Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Powerful fine

Oh, to be a ten-year-old boy again.

1946. The war is over. No more cardboard toys. Instead, a fantastic new Shelby bike for Christmas, with light, horn, the works. Old enough to be out and about in the neighborhood on one's own. Too young to be worrying about girls.


That was the year of The Yearling. The Hollywood adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' 1938 Pulitzer-prizewinning novel. A novel I had perused on my mother's bookshelf. Memorized the "decorations" by Edward Shenton. Got the drift of the story without actually reading the book. Actually, I think I did read some of the book, the part where the boy runs away from home, drifts down the river in a leaky dugout.

Then came the movie. Gregory Peck as Penny Baxter. Jane Wyman as Orry Baxter. Pa and Ma. And Claude Jarman Jr. as twelve-year-old Jody, the boy who adopts an orphaned fawn. The fawn that becomes a troublesome yearling and has to be put down.

I watched the movie again last weekend. Sentimental. Over-acted. Over long. But for 129 minutes I was ten again.

What stuck when I watched the movie in 1947?

When Jody comes home after running away -- and his brush with hunger and death -- Pa ushers him into maturity: "You seed how things goes in the world o' men. You've knowed men to be low-down and mean. You've seed ol' Death at his tricks. You've messed around with ol' Starvation. Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. 'Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but 'tain't easy."

Is that what I took away? Naw. What ten-year-old boy with a shiny new Shelby bike wants to hear that message? Life was fine. Life was easy. And I was the luckiest boy in the world.