Posts Tagged ‘Family Relationships’

A Final Father’s Day

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Well, today it is raining. How appropriate and welcome! For it is Father’s Day, too.

Among the Ten Commandments recorded in the Old Testament, is the directive “Honor your father and mother…”. Half the sources list this commandment as the fourth, and half include it as the fifth. Whatever.

In the past, I have pondered the question: What if your parents are not honorable? Surely the sons and daughters of historical tyrants and criminals must scratch their heads over that. As for me, I feel that Mama was worthy of honoring despite her social lapses and strong prejudices. Pappy, on the other hand, has been a puzzle for me; he was always rooting for me from a distance; but he was hot-headed, and he was morally and ethically weak. After he died, Mama, in a fit of anger, informed me that he was “a coward”, citing as her justification for this allegation that he had asked her to support his request for exemption from the draft during World War II on the basis that he had three sons to care for. (They had divorced in 1942.)

There is no way I can confirm the truth of Mama’s claim: it is a conundrum for me. Pappy was big, his attitude was often belligerent, and he had worked all his life among rough men. My sister-in-law informed me recently that, according to my brother Vernon, Pappy had left the Rio Grande Valley for Dallas “because he had almost killed a man down there”. When I pressed her for more details, she said that was all she had heard from Vernon, “just bits and pieces”. Then there was Mama’s judgment.

That cowardice business is just one interesting piece of information I have happened on since I wrote my first blog post about Pappy. Another came to me indirectly from a “book” by and about one of my uncles, Carl Lee Tanberg, who remained in the Valley all his life. One of his three daughters sent it to me. She had given him the blank book with a request that he write down all the memories that he thought would be interesting to his family and others. (I had given Mama a blank book also, but she never wrote anything in it.)  Carl Lee was a fairly gifted raconteur and writer. One sentence in that book jumped off the page at me: “Maurine ran off with Bill Litton.” They eloped?! Mama, of course,  being a bit strait-laced in her maturer years, never mentioned that episode; in fact, she never confided anything about their courtship to me other than, in answer to my idle question of how they had met, she replied, “O, everybody in a small town like that knows everybody.” The sentence in my cousin’s book indicated to me that my grandfather, and probably my grandmother as well, did not approve of Pappy. Since Mama was born in 1910 and my brother Vernon was born in 1928, Mama could not have been older than eighteen when she and Pappy ran off to get married.

Many people, including most of my own family, would hide anecdotes such as these; but, like my uncle Carl Lee, I don’t believe in white-washing family history, primarily because it is just such “bits and pieces” which make a family history engrossing, and usually entertaining, reading. Contrasted with the images of Mama and Pappy I have had all my life, I think the elopement story is hilarious.

This will probably be my last Father’s Day blog post…at least about my own father. I don’t know anything else about him that I haven’t already related. Although he won’t rate  highly on any sensible scale of fatherhood, he was a fascinatingly colorful figure. He is a most suitable subject for moral and ethical reflection.

Finis

 

 

Advertisements

Bob’s Apology to the Children of the World

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

O little children, how I regret the need to write this letter to you. If we big people had done our duty for many years now, this apology would not have been necessary. You might not be able to read or comprehend by yourselves what I shall say here, so you perhaps should wait until you are a little older and have learned more and bigger words. (I will try to rein in my tendency to use complicated words, but that is very hard to do.) Or your parents might sit down with you and reduce the content to your level of understanding. I doubt that they will, because it could be too embarrassing for them.

I don’t have any children of my own, but there was a time when I deeply wanted a baby. However, I was already past the age when being a good daddy was practicable; and, anyway, I didn’t have a wife. A mommy is just as important in a child’s development as a daddy, usually more so. But my being childless is not really important: I am still just as responsible for our troubles as any parent.

But, let’s get on with the basic message I want to share with you.

The world is in a sad situation right now, both in an environmental way and in a social way. Perhaps the primary cause of that sad situation… (Let me introduce a new word to you here: dire. I would rather use that word than “sad” because, although it contains much the same meaning, it also means more. You see, a situation can be “sad” and yet limited; it might affect only one person or just a few people, and it might be just a temporary mood. “Dire”, however, adds more meaning — the element of threat. If something is a threat then it is neither tied to a mood nor likely to be temporary; it could mean the end of all life, even all things.)

One current threat is Climate Change. The Earth’s temperature is increasing; at least that is what about 300 of the world’s scientists have told us. And many things that we can see, if we look at them, appear to back up the scientists’ claims: the Arctic ice is melting, threatening the habitat of the polar bears and the Eskimos; the coral reefs, on which many sea creatures depend for food, is receding; the schedules and flight patterns of migratory birds are changing; and, perhaps the simplest test of all, the recording on temperature gauges is inching upward year by year. And those are just a few of the observable changes.

Now, a sizable minority of the world’s population refuses to acknowledge these changes or to attribute them to Man’s use of energy sources that come out of the earth, such as coal and oil. And other people, who might recognize Man’s guilt in all this mess, don’t have the political will to do anything about the problem. What hinders them is that to take the urgent actions needed to try and reverse, or at least moderate, disaster would require eliminating some industries, such as coal-mining and oil/gas-drilling, which have employed many people — perhaps your daddy or mommy — for a long time. You can understand, can’t you, why your parents, if they work in one of those industries, would fight to keep their jobs? They want to be able to feed and clothe you just as they have always done. And when the cost of a solution closely affects a person’s family his or her range of vision becomes severely narrowed.

Another threatening element in our world’s scene is tribalism. If you are Americans, you probably think that only the Native Americans (formerly known as “the Indians”) live in tribes. Actually, though, we are all members of tribes in that our facial features, skin colors, cultural attitudes, political arrangements, and even spiritual beliefs are shared by varying fractions of the world’s population. Throughout the centuries, tribes have often been in conflict with one another; this is very noticeably the current case in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. But it is also an issue in Europe and the United States, where mass migrations of peoples who are fleeing oppression and poverty in their homelands continue. Especially when a bunch of them move to any one country, they tend to congregate in the same area so that they can share themselves with others of their own culture and language; thus, we have neighborhoods that become known as “China Town” or “Little Mexico”. Large influxes of peoples bringing with them their traditions, religions and other cultural habits appear threatening to native peoples, who want to protect their own cultural norms from alterations. Now, some of the native people — particularly the farmers — often welcome the foreigners because those refugees are willing to do work that some natives do not want to do. That causes quarrels between the farmers and their urban neighbors.

There are also, naturally, more practical problems that come with mass migrations: how to house, feed, clothe, educate and medicate the foreigners. The governments in Europe, the United States and some African countries are wrestling with those problems right now. A subtle and dangerous aspect of this social turmoil is the element of racism and religious bigotry involved. Ethnic jealousy and political partisanship also are part of this poisonous mixture. Such a seemingly small matter as whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear her religion-prescribed head scarf in some places has engendered debates in parliaments and the media.

Religion itself is a major element in the world’s general conflict. In the Middle East, one branch of Islam attacks another branch over the question of who was the rightful successor of Mahomet as leader of their religion. In China, the government is again trying to extinguish Christianity. And here in the U.S., one political party is working hard to infuse the Christian religion more deeply into our political system; they want to establish Christianity as the official religion of the U. S.. In all our conflicts, a primary element is the “us versus them” mentality, and that is especially true of the religious divisions.

Then there is the question of how you children are going to earn a living when you grow up. Robotics and mechanization are already reducing the number of humans who are needed for many types of jobs. In Japan, I read recently, they are already using robots to work the reservation counters at airports. A batch of sociological studies all indicate that many more positions will be taken over by robots over the next 25 years, including those of lawyers, doctors, and news reporters. So, what will you do? How will you spend all your “free time”? How will your food and shelter be paid for? Don’t expect the owners of factories and other businesses or the political officials to care: they want to eliminate the need for human employees because doing so will save them money. Why should they spend that savings on your needs?

Now, I should give credit to those grown-ups who are trying to solve some of the problems I have too briefly described above. There are many individuals, companies and even governments who are altering their practices regarding gaseous emissions from factories and vehicles, which are a major cause of the Climate Change problem. There are also some statesmen who are trying to tamper down the social strife caused by religious and cultural differences.

And there are your parents, who had enough faith in humanity to bring you into the world. I feel some mental and emotional conflict within myself at this point because, on the one hand, I wonder at their wanting to bring children into a world full of direful and daunting difficulties; while, on the other hand, I admire them for their faith and for providing us with you. The solutions will require people — intelligent, energetic and loving people — to discover and put them into practice.

Thus I leave you, Children of the World, with my most heart-felt apology for the messes we have left for you to clean up, and with my earnest hope and encouragement for your success.

Bless you,

Bob Litton

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

The Widow’s Pique

© 1968, 2016 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS:  Almost in self-defense, I feel I must provide the exculpatory background for the poem published here today. In 1968, when I composed the first version, I was a fairly young man and still wrestling with some anger toward my parents for not providing me with a “happy home” like some of my friends seemed blessed with. The poem (as I deem it) was a seepage of that anger.
     As I grew older, however, much of that anger dissipated and I began to view my parents in a more charitable light; I began to recall their difficulties and benefices as often as their faults. A growing awareness of my own weaknesses certainly contributed to the forgiveness.
     I showed the poem to my professor in Old English, hoping for at least a bland approval. Then he surprised me by asking me to read it to our Anglo-Saxon seminar class. That was undoubtedly a mistake, since I was the only male in a class of ten students. I don’t think any of the ladies appreciated it; at any rate, none of them applauded after I had finished reading.
∗ Although the “models” for the two characters in this cameo production were my parents, the full scene is not meant to be complete portraits of them: The production is intended to be a broader satire, as is hinted in the title. The widow here is viewed as typical of some women, but not all women. The same is true of the “first man”.
∗ I kept the poem in my files for decades, not sure what to do with it. On the one hand, even I grew to find its “cynicism” a bit overdone and its tone too critical of my parents (for I continued to view them primarily as models here). On the other hand, I retained some feeling of pride in the imagery and rhetorical value of several of the lines and, as always, relished my talent for irony. Oh, how I love irony!
∗ Anyway, I took it out of the files today and worked it over some, particularly in an effort to improve some of the rhythmical parts. I doubt that I was very successful, but I do think it is at least slightly better than the original version. Scansion was never a strength in me.
     So, please, dear readers, try to concentrate on the rhetoric and the irony and don’t become deflected by the cynicism.
BL 

∗The red asterisks above indicate paragraph indentions. For some reason I have not been able to fathom, the editing page will accept some of my indentions but not others. And I have given up trying to correct the malfunctions.

I

Framed where the stair turns, her first man smiles —
sketched in the flesh, painted in absentia,
sepia-and-umber-toned like a Dürer print.
Gray tendrils from ledges of brow
curl down coppery loam toward gold-flecked iris.
Filled with actions and fortunes outside
this mundane scene, one more rainbow’s pot
grandly refracts in his Balboan eyes.
His pollen-drugged thoughts disperse,
cast adrift upon disclaimed, illicit streams.
“Don’t we come out of the soil to leave it —
to seek the sun, bowing upward through
its radiance, hungry for heaven’s nutrient,
disdaining the toilsome tunneling of a root?
The meshes of a root!  Entangling itself
confusedly in the dankness of the earth,
while beyond a shuttered window the sun…laughs…”
But since the window opened to night, not day,
he paused fatally the lunar interim,
an orchid wilting on the widow’s bosom.

II

Now she, broad-faced lily plucked from the pond —
nourished with cold cream here — eyes him warily
as she descends the clef-curve of the stair.
Fearful of the sun’s leer — with its jaundice
that burns into amber — glistening, yes,
like a fly’s neck — she shuts the shutters.  Clack!
Woman’s woes concretized streak her hair,
counted each day with petulant lips
redundantly before a two-faced mirror:
“I must rinse it tomorrow,” she sighs.
On the couch…just so…composed with a pill,
she still rummages for the witch’s brew
or whatever the ad of the living:
auguries, faith-healers, folk medicine ─
anything but gamble and scramble for fool’s gold,
as he did!  Motion is always a circle, it seems.
And this now man who lumps in his bed and wheezes!
Why didn’t someone warn her?  Foolish girl,
to marry again in the giddiness of death’s divorce.
She knows at last: This one, too, won’t blot the sun.
At the edge of lamplight she pinches from her lips
an idea, “After he’s dead, I’ll get a dog.”

Finis

Identity

© 2016 By Bob Litton

Note to Readers: This short story was written back in the late 1960s (or perhaps the early ’70s); I was in graduate school at the time. With that background, some readers might view it as juvenilia. But I have kept it in my files all these years and took it out today and still like it.
The reason I have not sought to have it published before now is because one of my former professors deflated me by declaring, “You’ve got this kid thinking like a Harvard graduate, Bob!” Today, however, I recalled reading a 
Life magazine article decades ago about a 10- to 12-year-old boy who was attending science courses at the University of Chicago. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, the devout prodigy replied, “Well, right now I want to be a priest, but when I get that old I might feel different.” How mature an insight for a boy that young!
     Another element I want to mention: From the time I started to write stories (as an adult) I realized that my efforts were not stories so much as they were essays with characters in them.
Whatever its literary worth, I hope you will gain something from reading “Identity”.
—BL

Chuck could tie his own shoes now.  He was telling himself that over and over again as he struggled with the laces.  “Hurry Chuck!” his mother called from the living room below.  At last, they were tied!  He stood, looking critically at the closet mirror.  He was wearing his red cotton shirt, just like Gene Autry’s shirt, at least as it always appeared in the comic books.  His blue jeans, too, were just like Gene Autry’s jeans.  If only the shoes were cowboy boots, but his mother had said those would have to wait until Christmas.  Chuck lowered his pants’ cuffs over the shoe-tops so that the laces were at least partly covered. When I get my boots I won’t have to bother with laces! he imagined.  His appearance was most important today because he was going to the state fair with his mother, going to the fair for the first time in his life.

He hopped down the stairs and found his mother opening and closing her umbrella to make sure it was still reliable.  She was very mistrustful of mechanical things.
“Oh Mother, we won’t need that, will we?”
“We might.  We’ll be out there all day, and the radio said a squall line is gathering in the north.”
“What’s a squall line?”
“A lot of rain all bunched up.”

The bus Chuck and his mother rode was crowded with young people in sweatshirts and crazy hats.  Teenagers, swinging their arms carelessly about and yelling to each other the length of the bus, awed the boy.  He knew they were not adults like his mother, who was a large, country-bred woman, yet they were bigger than he;  and, although he didn’t know the word, he could sense their competitiveness.  Huddling as close to his mother’s side as he could, he observed their antics.

They were unseating each other as an impromptu game.  A standee would try to eject a likely victim from his seat.  If he was successful, the seat became his own, and it was then up to the new standee to find a weaker opponent to dislodge.  Each victim held on to the seat bar with all his might, and it usually took several minutes of straining to pull him loose.  Chuck’s mother ignored these frolics, but he watched them fascinated.  And so it went until they arrived at the fairgrounds.

Balloons!  Pennants!  Reds, blues, yellows, polka dots and stripes!  A waving, weaving mob of people.  It was too great a task for Chuck to keep his attention trained on any single sight; there was too much variety.  Here, a little girl, hardly older than Chuck himself, was licking at some pink, fluffy stuff that reminded him of angel hair.  There, an old man, gray-grizzly, with a yellow apron on was blowing cacophonous, quasi-music through a silver disc and then bellowing out that the crowd should buy his bits of tin.  Now came a bunch of teenagers, six abreast, shuffling along the paper-littered street and carrying large teddy bears and tawdry little chalk figurines.  In the distance were elevated machines going round and round high in the air with screaming people in bullet-shaped cars.  Beyond those strange machines were tents flapping in the damp wind over farm implements.  In another direction were sedate buildings draped with flags, and open air stages where bands were playing.

Suddenly Chuck noticed a tent with posters hanging down its sides, posters like giant comic book covers.  On one was a woman with long, frizzled hair who was smiling at the two huge snakes encircling her body.  Such sharp teeth she had!  In another picture an otherwise human sort of man—who looked depressed to Chuck—had alligator scales all over his body.  Chuck paused, heedless of his mother, to gaze at the bizarre posters. They saddened him; but he sensed they weren’t supposed to, so he felt guilty about his sadness.  His mother came up to him and gave him a gentle nudge meaning to come along with her, but he didn’t move.  Instead, he memorized the heavy, dark lines and the ferocious coloring of the posters.

A man behind a wicker-wire cage with a large roll of tickets was hawking for one show:  “Step on in, folks, and satisfy your curiosity.  If you hurry you can still catch the famous Crisp family of acrobats.  Most talented folks you’ll ever hope to see.  Only one dime, ladies and gentlemen, only one dime.  Thank ya, lady…thank ya, buddy.”

Chuck’s mother looked down at her son with a teasingly inquisitive smile, “Would you like to go in?”

Chuck hesitated, glancing at the man high above him and then at the lane of sawdust leading through the tent flaps.  He nodded affirmatively without looking at his mother.  He wasn’t at all sure he wanted to go in there, but he thought his saying “no” would somehow be detected as a sign of fear, and Gene Autry wouldn’t respect a “fraidy-cat”.
“Two, please,” said his mother to the hawker, opening her coin purse and delving for the dimes.
“Thank ya, lady.”

Inside the tent was a fat, hemp rope stretched on short poles cordoning off a sawdust arena.  Since there were no seats, the crowd gathered close to the rope, jostling each other, vying for clearer views.  Chuck’s mother was tall and sturdy enough and not too feminine to push men around.  Her neighbors all agreed she had pushed her husband right into his grave.  Now she elbowed her way up to the roped boundary and pulled Chuck up in front of her.  The boy grabbed the rope to maintain his equilibrium within the slightly swaying crush of the crowd.

The scene before Chuck made him draw his shoulders in, and his hands moistened as they more tightly gripped the itchy twists of the rope.  There were ten small people, about Chuck’s height but with adult-size heads and mature faces, and they were performing acrobatic stunts.  The stubbiness of their limbs made the lithe agility of their movements seem all the more incredible than if done by ordinary humans.  Chuck had thought such beings existed only in the tunnels and towers of fairy-tale books where they hammered on anvils or spun gold out of straw.  Yet here they were in the flesh bouncing through somersaults.  Finally they all came together and proceeded to form a human pyramid by standing on one another’s shoulders: the seven males formed the base and middle, and the three females towered on up until the last could almost touch the peak of the tent.  When they had successfully completed this stunt, the crowd clapped enthusiastically for them.

Only Chuck remained silent and still.  He couldn’t have told why, if anyone had been concerned to ask, but he felt dread welling up within him.  He suddenly wanted to leave this tent with its sawdust and ropes and weird denizens.  But his mother’s broad body was flush against his back, and there was a thick mass of enchanted spectators around the roped perimeter.

The family of dwarfs broke up the pyramid and were preparing to leave so that the next act could enter, when one of the male dwarfs happened to notice Chuck and, laughing in an increasingly extroverted manner, exclaimed, “Brothers!  Sisters!  See, he’s like one of us.  He’s our brother!”  Then the humorous dwarf came up to Chuck and tried to tug him into the arena.

Chuck suddenly realized why he had wanted to escape earlier, why he was repelled by the very sight of these people.  Yes, he was like them, for they were all wearing red shirts and blue pants.  Two more of the dwarfs recognized the significance of their brother’s allusion and then they, too, pulled gently at Chuck’s sleeves and chimed in with the sing-song cajolery:  “Come, little brother, and join our fun!  Stand on your head or turn a somersault!  We’ll show you how.”  But Chuck clung with all his might to the rope and would not be dislodged.  The spectators began to titter, cheer, laugh.  In a short time the tent became an echo chamber of hilarity.  Even Chuck’s mother smiled and tried to encourage her son to go into the ring and play with the dwarfs.
“Go on, Chuck.  They won’t hurt you.  They just want you to play with them.  They’ll show you how to do a somersault.”

But Chuck held to the rope, speechless, practically mindless with the agony of his humiliation, until finally he began to cry out—to squall, “No,! No! Never!  I don’t want to be like them.  Never!  Let me go home!!”  The ducts of his eyes opened and a downpour flooded out.

The mob of people, all bunched up, melded by curiosity into a single, monstrous being, gradually ceased to laugh.  Its face, just recently so wrinkled with laughter, now took on the bathetic expression of an extravagant tragedian.  A multitude of eyes suddenly became blandly solicitous for this odd little boy who apparently didn’t know how to play but would rather cling to the rope as though he were a hundred feet off the ground.

The three dwarfs let go of Chuck’s arms.  They were embarrassed that their good-natured camaraderie should bring tears to a child’s eyes.  Chuck’s mother looked at them apologetically and was just about to verbalize her feelings when one of them interrupted her:  “It’s all right, lady.  We didn’t mean to frighten him.  Poor kid’s scared to death.  Better take him home.”

As he left the tent Chuck suddenly stopped crying.  He felt the surprising calm that follows a total cry.  But the tears remained on his cheeks, and the cooling twilight air seemed to crystallize them there.  With arm crooked, Chuck wiped the freezing tear-drops on to the red cotton of a shirt sleeve.  He wondered at the strange calm within him and at some new tempest welling but still submerged.  Something had been destroyed; something else was germinating.  Peripherally, he was aware that his mother was trying in her own way to console him.
“My goodness, Chucky!  What’s wrong?  They didn’t mean you any harm.  Are you all right now?  My goodness!  I’ve never been so embarrassed.  You did want to see them, didn’t you?  Yes, you know you did.  Weren’t they wonderful acrobats?  We’ll be home soon.  Do you want some cotton candy?  No?  Oh well….”

Chuck twinged at his mother’s obtuseness.  All she had seen was that he hadn’t wanted to go into the ring and that he had embarrassed her.  She didn’t recognize the meaning of his refusal to identify with the dwarfs─his rejection of them as “brothers”.  In that moment some of her authority as interpreter of the external world dissipated.

For the rest of the week Chuck was quiet and reserved.  He played unwillingly with other children and brooded much.  Even apparel became a matter of indifference to him; he wore whatever his mother laid out, neither exhibiting any preference for the red shirt nor avoiding it.  When Christmas arrived at the end of the week he accepted the boots under the tree as indifferently, almost as though he had forgotten about them.

Chuck didn’t forget the dwarfs though.  As the sense of injustice against his own self waned he gradually came to accuse himself of acting wrongfully against the dwarfs.  Over and over he relived the scene in his mind, trying to imagine a happier outcome.  In one daydream he was wearing something other than red and blue, and the dwarfs were oblivious of his presence.  In another he dignifiedly but kindly refused to participate and made them feel good by the graciousness of his refusal.  His imaginings increased in their romanticism: In the last he was jumping over the rope and tumbling with the dwarfs enthusiastically, brilliantly, so that they begged him to join their troupe.  The grotesque contrast between this day-dream and actual fact brought Chuck up short in his imaginings.

It snowed all New Year’s Eve, and nearly a foot of snow had accumulated by the time the sky cleared that night.  Chuck put on his coat and boots and went out to stand on the back porch.  A full moon glimmered luminously on the snow.  Over one of the pecan tree’s crusted limbs was scurrying a shadowy squirrel.  Ah, thought Chuck, how great it must be to be simply a squirrel looking for a pecan—a squirrel in all its squirrelness hunting pecans, unconscious, not wishing to be anything else!  Why were little boys afflicted with the urge to pretend to be something they are not?  Why must they torment themselves pretending they are cowboys—or dwarfs?  Ah, to be a squirrel!

And then he laughed.  In helpless, boyish giggles did he laugh.

Finis

Amira’s Anniversary

© 2014 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS:  Well, today is a red-letter day in my calendar: It is the first year anniversary of Amira Willighagen’s earning the trophy at Holland’s Got Talent competition.

As some of you will have noticed (and probably wondered at), I have already published, last November 12, an announcement of the anniversary. I confess: I intended to hold that writing until today; but, as often happens with me, it got hot in my little hands; I just had to broadcast it to the world then and there. Those of you who did not read it back in November can peruse it now, if you like, by clicking on the second highlighted URL below.

That actually was my second review of Amira’s now several YouTube videos, which I view often. The first piece I wrote about her was published on this blog site back on June 8; that was just after I had viewed for the first time the three performances she made on HGT. The URL for the June 8 post is provided below (the top one).

I do not really have much new on which to comment today except that on November 8 Amira and her family were in Vatican City, Rome, where she received awards from the Giuseppe Sciacca Foundation for her accomplishments in music and service to the community. She sang “Ave Maria” on that occasion, but I was able to view it only once before the video was removed due to some copyright issue with Sony Music Entertainment: the removal was not at all explained and is a major disappointment; but “that’s show biz”, I guess. Also, last Saturday I discovered that on December 15 Amira sang “O Holy Night” (in English) during a Christmas entertainment at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/a-shout-out-for-amira/

https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/celebrating-anniversary-of-amiras-hgt-win/

Opera soprano great Maria Callas reportedly lost her singing ability after she intentionally started losing weight. My question is, is it better to have a continuing vocal career or a healthy body? Since Amira has already repeatedly stated she might opt for an athletic career instead of a singing one, then I believe she values her body overall above her voice. As an adult, her vocal ability will lose its exceptional character; and I hope and trust she will modestly accept blending in with the other talented adults with whom she will perform. As for athletic ambition, two of my friends have had to undergo knee replacements in their middle years because of the jogging and foot-racing enthusiasms they enjoyed in their youths: Every choice comes with a price.

Even if Amira does lose her vocal talent from singing “too early”, she will have the past year to look back on as possibly the happiest in her life, not because she attracted so much admiring attention but because of her adventures: the suspense of the audition; the support of her family, friends, audiences; her travels to other countries; her appearance with Andre Rieu at Maastricht; her CD triumph; her receipt of the humanitarian award in Vatican City; and appreciative applause from people around the world, including this 75-year-old curmudgeon.

Her family is a unity: her parents support her but also limit (as does Netherlands law, I understand) the number of times she can appear at concerts and interviews during a single year; from what I have seen of their home on YouTube they are financially secure enough to enjoy life without depending on any income from Amira’s concerts, half of which she is contributing to a charity she herself established. Amira appears to have as much common sense as she does singing ability; I doubt that she will do anything purposely that would endanger her future welfare, whatever she deems that to be.

I do not know whether I will have any future occasion to comment on Amira’s career. I doubt it, since the only value in what I have said to date concerns gauging her entrance onto the world’s walk of fame, and I have done all that. She has arrived. She has her own Internet site now where she logs all the noteworthy events in her life. All I can say is…

Happy Anniversary!!!

P.S.  Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow (December 29), for it will be another anniversary — of my birth back in 1939. I have written a special post for it.
— BL

Pappy’s Day

Haywood Barnett Litton b. Sep. 15, 1903, Mooresville, NC d. Feb. 10, 1985, Dallas, TX

Haywood Barnett Litton
b. Sep. 15, 1903, Mooresville, NC
d. Feb. 10, 1985, Dallas, TX

©2014 By Bob Litton

Whenever anyone, usually a stranger, wishes me a “Happy Fathers’ Day”, I feel just a wee bit guilty. But I do not feel much guilt, because it’s a day it seems that many people do not pay much attention to, not like they do Mother’s Day anyway.  Also, I have read many accounts of famous persons, especially of literary and theater notables, whose fathers deserted their families or abused them.

However, I am of the old school who believe that fathers who remain and perform their paternal duties, particularly as positive role models, at least tolerably well are beneficial to society as a whole. For, as much as we might hate this world and dread the endless oncoming catastrophes, we need well-developed, intelligent leaders to help us cope with it all. The logical conclusion to that dilemmatic condition is that children must be generated to grow into those leadership roles as well as into the hardy followership roles.

I have never been married, never fathered children. Therefore, I have not done my duty. Most of my life that lack has not bothered me, although there was a brief period, in my fifties, when I felt a strong paternal instinct driving me to ask a couple of young ladies to give me a baby: they refused.

I sincerely doubt, though, that I would have been a good father. The requisite qualities are absent from my genes; as attested to by my own father, who must have been warped by his own impoverished childhood. He reportedly never attended school beyond the second grade; yet he nonetheless read a lot as an adult, the only part of his life when I knew him.

What did he do? He painted signs for many years, built at least one house, worked on the Dallas Ford plant assembly line, and managed a small night club for a while. In his late years he sold mail order shoes and fireworks, operated a small hamburger joint, and played at being a night watchman at one of the large Dallas banks. He also gambled and hustled rich women, I was told.

He kept several chicken coops in the yard behind our apartment. One interesting aspect of this enterprise of his, that I did not learn about until Internet search engines came along, was that the day-to-day problem of chickens pecking  at each other’s butts spurred him into inventing an “anti-picking device”. That was the way he spelled it on his patent application in 1944, granted in 1946; I think he meant “anti-pecking device”, but don’t forget: he never got beyond second grade. Here, for any who might be curious enough, is the URL for that patent: http://www.google.com/patents/US2398316.

For many years he dressed like a dandy whenever the opportunity to do so occurred. He was tall and slender, had an aquiline nose, and intensely dark brown eyes (which my two brothers and I inherited). I have a black-and-white portrait photo of him dressed in a dark, double-breasted suit with a handkerchief stuck in the breast pocket, and a dark fedora: a regular “man-about-town”. However, late in life, during the “hippie” era, he let his hair grow out a small way and fastened it at the back of his head with a rubber band.

Since my parents divorced when I was still a toddler  — due mostly to Pappy’s philandering, although I think his slaps also had something to do with it — I never got to know him as well as “normal” children come to know their fathers. He would come over to the small duplex apartment where Mother and I lived and play pitch with me; he even bought me a fielder’s glove, which was a disappointment to me because I would have preferred a first baseman’s glove, which has the finger parts connected, but I never expressed my disappointment. Also, knowing I venerated cowboys and wanted to be one, he gave me some spurs; however, there again he had gotten the wrong type, for they were cavalry spurs (no rowels). With my artistic talent and inclination in mind, he built a large plywood easel, which Mother ended up using as a drying stand for washed clothes. (I had given up on the easel as far as art equipment was concerned because it had no base to hold canvases or drawing pads; it never occurred to me that I might have secured water color paper on the board’s large surface with masking tape: I was not even aware of such tape.) In addition to such gifts, Pappy’s contributions to my development were his teaching me, over the telephone, to tell time, and his instructing me not to push food toward a fork with my finger but to use either bread or a knife. A major education there!

One of Mother’s sisters told me that Pappy “was a brutal husband and a brutal father”. However, he never laid a hand on me; I suppose that was at least partly due to the fact that I was the last child and after my baby years he never had to be responsible for me on a daily basis. I believe, though, that he probably had come to realize, after the experience of my three older siblings, that brutality was not acceptable behavior.

My elder brother apparently got the worst of it, at least judging by his own account. Several times, my brother related an incident to me in which he begged Pappy not to speak harshly to our sister, who had inadvertently locked the outhouse door. Pappy, my brother recalled, kicked him in the chin. My aunt told me that my brother took up weight-lifting after that, swearing that Pappy would never be able to treat him that way again.

Pappy was not a religious person. Once, when I tried to talk to him about God, he responded, “And before God created the world, who created him?” That is a rather antiquated atheistic argument, but I was very young then and stumped. Nevertheless, late in life he began to read paranormal psychology books. He apparently even got to the point where he thought he could command other-worldly beings, for, one day, I noticed a piece of paper on his table where he had written a demand that some spirit must bring him a small fortune…now! How peculiar that one can be so rationalistic about a deity and yet so superstitious about genies and gremlins!

I have already written about his death and funeral back in 1985. I posted it here with the title “Ashes” last May 31.

Like the other members of my immediate family, Pappy was a conundrum I will never understand. Like us, he had his few virtues and his many faults. And like us, he fought with and yet clung like glue to us. Like Mother and my brothers, he is a continual presence in my brain that will never disappear.

Finis

%d bloggers like this: