When I was a kid, I had a long low book shelf crowded with souvenirs, magazines and books. My souvenir shell frog from Florida was a favorite as was a wooden bear toy my parents brought back from Russia. And of course I had the ubiquitous giant eraser.
I was just beginning to grow my book collection, including Treasure Island, Sterling North’s Rascal and a book about Red-Tailed Hawks.
More than anything, I was into nature magazines, especially National & International Wildlife. I’d decided that I was going to work with animals, maybe be a zookeeper, and was determined to read every article in every issue to start my zoology education. But then I lost my focus and realized these magazines were a good hiding place for a new interest I had begun to develop.
I find these inside passages to who I was when I was a kid, half Deja Vu. It’ll be a song or a flash of a color or a smell. It puts me in my kid head, sitting on my bed, looking over the garage roof at the neighbor’s backyard. It’s a nothing moment but it’s real.
That’s what time travel is, suddenly there, but we spend all of our time distracting ourselves with phones and shows and movies, trying to get somewhere, not where we are, and none of that works.
All you need is the trigger, holding a glass or your foot slipping off the edge of the chair, and you’re back as a tiny person realizing this world. We’ve turned those triggers off. We’re charging headfirst into the fucking bots and bits, thinking that that is the way, not thinking, but going ahead like automatons doing our lowest of the low’s bidding.
As of late, I have been scouring through old images (prints, negatives and slides) in search of material for my Young Chronicles series. However there is one picture I cannot find, that of a boy looking back through the gap between a bus seat and the wall. All I can find is this lesser shot of his hand.
Boy’s hand on bus trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Whitehorse, Yukon.
Not being able to find the image of the boy haunts me in an odd way. I don’t know how I could have lost it and look for it again and again. To no avail.
The feeling reminds me of a fruitless search as a boy at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. There had been a exhibition on the Amazon that I had loved, but it was a temporary thing and had vanished forever.
Searching for the lost Amazon exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
That didn’t stop me from endlessly searching the corridors and rooms, peaking behind the dioramas, looking for the secret passageway that would lead me back to that magical place. I am still looking for that.
The Young Chronicles detail my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the initial Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland leg of the journey, this section covers the return trip back across Newfoundland.
June 16, 1983 Mileage 35 miles
Ride One: Fortune to Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Old turquoise pickup truck. 23-year-old man with toothy grin. Wants to get out of Fortune.
Ride Two: Grand Bank to four miles down road. Old pickup truck. Toolbox. Nice man.
Ride Three: To Marystown. Pickup truck. Young guy, moose hunter, works on the oil platforms, six months on, six months off. Off to fish in Gander, Labrador soon.
Stayed in Mariner’s Lodge run by an old guy. “Been everywhere and know everything.”
June 17, 1983 Mileage 418 miles
Ride One: Marystown to Clarenville. Old car. Squeaky 200-pound moose hunter.
Ride Two: Clarenville to Trans Canada Turnoff. Blue pickup truck. Middle-aged guy with no right hand index finger. Electrician moose hunter. Loves screech and special mild cigarettes.
Ride Three: TCH Turnoff too Gander. Old Blue car. Old lady who told story of mongoloid children from a little red bible. “God bless you.”
Ride Four: Gander to Corner Brook. Old Buick. Young guy who took pictures and hunted moose. Quiet except about moose.
Stayed in Bridgeway Motel with two beds. Upcoming Red Rider concert advertised heavily on radio. Ate a hamburger at an old diner. Still cold. High of 24.
June 18, 1983 Mileage 137 miles PLUS ferry trip back to mainland
Ride One: To “a better exit”. Small car with a guy and girl. “I’ll show you a better exit.”
Ride Two: Corner Brook to Stephenville. Canadian army truck. Guy looked a cartoon character with lips jutting out. Moose hunter
Ride Three: Stephenville to roadside bar 25 north of Port-Aux-Basques. Three guys on a multi-day bender. Doug (groom-to-be, bearded, driver, calm, scar on cheek), Pat (married two years, former speed user), Brian (married three years drinker, mustache) and Tefel (fellow hitchhiker, insecure, loves high speed driving).
Doug, Pat, Brian and Tefel holding the spare tires that acted as back seats.
These guys are all moose poachers and have been jailed four times each. No back seat in the car. Spare tires instead. Shared bottles of beer. I had four. They took us to dump to look for bears and threw empties into the garbage pile. Left them at the bar.
Ride Four: Roadside bar to Port-Aux-Basques Ferry Terminal. Light brown sedan. Mustache and overweight. “Keep all your lanes open in music.”
I was 14 when I saved a copy of Marvel Two-in-One #34 with my scathing “I hate this comic” letter in my desk drawer and looked at it every once in a while.
I lost of track of it some time later, through high school, college and work, vaguely sure that it was somewhere in my mess of drafts, articles and rejection letters.
The memory of it came to me years later, but the search was always detoured by distraction and ultimately, the lack of the required energy of such a futile quest. After all it was just an eight-word letter that didn’t even approximate my original message.
It is a funny tale and works for this site and so I blogged on it five years back, working solely from memory and thus erroneously cited the comic in question as Marvel Team #31 (featuring Spiderman and Iron Fist).
It was only recently, in these pandemic days, that I decided to find the damn thing. I knew that it was from one of three comic series (Team-Up, Two-in-One or Iron Fist) and scoured through various blogs and archives for it.
I knew the issue focused on saving kids from a burning orphanage and so keyed on images of orphans and fires. I thought I had found it in an issue of Marvel Team-Up which had a collapsing building and an orphan-looking kid.
I ordered the issue on-line and several others following to ensure that I got the one with my letter too. I knew it was wrong before I even opened the issue. It looked wrong and was. I returned to my on-line search and finally noticed the burning hospital (not orphanage) in the background of Marvel Two-in-One #34 that I knew that I had found it. It was then that I realized my letter was in Issue #40 by looking at the cover.
The memory of walking through the pinewood hallway to my bedroom at the cottage came to me at that moment – the cool, dark air, a distant screen door closing, the feeling of emptiness of seeing my letter in print, edited to nothing – and then the feeling of comics not being what they once had been – a place of wonder – it all came into me like that.
It’s funny how that feeling returned again now, when I had finally found the issue again, at the end of this farcical quest. I had found it last and so what indeed? What’s next?
Here is a place I know. It is easy. I know where I am. I am here. I am afraid of it. I dream of living in this. It isn’t a thing that is anything else. It is the thing, all of itself. And I am here. Lucky me. There is a sound. It is quiet and not. Oh, an abstract thing. No. It is tiny and whole. It is physics. It is a big thing. It is the everything thing. But don’t say that. Too many steps back.
It is that thing in you, that thing you hold too tight, little too much of you that you don’t want to let out, that you might say no to, that you might think that is too much and is everything. And that is the thing, tiny as it might be that is everything. It wakes you and makes you remember.
It was a while back and I was different then. But I wasn’t. You weren’t. We were there. And we remember. And that is the curse. It is love. Or memory.
Great Aunt Ida’s memoirs focus on her childhood in the late1900s: These days would now be thought of as the dark ages by the present generation – when young girls of gentle birth were not allowed the freedom of conduct which they have today. Most telling is her language, simply offered, reflecting insidious racism: …where the darkeys singing in the harvest fields, the village church sounding faint and sweet on the quiet air of a Sabbath morning.She goes on to relate a terribly revealing anecdote: The brother was known to everyone as Tommy did fine cabinet work, but they seemed to move so silently and unobtrusively through life; there was a story that Tommy had been wild as a lad and when he was out one night carousing with some other boys of his own age – it may have been Halloween – but anyhow a stone thrown by someone crashed through the window of a negro’s cottage and killed a baby asleep in a cradle. No one ever knew who threw the stone, for the guilty one never told, but in a very few weeks Tommy’s dark brown hair had turned snowy white. Having heard the story, he was of course an interesting figure to us – though he was now a middle aged man.
My Great Aunt Ida wrote down her memories, dating back to her childhood in Maryland during the late 19th Century:
I have thought many times since my hair has grown grey and so many things that have been so important to me have seemed to lose their importance with the passing years, that I would go back home and visit the scenes of my childhood, make a sentimental journey, as it were, to all the places that are so indelibly stamped on my memory……the guinea hens roosting in the cedar trees late in the fall and being very noisy first before a storm: the bees buzzing among the roses and the holly hocks all through the long summer…..the great oak trees that sheltered the spring where water was always so cool and clear: the back lane that led out to the dirt road and the huge cherry trees…She somberly concludes her brief reflections with thoughts on her days living in 1940s New York:
When I am wearing a thick coat in April in New York and feeling resentful over the late spring, my mind invariably travel back home and I feel again the soft air, smell the fragrance of the blossoms on those far away hills – it is a very real sensation – one that I have loved and kept close in my heart for a long time and like many beautiful things – it is better to keep put away – for fear it might be lost or shattered.
I just returned from a salmon fishing excursion to Campbell River, British Columbia. I had expected to be quietly drifting along the coast, maybe even catching a few of the 45 million salmon reported to be running up the rivers.
Instead I found a gaggle of 60-70 boats going back and forth in a narrow, in and out of each other, fighting for the fish; it’s referred to as “combat fishing” by the guides.I didn’t fish so much as have the rod handed to me by the guide when there was a bite and then just reel that in as best as I could. (I batted .500)It was an odd experience, complete with one boat even running over a seiners’ nets, not like my childhood memory from many years ago, sitting there in the cold with father, hanging on to my rod and staring down into the infinite blue, catching mostly dogfish. I did however catch more fish this time (4 times as many); I’m still trying to understand if that makes it all worthwhile.