Something, some spirit, called up this song from deep in my memory–a vision of a summer day, and a trip to the shore with my grandparents (it would be my introduction to surf-fishing)… with Soldier Boy, by The Shirelles, playing on the car radio. And oh, how I wanted to be back there again!
I grew up in a world of men and women. Now it’s a world dominated by freaks and villains who deny there ever was a past. Nothing good existed until they came along!
I can at least get back for two minutes or so. All aboard for the Jersey Shore, 1962.
Belay the nooze, enough’s enough! I’m going to write about something that has always made me happy, and hopefully give you some pleasure, too.
“Unknowable” and I were chatting about celebrity, hero worship, and idolatry–they’re all related, aren’t they?–and I brought up the subject of… Willie Mays. To me, the greatest athlete that I ever saw.
Among other things, Willie was famous for this one play during the 1954 World Series. I was five years old. Anyhow, they were playing at the old Polo Grounds, where center field was about the size of a Jersey township, and Vic Wertz smashed a screaming fly ball to the deepest part of center field. A real moon shot. At this point, let the video speak for itself.
Willie lit up my childhood. He was my hero. But y’know what? I never felt the urge to delve into his personal life. I have made a conscious choice to remember him solely for the things I saw him do on the ballfield; and those are things that still give me deep aesthetic pleasure 67 years later. I think it’s the same kind of pleasure art lovers get, or music lovers, from their favorite masterpieces. Willie Mays in center field was the baseball equivalent of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Yeah! Sitting on the floor in our sitting room, playing with my grandpa’s blocks that he handed down to me, while my mother did the ironing while watching the Giants’ game on TV. That’s a memory that gives me joy!
Baseball isn’t what it was, not by a long shot; I no longer care for it. But I do care for my memories: and for a good few of those I say, “Thanks, Willie!”
We didn’t have hi-tech fancy electronic videos back in the Bronze Age, but we did have board games. And with summer waning, my friends and I knew it was time to dust off our favorite games. (I’m not counting Monopoly or chess, because we played those all year round.)
My cousins had Clue. “Col. Mustard in the Kitchen with the Candlestick!” I think the first game we learned to play was Chutes and Ladders. Look at the picture–there’s Stratego. You love it when they blow themselves up on the hidden mines, trying to capture your flag.
Candy Land. Sorry. Pachesi. Mille Bournes (oh, yeah!). Settlers of Catan (for adults). Go to the Head of the Class (did any of you ever play that?).
I’d love to hear what your favorite board games were–or are. They come in mighty handy when the weather’s not cooperating.
But I suspect that to enjoy them properly, you have to not have a cell phone.
Westerns were big, big, big! on TV while I was growing up. But toward the end of the 1950s, the studios decided we needed Westerns that offered something more than just cowboys riding around shooting people. We needed some adult Westerns with meat on their bones. And psychology. Lots of psychology.
Lawman, for one, aired on Sunday night after my bedtime. But I could always hear the theme song coming on, and then my brother and I would get out of bed–we had a room upstairs–and creep toward the hall door. If we opened it a crack, careful not to make any noise, we could peer through that crack all the way downstairs–right down to the TV screen. And we watched as much of Lawman as we could before conking out and crawling back to our beds.
I was not an adult, but I liked those adult Westerns. The ones by Warner Bros. always had great theme songs. “Cheyenne, Cheyenne, when will you be happening by…” “Sugarfoot, Sugarfoot, easy-lopin’, cattle-ropin’ Sugarfoot…” And they were still shooting bad guys, instead of just letting them take over our society and screwing it up.
Besides which, the set decorator for Lawman was–of all people–William Wallace! “Braveheart”! How cool was that?
All over the world, kids got hurt trying to duplicate this feat. Jump out the fifth-story window? Sure, no problem–I’ve got an umbrella!
These were really old cartoons, with captions instead of speech. Like silent movies. Actually, all these decades later (some of them are a hundred years old), they’re still pretty funny.
But kids will try to do what they see characters do in cartoons–so do your best to make them understand why they shouldn’t. (“Experience is the best teacher, but the fees are very high.” Especially when you jump out the window.)
It’s raining today–a quiet, steady rain–and it brings me back to a vivid memory of my childhood.
We lived right next door to the woods, and sometimes when it rained, box turtles would come out of the woods and parade across our back yard. Because I was such a little child, I remember them as being eye-poppingly large turtles.
We had a screened-in back porch, with a glider. My mother liked to read out there on rainy days. And I remember her calling excitedly, “Oh, come and look! Come and see the turtles!”
And there they’d be, strolling across our back yard in the rain. Usually three or them at once. We thought they must be a family; but box turtles don’t live in family groups. It was just a few turtles doing the same thing.
Where were they going, and why? Was it always the same couple of turtles? Our little woods was rich in wildlife. My friend and I once saw a huge enormous horned owl who scared us silly. And with all the wild blackberry patches, there were always plenty of turtles.
It hardly needs to be said that the lovely little woodland, with its turtles and blackberries, has been erased by developers and politicians who say They Protect The Planet and Look Out For The Public Interest by enriching themselves and screwing everybody else.
But it was a beautiful world, the way God made it.
Daytime baseball, New York Yankee games brought to you by Ballantine Beer, brewed right here in New Jersey. And next door on the ballfield, the crack of the bat. I love that sound! Another memory: standing outside the fence, watching the batter–and discovering that he hits the ball before I hear the crack. Kind of a physic lesson.
One of the glories of my childhood was The Golden Treasury of National History by Bertha Morris Parker, copyright 1952. That painting of the plesiosaur (above) is one of my all-time favorite pictures. Hours and hours and hours I spent in that book! And it left me with a lifelong fascination for animals past and present.
Patty got me a used copy for my birthday last year, and I resort to it sometimes when I’m feeling stressed, tired, or just hung out to dry. I did that today.
Okay, a lot of the science in the book–especially with regard to life in the distant prehistoric past–is hooey. Even as our science today will be tomorrow’s hooey. I don’t blame Bertha Morris Parker, whose work I admire very much. She had to go with the science that she had. But really, I doubt the giant ground sloths went extinct because they never found a comfortable place to rest their claws. Or that dinosaurs vanished because they just didn’t have enough sense to adapt to changing conditions. It was 1952 settled science.
What I love here is the vastness and the intricacy of God’s creation, the enduring mysteries of life on earth, and the overwhelming “Wow!” factor I find in giant prehistoric animals. And happy childhood memories are a plus–my Uncle Bernie reading to me from the book and having the devil’s own time trying to pronounce the dinosaurs’ name: and me not correcting him because I loved him and knew that he was reading to me because he loved his brother’s children.
And now I’m getting a little teary-eyed, so I guess I’d better stop.
Back when I was 12 years old and could stand the heat, Sunday was a big day for our family in the summer. Uncle Ferdie usually dropped in with a platoon of cousins, and that was the signal for two of my favorite family events–a backyard cookout, and horseshoes in the school playground next door.
I loved the clang! the horseshoes made when they struck the metal stake. It went so well with the crack of the bat. Ferdie, by then an inventor with RCA, had been a U.S. Marine. I always thought of him as a Marine recruiting poster come to life. So did the Marines, who shipped him off to Puerto Rico to be an admiral’s chauffeur. It wasn’t quite what he’d signed up for, but he had no complaints.
Hamburgers and hot dogs, with harmonica music, generally followed the horseshoe games. We had a large family, very close. My aunts would join us later on and show us slides of their latest journeys to almost everywhere in the world. For us a summer Sunday was like Christmas, but without the tree.
Oh, I wish we had our horseshoes back, and all those travel tales!
Throughout my childhood, one of the sure signs of summer was my aunts taking off for faraway places–Gertie, Millie, and Joan. Grandpa and Grandma always went to Florida; and even that was an exotic destination, back then. But my aunts went just about everywhere.
This was the late 50s, early 60s. You weren’t allowed to go to communist countries, and the Iron Curtain cut off half of Europe. So they went everywhere else.
Listen, people didn’t do that, back then! Just get on a plane and light out for the ends of the earth. My aunts could have easily become celebrated travel writers, had they wanted to.
Adventures? Yeah, they had adventures. Their tour came unraveled once, somewhere in the middle of Uganda. They had to eat at a place called The Black Cat Cafe. And you had to be very careful about that!
Another time, Aunt Millie had a panic attack deep in the bowels of the Great Pyramid–heckuva way to find out you’re claustrophobic.
These were single women with ordinary jobs. They weren’t rich. This was how they liked to spend their money; they worked hard for it and saved up for their travels. Travels (at least, as far as I can remember) to Norway, Iceland, England, Germany, Peru, the Caribbean, Australia, Venice, the Alps, Spain, Egypt, East Africa, West Africa, Greece, Labrador, Alaska (hardly anybody went there, back then), Ireland… And I’ll bet I’ve forgotten a few more. They always brought back really cool souvenirs and lots and lots of slides, show the family first and then the church. Every summer, another adventure.
It was a lot bigger world, back then. And my aunts knew it better than most.