I hope everyone had a Happy Mother’s Day. My daughter, Jennifer, joined Marie and me at Momma’s and we Zoomed my sister, Rowena, in from sunny southern California. Momma said she couldn’t remember when she’d last had bacon and eggs and so I fixed brunch and then we chowed down on the Russell Stover candy I brought her.
I’m always talking about people living into the stories they tell themselves. Currently, I’m reading Narrative Economics: How stories go viral and drive major economic events by Robert J. Shiller. So far the book is echoing my sentiments on the subject.
I started thinking about some of the outrageous things I’ve done in my life and how they were driven by my emulating characters in stories. Today’s story illuminates a few of my childhood misadventures. In the ‘90s I got all upset when Tipper Gore wanted to put ratings on music lyrics. Now, I think maybe there should have been warnings for the funny papers and the TV series of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Frankly, everything I watched and read until I was 30 should have had a warning label. Not for me, because I wouldn’t have paid any attention, but for all the folks around me to warn them or at least to have given them a heads up that I was about to do something reckless, again.
The Power of Story
There were close to 60 children on the city block where I grew up. While I wasn’t supposed to leave the block occasionally I crossed the street, but generally someone’s mom had their eye on us, so it was hard for us to get into too much mischief.
Now, I love to read, always have, and at 10 I consumed as many books as I did comic books. Plus there was the Sunday funnies, Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of old movie serials like Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid and Zorro. Not to mention Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and my favorite Texas John Slaughter on TV at night. I love TV as much as I love reading, so I had constant flow of stories.
We played soldiers, a la the TV show Combat, but I was always a Marine, because my Dad had been a Marine before he joined the Navy. Ours was a war like version of hide and go seek called Sniper. One team would be sent off to hide and the other team would go “on patrol” to find them. When the sniper saw someone he would whisper, “You’re dead. Lie down and shut up.” I was not only fast, but I could climb as well and so, I would leap down from wherever I had hidden and run around behind the “enemy”, climb into another perch and hit them from behind. Periodically flower gardens and rose bushes suffered for these military maneuvers.
One collection of rose bushes belonged to Dr. Thelma Biddle, a professor at Richmond Professional Institute (later Virginia Commonwealth University). Thelma’s answer to this was to make me Sherriff of her garden. My job was to keep other marauders from damaging her rose bushes. I must have done a satisfactory job because years later after I had failed out of college for the third time, Thelma vouched for me and VCU let me back in, again. This time I managed a 3.95 GPA, so apparently, her trust was well placed. The neighbor who lived between Dr. Biddle and us was Mrs. Payne. Our relationship wasn’t as cordial. Probably, because I kept raiding her flower garden to take flowers to my mom. I’m pretty sure I got the idea from Dennis the Menace.
There was the time my buddy, Freddy, and I tied the girl next door, Cindy, to a tree (across the street in the woods where they later built the Post Office) and tried to set the pine tags on fire. It worked on Davy Crockett. Or the time I used a bullwhip to drive a kid from down the street home. I think I did a better job than Mingo on Daniel Boone. I never touched him once, but the snap sounded like a thunder clap.
It was years before I read O. Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief. I didn’t recognize myself at the time, but in retrospect it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how the neighbors saw me.
The biggest disaster came about when we found an abandoned cardboard box that a refrigerator had come in. I made a cape like Mandrake the Magician. We put Freddy’s little brother, Tommy, in the box and using my WWI bayonet as a sword, we repeated a trick we’d seen in the Sunday Funnies. Relax, nobody died, but I will tell you this; it’s amazing how much the most superficial head wound bleeds.
I am sorry to say this wasn’t the last of my adventures spawned from literature, history, TV, the movies and every now and then a teacher’s lecture. (Blowing out the windows in the junior high chemistry class was a successful experiment from my point of view) But since 40, I’m a lot more circumspect about the stories I try to live in to.
They say you don’t have a complete frontal cortex until you’re 25. I guess I’ve just been a late bloomer.
At least that’s the story I tell myself.
Be safe. And if you see me with my nose in a book, you might ask, “What are you reading?” It could give you a clue when to give Lakeside a wide berth.
I Want to Hear from You
I’d love to hear your stories.
Share with me stories that matter to you.
Send them to email@example.com
Til next time,