WHAT IF IT WAS YOUR BROTHER? – RICH PASCHALL

Just Imagine, by Rich Paschall


Growing up. It’s hard, sometimes. For some, it can become hard forever. A youthful psyche can be delicate. An abusive environment can turn out to be too much to bear. Mistreatment can come in many forms, at many places. It can be home, school, or playground.  The young need to be loved — as does everyone. They most especially hate being laughed at.

I’m a little boy with glasses
The one they call a geek
A little girl who never smiles
‘Cause I have braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep

The Peter, Paul and Mary Song “Don’t Laugh at Me” wasn’t just a generic story about kids that are picked on.  The author, Allen Shamblin, wrote it following his daughter telling the tale of being teased at school.   Years later Peter Yarrow was inspired by the song to found Operation Respect.  The non-profit provides a curriculum to schools and uses the song to promote the message:
Just another day,
with the damage done.
You never know how your words can cut someone.

It is hard for a child to “dare to be different.” Someone that does not conform to what others do may be laughed at or ridiculed. This can lead to dire consequences for those who can not handle it.  A young Rachael Lynn asks who will care about others in this anti-bullying anthem:
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

Some are fortunate enough to know how to deal with those who are mean, or at least they know how to withstand the pain.  The prolific Taylor Swift shot back at those who were mean to her in the Grammy winning song, Mean:
Take a little look at the life of Miss Always Invisible
Look a little harder, I really really want you
To put yourself in her shoes

Some children can feel invisible within their worlds.  Ignored or pushed around by others, they may feel as if nobody sees them and nobody cares.  Marie Digby shares a song that is autobiographical in nature and refers back to her time in Junior High:
Trust the one who’s been where you are wishing
All it was was sticks and stones
Those words cut deep but they don’t mean you’re all alone
And you’re not invisible

While admitting he did not have it as bad as some others, young country and pop star Hunter Hayes knows what it is like to sometimes feel Invisible.  Here he offers up words of encouragement to the young in his Grammy nominated song:
Well he’s not invisible anymore
With his father’s nine and a broken fuse
Since he walked through that classroom door
He’s all over prime time news

What if being “invisible” pushes a child over the edge to suicide? Or Worse?  Kelly Rowland examines some scenarios in the critically praised song about stolen lives in Stole:
You could be a hero – heroes do what’s right
You could be a hero – you might save a life
You could be a hero – you could join the fight
For what’s right, for what’s right, for what’s right

Those who are picked on, those who are lonely, those who are feeling invisible all need a hero, someone who may save their lives through a little kindness.  In fact, it may also save the lives of others.  Superchick deals with potential heroes and other growing up issues in the album, Last One Picked:
I took my time, I hurried up
The choice was mine I didn’t think enough
I’m too depressed to go on
You’ll be sorry when I’m gone

The pop punk rock band Blink-182 took on the topic of depression and suicide in Adam’s Song.  Written by the band’s Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, the motivation for the lyrics came not only from Hoppus’ feeling of loneliness at home, but also by a teenage suicide letter he read in a publication.  The song itself takes the form of such a letter:

What if it was your brother sister mother father child
Then would it still be cool
Why can’t you see your words are hurting
Everybody deserves to be themselves and no one else
So think before you move

For those who may be bullying others through their actions or their words, Darin Zanyar asks “What If.”  Consider if it was your family.  Would you still act the same?  What about if that was you?  What if you were “the victim of the criticism and they treated you that cruel?”

If any of these songs and stories make you feel uncomfortable, even a little, just imagine how it is to live any of this.  Wentworth Miller explains how it is when there is no “us and we.”
 

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE MEMORIES

Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation.” It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the special culture of this corner of New York. I was still a teenager, in college. I was with my first boyfriend who was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.

From the Italian coffee shops that sold amazing coffee, and hot and cold chocolate, to the tiny, dark caverns where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. And it was just a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine. There’s a lot of good things to be said for growing up in the country, but it can’t compare with being young and having New York as ones playground.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

Greenwich Village in the 1960s was the stuff dreams are made of. Everyone was there. Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell and Leon Bibb and Harry Belafonte. Everyone. The famous, soon to be famous and a few who would be infamous. All young, making music, and passing the basket.

I’d take the subway from Queens. Get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.

All I needed was 30 cents for the round trip — and maybe, if I could scrounge it up, a dollar for a chocolate at Caffe Reggio. A dollar and a half would carry me a whole day into evening in the Village. Because hanging out was cheap.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you, or told you to buy something or leave.

This may be the only place I remember that's still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio -- the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

This may be the only place I remember that’s still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born. It’s now a protected landmark. Good thing, too.

You could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”

No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was a dozen years in my future.

People were friendly, funny, and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We certainly tried.

Out near Hofstra where I was going to school (and was a music major), my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

What did I do there at the AbMaPHd? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.

It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.

NO CRYING IN THE NEST

A woman, younger than me, has no children. So she asks: “What is empty nest syndrome?” The subtext is “why” because we all know the “what.”

I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and an adorable husband.

The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility.  Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

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My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the amazing clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the others to see that this clothing was the finest I’d ever own. All other garments would subsequently pale in comparison.

She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me books, lots of books. Not the books my friends and schoolmates read, but grown-up stuff. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.

It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives of our own.

Mom1973PaintI doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.

Nor did I. Of course, mine kept coming back alone and then with the entire family so I could only yearn for an emptier nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? The thunder of big ones?

Should I? Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of ones adult children more than little kids? I love having real conversations with grownups who look eerily like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.

Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefers babies and little kids to adults. They don’t want the kids to become independent. They need to be needed. They need to nurture.

Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time or forever. They shouldn’t, anyhow. After a certain point in time, their drive for separateness should overtake their nurturing needs. The drive to be independent should become primary. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help them achieve that. We won’t be here forever. They will need to walk on without us.

An empty nest is one in which you don’t need to do a  load of laundry a day. A house in which the sink isn’t always full and you can park your car where you want it. A home where family dinners are a happy event when everyone is glad to see each other and has stuff to share.

Those extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all that stuff you seem to have collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own, there’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s just the time when your kids grow up and all the work you did to raise them right pays off — for them and you.

Adult children are great. If you need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.

If you did it right, your kids will always love you … but not always need you.

COMING OF AGE

My Favorite Films, by Rich Paschall

We all have to grow up and learn the lessons of life.  Some are fun.  Some are work.  Some are terrifying.  Nevertheless, it takes time and experience to bring a person to maturity.  Many films show these various aspects of growing up.  The movie may be a Risky Business or capture 400 Blows.  They can introduce you to Harold and Maude or perhaps to Willie Wonka.  You may find a birthday of Sixteen Candles while you are Pretty in Pink.  You may even find a Rebel Without A Cause.

As a boy, a teenager and even as a young man I would identify with the younger heroes of the story, whether they were the lead character or not.  When I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I was more interested in the young son’s adventure (James MacArthur) than the parents who were trying to protect themselves while stranded on an island.  I was quite young at the time but remember it well.  If you saw Disney films in that era, you knew there was a young hero for kids to identify with, who might also own a dog or horse.  I loved those movies.

As I got older I saw more mature themes.  Some are poignant.  Some are jubilant.  Some are sad.  Since there are so many great films in this category, I could not cut it to a top 10.  My “short list” had a lot of entries.  When I subsequently looked at some published lists, it reminded me of others.  There may be better ones that I have not seen, but these are my favorites from my local theater or living room screen.

20.  Mysterious Skin.  A young Joseph Gordon Leavitt is a teenage hustler.  This is not your “feel good” movie.
19.  St. Elmo’s Fire.  The 1985 Brat Pack classic about recent college grads.
18. Donnie Darko. The 2001 cult hit stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an odd teenager.
17. Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon is the math wiz discovered by Robin Williams.
16. The Breakfast Club. If you served high school detention on Saturday morning, you get it. A John Hughes classic film.

Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller

15. Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Ferris cuts class and comes to Chicago with a couple of friends.  Matthew Broadrick is Ferris.
14. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A young man (Johnny Depp) and his mentally challenged younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio).
13. October Sky. Based on the true story of a boy (Homer Hickam) who dreams of being a rocket scientist. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.
12. Big. Tom Hanks stars as the boy in a man’s body. The best movie ever to try this film trick.
11. The Karate Kid. It does not matter which one you see (Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith). Skip the sequels.

10.  The Last Picture Show.  A black and white film about life in a dead-end southern town.  The 1971 film stars Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges, with Cybill Shepherd and Cloris Leachman.

09.  American Grafitti.  It’s the end of summer vacation 1962 and you are cruisin’ in your convertible and listening to Rock and Roll on the car radio.  You might be getting into a little bit of mischief as well.  The low-budget 1973 film was box office gold.

08.  Dead Poets Society.  High School seniors form a poetry society and learn to “seize the day” (carpe diem) from English teacher Robin Williams.  The setting for the 1989 film was an elite academy in 1959.  The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

07.  Billy Elliot.  An 11 year old boy in a poor northern England town ends up in ballet class one day while going to his weekly boxing class.  The coal miner’s son is in for a rough time, but sticks with the dance class against his father’s wishes.  The film’s success lead to the eventual Broadway play.

06.  Dirty Dancing.  “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”  Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey get up close and personal on the dance floor in this 1987 film.  It’s forbidden love and hot dancing.  What’s not to like?

05.  Old Yeller.  A boy, his dog and another Disney tear-jerker.  This one may be for kids but many of them will be crying at the end.  Is this a good lesson for kids?  Next I suppose you will tell me Bambi’s mother is dead.

04.  Summer Storm (Sommersturm).  This 2004 German language film follows the friendship of two boys on the rowing team as one learns his feelings for the other.  It was a winner at the Munich Film Festival among others.

03.  The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho). The 2014 Portuguese language, Brazilian film shows the difficulty of seeking independence for a blind boy who does not know the way he looks or if he will be attractive to others.  His life becomes more complicated when he starts to have feelings for another student.  Based on the amazing viral success of a short film, the feature was made soon enough thereafter to star the original three teenagers.  We talked about the development of this film in the article, In Another Language.

02.  A Separate Peace.  Like many of the above, I guess you might call this a “loss of innocence” story.  Based on the 1959 best-selling novel of the same name, the 1972 movie is set in World War II England at an all boys boarding school.  The author is quick to point out there are no homoerotic implications.  “It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story.”  It’s a love-hate relationship between friends.  I have not seen the 2004 Showtime film.

01.  Harry Potter 1-8.  It really is the greatest coming of age movie of all because it is actually 8 movies.  How fortunate that we were able to have the same young actors throughout the ten year film-making odyssey.  It took all these stories for young Harry to become the man he needed to be to defeat the evil that confronted him throughout.  Daniel Radcliffe will forever be everyone’s vision of the boy wizard who grew up before our eyes.

SIBLING REVELRY – ELLIN CURLEY

I was an only child and I loved it! I felt bad for all those poor kids with siblings who had to share rooms, toys and above all else, parental attention. The world of my parents and grandparents revolved around me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. When I decided to have a second child, I was pretty much in the dark about what it meant to grow up with a sibling and how a parent was supposed to handle this, to me, alien situation.

siblings-edited-2

When I was pregnant with my second child I worried how I would handle sibling tensions. I wondered if I could avoid identifying with the older child who had been an only child for almost five years. I felt guilty about destroying his monopoly on adult love and attention and also about bringing a child into the world who would never experience being the sole center of the family’s universe.

In the early years, juggling the needs of the two children turned out to be easier than I had imagined because of the large age difference. For example, for several years I could give exclusive attention to my baby daughter when my son was at school. In fact, my kids got along amazingly well throughout their childhoods so I was spared a lot of the sibling rivalry and hostility I was so afraid I would mishandle.

Then they grew up and all Hell broke loose!

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They reversed the usual sibling process. Just when they should have stopped fighting and butting heads, they started doing it. I don’t know if it’s easier to be in the middle of this bickering and sniping with young adults than with young children. I know I obsessed about what I had done wrong that prevented the great sibling bond I had heard so much about from forming in my children.

It took years but the anger and tension seem to have ended. Lo and behold, my children have found that incredible adult sibling bond that surpasses parental approval and attention in importance. When one of them has a problem, the other is there in a flash with unquestioning loyalty.

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Sisters

They have very different interests and lives, but at 30 and 35, they have a connection I envy. For the first time I my life, I wish I had a sister or brother to share memories and family responsibilities.

I wish I had the special bond you can only get from growing up with someone, day in and day out, in the same house with the same family, sharing pets and friends, secrets and jokes. I don’t have that special person who shares my genes and childhood. The person who will always be there for me in a unique way no one else can.

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My long deceased parents and grandparents made me the center of their world, but now I have no one with whom to share those memories of my cherished only childhood.

MATURATION?

In my late twenties, we had friends in their 50s. One day I asked Betty at what point she had felt “grown up.” By then, I was thirty-ish, working full-time, raising a son, taking care of a home and married for ten years. I figured I ought to feel grown up.

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Betty looked at me and said “I’ll let you know when it happens.”

When I was a kid, I remember wondering when I’d feel grown up. What the “magic moment” would be. Through my working years, I never fully stopped feeling I was pretending to be an adult. I did adult things, had adult responsibilities. I was a mother, a boss, a career person. In charge of forming my son into a responsible citizen … but I felt like a child myself.

Having a child made me responsible, but not mature. 

Now, I’m a senior citizen. I’m grown up. I don’t know when it happened or why. I never noticed the transition, but  I’m not pretending anything. I’m just me, whatever that means.

It didn’t change anything. Funny how things work out.

REMEMBERING DAD ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY

I planned to write an epic piece about my Dad who would have been 100 years old today. But my body has staged a mutiny, so I’ll be brief.

Dad must be smiling.

William Benfield Armstrong was the real life Quiet Man. I’m the oldest of three sons who realized that Dad meant what he said — just by the look on his face.

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My Dad was a handsome guy. Tall, lean and with a smile that dazzled women and men. I always thought he could’ve been a movie star, rivaling Clark Gable and Gary Cooper.

Dad rarely showed emotions. He kept it all inside. The day I left for basic training in the Marines, I saw something rare. Dad was crying as he put me on the train.

My Father didn’t talk about his experiences as an Army Staff Sgt. in World War Two. We knew he saw action in Germany but he never offered any details, always giving us an annoyed look if we persisted with questions. I finally got some answers a short time before Dad passed away in 2002. He told me about seeing his best friend killed in a jeep explosion, just a few yards in front of him.

He said it was an image he carried for the rest of his life. Dad talked and I listened. It was the longest conversation we ever had. When he finished, he just looked at me with a sad smile and patted my shoulders.

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After my Father died, my two brothers and I were going through his possessions. We found, buried under clothing, several medals he had been awarded in that war so many years ago. My Dad was a hero! We always knew that but never understood or appreciated him in that larger context.

So here’s to you, Dad. At 100, you’re still a ramrod, tall and proud.