Category Archives: nostalgia

Wisdom From a Writer’s Life

Don’t get too excited.  I searched every box, trunk, bag of tricks, safe, closet, and jelly bean jar that I have in my rusty old memory.  I didn’t find much.  In fact, the old saying is rather applicable, “The beginning of wisdom is recognizing just how much of a fool you really are.”  The little pile of bottle caps and marshmallows that represent the sum total of my wisdom is infinitely tiny compared to the vast universe of things I will never know and never understand.  I am a fool.  I probably have no more wisdom than you do.  But I have a different point of view.  It comes from years worth of turning my ideas inside out, of wearing my mental underwear on the outside of my mental pants just to get a laugh, of stringing images and stupid-headed notions together in long pointless strings like this one.

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Mason City, Iowa… where I was born.  River City in the musical “The Music Man“.

One thing I can say with certainty, nothing makes you understand “home”, the place you grew up in and think of as where you come from, better than leaving it and going somewhere else.  Federal Avenue in Mason City looks nothing now like it did when I was a boy in the 1960’s going shopping downtown and spending hours in department stores waiting for the ten minutes at the end in the toy section you were promised for being good.  You have to look at the places and people of your youth through the lenses of history and distance and context and knowing now what you didn’t know then.

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Grandpa Aldrich’s farm in Iowa is now Mom and Dad’s house.  It has been in the family for over 100 years, a Century Farm.

The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  If I look back at the arc of my life, growing up in Iowa with crazy story-telling skills inherited from Grandpa Aldrich, to going to Iowa State “Cow College” and studying English, to going to University of Iowa for a remedial teaching degree because English majors can’t get jobs reading books, to teaching in distant South Texas more than a thousand miles away, to learning all the classroom cuss words in Spanish the hard way, by being called that, to moving to Dallas/Fort Worth to get fired from one teaching job and taking another that involved teaching English to non-English speakers, to retiring and spending time writing foolish reflections like this one because I am old and mostly home-bound with ill health.  I have come a long way from childhood to second childhood.

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If “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is really true, I should be Superman now.  I look like I’ve seen a lot of Kryptonite, don’t I?

Six incurable diseases and being a cancer survivor since 1983 have left their marks upon me.  Literally.  Little pink bleedy spots all over me are the mark of psoriasis.  The fuzzy-bad photo of me spares you some of the gory details.  The point is, I guess, that life is both fleeting and fragile.  If you never stop and think about what it all means then you are a fool.  If you don’t try to understand it in terms of sentences and paragraphs with main ideas, you are an even bigger fool.  You must write down the fruit of your examinations and ruminations.  But if you reach a point that you are actually satisfied that you know what it all means, that makes you the biggest fool of all.

If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;

  • Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom.  So take some time to write about what you know.
  • Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand.  Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
  • Writing is worth doing.  Everyone should do it.  Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
  • You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible.  You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff.  And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
  • The stuff you write can outlive you.  So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can.  Someone may love you for it.  And you can never be sure who that someone will be.

So by now you are probably wondering, where is all that wisdom he promised us in the title?  Look around carefully in this essay.  If you don’t see it there, then you are probably right in thinking, just as I warned you about at the outset, “Gosh darn that Mickey!  He is a really big fool.”

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Filed under autobiography, education, empathy, goofy thoughts, humor, nostalgia, photo paffoonies, psoriasis, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom, writing, writing teacher

Rescuing Rolling Stock

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Welcome to Toonerville’s Mountain Station atop lovely, snowy Church Mountain.  The Snowball Express is just pulling out.

I believe I may have mentioned in recent posts that part of the joy of cleaning the garage after a long illness left it in a nightmare shambles of boxes and old toys and stuff we really need to throw out, is that I found the boxes with the remnants of my old HO model train layout.  Now I am busy rescuing, repairing, and photographing the pieces of Toonerville that I have dug out of the trash piles.

In the picture from Mountain Station, you see the billboard boxcar and the old caboose I managed to pluck out of one of the boxes that heavy stuff had been tossed on top of.

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Smokey Joe, the engine number 99, is pulling the 1890’s Pullman passenger car and mail car that will soon pull into Mountain Station.

The two Pullman train cars that I rescued from the same box as the billboard boxcar are both built from kits back when I was in college and had my train set in the basement at home in Iowa.

You may have noticed the mysterious mansion up the mountainside from the Methodist Church that gives the mountain its name.  No one knows for sure what the two weird, big-nosed men currently living up there are up to, but lately there has been a lot of barking filling the air.  The lights are on in the mansion currently.  Maybe someone brave should go up there and investigate.

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Here’s a better look at the side of the Pullman Passenger car as it zooms past the church.

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The Super Chief is pulling its passenger observation car and its gondola car toward the station also.  Santa Fe’s finest passenger service also goes fast.

I bought the Super Chief engine at a train show in San Antonio in the middle 90’s.  The passenger cars I have had since I was in high school, circa 1974.

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The F-9 diesel freight hauler is pulling a lumber car and the old caboose.

The blue F-9 is the same kind of engine as the Super Chief.  It was originally part of the set my father bought for himself when he retired.  He intended to build a layout in the basement at the farmhouse when he moved back to Iowa.  He finally gave it up, though, and gave it to my sons and me as a gift.  I found it in the box in the garage.  It looks like it probably still runs.  The Union Carbide lumber car was on the back porch in the mess left behind when my father-in-law’s house burned down and he piled the salvaged stuff there.  It was in a box with old salvaged kitchen goods that managed not to burn.  It still needs serious cleaning.  My caboose is missing its back wheels and the trucks the wheels ride on is broken.

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Cruella DeVille’s roadster was spotted near the mysterious old mansion.  It is very possible something bad is going on up there.  

Of all the many things I have to get done before I schlepp off this mortal coil stage right, rescuing my HO rolling stock is probably not the most important, but it is definitely one of the most satisfying.

 

 

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Filed under autobiography, cleaning genii, healing, humor, nostalgia, photo paffoonies, playing with toys, Trains

Flashbacks and Foobah… the 60’s

Yep… Ed Sullivan introducing the Beatles… Neil Armstrong placing one small step for man onto the surface of the moon… Laugh-In making “Sock-it-to-me” jokes… JFK… LBJ… Nixon going away…Viet Nam…  Good gawd!  I reminded myself that the 60’s happened yesterday… Yes, the 60’s happened yesterday… And I remember what happened.  I was there.  Four-year-old me to fourteen-year-old me… And it looked like this;

 

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I remember Monkees from the 60’s… Lots and lots of monkeys.

And black-and-white TV… and Red Skelton on Wednesday nights… and civil rights marches… and larches… and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis… and Sherry Lewis with Lambchop… and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie… and Lawrence Welk on Saturday night… and Halloween parties with costume contests at the fire station on Main Street… And the 1957 pink-and-white Mercury of Imagination.

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I know that isn’t even 200 words… but this could go on forever if I let it.  I was a boy in the 60’s… and that is something not even God can take away from me.

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Filed under autobiography, humor, nostalgia

Midnight Monster Movies

I slept in this morning.  Spent another late night doing nothing but watching monster movies.  I recently got myself a DVD collection of Hammer Films monster movies from the sixties.  I found it in the $5 bargain bin at Walmart, a place I regularly shop for movies.

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When I was a boy, back in the 60’s, there always used to be a midnight monster movie feature called Gravesend Manor on Channel 5, WOI TV in Ames, Iowa.  It started at 11:00 pm and ran til 1:00 am.  I, of course, being a weird little monster-obsessed kid, would sneak downstairs in my PJ’s when everyone else was asleep and I would laugh at the antics of the goofy butler, possibly gay vampire duke, and the other guy who was supposedly made in the master’s laboratory.  And when the movie started, I was often scared witless by the black-and-white monster B-movie like Scream of Fear!, or Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, or Eyes of the Gorgon.  It was always the reason I could rarely get up in time for church and Sunday school the next morning without complaints and bleary-eyed stumbling through breakfast.  I never knew if my parents figured it out or not, but they probably did and were just too tired to care.

It was my source for critical monster-knowledge that would aid me greatly when I grew up to be a fireman/cowboy hero.  Because battling monsters was… you know, a hero prerequisite.  And I intended to be the greatest one there ever was.  Even better than Wyatt Earp or Sherlock Holmes or Jungle Jim.

Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and the immortal Christopher Lee were my tutors in the ways of combating the darkness.  When I started watching a really creepy monster movie, I always had to stick it out to the end to see the monster defeated and the pretty girl saved.  And they didn’t always end in ways that allowed me to sleep soundly after Gravesend Manor had signed off the airways for the night.  Some movies were tragedies.  Sometimes the hero didn’t win.  Sometimes it was really more of a romance than a monster movie, and the monster was the one you were rooting for by the end.  I remember how the original Mighty Joe Young made me cry.  And sometimes you had to contemplate more than tragedy.  You had to face the facts of death… sometimes grisly, painful, and filled with fear.  You had to walk in the shoes of that luckless victim who never looked over his shoulder at the right moment, or walked down the wrong dark alley, or opened the wrong door.  The future was filled with terrifying possibilities.

Now, at the end of a long life, when I am supposed to be more mature and sensible, I find myself watching midnight monster movies again.  What’s wrong with me?  Am in my second childhood already?  Am I just a goofy old coot with limited decision-making capabilities?  Of course I am.  And I intend to enjoy every horrifying moment of it.

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Filed under autobiography, foolishness, horror movie, humor, monsters, nostalgia

A Pair of Pertwees

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When I was a teenager in high school, PBS began running episodes of the BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who.  And back then, the show had already gone through two doctors before I ever saw it.  So the first Dr. Who Doctor for me was Jon Pertwee.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the whole idea of Doctor Who, a time-travelling fixer of plot holes in history who goes about appropriating young women as companions and travelling through time and space and other dimensions by using a T.A.R.D.I.S. that manipulates “timey-wimey stuff”, I am afraid there is no hope for you here.  I am a Whovian and am not inclined to be a chief explainer  of all things Whovian to basically non-Whovians, and especially not never-will-be-Whovians.

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I was in college already by the time Jon Pertwee was no longer Dr. Who.  And though I also loved Tom Baker as the Doctor, I was forever caught by the heart with the first Doctor I watched and will forever hold in my heart the notion that Pertwee is the real Doctor.

And he was a gifted comedic actor that had a long career stretching back to Vaudeville and would also come to be identified with British comedies like Worzel Gummidge.

He had a prehensile face, capable of many comic contortions, and an ability with voices and characterizations that made you think “multiple personality disorder”.

Jon left us in 1996, but he has had a new life for me through his son, Sean Pertwee.  His little boy is practically a clone, though as far as I can tell, a very serious clone.  The comic DNA was apparently forgotten on the laboratory shelf.

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Sean Pertwee is now playing the ninja butler in the pre-Batman show on Fox called Gotham.  He has stepped into the role of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and it’s like having my first Doctor back again.

Now, I admit that this post is mostly just fan-gush about people and characters that are mostly forgotten now.  But Jon Pertwee lives on in me.  I saw him play the Doctor back when some things in life could still be absolutely perfect just as they were.

 

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Filed under artists I admire, characters, comedians, Dr. Who, humor, nostalgia, review of television

The 1957 Pink and White Mercury of Imagination

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Yes, she was a real car.  My dad bought her in the 60’s as a used car.  But she was a hardtop, not a convertible.  She was the car he drove to work every day in Belmond.  We called it the “Pink and White Pumpkin”, my sisters and I, referring to the pumpkin in Cinderella which the fairy godmother changes into a coach.  But it would only later become the car of my dreams.

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You see, she was killed in the Belmond Tornado of 1966.  Her windows were all broken out and her frame was twisted.  So the pictures of her, though they look exactly like my memories of her, minus the rust spots, are not actual pictures of the car in question.  Our next door neighbor, Stan the Truck Man, was a mechanic always on the lookout for salvage parts.  He took her apart piece by piece while she sat in our driveway.  We continued to sit in her and play in her until all that was left was the bare frame.  My friend Werner told me for the first time about the facts of life and where babies really came from in the back seat while she was being gradually dismantled.  Of course, I was nine at the time and didn’t really believe him.  How could that grossness actually be true?

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But she still lives, that old dream car…  She is the reason that I objectify my imagination as a ship with pink sails.  My daydreams, my creative fantasies, and those long, lingering plays in the theater of my imagination as I am drifting off to sleep all start in the three-masted sailing ship with pink sails.  And that dream image was born from the Pink and White Pumpkin.  I have sailed in her to many an exotic place… even other planets.  And when I die, she will take me home again.

 

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Filed under goofiness, humor, imagination, nostalgia, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, telling lies

Growing the Gallery

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My bedroom walls serve as a gallery of my Paffooney artwork.

I have been collecting pieces of colored-pencil Paffoonery for a very long time now.  I am a life-long scribbler and doodler.  You are bound to build up an ocean of old drawings that you could easily drown in if you live that way long enough.  I recently found a few more in an old scrapbook I had squirreled away in the library between cartoon books.

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These are all drawings I did for my three kids when they were little.  I suppose that gives them sentimental value.  They are all imitations of copyrighted characters.  But I am not selling them.  I haven’t actually stolen anybody’s intellectual property yet.  But it makes a good filler post as I continue to rest and work on other things.

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Filed under artwork, blog posting, humor, nostalgia, old art, Paffooney