Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu: Remembering the Past

        The Deja Vu Blogfest has become an annual event hosted by D.L. Hammons.   This is the time when bloggers can rerun a neglected or favorite blogpost from the previous year in hopes that more will see it.  In the case of Wrote By Rote I also have an opportunity to try to reach more people who might not be familiar with my memoir blog.   I hope you enjoy today's look back and that you will return to read future posts.  My regular posting schedule for this blog is each Saturday.

Tee and Cara   "Keeping Track"  (1968)

     --a note about the music:  Tee and Cara's As They Are is one of my favorite albums.  Sadly it did not gain the recognition it deserved although I guess it now has a minor cult status.  I hope you will give it a listen.  I was tempted to use every song on it in my A to Z series.

Keeping Track of Time

         I've always thought about keeping a diary.  Those historical records like the diary of Samuel Pepys who famously chronicled London life in the 1600's fired my imagination when I read excerpts in high school. Anne Frank's diary has inspired many with her harrowing story of living in hiding from the Nazis.  Many movies and literary works have used the diary as a device for telling a story.   Keeping track of the events in my life in written form has often been something that I felt that I should do.

        Yet, I never seemed to be able to keep up a momentum to maintain an ongoing  record of my life.  I would sometimes start.  I'd get a journal or composition book having all the best of intent to faithfully start a diary.  Then after an entry or two I'd forget to write in it, eventually stopping altogether and stuffing the diary in a drawer.

        During my senior year of high school and into my first year of college I faithfully kept a dream diary.  I recorded my dreams in great detail and still have those notebooks to this day.   But that was not exactly my real life.  What happened during my waking hours is now mostly hazy memories if remembered at all.

        Life journal entries are something I tend to start writing when I'm depressed or when some negative event is hanging over me.  During my separations from my first and second wives I wrote a lot.  Sometimes I'd write about my days or I'd write about my feelings.   There were many songs and poems inspired by my hurt and sadness.  I suppose my creative writing qualifies as a form of journaling since I was digging from the depth of my emotions.

          In the summer of 1971 I embarked on what was to be a grand hitchhiking tour across the United States.   Each day I recorded in detail the aspects of my adventure and my impressions of the places that I had been.  There were many pages of writing for this journey that was cut short to a mere month of travel as opposed to several months.   A decade later a briefcase that contained this journal and many other writings was stolen when someone broke into my van in the Holiday Inn parking lot in Greeley, Colorado.  My grandest attempt at journaling probably ended up in a dumpster somewhere with many details of my memory gone with it.

          Like prayer, journaling is something I tend to do more of in times when I'm downcast.   I'm better with prayer since it's easier to say a quick "thank-you" now and then.  Writing takes more effort and time.  When I'm having happy times or good times there is little time for writing about it all.   Time just flies by pleasantly and usually the things I have to show for those experiences are of the nature of photographs or souvenir mementoes related to whatever I was doing at those times.

           Hurt and sadness gnaws long and agonizingly on the heart, mind, and soul.  Those are the times when you have to tell somebody what you're feeling and often that someone is yourself.  I've often turned to writing to sort out my feelings.  Somehow maybe I can find answers by writing.   Or at very least express my frustration or even rage.   Happy times often don't permit writing and pondering.  These are the times to live in the moment and hope to remember the experience.

           Keeping track of time can be tedious, meticulous, and self-indulging.   Or at other times keeping track of time can be quickly scribbled notes that are lost or unintelligible if not expounded upon quickly.  Time goes faster than any of us can adequately ever keep track of.     I suppose if I kept track of all the time in my life I wouldn't be doing that much actual living.

            Do you keep a journal of your life events?    Did you ever faithfully keep a diary in your past?   How do you think journaling life events can help you or others?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blogging Break

I'll be taking a break on this blog for a while as I deal with a family situation.   Please watch for my return here in the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obituary for My Mother Lois Jackson

Lois Jackson, 85, died Friday morning November 21, 2014 after an extended illness.
She was preceded in death by her husband Robert Lee Jackson who passed in 1990 and her companion of 15 years George Lechelt who passed in 2012.
Lois leaves five children:  Robert Lee and his wife Betty with their children Dan, Ada (spouse Tom Zdanowicz), Diana (Jeff Bowen), Emilee, and Angelina; Joy and husband Jim Melchionda; Joni (whose late husand was Jack Katon) and daughter Jamie (Barry Habel) ; Jay and his wife Hallie with their daughter Cynthia (Sean Baxter);  and Jeff.   Six great-grandchildren include Marley, Hallie Jane, Lillee, Grace, Celeste, and Madisynn.
Born and raised in Morgantown, WV, Lois was the daughter of Paul and Lessie Trevillian.   She attended West Virginia University where she met Bob Jackson, her husband of 40 years.  They moved to Maryville in 1966.
Lois was a dancer whose specialty was acrobatic and tap.  After having met Bob who was a popular basketball player at WVU and a juggler, the two married and  put together an acclaimed juggling act that eventually included their five children.  They performed throughout the United States for four decades.
Ever the congenial hostess, Lois welcomed visitors into her home and was much beloved by her many friends as well as friends of her children.
Funeral arrangements are with McCammon-Ammons-Click.   Friends are welcome to join the family at a graveside service at Grandview Cemetery on Tuesday November 25, 2014.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Watertown: Sinatra's Forgotten Album


         My middle school years were spent at Merrillville Junior High in the northwest corner of Indiana.   We moved there in October of 1963 right before John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles hit the American shores to make modern music history.   I was a socially awkward kid in the transition between my much beloved childhood years and the intimidation of growing into my teen years.   Music was one of the many refuges I had to escape the insecurities brought by growing older.

         Since my earliest childhood I enjoyed listening to the music from my parents' record collection.  They had eclectic tastes that ran from pop, easy listening, classical, early rock, and odd selections such as compilations of bullfight and circus music.   The variety of styles they listened to shaped my own musical tastes so that I had a broad appreciation of all styles of music.

          Having spent her late childhood and early adolescent years during the Bobby Soxer Era of the 1940's when Frank Sinatra was the idol of many young girls, my mother was a Sinatra fan.  There were always some of his records in my parents' collection.   I too became a Sinatra fan and he became one of my favorite artists.

          During my junior high years I don't know how many of the other guys were listening to Sinatra, but I frequently listened to his music on the portable stereo in our family room.   My feelings would turn to romance as I'd listen to his songs about love.   I'd listen carefully to the lyrics of great songs like "Moonlight in Vermont", "I Can't Get Started", or "If I Had You" and occasionally try my hand at writing similar types of lyrics.  For a while I dreamed up a running James Bond type spy story in my head that was inspired by Sinatra songs.  The music of Sinatra fueled my imagination.

          Eventually the rock music of the 1960's won me over and that became my passion. Sinatra songs like "It Was a Very Good Year", "Summer Wind", and "Something Stupid" would continue to show up on the hit charts and I was happy to hear them played on the radio.   My mother continued to buy new Sinatra albums that I would listen to and enjoy.  Then, after I had started college, my mother received an 8-Track of the latest Sinatra album offered by the record club to which she belonged.   The album was Watertown.

          As soon as I began listening to the album I was hooked.   Sinatra's familiar style and phrasing was all there, but there was something striking about the songs.  For one thing the series of songs told a story, not in the way that a musical would, but it was more like reading a book or watching a movie.  They were excellent songs and I liked every one of them.    Watertown became a favorite tape that I listened to often.

           I tried to get some of my friends interested in the music, but none of them were Sinatra fans and the music didn't strike them as much as it did me.   It didn't matter though.  I continued to listen often to the tape until eventually it must have stopped working like 8-Tracks were notorious for doing or maybe it just disappeared.   The music was now etched in my mind and I often replayed the songs as I remembered them in my head.

           Years later I tried to find the album on cassette tape, but it was nowhere to be found.  Watertown never did go over much with the public so it was not in general release.  What was to me one of Sinatra's best albums was among his least popular and faded into obscurity.  It had attained critical acclaim when it was released, but it didn't get many sales so apparently the record company saw little reason to re-release it on newer recording formats.

          While researching my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out I ran across some additional reasons that I liked the Watertown album so much.   This album was Sinatra's experimental foray into a more modern rock influenced sound.  Indeed, he had already recorded some albums that dabbled in rock sounds and popular hits like the Cycles album of 1968.   Besides Watertown being a concept album in the song cycle tradition, the songs were produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio who was one of the main creative forces behind one of my favorite groups in my junior high years--The Four Seasons.  Also on board with song lyric credits was Jake Holmes who wrote the song "Dazed and Confused" which was popularized by Led Zeppelin.

           Though the Watertown album has the fine backing of an orchestra, there is also a greater emphasis on a more rock-sounding ensemble of drums, bass, and guitar, giving the songs a bit more punch than preceding Sinatra albums had.   Later covers of songs from Watertown as recorded by groups like Cake and Bomb Dawg show how adaptable to rock the songs are.  Though not truly rock, Watertown put Sinatra on the cusp of an edgier sound while keeping him in the comfort zone of what he did best.

          Please be sure to visit Tossing It Out to vote for your favorite version of the song "What's Now Is Now" from the great Watertown album.

          What is your favorite Frank Sinatra album?   Do you think Sinatra's music will continue to be appreciated by many in the future?    What were some of your musical faves when you were a kid or teen that most of your peers would have been unlikely to listen to?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 4) -- Sexcapades

Girl in shower
Girl in shower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       What child doesn't become somewhat preoccupied with the topic of sex?   For that matter does that preoccupation ever go far from our minds in adulthood?   We look at the sexual content of much popular entertainment as well as the sexual fixation of the advertising industry.   Sex is and has always been on the human mind from the earliest years until the day we die.

       Sexual curiosity came to my childhood as far back as my earliest memory.   I suppose much of it is built into our genetic make-up and is fueled by what we see and hear all around us.   I remember puzzling allusions by adults to mysteries I could not comprehend, but I knew it all had to do with physical relationships and attributes of the human body.   Bit by bit I began to grasp some of the esoteric jokes and conversations that I would overhear from the adults and that even some of my peers would occasionally bring up.

       Always hoping for a glimpse of the hidden parts of especially the opposite sex I kept my eyes open just in case something might be revealed to me.   I would be titillated by the spinning ice skater, not realizing that I was not seeing the woman's undergarments but only a part of her costume.   When my mother would take me into the ladies room rather than send me alone into the men's bathroom, I would hope that just maybe I would see into one of the occupied stalls.  One of the heights of my kindergarten year was when Ruth Springer was removing her snow suit (anyone remember snow suits?) in the cloak room and she accidently pulled down her painties exposing her little bare bottom.   I'd never thought too much about Ruth before that day and from then on had a newfound respect for her.

       I went through the "You show me yours and I'll show you mine" phase through which many little kids pass.   A friend and I might hide in the living room curtains stripping down to our underwear until my mother wanted to know what we were doing and we'd hurriedly pull up our pants, emerging to announce innocently, "Nothing".    The curtains gave a false sense of security to us mischievous children, but my mother was not fooled by any of it.

       One of the milestones of my sexual awakening in childhood came when I was about five.  My mother used to bathe me and my sister, who was a year younger than I, together from the time we were babies.   I never gave this any of that much thought because she was my sister and I had no prurient interests in her--she was like my buddy and co-conspirator.  Taking a bath together was just a part of sibling life.  Then came a turning point in this activity.

        We were visiting my grandparents in West Virginia and my eight year old female cousin was also visiting at the same time.  My cousin held a certain intrigue for me, she being an "older women" so to speak and a girl who I found kind of cute.  We rarely saw each other since we lived some distance apart, but when she was around I wanted to be in her company as much as I could.

       When the time for baths came my cousin and sister headed toward the bathroom and I was right behind them only to be stopped at the door by my grandmother.  Peering around the door into the long bathroom where water was running into the big claw-footed bathtub, I could see my cousin and sister giggling and preparing to take off their clothes.  My grandmother stepped between me and the view and shut the door behind her.  It was made clear to me on that day that boys and girls did not take baths together.  No communal baths ever took place for me after that day.  I'm sure my mother and her mother had a discussion about it.   On that day one of the great mysteries and desires of my childhood would remain a mystery.

       Did you ever play "doctor" or other games related to sexual curiosity?   Did you take baths with siblings?     Do you think sexual curiosity is learned, innate, or a bit of both?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Encounters with Death

English: Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.
 Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Since today is known as Day of the Dead in some cultures and we're in the scary Halloween season, I've been running a series of sort on my blog Tossing It Out about the topic of death.   It's not a topic that many of us like to contemplate, but it is a part of life for all of us.   After you've finished this essay at Wrote By Rote I hope you will continue on to my post at Tossing It Out to vote on my Battle of the Bands offering for the first of this month.   Yes, it's a song about death.

         During my childhood I did not have many direct encounters with death.   When I was very young--about 4 or 5--my aunt died.  Since I never was around her the loss didn't register much for me though I was concerned about my mother's distraught state after it happened.  The thing about that death that I remember the most was that my aunt and uncle lived in a nice house and had a color television set--a rarity in the mid-1950's.

         Sometime around those same years I found my mother crying one afternoon and asked her what was the matter.  She said our family doctor had died.  He didn't seem all that close to me and my family so I didn't understand her sadness.  He was just a guy that I went to see when I was sick or getting checked up and sometimes he'd give me a shot, which I did not like at all.

        Years of childhood went by during which I'd get wind that someone my parents knew had died or maybe some relative whom I had no recollection of ever having met.  If my parents had gone to any funerals during those years it was an event that eluded me.  I'd seen graveyards and funeral homes, but never went to any of those kinds of places.

         The first time I ever saw a dead body was when I was still in high school.  It was in a car accident.  I was riding in the back seat with my parents and we passed a car that appeared to have been in a minor fender bender at an intersection.  There did not appear to be much damage to the car, but in the back seat nearest to the side that I was sitting on was a man with his head leaning against the window.  He appeared to be merely resting or perhaps unconscious, but there was a great deal of blood splattered on the window.  I was puzzled about the amount of blood as the man appeared to be generally uninjured.   In fact, I didn't even realize he was dead until I read about it in the paper the next day.   The accident must have just happened shortly before we came upon it because the other occupants of the car, including some children seated near the man, were just sitting in the car with dazed confused looks.   None of them appeared to be hurt, but just uncertain about what to do.  And the man was dead.  I didn't even realize he was dead and maybe the people with him didn't know it yet either.

        Since that first direct encounter with death I have experienced the deaths of  friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.   I've been to many funerals and sent off many cards and messages of condolences to survivors.  As I grow older death has settled in as a frequent visitor to remind me of my own mortality.   Death will eventually come for me one day, but I'm certainly in no hurry.  Take your time, o death, I'm not ready to go anywhere with you.   Not quite yet.

          Have you had many encounters with the death of loved ones in your lifetime?   When was the first time you actually saw a dead person?   Do you think about your own death or is this a topic that you try to avoid?

          Hope you'll stop by to vote on my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out.  Thanks!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 3)

Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab
Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Like most kids I had a curiosity about chemistry, sometimes bordering on the potentially hazardous.  If interesting ingredients were accessible I was ready to mix them up to see what would happen.  I'm pretty sure it was inspired by something I'd seen on TV.  In one case I know it was.

         In one of the Little Rascals episodes the gang was baking a "surprise cake".  They mix up a batch of stuff in the kitchen to create a batter that eventually starts groaning and bubbling.  I wanted to do that.  So one summer afternoon while my mother was talking to a neighbor across a backyard fence, my sister Joy and I and one of the neighbor kids decided to make our own surprise cake.  Joy and I were about 4 and 5 at the time and had imaginations that were always at work.

          We climbed the counters, digging out flour, milk, spices, and whatever else we could get to and manage to get open and we started mixing in the biggest bowl we could find.  The mixture never bubbled or made noise, but we sure did make a big mess, evident by my mother's angry reaction when she came inside.    To our defense, we were in a hurry to mix things up and didn't have time to clean up.

          Then there was the time a few years later after we had moved to San Diego.   Once again it was Joy and I and some friend from down the street.   Joy and I were like the two stooges so I guess we always needed another kid to make the trio complete.   It was summer and we were exploring the garage to see what was there.   We quickly started assembling an assortment of chemical products--cleaning supplies, turpentine, and other miscellaneous containers of mystery liquids.

         We got a galvanized metal bucket in which to mix up our chemicals and the experiment was underway.  After stirring up half a pail of some nasty smelling dark liquid we waited to assess the results.  Nothing happened so we hid the bucket away in a sort of clubhouse that we had constructed out of stuff that was stored in the garage.   We then went to seek out other mischief.

        It was a few days later when a truly foul smell started permeating the garage.   When my mother inquired about the smell Joy and I looked at each other conspiratorially.   We knew what that smell was and now we were a bit concerned.  Scared even.  After my mother had gone back inside the house we immediately went to where the bucket was hidden.   The brew had a gag-inducing smell with a truly sickening appearance with unidentifiable particles floating in a film on top.  It was disturbing to say the least.

       Now I can't exactly recall what we did with this toxic mixture.  It was undoubtedly deadly or at least unsafe.  If this had been in the current age we might have called a hazardous waste clean-up crew to dispose of the substance.   Maybe we just dumped it in the backyard or maybe one of our parents disposed of the evil liquid.  As I think more on this I do believe I dumped it into a utility sink that was beside the washing machine in the garage.   I don't know what we created in that frightening chemistry experiment but I shudder to think back on it.

      It was kind of funny though--in a perverse sort of way.

      What were some of your fearful kitchen adventures?   Did you ever mix up liquids to see what you could brew?   What did you brew?