Sunday, September 28, 2008

Childhood's Memory...(rough draft)

As a kid I remember my parents taking my brother Cary and me to see "The Sting" at Bay City's downtown theater. We revelled in the cleverness. They were great fans of both Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Having a similar family background to Newman (Catholic mom, Jewish dad), my father had a special kinship, albeit from afar, with the actor. My dad's a man's man...an emotional, physically strong person who worked with his hands and ran a auto-repair business partnered first with his father and then my mother. To a kid he was larger than life and just like those men in the movies--street smart with a survivor's grin.

When I look upon this picture of Newman, vivid memories emerge of my family in the early '70s. We'd pack up on a Friday afternoon and drive three hours "up North" to Atlanta, Michigan, rendezvousing with my mom's family at the public campground by Lake Desheau...her twin, Uncle John, and his family, my grandparents and other cousins, aunts and uncles. The next morning we awoke in our camper, the striped canvass walls dewed in the night, to birdsong and croaking frogs; after squatting behind bushes on a private hillock, I'd eat breakfast of fried bacon, toast, eggs and hot cocoa and go out fishing in the rowboat. Lily pads decorated the surface of the swampy lake replete with tree stumps, turtles and mating dragonflies. If we were lucky we would catch a mess of panfish, blue gills and sunfish, and upon returning to shore, dressed them and mom fried them up for lunch. At night around the campfire stories and jokes entertained this mobile clan. After hotdogs and marshmallows, we'd relax by watching the stars and telling stories.

My family had a kinship to these actors of their time...Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds. My dad's bushy-bearded effusiveness was moderated by my mom's family's reserve. Dad would tear up with a ferocious passion, grabbing a loved one around the neck, pulling them close for a manly kiss on the cheek; whereas, Uncles John or Leo would quietly observe and cast a quiet grin adding their two cents with a confident deadpan. Mom, grandma and my aunts carried on their own knowing conversations simultaneously.

A kid, as one of the younger cousins, I grew up a tom-boy in the bosom of this Michigan family. Until this age I felt loved and embraced yet connected to the larger world of popular culture. Joanne Woodward looked like my mom and aunties. Why wouldn't we relate to these folks? Time seemed to stand still and this seven-year-old relished in the fact that the future lay ahead and my parents were young, and ready for it.

Often as a kid I'd have those frozen epihanies...realizing that this moment, while hoping it'd last forever, would one day pass. I couldn't imagine being a grownup and wanted the present to be forever.

My brother, cousins and I thrived in running free. We spent mornings following streams into the forest or building shelters with sticks while confident of our parents' nearness and a snack at the ready....

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