Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

A Child’s Song

©2016 By Bob Litton

¶Can you play this? I’m serious, because I composed it and yet can’t play it. 

in-my-sleep-p-1

in-my-sleep-p-2

¶Of course those two sentences above require some explanation. You see, I was ten years old when I submitted the lyrics to a poetry contest jointly sponsored by the Dallas Independent School District and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. At the time, 1951, Walter Hendl was music director of the DSO; and he was an enthusiastic promoter of children’s music programs.
¶Our music teacher, a young woman whose name I don’t recall, announced the opening of the contest and gave us the rules for it. The competition was divided into two parts. The first was to write a poem about one of five subjects: homeland, school, play…and I forget the remaining two. The second contest was to compose music for the winning poem.
¶Now is the time for a bit of full disclosure. I couldn’t read music; nor could I play an instrument, even though I had a guitar my father had bought for me, and took a couple of lessons from a man who tried to switch me to the violin. I did enjoy listening to the popular music of the day, but my only acquaintance with classical music came from listening to the themes of radio shows such as “The Lone Ranger”, “The Shadow”, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon”, etc. And I wasn’t even aware that those themes were not composed for the radio shows but were instead segments from famous classical music compositions. I didn’t even know what classical music as a “genre” was.
¶However, I often wrote little two-page stories which I also illustrated, so writing and drawing were already “in my blood”. I still find it odd then that one or two days after I heard the announcement for the contest, I busied myself in art class not with drawing anything but with writing a poem on a large sheet of manila paper, with crayons. I think now that I actually believed that the variety of colors would give me an edge in the contest.
¶Several weeks later, the music teacher informed me that I had won the poetry contest. Now I was faced with the ordeal, for me, of trying to contrive some music for it. At the end of the school day, the teacher sat at the piano, with my poem and a sheet of music paper before her, while I stood by a corner of the piano feeling like an idiot. I don’t recall how she managed to lure some tune out of me, but she did and scored it; and the result is what you see above.
¶After a few weeks had passed, my music teacher informed me that the contest judges had considered my music as “too jazzy”. That surprised me because, although I too viewed the music as too lively, in places, for its theme, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could see it as “jazzy”. However, I wasn’t crestfallen, for I hadn’t been very fond of my melodic result either.
¶ Fortunately, a fifth grade class at a school clear across town, in Oak Cliff, won the music composition part of the contest. When I heard their music set to my lyrics I was very much pleased with it. Although that class was credited with composing the music as a group, I supposed that the actual composer was the little girl who waited in a stage wing with me; we walked out on the stage together at Maestro Hendl’s invitation. That was a big day in my life, at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin auditorium, hearing the DSO play the music and children from schools all over Dallas sing my lyrics.
¶I carried that music among all my other belongings for most of my adult life. Three times I asked friends who were adepts on the piano to play my version of the song for me. They tried but gave up. Too easily? I don’t feel qualified to say. Once, I called the DSO office and asked if they might have the “Oak Cliff version” in their archive, but the woman on the other end of the line acted as though she thought I must be some kind of a nut and said they don’t retain stuff like that.
¶One day a couple of years ago, I got disgusted because the music is way below par and apparently unplayable. I tore up the sheet music; but I keyed the lyrics into my computer, so it was not lost entirely. (Well, actually they  were pretty much embedded in my memory, but at my age memory is not a very reliable repository.) Recently, an acquaintance of mine in Dallas informed me that, while reorganizing her files she had noticed a photocopy of “In My Sleep”, and asked me if I wanted it. “Certainly!” I said, and she sent it to me.
¶Now, since the lyrics are slightly difficult to read in the photos above, I will present them here:

When the clouds have hurried by,
And the evening moon is nigh,
To my bed I fairly fly,
And there I sleepy lie.
Castles of dreams come into sight,
Lands of wonder every night.
To the many lands I go,
To bold deeds long ago.
Dreams of battles and marching soldiers,
Story books and picture folders,
Dreams of cowboys and painted Indians,
Pirates and sailors and Mounted Canadians.
I never fuss; I never weep
When I must go to bed to and sleep.

¶Obviously, the song is more descriptive of a boy’s day-dream than of something he is likely to experience in his sleep. Let’s just grant it the excuse of “poetic license”.

Finis

A Maternal Memorial

thread spool

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Pardon me, folks, but I want to interrupt this extended silence for a  brief while to try and make some amends for the neglect I visited on my mother. She has been dead now for nearly twenty-two years, so of course I cannot justify or redeem myself directly. It’s only if one believes in an afterlife or even that some kind of resonance inheres in lingering cosmic memories that one can accept the following as meaningful to anyone but me. Regardless of the possible unreality of either of those concepts, here are my flowers for Mothers Day 2016. (Oddly, though, Mama was not a floral enthusiast; not that she disliked them, she just didn’t gather blossoms or maintain vases.)

I have written in previous blogs that Mama and I did not communicate well after the onset of my teen years. The problem, as I view it, was not that any sort of major psychological imbalance (such as stood between me and my brother Vernon) or contrary value systems (such as stood between me and my brother Elbert)  hindered our conversations. Our off-moments derived from a much more down-to-Earth dysfunction: I was frequently annoyed and embarrassed by Mama’s lack of tact, of which I have given instances in previous posts. On Mama’s side, she looked askance at my pub-crawling, drifting ways and impracticality; she said to me one day, after I had expressed an interest in majoring in philosophy, “Bobby, I think you live in a dream world. If you are so smart, you ought to be able to make a lot of money.” As usual, I did not utter a rejoinder to that.

Such perceptions, naturally, are not absolute. One morning, while I was seated at her kitchen table, she wanted to discuss Elbert, whose carpet store was in a state of bankruptcy due to the Reagan recession of the late 1980’s. Elbert had not spoken to her for two years because she had persistently tried to dissuade him from getting involved in any more of his former business partner’s get-rich-quick schemes. I did not want to talk about it, because I had opted to stay with Elbert at the store as it was going under very, very slowly and I was losing my house in West Texas in the process; I was in a heavy depression.  While she set a plate of eggs and sausage before me, she asked me to intercede for her with Elbert, whom she said she loved. I did not say anything; the weight of the whole financial disaster was too great. I don’t recall the immediate trigger for her final comment, “You’re a good man and an honest man.”

Mama and I hardly ever discussed serious matters other than those concerning the family. In fact, most of our conversations involved an exchange of something: she would want me to do something for her, like take her to the grocery store; or she would give me odd things she had picked up at flea markets and garage sales, like a lava lamp (when such was an “in-thing” during the 1970’s), a pair of binoculars (I was not a birder), and an antique walking cane (which at the time I did not need but, after three decades, do now). However, those interactions were after my own hair had started to gray.

During childhood, there were more prized moments of sharing. While I was in the Cub Scouts, Mama went with me down to Turtle Creek one Fall day to gather different types of leaves for pasting in a scrap book. And, when I had the part of Santa Claus in an elementary school play, she made a red-and-white costume for me, complete with a hat peaked by a cotton  ball. (No boots, of course.)

I have related how Mama had worked both as a seamstress in a dress factory  and as a steam-presser at a few cleaners. She also made all my shirts and pants during those early years. Naturally, she always had plenty of thread spools (like the one shown at the top of this post). One afternoon, while I was sitting on the front porch step reading a Dick and Jane book, she came outside with a saucer containing a bar of white soap, some water in a glass, and an empty thread spool. Then she showed me how to amass a sufficient quantity of soapy water on one end of the spool and blow through the other end to make bubbles float out onto the air.

And I will never forget the early morning she came to the combination bedroom and living room to wake me up. She went to the window, raised the paper blind, and announced, “Look, Bobby! It snowed last night!” When the day got light enough, Mama gathered some snow in a big pan and made some ice cream out of it. One cannot do that in Dallas anymore for two reasons: it seldom snows there and, even when it does, the snow is too shallow and too polluted to transform into healthy ice cream.

I have no authority to reference for this assertion, but I believe that only a  girl raised on a farm, such as Mama had been, would have known how to capitalize on a thread spool and a mass of fresh fallen snow.

Happy Mothers Day, Mama, wherever you are.

picers_0004

Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI;  d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

Now I can return to my cave.

Finis

Naughty Children…Rated R.

© 2016 By Bob Litton.  All Rights Reserved.

It’s a good thing Christmas is already done and gone; I would hate to complicate the stockings for any toddlers who might accidentally see this post and become corrupted at a very early age. But, oh heck, it’s bound to happen someday, what difference does it make if that day is today?

Recently, for some unknown reason, I began reflecting on my childhood experiences, particularly on the little ditties my playmates and I used to sing between our giggles. Whoever wrote the lyrics, I have no idea; the tunes, though, went with familiar songs from operas…although we were not acquainted with any operas at that age (5- to 8-years-old).

Here’s the first one; the tune’s source I don’t know, but it was well-known — perhaps “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Richard Strauss’ opera Salome (?), or the “Bacchanale” from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Dalila (?):

“All the girls in France
wear tissue paper pants.
All the girls in Spain
go naked in the rain.”

Now, who came up with those verses? The author surely must have been an adult; it is highly unlikely that any child wrote them. I want to make it entirely clear here that the depictions of national habits are fabricated…false. And I do not believe the author of those scandalous lines was intentionally being derogatory; he (or she) was more probably just depending on the countries’ names as sources for rhyme words, just as many of our naughtier limericks include “Nantucket”.

What interests me now, though, is the question: To what extent did our singing those ditties reflect our level of developing knowledge about what is naughty? Actually, in my case it is an unanswerable conundrum. My memory is not that retrievable or specific; I do well just to recall having sung them when I was so young.

And here’s the second, sung to the “Toréador Song” chorus in Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen:

“Toréador, don’t spit on the floor.
Use a cuspidor; that’s what it’s for.”

Those lines, of course, are not “naughty” in the usual sense of the term, merely slightly gross. I can credit them for at least causing me to learn what a “cuspidor” is, for I had never seen one and did not see one until many years later, in a movie.

Finally, here is one which I suppose we can say is derogatory, although not against any nation or even any particular persons. The words are to be sung to the “Bridal Chorus” music from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin:

“Here comes the bride,
Big, fat and wide;
Here comes the groom,
Skinny as a broom.”

Now, on what occasion would any child sing that?! Only during those times when two or more of them are together and acting silly — which happens frequently; or at least did during my early childhood. I believe you will agree with me that the verse is snide, and to that limited but still hurtful extent “naughty”. Many children, I believe, sometimes feel impelled to be cruel in what they say: What child hasn’t yelled at a parent he/she loves but who is denying them something, “I hate you!”?

Very young children are not as “innocent” as parents and politicians often proclaim them to be.

Finis

A Retrospective of Love Poems

©1962, 1964, 2013, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Here it is Valentine’s Day morning and it just dawned on me that perhaps I should have resurrected some of my old love poems and included them in the February 11 post along with the essays.

Don’t expect seductive poems from me, people. When I was in a seducing mood in my youth, poetry was seldom on my mind, although I could be incidentally poetic in my conversations with or about a few coeds. For instance, one day while I was sitting in the student center lounge with a young man and a young woman — both acquaintances of several months — I looked at the woman and spontaneously said, “Rhonda, you’re Eve, the apple, and the serpent all rolled into one.”

The young man glanced at me and said, “You’re feeling poetic, aren’t you?”

“Not really,” I replied. “That thought just occurred to me.”

Another time shortly afterwards, I was dating a young lady with one of the most beautiful necks I have ever seen. While discussing her with a friend I mentioned her neck and told him that I had nicknamed her “Fawn”. A few weeks later, when I and “Fawn” walked into another student’s apartment where  a small party was happening, my friend, who was sitting on a couch near the door, announced, “Deerslayer!” I never mentioned to the young lady that I had given her a nickname, so of course she did not gather the allusion intended by my friend’s exclamation. I have since then regretted that I did not inform the lady of her nickname: I think it was not only apt but also complimentary.

I have no prejudice against “sweet” love poems. It is just that when my thoughts turn to romance it is usually after the affair is over, so the poems tend to be melancholic, ironic, or cynical. I must try to write a “sweet” before-the-affair love poem, just to see if I can do it without smearing the lines with licorice.

Well, enough of a preface. Here is the URL to those love poems I promised you. Just click on the post’s heading. Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!

https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/in-a-somewhat-romantic-mood/

Finis

“Calf-rope”…Or The Lost Art of Losing

Calf-rope -- Boys fighting

YOUTHFUL BOUTS to determine superior strength, speed and skills have been a central element in Western–especially American–culture since the beginning of that culture. Adults usually try to stop a fight when they see one, but probably more often the battle doesn’t end until one of the boys yelps “uncle” or “calf-rope”. Just as often, perhaps, the boys are not angry when they are tussling (especially while wrestling); they are just testing their physical and psychical strengths with friends. These two, however, look pretty serious.

PHOTO CREDIT: Microsoft Office Images/Illustrations
TEXT: © 1979, 2015 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: This is another of those “worthy of re-printing” columns I pulled out of my little stash of old gems. It dates from November 1979, just a few weeks after I became editor  of the Monahans News. I think it is pretty clear and still timely as it stands, so I won’t take up space and time with a longer explanatory preface, except to inform our non-cowboy readers that the literal meaning of “calf-rope” — alternatively called a “piggin string” — is a piece of rope six-to-seven feet long used to bind three of a calf’s legs after he has been roped for branding, medicating, tagging, castrating, or just as part of a rodeo contest. Enjoy!!!

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

When I was a pre-teen there was a traditional mode of admitting defeat in a fight between boys: “uncle”.  That meant that you saw you were in a position where you couldn’t move and you recognized that the fellow who had you down had nothing left to do except pulverize your face or sit on top of you until one or the other decided eternity was too long.

What you were doing when you said “uncle” was to admit that you were defeated irrevocably and that, if your opponent would just let you up, you guaranteed him you would not attempt retaliation. It was what used to be known as a “gentlemen’s agreement” back when the world still contained gentlemen, even among small boys.

I always wondered what “uncle” denoted in such a context, but I did not imagine there was any immediate way of finding out. It must be just another of those nonsense syllables which become coined to be expressive in a peculiar situation, I supposed.

One day in Dallas, just before coming down here, I was discussing this old word with a friend of mine who is associate chaplain at SMU. “We always used ‘calf-rope’ out in Crowell,” my friend said. (Crowell is a farming community in the Texas Panhandle.)

“That makes a lot more sense to me than ‘uncle’”, I replied.

At that juncture one of my friend’s three sons, a high school senior, came into the room; and we asked him what the current term was for surrender. “There isn’t one,” he said. “I think they don’t want you to give up.They want to kill you.”

The young man’s comment slightly shocked me at first, but then I recollected that the older we get the less likely we are to forget even the smallest slights. Pre-pubescent boys—of my generation at least—can (or could) fight lustily one day and join each other in play the next day. Men, however, have to be very thoughtful of how much they are willing to risk when they get physical with others. I have read news accounts, for instance, of bar-bouncers ejecting misbehaving fellows from their establishments only to see the sore losers return armed—with a shotgun in one instance, with a pistol in another—and blow the bouncers away.

I mused over that a while and then forgot the subject for the time being.  However, I was reminded of it while staying with some friends in Clarendon.  We were talking about a local man who had originally opposed the construction of Clarendon College.  “He fought it with everything he had, even hired lawyers,” one of my friends told me. “But, after he lost the fight and the college was built, he turned right around and supported it just as fervently as he had opposed it. He’ll cuss them out if they don’t do things the way he thinks they ought to be done, but he also contributes to their scholarship fund.”

Now, I thought, that’s a good loser. That man knows the true meaning of “calf-rope”.

Again, just recently, I was reading an article about special interest groups who are so determined to win they have forgotten all about compromise and the political process.  If they lose on an issue fight one year they form strange alliances with groups whose only common concern with their own is the political jugular vein of the senator or representative who did not vote the way they wanted him to.

Morris Udall and John Glenn are just two of several national politicians who have recently been buffeted, though finally unsuccessfully, by special interest groups. Other politicians are terrified of such coalitions, and this terror is bound to have a diluting impact on the quality of congressional decision-making.

President Carter and some others have grown to favor the idea of single six-year terms, not solely out of fear of special interests either. Another element in their reasoning is that political offices should not become careers.

I’ll go along with that. I would like to see politicians performing their tasks with the only consideration in the back of their minds the welfare of the nation, not the winning of their next term. Let them learn to say “calf-rope” with a grin and mean it.

— The Monahans News, November 15, 1979

An interesting postscript for this topic is the “Tarzan” comic strip of January 28, this year, in which Tarzan defeats an ape and forces him to utter the ape-language word for surrender: “kagoda”. I am placing the URL for that day’s strip here, but it likely won’t lead to the strip three months from now because, for whatever reason, specific URL’s are discontinued after a while:   http://www.gocomics.com/tarzan/2015/01/28.
— BL

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

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