There were a number of stimuli. Lin and I went to see Batman in the latest movie. Why was he always my favorite comic hero? The shades of blue and violet? The muscles? The scientific interest of his utility belt? The constant fight for good against evil? His father’s link to medicine?
And, Harry Potter’s latest adventures came out in bookstores this weekend. Though I haven’t kept up as faithfully as I would like to, he remains one of my favorite characters along with all of the characters that J. K. Rowling can conjure up.
These are today’s connections to the world of fantasy and imagination, a journey that starts somewhere in early childhood, and, if we’re lucky, continues throughout life. As children, without hesitancy, we fall into roll playing in an unrestrained fashion. Elaborate toys are not necessary, at least at first, as our imagination makes people out of cotton balls (Zachary, age 3.)
I remember making a ship out of a folded pad for our dining room table, adding books of different sizes to create different decks, lifeboats and using a talcum can as a funnel. The crew was checkers, the enemy, attempting to board the ship, the red ones, to be repelled. The imagination had few limits in early childhood. The input, the fuel for the imagination, came from fewer sources than are available to today’s children. No TV, no computer, and relatively few books. There was the early and vivid impact of the radio serials, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight <http://www.bleurose.com/cpthist.html> and later, The Lone Ranger. There was Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy. And there was the early, insidious entry of advertising. Oh, how I was willing to drink Ovaltine so I could get my decoder ring and have the inside track on to the secret messages at the end of the show….. A9, C7, D4. And, what to do with the horrible tasting Kellogg’s Pep after opening the balsa sheet with the small airplane, printed on it, to be cut out carefully with a discarded razor blade? <http://www.jehcollectibles.com/defiant.htm>
School, learning to read, discovering the library, going to story time, finding whole shelves of books on airplanes, seeing how many books I could check out at once, and carrying the books, seemingly light at first, 10 blocks home from Central Avenue to Troy Street. The books really fueled the imagination, giving facts to fill out the early outlines.
And then, there were the movies. An adventure and a treat! First with my Dad. The Wizard of Oz. In color! The witch was really frightening, and that witch, riding the broom and bicycle came back to haunt quite a few dreams. There was Pinocchio, and the island where the Bad Boys were taken. Frightening.
There was a war going on. In 1942, I was six. Mrs. Freed had a candy store on Kedzie, and it was half way between my home on Troy Street and the school, William G. Hibbard Elementary School, on Ainslie, between Sawyer and Spaulding. A penny, or was it 2 pennies that would buy a balsa glider to fly during school recess. And there was War Gum, an introduction to history, without footnotes, simple, and colorful, providing a handhold to grasp the events that were taking place.
In 1942, I had progressed from Disney to the World War II action flick, and heard the foreign voices in the films, the German accents in English, the intriguing English accent to American ears and the Japanese accent. Of course Leutnant Zoller of Captain Midnight fame, spoke with an accent like Werner Klemperer of the later Hogan’s Heroes, and I was soon impersonating the enemy. Mrs. Miniver and Eagle Squadron firmly attached me to the English, and, at about age 6 or 7, I fell in love with the Spitfire, and dreamed of being a fighter pilot in the RAF. I flew every night against Zoller and the Messerschmidts, beneath my covers, until I fell asleep. Everything with a roundel caught my eye, and I was sketching airplanes with sand and spinach camouflage, cutting them out, and having my own air battles, after school. Life Magazine, arriving every Friday, was a source of more airplane cutouts, more realistic than I could draw. Comet Models had those wonderful package illustrations that seemed to promise a realistic model, and inside balsa sheets with printed formers and ribs and tissue paper. The canopies were particularly difficult. And if I managed to get the plane together and painted it to look as realistic as I could, the dope would increase the weight. The plane would never fly properly if painted, and the power was a rubber band. Invariably, the crashes and the repairs would add more weight and the plane would meet its end in a flaming crash, assisted by a match or two.
When mobility became a tool of exploration, and I learned to ride a bicycle, my rides in River Park became a flight on wheels from one bench to another along a trail. The benches became aircraft carriers.
The movies fueled the imagination. John Wayne flying in the AVG, Dana Andrews piloting an Avenger. I was pointed toward the sky. There were plenty of airplanes in the sky, but the most important airplane was hanging from the ceiling at the Museum of Science and Industry on Chicago’s South Side. (P9306 a Mark I) <http://www.warbirdregistry.org/spitregistry/spitfire-p9306.html> This was the first Spitfire I got close to, and I loved it. Little did I know that one day, I would actually fly in one. http://www.livejournal.com/users/tinkll1/2005/04/18/
I haven’t touched on Batman, muscles and fender bulges, but that will take a bit of research. And, I must mention, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and his Spitfire and RAF fantasies, as well as his doctor fantasies, and then there was Virginia Mayo, Gail Russell and a whole new bunch of fantasies.
But, perhaps this is the way it starts. Here I am holding my grandson, Myles, and in the background is a painting of an encounter of Battle of Britain Ace, Alan Deere, with a Messerchmidt Bf 109. Myles rocks in his “flight simulator” under the painting and who knows what kidn of imprinting is at work.
This last picture shows Myles’ father, Josh, at work on a glider which I purchased for a quarter at a 99 cent store. Josh has flown, builds model planes and shares my enthusiasm for airplanes. He works for Boeing’s Satellite Division in Information technology. And so the story goes….