Who Knew?  Ricky Gervais and I on the Same Page!

“The creative adult is the child who has survived…” – Ursula K. Le Guin (borrowed from my Marshall Memorial Middle School Language Arts student circa 1968, Robin Zeigler Walker)

“Hey, now you’re acting like…Jesus!”  A younger than young feminine voice registered in the highest decibels from the backyard trampoline immediately on the other side of our fence.  The “Jesus” impersonator — also a very young girl person — shouted back in a snarly fashion, “Yeah, so what of it?”  Such a remarkable exchange ensued among a gaggle of playmates engaged in bandying about unwelcome advice and upon which one can only superimpose those long-forgotten miraculous forms of childhood communication and then guess what the motivation might have been?  C’mon, we can all relate — we grown-ups once understood raw honesty, cutting to the chase, telling it like it is and then continuing to play well with others, especially during unsupervised, unregimented frolicking where our own satisfactory rules eventually manifested themselves and life progressed on its significantly merry way…

My little nephew, not unlike Beaver Cleaver, and I, his ever so slightly older “aunt”, eternally scrambled to grab the comic pages of the Sunday paper from one another.  As I, the victor, relaxed upon my tummy with the newspaper beneath my inky elbows, breathless Jimmy landed upon my backside declaring, “I got here first!”  The cutest little boy, he deserved honors as one of the most quotable children in the history of the universe.  Our resident Columbia City physician Dr. Otto Lehmberg, who excelled in those enviable “bedside manners” of yesteryear during events we once referred to as “house calls”, resembled a water-colored illustration of a physician in storybooks –white mane of hair, profile of an American eagle, and requisite spectacles.  Jimmy’s eyes enlarged to the size of saucers merely at the mention of the doc’s name — whom he called “Dr. Hankaburger”– or whenever in the presence of any slightly older male whosoever wore glasses and might possibly inoculate him.  My favorite memorable statement from my rosy-cheeked nephew, however, besides being called a “bastard” at which time my mom sat us down on the steps and explained the complicated yet titillating definition of that ugly word to us, would be his calm assurance that movie Indians were not at all frightening because,  “They are just cowboys…with feathers!”

Jimmy who insisted upon assuming the more masculine name “Jim” at age eight, which provoked my prankster dad to agree to dub him “Stinky” instead, shared his talent to “say the darndest things” (which should have earned him a spot on the Art Linkletter “House Party” Show) with his baby sister Cheryl Ann who once grabbed her mom’s padded brassiere off the outdoor clothesline and skipped into the house while exclaiming proudly, “Mommy, Mommy, your lungs is dry!”  Our own kid, Roy, kept us in stitches with his early love of, respect for and attempts to master the English language, confidently expressing his reverence for those glittery “silos” hovering atop the heads of angels.  Years ago, a little neighbor girl received my award for most hilarious repeatable innocent response ever, delivered to some elderly ladies, watching a parade, who remarked that the next time they met up with her she would probably have grown to be “this tall”– as they swished their hands approximately five feet into the air.  Cute Monica smiled sweetly and in a similarly lady-like spirit countered with, “And the next time I see all of you, you’ll probably be dead.”

My mom adored a story of the Langohr children enduring that “spelling in front of the kids” jazz — which adults perform to protect their own highly guarded secrets — on a casual automobile trip in the 1950s.  As the family tooled along the roadways, one of the kids, peering out the rear window, noticed a problem with their moving vehicle –a suddenly opened, flapping trunk — and warned, “Uh, pardon me, but…A, B, C, your back-end’s up!”   And somebody young and confused somewhere sometime asked parents for an explanation of the Biblical phrase, “From dust thou art and to dust thou shalt returneth.”  Upon simplifying the concept of birth and death by downplaying the antiquated florid language , the puzzled parents concluded with,

“Why do you ask?” The child, simply reporting on discovered dust bunnies, tentatively answered,  “Well there’s someBODY under the bed, and whoever it is — is either coming or going…”

In June, I met a boy I grew up with, and we conversed nearly an hour while standing in Smith & Sons Funeral Home’s parking lot — patiently chaperoned by his gorgeous wife and adoring daughter and my handsome husband.  Harry Staley and I discussed quite a lot about our past together in this quaint town where our dads worked side by side at the Blue Bell factory.  We recalled teachers whom we really appreciated, childhood parties attended, neighborhoods and buildings we frequented — and our mutual friend Susy (Alberty) Kauffman who died this past winter.  When the three of us –Harry, Susy and Susie — were short people with few aspirations or hang-ups, we would have thought nothing of riding bikes together, re-enacting movies, playing pitch and catch or even, God-forbid, dressing and re-dressing paper dolls!  I could not stop viewing, in my mind’s eye, the intriguing, unique kid Harry always was, even as this very tall, sophisticated, earnest, poised, renowned Indianapolis-based rheumatologist stood in front of me quite concerned with my psoriatic arthritis and the aggravation it’s causing me.  I continued behaving in a self-consciously silly manner, as if we still might be seven years old and only pretending.  Truly a wonder that he didn’t place his hand over my mouth!  My compliment to Harry is that he has not changed, not a whit…he’ll remain forever that intelligent and chivalrous lad who lived lands away on Jefferson Street yet just around the corner from Susy on Whitley Street.  “When Harry met Susy … and Susie”!

My Southern cousin Krisan spent countless hours after school cursively writing 100 times, at the behest of her strict teacher, “I shall never talk out of turn.”  Brilliant and resourceful, in order to endlessly “talk out of turn” — and furthermore whenever the little pupil felt the impulse to do so — my “cuz” prepared several sheets of yellow lined paper containing the repetitive “sentence” in advance.  That youngster had the penalty for free self-expression covered!  I remember with great fondness super-star Mary Martin portraying Peter Pan as she soared up, down and across the Broadway stage singing, “I won’t grow up….I don’t wanna go to school!”  Even though I still find it  disturbing that an actress provided the quintessential embodiment of the quirkiest juvenile delinquent male in all of literature, I ‘ll never forget her or that tune’s impact and influence upon me.  British comedian Ricky Gervais extolled the potential instructiveness of this playground called Life which he described recently in “Huffington Post”:

“Scientific studies of creativity have basically concluded that it can’t be taught, as it is a ‘facility’ rather than a learned skill.  Putting it very crudely, creativity is the ability to PLAY.  And to be able to turn that facility on and off when necessary.  This makes perfect sense to me.  Everything I’ve ever written, created or discovered artistically has come out of PLAYING.  You have to let yourself go to be creative.  Children possess this quality but then seem to lose it as they are told, ‘It’s not the done thing.’  Pablo Picasso summed it up well:  ‘Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist upon growing up.’  The answer is simple.  Never grow up. I don’t mean don’t become an adult with responsibility and the weight of the world on your shoulders.  I simply mean….give yourself enough time to play.  Play the fool.  Goad.  Shock.  Laugh.  Trip over something that isn’t there.  Try something.  And never be afraid to fail.  That failure is useful , too.  It’s just another building block.”

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