Monday, February 6, 2017

Let's Pretend

  It’s okay, you know. I am used to it by now---showing my November age like this. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, at least when I am reliving a slightly unorthodox memory.
  For instance, let’s take a moment to consider something as mundane as Saturday morning. Most of us like Saturday, don’t we? Especially if it is not a work day. But you can be sure I am not talking about just any Saturday morning. I happen to have some particular ones in mind, from a time when Saturday morning was still something special. And I hope you will join me for a moment as I return to some of my well-remembered, all-time favorite Saturday mornings---circa 1945, 1946, or 1947.
  What? You say you cannot ‘return’ to 1945, because it had come and gone before your arrived. Darn, I am sorry to hear that, because that means you missed some really good Saturday morning times. Take this, for example. As I recall it was ten o’clock, mid-morning, when the living room radio greeted us with.........”It’s Big John and Sparky! And There’s No School Today.” Man, after all these years I can hear that happy call to action as clear as anything. I’ll bet you would have loved it too.
  Or how about Chandu, the Magician? I think that was nine, or maybe nine-thirty. True, he was a semi-creepy fellow, at least the way I saw him in my mind.. But he always had a trick up his sleeve. And in the end he was on our side. What I remember most of all was the spooky organ music in the background.
  Earlier that morning, at eight-thirty, we had already tuned in to Smilin’ Ed and the Buster Brown Gang. Though it does seem like I ought to remember more about that half hour than just the excited introduction, with Tige, the Buster Brown dog barking like he was happy to see us. At the time I don’t suppose I even realized there were other programs airing at that hour, or why anyone would bother to listen to them if there were. By then I was hooked.
  It was, as you can tell, a different time. Later, many of us would learn to consider Saturday a ‘sleep-in’ day. But not so in those post-war radio days, at least not in our home. Mom had to get us up early enough on Saturday to have breakfast finished before eight o’clock. Though getting us up and about on a school day took some doing, Saturday mornings were different. 
  After all, brother Roger and I needed to be parked in front of the old hardwood Zenith radio by eight o’clock for Let’s Pretend, the storytime program that always started our radio Saturday. (Why was it we had to ‘watch’ the radio?)
  So, you might be wondering---what the hell does that have to do with anything. What was there about my childhood Saturday mornings that warrants all that? I will try to explain.
  Have you ever wondered why you managed to stumble across some obscure thought or memory that you had not considered for decades? Was there an existential purpose at work, or was it purely accidental? Whatever the reason, that’s the space I find myself in this morning. You see, as I have mentioned before on these pages, I have spent my October Years writing stories---fictional stories. By definition that means I have made them up, created them out of thin air and a dose of dubious brain matter.
  Yet not until a few days ago, for reasons I still don’t understand, did it dawn on me that I was in the “What if?” business. That is one way to describe fiction, isn’t it? The writer, any writer, begins with a question---What if an alien force is threatening the earth?---What if zombies are about to invade?---What if the killer is about to get away? What if an eighty-year-old guy falls for Lady Gaga? Thing is, no matter what the question, the answer will be the story that is told to provide an answer. 
  That is what writers of fiction do. They answer a series of “what if?” questions. I try to do that. Except, my stories are not about world annihilation, zombie invasions, Donald Trump’s crowd-counting skills, or the hard-to-define allure of Lady Gaga. Instead, I tell ‘what if?’ stories about October people facing October life---and then November.
  It was those thoughts that brought me to an awkward pause, wondering how I would introduce my latest story, Closing the Circle. I stumbled around a bit before it dawned on me. In a very personal way it felt like I was closing my own circle---from Let’s Pretend to What if? My sometimes muddled mind saw the irony of that. Having learned to pretend as a child, here I was spending my October Years creating “what if?”---i.e. “pretend” answers. In a very real way I was right back where I had started.
  So what about Closing the Circle, you ask? (At least I hope you do.) What if a young man, adopted at birth, sets out to find his birth parents? What sort of story might I create to answer that ‘what if?’ question? Then to further complicate matters, what if the birth parents he finally finds have their own deep regrets about having separated before his birth, leaving each of them to wonder what might have been had they stayed together.?
  Of course, there are as many answers to those questions as there are persons who choose to answer. I happen to like the answer I “pretended” into being. And at the same time, when I was done it felt a bit like closing my own circle---from ‘pretending’ to ‘what if?’ and back.


  Following that same line of remembering I invite, actually I urge, those of you who remember those long-ago radio days to use the “Comment” section below to offer your own examples of radio  favorites. 


  1. How about Captain Midnight, The Lone Ranger, and Fibber Mcgee and Molly, and all those box tops in order to get your "secret decoder ring". So many more Gil. Thank you for the memories.

  2. Gil ,I would be the last to snicker at "watching" the radio. I too started Sat AM with Lets Pretend and listened to all those that followed. As I remember the weather was the determining factor as to how many programs I listened to. If it was nasty enough I believe the morning ended with a Train diving with a roar into the 6 and one half mile tunnel and stopping at GRAND CENTRAL STATION and another mind indulging story. Ah those were the days. Thanks for the mind jog. Myron