Parenting

A Weekend Unplugged

Just before the new school year began I took my boys on a trip that I had taken at their age with one of my uncles. We rented a canoe and travelled 15 miles of the Saco River in Maine over Labor Day Weekend.

The boys and I have been canoeing before, but only for sixty to ninety minutes at a time, and only locally, utilizing a rental facility on the Charles River in Cambridge.

This time, we were going all in and planning for two nights/three days of paddling and camping, just as I had done in my youth.

I was talking recently with someone and saying that I’m not necessarily an outdoorsman, per se. I like the outdoors, love to go to the beach and listen to the waves hit the shore. It sounds to me like the vast, powerful ocean is beckoning us, taunting us, and reminding us of its presence and could swallow us whole at any time. I enjoy walks in the woods (sounds like a disingenuous dating website profile line, I know) where the sounds of the cars and motorcycles and the hustle and bustle all disappear under the swell of nature’s symphony.  Certainly you can simulate those sounds with devices and apps if you don’t want to leave it behind completely, but I prefer the more pure variation where there’s little more than the waving branches of trees and the hum of summer insects. I like the soft ground under my feet and the tickle of the grass on my ankles, and the crunch and crackle of fallen leaves as I walk through them and over them. There’s nothing like it in any cityscape or urban setting that you can compare it to.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sportsman. My exposure to sports in my childhood is limited to an ill-fated season with Little League baseball where I proudly thrust my glove up in the air in center field to catch a pop fly and it came down from the sky above and landed squarely in my face, after which I removed my glove, threw it on the ground and quit the team part-way into the season, never to return. I did attempt joining a basketball team as well, but that lasted even less time than my foray into baseball did. I don’t ski, I don’t golf, I don’t hunt (a.k.a. murdering wildlife), I don’t rock climb, snow shoe, practice archery, skeet shoot, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

That said; I love to canoe, love hiking, love camping, and would still climb a tree if the spirit moved me to do so. I am considering the purchase of a kayak for next year, to mix two of my loves together – being on the water and isolation. I am, for all the wonderful friends and acquaintances I have, a relatively solitary person. I crave time alone to reflect and recharge. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I so enjoy the woods when I am far removed from society. I occasionally indulge in reality shows where people are left to their own devices in remote locations and have to fend for themselves, only the ever-present camera crew is always a reminder that these folks are not truly ‘alone’ at any point in time.

A few months ago I pitched the idea to the boys of going canoeing, as we have for the past few summers, but to augment the experience and add camping to the mix as well – to make it a multi-day adventure. They eagerly agreed to the notion, even when I added the codicil that their ‘devices’, while they could bring them for the 2+ hour car ride to get to where I was thinking of taking them, would not be brought on the trip, because once the batteries died there was no way to recharge them in the woods. They shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Who cares?’.

To interject here – both my boys are diagnosed with ADHD. Both my boys have challenges with focusing, and with staying on any one topic or activity, if it’s not of particular interest to them, for very long. They love t.v., they love video games (like most kids) and they need constant distracting and redirecting at times to navigate their days. This was, as I knew, going to be a true test for all of us – for their focus and for my patience (something I often find myself in short supply of when the boys are both running amok).

Nevertheless, after weeks of waiting, the weekend of our trip arrived. We packed up our camping gear, a change of clothes, some non-perishable food (shelf-stable milk included) and hit the road to Center Conway, New Hampshire – which, coincidentally, is where my mother lived in her childhood before moving to Maine. That was our put-in point, where the canoe rental facility would drive us and our gear and rented canoe to, where we would then travel fifteen miles to a bridge in Brownfield, Maine – which, coincidentally, was where my father lived in his childhood – where we would exit the river and place a call to the rental facility to pick us up two days later.

Truth be told, we were never all that far away from help and civilization if we needed it in an emergency, and the particular river we were going to is famed for being crowded on summer weekends with other similar enthusiasts, but it was just far enough to give the boys an outdoor experience like they had never had before.

On day one, after arriving at the rental facility and being transported to our starting point, we loaded up our gear and set forth on the river. The water can be a bit shallow in places (while deep enough for swimming in others) but we made our way into the meandering current of the Saco River, and began the first leg of our journey. On that day we travelled seven miles of the fifteen total, my reasoning being that the next day some rain was predicted in the afternoon. More on that later. As the light began to fade a bit at dusk, we selected a beach to camp upon, set up our tents, gathered some fire wood, and set up camp for the night. We feasted on warmed up canned ravioli and s’mores, and with full bellies and tired limbs we climbed into our sleeping bags for a good night’s sleep – only I replayed every Friday the 13th film synopsis in my head over and over and listened for the cracking of branches and treading of heavy feet to announce the impending arrival of a masked serial killer to my tent. That, of course, didn’t happen, but it did show me that I’ve seen WAY too many horror films in my time.

I did, eventually, nod off – serenaded by the night bugs and the occasional splash in the nearby river as they lulled me to sleep for the night.

Day two began with a light breakfast of oatmeal and fruit before we broke camp and got back on the river. One thing we had found in relatively short supply the night before was available firewood. I had opted to not purchase any to bring with us, reasoning that we were surrounded by firewood on both sides of the river – but for future reference, if you go late in the season the likelihood is that other campers will have snapped up the supply before you arrive on the scene. And so I kept an eye out as we paddled for a good stockpile of wood to take with us to our second camp, just in case. Lo and behold, about two miles into our trip we found a pile of cut firewood left behind on a beach by a departing camping party next to a still slightly smoking campfire. We beached the canoe and the boys each grabbed up two arms full of wood apiece and loaded it into the canoe. We sailed off down the river talking about how amazing our campfire that night was going to be, me keeping in the recesses of my mind that we’d need to keep it dry in the afternoon when the predicted rain fell, or there wouldn’t be a campfire that night. But (at least at that point) the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and we made our way another four and a half miles down the river until we found another unoccupied beach alongside the river, and decided to make camp there for the night, at roughly 12:30 in the afternoon, at which times the clouds had completely removed the sun from our view and I knew the predicted rain would soon begin to fall. We got our gear out of the canoe, flipped it over for the night on the sand, and set up our tents for the night.

Just in time for the downpour to start.

I quickly covered the wood as best I could, and we sequestered ourselves in our tent to wait out the rain for ‘a few hours’. I had consulted the weather forecast before we left, but out on the river for more than 24 hours since, with no access to the app on my phone (which I brought along to take photos and use as a clock if nothing else), I didn’t realize that this downpour was now predicted to last through the night.

There are two sayings that I’ve known for most of my life. Forewarned is forearmed (hence gathering and keeping dry wood for a campfire) and ignorance is bliss (had I realized it was going to rain all night I wouldn’t have kept holding out hope, during the afternoon, that it would stop ‘soon’ and we’d be good for the night).  In this process I learned several things:

  1. One of my tents didn’t have a rain fly to cover it with.
  2. Neither tent was particularly waterproof.
  3. Pre-packaged tuna salad (shelf stable) and dry cereal are a blessing when you have no means to cook anything because it’s pouring buckets outside.
  4. I don’t like the rain coming when I’m camping.

During the storm, because I have arthritis in one of my hips and needed to stretch my legs once in a while and get off the ground (fortunately we had an umbrella with us, though I can’t remember packing it) I stepped outside the tent a few times and stood in the rain, silently willing it to end ‘soon’, before the boys’ patience with it ran out and they deemed the trip ‘ruined’. On one leg-stretching I saw three canoes making haste for a take-out point and simultaneously mocked and envied them (silently) for leaving, for giving up, and for getting out. On another trip outside the tent, I saw one poor soul walking down the middle of the river (again, there are some very shallow points) in his underwear, carrying his clothes with him that were just as sopping wet as the rest of him. He looked over at me, standing on the shore under an umbrella, and loudly declared, ‘F*CK THIS, I’M GETING OUT OF HERE!!!’. I tipped my umbrella to him and said, ‘Good luck!’ before going back inside the tent to my increasingly waterlogged refuge with the boys.

Supper that night was a mixture of pre-packaged snacks, making sure to reserve enough to eat ‘something’ in the morning before we left – a morning that could not come soon enough for me. We all three were wet…cold….and not particularly in love with the woods or the river at that moment. We all three drifted in and out of sleep that night, trying to shift to a non-existent dry spot in the sleeping bag, sharing our own warmth with each other, and taking turns wondering, out loud, when the rain was going to stop. We had been away from the creature comforts of television and radio and video games and wifi connections for more than 24 hours. The boys had fared well, and I had, more than once, apologized for the rain being much more than I had realized it would be. There was, once only, a declaration of ‘I’m bored’, and yet it was more of a statement than a complaint. I was truly amazed at their stamina.

At roughly 1 in the morning we were all awake once again with the rain beating down on the tent roof. We lay there listening to the beating of the rain drops over our heads (some coming through the roof and dripping on our faces). One of the boys piped up in the darkness.

‘You know, Dad, this is a great trip, except for the rain that’s making us cold, wet, and miserable.’

The other boy added his two cents here.

‘Yeah, because at least we’re all cold, wet, and miserable TOGETHER!’

In the darkness I smiled, unseen, because while I awaited the breaking of the morning, and the welcomed light and warmth it would bring, something else ‘dawned’ on me. A realization that, despite their attention and focus challenges, despite their sometimes constant bickering and vying for attention, they ‘get it’. They get what we were doing, and why, and what the value and meaning of it was. Time to relax and refresh and stretch our minds and our abilities – time to learn things we didn’t know about ourselves and each other – and most importantly, time together. Eventually we all drifted off again, awaking at intervals through the remainder of the night. But from 1am on, the cold was a little less cold, the water a little less wet, the discomfort a bit less discomforting, at least for me.

Morning finally came and I managed a very modest fire – enough to warm us up a bit before we broke camp and headed out. The sun reappeared, the birds again chirped overhead, and the woods came alive for the day after the deluge of the night before. We folded up our wet, sandy gear – realized we had no dry clothes to change into (note to self – keep one change of clothes waterproofed…always) and we had roughly three miles to go before exiting the river. We set off, the water a little higher beneath us, the current a bit stronger, a final parting gift of the rains the night before. We easily glided downstream, only spotting two other parties who had toughed it out, waving to each other from canoe and from shore, no words spoken, a silent cry of ‘Solidarity!’ passing between us and no need to discuss what had passed the night before.

Eventually we reached the take out point at the Brownfield Bridge and pulled our boat from the river. I used the phone in the campground that abuts this spot on the river to call the canoe rental facility, and they said they’d be there shortly to pick us up. I then, aided by the boys, hauled all our gear and the canoe up to the edge of the parking lot to await our chariot. We were all dirty, still wet, and not particularly warmed up. We sat and waited for the van and the boys munched on a snack I had purchased at the camp store to, in a small way, thank them for the use of their phone. I awaited the commentary from the boys now that we were idle for the first time since getting up that morning.

‘Dad, can we do this again?’

‘Yeah, like next year? Can we make this an annual trip, please?’

They couldn’t have pleased me more if they given the trip two enthusiastic thumbs up, called it good fun family fare, and declared it to be better than the musical Cats.

‘Yes, we can. We can do this at least once a year if you like, until you no longer want to, or until I’m too old to lift a paddle, whichever comes first.’

I deemed the trip, rain and all, a complete success. We all worked together, we all ‘suffered’ together, and we all emerged unscathed and perhaps a bit stronger. We learned a lot that weekend, about ourselves and each other.

But the most important thing I learned from our weekend away from home is as described below.

There is a place inside every child that even the brightest, most colorful and action packed video game cannot penetrate to. There is a place inside every child that no television show can entertain and hold the attention of. It’s somewhere that defies and condemns pop music and sound bytes and text messages. It’s a place that some lose sight of and some struggle to find in vain day in and day out. There is a place that is so unplugged, so remote, so deeply embedded in a child’s heart that only one thing can possibly pervade. That thing is not expensive, not complicated, not unobtainable, not rare or delicate, nor ever really out of stock. It’s something that can be given time and time again. It’s something, no matter how they might resist it at times, no matter how they might not listen, might fight and complain, that children want….and crave…more than most anything in the world.

That thing is, quite simply, you.

 

Advertisements
Standard
New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – Portsmouth Book and Bar, Portsmouth, NH

20170702_132228.jpg

Last fall I had the opportunity to (individually) catch up with two of my favorite ladies from Maine. Portsmouth, New Hampshire is roughly ‘half-way’ between us these days, and therefore we chose that as a meeting point. We spent hours poring over the months or years since we’d last been in the same space, and in both cases it was (as I prefer to feel most of my friendships are) as if we’d just sat down together the day before.

On the first outing, my fellow literary-obsessed friend Leslie and I also ventured into a couple of Portsmouth’s used book stores to check their offerings. In the first shop I came across a book I had just finished a few weeks before, The Bells, by Richard Harvell and one other book I had heard of but not yet read, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Leslie purchased the former and I the latter.

After indulging in lunch at nearby RiRu, a converted bank turned eatery, Leslie and i were sitting outside on a bench, and I looked up information on any other book stores in the area and am thankful that I did.

Just down the street from where we sat lay an (for me) untapped venue – Portsmouth Book and Bar. Located in the former Custom House and Post Office, built in 1860, and home of several other businesses over the years, the Book and Bar is a worthwhile stop if you happen to venture to Portsmouth and have some time to kill.

Granted, the selection may not look as substantial as other places I’ve visited, but don’t be fooled by that. The neatly spaced and stacked shelving holds a world of treasures at very reasonable prices. Their fiction section (my immediate go-to) is extensive, and their non-fiction and children’s equally impressive.

Aside from the books accorded for sale, the venue boasts an enticing menu of sandwiches and small plate offerings, a decent selection of beer and wine, and of course coffee, tea, and soft drinks for those who choose to not imbibe. I have yet to eat or drink at this location, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons each time I have visited lead me to believe the food and beverages, like the book selection, do not disappoint.

The book store also offers live music to patrons, as well as comfy couches and cafe tables  on which to alight and enjoy the eclectic mix of musical styles performed regularly.

Located in the historic downtown district of a beautiful sea-side city, this is a locale I plan to visit again and again. Most recently I left the store with newly owned books by George Gissing, Orhan Pamuk, and Edmund White. There were other editions of interest that caught my eye – and hopefully they’ll be there for future perusal.

Portsmouth Book and Bar can be found at:

40 Pleasant St
Portsmouth, NH 03801
603.427.9197

OPEN 7 DAYS
SUN – THU : 10a–10p
FRI – SAT : 10a–midnight

http://www.bookandbar.com/index.html

Happy reading!

Standard
New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – The Montague Bookmill, Montague MA

Montague_-_The_Bookmill

Books You Don’t Need, In A Place You Can’t Find is the tagline on the website for this gem of a bookstore.

But they were wrong, on both counts.

The Montague Bookmill claims residence in an 1842 Grist Mill in the little town of Montague, Mass. Bordering the Sawmill River, the Bookmill invites visitors to wile away a long afternoon perusing the shelves and stacks (don’t be fooled, it’s very organized) of books for sale – and then the multitude of other items for sale.

The property boasts not only their general and scholarly interest books, but a vinyl and cd shop, an artists collective, and a rustic restaurant all within steps of each other.

The Bookmill also invites musical artists to entertain, with reasonably priced seats, yet they entice audience hopefuls to arrive early for seats in their armchairs and couches for the best and most comfortable view of the musician playing.

Two summers ago I decided to make the two hour trek to Montague, which is west of me as the crow flies, to see what was in store for me. I was not disappointed. I left with, amongst others, a wonderful novel by a ‘forgotten’ author – The Stones Of Summer, by Dow Mossman (who might feature in a ‘Faded Pages’ blog post in the near future, even if this book was his only commercial output). It’s a delightful read, big and sprawling, taking place over decades, and a wonderful way to pass a summer week, or month, depending upon the pace you take with reading it.

In that respect, the book is much like the store from which I procured it. It’s a sizable property with much to offer. I spent a few peaceful hours strolling through the books, picking through the vinyl, and sampling a lunch offering from their cafe menu as I sat beside a window overlooking a sun-dappled stream below that carries water twenty-two miles from Lake Wyola to the Connecticut River as it carried me away to daydreams.

Worth an hour, an afternoon, or even an entire day, The Montague Bookmill is a hidden gem just beyond the mid part of the Commonwealth heading West to the New York state border. If you find yourself out that way, by happenstance, look the store up and spend some time there – you won’t be disappointed.

The store’s information is below. Happy reading!

MONTAGUE BOOKMILL
Susan Shilliday
440 Greenfield Road, Montague, MA
(mail) Post Office Box 954, Montague, MA 01351
Phone: (413) 367-9206
Email: susan@montaguebookmill.com
web: www.montaguebookmill.com
Hours: 7 days, 10-6, and later seasonally

 

Standard
Confessions

Every Day A Little Death – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 24

Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed,
In the curtains, in the silver,
In the buttons, in the bread.
Every day a little sting
In the heart and in the head,
Every move and every breath
(And you hardly feel a thing)
Brings a perfect little death.

I’m borrowing from the lyrics of one of the best Stephen Sondheim musicals, A Little Night Music. The subtext of the song is that the character who sings it believes that each day of her marriage some small part of her dies.

Dementia is, in a way, like that. Every day another moment, another day, another week, another month or year get lost to the person who suffers from that particular affliction. Names, locations, dates, times, routines, favorite foods, favorite articles of clothing, favorite holidays – none are immune. Mom frequently asks me where I live, how I ‘got’ my children, even how old I am. Quite a change from hearing so many times over the year how difficult it was to even get pregnant and how tough the pregnancy was and how she worried and worried daily after being told she’d either miscarry or I’d be born with some kind of physical or mental deformity. From that to ‘how old are you?’ What a change. What a sad, miserable change.

Mom and I still are (despite my lapse in blogging for nine months) talking nearly every day, save for when she’s not near her phone or the demands of parenting on my own now prevent me from calling her. I sometimes wonder to myself what part of her might be disappearing on those days, and had I been able to reach her, what might she have said, or revealed that now is likely forever lost….when will she say ‘Who’s this?’ instead of ‘Hi honey, how are you?’

I realize that one day, perhaps, one of those casualties may be knowing who I am. She still knows she knows me, and many days knows I’m her son. We talk about good days, bad days, and all the in-between. She still trusts me, and listens to me, and talks to me about whatever comes to mind.

Several times recently Mom has talked about her mother and father (who passed away in the 1960’s) and not always in the past tense. She has said that her mother and father were in the same facility she was in and the staff remembers her as a young girl visiting them there and that’s why they treat her so well. At other times she talks about wondering when she will be able to go visit them, and how she’ll get there without owning a car (a mixture of 50+ years ago and 2 years ago when she lost her driver’s license). She began to talk, just the other night, about planning a trip to see them and then stopped herself mid-sentence, pausing for a moment before she continued on to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

“Oh no, oh what am I saying? They’re dead. Mom and Dad are dead…like Joe, and Laska, and Logan (her siblings) – they’re all dead. All of them. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with me?”

I offered no answer. What am I to say to her in a moment such as that? In a moment when she has to confront the deaths of her parents and siblings all over again, feeling perhaps as if it has just happened? The news has just been delivered. The grief, be it, in reality 15, 20, 40 years old…washing down over her again, sudden and absolute, unexpected and relentless, without the buffer of years or even decades of processing it and coping with it and reconciling it to spare her even a fraction of the pain. Sometimes she cries. Sometimes I do too, but I don’t let on to her about it. It’s for her pain I’m crying. I never met her parents. I never ‘lost’ them because I never had them in the first place. She did. And she lost them. And she has to relive that over and over again now.

To me, that’s one of the cruelest aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease….not only forgetting the things you like and the people you love… but having to mourn the people you’ve lost over and over and over again because you forget, either momentarily or for a long period of time that they’re gone.

Every day a little death…some days a big one.

Over and over and over again.

 

Standard
Miscellaneous, Parenting

The Daddy Box

Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.

I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.

My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.

I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.

Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.

Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.

A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:

‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’

In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.

Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.

I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.

But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

Standard
Parenting, Reading

It’s Worse Than You Think – Cautionary Tales From Childhood – In Recognition Of Halloween

I’ve been, since age 5, an avid reader. Once I discovered the worlds that existed inside books, they have been my constant and steadfast companion. I most always have a book that I’m in the process of reading, and when I don’t….my life seems thrown into a chaotic miasma that I need to quickly find an escape from by simply picking up another book. My childhood memories are filled with colorful tales from glossy storybooks.

A great aunt of mine had a full set of hardcover books with the written counterparts to several Disney film adaptions that I used to pore over when we’d visit her. There were many photos from some of the live action films or drawings for the animated films, and even though I knew the endings to the stories (The Wonderful World Of Disney was Sunday night must-see-t.v. in my childhood, and at the end of the school year my elementary school had a film day with offerings such as Old Yeller and the like), I still read them – at least the Disney versions of them.

I’ve retained many of my childhood books over time. Some I had, when I became a parent, hoped to pass on to my own kids to read and enjoy themselves. Unfortunately in the age of video games and mutant teenage sponge wizards the books I enjoyed so much in my youth (The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, The Great Brain series, Matthew and Maria Looney’s adventures, etc.) hold little interest for the boys. No matter – they should find and read things they, themselves enjoy.

There have been, however, stories that they’ve enjoyed that are universal and long-lived. Stories that have been in existence for generations before the boys or myself or even my grandparents. Stories that, over the years, Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks have adopted and adapted, sanitizing and whitewashing what, if you read the original source material, are some pretty horrific tales.

Many of these are what are known as Cautionary Tales. Stories that were written not only to entertain but to inform and teach someone about a potential danger they could encounter.

Cautionary tales involve three essential elements:

  • A ‘taboo’ – some place, act, or thing that represents danger to a person.
  • A disregard of the taboo/danger – violation of the warning that has been handed out.
  • A horrific fate/conclusion – often quite grisly in nature.

The concept has been replicated time and again through the years in a variety of mediums. From the original folk tales verbally recounted to the written word being used as a method of recounting these stories to the ‘School Scare Films’ and ‘Army Training Films’ of the mid-20th century that warned young hitchhiking boys that ‘homosexuals were lurking on the highways to offer them rides and corrupt them’ and cautioned young soldiers that ‘fast and easy women would give them social diseases’. Youngsters were warned of the dangers of drug use and disobeying their parents.

Even the film ‘Gremlins’ is a cautionary tale, in which are laid down three very precise rules to be followed (without deviation) by the owner of a Mogwai – with the accompanying warning of dire consequences if you did not follow these rules -and the ensuing mayhem when the rules were (as expected) not followed.

As I said, my childhood is filled with many memories of these cute, cuddly tales with fleeing princesses finding friendly, hardworking midgets to shack up with and puppets who come to life as companion to a lonely old man who not only has an insect problem, but the insect talks and wears a top-hat, and all sorts of other squeaky-clean enjoyment to be derived from them.

What’s even more fun? Reading the un-sanitized versions of these tales as an adult and realizing what the real story was and the ‘lesson’ it was supposed to teach. When all the singing animals and flying throw-rugs and dancing dinnerware are removed, what you are left with are some pretty horrifying and often tragic tales.

If you’d like to investigate some of, in my opinion, the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) examples of this…I highly encourage reading the original Pinocchio story, the original Little Red Riding Hood story, the story of the Pied (which means multi-colored, by the way…it has nothing to do with pastry) Piper, and Cinderella. You’ll find far more blood, gore, and mass-kidnapped children than Disney will ever show you. Another example is the book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by Heinrich Hoffmann. In this book, originally published with the sub-title ‘Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6′ – the stories center on such toddler-centric tales as ‘The girl who played with matches and burned to death’, and ‘the boy who sucked his thumb too long so a scary man with giant scissors cut his thumbs off’.  Just imagine conveying that one to your 5 year old just before you turn out the lights and close the door for their young mind to mull over until they fall asleep – if they can. Makes an episode or two of The Walking Dead before bed seem not quite so terrible now, doesn’t it?

There are also loads of good websites to check out as well. I have listed a few below:

http://www.ancient-origins.net

list25.com

and a pretty entertaining article from ET Online, called Peter Pan and 6 other beloved Disney movies based on dark horrifying books.

There are many others to be found in your favorite internet browser. If you really want a good scare for tomorrow night – read a few of them. They’ll put a chill in your blood if the change of seasons hasn’t done that already.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween full of spooks, specters, and spirits.

Standard
Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Christopher Isherwood

isherwood

Twenty years ago I found myself cast in the show Cabaret. I knew of it, of course, having heard the music from the score, and having seen the film version with Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Gray…and had learned that there was a (non-musical) film based upon the story called ‘I Am A Camera’ with Julie Harris in the lead.

What I didn’t have any experience with as yet was the source material – The Berlin Stories of Christopher Isherwood.

I have dubbed this section of my blog as ‘out of print’ authors, and I am pretty confident that many of Isherwood’s works are out of print and therefore can be a bit of a challenge to find. Truth be told, I’ve not looked for a brand new Isherwood book in a store for years. I own much of his catalogue in hardback, snatched from the coffers of used book stores here and there over the years, devoured as I went along, and worth every penny and every moment spent to read them.

Isherwood, born in the UK in 1904, emigrated to the United States in 1939 when he was already an established author and playwright, as well as mentor to other authors and poets. During his early adult years he traveled extensively in Europe and China as well as a trip to the United States prior to settling in California and becoming an American citizen in 1946.

Isherwood then spent the remainder of his life chronicling his experiences, from early childhood through his adult years  (as well as working on travel diaries, plays, and non-fiction works about a religious monastic order called the Ramakrishna) which provided the source material for his fiction works and his autobiographical offerings, with each being equally as enjoyable and fascinating as the other. Much of Isherwood’s fiction can be then deconstructed and deciphered as to his motivation and perspicacity for the fictional works by reading its non-fiction counterpart or what, where, and who Isherwood ‘was’ at the time he wrote it or not long before. His inspiration for his novels is more than just largely drawn from his own experiences.

Admittedly (which may surprise some) I’ve not yet read The Berlin Stories. That said, I have indulged in PLENTY of his other books – The Memorial, The World In The Evening, Down There On A Visit, A Single Man, Christopher And His Kind, Lions And Shadows, and My Guru And His Disciple amongst them – and still have more to go, such as Prater Violet, A Meeting By The River, All The Conspirators, The Mortmere Stories, and Kathleen and Frank – as well as his collaborative novels written with other authors, his letters and diaries, and much, much more. To begin to read Isherwood is to find yourself with a treasure trove of material to select from.  There are also, for the diligent, articles he wrote over a series of years between 1943 and 1969.

Isherwood is, to me,  one of the best examples of ‘autobiography as fiction’ writers that the twentieth century is to be credited with. Less drug and drink addled than Kerouac, less oversexed than Miller, but every bit as enjoyable to read. While it might be challenging to try to find some of the works listed above, they are all (and I mean all) worth pursuing if you try one and find that you like his style. Many (if not most or all) of his books can be found on Amazon, of course, but I highly recommend the giddy feeling of finding him in a used book store somewhere between Washington Irving and James Joyce in the literature section and slowly collecting and savoring his work over time.

There are also books about Isherwood (none that I can say I’ve read personally) which give greater insight into a man hailed as one of the best writers of his time.

He may be out of print (possibly) in brand new copies – but Isherwood and his observations of his education, life, and experiences are never out of style.

Happy reading!

Standard