Guys who reach a certain age – in my case, when I went north of 40 – try to recapture pieces of their youth. Some might call this a midlife crisis. I call it my “The adult is out to lunch – back in 30 minutes” time.
Just because you’re a grownup – or least that’s what your birth certificate says – doesn’t mean you can’t let your inner Peter Pan come out from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with letting out an audible yelp while treasure hunting at a crowded flea market when you find the 1977 Star Wars lunch box that your parents refused to buy for you because the lunch box you had was just fine. Maybe buying that Pontiac Fiero that began overheating on the highway and ultimately died a few months after I purchased it wasn’t so smart – thanks for the recent reminder, Facebook – but hey, at least I could say I briefly owned the car I’d fantasized about for three decades.
I see a very enjoyable piece of my younger years every time I look at the bookcase in my office.
The copy of “The Eddie Mathews Story” you see is the same one I read about 40 years ago when I was a student at Franklin Elementary School, and there is a stamp with the school name inside the book to prove it. Franklin was razed in 2013, and somehow the book ended up at one of the local libraries. I found it at a book sale a couple years ago, and I couldn’t get the 25 or 50 cents I paid for it out of my pocket fast enough. Eddie Mathews was the lone person to play for the Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta Braves. He’s in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I was a baseball-crazy kid, and my mom had seen him play sometime around the mid- to late-1950s. Maybe I didn’t finish the book before dinner the same day I checked it out, but I burned through all 180-plus pages pretty quickly.
I used to do that with a lot of books. Reading brought me great joy when I was a kid. It’s brought me happiness again as of late.
I’ve actually had time to read again now that Nolan has returned to school and my work schedule the second half of September has been very light. Pre-pandemic, I’d been trying to read at least one book a month when my schedule allowed me to do so. Having Nolan home for nearly six months limited my reading opportunities to the countless cans of soup he consumed. I’d even forgotten that news stories are typically longer than two paragraphs.
Ah, yes – the news. I’m sure you’re all well aware that another election year is upon us, and the political advertisements are shown on a seemingly endless loop on every television station (“Candidate ‘A’ will give us peace, prosperity, and everything we could ever want, and Candidate ‘B’ kicks puppies in the teeth – or at least that’s what he’s heard.”). It seems like I can’t even escape to Mayfield or Mayberry without hearing someone imploring me to vote for him or her. And forget about Bruce Springsteen bemoaning the fact there was 57 channels and nothing on in the early 1990s. I think Cindy and I might have access to three times the number of stations, and there are days when watching a spider crawl up the living room wall would be more entertaining.
So books have provided a welcome relief from the outside world. And I’m trying to make up for lost time.
The first book I polished off was a biography I’d bought last winter about Curly Lambeau, the man who founded the Green Bay Packers and without whom the Lombardi Trophy, The Frozen Tundra of the football field that bears his name, and Todd Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day” playing until your ears bleed whenever the Packers score would exist. I was proud to receive and read an advance copy of “The Expectant Father’s Activity Book” by James Guttman. James also has a son who has Autism and is nonverbal, and he writes a fantastic blog (“Hi, Blog! I’m Dad.”) that I hope our mom-and-pop operation can one day match.
And I’ve finally started a book I bought last year at a rummage sale: “I Am Third,” by Gale Sayers, a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1971 who passed away last week. A small part of the book was turned into a 1971 television movie called “Brian’s Song,” which stars Billy Dee Williams (you know him best as Lando Calrissian) and James Caan (Buddy the Elf’s dad) and focuses on Sayers’ friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer in 1970. While Hollywood can bring a story to life, things will get condensed or ignored in a 90- to 120-minute move. A 240-page book allows the reader to really get to know someone. I’m 75 pages into Mr. Sayers’ story and can’t wait to find out more about him.
My mom always encouraged me to read, even if she wasn’t crazy about the times I stayed up past my bedtime because I wanted to read just one more chapter of the latest Hardy Boys book she and dad had bought me. We lived within walking distance of one of the libraries in the city where I grew up, and I made many trips there. I think I might have been on a first-name basis with the lady with whom students would check out books in the elementary school library. I once even got into a tug-of-war with a classmate over the only copy of a book I wanted to buy at a school book fair.
Even though I had friends, I still was the scrawny boy who was not so good at sports, an occasional target for bullies, and at times a know-it-all who tried to answer almost as many questions as possible that the teacher asked the class. Overall, I was a loner, and I felt closest to the authors I read and the characters and topics about which they wrote. I could relate to Henry Huggins and the messes Beverly Cleary got him into. There was a piece of Peter Hatcher, the protagonist in Judy Blume’s books, in me. As I got older, no one could bother me if I was traveling Middle Earth with Frodo and Sam, or riding with the Joad family to California on Route 66.
I’ll take whatever time to escape that I can get. Nolan and the other special needs students who are currently receiving face-to-face instruction are one school board decision away from returning to virtual learning. I’m entering the busiest, most stressful time of the year with my job. Any fears I have about possibly losing my job might be unfounded, but these are uncertain times and you just never know what might happen.
So for now, I’ll enjoy every opportunity I get to read and return to a place that’s making me happy, just as it did years ago.