Wednesday, August 09, 2006

By the book – part 1

by Tom Gaylord

If you asked me what kind of shooting I did as a kid, I would probably tell you that I didn't shoot a gun until I entered the Army. But this picture tells a different story. When I saw it again after all the years it brought back a flood of childhood memories I hadn't thought about for forty years and more. The first, and by far the most important recollection was of my grandmother's house, which is where this picture was taken.

My family lived in a small town in northern Indiana. It was a town that my father's people had settled more than 150 years before, but by the time I came along it was fully developed and the only recognition of our family was the large number of headstones that bore the same name in the cemetery. I had missed the golden age of our family by about 75 years, according to the dates on those graves.

I used to go to the graveyard often because it was so close to our house. In fact, us kids played in the vacant part of the cemetery much of the time because there was so much land that was open and flat. On summer nights we used to go over there to catch lightning bugs and tell ghost stories among the tombstones. We thought it was a neat place to be.

But my grandmother's house was the best of all. It was the one place where I could really let my hair down and do the things I wanted to do all the time, but was not permitted to. My own home was not so nice.

My mother was raising her family according to books she would get, and we had various restrictions imposed by the whim of authors whom we had never met. If someone wrote about the dangers of breathing the night air, all the windows in the house were locked shut at dusk—no matter how hot and stifling it was. If alfalfa pills were touted as being good for the liver, we took them every day. If cow's tongue was considered brain food, we ate it at least once a week. Whatever the writer was touting, we followed along in perfect lockstep, never questioning the pedigree of the advice.

The funny thing was, a lot of the time one author would write something contrary to what another had said, and then we would go and do just the opposite thing that we had been doing, to comply with this newfound wisdom. My mother had no problem switching gears to the latest quack who obviously had the latest word. I can remember one day going from taking castor oil every day to seeing the bottle disposed of because it was thought to be a dangerous poison to young systems! I happened to agree with that view, by the way.


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