The Liberator ©2015

History in my backyard, remembered by L.E. Taylor

BACK IN MY EARLY YEARS as a freelance advertising artist, I became acquainted with a motley assortment of lads who’d been, as the saying went, “overseas” during The War. One of those fellows was a Brit by the name of David Lawrence. “Dy-vid” I called him, after the way he himself pronounced his own given name. Somehow, in 1962, “Dive” had found himself adrift in the Detroit advertising mix.

He was a competent freelance copywriter assigned to the company I worked for in-house, and we hit it off. Probably because we were both outsiders and (I dare say), maybe a bit brighter than most of our peers.

After a few collaborations, I learned that Dave Lawrence was ten years older than I, and more tested. In fact, a lot more-so: When I was in high school, for example, Dave had been a young pilot flying supplies to starving civilians in the Berlin Airlift over the Russian post-war blockade. Day and night, non-stop, for nearly a year, volunteer Allied airmen flew all manner of heavy aircraft into and out-of the beleaguered city.

Dave told me he was merely a flight sergeant then, and not a “lef-tenant.” He’d had only a few hours of flight training in the Royal Air Force before his first combat mission. Of course, the war was over in 1945, but the Cold War was hot on its heels. These were perilous times for all of us. Before long, the Korean War would gobble up thousands more young Americans, and I was draft-deferred, learning to march and field strip an M-1 in an ROTC unit of a small Midwest college.

By the end of The War, however, Dave was flying big, lumbering Lancaster bombers in the RAF. When the Berlin crisis came in 1948, he found himself in the cockpit of another cumbersome truck, a USAF B-24 Liberator, a fearsome product of American inventiveness, born in the prairie just west of my hometown in Michigan.

The B-24 was more than a big airplane, it was an airship. Dave told me the Liberator was a barely aerodynamic brute that required athletic strength to wrestle it about the skies. He was not boasting – he was complaining. Dave’s terse cockney opinion bore modest witness to the valor of airmen, American and British, who went aloft in the face of ferocious enemies.

This episode was brought to mind recently when I received an old publicity film issued by the Ford Motor Company for World War II theater viewing. I recalled those wartime days when the nation’s first no-stoplight “freeway” was carved through the center of Old Detroit, and extended westward for another thirty miles to the magnificent war plant at Willow Run.

This single Michigan facility enclosed 3.5 million square feet, and the production line was over a mile long. But those are just specs. For a more revealing snapshot of mid-century history as it roared over our Heartland, click here:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/iKlt6rNciTo?rel=0

The Willow Run plant and air field are still visible from the former freeway, now Inter State Highway 94, Detroit to Chicago. And back.

Aircraft still dot the skies over farm land and neighborhoods in a steady monotony of takeoffs and landings. In the shimmering heat of August, in white blizzards blowing horizontal out of steel skies, men and women in the thousands still team up to work overlapping day-night shifts. After all, there’s a war to be won.

It’s all still there. But only in boyhood memories.
Onward.

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One More Time

Observations on cashing in or cashing out, by L.E. Taylor

Every accomplished writer knows the principle of re-writing. No work of art is born whole. Classical painters were, first of all, draftsmen; all the greats are admired as much for their notebooks and folios of sketches that preceded their grand-scale works as they are for the murals and canvases that adorn, centuries later, the walls of time.

Refinements come with each iteration of an idea. So do fresh insights buried dormant in the preliminary noodling that passes for first drafts. Early in life, we are impatient with the notion that our first attempt at anything is nowhere near its potential. Only as the brain matures, and we continue to work, are our skills honed to mastery.

Practice, man, practice.

Today, it seems that anyone who can make an angry mess on a cheap canvas board or spout puerile obscenities on a stage or movie screen is an “artist.” (For reference please consider recording artists, then go to your Webster’s and look up “travesty”.) Generations ago, artists devoted themselves to apprenticeship for years of their often short, sometimes hungry, lives. Mentored by master practitioners, they learned their craft. Talent is God’s gift for each of us to develop. It cannot be taught. Craft is the language of talent, without craft talent is stillborn. However, un-accompanied by talent, the mastered craft is still a craft, a valuable set of skills and acquired taste that can carry a person far.

As a mentor to novice writers, both young and old, one encounters as many diversions of personality and aptitude as there are pupils. Varying degrees of student talent and readiness to work frame the teacher’s challenge. And lure the teacher’s hope.

In my own experience as a self-taught artist, as an athlete, and as an ever-maturing writer, all of this has been borne out. So my view of the process is neither a selfish bias nor an observation worth arguing about with tyros. In recent years, I’ve also seen the model played out among people who’ve enrolled in my workshops.

Some students, with meager writing in their past, or brief attempts abandoned for want of craft, have made remarkable gains in both fluency and content. They arrived eager to learn and with an appetite for enjoyment. In a matter of one or two sessions these diverse women and men began to take charge of their gifts and use them to enrich their own minds.

Others, with the same potential – in some cases, even more in the way of life-adventures and searing experience – arrived doubting. Not doubting the instructor or the drill, but doubting themselves. Pity. I am reminded of an old quote: If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way, you’re right.

Does it come down to an unwillingness to edit and refine one’s writing? Hardly ever. Yes, it’s work, but the fuel for all toil is the belief in a worthy goal, and the rejection of doubts about yourself.

Have you ever said, “Oh, I’ve read Huckleberry Finn – in high school,” and used that as reason never to go back to it? Think about it; you were a kid. Go read it again. After decades of maturing, you may appreciate Mark Twain’s insights as an adult writer and commenter on America. The same is true of beloved music or drama. How many times can you enjoy My Fair Lady, or La Boheme, or Macbeth, or your Frank Sinatra collection? Just once?

Consider your Bible. After long respites of time and troubles of the flesh, many adults return to Scripture. One may discover a depth and a new spiritual banquet un-savored years before by the fidgety teen you were in catechism or in Sunday school.

“Review” is a good, solid English word that factors into the intellectual growth equation. When we re-view (that is, “see again”), we change. Our perceptions gradually modify with experience. But a youth of any era cannot grasp the notion that it may be in our very nature to evolve into another person.

A few years ago the drug-stoned Hollywood actor and notorious sixties rebel Dennis Hopper was interviewed by Rolling Stone (or Mother Jones or somebody). The interviewer mused that Hopper was once the epitome of drop-out anti-establishment anarchy. He asked the middle aged actor how he’d emerged now, in the 1980s, from years of wild excesses as its opposite: a TV spokesman for American Express, and a registered Republican. Hair neatly slicked back, clad in a trim dark suit, with white shirt and striped silk tie, Mr. Hopper replied, “Hey, man, I grew up.”

Onward.

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The Youthening Brain

Our “choose life!” option – an observation, by L.E. Taylor 

“I don’t have any stories,” Brenda insisted. “Certainly not any happy ones.”

Brenda had been badgered by her Red Hatter friends for months about joining them in a memoir-writing workshop that they’d been attending since last year. Red Hatters is a national association of women, 55-and-over. Their mission is to enrich the lives of their members through myriad activities, cultural adventures, and supportive sisterhood.

Brenda’s two ‘Sisters-in-the-Hat’ had derived pleasure from their writing sessions and assignments, and more, they had begun to enjoy their storytelling adventures in fellowship with others. Finally, tired of the good-natured hassle from her pals, Brenda had given in and attended a class.

The class turned out to be more than wistful gabbing (and complaining) about old times and a little half-baked noodling on note paper. The classes were disciplined and literary. The very term “memoirs” is daunting to any writer; for sixty-to-ninety-year olds, it ranks in appeal up there with pole vaulting. But this class was not about fancy book-writing; it required nothing short of – or for that matter, beyond – skilled storytelling. And it started, no-nonsense, with the Truth.

What is it about aging that seems to dope men and women into a stupor of passive audience-mode? It wasn’t always so. A century ago men worked until they couldn’t; what else was there to do? After all, we were not born to loaf, but to till God’s garden. And women beyond child-bearing age, were finally seasoned to wisely shepherd the responsible rearing of grandchildren.

Old fashioned? Male chauvinism? Fine; show the soul-satisfaction that accrues from a steady regimen of The View, The Ellen Show, and bunko games. Or for that matter, non-stop billiards or geriatric duffing about in electric carts.

It came to light in the first class that Brenda was not only a self-reliant seasoned woman who’d grown from childhood poverty to determined accomplishment as a seamstress, but she was also an attractive, youngish seventy-year old with a wonderful sense of humor. And, by the way, she was defying mid-stage cancer.

When Brenda had learned of her affliction, well before she joined the class, she’d consulted with herself and decided what she would do to save her life and what she would not do. For a time, she endured the rigors of aggressive chemo, survived it, and now with medical supervision, has put her mind and her spirit to wellness.

Brenda has been in that storytelling workshop with her Red Hatter sisters for a couple of months. Her writing, from day one, has been excellent. It has never even touched upon her health issues. On her fourth active week in the workshop, she strode to the podium and read her remembrance of childhood on the family’s hard-scrabble farm in Minnesota. The title was “The Wood Workers”. It began:

Maude and Charlie took up more than their share of the barn, or so it seemed to me as a child. They were a team of huge work horses. Bred to pull heavy loads…

The simple prose, through the eyes of a nine-year-old farm girl, progressed through four finely crafted paragraphs and the essay concluded…

Like many other work horses, Maude and Charlie outlived their usefulness and were sold. They were replaced by tractors and other equipment and a way of life was gone.

God bless those among us who choose to use their brains and share their spirits until there is no more. It was His intent.

Onward.

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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.

 

 

 

Life in the Attic

Blatant nostalgia by L. E. Taylor

The new house was built to my father’s specifications in 1939.

It was unique. An architect modified the Cape Cod style to suit an idea that the upwardly mobile ex-coal miner had got somewhere, or just got out of the blue. It had two bedrooms, a basement, an unfinished small attic upstairs, a garage in the back yard, and a swath out front for a nice lawn. It didn’t look like any other house on Harvard Road.

That was the idea.

By 1942, the attic had been remodeled into a double bedroom with a commode and shower just at the top of the stairs. In retrospect, it was a young lad’s dream. Knotty pine paneling; two built-in desks with book shelves, separated by two large sash windows and a window seat beneath. The window seat disguised a storage bin, beneath a long hinged lid, perfect for baseball mitts, bats, and lots of “junk.” The floor was hardwood. There were a couple of rag rugs, one between the twin beds, and one at the foot.

But the first born son, only five when his brother was born, now nearly eight, felt exiled. Isolated and, in the popular term of the day, “blue,” he was uncomfortably remote from his former world: Downstairs. Seated at his desk on a sturdy red plastic-padded aluminum chair, the boy’s feet dangled inches above the floor. An expatriate, gloomily idle in his Elba. But not for long.

With walls on either side of the sloping roof, the bedroom only occupied the center section of the attic. Twin beds backed up to the east paneled wall. The west wall appeared exactly the same, but at its center, invisible to the eye, was a removable unit of four knotty pine panels, floor to ceiling, cunningly disguised to blend with the rest.

One day, when the boy was eleven, he discovered that he was tall enough and strong enough, to remove the secret panel and slide it aside. Simply a boy’s curiosity, nothing more. Once inside, he found this “storage room” was unheated, insulated from the winter only by some sort of padding that looked like flat chunks of pink cotton candy, stuffed into the spaces between roof struts. Arranged throughout this inner sanctum were the remnants of his mother’s past, trucked from her own childhood home one sad moving day when the old German neighborhood had become unlivable for her aging mother.

The room was unfinished and dark. Dark. Quiet. And oddly peaceful. A narrow spill of light from the opening where the panel had been moved aside allowed for exploration.

Clothing hung shrouded on a line; a tiny lacquered crib made by “Papa” for a first baby, stillborn nearly a half century before, a cedar chest with old costumes, woolens, boots, and a few albums was easily opened to a forgotten past, redolent of mothballs and mystery.

And there were magazines. Stacks next to stacks of Life magazines…. Years upon years of every weekly issue of Life magazine ever printed.

He sat down upon the raw pine floor. He took a quilt from the chest and a pillow from his bed and made a nest for himself, an Indian camp where he could retreat, back against the chest, legs akimbo, and read the magazines.

Life was an icon of the times. It arrived in the mail every Friday for as far back as the boy could recall, well before he could read, or even cared to. Except for the photographs. The slogan proclaimed Life to be “the world in pictures,” and indeed it was. Here in photos was the entire history of the War, and the troubled years that led up to it. And there was more. Famous people – Hollywood stars, great men whose voices he’d heard on the radio, far distant places in Europe and Asia, the polar explorations, the giant auto plants, the silver airplanes that were now shrinking the world. There were writers and musicians, gangsters and lawmen, builders and laborers on the job and scientists in their labs and old-looking leaders posing importantly in their uniforms and uncomfortable-looking double breasted suits.

Advertising touted every brand of cigarette on the sculpted lips of handsome men, soft drinks in the hands of pretty girls and Santa Claus, Campbell’s Soup, Wheaties, and every kind of car from DeSotos and Studebakers to Hudsons, Packards and with the war over, the new Jeepsters in your choice of yellow or maroon.

This became his secret place. Lit at first by smuggled candles. Then, to allow for more comfortable study of the magazines, a single small table lamp of rustic wood and brass with backlit images of the Lone Ranger on its yellowing shade.

After school, with a glass of red pop, he’d mount the stairs to his room. He found it ever easier to remove the pine panel, prop it up just enough to slip into the dark interior, click on the lamp, and from within, slide the panel to near closure. Then, away from the turmoil of advancing puberty in an unfriendly world, he would study the photos and read carefully every word by some of the best writers anywhere.

Time brought near manhood and he was off to a summer job, and then on to college. The images of Life’s black and white photographs, nearly twenty years of them, helped to set his mind’s stage for the new images and more demanding prose he was about to encounter.

A lifetime later, in another place, with another less romantic view of the society of men, one day he wondered what had become of those decades of Life magazines, delivered by mail each Friday at ten cents apiece.

Then he knew. His mother had thrown them out along with all the rest of the junk of life gone by. While he was away at college, the family moved far away from Harvard Road, to another new house, a new life.

Everything would be new. But not as good.

Onward.

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References.

Note to reader: It’s customary to provide a table of source material to for further study. However, all research for this article was done between 1940 and 1952; in an attic. I’m handing it off to you now. Here are a few “key word” suggestions:

Winston Churchill, FDR, Harry S Truman, Tom Dewey, Hitler, Stalin, Spanish Civil War, Margaret Bourke White, Communists, Nazis, Battle of Berlin, Pearl Harbor, Detroit war plants, Rosie the Riveter, Sherman tanks, Flying Tigers, Willow Run, Ernie Pyle, William L. Shirer, Claire Booth Luce, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Erroll Flynn, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Battle of the Bulge, George Patton, Battle of Britain, RAF, Spitfires, P51 Mustangs, Gone With the Wind, Clark Gable, Bobbie sox, Tom Harmon of Michigan, Battle of the Rouge Overpass, UAW, Teamsters, Levittown, Dunkirk, Monty at Tobruk, D-Day, Invasion of Sicily, Berlin Airlift, Kefauver Hearings, Frank Costello, Mafia, Al Capone, Rum running, speedboats, Chris Craft of Algonac, Gold Cup Races, Detroit race riots, Jackie Robinson, Joe Di Maggio, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, Augie Bergamo, Stan Musial, Marylin Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Bataan, Corregidor, Death March, Rape of Nanking, VE Day, Midway, Iwo Jima, VJ Day, Nuremburg War Crimes, atrocities, concentration camps, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Bikini H-Bomb, the New Look, Stalin Purges, Cardinal Minzenti, brain washing, the Red Scare, Joe McCarthy, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, I Like Ike…

Old School – Part Two: Education on the Rocks.

Reflections on Books and Barbarians by L. E. Taylor

Words mean things.

Words are fragments of thought that can work magic: kindness, wisdom, friendly persuasion.

With care, we can combine words into thoughtful questions and seek the truth we need to navigate our lives. But when the answers we receive are perverted by wrong words, either maliciously to deceive us, or baffling to us for want of schooling, we may find ourselves adrift on a dark sea of ignorance and error, and end up either on the rocks or grounded in the swampy muck of some hostile shore.

Education is a lifelong quest for the light that will guide us safely from port to port.

Young Plato tells us this is how old Socrates ran his classes. So for a couple of thousand years it’s been known as the Socratic Method, a way of accumulating smarts based upon seeking answers to questions. That’s what makes it a quest.

Each month I receive a publication called Imprimis, a six-page reprint of one or two public addresses or formal class lectures sponsored by Hillsdale College. The January 2014 issue is on my desk as I write this. Its content is excerpted from remarks delivered last October by the college president, Larry P. Arnn, titled “A Rebirth of Liberty and Learning”.

Dr. Arnn contrasts the assumptions of traditional Western education with the current American establishment’s rejection of the Socratic style in favor of a quicker, less disciplined fix. Dr. Arnn says,

There is a proper way to educate and there is a proper way to govern, and they are both known. Today we do these things in a different way, which presents a serious and perhaps fatal problem for our country…

The word “education” comes from a Latin word meaning “to lead forth.” And if you think about it, “forth” is a value-laden term. Which way is forth? The Bible tells us to “raise up a child in the way he should go.” But which way should he go? How does one come to know the answer to that? After almost 14 years as a college president I’m an expert on young people between 18 and 22, and I can tell you that if you ask a young person today which way is the right way to go, more often than not he or she will answer: “It depends on which way you want to go.” Young people today give that answer because they’ve been taught to give that answer. But it’s the wrong answer, and the activity of getting from there to the right answer—the activity of coming to know which way is the right way—is education. Thus “to lead forth…”  - Dr. Larry Arnn, October 9th 2013

Western thought is generously recorded in books full of English words. These are answers to questions. Your questions.

People who reject the recorded history of our culture in favor of their own shallow answers to their own narcissistic questions are the new generation of Barbarians.

In our last essay, Old School – Part One, I recalled my public high school years, learning at the knee of the taskmaster, Mr. Rosecrance. His faux harshness, replete with personal japes upon one’s self esteem, made him a stock villain – he even resembled the old B-movie scoundrel, Basil Rathbone.

But the great majority of his students, though dreading his caustic wit, respected the value of his results. Many of us remember those encounters as the boot camp that informed our worldview.

His snide bluster was a caricature, an act so good that no one caught on. He kept students at a distance, always off balance, goading them to try harder with each paper to achieve the impossible: a glimmer of approval from their Zen master, Old Man Rosecrance.

Years later, as a young father of two young kids, with two college degrees in a drawer somewhere and a demanding business to conjure with, my high school days were well behind and out of mind. Then one day word got to me; a young thug had accosted the old scholar in the hallway outside his classroom. With one cowardly sucker punch an era ended. The assault was symbolic of a culture change, fed by the very ignorance and sloth that was beginning to rip the beating heart from the breast of a once great City.

The fact remains, gentle reader, that a generation of young people from the East Side of Detroit made it to college, or chose another productive path, better equipped than they might have been but for the dogged perseverance of Jackson Lancelot Rosecrance.

And, of course, Old Socrates.

Onward.

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References:

  1. Plato, The Republic
  2. Imprimis, www.hillsdale.edu.

Old School, Part One: I Remember Rosecrance

High School ’53 – The Way We Were, a remembrance by L. E. Taylor

“English is the most beautiful language God ever invented.” Al Neugebauer smiled and settled back comfortably into his big executive chair. “Listening to you speak is like listening to music.”

Years earlier, as a teenager, Al had escaped Eastern Europe. He’d known German, Russian, and a little French. His accented English came just before his American citizenship. And his lucrative travel business came after that.

The young adman across the desk from Al came by his own language skills less dramatically, but arguably with more stress.

I was a senior at Edwin Denby High School in December of 1952. My curriculum was “College Prep.” It meant something decades ago. We were being prepared for a course of study elevated above, and far more demanding than anything we had known. Only in my senior year had I come to understand that the world didn’t give a crap about me, and I’d better get focused.

I trundled to school each morning by public transportation before daybreak, dressed with care in a V-neck sweater, pressed grey flannel slacks, a button-down white shirt, and a tightly knotted knit tie. The finishing touch was often a scrupulously chalked pair of Pat Boone-style white bucks.

My English instructor was an eccentric martinet of the British “public” school model. A gangly, craggy, bespectacled, gray-faced Ichabod Crane, he dominated his stage, hectoring each wretch in his thirty-student classes, assuring them that his criticism was not general, but decidedly personal. He expected, each day, in each assignment, not perfection, but resounding excellence. He awarded no “A’s”.

On my first day of class at fifteen, he’d strode the aisles reading from each yellowed enrollment card and drilling each new victim with raven’s eyes. He stopped next to me. “LA-ree,” he said.

Yes, sir.

“Your name is Lawrence.” I told him my given name is Larry.

“Nonsense,” he sneered, “Suppose some mommy and daddy gazed upon their new babe and said, ‘Oh, ain’t he just darling! Let’s call him Herbie!’ Who’d want to go through life with Herrr-bie?!”

For the time being, my name would be Lawrence.

This was my introduction to Jackson Lancelot Rosecrance, Terror of the College Prep English faculty.

The whole name issue was moot; Mr. Rosecrance never used our Christian names anyway – only, in the custom of private prep schools, our surnames. One day in my senior year, he paused at my desk. “My, Mister Taylor, aren’t you the picture of sartorial splendor! Blazer… tie. May I see your socks?” I hiked up a creased slack-leg revealing a green and orange argyle. “Ahhh! I needn’t have asked. I could have heard them,” he hooted. Everyone laughed, not least of all, myself.

Mr. Rosecrance had few fans among the plebian student body. I was one of that few who got it. I enjoyed the sparring. I loved his droll way with words. And I was learning. Of course, I squirmed as he skewered classmates and I tolerated his belittling my own peccadilloes. But I knew what was going on. It wasn’t bloody-minded vitriol. This was just his act, albeit a persuasive one. He used it to force the main issue: Wake up, sluggard! You are better than the mess you are allowing yourself to drift into!

The Rosecrance method was unorthodox. He taught writing as a collateral skill to learning from great literature. Not a secondary side issue, writing was a synchronous part of in-depth English literature studies, at least in this public school room.

Appreciation of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Elizabethan poetry was interwoven with stringent exercises in vocabulary, syntax, and pellucid prose writing, even penmanship. Each Monday, in class, we were to write an extemporaneous precis (pray’-seez), a short 10-minute essay, and turn it in. The week’s precis, would be graded, 1-10.

As oral book-based classwork proceeded, led by students with the two highest scores of the previous week, Mr. R planted himself in the back of the room, crammed into the desk at the window corner. From this command post, he multi-tasked: monitoring and elucidating (in real time) the class doings, while summoning each student in turn, to come sit across the aisle from him and take his/her medicine, “one-to-ten”.

Once, I recall, he berated an athlete, a handsome blond track star and a letterman on our very good football team. “Trackman!” he barked, scowling at a slip of copybook paper. “Mister Betzer, there is no such word as ‘trackman’.” The lad’s reply was an embarrassed mumble. “Mr. Betzer, you are better than this… I think. Do not be misled by the fame of Dick Panin at Michigan State. He is said to have been a student here. He was NOT a student; he ATTENDED CLASSES here. And got away with it. You had the same amount of time on Monday as your classmates; you came up with this fiasco of eleven words, and … ‘trackman.’ Your grade for the week is zero.”

Okay, enough of the caricature. Mr. Rosecrance was more than the sadistic drill sergeant he portrayed; he was a serious, gifted teacher of the English literary canon. He introduced me to the dysfunctional Macbeths and other figments of Elizabethan imagination – Bacon, Marlow, Spenser, the Sonnets, and quaint oddities that would come to mean more very shortly on a faraway campus.

How do I remember these things? I guess they made an impression. And I remember one other moment, which is the counterpoint of this tale.

It was the last day before Christmas break. A cold, bleak morning outside. I was making my way around back of the room before class. Mr. Rosecrance had got up from his nesting place at the last desk by the window and walked toward me. The passage was narrow. I stood aside to make way for him. Suddenly, with theatrical clumsiness, he stomped his dull black brogans upon my white bucks. He grabbed my shoulders and, with moist eyes, he whispered straight into my face, “Thank you for the Christmas card, Larry. That was damned nice of you.”

His breath was awful. But what startled me was, “… Larry”.

Dedicated to Al Neugebauer, wherever you are.

Onward.

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Next time: Old School, Part Two – Education on the Rocks

 

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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A Movie Whose Time Has Come

A reflection on Somewhere in Time… by L.E. Taylor

Well, it’s about time.

Thirty-three years ago I went to the theater to see a new movie that had been shot almost completely in one of the most romantic and beautiful locations in America. The fact that the location is also in my native Michigan had a lot to do with my eagerness to see it. I was not disappointed; in fact I was transported.

Because I had no interest in what movie critics think, I was way too busy nursing life’s wounds to read that the elite men and women of the media were scoffing at Somewhere in Time.

I loved it. And I have re-upped my fan-ship many times since, by way of Turner Classic Movies and my own well-worn DVD.

This morning (Monday, October 7th), during my daily browse of the American Thinker website, I came across a wonderfully affirmative article by independent critic David Paulin. Its opening paragraph gave me a nice start to my workday:

MackinacIsland_GrandHotel“Message to high-brow movie critics and cultural elites: Stay away from the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island this weekend. 

No cynicism allowed! Not among the nearly 800 “time travelers” who arrived on Friday at the historic Grand Hotel — the start of a three-day gathering during which they’ll dress up in period garb and (in their minds) transport themselves back to 1912. The fanciful journey has been an annual ritual for 23 years now, bringing together incurable romantics from all over the country, and even abroad. It’s a celebration of the 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time“– a bittersweet love story involving time travel and shot mostly in and around the majestic 126-year-old Grand Hotel.

The film’s message: love is eternal.”

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The American Thinker article is much more substantive than I have room for in this weekly blog post. (You can enjoy reading it yourself; just follow the link below.)

So why pass this along today? Two points. 1) There’s been very nice fan response to my earlier movie recommendations – most recently last week’s small plug for Swept from the Sea, and 2) an observation that you may want to comment on yourself – about “Critics”.

Point #1 is self-explanatory. Lots of good reader suggestions for other films they want added to the lists. (Great! Watch for them in future LETsBlogs). A couple of days ago, in fact, a neighbor hailed me as I was getting into my car and asked if I owned Swept from the Sea. When I said no, he said he’d just ordered it after reading LETsBlog, and I could borrow it when he’s done. Good show!

Point #2 is well covered by Mr. Paulin’s article. Whatever the Vincent Canbys and Roger Eberts may sniff at from their Olympian perches, Middle Americans tend to trust movies that speak to them, whatever elites may opine.

My own tastes are also personal, and I admit my opinions are subjective. As a writer and a garden-variety movie fan, my biases are less than elite. The parts of the equation, however, all need to be there: Well-conceived and executed script; flawless production quality; intelligent direction: seamless, persuasive acting; strong musical score. But any expensive movie can have all those and still have me grabbing for the remote.

I’m sure you have movies that you love… just because you do. They speak to you, and the more you watch them the more you see in them to like. Please let us know what they are.

Meantime, please checkout David Paulin at The American Thinker.

(Don’t be put off, good reader, by the ‘spoilers.’ The movie is better than his synopsis may imply.)

So. If you want a good tip from a garden variety movie guy, have a peek at Somewhere in Time.

Onward.

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A Gift from the Sea

Remembrance and Reflections: By L.E.Taylor

This posting, as always, is for seekers. But in this case, you’ll have to be motivated to actually rise up, and seek. In other words, you might want to look stuff up.

Got it? Okay, here goes…

There had been a monstrous tidal swell across the Pacific in the Sea of Japan, and from the three-hundred-foot-high cliffs of Northern California’s coast, I’d safely witnessed amazing thirty foot breakers roll in from beyond the horizon, and crash upon our shore.

Then, on a sunny and calm new morning, I walked down to the hard packed sea-perfumed beach, a young journeyman with no purpose but to harvest whatever came my way. And there it was, a glistening aquamarine globe, hand blown by some anonymous Nipponese craftsman, and deposited by fate in the flotsam of seaweed and bright shells and bleached driftwood, nicely within reach. It had been one of thousands of glass buoys woven into fishnets three thousand miles westward. And now it belonged to me. I caressed the imperfect orb. I brushed off the sand and held it in both hands. It went into my sack of treasures and I walked on.

Later, by the light of a driftwood fire, I studied the softball-sized globe. It was obviously handmade, sturdy and with an irregular navel where the umbilicus had been snipped from supple molten glass. Continue reading