Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soft masticating sounds

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If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
~Opening sentence from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye


Farm Story

I remember thinking it was about farm life and farm machinery, some yarn about a family living in Nebraska craning their necks to watch passenger planes streaking high overhead on their way to the ends of the continent, places with a there when you got there. Neck aches amid endless seas of wheat and barley and rye and people stuck in simple lives that went nowhere a field could not take you.

Combines and sickles, tractors and overalls, supper served with scratch biscuits and fresh-picked vegetables, drawn-water wells, windmills rusting in a sunset, and the soft masticating sounds of locust and cicada. The catcher had to be some contraption that caught the winnowed grain, gathering thresh and chaff to be baled and stacked and loaded into creaking barn rafters. How boring.

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So when our high school English teacher said the class would have to read it, I thought of how I was ever going to get through the chore of interminable life on a farm, the comings and goings, the nowhere of it all. So I stuffed the damn thing into my backpack and left class at the bell just one in a pack of twenty puckers. Might as well have poured unsweetened alum-laced lemonade down our throats.

But it wasn’t about that at all. Some days later, something had changed. Thin chutes of green defiance slowly pushed up through the class. Boys pulled top buttons from their shirt holes free and girls looked apprehensively at each of us. There was swagger, a callow bravado that crept into denim pockets like loose change, just enough to, say, embark on a journey across the country, or the very world itself.

In the two weeks we read and discussed, disagreed, challenged, a kind of happy regret seemed to cast a perceptible shadow across the teacher’s face. He knew what he’d unleashed and seemed content it was now rather than later, like a father keening his eyes on a young son after his first deer kill when success teeters between grief and the irrepressible rites of passage, uneasy of who now sat before him with pitchforks in their eyes.

Joseph Gallo
July 16, 2011


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3 Comments:

Blogger Erik parried...

Wow! How different our experiences are with that novel. I encountered it a few days before classes began my freshman year at Stanford, where it was a given--so my classmates told me--that all entrants had read it, so I borrowed a copy from my roommate and read it in one sitting (literally) on the john. This was fall, 1958, and the incoming class was separated into two groups: those who were disciples of Holden and those whose god was Ayn Rand. I chose Holden, probably, because Rand's books were too fat. I've never looked back: I still find Phoebe Caulfield the sweetest person in fiction, and still can't stomach Rand. BTW, our freshman English instructor thought Holden was in that sanitarium for some psychological disorder; most of us thought he just had a bad cold.

July 24, 2011 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous parried...

The Dandelion is beautiful!! So are the avocado tree, but the dandelion is my favorite. I wonder who took that picture :-)

July 27, 2011 7:26 AM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

Erik: Thanks for sharing your history with TCITR. I must have read it as a h/s sophomore in 1967, just prior to the famed "Summer of Love". It was an interesting paradox to have so fresh in one's head.

I have a framed photo of Salinger on my wall, which can be seen here accompanying a poem I wrote and posted nearly a year ago:

http://drachenthrax.blogspot.com/2010/09/light-but-not-all-of-it.html#links

And I still like Rand, not all of it, not all of her skewed philosophy, but "Anthem" remains a good and viable single-sit john read. ;-)

Anonymous: I took that photo of the Santa Ynez mountaintop dandelion. You should've been there. :-)

July 27, 2011 10:04 AM  

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