Category Archives: nostalgia

Seasons of the Heart

My novel Snow Babies is free to own from Amazon in ebook form this weekend. The link is at the end of this essay.

My mother passed away at the end of September this year. My father succumbed to Parkinson’s on my birthday in November of 2020. Because my wife is a Jehovah’s Witness, we haven’t celebrated Christmas as a family since 1995. I am not going with my wife and daughter on the Hawaii Trip they are taking with my wife’s sisters and their kids over the current holiday break. So, I guess you could argue a little bit of depression would not be abnormal if it set in.

But that’s not where my head is at.

I will be spending the holiday at home with the Sorcerer Eli Tragedy and his apprentices Bob and Mickey.the wererat. I have a new laptop that I am trying to learn how to use even though Chromebook doesn’t use Windows 10 and it is like trying to make the computer dance even though I apparently have to learn Mandarin Chinese to do it. I am attempting to use both the new and the old computers to try and write this essay.

If you didn’t understand that last paragraph at all, well. that’s probably because you didn’t remember I am a novelist, and Eli Tragedy’s home is in the novel I am writing, The Necromancer’s Apprentice.

Writing takes me away from the current holiday situation. In fact, it takes me away from reality.

A Butterfly-Child Fairy

The main characters in my novel are three inches tall or shorter. All of them. And they live in a castle built inside a willow tree.

Yes, a fairy tale full of magic and the battle between good and evil, love and hatred.

And Eli Tragedy is a practical old elf who teaches magic by being as pragmatic as a sorcerer with no magical power of his own can possibly be. Sorta the way my own father taught me his practical-farmer’s-son work ethic. He taught me to paint the house, re-shingle the roof after a tornado, change the oil in the car, repair a broken toilet, and anything else that might come up. He was good with his hands and excellent at problem-solving.

And my mother was always the master of Christmas magic. She was the one who organized the decoration of the Christmas tree. And even more important, she was in charge of all the holiday meal-planning and cooking. That is certainly the most important magical ability you can have at this time of year.

I have to admit, I had to stop and cry a little bit twice during the writing of this essay. But it is not a sad essay. I have Thanksgiving and Christmas memories that span from 1960 (the first ones I can remember) to 1995. And you carry more than just holiday spirit and Christmas cheer along with you in memories through the years. In those memories, not just my mother and father are still alive. Granpa and Grandma Beyer would still be alive along with Great Grandpa Raymond celebrating at their house in Mason City with the bubble lights on the tree and the carved wooden Santa that Uncle Skip had made in the 1940s with a pockte knife.

At Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm, not only are both of my grandparents putting food on the table, with turkey and ham balls, sweet potatoes baked with marshmellows, multiple bowls of mashed potatoes, and crates of apples and oranges for all the families, but Uncle Larry is still alive and cracking jokes in the kitchen. Aunt Ruth (Grandma Aldrich’s sister) and Uncle Dell (her husband) are holding court in the living room on the couch, Uncle Dell managing to complain about everything, especially the many kids (all of whom were me and my cousins) and how he didn’t like kids (although he loved to tell us stories about life in DesMoines after we grew up a bit and were closer to being adults.) And Karen (whom we just lost to Covid) is there listening, probably more to Uncle Larry’s jokes than Uncle Dell’s complaints.

They are all gone now. But not really gone. They live in me. Just as, one day, I will live in the memories of those who knew and loved me. And I will not be alone this Christmas. Not really alone. Not as long as I can remember.

This is the book that’s free this weekend. Click the link. Get a copy. There’s more actual Christmas story in this book than the one I will be writing this Christmas.

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Filed under Celebration, humor, magic, nostalgia, novel plans, novel writing, Paffooney

Don’t Think Too Much

These days my head works overtime, filling itself up with memories, fears, complicated notions, and problems that need to be solved.

Today I need to uncomplicate the clutter in the entryway to the thinking room (what you might call a study) in the quaint little labyrinth of my stupidly dense and moronic, overworked little mind.

Today I am simply going to re-compose my 1965 letter to Santa to ask for things I should’ve wanted, rather than the junk I asked for.

Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots! Yes! Those would help me relieve that 9-year-old’s stress I earned by a foolish insistance on spelling words the way they sounded instead of the way that would get it right on Miss Mennenga’s spelling tests.

Punching things more might’ve made it easier to cope with a 9-year-old life.

But there are things in the 1965 Monkey Ward’s Christmas Catalog I saw, and maybe would’ve played with more than the G.I. Joe junk I was obsessed with, and would’ve been better for me in the long run. The rubber G.I. Joe scuba suit I got that Christmas melted a couple of years later in the box I was keeping it in when I left it on the back window ledge of the 1961 Ford Fairlane. I could’ve tried…

Gumby, dammit!

He wouldn’t have melted. He would’ve simply galvanized into a brick-hard substance that would never bend again, the way my little sister’s red Gumby did a couple of years later. Maybe a brick hard green Gumby couldn’t have been played with either. But it would’ve been useful for throwing at sisters when I was mad.

And I could’ve gotten my own Barbie and Ken.

Then I wouldn’t have had to borrow my sister’s dolls to look at them naked and marvel at how much they didn’t look like real people naked. Or practice making hangmen’s nooses from bright-colored yarn, sentence them to hang by the neck from the bottom rails of the upper bunk, and blame it all on my little brother. (Really he should get all the credit anyway, since he and my littlest sister actually got caught doing it the first time by my other sister, and I just stole the whole idea from him.)

I definitely could’ve learned more about the world of 3-D cartoon characters if I’d gotten one of these. In fact, we, the four of us kids, did get one two Christmases later. I know a heckuva lot about 3-D Woody Woodpecker, looking at those six discs a thousand times each.

And building toys like these kept us fascinated for hours.

And we argued for hours more whenever Mickey built a helicopter or a submarine or a windmill that he didn’t want the other three to take apart again to build something else.

This thing was great at teaching patience and focus. You wouldn’t believe how easily the pen would slip, or the little gear teeth wouldn’t mesh properly. The few bad words I actually knew in 1967 got practiced too often for these very reasons. It would be two more years in the future that we got one of these to share too.

In 1965, Dear Santa, you should’ve thought more about how to train an evil little mind than how to make a little G.I. Joe-obsessed boy happy.

Although, you sure did get it right in 1966 with that Mercury Capsule for G.I. Joe.

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Filed under autobiography, nostalgia, oldies, playing with toys

Aunt Minnie’s Love Seat

This is a story about an innocuous piece of furniture in Great Aunt Minnie Efram’s house.  It was a little brown loveseat with carved wooden monster feet.

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As the story begins, the little loveseat was sitting in the parlor in front of the small black and white television.  During the monthly Efram family card party, the love seat was the only place for the two of them to spend the evening.  But he was ten and he hated girls.  He had a reputation with the guys at school as a girl hater, and he couldn’t have it known that he was sitting on a loveseat with Uncle Henry’s stepdaughter, the one the guys all said they had seen eating her own boogers.

She was also ten, and in his class at school.  She liked to watch him more than any of the other boys.  But she didn’t know why.  She liked unicorns and the color pink, but she also kinda liked the way boys looked at her when she wore shorts.  And she liked seeing him in PE class at school, wearing shorts.  He was athletic and often won games in PE.

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After two years of monthly card parties happening during at least three different months every year at Aunt Minnie’s place, he had discovered that girls didn’t actually smell bad, and this one actually listened when he talked about playing football, and how it made him feel when he scored the seventy-five-yard touchdown.  In fact, the more he talked about football, and the closer they sat to each other, the better she seemed to smell.  He liked that smell.

She liked that he didn’t only pay attention to her at the card parties anymore.  He actually said, “Hi” in public.  And she liked his smile, even when he got braces.  He let her pick the shows they watched on the old black and white television while seated on the loveseat.  She actually worked up the nerve to tell him that she had told Jane at school to ask him if he liked her, and stupid Jane had completely forgotten to ask him, or maybe Jane was just too chicken to ask him and used the excuse that she forgot.

He said that if she liked him, he liked her.  But if she didn’t, he didn’t either.  “Like” her, he meant.  Which he did because she did.

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After two more years and six more card parties worth of scootching behinds closer together on the old loveseat, something different had happened.  And it was about time too.  Aunt Minnie had bought a puppy, and that not only was a bad thing for the seven cats that lived with old Minnie, but it was hard on the loveseat too.  One of the little couch’s monster feet was lost, and the numerous instances of terrified cat claws digging in were beginning to have an effect on the upholstery.  And that danged dog wizzled everywhere.  The loveseat had one purpose in life, and it didn’t want to give in to wear and tear before achieving that purpose.

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But the very next year brought disaster.  He apparently told the members of the freshman football team that something had happened on that old love seat that really hadn’t happened.  The football team was impressed because they all thought she was pretty hot stuff, and he was generally thought of as a lame-o dweeb.  She heard about it from Jane who heard about it from Nanette’s boyfriend who was on the team.  And she got mad.  How dare he say something like that when it wasn’t true?

In January of that year, Aunt Minnie passed away in her sleep.  The loveseat was sold at auction to a farmer who liked to do re-upholstery as a hobby.  It got re-done in red velvet and leather with wheels replacing the wooden monster feet and sold to a car dealer in Des Moines who placed it in the lobby show-room for customers to sit on.

But the story has a happy ending.  She would later make his locker room lie into the truth on Prom Night (fortunately with protection) and then went on to marry him when they both were sophomores in college.   Of course, it wasn’t always, “They lived happily ever after,” because they didn’t.  They got divorced once and got re-married shortly after… to each other.  They had three kids.  And the loveseat didn’t ever learn any of that.  Because it was a loveseat.  You didn’t really think loveseats could know anything, did you?

 

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Filed under finding love, goofy thoughts, humor, nostalgia, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Reflections from 1964

In 1964 I was 7 years old until November. I became a baseball fan that year. I had listened to baseball games on the radio with Great Grandpa Raymond before that year, but that had always been Twins’ games in the American League. But that was the year I discovered the St. Louis Cardinals. I followed them in the newspaper, the Mason City Globe Gazette. They had lost the greatest hitter in their history to that point, Stan Musial having retired when the 1963 season ended. But he was replaced in left field by Lou Brock, the hit-making base-stealing boy wonder of 1964. They went from near the bottom of the National League to edging out the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds by one game each (they were tied for second) at the very end of the season.

The World Series pitted the Cardinals against the mighty New York Yankees. Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were the stars of that team and had won five World Series in a row a decade before. It was a fantastic battle that the Cardinals finally won 7 to 5 in the seventh and final game in St. Louis. Bob Gibson was a deciding factor and won Series MVP. I would become a life-long Cardinals fan.

And I lost my Grandpa Beyer. He went to work one day, driving a road grader and his heart simply stopped working. It was the first time I lost a major somebody in my life.

In 1962 I had spotted the bright pinprick in the sky that was John Glenn orbiting the earth in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. My mother and father helped me spot it from our back yard in Rowan, Iowa.

In 1964, therefore, I began to take a serious interest in outer space as the Mercury program transformed into the Gemini program that was testing procedures in space for eventual Apollo moon missions.

I was in the Second Grade in 1964. Miss Madison was my teacher. She was as old as my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich. She got mad at me at least three times that I can remember. I mean, I know that there were more than that, but there were three times I made her so mad with a joke that she memorably made me feel the wrath that teachers reserve for classroom clowns.

Steve Kaufman “The Beatles Debut on Ed Sullivan 1964” 

The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan in February. My Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich told me that the Beatles must’ve been confused about whether they were boys or girls to have haircuts like that. And those were the bowl-cuts they had before the wild-hair days of the later Sixties. All the boys in my class had either a butch cut or a flat-top. Hair styles for boys back then meant not really having any hair.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was president. He had been since the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

In July LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, abolishing segregation.

In August, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (since revealed to be a proven false-flag operation) leads to the Vietnam War.

The “Daisy” campaign ad for LBJ, showing a little girl picking flowers and then being blown up by an atom bomb, convinces my dad that Barry Goldwater is a dangerous radical, and he votes for LBJ even though he is not a conservative or a Republican.

LBJ is elected President of the United States in 1964.

Later that November, I turned eight years old.

1964 was a notable year for me. Even if it wasn’t for Barry Goldwater.

In the picture that starts this post, I am 8. Nancy is 6, holding on to little brother David at 2. Mary is 4. We are all in our Sunday best on Easter Sunday morning.

Why am I writing about 1964 today?

My mother is in hospice at 87 years old. She is dying of heart failure. And today, I and my two younger children got to talk to her by phone. The light and hope we have today is colored by the hope and light we had in the past. Such is the nature of having a family over time.

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Filed under autobiography, baseball, commentary, humor, nostalgia

Chuckles and Tears

Looking at old photos from another century that were in Mom’s photo box was an unexpected kick in the feels. You know how photos were back then, more than a half century ago, mostly birthday parties, Christmas, and Summer vacations taken on an old Browning box camera with Kodak film.

……….. …………….. …………………………………………………………………. ………….

This photo makes me chuckle. It was an unwritten rule. Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Construction Sets…. Dad got to play with them first. We always had to build the picture on the box or tube first before I could chew on or lose any of the critical pieces.

Birthday parties were always in pairs. Every child shared the party with cousins born that month. Diane (in the high chair) and I both celebrated in the November party. Nancy. in front, appears to be ready to toss the cake on the floor. I don’t believe she was trying to get even for anything I did during her September party… at least nothing I will admit to here.

Here’s a triple portrait from when there were only three of us. Nancy, Mary (the littlest one) and Me. No David then. But a 60’s space-age design on the curtains.

Mary was one of the triplets all born the same year. Jeanette and Janice were our twin cousins. The three of them celebrated their birthdays together.

Here is the situation the stork dropped down the chimney when I was eight. David was my little brother that is now taller than me, and he weighs more too.

Three of us on Halloween. We were very scary. Especially the evil little demon dressed like a princess. My kids like to make fun of this picture.

Here’s the one that made me cry. Patty was the second cousin whom the Berillas (On my mother’s side of the family) put in charge of me when we went all the way to Cleveland to visit. She was three years older than me, and she kept me out of trouble when we visited the Cleveland Zoo. As we were looking at these pictures, Mom told me that Patty came out of retirement last winter to work as a nurse again during the pandemic nursing shortage. For her trouble, she contracted Covid and died in December. I’m devastated still.

And here’s the last one for today (though not the last one I copied to share with my poor phone-camera skills.)

This is not the Cleveland Zoo. This is the Deer Farm Zoo in Mason City, Iowa. We could feed the deer by hand then with corn and little green “deer-food” pellets. There are still deer in East Park in Mason City half a century later. But they are fended off from people now. They still don’t bite… the deer, I mean. But they have to be out of the reach of people now so they don’t get hurt or get fed something that will kill them (even if it is considered food by crazy people.)

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Filed under autobiography, nostalgia, photos

Drawing from the Past

It is almost impossible to accurately draw from the future. One of the tests of good science fiction is how much of it finds its way into reality over time.

Computers and communicators and scanners and material printers are doing things daily now that were predicted as fantastical possibilities in the Star Trek episodes of the 1960’s.

Jules Verne’s novels predicted men walking on the moon and the existence of nuclear submarines patrolling the depths of the sea.

George Orwell predicted even worse things when it comes to government electronic surveillance and governmental control of everything they can take control of.

But it has never really been the future that my writing, as a fantasist/surrealist, has been about.

All of my writing is set either before the year 2000, or 3000 years in the future in the 51st Century and beyond. And all of the science fiction involved is really more about the past than it is even about the present. These drawings of the Civil War bugle boy and the Shakespearian portrait of Prospero, Ferdinand, and Miranda, were all drawn from either photos or paintings or woodcut prints from the distant past.

In my writing I don’t try to predict the future. I write about people who are basically the same now as they were in the 16th Century. In truth, only the costumes, props, and stage technology change over time. The actors in the great performance always play the same basic characters.

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Filed under irony, nostalgia, old art, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism

The Lovely Lennon Sisters

Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived on the family farm outside of town, a little more than two miles from the tiny farm town of Rowan, Iowa.  I walked it more than once.  It was faster to walk the railroad tracks between the two places.  About a mile and three quarters as the crow flies… three hours as the boy investigates the critters in the weeds, throws rocks at dragonflies, and listens to the birdsong along the way.  But the point is, my maternal grandparents lived close enough to have a profound influence on my young life.  Much of what they loved became what I love.  And every Saturday night, they loved to watch the Lawrence Welk Show.  And that show had highlights that we longed to see again and again… on a show that never really went into reruns.  We lived to see Jo Ann Castle play the old rinky-tink piano, Bobby and Cissy doing a dance routine, and most of all… the lovely Lennon Sisters.

I always wanted to be the things they wished me to be in the song “May You Always”.  I wanted to “walk in sunshine” and “live with laughter”.  They presented a world of possibilities all clean and good and wholesome.  As a young boy who hated girls, I had a secret crush on Janet Lennon who was the youngest, though a decade older than me, and on Peggy Lennon, the one with the exotic Asian eyes.  They sang to me and spoke directly to my heart.

You have to believe in something when you are young.  The world can present you with so many dark and hurtful experiences, that you simply have to have something to hang onto and keep you from being blighted and crippled by the pain.  For me, it often came in the form of a lovely and simple lyric sung by the lovely Lennon Sisters.  When you are faced with hard choices… especially in those dark moments when you think about ending it all because it is all just too much to bear, the things stored in those special pockets of your heart are the only things that can save you.  For me, one of those things will always be the music of the Lennon Sisters… especially when watched on the old black and white TV in the farmhouse where my grandparents lived, and helped to raise me, every Saturday night in the 1960’s.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, battling depression, Celebration, humor, inspiration, nostalgia, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV review

So Little Time

This picture of my two sons was drawn in 1981, almost fifteen years before the oldest boy was born. How did I know that I would have two boys before I ever met or even heard of my wife? How did I get it right that the older boy would be almost exactly four years older than the younger one? Pure coincidence, if your cherished religious beliefs allow you to believe in that. Personally I think that the dream that inspired this picture was proof of the ability of a dreamer to dream outside the boundaries of physical time. After all, time is merely a measure of matter traveling through space, is it not? If you nullify the effects of distance, all time becomes one time. You know, timey-wimey stuff.

Amazingly, this photo was taken fifteen years ago. From left to right, ages 3, 6, and 10. The Princess, Henry, and Dorin (though not their real names, their fictional names.)

Hard to believe it is now 18, 21, and 25.

Where does time go?

When did I get so old?

In 1965, the year I recently rewrote my Christmas list for, I was nine.

The world was all black and white back then. At least, that’s what all the photos taken with the old Browning box camera showed.

My mother and father were married in January of 1956. My parents were both children during World War II.

My maternal grandfather, Grandpa Aldrich, was born in 1911. The farm he lived his whole life on was established in Wright County Iowa in the 1880s.

A lot of good water has flowed under the metaphorical bridge in my 64 years of life. But where has it gone? To shores far away? Or is it still there even if the river has dried up?

Time, by its very nature, is a mystery and quite unknowable. And who is to say that all time is not one time? And all things are therefore one thing. Would my Great-Great Grandpa recognize me, and know me by name? I’ll have to ask him when I see him.

(WordPress should not have given me all these new features to wear out if they really didn’t want me to play with them. Aren’t you doing the same thing with yours?)

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Filed under family, goofy thoughts, humor, irony, nostalgia, Paffooney

Don’t Think Too Much

These days my head works overtime, filling itself up with memories, fears, complicated notions, and problems that need to be solved.

Today I need to uncomplicate the clutter in the entryway to the thinking room (what you might call a study) in the quaint little labyrinth of my stupidly dense and moronic, overworked little mind.

Today I am simply going to re-compose my 1965 letter to Santa to ask for things I should’ve wanted, rather than the junk I asked for.

Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots! Yes! Those would help me relieve that 9-year-old’s stress I earned by a foolish insistance on spelling words the way they sounded instead of the way that would get it right on Miss Mennenga’s spelling tests.

Punching things more might’ve made it easier to cope with a 9-year-old life.

But there are things in the 1965 Monkey Ward’s Christmas Catalog I saw, and maybe would’ve played with more than the G.I. Joe junk I was obsessed with, and would’ve been better for me in the long run. The rubber G.I. Joe scuba suit I got that Christmas melted a couple of years later in the box I was keeping it in when I left it on the back window ledge of the 1961 Ford Fairlane. I could’ve tried…

Gumby, dammit!

He wouldn’t have melted. He would’ve simply galvanized into a brick-hard substance that would never bend again, the way my little sister’s red Gumby did a couple of years later. Maybe a brick hard green Gumby couldn’t have been played with either. But it would’ve been useful for throwing at sisters when I was mad.

And I could’ve gotten my own Barbie and Ken.

Then I wouldn’t have had to borrow my sister’s dolls to look at them naked and marvel at how much they didn’t look like real people naked. Or practice making hangmen’s nooses from bright-colored yarn, sentence them to hang by the neck from the bottom rails of the upper bunk, and blame it all on my little brother. (Really he should get all the credit anyway, since he and my littlest sister actually got caught doing it the first time by my other sister, and I just stole the whole idea from him.)

I definitely could’ve learned more about the world of 3-D cartoon characters if I’d gotten one of these. In fact, we, the four of us kids, did get one two Christmases later. I know a heckuva lot about 3-D Woody Woodpecker, looking at those six discs a thousand times each.

And building toys like these kept us fascinated for hours.

And we argued for hours more whenever Mickey built a helicopter or a submarine or a windmill that he didn’t want the other three to take apart again to build something else.

This thing was great at teaching patience and focus. You wouldn’t believe how easily the pen would slip, or the little gear teeth wouldn’t mesh properly. The few bad words I actually knew in 1967 got practiced too often for these very reasons. It would be two more years in the future that we got one of these to share too.

In 1965, Dear Santa, you should’ve thought more about how to train an evil little mind than how to make a little G.I. Joe-obsessed boy happy.

Although, you sure did get it right in 1966 with that Mercury Capsule for G.I. Joe.

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Filed under autobiography, nostalgia, oldies, playing with toys

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