Wednesday, February 23, 2011

True Stories

True stories. © Joel Baumwoll

We all have a past.  It follows along behind us and smacks into today in ways we aren’t even aware.

Talking to kids is a great way to reach back into that bag of experiences and tell about it.

Kids listen with an unjudgmental ear, and see the humor and the message in a story, even before the storyteller. 

My granddaughter, Hannah, is a great listener.  She gets it.  And she turns the idea around in her nine-year-old mind and puts it to use.  “Tell me another true story,” she asks most times I see her.  I’ve dredged my memory for four years now for as many true stories as I can tell her, and many that will have to wait a few years.

As a teen, I was inspired by a great story teller, Jean Shepherd.  His style and technique were irresistible.  And his stories had a universal relevance to a city kid growing up 30 years later than he did.

So as I framed my “true stories” for Hannah, it was Shep’s voice that was in my ear, his intonation, phrasing and ability to hold the reader in suspense and make him or her feel the fear, embarrassment or humor that guided my narratives.

This blog is dedicated to my grand children, Hannah,Nathaniel, and Maya, and is meant to show that the stuff that happens to a kid as he grows up stays with him in many ways big and small. It is good to keep a record, because it is the stuff that really matters in that bag of history each of us drags around.

One story has to do with where my sense of justice came from.  Think about it.  We all have a sense of justice, right and wrong, and perhaps most important injustice.

We instinctively know when we are not being treated right.  Where did we learn that?  What encounters did we have a little kids that became the fortress of our indignation?  You know.  When we rise up, voice trembling, and bellow: "YOU CAN'T DO THAT TO ME!"

I know exactly when my sense of righteous indignation was first detonated.  It was in Miss Schecter's third grade class in PS 73, in the Bronx.

The other stories are about events that most kids have in their lives; encounters with bullies, confronting death, being afraid, getting blind drunk and regretting it.  Not  the kind of stuff that Norman Mailer would write about, nor would Norman Rockwell have made paintings from, but the meat and potatoes of my growing up.

Years later, I realize that that life is like an ongoing circus.  Sometimes people fall off the trapezes, and sometimes the lions eat the tamer.  Best to laugh when you can.

Joel, 2006

And as my four year old grandson 'Thanny said when asked what was the most important thing he's learned, "Pee when you get the chance."

Joel, 1944 Yankee Stadium in background

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