Soft masticating sounds
~Opening sentence from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye
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.
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.
July 16, 2011