The place to come to wag more and bark less...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Seeing the Goods For The Trees

It was in the mid-80s today, nothing like the mid-90s we had last week. Still, it takes only one day like today to realize how good we had it before it got hot like last week which, I suppose, many said was “killing us…”

How soon we forget the heat, though. Put two or more days like this together and we’ll soon think fall is on its way. Chances are, a few months later we’ll be “freezing to death.”

Still, that “killer” heat of only a few days ago seems like a distant memory now. But true memories go much farther back. Some, long forgotten from my early youth, were among these this afternoon.

While watching a movie about a young artist seeking mentorship from an old and accomplished, classically-trained Russian painter, a distant memory flickered back to life for me. This memory, in fact, inspires me even today, despite its somewhat subordinate status among all the others.

Art is art, I reasoned, and inspiration is inspiration, no matter the medium. I believe any good artist, any good person, can recognize and appreciate inspiration from wherever it comes.

Even so, the movie’s “Formula,” as I learned to call it in college film class, was of a simple variety. The  accomplished old man, the Russian painter, his lifetime of experience behind him is looking his mortality in the eye. He’s anything but seeking a protégé.

The younger man deifies him nonetheless and, though he’s from a different generation,  he shares the old man’s values towards art, etc., etc,.

Eventually, they realize their shared love for the act of painting wins out, the end.

This particular film, a so-called B Movie whose name I do not remember and is irrelevant anyway, is set in a large, old farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. This is where my ancient memory surfaces.

Having grown up in suburban Pennsylvania in the 1970s, I saw a world that was very different than the suburban world it is now.

Though it’s been decades since I’ve been to my hometown, I needn’t see it as it is today to know this.

As a kid, I considered people who are of my age now to be “old-timers” and, like a kid, largely disregarded their perspectives. Then, I was too busy making my own perspectives, soaking up the world around me, to consider anyone else’s.

To be sure, however, I was likelier to disregard old-timers than anyone because I knew they could not relate to me. I could just feel it. As the saying goes “If I have to explain, you probably wouldn’t get it anyway,” and this aptly summed it up.

Today, I cannot be surprised if young people look upon me as I once looked upon older people then. Their world is, as I once claimed my own to be, a very different world. And I am not asking anybody for an explanation of that world, for not only would I not “get it anyway,” but I’m also unlikely to care; I had my crack at life and, for better or worse, it’s behind me now.

I may be too old to understand the younger generation as it is today. But I do know something to be true they do not, or probably have not yet contemplated.

Simply stated, each generation changes their world to fit their understanding of it, just as the generation that follows will do with their world. Likewise, the previous generation had changed their perceptions to fit their world and it’s from that point of view that they’ll make their decisions as adults.

From grandparents to parents to kids to grandkids, etc. this cycle continues. Throughout time immemorial, this cycle hasn’t been just a generational prerogative, but a generational imperative.

The social mechanisms by which we reflect upon our pasts evolve, just as cave drawings eventually became today’s digital video, and horse drawn buggy’s have become electric cars.

The physical landscapes that become icons of our lives slowly change too and,  barring catastrophic natural events like earthquakes and fires and floods, some of these settings will survive from one generation to the next.

Those tiny, rural towns I remember from the Pennsylvania of my youth are among these. Though I’m sure their numbers are dwindling, as evolution would have it anyway, they’ll always find life among my memories. Take this one, for example:

It was perhaps around age 9 or 10 that I remember traveling in the back of a Volkswagen Beetle to a small town called California, Pennsylvania.

Up front were my parents, while I shared the back seat with my cocker spaniel. Like good air circulation, space in that car was at a premium.

Given my young age and the size of my pet, it mattered little. It was one of the few advantages I had-that any kid has. For, beyond that, we almost always find ourselves at the whim of our environment.

Even though the day I found myself in that car may have been cool, the sun shining in the window, and the car’s lack of a/c made it feel mercilessly hot back there anyway.

Factor in my nine year old inability to understand time and distance and, to a kid like me, a trip like that might feel hotter than hell and lasting forever.

Chances are, mom and dad knew the trip was only an hour long max and the fresh country air filled cool, and were probably unable to understand my discomfort. One of the many advantages of being “the adult,” which I quickly learned to grumble about in later years.

As I’ve said, the mantra of the younger generation could well be “if I had to explain, you probably wouldn’t understand,” and this couldn’t have been more true to me then.

Once in that little town, located not far from the steel mills yet with a pastoral setting that made it feel like a universe away, small-town America prevailed.

Located on an austere, wide river, one would never guess the town oversaw a virtual waterborne highway for much of the natural resources barged along to the steel mills located a mere mile or so downriver.        

The aptly-named town of California, Pennsylvania might as well have been the state of California 3000 miles away to the west, for it was a world unto itself.

The streets were wide and made of poured cement, not paved asphalt. The yards as well were larger, with room for sidewalks instead of being extensions of grassy front yards that ended where they met the street, as in my neighborhood.

Perhaps most important for something I’ve still never – and hope I will never lose an eye for. That is, old and majestic trees, probably a hundred years old or more, and clear blue skies that revealed views of billowing clouds unhindered by smog.

One thing that’s for certain, though, is that when you’re only 3 feet tall, you can feel the heat radiating up from the sidewalk far more than adults.

I remember the car being parked a few blocks outside of the main part of town. Compared to my suburban frame of reference, the term “main part of town” was something of an overstatement.

Still, parked only a couple of blocks outside of town, the walk in seemed to take forever. Things I would relish now, like quaint storefronts and eateries, maybe even a winery or brewpub, of course, held no interest for me the, and still doesn’t, really.

What did matter however, was the store that sold ice cream. Though I don’t recall if it was when we arrived into town or when we were leaving that we visited the ice cream store.

But I do remember, however, eating it as fast as I could, before it could melt. As a rule, I ate ice cream as quickly as possible anyway, even without siblings with whom to compete. But that day’s heat made my haste that much more essential.

Ever since, I have always gravitated toward small towns and, in particular, ice cream, fudge brownie, taffy shops and the like. Even though I no longer consume such foods. it’s the quaintness of such places that leads me to seek them out.

Though this memory is but a tiny part of what’s shaped me into the person I am today, it will always stand as an essential memory of my days back then. That, in itself, is reason enough for me to seek out such places now, and I do.

Just like the magnificent trees and the blue skies I found as a kid in rural Pennsylvania, I still seek out those things wherever I go.

To me, such things are not only the essence of my youth, but the essence of what still keeps me young.

No comments:

Post a Comment