MEMOIR WRITING: MY FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

MY FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

by Steve Goldfinger

My parents were aghast when I strode home from school wearing a large, gold helmet, bowl-sized shoulder pads, and a huge purple shirt bearing the number 34.  It hanged to my shins.   At nine years old in Brownwood, Texas (population 12,000 or so), I was on Miss Wilson’s football team.

My dad was a doctor in the 13th Armored tank division, training here to join General Patton’s final push. We had come from Brooklyn to be with him. Miss Wilson was the principal of the grade school. She was also spelling teacher, math teacher, librarian, baseball and football coach.

I was in the 3rd grade when I arrived. After appearing in a class and answering a few simple questions about Africa, the topic of the week, I was promoted to the 4th.  In short order, the 5th. And a few days later, the 6th.  Was I really that bright?

Anyway, in the 6th grade, the guys automatically became Miss Wilson’s football team. Me included, shrimp that I was, who knew nothing about football. When I was playing line during practice scrimmages, I couldn’t understand why the kid across from me sometimes took a running jump over me when the ball was snapped and, at other times, just stood there looking down. I dIdn’t even know the difference between offense and defense.

I made it into one play during the season. It was a game played under the lights on a Friday night–yes, in 1944, this was a Texas tradition even for grade schools–and my dad brought a few of his fellow officers to join him in the stands. We were losing 35 to 0 and had the ball when Miss Wilson pushed me onto the field. “Tell them to pass, pass, and keep passing.”  It took me a while to get out there. I repeated her words to our quarterback in a tremulous voice and got up to the line. I don’t remember what happened immediately after, but my father told me I appeared exceedingly brave after receiving smelling salts on the sidelines.

That was my football career.

When the baseball season came around, I was first up in the batting order–a cinch to draw a walk because of my measly size, even without crouching.  And walk I did at the begining of our first game. The next pitch was thrown for a ball as I stood there when, all of a sudden, there was Miss Wilson charging at me.

“Why didn’t you steal?” she shouted.

“What do you mean?”

“You gotta steal on the first pitch!”

Really? I didn’t know that, but, on the next one, I followed her command. The ball beat me to the bag by about ten steps.  The shortstop held it out at me, waist high, and I slid right under it into the base….safe!

There she was, charging again.

“What was that?!”

They had never heard of a slide inTexas!  So this pipsqueak from the north had something to teach them.

When we returned to Brooklyn, it took a fair amount of persuasion by my mother to convince the principal of P.S. 234 to allow me to move ahead.  He wanted to discount my Texas education altogether and send me back to the third grade where I belonged.

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.  

SEPTEMBER BOOK NOOK: DO YOU LIKE KIPLING?

Dennis writes about a book that made a profound impact upon him when he was young.  What books hit you that way?  Send your own “Kiplings” to us for sharing in upcoming “Book Nook” features.  

KIPLING: PATRON SAINT OF OUTSIDERS AND MISFITS
Portrait  of Rudyard Kipling by John Collier, ca 1891

By Dennis Greene

An anonymous joke about Kipling goes like this:

He: Do you like Kipling?

She: I don’t know, I have never kippled.

*

Not the greatest joke, but I would have answered differently. I do like Kipling, and I will explain why–but first, you need to know a little about me.

At seven years old, I was uprooted from my comfortable neighborhood in Queens and replanted in a rundown section of New Bedford, Massachusetts. As the smallest, youngest kid in the third grade at Harrington School, and the only Jewish kid in this multi-ethnic, very brown-skinned school, I felt unwelcome and ignored.  When my mom tried to nudge me toward the kids in the nearby Jewish community, I found no welcome there either.  I was the strange kid from the “bad” neighborhood who didn’t know how to fit in.  After a series of painful attempts to become part of this community, I ceased trying.  I turned to books, movies, and TV for company.

This is where Sir Rudyard Kipling comes in. I don’t know who first suggested I read The Jungle Book, but my well-worn 1955 Book-of the Month Club “bonus edition” still occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf.  Mowgli, the little lost Indian boy, is unlike any other creature in the Seonee Hills. At the beginning of the tale, he is a complete outsider, but with the help of Baloo, the wise old bear, and Bagheera, the formidable black panther, he becomes a member of the wolf pack and, over time, becomes accepted and admired by all the jungle inhabitants.  Bagheera, Mowgli’s fierce mentor and protector, had also begun his life as a stranger in the Seonee Hills.

As a fellow outsider, I felt a strong kinship with Mowgli. Soon after reading The Jungle Book. I saw the movie version of Kipling’s Kim, in which an orphan British child in India, who initially is a misfit in his school and an alien among the native population, is able, with the encouragement of a British soldier and spy (played by Errol Flynn) to become “a friend to all the world.”

Based on these two works, I would designate Kipling as the patron saint of “outsiders and misfits.” Rudyard Kipling’s ability to portray the outsider was due to both his extraordinary talent as a writer and his own experience. He was an outsider, first as a British boy born and living in India, and then as an Indian-born young man in a brutal English boarding school.

Inspired by these stories, I went on to discover other literary role models, like Tarzan of the Apes, and John Carter of Mars, both of whom entered their strange worlds naked, different, and alone but eventually earned honored places in their adopted homes.

It took me eight years to shed my outsider status and, like Mowgli, become accepted by  a “pack” aquiring friends among many different and diverse groups.  I have never again felt as lonely and disconnected as I did during those early years in New Bedford, but as film director and producer Tim Burton observed, “If you’ve ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you.”

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.

SEND YOUR “KIPLINGS” TO  susanlwurster@gmail.com