November 28, 2010

The Fantasy of the Possible

I can't slice a wedge out of my memory and serve it to you on a plate. I can't pull something bright and colored out of the pictures that float around and show it to you. I can't make you see it and I can't make you feel it. I can try to help you understand it, but I can't make you want to.

I can tell you how it was, because when the holidays start I always get this way. Reflective. Remembering. Still trying to piece it all together somehow. As if there was a great big chaotic explosion of activity and only when the dust settled... like two minutes ago or something... do I try and make sense out of it.

But I'll try.

I don't believe in the THIS happened and then THAT happened kind of writing. I like to give the essence. Let you piece it together. Maybe you saw the first installment.

It started here. And it did just what it was supposed to do. Take a little boy and teach him up in the ways of the Faith. Give him that background. Expose him to the rules we live by. How to be honest and true and brave. Brave like the pirates working in secret to help the Queen. This is my church and this is my movie. The Sea Hawk. A black and white from the late 30's I think. And armed with the lessons of the Faith, I was ready to be this hero.

It's a strange juxtaposition I had no concept of as a boy. The brave English pirates are fighting against the Catholic Spanish Armada. The EVIL Spanish Armada, mind you. In the name of a Protestant Queen. I had no idea. I was only six.

In another strange twist this black and white swashbuckler is a Christmas movie/memory for me. The local station always seemed to play it during the Christmas season, unintentionally= and not for reasons of the holiday, but my memory of it is on my little black and white TV screen which was always right next to the Christmas tree. So the visual - the memory that gets shaded and blurred together - has this wild eyed pirate who was a good guy buckling his swashes in the glow of Christmas lights and tinsel.

Yeah weird. I know. But there it is. To this day I play The Sea Hawk somewhere along the way during Christmas. If only by myself.

When I was in second grade I was very very sick. I had the measles and that was immediately followed by the mumps. I'm sure it wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time, or as long an epoch. But at that age all I knew was that I was sick and that it just went on forever. Like the length of a summer day when you're a kid. Something like that.

I couldn't go to school. I laid around all day long. I couldn't lift my head. I do remember being doted over by my mother, my grandmother and my sister. I remember them coming home with board games to get me to perk up. As if I had dwindled into a little mini coma or something. I remember them doing that. I also remember getting halfway through some of those games and being unable to do it. I would crawl back onto my pillow and collapse. So maybe it wasn't so over-dramatic. Maybe I was really very ill.

My sister brought me books. Kid's books, but books about the Alamo and the Pony Express. Books that were a little ahead of my grade but subjects I was interested in. I read books. Lassie. Adventures at the North Pole.

Beyond that - or rather with that - was that I was exposed to an era of Chicago television that is long, long gone. The television was my friend. And the local station, WGN, had a very impressive cast of creative people on the payroll.

This was before somebody decided that you can't have a kid's show without a great overall lesson or the alphabet or something about numbers. This was when puppets had adventures beyond the puppet stage that they came back and talked to the human about. Somebody misplaced something. They needed it by tonight. Somebody was afraid of a strange noise. Somebody was out in the snow and everybody was worried.

And great, creative, unimaginably slow cartoon adventures that cared enough to dwell on the story. Revel in the story. Get lost in the adventure.

Sesame Street killed children's television. And I will never forgive the bastards.

So what did I have in this world? This black and white world where you could fill up a gas tank for three dollars and a guy in a hat wiped your windows every time you stopped for gas? Where there was this fantasy place back home. In a world I populated with fantasy and adventure and STORIES.

That back-to-back illness - which in retrospect must have worried my parents if only because it was the era of the great polio scares - and the exposure to the creative men and women of a local television station while TV itself was only just about ten years along; this is why I write.

I've been making up stories and writing them down since I was seven. And this is why.


B.E. Earl said...


I have a lot of similar memories from adventure movies and children's television from when I was a kid. I dig that you found inspiration in it all.

Trish said...

Great stuff, Bob. I write down similar memories and reflections on my blog, SCRIBBLING FROM MEMORY at - check it out some time.

Oh, by the way, those full service gas stations still exist. I thought they were dead, but they are still around in tiny pockets around the country. After I moved to the far northwest of Minnesota earlier this year, I ran into one in the small town near me. I almost fell over when I ran over the 'ding' hose and a man appeared to pump my gas and wipe the windshield...WHOA! And in this same town, they still have a downtown PENNEY'S store in which when you enter, you're immediately greeted with a smile and a "May I help you?" I swear it's like stepping into an episode of the TWILIGHT ZONE or the film PLEASANTVILLE...spooky, but in a nice way.

Faiqa said...

I enjoyed this post, a lot. I do have to say in defense of Sesame Street... first interracial couple on TV? Not bad for a kid's show. But, yes, I get the overall point about it killing kid's TV. It must have been nice to have enjoyed something just for the fun of it rather than it *having* to mean something or promulgate a set of values.

sybil law said...

And even so, there's just something IN you that makes you write - and write well! It's called talent.

Kinda like my old cartoons, with Tom and Jerry - there were probably some lessons in there, but it was a bunch of violence between a cat and mouse and the occasional dog set to some good music. It was entertaining, and no one came on at the end and told us not to emulate the fricking animals. Somehow, we survived.

I think this world is missing a whole lot of common sense.