BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The P-51 Mustang is arguably the world’s most famous fighter of all time.” –

The 1987 movie Empire of the Sun contains a scene with the very young Christian Bale shouting “Cadillac of the Skies!” as a flight of P-51 Mustangs comes shattering the quiet over the prisoner of war camp. A dramatic scene, to say the least, as part of the film’s story.

empire of the sun 1987EMPIRE OF THE SUN POSTER 1987

Well, the Mustangs are not Cadillacs, but are “actually” Rolls Royces…. (Well, a Packard-Merlin copy of the Rolls Royce engine. There. That’s for history.)

A Merlin Engine Aptly namedRolls Royce Merlin Engine: Tangmere, UK 

In 2004, I began to be a Collector of Mustangs. Not literally. I had entered a second childhood/youth-hood, complete with books, Internet writings and pictures, and lists and statistics about the plane, the P-51. No baseball cards this time; no “Red Menace” cards I collected in the 1950s; no SSI (Shoulder Sleeve Insignia) of various USAAF and US Army forces and divisions as I had done for my Boys Scout merit badge days; no comic books, model kits, nor coins for sorting and collecting.  

My collecting days, beginning with those desires to have a collection of something “way back then,” were never as involved with or as enthusiastic over any item as has been my interest in this particular airplane. I cannot explain it either. It just happened that way.

Originally, when I started this airplane “addiction,” or passion, for whatever the inexplicable reason, I had not any particular make or model in mind. I knew I wanted to read about and find information on The Flying Tigers for sure.

Flying TigersFlying Tiger Insignia

When I was in sixth grade, I became a babysitter for a neighbor down the street in Chicago. The husband and wife heard I was a reliable kid with a paper route. They had a small boy who needed an occasional sitter. I was asked over “for an interview” and hired. It was a great weekend job, putting a little guy to bed on a Saturday night–though my early Sunday morning paper route had to be taken into account.

While sitting in the quiet during those times, I read the classics about medieval knights and adventure stories and Hardy Boys books (like The Tower Treasure or While the Clocked Ticked. Those books written in 1927 seem so old now; but in the early 50s, they were “current,” less than 25 years old. By comparison, the first Harry Potter novel was written in 1997….)

And that was that–almost. I was babysitting for an original World War II Flying Tiger.

John Farrell, boyington,croftFlying Tiger John Farrell

I heard few of his stories, but did see his jacket and pictures, medals and insignia. It was the inception, I am convinced, of my innermost love of things flyable, of WWII stories, Flying Tigers, Seabees, Iwo Jima and John Wayne, and more and more and more.

Then… “Grow up!” Well, not quite like that. But there was high school (and reading stories about pilots), and college (and reading about pilots and WWII, or William Shire’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, instead of studying my philosophy assignments). And so on…and on….

2004. Indeed. I never gave up on any of the topics or stories that intervened from then until what started in 2004. I had an opportunity to re-channel, and started collecting.

Plastic, diecast, sizes, pilots, fighter groups–too much to collect without a Plan. I made a Divine Plan for Collecting Airplanes. Many times, the plan changed, kept changing–until I could focus, and that I did.

I always did “like” the “Cadillac of the Skies.” (Even the Flying Tigers gave up their shark-mouthed P-40s and transitioned to flying P-51 Mustangs.) I began my “serious” love affair, as much as I could, with this special, well-known fighter plane.

P-51 LVR License Plate croppedP-51 LVR Florida Plate 

There you have it. I have not ridden in one; I have been up close and personal, however–and have known and visited with WWII pilots and even have some autographs and books signed (typical “love-affair,” groupie-fan activities).

Punchy Powell MustangCapt. Robert Powell 

I have been to air shows on a limited basis, and to the right museums housing beautiful examples.

Ina the Macon Belle at Fantasy of Flight in FloridIna the Macon Belle at Fantasy of Flight: Florida

In addition to an in-cockpit flight film I have that puts me in the seat, I have been thrilled by a few movies for Mustang Lovers: Red Tails, The Tuskegee Airmen, Saving Private Ryan, Hart’s War, and, of course, Empire of the Sun. In the latter, Steven Spielberg used restored P-51s to portray the era accurately. Most effective.

Collecting can be fun, yet dangerous if time and money are taken from family duties and obligations, or from a person’s “normal” behavior. I have tried to be balanced and ordered in what I do: How many books can one have about a topic? Or models? Or…well, however many are needed. And there’s the rub. Want vs Need. I remember from King Lear: “Reason not the need.” I’ve tried that one too many times.

I think I am doing all right, learning from my childhood ways–and errors. But mostly my memories of past hobbies and collections are all good. My comic book collection was lost in a flooded basement. Coin collecting became too expensive for me as prices of metals rose. I still am animated when I see a beautiful new FOREVER stamp. But not enough to fill a postage album anymore. Downsizing living space has made my model collection very selective. I do not want a collection I cannot see, or touch. I am funny that way.

So that is how I came to this place in time and space, having a collection, loving to collect, and having a favorite special object from the past that continues to give me pleasure, physical and intellectual. I love the P-51 Mustang!

© James F. O’Neil 2014

Mustang LoverMustang Lover: Fort Myers, FL, Aviation Day, 2007

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Oh, say, can you see…”

Yes, I admit, I am always on the “look” out for things “beautiful.”

“Beauty is only skin deep.” “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

Yes, as I was often told, and taught in school, me with acne-filled pores.

“Beauty,” says Thomas Aquinas, is “That which seen pleases.”  I had a more difficult time with this one saying, both in philosophy class and in my art history classes. [Aquinas...is still being interpreted.]

How do I know what beauty is? Will it be like pornography, as the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined that: “I know it when I see it” [Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964]? (Can pornography–whatever it is–be beautiful?) Therefore, seeing, looking then is pleasing.

Ah, the beauty of it all. Oh, that ‘57 Chevy, candy-apple red hardtop, so pleasing, so beautiful!

“One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” As in, “That was a beautiful garage sale.” Or, in American Pickers: “That Texaco sign is just in beautiful condition.”

TEXACO SIGNTEXACO SIGN Credit: eBay

And what about a beautiful Scotch? “Single-malt, 15-year-old: just beautiful. Look at that color!” However, what about the taste? No dispute, is there, with taste/tastes?

“Mmm, mmm good. Mmm, mmm good. Campbell’s soups are mmm, mmm good.” Andy Warhol could attest to that!

ANDY AND SOUP CANANDY AND SOUP

What do you like? Any favorites? Is it/are they “beautiful”? The kids? The small of a woman’s back (in Kevin Costner’s litany in Bull Durham)? The Mona Lisa?

But about Venus de Milo, the original, which I saw in the Louvre, not the #2 pencil, not Salvador Dali’s huge “magnificent” symbolic painting, but the original: How can it/she be “beautiful”? No arms. Measurements just not “right” [34”-31.2”-40.8”], or . . . . “Look at those hips!” Some beauty. Out of proportion. Proportion is that essential quality of beauty, says those aestheticians (those who decide what is aesthetic or “beautiful”–or “art”–and there is Thomas Aquinas, again).

VENUS DE MILOVENUS DE MILO

And something beautiful is also supposed to be good because of integrity, wholeness. It’s “bad” (even sometimes originally translated as “evil”), from any little defect. (I have always mused over “flawed” and “flawless” diamonds, even those “beautiful” three-carat, “cloudy” ones!) [Our engagement ring, 51 years ago, was a AAA, 0.39-carat, about the only affordable “way back then.” But how beautiful!]

Aesthetics: too philosophical for me.

And so, what could be beautiful?

Could be a song or musical piece (“Moon River” or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony); could be a color or something colorful (burnt sienna or a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico); could be a building (certainly nothing “Gaudi”!), like Hagia Sophia; could be a “babbling brook”; could be a Girl with a Pearl Earring, the book, the painting, the movie (how beautiful is that?!); could be that ice-cold RC Cola washing down a Moon Pie (Yum! Right beautiful!); could be all those older couples holding hands, older sisters, younger brothers; could be an emotionally charged and tear-evoking episode of Grey’s Anatomy, or a scene from Shakespeare in Love or Romeo and Juliet; could be a Serta, or Sealy Posturepedic for a beautiful night’s sleep.

Could be.

Oh, I can’t get enough. Looking for the pleasures to be found in The Beautiful.

“O Beautiful, for spacious skies…amber waves of grain…mountain majesties….”

Can you see? See? Do you see what I see? Can you find the beauty? Are you looking?

Remember: “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’”–that is all…ye need to know.” –John Keats

© JAMES F. O’NEIL   4 JULY 2014

sunset over cape coralSUNSET

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Traffic lights, also known as traffic signals, traffic lamps, signal lights, stop lights–and also known technically as traffic control signals–are signaling devices positioned at road intersections, pedestrian crossings, and other locations to control competing flows of traffic. (Traffic lights were first installed in 1868 in London and are now used all over the world.)

Traffic lights alternate the right of way accorded to road users by displaying lights of a standard color (RED, YELLOW, and GREEN) following a universal color code. In the typical sequence of color phases:

           the GREEN light allows traffic to proceed in the direction denoted, if it is safe to do so; the YELLOW light denoting prepare to stop short of the intersection, if it is safe to do so; the RED signal prohibits any traffic from proceeding.” [Wikipedia]

Traffic Signal: Utica, NY (CREDIT: P.BASE.COM)

“What kinds of things do you remember most about your dad? Some little stories or anecdotes? A memory of the past, something that you do that always brings an image that is so vivid it’s like he’s there with you when you do it?”

“He taught me how to drive and be a good driver. He taught me to play the lights.”

“He is with me every time I am driving where there are stop lights in a row: down a busy street–not the interstate. I still do this. He taught me about traffic lights–and their time and speed and distance–long before computerized traffic signals.

I watch my speed, see the lights ahead of me, guess when they might change, see the Walk/No Walk signs for pedestrians–and how much time they have, and I have. This requires good eyes and good judgment. Concentration. Paying attention.

In Chicago, when I drove my mom to work, being able to go from Halstead and 55th to Downtown at the Federal Reserve Bank without having to stop for lights was a feat. Possible. Do-able. I still “play the lights” on certain streets where I live now. Even after all these years. I have to be conscious of traffic and timing. And he’s there with me.

Oh, he also taught me to be a great parallel parker, a skill not often required these days. And to back up using only mirrors (though I wasn’t so good with my mail truck in 1962, breaking off a mirror when I hit the truck next to me).

And to be a good left-turn-er (“Never make a left when you can make a right.”).

traffic-signalLEFT TURN SIGNAL?

I also have to stay between the lines: he hated when I drifted on Garfield Boulevard. This was the hardest part for him to teach me: “WATCHIT! DON’T DRIFT!”

My current driver’s license [still] has Safe Driver affixed to it–a trait I owe to my dad. 

©  James F. O’Neil 2014

“You are what you were. If you have no past, you have no future.” –Anon. 1991

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

MOTHERS’ DAY: The current holiday was created in 1908 as a day to honor one’s mother. President Woodrow Wilson made the day an official national holiday in 1914.

* * *

Examination question:

“Who is the person you most admired from your childhood?”

* * *

“It must be true. My mother said so.”

Yes, that worked for me for many years, with my pop psychology, my religion of motherolatry. I thought it was true: My mother was all-powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise–seeing all. M-O-M = G-O-D.

Then it happened: 9th grade for sure. World History. Discussion question about . . . and my answer: “My mother said so.” And the teacher’s response: “Your mother is not God!”

NO?

How could I have been so naive? How did I ever make it into high school believing that my mother had the VERUM VERBUM, the true word?

true wordNo, it is not true; I didn’t believe that . . . so late in the Game of Life. But when did I stop believing? When did I come to that realization the Game was changing? That I had to learn for myself?

Somewhere, sometime, I said, “NO!” to Mom-God. There I was, probably shaking while or after the words came from my mouth. My Act of Rebellion.

out with the old by miss cherylAnd so it goes in the Game of Life, as we grow through adolescence into adulthood (which my pop-psychology taught me. Or was that Gail Sheehy: Tryout Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Flourishing Forties, Flaming Fifties, Serene Sixties?).

 * * *

Examination question:

“List FIVE traits, characteristics, or attributes of your mother and write about them.”

[Optional essay question.]

* * *

I cannot imagine not having a mother, losing her to disease [Steel Magnolias], in a car accident [Raising Helen], in childbirth [The Sign], to a hunter’s bullet [Bambi], or to the many other awful things that happen to mothers before their children know them. “I lost my mother when I was five.” “I don’t remember my mother.” “My mother died of cancer, when I was seventeen.” “My mom never came home from the party.”

And on it went, as I read essay after essay, year after year, for over twenty years. This question was my choice. I wanted my students to do personal narratives by which they could express themselves–and do their best writing–I hoped.

As the semesters ended, I turned to my readings. Often tired, I usually would become pensive while reading. I tried to be an objective reader, weighing the writing against the grading standards. Yet so often I was sucked into the story being told. I think I am like Miss Lonelyhearts [by Nathaniel West], encountering sad story after sad story, truth stranger than fiction. I could not help it.

Essays ranged from the “My mother took care of me when I was sick” to “My mom had it rough raising the nine of us with no father…or with a druggie father…or with an alcoholic father…or with a___ father.” [How did she manage?]

While I was drifting off, and away from the papers, my own questions, my own answers snuck in: How did my mother manage to sleep, work nights (mostly), raise the four of us, and keep up with the household duties–and be a wife, too?

Doing the dishes was the job that fell to my sister, Janice, and me. We learned–and were outstanding dish-doers. “Glasses, knives, and forks. Dishes, pots, and pans.” That was The Sacred Order. That’s the way I learned, from Mom. [Trait One: MANAGER]

Years before (maybe when in 9th grade?) as I was washing coffee cups after supper, I reached into the soapy water, reaching after a cup that slipped from my soapy left hand. My hand went automatically to retrieve the cup, but the broken cup sliced into the fingers of my left hand. Blood in the water. Panic from the immediate intense pain, cut-in-soap. My sister screaming for, of course, “M-O-M!” [Trait Two: NURSE]

“Mom, can you read my story before you go to work?” [Trait Three: GRAMMARIAN] ‘Nuff said.

grammarian amazon

Mothers cheer us on: “You can do it. Go ahead! Go ahead!” I remember vividly, her feeling good on a warm Saturday evening in Chicago. She had just ridden the (used) small bicycle bought for me. I ran alongside her with glee. At the corner, she turned around, giving me the bike. My turn. My first two-wheeler.

“You can do it. Try again,” I heard as I tried to gain balance, but fell into the bushes. Getting up, scratched arms be damned!, I tried again. Her laughing encouragement behind me grew as I cycled away from her. At the end of the sidewalk, near the alley, I stopped (applying the brakes expertly), then fell over–and off. I turned back to see my mom waiting at the end of the street. I rode to her. “Expertly,” of course. Yeah, wobbling from side to side, houses’ steps and bushes on the right, grass-curb-city street on the left. I pedaled the gauntlet. To Mom. [Trait Four: CYCLIST TRAINER]

50s bicycle liveauctioneers50s BICYCLE (CREDIT: LIVEAUCTIONEERS)

“What do you think I should do?”

If there is one question I ask, probably more than any other, it is “What do you think I should do?” My kids do it. My wife does it. We all do it.

Looking over my Early Asking Age to now, I realize this has to be The Ultimate Question: each of us is a Grand Inquisitor. We seek answers. I seek (and sought) answers. However, the answers that come from “What do you think I should do?”, though not unique to kids asking moms, make us Deciders. For the answer usually is, “You’ll have to decide.” It means, “You’ll have to make up your own mind–and live with it.” This is not cold, harsh, cruel, but is concerning, caring, and–when I think more about it–allowing the Inquisitor to grow and live. Therefore, we talk and discuss and ask: “What should we do?”

Yes, just like a mom, she said, “Yes, you’ll have to decide.” Just as I expected, not unexpected. [Trait Five: NON-DECIDER/DECIDER]

Good move, for, as we all know so well, not just Mother Nature, but “Mother knows best” (often).

So I would search student essays for goodness and admiration, stories that demonstrated “goodness” and “admiration.” “All the good” moms do . . . “is oft interred with their bones.”

NO! The good DOES live after them. I CAN recall the good times, the admired times; memories of the hard times, the rough times; illnesses, job layoffs, or . . . .”

Too, from Trait Five, I learned: to be able to reach decisions, come to conclusions, after rational thought, not impulse thoughts, but rather, like a good Indiana Jones Crusader, to choose wisely.

 So, “The person I most admire from childhood . . . .”

 © James F. O’Neil   2014

* * *

 ~Irish Proverb: “A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.”

 happy-mothers-day shlomoandvitos.com(CREDIT: shlomoandvitos.com)

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Most of us adjusted our clocks to keep up with The Changing of the Clocks: Daylight Saving Time (“Daylight Time”). And the world keeps on turning.

watch If the yearly changing of clocks is important for the economy and for the normal operation of living, we can be aware of what a big deal it really is.

However, it is a small instance in our being involved in rite, ritual, and myth.

Ritual plays such an important role in the life of an aware human, and knowledge of ritual and mythology makes us aware of the bond that unites us all to one another.

If you need to delve into this “myth thing,” read and study Frazer, Frye, Eliade, Wheelwright; then worlds open up reading Jung, Milton, Whitman, and Joyce. There is no end to discovering, to making connections, to becoming aware of how contemporary faiths and practices are united with/by “archaic” realities. And in the widest range possible, “faiths and practices” can even include setting back or ahead a timepiece or the Dashboard Clock.

How I do something or how I am told to do something is RITE: How to color Easter eggs.

EGG COLORING BY ELCIVICS.COM

The actual coloring is the Annual RITUAL, including hiding the eggs, making baskets, and making chocolate disappear.

MYTH is a true story that is precious, contains special elements, and is usually religious or “sacred.” (This is the story of “Once upon a time . . .”: Easter Bunny, tombs, rolling back a stone, angels passing over, etc.) We need to get used to NOT saying, “It’s a myth.” (Maybe in Shakespeare in Love, “It’s a mystery” has more meaning than appears.)

A MYTH is a narrative and an expression of ultimate reality, a statement of value: “I believe this.” Even if it’s an Easter Bunny, the Paschal Lamb, or Passover . . . or changing the time. We express, “We believe,” then act accordingly as those who have done before us from the beginning.

From here, we go to see the timepiece, the clock, as more than a time change but rather as a renewal of and re-living the myth: spring (or autumn). And all that spring announces, like dawn or birth or green (however, after the snow is finally gone), or revival, defeat of darkness of winter (resurrection?).

This is Spring. (April may be the cruelest month, but April showers bring May flowers . . .)

Living a MYTH implies a genuinely religious experience. We live it ceremonially or by performing the ritual: Easter bonnets, those Easter Parades (any parade!). In one way or another, we “live” the myth in the sense that we are “seized by the sacred, exalting power of the events recollected or re-enacted” (Mircea Eliade).

All those little things we do at this time of the year, “religious” or sacred or “profane,” take us on that journey of awareness, that ritual of discovery of our origins and of who we are: humans.

It’s no big deal, just a clock and egg and a bunny and a . . . .

© James F. O’Neil

BUNNY EGG BY LUCYLEARNS.COM

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

fet·ish: “an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency; OR, any object, idea, etc., eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect, or devotion: to make a fetish of . . . .” –Dictionary.com

“FETISH-RELATED WORDS”:monomania; complex, hang-up; appetite, craving, desire, fascination, hunger, infatuation, longing, lust, passion, pining, thirst, urge, yearning; idiosyncrasy, quirk; bent, disposition, inclination, leaning, partiality, penchant, predilection, predisposition, proclivity, propensity, tendency

“When does collecting turn into an addiction–or become a fetish?” Good question.

I used to hear, when I signed my name, or put comments on a student’s paper, “You write like a girl!” That I had been hearing for many years since learning the ups and downs of The Palmer Method of handwriting, the scrolls and the loops and the curls.

Now, in the era of being nice, and equality, and political correctness, I hear something more like “Nice handwriting.” “Yes, that is my best cursive, taught to me many years ago.” And I continue to write notes and memories in longhand–and, sign checks. (See my blog posting from September 2013: http://memoriesofatime.com/2013/09/19/rulers-for-writing/.) I even try to write a note on each Christmas card I send. Something special, in cursive.

With a good gel pen or a fiber point, I can make my way across a piece of paper, stay on the ruled-line paper, and write in my college-ruled journal books IF I have the “right” kind of pen.

I have a fetish for pens. I have two coffee cups on my desk, one full-tight crammed with ballpoint pens and gel-ink pens; one reserved only for my collection of Cross pens.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways.” (Paul 1 Corinthians 13:11).

As a child and youngster, I had some good fountain pens; then cartridge types (which were not effective–always had to have cartridges in some drawer for refills). Then came ballpoint pens, with a thick and gooey ink that made blops and smears on the paper. Unsightly, and messy. (Blue exam books had near-tissue-thin paper. Ballpoint and fountain pens certainly kept me from getting all A’s in college. But pencil was not allowed. No right answer there.)

In 1976–I can remember it–I bought my first Cross pen and pencil set: chrome. (I still have both in the cup.) The purchase was a status symbol for this guy with a pen fetish (“an object regarded with awe”).

CrossPens1

CROSS PEN AND PENCIL SET

The pencil worked smoothly; the pen slid out of my fingers, slid down my writing fingers when I tried to write quickly, despite the knurling on the barrel near the point [“Knurling: The operation performed for producing indentations on the part of the workpiece. Knurling allows hands or fingers to get a better grip on the knurled object than would be provided by the originally smooth metal surface. Occasionally, the knurled pattern is a series of straight ridges rather than the more-usual crisscross pattern.” --See wikipedia.org.] The tighter I held the pen, the less control over it I had.

CHROME CROSS PEN WITH KNURLING

CHROME CROSS PEN WITH KNURLING

So that was that. Until the next Cross pen (“infatuation): one in red, or grey, or blue–or classy black [“The Cross Classic Century is the signature Cross pen. It has become an icon with its mid-century modern design (since 1946) that has been alluring writers for decades. The slim design and smooth writing ink make this one of the most highly regarded ballpoint pens of its time.”]

Then, added to my collection, two gold, one chrome with gold accents (“idiosyncrasy).

I had to stop. They are usable, but too thin and smooth for my arthritic fingers.  

But thankfully, somehow, someone created or invented the gel-ink pen (see Sakura, 1984). I was convinced it was for me (“inclination, leaning, partiality).

No refilling, no “perfect” gold nib needed, and no blips-blops. And the best ones have a rubber cushion for my writing fingers. All in many colors, to make strokes in bold, micro-thin, fine–or just plain “regular.” (I have learned, however, that the ink runs out faster than in a ballpoint.)

Nevertheless, despite my need for writing speed and my like for gel ink, I recently obtained a new Cross pen: a “fat boy,” in blue enamel, with chrome accents. [“The Cross Calais Ball Pen reflects Deco’s embrace of geometry, handicraft, and streamlined form. This magnificent pen is available in two lacquered finishes along with two-tone chrome and single tone chrome finishes.” Magnificent! I had to have one! Definitely “appetite, craving, desire.”]

I can really hold it tight as it rests on my “tall-man” writing bump on my right hand. It is stylish, though the technology or twisting to open-close the ink cartridge refill is still the same as in my first Cross pen.

JIMMY'S NEW CROSS PEN 2013

JIMMY’S NEW CROSS PEN 2013

And that is that. For now.

“You thrive on novelty,” an older gentleman cautioned me. Is that so bad?

So, about my blue-suede “box toes”…

JIMMY'S NEW BLUE SUEDE "BOX-TOES"

JIMMY WITH HIS NEW BLUE SUEDE “BOX-TOES” (c.1954-1955)

 © James F. O’Neil 2014

 

**To fulfill a desire you might have for further reading, see http://www.penhero.com/Your on-line writing instrument magazine, featuring detailed reviews, history, news, shows, and product announcements, and more links to writing-instrument-focused sites than any other source…

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The Witch fell down . . . and . . . melted away to nothing, . . . Dorothy . . . being at last free to do as she chose, she ran out to the courtyard to tell . . . that the Wicked Witch of the West had come to an end, . . . There was great rejoicing. . . .” — L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

If memory serves me right…in 5th grade…

Sister Mary Dolorita (a pretty face, all the flesh that showed–except for two hands–and a smile) taught my classroom of 5th and 6th grade boys and girls.

I liked our school on the South Side of Chicago. The building faced Honore, near 72nd Street. The structure, mostly one story, in a U-shape, was built around a beautiful church.

saint justin photo 2Saint Justin Martyr School and Church

Near the front of the building (at the south end), a stairway made its way up to a landing, with a second-floor classroom and the principal’s office. At the top of the stairs, on each side of the building, a door led to the choir loft. The church organ was situated in the center of the loft.

From 1949-1955 (my 8th grade graduation), a considerable part of my life was bound to these structures. Much I remember, yet so much I have forgotten.

However, I will never ever forget standing in front of church, lined up by grade, standing outside in the rain “Until there is quiet!” The principalshouted at us from under her umbrella. That year, my 5th grade, was the year from hell with her as principal, with

D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E
O-R-D-E-R
Q-U-I-E-T
O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E.

She was in absolute charge of the school. Nevertheless, we endured.

With the School Year nearly over, including nice Chicago weather, school activities included packing unused schoolbooks to be sent off to the missions. One morning, while we were quietly doing our seat-work tasks, Sister called upon me (always the acquiescing “Go-for”) to bring boxes from storage. Where was the storage for boxes?

Next to the choir loft. Of course….

Leaving my busy classmates, I entered the Silence of the Hall, looked both ways, and then headed to The Stairway.

(“Abandon hope, all ye who climb these stairs….”)

Looming at the top of the stairs, “Door Number One [left]: Choir Loft.” “Door Number Two [ahead]: Storage.”

Quickly–and softly–I moved to the top of the stairs, one linoleum-covered step at a time. I saw: “Door Number Three [right--and open]: Sanctum Sanctorum Principal.”

I opened Door Number Two. Absolute Darkness. Yet from the light of the open hall area surrounding me, I saw inside. Certainly, against extant Chicago fire codes, cardboard and corrugated boxes of all types and sizes were stacked un-neatly in this small storage facility.

And the one naked light bulb, in a socket, hanging down from the ceiling on a dark black fuzzy cord, with a barely-visible chain hanging across the bulb.

light bulb fotosearchLight Bulb. Credit: fotosearch

I pulled the chain, turning on the light bulb. At that very instant, the pump motor for the church organ began to run. The organist had begun to practice. With the light on, I could now see the green metal-mesh cage over the large black belt connected to a motor and flywheel. This motor ran the pump to operate the bellows–making the church music we so liked to hear. Noise and light nearly overwhelmed me in my Quest-for-Cardboard. So which one box would be perfect, would show my Dear Sister Dolorita I could do the job?

Of course, The Beautiful Perfect Cardboard Box on top of a pile near the back of the small room.

Behind me, while I made my way to the boxes-taller-than-I-was, The Voice of Principal shrilled: “What are you doing?” Frozen, I turned and blurted out, “Getting a box for Sister.” Then, something like, “Well, get on with it. Go on!” I pointed and tried to reach. “Never mind!” Pulling a step stool, then reaching for…all in slow motion (of course): She reached. She fell. She tumbled. She went down. Down. Down. Screaming. She screamed: “Oh!” as she went down, down, down into the depths, behind the metal cage.

Then I saw two laced high-top black shoes, pointing upwards, connected to two skinny lower legs, and ankles covered by dark black nylons.

“Help me! Help me!” she cried out, behind the running motor. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” (Turn what off?)

So I reached for and grabbed onto the bulb socket and chain, receiving a shocker! I pulled the chain. The motor kept running. Music continued from the church organ.

I barely saw the legs as I turned and ran to the classroom on the landing. I pulled open its door, shouting to the nun-like silence inside, all eyes on me: “Hurry! Sister fell into the organ!” In a flash, the good nun was pushing me aside, out of her way–and making headway to the space emitting music and motor sounds.

“JESUS! MARY! JOSEPH!” (They would certainly come to help when they heard their names shouted out in helplessness.) “Get Mr. Joe [the janitor]!” He would come for sure when I found him. I found him somewhere. Wherever he had his hangout. I went with him, but was told to go back to my classroom.

I arrived there empty-handed, but memory-traumatized. Forever. I retold the story–tearfully (almost). Lunchtime bell. Dismissed for lunch. Saved by the bell.

Adults running. Rumors. Ambulance. Congratulations.

Congratulations? Yes, I was to be congratulated. I was a childhood hero–to my schoolmates. “You tried to knock off the Old Witch. Is that true?”

Of course, it was true.

More likely, however, I probably did cry, knowing how fragile I was then.

The Principal never returned. Summer came. Then 6th grade. No mention of The Fall. I entered 6th grade, like all my other classmates, hearing from Sister Mary Georgine:

“YOU BOLD BRASSY THINGS!”
“YOU DON’T KNOW BEANS IN THE BAG OPEN!”

freshly roasted coffee beans in a jute bagBeans in the Bag Open

And we were now happy in school, lining up in good weather, a few times a week.  I was never again sent to find another storage box. Besides, they moved them–and, as far as I know, locked forever that Dantesque Doorgate.

(I bet Mr. Joe and the organist could get in if they wanted….)

© James F. O’Neil 2014

Art-Colored Glasses

Original poetry, essays, artworks, photographs & musings on whatever moves me...

Life after legs

Poems and reflections

tea & paper

nest for simplicity and creativity

Chicago History Today

...BECAUSE THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN JUST A FIRE

Author Mccloskey Speaks

A great WordPress.com site

cervixsays

Healthy minds, happy bodies.

Lisa U Blog

random nothingness described in detail.

A Holistic Journey

Finding my way back out of motherhood -- while mothering

AirportsMadeSimple

Your Interactive Travel Magazine~Showcasing a Variety of Authors

Ara Hagopian's The Literate Show

Beautiful images and the essays that drive them.

Bumblepuppies

THINGS THAT INSULT MY INTELLIGENCE

AMERICAN GALLERY

Greatest American Painters

Soul Embraces

What do you truly yearn for?

The Underground Writer

Observations simply stated.

OLinks

Social Media Marketing and Search Engine Marketing for Business

Hints and Echoes

Accessing the past

The Official How To Blog

The official site of how to-ing.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 88 other followers

%d bloggers like this: