of long ago.

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