The other night I was listening to one of my favorite shows on NPR, Prairie Home Companion. Mary and I have listened on almost a continuous weekly basis since at least 1985 and have followed Garrison Keeler through the many phases of his fantastic, creative life. Besides being besotted with his charm, I always feel he represents the epitome of making what one wants to do in life productive and profitable.
And he populated the entire town of Lake Woebegone! With people who exist only in our imagination.
This week’s show was featuring Shakespearean readings, or adaptations of such in celebration of the Great Bard’s birthday. And perhaps also because in the news this week was publication and production of a long-lost play, attributed to Sir William.
That set me thinking about another piece of literature that I discovered while listening to the show. The presenter was the then Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins:
http://www.billy-collins.com/2005/06/the_lanyard.html, and the poem was “The Lanyard.” You could (and should) read the entire piece at the link provided, but for the moment I’ll tease you with one line: “She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.” I have decided that I am going to send this to all the Mothers I know who will be celebrating their special day in a week or so. Read and feel free to do likewise.
I wept when I heard it, those years ago, and teared up when I read it today.
Saturday’s show got me remembering another event, this one from my early youth: the listening to stories on old records and on the radio from the show Let’s Pretend. For those of you, who are too young to remember “The Golden Age of Radio”, let me explain. There was a show, I believe it aired on Saturday mornings, where a repertory group of actors would dramatize the timeless stories of youth: “Sleeping Beauty”,” The Arabian Nights”, Beauty and the Beast”, and I think I remember “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel”. The costumes were magnificent, the characters just like they were in the illustrated books, and the voices were absolutely perfect, because they were all completed in the imagination of the listener.
The show went off the air in the mid-1950s but made its creative Director, Nila Mack, award-winning and famous. In 1974 some enterprising recording producer bought the rights and the tapes and distributed them on vinyl. We bought the entire set and played them for our children, who were nine and five at the time.
But, as Thomas Wolfe proclaimed, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
My children never took to the stories the way Mary and I had. Reasons? Maybe there were more distractions. We encouraged their playing outside and in Southern California you could do that more often and in more comfort than our growing up in Iowa and Wisconsin. But I think the real distraction was the bombardment of visual stimuli from television. We restricted what they watched but their eyes were filling in the blanks that we filled with our memory and minds.
Our older son is a recreational reader, but his choice of material trends toward vivid action settings rather than the subtle puzzling mysteries we choose. It is hard to predict what will attract our grandchildren, now six and thirteen. But I am concerned that Sponge Bob and Mario will have filled in too many spaces in their imaginations to allow savoring the development of a Fairy Tale plot.
What is your experience?