Sunday, July 15, 2018

FOUL RECOLLECTIONS -- CHANGING RESOLUTIONS

My most recent recollections here in which I briefly referred to a few of my younger years may have left an impression I led  a more humorless life those years than would be accurate.   These were years when I enjoyed and learned a lot about nature, the environment, wildlife and domestic creatures and pets. 

Some of the events occurred when we were in the chicken business.   In addition to our Rhode Island Reds a weasel got into one night as they sat on their darkened enclosed chicken coop roosts, we also had some beautiful multi-colored game birds.   These latter foul are used by unscrupulous owners as fighting cocks for entertainment and on which they gamble, but we did not engage in that activity. 

We also had some colorful bantam chickens and a couple ducks.  Half an oil drum with drainage holes in the bottom so fresh water could be added was buried to ground level in the chicken yard.  The bantam hens had been given the large duck eggs to sit on, keep warm and hatch.   These eggs were so much bigger than a small bantam hen's egg I always wondered why that chicken wouldn't have noticed and rejected the whole project.  Well, she didn't complain and dutifully hatched the lot, at least two, maybe another, but I can't recall exactly. 

As soon as the ducklings were able, mother hen took them on outings.   Eventually, their wanderings took them all further afield, but they always had to be wary of hawks soaring about, looking for a meal.  The day came when the ducklings encountered the water-filled little pool into which they immediately plopped.   They swam about having a splashingly good time while their mother had a squakingly traumatizing time, circling the pool's edge,  flapping her wing feathers, warning her "chicks" of danger to no avail.   They ignored her and they did not flounder or sink.  What must that poor little hen have been thinking? 

The wonderful feature I perceive of childhood is that much of what we encounter is new and can be fascinating.   We absorb so much through those formative years from which to learn, that influences our thinking and contributes to our becoming the person we are.   Probably we don't really recognize all this until we become a few years older. 

I recall thinking about events that occurred in my family, listening to the adults talking about what their life experiences had been plus what we were actually living.   There was no television.  We received no newspapers or magazines.  We did have a radio.    Today with the addition of televisions, cell and/or smart phones, other digital technology devices, I wonder if exposure to such family conversations for young people is as prevalent? 

I became aware despite the best preparation and plans kind, loving, industrious, intelligent, talented, capable people made that unexpected uncontrollable circumstances could happen completely altering their expectations.   This could occur as a consequence of the behavior of others or self, and health issues.   Even performing legitimate labor that's necessary to survive,  also unintentionally ultimately damaging one's health further can occur.   Companies, unions, government enforcement agencies, justice officials, individually or jointly do not always exercise the correct judgment, sometimes for illegal reasons, especially for a person of average or less means.     

I saw how life went on as people put their energies into adapting to whatever the circumstances were rather than complaining and moping about. 

I learned by several means that my happiness level to a great extent was my responsibility to cultivate.    Finding the humor in life contributed considerably to healthy development. 

This all convinced me that becoming educated and able to independently care for myself seemed a most intelligent and sensible goal.   As much as others might care for me, anything could happen to anyone, at anytime and they might no longer be available to help me.   In fact, I might need to help them. 

That view partially fostered my thinking that I would never get married, but if I did, I would never have children.   In my early twenties my perspective gradually began to change and the rest as is often said, is history.    I wed in my late twenties, also having decided children would be acceptable -- which I jokingly referred to then as being an occupational hazard (birth control pills were just coming into limited usage.)

If I also thought world conditions were troublesome then, to be raising a family, I can only wonder what young people today think.   At least our country, the U.S., had seemingly stable leaders in the major political parties which is more than I can say for us currently with our democratic republic and individual freedoms at stake. 

What were your conclusions as a young person about how you would live your adult life?
Had you formed a point of view that you later changed? 




 

Sunday, July 08, 2018

RAINTREE COUNTY TRIBUTE NOSTALGIC FOLLOW-UP



In my previous post I wrote about my youthful reactions to reading Ross Lockridge Jr.’s novel, “Raintree County” in which July 4th held significance.   Eventually learning years later of the author’s suicide despite his novel becoming a best seller and destined to be a movie, I’ve wondered why he took his life?

In recent years I became aware of and read “Shade of theRaintree”, published in 1994, written by his son, Larry Lockridge, to provide a more definitive biography of his father’s life than one written by John Leggett, twenty years earlier.     

I subsequently decided to read John Leggett’s 1974 book, “ross & tom” “(2 american tragedies)”.  He examines the lives of two writers who died young and describes his conclusions as to why they did so – Ross Lockridge, Jr. and Thomas Heggen, the successful author of “Mr. Roberts”, popular novel, play and movie.   

I found Leggett’s account of Ross Lockridge Jr.’s life of interest, agreed with his view “…success was not in itself a spoiling force for him…”.   I have thought Leggett’s opinion that family relationship forces resulted in Ross being vulnerable to taking his own life to be a convoluted overly complicated questionable psychological analysis.    Speculation by others continued to ensue after Leggett’s book with no definitive answer. 

I did read just before publishing my previous post eldest son, Ernest Lockridge’s 2014 book, “Skeleton Key to the Suicide of My Father”.   His conclusion involved some rather questionable unverifiable assumptions which I chose not to delve into.  All the family linkages he suggested stemmed from one event he personally reported experiencing.   With all due respect, I accept his perception of his personal experience.   However, I do not think his extrapolated stretch of tenuous, at best, conclusions that he projects on to other family members and his father have much basis in reality.    

Both Lockridge sons, Ernest and Larry, are accomplished writers, authors, academics, in their own right, well beyond these published books I reference here.  I hadn’t thought I would be encountering all these theoretical speculative complications about their father’s suicide when I began writing what I expected to be a simple reflection on my feelings, and reactions reading “Raintree County” so many years ago.   Having become aware of these several writers varying points of view, I felt compelled to explore it all further to reach some sort of resolution in my own mind.   

Perhaps my conclusions are as reasonable as anyone else’s.   I can well imagine Raintree County” author, Ross Lockridge, Jr., felt let down as many artists have discussed feeling when their creation is released in any form and no longer under their control.    His book had been published to popular acclaim, though not critically embraced to be designated the great American novel as he aspired his words and story to be after having devoted so many years and so much effort into this creative work.

Perhaps the multiple pages he was initially required to amputate from the body of his work to even achieve publication gave him reason for self-doubt on his later reflection as to what he had allowed to occur.  Might he have been experiencing a beginning sense of concern of possibly having unintentionally betrayed his creative ideal given his self-imposed high expectations -- a weakening of his creative life force, if you will?  

Ever after, having to eliminate more pages and descriptive events, coupled with changes to that world he creatively described,  could the author have just reached his emotional limits -- with physical health residuals on which to fall back exhausted, too?  Could he have become over-whelmed, unable to anticipate relief in the future from what seemed to be unrealized idealized hopes he had envisioned for his book and life -- further edits beyond possibility?          

Also, I wonder if the movie’s production development seemed slow which may have been another exacerbating disappointment.   The film’s progress, or lack thereof, may have prompted the author’s further concerns that his story’s visionary ideals were at risk of being compromised.   That’s worthy of another discussion if Ross had any inkling or foreboding of what might occur with the adaptation of his book.   Would a less than stellar movie impact how his book would be regarded?

The studio was having difficulty creating a movie script, but he was not actively involved.  What could matter is, if he felt some sense of having abandoned his story to those who gave him reason to be anxious about what they would produce.   I think that would have been one more demoralizing factor for the “Raintree County” idealistic author.   Son Larry described his father’s life during those times in his book. 

There were other life issues, probably of lesser significance, but factors none the less.  A financial element and conceivably a familial genetic predisposition may have come to bear on author Ross.  Reference was made to a cousin whose significant novel addressing mental illness brought about social awareness and change had years earlier been made into a powerful movie.   Larry wrote:
“His cousin Mary Jane Ward, author of the 1946 novel “TheSnake Pit”, would later say she became reconciled to his death only when she saw the movie—at least he had been spared this!”
(Her reference was to the movie made of “Raintree County” which was less than stellar.)

I think the action Ross took was the sum total of all the factors – magnified in his mind -- given his personal values, beliefs and expectations of himself.  Perhaps, impulsively, for a period of time he became unable to visualize hope beyond the darkness encompassing him, unable to recognize his emotional/physical state was not permanent.   Perhaps unable to realize his life enthusiasms and creative juices could be replenished.   I can well imagine his thinking processes ultimately had become unable to function logically affecting his judgment with what we know can be neurological chemical imbalances.     

“Raintree County” remains a nostalgic memory as I journeyed through character John Shawnessy’s life, set in a time and place not too long ago.   I was fascinated by how one chapter literally lead into another in a manner “…often surreal…with dream sequences, flashbacks…” within the framework of John’s life.   The author’s metaphorical commentary on ever-increasing materialistic influences has resonated for me through my life’s decades.

I would like to have been able to read his book as he imagined it with all the pages he originally wrote, no matter how lengthy, including the many sections the publisher required be eliminated.  That may well be the long anticipated great American novel of the time Ross Lockridge, Jr. wrote that we never got to read.   Some might think his published book a classic that has yet to be fully appreciated  and recognized. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

GOLDEN RAINTREE 4TH OF JULY NOSTALGIA



This 21st Century I sometimes find myself reflecting on 20th Century life, even 19th Century remnants carried over that I encountered when young – the General Store, the place to shop in my grandmother's and aunt's small villages; the gazebo in the town’s “center” on a weekend afternoon where a small group of local musicians played the “oom pah pah” music rhythms carried over from the previous era. 

Patriotic holidays like July 4th celebrating Independence Day attracted the entire community to either participate in, or cheer on the school's marching band augmented by a few old-timers parading down the center of town.   Colorful red, white and blue stars and stripes flags waved by onlookers then, in my Midwest state neighboring that of the golden raintree, fluttered everywhere as they continue to do  yearly in these parades. including where I live now on the Pacific's West Coast in Southern California. 

When I was young, a variety of books, magazines and comic books captured my attention.  In addition to classic books an older relative had received when young, and periodically sent me, I sometimes was also gifted with a brand-new book for my birthday, or at Christmas.  That is how I came to read all about The Bobbsey Twins. 

During my middle to upper elementary school ages we continued to live in town.   I used to ride the city bus down town,  then took only a block’s walk to our local library.   Saturdays, and during the summertime when we had school vacation, to occasionally be permitted to travel alone by bus downtown increased my self-confidence that not only was I trusted, I was capable of taking care of myself.  I'm sure this freedom contributed significantly to my developing an independent nature.

I examined numerous library books, some quite at length, before selecting a few I was permitted to check out.   I recall becoming interested in historical fiction, also at that age I enjoyed Lorna Doone, said to be a romance novel infused with some historical characters.  Probably some of the books I examined I might not have been allowed to check out since I was so young – librarians likely screening to protect my youthful sensibilities. 

I concluded during those pre-teen years that reading big thick books with lots of pages often held more interesting complex stories.   So, I sometimes just wandered down aisles, randomly selecting such hefty books, flipped them open to the middle, then read a few paragraphs.   That’s how I encountered one of the books I read only at the library, Madame Bovary -- also one in which I probably read more paragraphs than in some others.   

My 35 cents a week allowance I spread pretty thin, so I made certain to never have any library late fees.   My mother endeavored teaching me to be selective in my tastes and not squander my limited funds on what she thought would be a waste of my time and money -- such cheap stuff which included most ten cent comic books with superheroes and villains, serial movie matinees at the local theater.   I’ve become a bit more accepting, enjoying those super heroic humorous characters in some recent generations’ movies.  

“True” comic book was an occasional exception because the stories were based on history in Mother's view.   Years later when I was a teen, a comic book that attracted me then was the satirical “Mad” with the “What, Me Worry” boy, Alfred E. Neuman for which she had little appreciation.      

We had by then, years before, left the town of my early years following significant changes in family makeup, location, and financial status.   From my Jr. High through Sr. High School years we lived in what I generously describe as being the “boonies”, or if I desired to present a classier tone I would describe those years as being when we “lived in the country” and the immediately succeeding years when we had “a cottage near a lake.”  Privately, I knew the latter would have been described as more like a shack compared to where we had lived in the Midwest.  I was learning the nuances of language and the situations in which it might be wise to use those more palatable terms.    

I no longer had such ready access to a library, or even to checking books out from school.   My having books to read was quite limited.  Pop was enamored with the book “Scottish Chiefs” by Jane Porter which didn’t capture my interest at the time (he would have liked the years later movie “Brave Heart” about Sir William Wallace).    

Mother’s vision problems had long since developed to a degree she could no longer read most print – large size print books were generally not available.  In fact, I had to read to her the letters she received.   Some years later, I was able to obtain a subscription from the Library of Congress for her to receive by mail the Talking Books, on records then.  They later transitioned to tape before becoming audio books, now digitized, distributed here through the Braille Institute.   

Knowing I missed reading, Mother quickly accepted a new book offered, that I could even keep, when a casual friend wondered if her daughter might like this fictional novel, Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr., her son had earlier received as a book of the month selection.   

Other forms of entertainment from the arts were pretty much absent from my life, except for what I might encounter at school.  I was thrilled to finally see a movie again when our English teacher took us to see “Hamlet” starring Sir Lawrence Oliver’ in a performance which totally mesmerized me – the visual effects when Hamlet encountered his father’s ghost in those black and white film days before technicolor were chilling.   

To say that aspects of my being were starved for nourishment during those years would be an understatement, so when I received Raintree County that summer I became totally immersed in the words and story which captured my imagination.   I tended toward romanticized fantasy despite life's realities.   The over a thousand page novel's conclusion came too soon, did not resolve as I might have wished, but the visualizations conjured in my mind have lingered throughout my life.  

I sometimes thought, I would really like to meet that author and discuss his book with him.  This Wikipedia excerpt describes the world into which I entered, encapsulated in an ethereal environment, entranced, beneath a magnificent golden raintree. 

“The book is often surreal, with dream sequences, flashbacks and departures from the linear narrative. It has been described as an effort to mythologize the history of America, which to a great degree it succeeds in doing through the eyes and the commentary of John Shawnessy. For example, a number of turning points in John's life seem to coincide with Fourth of July celebrations.”

Years later the book was made into a movie that deterred significantly from the novel’s storyline.   I was disappointed that the movie did not do justice to the book, though most movies don’t – two totally different story-telling mediums.    But…that said, I did derive some momentary satisfaction in how the movie concluded their story, even though the ending was altered from the book. 

Nat King Cole sings the movie’s theme, a melancholy harmonica in the background.




The character emphasis in the movie’s created story probably had to do with embroidering the roles played by the stars chosen to play them, especially the female lead, Elizabeth Taylor.    Something similar occurred with a movie that has come to be considered a classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, as revealed by the book’s author years later.   In that movie the male lead’s part was beefed up, his character made more idealistic, at the star’s, Gregory Peck’s, insistence, but this was not quite how the author portrayed the character in the book -- or observed the person to be in real life, her father, who served as the model.    In fact, the author said she intended the story to revolve more around the child (actually the author) from whose perspective the story was being told.       

I think my circumstances during 1948, a significant year for multiple reasons, coupled with my youthful mindset, probably had some bearing on why reading Raintree County published that same year affected me as it did then, and why the novel has continued to remain such a nostalgic memory.   Certainly, I’ve read many books since, impacting me emotionally.    I have bookcases filled with print, running the gamut from nonsense to the profound, from little known to some considered among the greatest writing, fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, and much more. 

Why some literature, music, paintings, artistic creations resonate with us at various times in our lives can be very complex.   Our reaction likely has little or nothing to do with how critics may assess a creation, or the general public’s response in popularity.   I wish I could have told Ross Lockridge, Jr. about my reaction to his only book, but I discovered years later that would never be possible.  You see, shortly after the movie was released, the book’s author committed suicide at age 33.   Ever after, I’ve always wondered, why?   

Many years later sharing this with a personal friend, who happened also to be a creative writing teacher, she noted, having read the book, she was not at all surprised he committed suicide.    I never understood what about his story caused her to have this view.   Ironically, a couple decades later she engaged in behaviors she had to have known could and did culminate in her own death, much too early. 

I was reminded of all this a few years after my husband’s death (not a suicide) and I came upon the information Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s son, Larry Lockridge who was only 5 years of age when his father died (coincidentally my age when my father abandoned our family) had written his father’s biography titled In the Shade of the Raintree published in 1994.    The book was re-released a few years ago.  Later, I happened on an Internet free copy offer which I accepted by writing that author a letter and soon received the biography.    

I fully intended to read the son’s book and write about it here, but for some unknown reason, I couldn’t bring myself to start reading the book immediately.   When I did start reading I was pleased to discover the son’s writing to be that of a very polished experienced writer as I later discovered he actually was.   The book is filled with page tabs I placed throughout, as I read words that resonated with me in some way.  Yet, when I finished I still could not quite bring myself to write that blog post. 

The son’s account was very emotionally moving to me – making the acquaintance of one who might have been dear to him though his memories of his father were limited – the descriptive word picture painted of his father’s life – his mentions of possible contributors to depression’s pain.   I thought, too, of the ramifications of life-ending actions on those left to grapple with the consequences.      

Someone I cared for many years ago ended his life.  I learned soon after that his behavior revealed he had become severely depressed.  I was angry to hear those close to him had reacted in the manner  they did, however well-intentioned, but misguidedly inadequate.   He clearly needed professional help -- so much more than they provided.  I recalled words he had said to me many years earlier, in retrospect revealing the seeds of pain that might have portended his possible outcome. 

If only he had not been so idealistic, been less noble, moral or ethical, he might have avoided reaching that low emotional state into which he sank, or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.  In my sorrow mixed with pain I was angry with him, too.   Why hadn’t he called me?  I could only think of that saying, "the truly good die young".  I felt similarly about my writing teacher friend after being informed of her death.  

I never wrote as I intended about Raintree County, or about In the Shade of the Raintree.  I never wrote Larry Lockridge to tell him how much I appreciated his writing about his father -- to thank him again for the biography.   Often when the 4th of July comes around, thoughts and visions of the book’s mystical golden raintree flash through my mind much as Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s words first planted that mental imagery.      

Movie clip of Montgomery Clift (hero John Shawnessy) and Lee Marvin (Orville “Flash” Perkins) in 4th of July race culminating with Elizabeth Taylor (Susanna Drake) and Eva Marie Saint (Nell Gaither) HERE.