STRAY THOUGHTS

Recently, I read a highly-entertaining blog by my favorite contemporary essayist, in which she initially decried the lack of stimulation to write something having a strong theme but then decided to see what would happen if she merely documented her activities for a full day! In doing so, a variety of themes crept into her thoughts, each a product of whatever she happened to be doing or considering at the time, and she was astute enough to record those musings along with descriptions of her movement throughout the day. She concluded her blog with a question, “Would this approach be useful to help students learn to write?” (my paraphrase), to which I give a hearty “Yes, Ma’am!”  And it was a good catalyst also for my own application, something to try as a highly-simplified form of a James Joyce “Finnegan’s Wake” stream of consciousness creation.

So, here go my musings. Rather than documenting a day’s worth of activity, I take the tack of looking back over several days and weeks, and reflecting on their sometimes obscure influence on my personal interactions with Life in General.

One of my first thoughts has been that at no time will I use some of the phraseology currently in vogue, and which I detest—-“Back in the day”; “That’s a great question”;  “It is what it is”; terms from French such as segue’, genre’; and others. For quite a while, like centuries, we have had combinations of words which adequately expressed the thoughts that these newly-utilized intruders pretend to communicate; they either are used to try and make the user sound intelligent, or to possibly impress folks who already are intelligent and might feel some kinship with the speaker/writer. My thoughts may be summarized in another phrase lacking a bit of grammarian polish: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”.

I ended last week in a somewhat “rundown” condition; you see, our two grandsons (ages 7 and 11) spent the week with us, the third such annual visitation. My wife has this obsession with not having any down time, so a minimum of four activities she had scheduled, per day. These included driving to the Rasberry Farm 50 miles away and spending an hour picking 6# of the delightful fruits; climbing Roundtop Mesa, the erosional remnant that looms several hundred feet high above the town; climbing Monument Hill, another vista which provides an excellent view of the town down in the “bowl” below; driving 80 miles to Cody so the boys could see a rodeo and play miniature golf (they also did that here, several times!); play nine holes of golf on a real golf course; swimming at least three times with the main event being to see how many times one could jump off the high board (116 was the older child’s record!) or zoom down the slide which follows the contours of the hill rising above the hot mineral pools. All this with the temperature getting as high as 101 degrees F., highly unusual for our region.

There were some lesser activities, such as one morning working in the yard removing railroad tie ends and centers which had been used to build a staircase up a hillside in our backyard. Originally, it was used to access a vacant lot we owned and which we sold about 20 years ago. It became sort of like that Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere”, and its only useful purpose was to provide a refuge for weeds and hard-to-mow grass. Then there were the refereeing sessions, settling disputes over the use of my wife’s IPad to watch one movie, over and over and over. Daily deer-watching was popular; a doe and her three fawns continued to use our yard as their base of operations. The kids had a great time, and want to come back again for a fourth year to Camp Krisko.  And I have a better understanding of why grandparents like to visit their grandchildren, not host them for an extended period of time. We did that with their parents, many years ago, and realistically had no other choice. And we loved them, too. When my wife left with the kids for the airport, I was heard quoting Martin Luther King appropriately for this time of remembrance, “Free at Last, Free at Last, Oh, Lord, I’m Free at Last”! And headed for the golf course.

Throughout this visit, something seemed to be trying to get through to my consciousness, some thought tentatively dipping its toes into my pool of awareness. Today, it finally crystallized as I read a column by Lenore Skenazy, a syndicated columnist from Eastern newspapers, in which she was comparing what kids did in the summers when she grew up, and what they do now. She expressed awareness that these days, everything is done for the kids throughout the summer, everything is scheduled much as it was during our grandson’s visit. And not only here, but also before they arrived. The older child had, in a three week period, played first base and pitched on a Little League baseball team that won the state championship in North Carolina and then went to regional competition against state winners from throughout the Southeast. This was followed by several days at the Davidson University basketball camp, where he was named “Mr. Basketball”. On his second day here, he won his age group division in the local Junior Golf Championship. His little brother wasn’t letting “grass  grow under his feet” either, he played baseball and attended a summer recreation camp. Skenazy described the comments of some youngsters spending the summer with her in a “summer bungalow/cottage” setting, in which they yearned for this much simpler life that allowed time for a person to follow their own choices as to what to do.

I thought back to my own summers, and what I liked. There was the daily Monopoly game with my buddies, supplemented by a Fiesta Ware blue pitcher full of grape Kool-Aid. Sometimes we played Rich Uncle instead, a game that was an offshoot of Monopoly. We compared our Lionel electric trains against Russ’ American Flyers; his had two-rail tracks while ours was less realistic, with three rails. We challenged each other on bike daredevil riding, such as down steep embankments without flying over the handlebars. We went to “The Lot”, a vacant lot owned by the aunt of one of our group, and who had erected a basketball goal for us at one end. We either played tackle football or basketball, on the spur of the moment. At one point, we were like Mickey  Rooney in one of those movies where a bunch of kids decide to put on a show; we decided to form a baseball team, even though there wasn’t anyone around to play against. As some of our team would go to Westport High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and the rest of us to Rosedale High School in Kansas City, Kansas, our team was the Westdale Warriors. We had lots of practices, and I was put in right field. That’s where the worst fielder was always placed. We never did play a game.

And I read. And read. Joseph Altscheler’s historical books for young persons taught me a lot about American History, pre-Revolutionary War through the Civil War; much as my brother-in-law John Jakes’ books did when I became an adult. I began to read Science Fiction, starting with Heinlein and Bradbury. Visits to the libraries were special occasions, not only to get more books but to breathe again those musty odors, and thumb through the tattered cards in the card  catalogue’s little wooden drawers, looking for a book. Smells are the stuff of nostalgia—our neighborhood had lots of small businesses clustered along a minor main street, it was the street where the little trolley turned around and headed back across State Line Road into Missouri. Sometimes when I had nothing else to do, I would drop in to Rucker’s, the shoe repair store, and sniff the smell of fresh leather, or go over to Rhodes Saddle Shop for the same treatment. When mom sent me to the store for a loaf of bread, I went to the small bakery, and I smelled the fresh bread odor through the end of the wrapping, all the way home.

Yes, we could think of things to do in the summer, no one planned stuff for us. Things are different now, not necessarily bad, but different. But as Ms. Skenazy, asks, when does a kid have time to be a kid? To make choices? To be bored?

Other thoughts began to enter my mind, thoughts of the advisability of my upcoming trip to Scotland. This would be an extended version of the one I had to cancel last spring when a temporary health incident made it wise to wait until that could be resolved. As it turned out, it was benign and probably the result of some sinus congestion. But at the same time, the neuropathy in my feet and legs appears to have increased, raising the question of my ability to walk somewhat extensively in my traveling about the Scottish Highlands and golf venues. One of my personal “bucket list” events is to visit St. Andrews “Old Course”; not to play but to stroll. I discovered that the course is closed to golfers on Sundays in order to allow the townsfolk to walk the landscape, and I hope to be able to do so. There are other arrangements, the highlight to be a few days in the Troon area of the West coast and a visit to Robert Burns’ Museum as one special activity. There might even be a nine-hole round at the Royal Troon Golf Course, one of the venues used for The Open Championship. Anyway, today I played nine holes on our hilly course, walking and carrying my clubs. I made it around, but need some recovery time to get the legs back to an acceptable level of functioning. At least the Scottish “links” courses are fairly flat.

Finally, I need to emphasize that being retired, my normal routines don’t really lend themselves to the same degree of daily speculation that my colleague provided, in her essay (So You Think You Can’t Write!). Today’s highlights included filling the cat food bin from the newly-purchased sack of special, expensive food; grouting the new tiles I mounted on the top of a cabinet in one bathroom in the little house I bought; getting ready for a Giant Garage Sale this weekend (I strongly doubt that the water skis and downhill skis will sell), and using our newly-acquired McDonald’s coupons for dinner. Not real exciting. However, I shall be writing travel commentary during my trip; maybe that will be more stimulating. Watch This Space!

Always Be Happy          To Our Youth

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