Tag Archives: childhood

Remember This? The Idyllic World of “To Kill a Mockingbird”


Sometimes I get the urge to house hunt. I go to open house events and savor the dream of owning my own house one day. And sometimes I wonder just what it is I’m looking for, what I’m attracted to, what I’m not, and where my preferences come from.

One of my favorite movies from childhood is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although a 1963 film, it’s set in Depression-era Alabama. As a young boy raised in Maryland during the sixties, for some reason, I sensed the days depicted in the film were “better” than the contemporary times I lived in. It was just my reaction to the film when I watched it.

Visiting various open houses last weekend here in Santa Fe, I walked away several times feeling empty. Where were the rose gardens in the front yards? Where were the people mingling in the street, walking to and fro? Where were the houses adorned with porches and stoops and sidewalks welcoming visitors to the front door?

Cue: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Oh my God, the image of my perfect house is exactly what I viewed in “Mockingbird.” Could I have held on to this image of hallowed house and home for so long?

Yes. That’s exactly the image I still yearn to see. After watching a DVD of the movie later that house-hunting day, I realized I wanted not just the houses, but the streets, the people, the neighborhood, the community – even cranky old Mrs. Dubose. Call me corny, but I still crave the Maycomb, Alabama, I saw in “Mockingbird” with its white, wooden houses and green grass lawns, and apparently have all my life.

Cue: the documentary on “To Kill a Mockingbird” enclosed inside the DVD case. No, the Maycomb in “Mockingbird” was not filmed in Maycomb. It was not even filmed in the South. In fact, it wasn’t a real town, but a movie set. Every house was constructed from scratch and the street built on a Hollywood back lot. What? My entire image of house and home is –  and was – built upon the foundation of a movie set, flats and scene designers handy work?

I viewed “Mockingbird” one more time. Yep – a suspicion come true. Upon closer inspection, beyond the beautiful hickory trees adorning Maycomb’s main street where Scout, Jem and Atticus lived was the beautiful Alabama Mountain Range (er, the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Hollywood). Boy, had I been duped. As a child, even an adult, I never thought to question whether Alabama had big mountains. Or I consciously didn’t want to.

And that’s the power of film, and specifically “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It took us to a quieter time in America. It also took us to a period where discrimination and ignorance were far more prevalent. In teaching his children to face prejudice in the eye, Atticus Finch tried to construct an uplifted community, not just one surrounded by the idyllic trappings of a world surrounded by white picket fences. For all these reasons, they made an irresistible world to me.

Cue: a sense of reality. I guess I can abandon the idea of house hunting in rural Alabama some day. And what have I been thinking here in Santa Fe: rose bushes, pitched roofs, green grass – in New Mexico?

I’ll just have to return to the movie and the Alabama of my mind for that house (and all the nostalgia that went with it).

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Remember This? Splendiferous Summer Camping and the Family Ties That Bound

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One Friday morning in August of ‘65, we packed all our clothes and gear into the Plymouth station wagon to head off to Thurmont, Maryland, and a camping area in the mountains called Crow’s Nest Lodge.

Mom – setting civilized rules from the get go – declared dried fruit as the official family snack food for the weekend. Oh, great. Flatulence City. Steadily munching on dried apricots in a vehicle that had no air conditioning would be suicide.

Well, ha! Talk about eating her words. Mom barfed all her dried fruit snacks only an hour into the drive.

By the time we’d set up our gear at the site, I’d already begun to see what it meant to live in the wild outdoors.

With camping, Mom now had the beauty of nature in which to feed the family, do the dishes, pick things up, and take care of the kids. Similarly, Dad could set up the tent and go straight to reading the newspaper to the sound of bucolic bees and whippoorwill. It was beautiful to watch both my parents unwind in the out-of-doors, particularly Mom, who got away from unnecessary modern conveniences like pillows, clothes washers, chairs with backs, and flush toilets to become one with our forefather’s bygone days of outhouse living.

Dad was a natural in the outdoors with his talent for knowing just how to erect the two-hundred-twenty pound quarter-inch-thick canvas army-style six-man box tent that when fully constructed looked strikingly like a cinder block.
And I noticed how Mom brought the same cooking skills with her from home to the campsite. At dinner Friday night, her meals cooked over the Coleman camp stove were as brittle and overdone as ones charred on our electric range at home. I picked at my food, trying to separate the blackened parts from areas that still retained some semblance of color.

To truly scar my first camping experience, I discovered I was a high maintenance sleeper who repelled a sleeping bag at night – I actually woke up Saturday morning bound by rope. What? Maybe I did wiggle a bit, but rope? I was too sleepy to remember this rodeo, but come daylight, the memory of Dad sloughing it off by saying it was all part of roughing it in the wild rang a little hollow.

Then, after Saturday night’s dinner of Mom’s Crow’s Nest special of very baked beans and scorched franks, I filled up on real food – Jiffy Pop. It was not only satisfying, but shaking the aluminum encased platter of corn kernels over an open flame was a metaphysical experience for me. By ten o’clock, I was still there, igniting everything short of the picnic table. Eventually, with all wood articles incinerated, I burned wax, Play-Doh, foil and anything I could get my hands on, all as if I could burn my varied anxieties away.

Sunday morning, loosening myself from rope once more, I heard raindrops hit the tent roof. Scrambling to get out of the tent as fast as I could, I saw how the entire campsite had been protected from soggy wetness by a huge tarp that completely covered it.

Hallelujah. I knew Dad had to be good for something someday.

As the rain fell harder, the tarp began to leak. Drops of water plopped into the bowl of milk that had already drenched my cornflake breakfast. Everyone ate, but no one talked. Just plop, plop, dink, plop, plop.

When my sister, Cathy, couldn’t take the silence anymore, she turned on her transistor radio. As Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” screamed out, Mom frantically spun the dial for relief, finding the only other audible, stable voice – the local weatherman.

“The National Weather Service has just announced a severe weather bulletin for Thurmont and the surrounding area…. ”

Mom flipped off the radio and, along with Dad, decided it was time we pack up all of our belongings into the Plymouth and head home.

During the long, lackluster drive back, I reminisced the weekend experience.

Camping wasn’t fun. I hated rain. I hated commodes. And I hated our tent, the biggest six ring circus on Earth. Not only was there my rope fiasco, but the tent had been too small for everyone’s sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, and clothes left strewn all over the musty floor. The only thing that was remarkable about the weekend was how each of us tiptoed through every one of these articles and managed to never touch them or another Andberg for two entire days.

I felt an inexplicable but strong urge to strike back, as if to swing in the air at everything but hit nothing. That’s because there was nothing solid to hit. Everything lurked somewhere below the surface in my world. In venturing out into the wilds of dangerous woodland with basically only tents, flashlights and Jiffy Pop, I’d been afraid of change. As it turned out, camping wasn’t any different than being at home. In fact, the saddest thing of all was that there was no change.

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Reading as a Four Letter Word

Quote of the day:  It is better to understand little than to misunderstand a lot. –– A. France

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Well, here I am, at age one, and I already look bewildered. No wonder. There’s a book in my lap.

My left arm is twitching now. My eyes are glazed, and my hair’s curling. I don’t like all the grey lines I see stacked up on this page. What happened to the happy-go-lucky deer and the pretty forest I enjoyed on the previous page? And why do I get the sneaking suspicion there’s going to be a test soon on the information buried inside all these greys lines that Mom calls words?

This sums up what my reading experience has been like as a sluggish reader. Information goes in slowly and leaves quickly. No wonder I majored in art at college. Of course, I learned there was no such thing as college without reading, only the school of hard knocks if I didn’t buckle down and read my assignments. And when I say buckled down, I mean strapped to a chair to get through things like my 300 page Sociology 101 textbook.

Fortunately, after several decades, I’ve learned the greater purpose for words in my life: words need to go out of me, not in. Reading is too much information at once. What stress. Writing, on the other hand, feels right, a process in which I can work with words at my own pace. Writing – yes, writing.

My struggle with reading has been such a big part of my life that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my memoir, Maybe Boomer. If you buy the book (when it becomes published), I invite you to dig into that chapter, that is, if you enjoy reading. If you can’t wait for the book to be published (like me), read the opening to Chapter 6, “Reading” now. That chapter may remind you of your own struggles with reading. So, please, chime in with your own account.

It always helps to know you’re not the only one.

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Remember This? Travel – Corvair Style

 

What a hunk of nostalgia these cars were.

When the sleek Chevy Corvair first hit the 60s’ roadways, I thought it was cool. It was a far better car than some of the other wrecks around at the time, such as the Studebaker Lark and Rambler American. Like the spiffy new Mustang and Corvette introduced recently, would I like Corvairs as much?

The only Corvair I saw around our Silver Spring, Maryland, neighborhood was driven by the mother of a girl from my sixth grade class I had a big crush on. This little excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer (Chapter 10, “Girls”), explains it:

Then Mary came along in sixth grade. She was one of the first to present breasts in our class, although they were always difficult to corroborate with falsies so prevalent at this age. I really liked her, but she was one of those girls who did everything with her mother. What good was showing off a nice bust after school if your mother was always there? Maybe Mary didn’t like her breasts. Did I want a girl like that? The only thing she ever flaunted was the new, chocolate milk-colored Chevy Corvair her mother chauffeured her around in.

Of course, after I was eventually dumped by Mary, I knew I hated all Corvairs everywhere.

But I got the last laugh only five years later when Corvairs filled landfills across the country. Were Corvairs really that bad a car to travel in?

 

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