Category Archives: memory lane

‘Memory Lane: Skating in the Woods’ (2016)

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“Skating on the Mill Pond” by Grandma Moses (She knew!)

I wouldn’t trade my middle-class, 1950s childhood for all the tea in China. I certainly wouldn’t trade it for what passes for childhood now.

But the woods have been hewn down and paved over, the swamp and stream filled in so they could build more condos, the palatial estate so thoroughly erased that only a very few of us remember it ever existed–oh, fap! to all that. We do remember!

You can’t tell us “There is no sun.”



You Know You’re Gettin’ Old When…

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When they promo a TV series set in your own lifetime as “a period drama.” Yeesh!

When I was a little boy, we had these decorative plates on the wall of our dining room–plates showing a family from the Gay Nineties: handlebar mustache, mutton-chop sleeves, high-button shoes, the works. Like, wow–it’s the Cretaceous Period! It never occurred to me that I knew and interacted every day with people who had lived during that remote epoch of history. I mean, it was less than 60 years ago. So if you were born in 1880, you’d only have been 70-something.

But all of a sudden part of your own life winds up in a period drama–like you used to hang out with Robin Hood or Ramses II. The show is set in 1970. Ooh! Were there still pterodactyls then?

Oh, I miss my pogo stick!

The Top Post of 2019

This was a record-setting year, here, with over 120,000 views. And the top view-getter was a Welsh hymn, Hyfrydol, by the Black Mountain Choir, with a total of 576 views.

The day I posted it, Feb. 26, was the all-time record-setter with 849 views, including 396 views just for Hyfrydol–just in one day! I wish I knew what it was that made Feb. 26’s blog such a hit with viewers: then I could do it on purpose. Be that as it may, it’s a gorgeous, glorious hymn, and one of my very chief favorites, even if I don’t understand a word of it. I don’t think you have to!

The most successful new prose post of the year was “Bell Mountain Movie Contest, Take Two,” with 234 views. The contest itself turned out to be a bust: a very few readers played enthusiastically, but everybody else just liked to read about it. At one point it was a contest entered only by half a dozen people.

WordPress used to do all the end-of-year wrap-ups for us, but hasn’t done so in several years. I’d love to know what were the most-viewed reader comments. There are always so many good ones, I’d never be able to guess.

Thank you to all of you who tuned in and made this blog grow! Can we grow it some more in 2020?

‘Freddy and the Bean Home News’

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Is it okay for me to review a book when I’ve only just started to read it? Yeah, well, why not?

Only Walter R. Brooks would ever think of starting a sentence with these words: “There was an ant named Jerry Peters…”

I got this for Christmas this year, Freddy and the Bean Home News. It’s one of the few Freddy the Pig books that I haven’t read. But I know I’m going to love it.

I read a lot of these when I was a little boy, scarfed ’em down like marshmallow peeps. Back then, it was the story and the characters that kept me coming back for more. But now I read them for the subtle wit and humor that went right over my head when I was ten or twelve years old. How many writers can write just as effectively for young children and mature (chronologically, at least) adults? I think I might enjoy them even more now than I did as a child–and that’s saying something.

What could be more soothing, more quietly hilarious, than a Freddy book? Mr. Brooks cranked them out for almost 40 years, and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Ideal for reading aloud to your kids or grandchildren; and just as ideal for reading for yourself.

Many of these have been recently reprinted, and the rest are available online through used book services. Rejoice!


Memory Lane: It Should’ve Been a Snow Day

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We lived some two miles from our high school, and to get there, we usually took the Public Service bus. Or walked.

In those days, they were rather averse to closing the school on account of snow. So one day, as it snowed rather heavily, my brother and I, and our friend Gary, found ourselves standing almost knee-deep in snow, waiting for the bus. Which never came. So we had to walk, because there had been no official school closing.

The home room bell used to ring at 7:18 a.m. We got there at around 10:30, and found the school virtually deserted. The few students who had made it there now gathered in Mrs. Wilcox’s chemistry lab, where she had a dart board. Maybe 5% of the student body made it to school that day, and maybe a dozen of the teachers. By and by the principal stopped in and told us we might as well go home. It didn’t occur to him to recommend any particular way of accomplishing that.

So we walked: another two miles in snow that was now hip-deep. I’m afraid we loved every minute of it. We finally got back home around supper-time. And the next day it was sleeping late, soup for breakfast, and sleds and snow-men instead of algebra and English grammar. There are few times in life when you come out that far ahead on the deal!

‘Silent Night’ (Andre Reiu)

Whenever I went to see my aunts at Christmastime, I’d find them watching this man on TV–Andre Reiu, with his orchestra, with Christmas carols. Here, Silent Night.

I do find it hard to separate the music from my memories of loved ones who loved this music. But every good thing we have ever known is the gift of God, and Christmas is a good time to remember that.

By Request, J.S. Bach: ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme’

OK, let’s get some of these hymns played. Requested by Heidi, a chorus from a Bach cantata, Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme (“Wake, rise, the voices call us”).

This reminds me of a day when some of our family from the Old Country came to America to visit Grandpa. Everyone was sitting outside on the porch, conversing in German, when suddenly my cousin, Christopher, just a little boy at the time, started to cry.

“Why, what’s the matter?”

And he explained: “Everybody’s talkin’ Germany but me!”

By Request, ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’

One of my earliest memories: sitting on my Uncle Bernie’s lap while he reads to me out of a Christmas book; and this is playing in the background–It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. That’s a very nice thing to remember.

Requested by TheWhiteRabbit. Sung by the Mennonite Hour Singers. Background sets by God the Father.

Memory Lane: the Sears Christmas Catalogue

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Another dreary, grey, rainy day–and me without a Sears catalogue.

One of my coziest childhood memories is cuddling up on the sitting room couch with the Sears Christmas catalogue: and there’s no school, because it’s snowing like mad outside.

I felt like Howard Carter peering into Tutankhamen’s tomb, who answered, when asked what he could see, “Things! Wonderful things!” Bikes and pogo sticks. Toy guns and real guns (not much chance of me getting one of those!). Erector sets and plastic models.

But for me the ultimate treasure was the play sets. Like this farm set.

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I wasn’t much for army men, but oh!–all those cool animals in the farm set. And my Grammy gave it to me for Christmas that year. I still have some of those animals. When I see them, I remember her. And her Christmas tree, every year in the same corner of her living room. I still have a few of her ornaments, too, including the elf who winds up on our tree every year.

Yeah, I know it doesn’t count as holy–unless family, and love, and delight are holy, too. Gifts of God, who is the source of every good gift we’ll ever know.

P.S.–And get a load of those prices! The whole 100-piece farm set for $4.99. I can’t imagine what a toy like that would cost today.

Places that Never Were–Or Were They?

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Charles R. Knight, who died in 1953, became famous in his own lifetime as the world’s most convincing painter of prehistoric life. Among my early memories are trips to the American Museum of Natural History, and looking up at Knight’s great murals, my mind full of wild surmises for which I wasn’t old enough to find words.

I still love Knight’s work, but I’ve learned to appreciate another aspect of it–his background scenery. There are a lot of people who can paint or draw prehistoric animals. I can do that. But only a very few are able to bring us into the world those creatures lived in.

The painting above launched Knight’s career, when it was still the 19th century. The animal is Elotherium. Never mind that. The scenery which Elotherium inhabits–the longer I look at it, the realer it gets!

I could just about swear that Knight’s Elotheriums are in a real place. More than that–a place that I know. I used to play alongside a stream just like that, on Orchard Street, before they paved everything over. I climbed and skidded up and down those steep banks. I waded in that water, although it was too deep to wade all the way across. I was there. I didn’t see any Elotheriums, but I was there. If they’d come out of the woods on the other side, I’d’ve seen them.

And where would that stream take me, if I could follow it up to the top of the painting? What enchanted country would I discover?

What a gift the Lord Our God gave Charles Knight! God made us in His image, and some of us He made creators. We can only revel in it, and give thanks.

I think God knows where these places really are. He made them. Oh, for a glimpse, O Lord!

But who knows what He has in store for us?

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