Once Upon a Time, Long Before You and Me

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Saturday, October 12, 2013 A.D.

Once upon a time, long before you and me, my mother was born.

Yesterday would have been her 100th birthday.

“WOULD have been her 100th birthday” doesn’t sound exactly right. Actually, it WAS her 100th birthday, she just couldn’t be here to celebrate in person. Or rather, I couldn’t be where she is to celebrate. There are cosmic barriers to such things, you know.

Tomorrow, I will travel to Cuba, Alabama, to visit my mother’s baby sister, Aunt Margaret McGee Hardin. The occasion, husband Uncle Lamar’s 90th birthday, is as good an excuse as any…an excuse to enter the heart of the heart of the Alabama countryside and check up on the Theory of Relativity—that theory being, “In the long run, after all is lived and almost done, it’s Family that matters most, in both memory and reality.” No use trying to escape this theory, because olde times from childhood will not be forgotten, will continue to make themselves  known, will persistently rise up and remind you of your evolution from child of the womb to child of the universe to child of the unknown After Here.

On the way to Aunt Margaret’s home, Liz and I will pick up sister Barbara Reed Partrich at our mother’s home on Old Eastwood Avenue in Tuscaloosa. Barbara has traveled from Columbia, South Carolina, to attend Uncle Lamar’s party.

On the way back from Cuba, maybe the three of us will visit Mom’s burial site to wish her a happy birthday, and stand at the nearby graves of our father and sister Rosi.

We will chat and laugh and reminisce and wipe away an occasional tear, and the lively conversation will include all six of us, since we know in our hearts exactly what Rosi and Mom and Dad would say if we could only hear them.

It will be a nice visit.

And maybe—just maybe—once upon a time in the near future, someone Liz and Barbara and I have left behind will do the same with us, be we coffin-bound or ash-scattered. We’ll be Somewhere Else, but the reunion will be fun anyhow.

At least, maybe the remaining celebrants will get a chuckle out of my epitaph, which will read, NOT EXACTLY WHAT I HAD IN MIND

 

© 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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Under the dome of Birmingham: Stalking the elusive mom and pop breakfast places

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/underthebirminghamdome.mp3

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The man of a certain age sits alone in the diner, his girth mastering most of the booth space.

He eats his breakfast as if he’s never eaten before, smacking and stuffing and sopping and glugging, like he’s not had a meal for days, though it’s evident that he’s been frequently well-fed and well-groomed. He leans into the food and stuffs away, his blow-dried sprayed whitening hair and monogrammed track pullover shirt quivering in the morning fluorescent light.

He is his own world for a few minutes in the crowded eatery.

Across the room, a mustachioed baseball-capped good ol’ boy with hand in napkinned lap eats mannerly and methodically, gazing all the while into the indiscernable space before him, ignoring the blaring TV set hanging from the ceiling.

Worldly waitresses, ears slanted from cached pencils, skillfully walk the tightrope assigned to their lot—the tightrope walk between appearing simultaneously aloof and chummy, careful to balance the roles of Mom and Flirt and Nurturer and Businesswoman while keeping all these morning shovelers of food happy and distant.

Four elderly men at Table 4 grunt and chat and laugh and tease as they relate oft-repeated stories about how the world is going to hell and how the young people these days…

They are having the best time they’ll have all day, for a smattering of minutes avoiding all responsibility and duty and honey-do tasks which will face them down later in the morning, no matter what.

One four-year-old sits with his grandmother and diligently stabs into waffles and syrup and butter with zeal usually assigned to a nervous dog digging for its favorite bone. In just a few years, he, too, will be trying to find the perfect breakfast place that replicates this perfect childhood experience he’s having right now.

He, like all of us in the diner, is imprinted with the combination of taste, texture, fragrance, feel of what it’s like to be in a safe, familiar, non-threatening place, being cared for by kindly strangers whose only goal is to feed you well and stay out of your way while you soak up all that nurturing atmosphere, the nurturing atmosphere you take with you to start the day right, even if later on, some grumbly non-breakfasted bastard wonders why you’re in a better mood than he is, and tries to take it all away from you

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I’ll never forget the day I read a book

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/illneverforgetthedayireadabook.mp3

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So…what is the first book you ever read?

What is the first book I ever read?

Allow me to crank up the Time Machine and get back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when books slowly insinuated themselves into my life.

First thing I do is SEE a book. It’s over there, just within reach of my chubby little uncoordinated fingers. I can roll just a quarter-roll in my crib—that’s all it takes to see this unfocused blur of colors and shapes on the cover. All I know how to do is experience the book, not knowing that it can be read and manipulated. So, I do what I know how to do: lick the cover and gnaw at the corners. It tastes different than those mashed-up things they are feeding me. It would be even tastier if I could bite off a piece and swallow it, but that comes later.

So, first I SEE a book. Then I TASTE it. Then I masticate a bit. Then, I lose concentration and fixate on a wiggly toy that is hanging above me. I’ll get back to the book later.

Next thing I know, I’m snuggled up to my mother’s chest, experiencing the words she is reading to me as they vibrate the side of my face. I can HEAR her voice with one ear. I can FEEL her voice with the other. And then I note that she is gently turning the pages, causing the colorful shapes and strange markings to shift each time. I can hear her inflections of warmth, suspense, happiness, as the pages drift by.

Before I know it, I’m sitting up in my own wobbly fashion and turning the pages—not necessarily one at a time, not necessarily in any order. But I am doing the book the way I know how to do it. And, now and then, I even taste it again. I’ve been known to rub a crayon onto the paper to add color and design.

Time flies and now I’m reciting a book to my mother and sister, pretending that I’m reading it as the pages pass, but actually I still don’t know how to read, I’m just feeding back what I’ve heard them read aloud so many times. They play along with the ruse.

Now, at last, I am picking out a word or two in preparation for enrolling in the first grade. I’m excited about the prospect of actually making my way through the words with some degree of understanding. And, amazingly, after a while I start to read big-lettered words on my own.

What is the first book I can read without assistance? Hard to tell, since the books at school are not the same books we have at home. I’m reading some in both places. But in class, I get to read a Dick and Jane and Sally story all the way through! When I become an author many years later, I am jealous of those who wrote this reader. Wouldn’t you like to be the writer whose works can be recited by heart by millions of school kids? “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!”

In middle age, I discover the song that comedian Jimmy Durante co-wrote and performed with gusto:

 There’s one day that I recall, though it was years ago.

All my life I will remember it, I know.

I’ll never forget the day a read a book.

It was contagious, seventy pages.

There were pictures here and there,

So it wasn’t hard to bear,

The day I read a book.

It’s a shame I don’t recall the name of the book.

It wasn’t a history. I know because it had no plot.

It wasn’t a mystery, because nobody there got shot.

The day I read a book? I can’t remember when,

But one o’ these days, I’m gonna do it again.

(Listen to Jimmy sing it, at the end of this column.)

Just yesterday, a pleasant family enters the shop, looking around and remarking upon the variety of things to read. One young girl is just tagging along, so naturally she’s the one I try to engage in conversation: “What do you like to read?” I ask, hoping to introduce some titles to her. She performs a sly smile and doesn’t answer because, like so many other children I meet these days, she knows her avid parents will answer for her. “Oh, she doesn’t read,” her father says. I know what he’s saying, but I play dumb just to see what kind of response I’ll get: “You mean she doesn’t know how to read?” I ask sympathetically. She grins even more deeply, waiting for her parent’s punchline. “No she just doesn’t like to read.”

I get it now. This lass has found a way to rebel against her parents, assert her own identity, appear cool to other kids. Normally, I get to talk up a book enough to inspire someone like her to try it, but I know there’s no way this can happen when hovering but well-meaning parents are there to puppet-master her conversation.

So, I say what I always say whenever the situation calls for it: “Oh, too bad. Mark Twain once said that a person who does not read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

This is aimed at no-one in particular. The girl gets the joke but continues to play dumb. The parents remain perplexed.

What will no doubt happen—I’ve see it often—is she will discover a spicy novel proffered by a friend and, in secret, read it voraciously, becoming hooked on reading despite herself. She will, in the tradition of all kids, hide this novel and this fact from her parents as long as she possibly can.

The cycle goes on.

And maybe one day she’ll hear an old Jimmy Durante song and get excited all over again

Here’s Jimmy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLOR8gKwyoo 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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F.W. Woolworth socks it to me

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/fwwoolworthsocks.mp3

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I don a fresh pair of socks each and every morning of my life, always wondering when I’m going to run out of the really good ones.

That’s right—I go through fourteen clean socks a week. I’m an Activities of Daily Living guy who uses routine and ritual to contain my excited and artistic impulses. If I didn’t subscribe to certain repeatable and comfortable exercises, I just might wander off absent-mindedly while imagining my next story, my next speech or performance, my flights of fantasy that allow me to compose and edit and manage the Muse who tracks me, my acquisition of rare and unusual reading material for longing customers.

So, wearing clean socks is part of the act.

This particular morning, I find two holes in the right sock and, since no-one in America has darned a sock since 1959, I reluctantly toss it into the trash. The abandoned sock is one of the last really good ones I’ll apparently ever own. Can’t find soft, durable and comfortable ones anymore.

I’m about to run out of the last F.W. Woolworth socks in the known universe.

A sock is not just a sock, you  understand. These socks were purchased at one of the final real variety department stores, purchased decades ago when stores still had clerks who knew where things were, and who gladly assisted you in finding them, making sure they were right for you and checking to see whether you had an enjoyable experience in the process.

Wonder when the last real store clerk disappeared from view? Looking around, it’s hard to see any evidence that they ever existed except in the minds of geezers of a certain age.

For instance, at the library, librarians sit staring at computers and don’t voluntarily look up. You have to stand over them and clear your throat loudly to get them to tear their gaze from the screen. Even then, they only know how to vaguely point directions without removing seat of pants from seat of chair.

The branch bank on the corner seems equally bereft of eye contact. Employees sit and stare at screens or bow their heads in religious adoration of hand-held devices. They not only find it hard to look at me, but there is impatience in body language and demeanor. Just let me get back to the real virtual world! they seem to be saying. They don’t seem glad to see me.

It’s hard not to feel guilty, interrupting these clerks who have learned to respond warmly to electronic messages and images. What an annoyance we real people are!

Anyhow, I miss the days of one-on-one real-time real-presence social exchanges. I’m adjusting to the lonely world of sock-hunting on my own.

There’s proof in the message—if I tried to tell you this sad tale in person, you’d be fidgeting and creeping toward the door, longing to get back to texting or youtubing or facebooking snarky comments about other people’s lives. But the fact that you read this story online simply means that I’m already on your side, despite my whining. We are virtual people communicating virtual information in a virtual world.

Wonder what the real world is like? Maybe we’d better look up once in a while, just to get our bearings.

Now that the F.W. Woolworth socks are depleted, I wonder what virtual socks will feel like

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Disembodied Book Re-animator Strikes Again

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/disembodiedbookreanimator.mp3

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The corpus delectable lies before me this morning, waiting for my re-animation skills to kick in.

It’s a book.

It is splayed open to the title page, begging me to bring it back to life. It is missing its hard covers, the tattered spine needs stabilizing, a few spots of age decorate its interior…but the words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and chapters are all intact and awaiting the touch of a reader or a collector or a hoarder.

There are many ways to resuscitate a book.

I can read it, thus infusing it with renewed vigor, donate my interpretation of the printed words to its 95-year-old collection of memories, turn its pages and admire the four centuries of trial-and-error printing craftsmanship that brought this object to this moment in time, marvel at the reproduction of the Edgar Allan Poe portrait facing the title page, ponder the life and times of publisher Charles C. Bigelow and Company, study the copyright year 1918 and determine what else of significance was happening in the world right about then, think on the near-century this book lay dormant and ignored in an attic of detritus, trace the route it took to arise from storage and wend its way into my hands this very moment.

I can also read its contents and marvel at the words that cause the imagination to become excited and nimble.

I can pick one story at random from this book, “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” and then imagine what the thousand-and-third tale might be, fantasize whether Scheherazade had another unpublished thousand-and-one tales within her, admit the fact that I, too, might have as many stories to tell if only I’d get on with telling them.

Upon further examination, I notice that the Scheherazade story has never been read by the owners of this book—the pages are still uncut, meaning that the avid reader of the day would purchase a book, take letter-opener in hand, and carefully slit the closed pages open so that the contents could be properly read.

This means that I could be the first person to read this story within the pages of this book. I will become the explorer, the adventurer, the first-ever enjoyer of these pages. Cheap thrills, but thrills, nonetheless!

What happens next to this tome? I might take it home and read it in lone silence. I might have it rebound and reinforced for its next 95-year journey, I might share it with another booklover, I might shelve it as is and hope that those who someday scrounge around the remains of my estate will do something more meaningful than send it to the dumpster.

For now, it is a foundling and must be protected from society’s thrower-awayers, society’s censors, society’s bookburners, society’s illiterates, society’s unappreciaters of the Past, society’s disapprovers.

How many booklives have I saved in a long lifetime? How many will I rescue from bookhell, how many more orphans will you and I conceal from the enemies of books?

The disembodied book re-animators of the would could be Us.

Or, if you don’t want to embrace the task, perhaps I’ll have to do it all by myself. But just think of the fun you’ll miss

 (c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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