Category Archives: 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.

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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

mercury_1957_monterey_pnk_02

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?

the-lady

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

Mr. Don Knotts

Being a child of the ’60s and also being fifty percent raised by the television set, it was my privilege to witness and learn from the master comedian of self-deprecating humor and ultimate humiliation. And there is no better preparation for becoming a Texas public school teacher than to learn how to be laughed at from Don Knotts.

I have spent a goodly number of hours during our recent COVID quarantine watching old DVDs of Don Knotts movies. The last four nights I viewed, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Love God. If you have never seen them, they come with the highest of Mickian recommendations, “They made me laugh so hard I cried.”

Of course, my favorite Don Knotts movie of all time is The Incredible Mr. Limpet.

Knotts always seems to play a character put upon by life in general, yet always believing that he has the inner something to make himself into a huge success. Every time he gets knocked down he quivers with frustration and throws a punch at his tormentors that invariably hits nothing unless he hits himself. In Mr. Limpet, we find a man so frustrated in his inability to help in the war effort that he throws himself into the sea, turning himself into a fish… a fish that helps defeat German U-boats. He makes himself into a hero, He even finds love among the fishes.

Knotts found the perfect comic partner in Tim Conway as they made The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Slapstick antics and serious battles against the laws of physics somehow manage to win out over real bad guys with real guns and horses.

I guess the thing that makes Don Knotts such an important part of my television-sourced education is how much I identify with him. Life is a never-ending parade of humbling defeats and blush-inducing humiliations. I have spent most of my life being one with the little-guy within me, the put-upon fellow who has never quite overcome all the little hurts incurred by a desire to overcome the gravity holding me down.

And in a Don-Knotts world, based on a Don-Knotts movie script, things eventually turn out all right in the end. Mr. Chicken is proved right. Abner Peacock ends up marrying the beautiful girl who is the perfect one for him. The dentist who is mistaken for a gun-fighter still gets to be the hero in the end. So, there are worse things than living a Don Knotts sort of life.

Rest in peace, Don Knotts. For though you are no longer with us, you will always live on in my heart… and the hearts of many other Don Knotts wannabes.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, autobiography, comedians, education, empathy, goofiness, humor, movie review, nostalgia, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Forgetfulness

I may be suffering from the onset of… what’s that disease called? The one that makes you shake and be mentally confused about… what was I talking about? Oh, yes, I still can’t remember.

It disturbs me that I have difficulty recalling names that I used to rattle off the top of my head quite accurately when I was teaching and was a total master of all the useless trivia information in the universe.

Recently my daughter and number-one son were arguing with me about actors who played Superman. I successfully remembered TV Superman George Reeves who I watched as a pre-teen kid, and Christopher Reeve who I watched on the big screen as a college sophomore, and I even put the “s” at the end of the right one’s name. But I couldn’t remember the name of that new guy… No, not Brandon Routh from Superman Returns (apparently for only one movie), but that other new guy… from Man of Steel, and he was in the movie remake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Number-One Son finally figured out who I meant by looking it up on his smartphone. Henry Cavill! Why couldn’t I remember that guy’s name? I recently watched him in the Witcher on Netflix. Henry gol-danged Cavill!!?

But then I ponder why there are some names and details I can’t seem to forget. Dawn Wells played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. But it wasn’t the actress’s name I could never forget. It was the sight of her belly button. When the series was on television on a night that didn’t conflict with watching Batman, I watched Mary Ann’s every movement and flounce and prance and twirl, and every banana cream or coconut cream pie she ever handed to Gilligan. At the ages of ten, eleven, and twelve I was mad to see a glimpse of her actual belly button. But not for the reason you think! I insisted to all my friends at school that I did NOT LIKE GIRLS! (Even though I actually did.) It was because I didn’t know if she had one. She wore revealing clothes and even bikini two-pieces on the show, and yet, it was always covered somehow. I remember every delicious detail of my too-close-to-the-TV inspection of Dawn Wells’ acting ability in black-and-white, and later, in syndication, in color. It was clear that somebody in the TV universe didn’t want me to see it. And maybe that is precisely why I can never forget it.

But, then again, I can’t remember this guy’s name. Yes, I know, Uncle Fester from The Addams Family. I even remember the two “d’s” in Addams. And I remember that he played the Kid when he was a little kid in Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Kid.

Yes, I honestly could not remember Jackie Coogan’s name until I looked up the Chaplin movie on Wikipedia.

It really bothers me that I cannot remember some things that I used to know really well. But given time I am able to remember that it is Parkinson’s Disease that my father has and may be causing my memory losses, and that the narrator-guy in the first picture I used in this post is Ludwig Von Drake, a character voiced by legendary cartoon voice actor Paul Frees. I am getting old. And forgetful. But how was I going to end this essay? I forget.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, nostalgia

Christmas Catalogs of the 60s

They came in the mail every November in the 1960’s. Particularly important was the Monkey Ward’s catalog because there was a Montgomery Ward Catalog Store in Belmond on Main Street. Mom and Dad could order, pay for, and pick up things there, particularly Christmas and birthday gifts. The four of us; my little brother, my two younger sisters, and I would argue about who would get to look at it next for hours at a time (the catalog, not the store… although the man who ran the store sold tropical fish in the back, so I could look at that for hours).

I, of course, dog-eared different pages than my sisters Nancy and Mary did. And David was eight years younger than me and was into baby toys, blocks, and books.

Nancy owned the three on the left.
I was nutty about model trains… and so was Dad.

I am amazed at how cheap things were back then compared to now. Of course, things were more easily destroyed because of the cheaper plastics and simpler ingredients and materials common in the 1960’s. So, it is truly amazing how many of those toys I still have. And how many survived me only to be destroyed by my own children.

And it often wasn’t enough to look at just the Monkey Ward’s catalog. (Grandpa Aldrich always called it “Monkey” instead of “Montgomery”, a pretty standard old-farmer joke in the 60’s). Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich always got a copy of the Sears catalog. And we would pour over that to find treasures that Monkey Ward’s didn’t have. That was inconvenient for Mom and Dad. The nearest Sears store was in Mason City, 50 miles northeast.

I was 10 years old in ’66.
Mary Poppins was a 60’s Disney hit.

Just the mention of Christmas catalogs of old when discussing with sisters flashes me back to the time when I was in grade school and Christmas time was all about being good for Santa because… well, toys.

And old Christmas catalogs still fascinate me. I love to look back through ten-year-old Mickey-eyes at a simpler, kinder time. Although, if I’m honest with myself, it probably wasn’t really any better than now. I just choose to believe that it was.

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Filed under autobiography, Barbie and Ken, birthdays, family, humor, nostalgia, playing with toys, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Art Day Art

These are ESL portraits, a quiet Chinese girl and a pencil-chewing Hispanic girl inspired these two, but they look nothing at all like this picture.

I have been doing most of these Saturday art posts from my WordPress library of images. I generally try to organize around a theme. Having exhausted myself at Vivian Field Middle School yesterday, school-ish pictures are my theme for the day.

I have a tendency to think in pictures, and these are all school thoughts of one kind or another.

Basketball practice when I was a high school freshman inspired this picture of Brent who was an athletic young friend of mine I went to practice with.
Being a school teacher is also being a story-teller. That is essentially what this picture is about.
If this much-used picture looks familiar, it is because this is what teaching looks like through my eyes. Reluctant Rabbit holding the big pencil is me in my teacher-self. The students are Amanda, Ruben, Fernando, and Flora.
Kids don’t literally go to school naked, but metaphorically they do. They have no secrets from a teacher who knows them well from talking to them and reading their classroom journals. Talking about themselves out loud or in writing is how little people make themselves into bigger people.
This classroom portrait is a picture made from my own classroom in Garland, Texas.
Some of the characters in my school-ish pictures are actually me and my own school-aged classmates and friends.

Some of my favorite students over the many years in the classroom were major nerds.

I liked them mostly because they were the same exact species as I was when I was a monkey-house-aged student.

Monkey-house is a synonym for Middle School.

Wally shared my obsession with Japanese anime and could draw them better than I could. He was a major nerd. And a totally enthusiastic learner whom other students treated like he was radioactive. I always had time for him when he needed to talk to someone. He was a teacher’s kid at a time when my own son was still little.

This is a class picture from AeroQuest, a novel series about a teacher in space. All of these kids were based on real-life students I had in class once upon a time. One of these kids, pictured as a blue alien, was actually Wally.
So, now I need to post this post as there are next things happening on my schedule. Like these silhouette students, I need to get there on time.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, Cotulla, education, kids, nostalgia, Paffooney, pen and ink, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching