Tag Archives: my childhood

When We Were Young and Very Foolish

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Back in high school, in the 1960s, my Catholic friends used to have CCD classes some nights; and the next day, as we walked home from school, they’d tell me what they’d learned.

We had a lot of laughs at their teacher’s expense, a priest named Father H___. Oh, boy, what a huckleberry! He just wasn’t with it, man!

“You won’t believe what that old boob Father H___ said to me last night,” said one of these kids, one day. “He said, ‘Y’know what your trouble is? You’re a humanist!'” We all exploded into laughter. Like there could possibly be anything even a little tiny bit wrong with humanism! That was rich, even for Father H___. He’s not just out of it. He’s crazy! Haw-haw-haw! If he only knew, or even just suspected, how much smarter we were than him–!

It’s a memory that causes me no little embarrassment.

Father H___, you were right, you couldn’t have been more right, and we were stuck-up young fools. And then along came college and made us even worse! I wasn’t in your class, but I heard all about it and was just as foolish as my friends: I, too, should have listened to you!

But no–we all succumbed to that old school-and-college trick of being led to believe we were tons smarter than our parents, than anybody over 30, except for our teachers and professors who told us how smart we were: and that was how they so easily manipulated us. Young minds, wired for trust, can be so defenseless.

*Sigh* Live and learn.

In Defense of TV… Old TV

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Jon Hall (left) starred as “Ramar of the Jungle”

Some of you, like me, don’t watch television anymore, largely because it’s gone so crappy. You don’t even have a television set. And you reacted strongly to “Beauty Beyond Bones” watching–and blaming herself for watching–the unbelievably cheap and sleazy denouement of a popular “reality” show.

Like you, I don’t watch such bilge. But I was part of the first generation of Americans that grew up with television, and TV was a big part of my childhood. I thank God that the kind of TV we have today wasn’t! And thanks to the Internet, I can no revisit a lot of those great old shows, commercial-free.

I have fond memories of many of those shows. Even more, I learned a lot from them about the art of storytelling, which now I have the honor to perform in the service of the Lord.

Man, when I was eight years old, nothing turned me on like Ramar of the Jungle! Later on in my childhood I moved on to Wagon Train, Rawhide, Route 66, etc. But it was Ramar that set my mind on fire and introduced me to techniques of storytelling which I use today. They had only half an hour, minus time lost to commercials, to tell the story of an adventure, with beginning, middle, and end, create coherent characters and put them through their paces in a way that made sense, and still devote some time to immersing the viewer in the exotic African setting. It was a big job, but week after week, they did it.

OK, even old TV had its share of (shall we put it kindly?) faults. Grandma’s soap operas, for instance. Twilight Zone sneakily pushing atheism. Queen for a Day. I remember when the first kid in our third-grade class got color TV and invited the whole class to his house to watch Howdy Doody one Saturday morning. We were treated to an unearthly mixture of greens and reds in seldom-seen tones: color TV still had a ways to go.

So I grew up with television before it entered its current Gold Age of Sleaze. It helped teach me the kind of work I do today. And when I play an old Columbo episode from 40 years ago, I like it!

Memory Lane: ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’

I only got to see this show if I stayed at my Grammy’s for the weekend; but it’s the kind of show you remember.

For one thing, it had fantastic music: the Paladin theme by Richard Boone and Johnny Western, played above in its entirety, plus background music by Bernard Herrmann, one of the all-time great movie and radio music composers. It had a great star in Richard Boone, compelling stories by a stable of fine writers that included Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and talented guest directors including William Conrad, Ida Lupino, Sam Peckinpah, and Boone himself. In short, it had everything!

I find this theme song haunts me. Although Paladin was a hired gun, he always sought a peaceful solution first. And he did pro bono work for the poor. I guess you could say he was a real trouble-shooter: he faced the trouble, and shot it.

It takes me back to a better time. I was born into and raised in a world of men and women, not freaks. When we imagined heroes, they were human heroes: not a lot of caped and costumed comic book characters poncing around like fashion models on a runway.

Could we go back to being the people we were then? It wasn’t perfect, but it was a towering sight better than what we’re doing now.

I saw it. I lived it. I know.

Memory Lane: Jim Kjelgaard–a *Great* Young Readers’ Storyteller

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Outlaw Red–see that cover? And dig the 35-cent price. This book was one of my prized possessions when I was 11 or 12 years old; and its author, Jim Kjelgaard (died 1959), was one of my very favorite storytellers.

I say “storyteller” instead of “writer” because that’s what Kjelgaard was, a pure storyteller. He immersed you in his story. You could read the book again and again, and its spell would never fade.

What kind of stories did he tell? Adventure! Discovery! A lot of stories about dogs, with the dog as the protagonist. In Outlaw Red, we follow a prize-winning Irish setter, separated from the humans who coddled him, to see if he can survive in the wilderness. His name is Sean–which, of course, I read as “Seen” and wondered why anybody would give such a funny name to a dog. There’s also a brave boy in the story.

Another major Kjelgaard favorite of mine was Fire Hunter, about the adventures of a boy in distant prehistoric times, who gets separated from his people and has to learn a lot of important survival lessons in a hurry.

Today we have Young Readers fiction about drugs, aberrant sex, superstition, self-mutilation–really, enough to make you puke. It’s what liberal loons in the publishing business think kids want to read about. The best 20 of ’em aren’t worth Jim Kjelgaard on his worst day.

Thanks to amazon.com and other online book vendors, Jim’s books are again available to you, your children, and your grandchildren. Believe me when I tell you that they’re absolutely wonderful!

Memory Lane: ‘Branded’

Remember this? Vintage 1960s TV, it aired on Sunday night: Branded starred TV workhorse and former National League baseball player Chuck Connors as a soldier falsely charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy, and the evil reputation that followed him wherever he went. A classic TV Western.

We kids had a favorite variation on the theme song:

Stranded! Stuck on the toilet bowl!/ What do you do when you’re stranded, and you don’t have a roll? Nevertheless, a really cool show.

Memory Lane: Slot Racing

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Hey, remember these–slot racing cars?

It’s my brother Mark’s birthday today, the weather is atrocious, and he and I were on the phone reminiscing about our old slot racing cars. He still has our set, vintage 1964; and after a fashion, it still works.

The cars had little pins underneath that kept them fitted to the slots on the track, and metal brushes to pick up the electricity from those white lines you see in the photo; they’re wires. You couldn’t steer the cars, of course, but you could control how fast they went. And you could lay out the track with enough curves to make speed control a kind of art. Do you slow down for the curve, and maybe let the other guy’s car pull ahead? Or do you go for the gusto, and hope the rubber guard rail keeps your car from winding up on the other side of the room?

The cars were only two inches long, tops, and you could customize them by fitting them with tiny racing slicks or fiddling around with the actuator on the inside: that was the thing that went up and down, moving the gear that spun the wheels. We had the first-generation slot racers, the design of which was so simple, even I could understand it.

It was a very simple pleasure, to be sure, compared to the fancy-schmancy electronic toys kids have today. But sometimes it’s the simple pleasures that you remember.

‘How I Got Lost in the Woods’ (2015)

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this when I was writing it, but this story is a metaphor (even though it’s true). We all get lost, at some point in our lives. We all need someone wiser, infinitely wiser, to guide us back to where we belong.

And I think we all know whom that is, don’t we?


Where ‘The Jersey Devil Lurks’

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I wish I could have found a full-color image of this painting. Unfortunately, the original was lost years ago, and this black-and-white is all I could get. In the original, the prevailing color scheme is a rather sinister yellow. I saw a color photo of it many, many years ago in Life Magazine, and never forgot it. I think I must have been ten years old or less.

If you’ve never passed through the Jersey Devil’s home territory, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, I can tell you there’s no other place quite like it. Technological progress left it behind early in the 19th century, the local economy shriveled up, most of the people moved away, and their towns, homes, and factories fell into ruin. The region is known for its odd place names–Ongs Hat, Double Trouble, Speedwell–and its sandy tracks that may or may not accommodate your car and may or may not lead somewhere, or nowhere. A part of it features large vistas of stunted pines that plays tricks on your eyes. You’d swear, from your vantage point on the road, that the pines were full-size. And then a child comes walking through them, and you startle because you think you’re seeing a giant little girl.

All in all, it’s just the kind of country the Jersey Devil would choose to live in, if it lives at all. No one knows. There’s only belief or disbelief.

But when you find yourself alone on one of those deserted, feeble imitations of a road, disbelief is a little harder to come by.

Memory Lane: At Home with Mommy and the Ironing

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One of my earliest memories came back to me this morning.

I’m not old enough yet to go to school. I’m sitting on the floor of our little sitting room, playing with blocks while my mother does her ironing. Because she’s a Giants fan, she has the ballgame on: we have one of those primitive TV sets with all the knobs, you’ve really got to fiddle with it, to get a good picture. The Giants are playing the Brooklyn Dodgers, and my mother carefully lists for me the many moral defects of the Dodgers–except for Roy Campanella: not a word against him!–and explains how no right-thinking person would ever root for them. And I don’t know why, but I love the smell of ironing, and the texture of the rug, and the grainy black-and-white picture on the screen… and my mother’s company.

The very best day I ever had at school was not as good as this. Nowhere near as good as this.

When an Accusation’s All It Takes

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Suddenly it seems everybody’s being accused of sexual harassment, tried in the newspapers, and declared guilty, all in the same day. Suddenly every man is Bill Clinton, or worse: you could be Al Franken, with a photo to prove it. Then again, you could be the Duke lacrosse team–innocent in fact, but treated as guilty.

I can relate to this. Here’s how it happened to me.

I’m in third grade. We’ve just been out for recess and have lined up to go back in. I’m standing in line, minding my own business.

Next to me the malicious little trouble-making punk, who shall remain nameless, raises his hand and tells the teacher, “Mrs. Chapman, Lee just called you a big ape.” It was completely untrue. But guess what–I got suspended from school. All it took was a simple accusation, not an iota of evidence required. Even my parents knew it wasn’t true; but the teacher and the principal didn’t care. And that suspension got carved in stone on my school record.

I can imagine how very much more serious it would have been, had the same thing happened to me as an adult in the workplace. Imagine if I were running for the Senate and the nooze media came out with, “This biggit abused his third-grade teacher!”

All right, some of the sexual misconduct allegations are true. And some of them aren’t.

And it’s very important to find out which are which.

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