My Once Upon A Time Storybook Life

 

An old haunt of mine still exists in the heart of my lifelong hometown… the house where I had played out the first seven years of my life.

This was “The Place” where I had “busted out” from my barred, “prison” crib… to first crawl… to next stand upright and take my hesitant, initial baby steps… to eventually venture forth from my four walled interior to explore my verdant home turf and environs beyond.

Within this magical sphere was where fun cycled with the four seasons… building wintertime’s snowmen, flying springtime’s kites, igniting summertime’s July 4th sparklers… taking the plunge into autumn’s piles of raked leaves.

My yard had been my happy hunting ground for Four Leaf Clovers… where plucked Dandelions and Queen Anne’s Lace became presentable bouquets… where healthy, natural snacks got picked right off of bountiful cherry trees and prolific wild raspberry canes. This was where Robins, Blue Jays, Lady Bugs, Dragonflies, Monarch and Yellow Swallowtail butterflies all shared the same airspace.

In the waning days of this past June, a touch of homesickness had set in… fueled, in part, by how 1961’s and 2017’s days/dates line up perfectly.

On that yesteryear’s Tuesday, June 27th, it had been my family’s Moving Day… the pivotal moment when I had waved good-bye to the epicenter of my young universe to close out a truly glorious chapter of my carefree, once upon a time, storybook life.

On this year’s Tuesday, June 27th, I certainly would’ve welcomed some Sci-Fi type time travel BUT since that’s, purportedly, an impossibility, about the best I could possibly hope for was to play out the past in the theater of my mind… while paying a visit to the present-day version of my childhood stomping grounds.

Knowing that no drive-by could ever suffice, I opted to travel the road home on foot. No sooner did my childhood hood appear in the distance than the rhythmic, muffled sounds of my athletic shoes hitting the concrete began fading out… and my distant memories came flooding in.

Suddenly, I was back in my crib… feeling an open windows’ refreshing breeze… smelling the rainwater and ozone’s fragrance… seeing the lightning flashed walls… hearing a downpour on the rooftop and the sporadic rumbles of thunder mixing in with my Dad’s steady snoring. Perhaps this is a universal experience? It’s sounds just like the celebrated in story and song nursery rhyme, “It’s raining, it’s pouring the old man is snoring.”

I next recalled the countless daybreaks where I’d gleefully scamper down the stairs to switch on our Zenith™ B&W TV (first image in link is the identical model)… to zone out on op-art-esque test patterns and high pitched tones while patiently waiting for the stations to wake up and roll out their weekday children’s programs.

Amongst the affable, laughable personalities setting up shop on these kiddie corners were Johnny Ginger (who presided over the onslaught of Three Stooges shorts) and Soupy Sales (renowned for his pie in the face slapstick, choreographed “Soupy Shuffle” and interactions with puppet pet doggies White Fang and Black Tooth). To chill out, kids could always depend on the far more cerebral, dignified Captain Kangaroo (a.k.a. Bob Keeshan). Courtesy of the Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera animation studios, Saturday morns featured a constant stream of cartoons.

Primetime fare included Ed Sullivan, Lassie, Dennis the Menace and (mythical Mayfield’s) Leave It To Beaver.

TV Afternoons were where the “faster than a speeding bullet… more powerful than a locomotive… able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” Superman flew through the airwaves… where the wisecracking Johnny Carson presided over the quiz show, Who Do You Trust… where music maven Dick Clark emceed the rock ‘n’ roll teen dance show, American Bandstand.

Taking my cue from Mr. Clark, this is where I brought my make-believe, bedroom “radio station” to life… where courtesy of my Zenith™ record player, I began spinning vinyl to blast out an eclectic mix of orchestral waltzes, jazz, rock, pop, ballads and Christmas tunes1.

My musical selections crossfaded, effortlessly, to memories of Christmases past… how, courtesy of Santa Claus’ delivery of Golden Books™, flashcards, View Masters™, teddy bears, toy blocks and train sets, Christmas mornings had lasted all day. Further sweetening our holidays were my stay-at-home Mom’s made from scratch, still warm from the oven, mouthwatering baked goods… e.g., gingerbread men, German Spritzgebäck (spritz) cookies, Slovenian apple potica and sugar / cinnamon doughnuts.

Although childhood illnesses and my tonsillectomy’s post op recovery could hardly be called a fond memory, Mom cheering me up was. She loved to tell me her highly imaginative, original, extemporaneous bedside stories as well as read other authors’ published works aloud (e.g., Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit).

And once nursed back to good health, I was back in action. Like on the day the training wheels first came off my 20” bike. As my skill and confidence grew, I’d find myself furiously pedaling up a rather long, steeply sloped sidewalk and then, on my journey’s downward leg, I’d experienced feelings of liberation and exhilaration while coasting back home at breakneck speed… waiting for the very last possible moment before slamming on the brakes.

Here was where, one wintery dusk, in a childish huff, I had “run away” from home over some trifling matter… but never did make it past the lower driveway. And once the falling snow had cooled me off, my mom convinced me to return to her warm, welcome home embrace.

Here was where the setting summer sun cast my long shadow before me… granting me the illusion that I was as tall as a grown-up… where I first observed and grew to appreciate nighttime’s four lunar phases and timeless starlit skies.

And, on a more serious note, here is where I had first heard the figurative school bell ring… where, after Mom had first taken several snapshots of me, we took a pre noontime stroll from our home to my nearby kindergarten classroom.

But my fondest memory of all was how our home had acted as a playmate magnet. With frequent visits from Johnny, Bonnie, Jimmy, Davy, Kathy and my best friend Danny, my sister and I had plenty of company.

While our playground included swings hanging from elm tree limbs, a slide, sandbox, kiddie car, trikes and bikes… such playthings were sometimes unnecessary… e.g. the day we wound up gleefully laughing our asses off while taking turns rolling down a hillside inside an oversized cardboard box. All anyone needed to let the good times roll was allowing our sky is the limit, fertile imaginations to run wild.

But, alas, eventually, all good things did come to an end. As the days began winding down within this special locale, there was sufficient time for one last blast… I hosted a party… my invited guests helping me celebrate my seventh birthday. There had been plenty of fun, games and pigging out on our banquet of hotdogs, potato chips, Faygo™ rock and rye soda pop, birthday cake and ice cream.

No kid would ever need TV land’s idyllic “Mayfield”… not when each of us could so easily replicate transcend it.

But, alas, eventually, Tuesday afternoon’s time tripping, too, began winding down. But not before I recalled the very last time I’d ever see the inside of our old home. Dad and I had returned just to ensure the hired movers hadn’t forgotten anything. It was well past nightfall and my usual bedtime… but since school was out for the summer, it hadn’t really mattered.

Dad unlocked the back door and, for the next five minutes, we proceeded from one empty echo chambered room to another. How surreal it had felt when we switched off all the lights for the last time and stepped back out into the cool night air. With the sounds of two slamming car doors and an engine roaring back to life, Dad shifted his 1953 Ford Mainline into first gear and down the graveled driveway we rolled.

It was about this time when the rhythmic, muffled sounds of my athletic shoes hitting the concrete “returned” me to 2017… well ALMOST…

I sensed two distinct, June twenty-sevenths, separated by two score and sixteen years… my past as the passenger… my present as the pedestrian were now converging. Both my younger self and I were wending our way up the very same street and were about to leave the old neighborhood.

Mom had so matter-of-factly summed up our moving day in her 1961 journal…

“The move took from 7:15 – 10:30 p.m. 3 hrs. 15 minutes. $30.00. The kids are delighted. Everyone is relieved.”

While I’d agree that, initially, I had been delighted, this giddy state of mind had prevented me from fully appreciating the whole truth. Although there was no way to actually have seen it during Dad’s and my final inspection tour… I really had left something truly irreplaceable behind…

The very best years of my entire life.

 

1Tom’s Top Ten Hit Parade

  1. Johann Strauss ~ Blue Danube Waltz
  2. Billie Anthony ~ This Ole House
  3. Elvis Presley ~ All Shook Up
  4. Bill Haley and His Comets ~ Shake, Rattle and Roll
  5. The Platters ~ Twilight Time
  6. Jimmy Rodgers ~ Secretly
  7. Sheb Wooley ~ Purple People Eater
  8. David Seville ~ Witch Doctor
  9. The Chipmunks ~ The Chipmunk Song
  10. Jesse Crawford ~ Jingle Bells

TV Or Not TV?

In the 1950s, TV was in its childhood while I was in mine. We grew up together. Being overly impressionable, I had become so enthralled that before my parents and sister would wake up each new day… even prior to our local TV stations, themselves, “waking up”, there I’d be (“glued” to the B&W screen) “watching” test patterns… similar to the one above.

However, once the programming finally began, the kiddie shows, cartoons and adventures would abound. Check out this small sampling…

Day in / day out the wild times in TV-Land would virtually pour out from the screen into our real life living room… with emphasis on “wild”. I recall an incident where my sister and I, overly under the influence of TV and/or a sugar buzz and/or simply being giddy with regular childhood exuberance were joyously raising such a ruckus that our mother had to practically don a vertically striped referee shirt, tweet a whistle and drop a penalty flag to restore household order.

But… somehow… I did manage to “time out”… long enough for the following verbal exchange to ensue…

Mom: “What in the world’s going on?”

Tom: “If you read the news you’ll know.”

Now, to clarify matters, here’s the backstory to that Mom/Tom repartee. You see… I had been totally programmed by a TV commercial, which told viewers to subscribe to one of our local newspapers. The adman’s catchy little tune featured the merrily sung lyrics… you guessed it…

“What in the world’s going on? If you read the news you’ll know.”

Well, TV, just like its viewers, had little choice but to “time out” / grow up over the decades to follow.

Those who’ve been around in our troubled world long enough have been eyewitness to the somber, sobering images of the Kennedy and King assassinations… the racist, blood splattered Deep South… war torn Vietnam and countless other battlefields… antiwar street demonstrations… chronic economic upheaval… Watergate… 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks… war criminal W “murdering” Lady Liberty and torturing the enemy… mass shootings inclusive of elementary school children… rightwing legislators mollycoddling the too big to fail, unrepentant, CEO screw-ups… and the wretched discrimination against women, racial / ethnic minorities and the LGBT community.

True, there have been rare moments where TV’s cameras have focused on more positive events, e.g. when We proudly whipped our center digits at our nation’s racist past by electing/reelecting President Barack Obama.

As for other fleeting glimpses of success stories… we’ve borne witness to astronauts walking on the Moon and countless other technological advancements… inclusive of TV technology, itself… the conversion to digital.

It was after U.S. analog transmitters had signed off for the very last time in 2009, that TV and I had begun to part company. Fortunately, my living along the northern U.S. border, Canada’s analog broadcasts were still available up till the fall of 2011… but once they, too, went digital, from that moment forward, and for the next five years, this was all my TV could receive…

Well… all that changed about three weeks ago. Due to recent upgrades in my sibling’s life, she opted to recycle her no longer needed digital TV converter and rabbit ears… by shipping these devices to me.

The easy part was connecting to my 20 year old, 13-inch Sony Trinitron. The hard part was finding signals from the 40-mile distant broadcast towers. The disappointing part was discovering that the two stations I did manage to snag were airing programs that I wouldn’t normally watch… the Jerry Springer Show and a PBS kiddie program.

In spite of my finding out that Public Broadcasting is still programming towards the betterment of society, my first day back in TV-Land had left me feeling underwhelmed / turned off. So, I turned off my TV… but not for long.

Two Fridays ago, I purchased a relatively inexpensive, indoor/outdoor antenna equipped with a signal amplifier. By midmorning, the next day, I had assembled everything to transform my metal microphone stand into a makeshift, five-foot tall, indoor antenna mast (actually, eight feet in height once set atop a sturdy end table… true… not the best décor-wise… but… after all… I was primarily going for functionality).

After locating the optimal antenna position in my living room, the converter’s automatic station scan managed to find 7 multicasting stations (PBS, CBS, NBC and ABC plus a few lesser networks) and since there are 2 to 3 subchannels per station, I now have a grand total of 19 separate program streams to wade through.

So, after my five-year absence from TV, what’s my reaction? Well, I find myself gravitating towards reruns of programs from my much younger days… e.g., I spent the better part of my first weekend back binge watching countless half-hour long episodes of “The Adventures of Superman”.

Then, several nights ago, I stayed up a bit past my usual bedtime to watch Stephen Colbert’s incarnation of the CBS Late Show… for the very first time. How odd it felt not to see David Letterman seated at his familiar, Ed Sullivan Theater, talk show desk.

As for new TV programs? It’s going to take awhile for me to get acclimated but, so far, I’ve not had much desire to explore what’s “out there”. I’m beginning to think this quotation, i.e., dialogue written by author Thomas Wolfe, aptly describes my, at present, state of mind.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”