A memory allows me to hang onto the things I never want to lose. A memory
provides me the company of those I love.
I grew up in a time when nothing cool had been invented yet. There were
no cell phones, iPods, BlackBerrys, Game Boys, X-boxes, computers or Tiger Woods.
I was amazed by the actions of a Slinky. "A spring, a spring, a
marvelous thing, everyone knows it's Slinky." It was a helix that
walked down stairs.
There were only three TV channels in those days and there was no
remote. I had to walk to the TV to change the channel. I'm not sure how I survived.
Oh, my life was not without excitement. I could go into town and watch
the marvelous mechanic George Tukua do complicated work on a 1954
Chevrolet at his garage.
I spent a lot of time looking for things. I'd lose things on the way to
school and I'd lose things on the way home. I was part of the space
program. I took up space in school.
I wanted to travel, but that was a difficult thing for a small boy. I was sure
that I would need a passport to go anywhere other than Minnesota and Iowa.
I'd dream of going places. I'd watch with envy as geese flew overhead. I'd
wonder where they were going and where they had been. I'd spin the globe
and then touch my finger to it to see where I should go. My digit would
become jammed between the globe and its stand. It hurt like the dickens.
I was a snot-nosed kid in Hartland, Minnesota whose dreams seemed
so much better than his life. I wasn't playing centerfield for the Yankees
or writing a book that E.B. White would read. I was sitting behind Steve
Bakken in the alphabetical class of my grade school. Steve was and is
an exemplary person, but he was no Mantle or White.
Mark Twain said, "All the me in me is in Hannibal, Missouri." All the
me in me was in Hartland, Minnesota.
I needed a mecca. A place so wondrous and amazing that it would become
a part of me. I quickly found one. It was a place where happiness abounded.
It was the woodlands on our farm. Even though I'm sure I knew better, the
woods gave me the feeling that I would be happy all my life--that my
existence would be shadowed with perfection. The woods presented a place
of such immense significance to my youth that it has defined my existence.
I didn't even try not to go there.
I'll bet you had such a place. Maybe it was a tree house, a ballpark, Grandma's
house, a playground, a barn, a ski slope, a classroom or a café.
I even had a backup mecca. If I couldn't camp out in the woods, I wanted
to camp out at the dime store.
I called it the dime store. Others called it the five and dime. It was a variety
store that had toys, candy and pets like small turtles, guppies and parakeets.
It had a lunch counter, flanked by stools with revolving seats, serving ice
cream sodas. It was a wonderland with a general aroma of cheap tennis
shoes. It may have had other things, too. I didn't notice.
It had its anomalies. There was a wooden floor that creaked crabbily
when walked upon and an odd ceiling of tin.
A child's mind is malleable. Mine would match my surroundings. When
I saw things that were for sale, I wanted someone to buy them for me.
In a primal way, I had already understood the law of supply and demand.
I summed it up in one word, "Gimme!"
I wanted things because it seemed to my young mind that everyone else
had many more things than I did. Everybody had everything that I wanted.
It wasn't true. It must have been a mirage.
I would try to convince my mother to buy me things in order to bolster my
consumer confidence. I really wanted a hula hoop. It wasn't my fault.
Clever advertisers had targeted me. My mother would respond with a
"We'll see." That was two words that meant "no." I would throw tantrums.
I was nothing but moving parts. My performance was worthy of an Academy
Award consideration. Shoppers would give me a round of applause. The
local newspaper wrote that my desperate pleas were a "must see." Despite
the good reviews, my theatrics received little notice from the matriarchal wing
of our family. My dime store dreams were shattered?until my next visit.
The dime store is gone. The memories linger. They are good ones.
I just wish my mother had bought me that hula hoop.
Al Batt, ©2008