My parents had a few of their old grammar school readers, which I discovered stored in their bedroom closet at a time when I would read almost anything I could find. One story that I remember rather well was called, I believe, The Wishing Gate. This was the tale of a boy that set out in search of a wishing gate (no surprise there!), who finally became exhausted and discouraged, and sat dejectedly on an old country stile. Stiles, for those too urban or too rural to remember, are sets of steps for crossing fences, which are constructed like a stepladder, but with steps on each side, so that one can climb up one side and down the other, without trying to squeeze under or crawl over the fence, damaging it (or oneself) in the process. The story ends with the boy wishing that the wind would carry him home because he was so tired and disappointed. The North Wind did just that, and during the entire return trip the wind was chuckling. When the boy asked why, the wind replied that he had seen three funny sights in that day’s journey. I forget the first, but the second sight that had amused the wind was a chicken that starved to death beside a basket of corn (those old readers were not the pablum fed to today’s fragile youth!) and the third was a boy who had asked to be taken home because he couldn’t find the wishing gate while he was sitting right upon it.
This story came to mind during my recent trip to California to visit some old friends (It was a great trip; thank you for asking.) To lay the groundwork, I must digress a bit to say that when I was in high school and college, there were those of us for whom Catcher in the Rye had all the impact of Harry Potter and the Twilight series with a bit of the Bible thrown in. Holden Caulfield was so much my hero, so much the image of all that I longed to be, that I would read any book containing a character that any reviewer in America compared to Holden. And in the 50s and 60s, that was pretty much any book with a protagonist under the age of twenty. I thought that there was no higher goal than to be as sensitive, quixotic and as oddly courageous as Holden Caulfield.
Anyway, two of the projects that my old and best friend Emily had chosen for us to pursue for this visit were 1) to read some old letters from our mutual friend Lana which Emily’s brother had found in the old family home, and 2) to track down Ellie Woolford, whom you will remember from having read my December 3, 2005 entry on Spaces Live (As if!). To recap, Ellie was a girl I met when she was 14. Her parents were my hosts for most of the summer I spent in California in 1963, when I hitched to that land of surf and honey. Ellie and I were very close for many years until she married someone so mindlessly and yet so verbally Christian that I couldn’t stand to be around him. Oddly, when this lad asked himself WWJD, he got some rather unusual answers, since the break up of his and Ellie’s marriage after three kids was because of him screwing around. I have noticed that whenever people consult their personal spirit guides, they tend to get the answer they want, but that is another story. I haven’t seen Ellie in 30 years, give or take. Lana was Ellie’s cousin, and the two of them were my friend Emily’s best friends from first grade onward. Lana, who was shot to death by her boyfriend in Alaska at age 27, was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met, with a fiercely independent and unique life view. She was fearless, and there are few people I have met whom I have admired as much. I first met Lana in 1963 when she was, like Ellie, aged 14. And there has probably been no one in my life that I have been so anxious to impress favorably as her.
I am getting to my point – just laying the groundwork. Emily and I did succeed in tracking down Ellie in Santa Rosa, CA, and during the animated conversation that followed, we all went over our early meetings with each other. I had not met Emily during the year of the hitch-hike journey to SoCal, but she said she had been anxious to meet me, because Lana had told her (Wait for it!), “This guy IS Holden Caulfield!” So all the time I have been seeking to become Holden, it appears I already had made it in the eyes of one of the most fascinating women I have known. And this is why I have been thinking of the boy on the Wishing Gate. I guess the secret of being something is not to be aware when you succeed at becoming that something.
But it doesn’t end there – good things piled on good things this vacation. (Can you take a vacation when you are retired? From what?) As I said, Emily and I were reading over old letters Lana had written her after they had graduated from high school and Lana had enrolled at Berkeley. And I found that in a fit of dissatisfaction with the freshman grind, Lana had written, “I never fully appreciated the parties at Shaughnessy’s house”, and then added that line that set my cup to overflowing, “I wish I could live like Dave, drunk, frivolous and chronically unemployed.” Now this might not be the description that Mama Shaughnessy might have wished to hear of her baa-lamb, but let me ask you, was I cool or what??? I might now pass (with regret) on the ‘drunk’ part, but frivolous and chronically unemployed – and even more, restoring all the insouciance that the line implies, is my goal for Part Three of la vie Shaughnessy. I forgot what life could be. And I am beginning to get a VERY good feel about this Retirement thing.
Oh, and under the heading of “Eat Your Heart Out”: I was on the telephone tonight with a Hawaiian guy with whom I have been corresponding, who has expressed serious interest in meeting me for the purpose of exploring our chances of being a love match (so far he thinks I am very intriguing, and I return the feeling), and in pursuance of this goal he thinks I should come to visit him. In Hawaii. For a longish spell.
I wonder if any of my old surfing skills remain?