Wood Working: The pages of life keep turning in the outhouse of my mindEvery age has its pleasures, its style of wit, and its own ways. The Frenchman Nicolas Boileau Despreaux wrote that back in 1674 and as the French Academy would say, he wasn’t just whistlin’ “Dixie.”
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
Every age has its pleasures, its style of wit, and its own ways.
The Frenchman Nicolas Boileau Despreaux wrote that back in 1674 and as the French Academy would say, he wasn’t just whistlin’ “Dixie.”
Take my reading habits, for example. When I was young and green, to quote Dylan Thomas, I liked nothing better on a warm spring day to sit in our outhouse with the door ajar and page through all the exotica contained in last year’s Montgomery Ward catalog, which our family used in place of Northern Tissue or the peach wrappers left over from canning season.
Ah, what a wonderful book of wonders it was! Baseball gloves signed by guys like Mel Ott and Joe DiMaggio; genuine hickory ball bats; and miniature steam engines with flywheels that actually worked; sets of seven card games like “Authors” in cunning little boxes for budding intellectuals; Parcheesi and Chinese checker boards; Occidental checker boards, too; bicycles with genuine coaster brakes and balloon tires.
Were they J.C. Higgins models? Or Hawthornes? Did Monkey Ward sell Higgins or Hawthorne?
I can’t remember. All I knew was that I didn’t have either, but I could dream, couldn’t I?
If my father was sitting next to me (we were a family that evacuated ourselves together), he waited his turn to leaf through the section he liked best: Tires with tread on them; cream separators; milking machines.
Were they Surge milkers? Or DeLaval? Did Monkey Ward sell Surge or DeLaval?
I can’t remember. All my dad knew was that he didn’t have either and if he did it wouldn’t do him any good because the banker Dad rented from was too cheap to spend $50 on a light pole that would have enabled us to take advantage of Rural Electrification.
We left that awful place and moved to town, so that I never did get old enough to enjoy the girdle and brassiere sections of the Monkey Ward.
We moved to the fleshpots of Whitehall, where my new friends introduced me to new adventures in reading, specifically the 3” x 5” comic books that featured Dagwood and Blondie and Plastic Man and Batman and Robin engaging in sexual acts that would have embarrassed Madonna.
As my literary skills progressed into adolescence, I developed a taste for real novels. No, not “War and Peace” and “Silas Marner.” My friends and preferred the headier stuff: Like “God’s Little Acre,” by Erskine Caldwell. Or “The Amboy Dukes” by Irving Shulman. Or the Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell.
Those books were unavailable in Whitehall, but a quick hitchhike would bring us to Second Street in Winona where a leering old man sold well-thumbed paperbacks.
I rarely made a misstep except for the time I bought a copy of “Naked on Roller Skates,” by Maxwell Bodenheim at Fortun’s Drugstore in Whitehall. The cover showed a naked woman careening downhill on roller skates, her vitals protected by the title.
This looked like it had possibilities. Alas, it turned out to be the autobiography of a Greenwich Village bohemian and “Naked on Roller Skates” was a metaphor about life.
Then came college: Victorian novels; “Beowulf.”
I was about ready to switch majors and then was assigned “The Canterbury Tales.” The adventures of Alisoun in “The Miller’s Tale” got me back on the wrong side of the tracks.
But I reformed once in graduate school and took my literature seriously — plodding my way through mind numbing books like Edmund Spenser’s “The Fairie Queene,” Coventry Patmore’s underwhelming sonnet cycle “An Angel in the House” and the complete works of that estimable eunuch Henry James.
Occasionally I’d take time out, slip off the wagon as it were, and read some hot new stuff like “The Story of O” or John Cleland’s “Fanny Hill.” Wowser!
As one can gather from this confession, I’ve misspent much of my life since those days back at the outhouse in Larkin Valley.
These days I while away my golden years reading travel brochures. We get them in the mail almost every day.
Right now I’m immersed in a slender tome called “Authentic Asia — only with Viking River Cruises.”
Where should I go today? How about the 15-day tour that takes me from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City? Or possibly a side trip to Bangkok for only $899 per person?
That’s a long way from Larkin Valley.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.