Right There in Black & White

Memories of an ex-munchkin among young women and summer breezes, by L. E. Taylor 

The diversions of television and Internet notwithstanding, we who have more life in the rearview mirror than through the windshield often find ourselves drifting off the road and into the past.

Recently, I found myself stock still in the living room with a glass of merlot in one hand and the TV remote in the other. Then I was gone.

The year was 1942. It was summer at my old Auntie Kane’s house on the Canadian shore of Lake St. Clair. I’d been sent across the river and into this bucolic yesteryear by my parents to protect me from the annual hot weather curse of cities: polio. Infantile paralysis, it was called, and it loomed over every household, in every neighborhood.

My Auntie (actually, my “great aunt,” my Grandma’s sister) was a widow whose only asset was a two story summer home built in 1912 by her late husband Will, a nineteenth century British emigrant, speedboat whiskey runner, illegal Detroit saloon proprietor, real estate speculator, and family character. Because the Kane’s had lost it all, as the saying goes, in the 1929-30 Crash, Minnie Kane was dependent for income upon a parade of family members and friends from the old days, and the pals they brought along for weekends in the cooling breezes off the blue lake.

That first year, 1942, was a test to see if I could handle June, July, and most of August on the lakeshore and permanently away from my mother and father, my baby brother, and my neighborhood chums (I could). Also, they needed to see if they could handle it (they could, too). So, summers during the War came to mean Canada for me. Not only did I meet a lot of interesting adults of all types and humours, but also (young men being away on urgent business, in uniform), a good portion of these folks were women. Young women.

Now I was only eight when the parade began, but as summers advanced, so did my curiosity about adult ways. I learned a lot. When the adults were relaxed on holiday at Auntie’s, they spoke freely among themselves – about politics, business, sports, sex. Well, the man-woman thing didn’t have a word connected to it then, but the phenomenon was present, always. My parents and their circles of couples would play gin rummy or poker indoors or Indian dice out on a sunny blanket; the men would go golfing; everyone swam in the sandy shallows of the clear lake; meals were always uproariously entertaining and the humor was always ironic and irreverent and full of salty information for the only kid there.

And he was certainly there. Always right there, not missing a syllable or a nuance. In fact, he wrote a book about it.

Many of the long forgotten bits of information little Larry absorbed in those four summers came from the brides and girlfriends of absent young warriors. The military men were my heroes, especially the Marines and the fliers. One of Auntie’s summer girls was married to an Air Corps pilot named Burton, which fascinated me. Her name was Pat. Then there was Mary, and Peg, and Ruth; these three only had boyfriends who were overseas. They were always gabbing, joking, and sometimes one would retreat into herself. They were all lonely. They masked the loneliness with an edgy gaiety that would come in bursts and then disappear like a summer lake squall.

And I was always there.

One day, they were talking about a movie that made a big impression. They settled into a serious conversation about it. Its title intrigued me. I asked what’s it about? Pat did a double take as though to say, “What? Are you still here?” Mary said, “It’s about a homely girl who meets a handsome man who’s engaged to a pretty woman. He goes off to war and comes back with his face all scarred up and ugly. When others are around, they are both ugly, when they’re alone in the cottage you see what they see, two beautiful people.”

Well, I never saw The Enchanted Cottage, but it did show up sixty-nine years later in my living room in Dallas Texas.

Black and white. Good movie.

Onward.

 

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Coming soon, essay: When Movies Didn’t Need Color.

 

 

 

Living the Mulligan

A True Story – Reflection by L.E. Taylor
Don and I were late for our tee-time because we had to stop at his buddy’s house so I could borrow the fellow’s clubs and spikes.

I was only visiting my brother in Florida for a few days and he wanted to play some golf as we used to on the public links in Detroit, when we were kids. Don was a Delta pilot, working only three or four days a week by law, so when he wasn’t sailing or fishing he’d spend an afternoon at his club sharpening his game.

I hadn’t been on a golf course in fifteen years.

As I jammed my normal-sized tootsies into the size eight-and-a-half shoes, my kid brother, confident that this would be my only chance, said, “Your honors.” So I grabbed a driver.

It was a par-four with a slight dogleg-right and a wooded rough along the left. The flag was a wee dot, far, far away. With no time for a warm up at the range, I teed up, addressed the ball, shoulders square, overlapped grip, knees slightly bent, slow, deliberate backswing. The breeze from my whiff disturbed snoozing seagulls on the next fairway.

Don glanced at the pristine Acushnet still smartly on its yellow tee and chuckled. “That’s okay,” he said. “We didn’t have time at the range; let’s call it a Mulligan.”

Embarrassed and a little pissed off, I focused and went through the ritual again. The click was like music. The trajectory was straight and elevated before the ball came to rest on the left apron about two-hundred-twenty or so yards away.

“Nice shot,” Don said, and teed up. His drive was long but hooked into the rough at about a hundred-sixty yards. He drove the cart, stopping in the fairway near his lie. He waded well into the tangled rough, past a stand of big trees, found his ball and hacked impressively. The shot advanced the ball nicely past the trees and beyond my lie, but it remained in the rough. He grumbled, got in, and the cart hummed silently to a halt near my ball.

(The rest of this mundane tale holds the point of our conversation. So stop fidgeting.)

I went round to the borrowed old canvas bag of clubs and withdrew an iron. A five-, maybe a three-iron. My ball was slightly raised on the deep apron. It had been so long since my golfing days, I was very deliberate and I remember telling myself the drill: Line up the ball off your left heel… align thumbs… square shoulders… head down… fix eyes on the ball… bend knees… touch the club-head to grass one inch behind the lie. I turned my head just enough to see the flag, but it was gone, replaced by a foursome of Lilliputians who’d got to the green and were busy putting out. Good enough – I lined up my shoulders with the green. Slow backswing, swivel at waist. Keep left elbow stiff, cock the wrist. Fire!

Because dad taught me to keep my head down through the swing, I stared at my divot for a second or so before craning to search the fairway for my shot. The foursome was leaving the green. Suddenly they were animated, shouting nonsense in our direction and waving putters overhead.

In the cart, Don’s back stiffened. His eyebrows rose, his jaw dropped. “It went in the cup,” he said. “The ball went in the cup! You made an eagle!” I was stunned but don’t remember what I might have said. The four guys nearly two hundred yards away were yelling – I did make out, ‘great golf shot,’ but I just stood there. Don scowled at me. “Get in the cart!” As he pressed the pedal to take us to his ball (still in the rough), my wonderfully funny, albeit very competitive, young bub muttered, “I’ve never even seen an eagle.”

Question: Did I really make an eagle? Well, in a friendly round of golf, I guess so. But, these three decades later, it makes me think. (I told you to be patient.)

Now that I’m committed to the writer’s life, 24/7, I’m finding that my mind races from topic to topic faster than I can write it all down. And all this reading makes it even worse. Last week, deep into the night (my most fertile thinking time – a curse!) I mused, ‘If only I could just keep going hard, learn all that I can, write well, and teach and help others on their own journeys, and then, exhausted, follow in the way of all flesh to Heaven for a rest and some soul-work, and then come back, wiser and ready to go at it again.’  If only.

Then I asked in so many words, “I wonder if I could have a Mulligan.”

And without missing a beat, the Lord replied: “You’ve got one,” He said. “This is it.”

Onward.

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In Your Face

Observation: By L.E. Taylor

A hippie hottie once told me, “You have a very old soul.” She said it soulfully of course.

I knew the Seventies argot, so I took it as a compliment. She was saying I was not superficial. Or something. I don’t recall a clever reposte. In fact I don’t remember anything except how it added to another languid day at the Art Fair. I think.

The remark came back to me last week as I riffled through my archive of family photographs. Many of them go back to the nineteenth century (18 hunnerds, y’all). There’s my wonderfully tough-minded maternal Grandma, Helena, ramrod straight in her impossibly starched Victorian getup and penz-nez specs. And that’s her husband Fred (my mother’s Papa), in Sunday finery and a handlebar moustache, looking nothing like the circa 1915 Detroit shop mechanic who’d been taught to read by Grandma. Advancing through the folders and envelopes, I mused over the changes in my own mother and father over the years, years that I’d been witness to. Decades of hard work and risk and success… of losses, too, and of searing pain. Still, the images were benign, reassuring.

My own photos are more jarring. Not merely the usual transformation from plump undistinguished babyhood to early teen goofiness and then to another character altogether. In those maturing years, something else showed up. I’m not going to tell you what I saw, except to say it was unsettling. I may write a book on it. (No, not the Dorian Grey thing.)

But for now I suggest to you, fellow blogger – as we grow to know each other, that on some rainy afternoon, when you have nothing to do but watch idiocy on The Box, you take out your old photos, all of them. Take your time. Try to hear your Mom speak to you again. Jostle again, in the byways of your mind, with your kid brother or big sister. Be small again peering upward to a tall world. Listen to your young thoughts. Smell the fragrances of the kitchen, of the fresh mown lawn, of the lilac or musk scent you first slapped on when you were thirteen. Relive that instant with the family all together by the Christmas tree… or be surprised by a long-lens grab-shot a lifetime ago at the Art Fair.

Then behold that photograph of yourself. The young one. Not a class portrait, but a snapshot of an instant of gaiety, of innocent, dumb, existential mindlessness. I did. I was way more handsome than I remember. And am probably way more ugly now than I think.

What happened? Life.

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To be continued… next time.