July 30, 2021

Two Views of Our Screened-In Back Porch

(A few weeks ago I wrote a post based around just a picture of the house I grew up in in Lilburn. Here's another one, except this is based on a different view of the house, and this time there are two pictures.)

I don't remember exactly when Dad and my uncle Richard (Scott's dad) built this screened-in porch on our house in Lilburn, but I remember the building of it well, even if I'm not sure when it was. But I think it must have been 1981 or 1982 -- I'm almost certain I was at least in middle school at the time, if not already in high school -- which means that for the first eight or nine years we lived there, there was no back porch. In my memory, that house always had a screened-in porch, even though I know that wasn't true. (Memory is often unreliable like that. I think I might have learned that in college; I don't remember.)(Do you see what I did there?)

We spent a lot of time out there, or at least I think we did. (If we didn't, then we should have.) In these pictures you can just make out the white and blue plastic and canvas table and chairs we had on the porch, at which we had summer lunches and the occasional game of Trivial Pursuit. I think there was also some wicker furniture too. And ceiling fans? I think so, but you can't tell in these pictures, and my memory doesn't fill them in. What I wish was true is that I spent a lot of time out there reading, and I know I did some, but I think even after this porch was built I still spent most of my time in my bedroom reading Piers Anthony and Clifford D. Simak novels and playing my guitar.

I do remember this, though: my fourteen-year-old self was in much better shape than I am now, forty years later (not surprisingly), and back then I could do something that I wouldn't even attempt now, which is to climb up on the gate of our chain-link fence, just beside the house (you can just barely see it in one of the pictures above), and pull myself up onto the roof. Some days I would take a book with me and a little plastic jug-shaped container of juice and sit up there on the porch roof -- which was pitched at a more comfortable angle than the rest of the roof-- and read for a while. Whether this is something I just did a couple of times or something I did every day for a whole summer I'm not sure. I outgrew the habit (probably pretty quickly because I imagine it was hot up there, even if it does seem like a cool thing to do).

July 15, 2021

Nine-Year-Old Cub Scout Me

I was a Cub Scout for a whole year—or at least much of a school year, if not actually a whole calendar year. I quit way before I ever had a shot at going from the minor leagues of the Cub Scouts to the big leagues of the Boy Scouts, and I don't regret not participating longer. Every once in a while I have a student who includes in their "About Me" post at the beginning of the semester the fact that they were—or are—an Eagle Scout, and that's great for them, but it doesn't bother me that I never was. I can't tie a Shawshank knot or pitch a tent in fifteen seconds or tell at a glance which mushrooms are edible and which are not, and I'm okay with that. I don't like mushrooms anyway. (Besides, ALL mushrooms are edible. Some of them will, however, kill you.) I do know that, had I stayed in the Cub Scouts, the next level up within the Cub Scouts—not in the Boy Scouts, but the Cub Scouts—was actually called Webelos, which is awfully close to Weebles—"Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down"—and maybe that's part of why I dropped out. I mean, seriously, if you want a nine-year-old kid to continue in your organization, don't threaten him with a dumb-ass title like "Webelo."

Here I am in my uniform, sometime in 1976. There's no date written on the photograph, but I know it was 1976 because the strongest association I have of the Cub Scouts—along with some vague recollections of Den meetings at our Den Leader's house (I'm not sure what should really be capitalized here, so I'm just going to use initial caps on anything that sounds officious or official)—is of marching with my Den in Lilburn's Bicentennial Parade. Although, to be honest, I don't actually "remember" that, I just know it is a fact of my past: I marched in Lilburn's Bicentennial Parade with my Cub Scout Troop. We have a picture or two from that day, but I don't truly have any memories of it.

The only true memory I have of my time in the Cub Scouts is participating in the pinewood derby, a wood-model-car race—or maybe it was the space derby, which is basically the same thing except instead of cars on the ground you race balsa-wood rocket/space ship things suspended on fishing line. I vaguely remember working on my car, or rocket, but what I really remember is going to a church in Lilburn—it's now Calvary Baptist Church, but I'm sure it wasn't called that then—for the actual race. (It's the big church on the right as you're going down Lawrenceville Highway toward Lilburn Square, where the Lilburn-Tucker Cinema used to be.) I don't have any idea how my car, or rocket, did in the race (though if I'd won I'm sure I would remember that), but I do remember that at that time I was reading The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, which is I think the fourteenth Three Investigators book, and now whenever I drive by that church in Lilburn, which is several times a year, I think about that book, and about going to the church for the pinewood derby (or space derby, whichever). (And about misusing the word "vigil," a word I learned from that Three Investigators book, one day when I was trying to impress Jarrod Parker with my vocabulary in Mrs. Osteen's fourth grade class—but that's a whole 'nother story.)

Maybe the best thing that came out of my brief association with the Cub Scouts was my subscription to Boys’ Life magazine, which I'm pretty sure extended two or three years past my membership in the Cub Scouts. I enjoyed reading Boys’ Life—a magazine which still exists, and which is published by the Boy Scouts of America for its members; it has apparently been renamed Scout Life, a change I don't care for—more than I enjoyed being a Cub Scout. I read the joke page, Think & Grin, of every issue thoroughly, memorizing some of what I considered the best jokes. (I still know some of them today, more than forty years later.) I remember when they started serializing a comic version of Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets, though I didn't read it. (These days it wouldn’t be described as a "comic version," it would be called a "graphic novel," but thankfully that term hadn't been invented back then.) Nor did my subscription last through the end of that serialization; somewhere in there my subscription to Boys’ Life was replaced with a subscription to Guitar Player magazine, which was more enjoyable, and more appropriate, to the fifteen-year-old me. Now I remember the two magazines with equal fondness. (When I actually read the Heinlein novel a few years later, I thought immediately of Boys’ Life magazine, but that association didn't last long.)

Before I close this musing, I need to say a few things about that living room. This picture is forty-five years old, and I haven't lived in that house for thirty years, and I'd forgotten that the fireplace hearth was just a big old block of concrete. I remember the dark brown wood of the fireplace and mantle, though, and the black metal of the firebox, and those candles and the ceramic turtle up on the mantle. In the middle of the mantle is a black case, which I think was the case for the very camera my mother used to take this picture. On the right side of the frame there's a red chest of drawers, which I remember well, with a bowling trophy one top of it. Not long after this, my uncle Wayne would build some shelves into that space for us, and eventually there would be quite a few bowling trophies on those shelves.

And here's something I remember very well about this scene: there's a knot-hole in the fireplace—in this picture you can see it as a little circle a bit past half-way up the frame, beneath the mantle and pretty close to the left edge of the picture—and when I was a kid I would push things into that hole so they would fall into the hollow space behind the wood. Mostly I put bits of paper back there, candy and gum wrappers and things like that; I had the idea that they might be discovered years later when the house was renovated or demolished. And for all I know, they will be—or perhaps already have been, if the current owners have altered the fireplace. I would love to be able to comb through the debris back there and see if I wrote any notes and dropped them through that little hole. I can easily imagine the ten-year-old me writing a note for posterity and depositing it in that hole.

This is one of the longest posts I've ever written, but I'm about to extend it even further: here's a picture of me and my Cub Scout Den—the picture of me and my Cub Scout Den; I don't know if there are any others—marching in the Lilburn Bicentennial Parade:

I'm the left-most Cub Scout in the picture, and our Den Leader—I don't remember her name, or anyone else's name—is right beside me. I'm not sure who the green-uniform-and-red-beret-wearing guy behind me is.

July 01, 2021

Eight-Year-Old Me and My New Cassette Recorder

I'm pretty sure this was my eighth birthday, back in 1975. I remember that cassette tape player/recorder so well; I used it for years to record songs from the radio, and me and Sharon doing skits and reading stories, and me playing my guitar (a few years later; when this picture was taken I didn't yet have a real guitar and couldn't have played it if I did). I still have some of those cassettes; in fact, I've digitized a few of them and now I can listen to MP3 files of my much-younger self saying things that I now don't remember ever having said. Some of them were recorded over tapes Dad gave me that, prior to my using them, contained software code. At least one of those tapes contains some "Star Wars" music I recorded off the radio.

I wish I could read the text on the cover of the cassette player's manual, but the quality of this picture won't allow it. I probably didn't read the manual back then, either, since the buttons were all clearly labeled and the microphone only plugged into one jack. It wasn't exactly rocket science to use the thing.

I remember that snazzy denim outfit I'm wearing. (Whether in calling it "snazzy" I'm being serious or sarcastic I'll leave up to you to decide. I'm not actually sure myself.) I can remember wearing it to school, probably to Mrs. Martin's third grade class and maybe also, if I didn't grow too much that summer, to Mrs. Sutton's fourth grade class the next year.

And, man, look at the kitchen! That chicken/fruit basket wallpaper was great, and the giant wooden fork and spoon on the wall on either side of that violin-thing draped with plastic grapes (you can't tell that's what it is in this picture, but that's what I recall it being) is also pretty wonderful. The sign on the wall near the corner that says "Complaints to the cook can be hazardous to your health" now seems vaguely threatening and ominous, but no one back then would have seen it that way. That simulated-brick tile floor really completed the faux-rustic feel of the place. I don't remember having a round table, though; what I picture when I think about the kitchen when I was growing up is a rectangular table up against the wall beside the counter, which probably wouldn't have even been visible in this picture. Clearly, however, I am standing at a round table. Maybe the other table came later.

What's really amazing is that only ten years later I was graduating from high school and starting college. I realize now what a short time ten years really is, but I doubt that the high-school-senior me of 1985 would have looked at this picture and said, "Seems like only yesterday." (However, it's true that I did change a lot more in the ten years from 1975 to 1985 than I did in the ten years from 2011 to now.)