Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All Our Red Ryder Air Rifles

Today is one of those strange juxtaposition of birthdays:  George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Stanley Kubrick.  If I cared about my literary reputation (I shall now pause for a moment so that you can recover from your fit of laughter), I would write about one of those great presences.   Think about those men and how in certain lights, you could argue that they defined the 20th century.

Of course, the danger with that kind of post is that I might sound pretentious.

Or you might say, "It's summer.  Can't we just focus on something fun?  I'm tired of plays that analyze our social situations as humans, I'm tired of trying to integrate my inner archetypes so that I can be healthy, I'm tried of dystopian futures, I'm exhausted by innovative storytelling and filmmaking."

Very well.  Let's celebrate the work of Jean Shepherd, also born today.  You think you don't know his work, but you probably do.

You're probably most familiar with him because of the film A Christmas Story, which he wrote and narrated.  It was based on some of his earlier work, both short stories and radio programs.  I'm probably one of the few Americans who had read him before I saw that movie, and while I don't remember much in terms of specifics from his writing, I do remember it being as delightful as the movie.

Sure, it's July, but we could watch the movie again.  Maybe we'd enjoy it more in the middle of summer, when it's not broadcast at every hour of the day and night, the way it is during the month of December.  We could appreciate how much it captures human yearning (but in a different way than Shaw would have depicted it).  We could appreciate the way it captures a time period in history that feels so long gone.  For those of us tired of dystopia, we have a beautiful picture of something different--and yet, the movie doesn't let us rest in nostalgia for too long.  It forces us to remember that even as childhood is a simpler time, it's still fraught with perils, like bullying and parental obsessions and yearning for what we're afraid we'll never have.

What are the Official Red Ryder 200-shot Range Model Air Rifles of your past?  What perfectly captures your childhood?  If you made a movie of a different time period, what would you include as period pieces?

My spouse loves the radios in A Christmas Story.  I'm fascinated by the kitchen.  I'm amazed that full dinners could come out of those appliances and that space.  Some of those pots and pans remind me of the ones that used to be in my grandma's kitchen.

Oh, those old kitchens!  They remind us of the joy of a well-seasoned skillet.

Now I am missing my grandmother's pork chops served with gravy over white rice made even more delicious with salt.  I'm missing the sliced sweet potatoes that she cooked into a soft, caramelized side dish.  I'm missing the corn and lima beans that she so often served.  I'm missing all the desserts that she made that I don't expect to taste again, but mainly her pies, with their crusts made flaky by lard or Crisco.  My nutritionist would not approve.

So, yes, let us celebrate those authors like Jean Shepherd, who capture elements of life that are just as universal as the writers who appeal to snootier sorts.  Let us strive to capture something universal in our work.  Let us have enough time to capture our memories before they're gone forever.

And may we all have the happiness of yearning rewarded, the yearned for object not disappointing, the happiness that comes to Ralphie at the end of A Christmas Story.

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