Was Youth Only a Dream?

Late at night, listening to the winter rain,
recalling my youth —
Was it only a dream? Was I really young once?
… Ryōkan

Need proof you were young once? Go back and listen to songs that were popular when you were a teen and, more than likely, you’ll discover you still love that awful music your parents and your children hate.

My latest indulgence in nostalgia and teeny-bopper music was provoked by fellow blogger Andrew Hidas’ “Second-Annual-Songs-of-Summer entry ” where Andrew opined that Loving Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” was the 2nd best summer song of all time (Sorry, but I didn’t check out the previous year’s nominee). I do like Loving Spoonful but couldn’t believe that “Summer in the City” could possibly be the best “summer” song so I started a search to find a better nominee. Turned out that summer hasn’t served as inspiration for many songs I like, but my favorite song turned out to be Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” a song I doubt I would have even remembered without searching online.

I only had vague memories of Cochran, who died in a taxi crash in England at a young age, so naturally I had to buy an album of his greatest hits from iTunes. Turned out that I only knew a few of his songs for most were released after his death in 1960, the year I graduated from high school and was too busy working and studying to listen to much music. His album certainly evoked memories of other artists I loved as a teenager, though, and for a while they have transported me back to a very different time in my life.

If I hadn’t been such an Elvis addict in Junior High and High School, I might have sworn that it was Elvis singing several of the songs on the album but I’m pretty sure I still recognize all of Elvis’ early songs. Cochran also managed to sound like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Big Bopper, and even Ray Charles in “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” Only “Summertime Blues” and “Skinny Jim,” my two favorite on the album, come close to sounding like “originals.” Even in “Skinny Jim” he used the phrase “Be-Bop-a-Lula” so many times that I finally remembered that it was the title of another favorite from that era, sung by Gene Vincent and not Cochran, though it turns out Cochran played guitar on the original song.

Out of curiosity, I asked iTune’s Genius to make a mix based on Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” Not surprisingly, the list has artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Dion and Johnny Preston. In fact, I suspect it may be the “generic” quality of Cochran’s music that most appeals to me. Rather than standing out as a particular artist I once listened to, he represents a whole musical generation, the one I listened to in junior high and high school.

I have listened, listening, and re-listening to Cochran’s album much the same way I used to listen to a new Elvis song when local stations played “Hound Dog” every hour on the hour. I’m still trying to figure out why that music should have such a hold on me because I thought I’d long since outgrown it; heck, by the end of high school I’d already moved on to Blues and Jazz. Nowadays I tend to listen to New Age music when not listening to Blues or Jazz. I suspect my Deuter and Jessita Reyes’ albums have gotten more play than anything else in the last four or five years.

Apparently, though, I haven’t completely moved past classic Rock (though I notice a lot of internet sites now call it “Rockabilly”) since I spent the last few weeks drowning in it despite — or was it because of — the lyrics. Cochran is supposed to be known for his portrayal of “teenage angst, but Cochran’s angst seems pretty silly, at least from this old man’s perspective. It’s hard to believe I ever really bought into the lyrics in these songs and perhaps I didn’t because even in high school I was known for my sarcasm. Would you expect less from someone raised on Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movies?

Pretty sure I never had the “Summertime Blues,” at least not while a teenager, certainly not the version described in this song. First, my parents wouldn’t let me work full-time until I graduated from high school. I suspect I can thank my older brother for that restriction because he wanted to drop out of high school to work full-time. I was allowed to have a paper route, pick strawberries, and do yard work to earn spending money, but they were such miserable jobs I was never tempted to pursue them full-time. But since I couldn’t own a car, again, thanks to my older brother, I didn’t really need much money.

Though my best friend threw some notorious high school parties when his parents were out of town, Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody’s” call to party while his folks are out of town would never have appealed to me. First, I could barely gag down a beer. Second, I couldn’t imagine letting a bunch of unruly teenagers in mom’s house. I went to one of my friend’s parties after I graduated from college, and I spent the night trying to take protect his parents’ house while he took care of his sick girlfriend. Nearly getting in a fight with the boyfriend of some cute-but-very-drunk broad who kept leaning on me and asking me to dance didn’t change my attitude a bit; I’d left my fist-fighting days behind in Junior High.

The only lyrics I could really relate to on Cochran’s album was “Somethin Else.”

I’ll admit to having a crush on Midge and Colleen, football cheerleaders, when we were in Junior English together. I think that might have been the only time in my life that I wished I could be someone else, wished that my dad had signed my permission slip to play football (and that I weighed 40 pounds more than I did or could run twice as fast as I could). I probably would also have dreamed of having a car if I hadn’t been able to drive my dad’s Rebel V8 on dates. It actually took two Mustangs to make me finally realize that a car is simply a tool to get something done, not a status symbol, and that a four-door Dodge Dart was a better family tool than a Mustang fastback.

While I won’t quite admit to being a goody-two-shoes (I was far too cynical and sarcastic for that) I must admit when I think back to my teenage years I seemed to fit Catch-22’s Major Major’s description:

He never once took the name of the Lord his God in vain, committed adultery or coveted his neighbor's ass. In fact, he loved his neighbor and never even bore false witness against him. Major Major's elders disliked him because he was such a flagrant nonconformist.

Still not sure why that should be. I had way more freedom than most teenagers I knew and never knew what a curfew was. I could never have survived the kind of wild teenage years my father often described, so I really didn’t worry about my parents’ overreacting if I got a ticket or got into trouble. The INTP in me loved high school. Guess I just couldn’t find anything to rebel against. We weren’t “Christian” at least not the church-attending kind, but I still might have been the best practicing “Christian” I knew. Somehow it just seemed that all those Christian rules about treating others, including girls, as you wanted to be treated was the best strategy for a good life.

I have a hard time believing that I ever would have personally identified with the lyrics of Cochran’s songs. Since the lyrics of these songs don’t have much appeal to me, it must be the “sound” I still love. I do love the saxophone solos, and the beat is infectious. It’s hard for me to sit still while listening to most of these songs, and not just because my arthritis bothers me when I sit too long. Cochran’s saccharine ballads like “Three Steps to Heaven,” however, are nearly unbearable, even with the Jordanaire-like backup singers.

I noticed at our 50th High School reunion many couples were out dancing to hits of the day, and most people, dancing or not, seemed to enjoy the music. So it’s definitely not just me. Having attended more than my share of reunions as a high school teacher, I’ve noticed that every class seems equally drawn to the music that was popular when they were in junior high and high school. Why is that? What draws us back to music that was popular at a critical stage of our lives?

Are we little more than Pavlovian dogs drawn to the sounds that accompanied our first sexual stirrings?

Do they give us a “tribal” identity? My dad who had studied Opera wondered how we could stand to listen to people who couldn’t sing. My brother who was three years older hated the music I listened to constantly, and insisted that Pat Boone was a better singer than Elvis. I’m not sure my younger brother would even recognize the names of artists that I listened to, and I know that I kept telling him to turn his music down when I happened to be home.

I guess there’s always the possibility that repeatedly listening to Cochran’s songs is just another sign of approaching senility, and in the end I will be content to pass the last days of my life rocking out to Elvis’s “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up, ” though I think I’d prefer to regress a little further and go out listening to Bing Crosby’s version of “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” and “Don’t Fence Me In.”

You Get a Line, I’ll Get a Pole, Babe

I have to admit that when I took this picture I was simply trying to get a good shot of this pied-billed grebe, but when I actually looked at the photo on my computer screen my attention immediately shifted to his catch, not him.


I finally realized that it had to be a crawfish in his beak, an animal I hadn't thought about since I was a kid and used to catch them and sometimes use for bait.

Apparently it doesn't take much at my age to start reminiscing, because that got me looking for the title of this entry, a favorite song as a kid, as played here

Still as Stubborn as Ever

As I was persistently, nay stubbornly, transferring old files to my new site I took a much-needed break and did some of my usual web-browsing, stopping off as usual at Jonathon’s site to see my name mentioned in his well-written explanation of how he designed my new site so that the content could remain on the right as it was on my old site, a stylistic element that I stubbornly held on to because it just “looked right” to me. Or, maybe, it was just because Jonathon Delacour, Invisible Darkness, and Burningbird, three sites I now visit frequently, use the same format that it seemed the best approach.

Anyway, in my browsing I found myself at Dorothea’s site, and unexpectedly found myself and a previous blog entry prominently mentioned at her site.

All this is not to say that I think Loren arrogant or hubristic. (I probably should have said this earlier. Oh, well. Sorry, Loren.) I hope merely to remind myself and others that stubbornness for the sake of itself is not a virtue, though stubbornness in the service of some other goal may well be.

While I was happy to hear that I was not being accused of being arrogant or hubristic, and it didn’t even bother me that she waited until the last paragraph to mention this, I still question her underlying argument that we can rid ourselves of this “stubborn” streak.

In my original article I suggested that I felt I may have inherited a “stubborn” gene, something I obviously had little control over. An even earlier example of my stubbornness came to mind when Jonathon (somewhere) mentioned he was “anal-retentive.” I read that right after writing the first blog entry on stubbornness, and it immediately reminded me that when we were trying to potty-train our kids my mother told me that when she tried to “potty-train” me, and this was, after all, the “bad-old days,” that I would slap her and try to get down off the potty. Needless to say, I got slapped back, ending up in fairly long “slapping matches,” or so I was told. My point was that this must have been an “inherited trait” not a learned behaviour. If that’s true, I suspect that we can never really get rid of it, though we may still be able to choose our battles more wisely than we did as children.

Although I never mentioned any particular unhappy experiences caused by this trait, I am sure that I, like Dorothea, have suffered because of it. My divorce, the greatest disappointment of my life, was unnecessarily prolonged because of my stubbornness. Looking back I suppose I realize that I made a mistake in choosing to marry someone who wanted me to be someone I could never be, someone I had no desire to become. The error, of course, was compounded by the fact that it was years later before I could really objectively look back and see mistakes that had been made on both sides. My stubbornness in not giving up on the romantic belief that “marriage was forever” simply made the divorce worse for everyone involved than it had to be. I suppose that you could even argue that the same romantic notion of “love” caused me unnecessary grief when I received a “Dear Loren” letter as my unit was about to ship out to Vietnam years before. I suspect, though, if I were to relive the situations I would make exactly the same mistakes again. It is just in my nature to doggedly, if not stubbornly, hang on to those things I want to believe.

I suppose I would doggedly hang on to the belief that, as Dorothea says, “stubbornness in the service of some other goal may well be” a virtue. Stubbornness may have caused Dorothea’s unfortunate problems in grad school, but it’s what got me through college when everything was telling me to quit. The university I attended failed 50% of the incoming-freshmen the first two quarters because it was required by state law to take all students. So, when I received a 2.25 grade average my first quarter, I was “pissed,” to put it mildly. My God, I’d been recruited by universities that put this one to shame. While most of my friends quietly melded away to junior colleges or took jobs, I gave up bowling and billiards and brought my third-quarter average up to 3.5. Having proven my point, after that I went back to my old ways of learning what I wanted to learn and ignoring the rest while earning a modest 3.0. In the end, it was sheer stubbornness that got me a degree while still working up to thirty hours a week to pay for my college expenses.

More importantly, stubbornness got me through Vietnam. Unlike most of my fellow soldiers, I had few illusions about that war, but my stubbornness and unwillingness to give in to my feelings of despair got me through my tour there. I was determined to stay alive, and if that meant never taking a drink, never smoking anything stronger than a cigarette and experiencing the whole hell that it was while stone-cold-sober because that gave me the best chance of coming out alive, that’s what I would do. Stuck in a platoon that was dramatically understaffed with sergeants and experienced soldiers, I felt it necessary to assume responsibilities that aged me long before I should have been. Sheer stubbornness got me through that war without enduring psychological problems and allowed me to deal with the hostility I met in the “liberal” groups I ran with when I returned home.

Of course, Dorothea and I could semantically resolve our differing viewpoints by merely referring to my trait as “perseverance,” because everyone knows that perseverance is a good thing. However, I think I’ll prolong the debate by stubbornly clinging to the term “stubborn” and stating that I’m going to stubbornly hold on to my old-fashioned Liberal values, you know, the ones that say that poor people are important, too, and that taxes are necessary for a humane society, and I’m even going to stubbornly try to explain to Jonathon why it’s inappropriate to apply the word “sentimental” to the discussion of war when words like “romanticize,” “stereotype,” or “glorify” are far more appropriate and effective in winning that argument.

Stubborn Persistent and Proud of It, I Think

Speaking of stubborn, as I did yesterday, I would have to say that is, for better or worse, probably one of my defining characteristics. I was somewhat reminded of this awhile ago when Jonathon questioned whether certain traits were innate or the result of social conditioning.

I suspect I'm only aware of two of the most infamous examples of my stubbornness because I was constantly reminded of them throughout my life, right up to the point where Grandma would retell these stories to my children to show just how stubborn, or foolish, their father was. Both incidents took place before I was five years old.

The first incident took place when my mother ran out of orange juice. Now, orange juice was a breakfast staple as long as I can remember. Apparently, I found some lemon juice and insisted it was orange juice. Despite my mother's insistence it wasn't orange juice, I demanded it for breakfast. My mother gave in, probably assuming I'd quickly admit my error, but I drank the whole glass of juice, insisting the whole time that it was great. Since I've never drunk another glass of lemon juice, I suspect I was just being stubborn.

The more infamous incident took place approximately the same time when the family went fishing. We apparently came to a stream that could only be crossed by walking a long log. My dad wanted me to take his hand, but I insisted I was "big enough" to do it by myself. Needless to say, I fell off the log and the only thing my mother could see of me was my cowboy hat floating down the stream. My father was laughing so hard that my mother finally had to push him into the water to save me. Sometimes I think I can remember that hat floating down the stream, but of course that was impossible because I was under it.

Probably the most influential example of my stubbornness in life involved SAT scores. Although my overall scores were high, my English scores had dragged down my overall score. Having earned nothing but "A's" in high school English, I was too stubborn, or perhaps arrogant, to accept the idea that I was weak in English. My senior year in high school I changed my focus from my Calculus class to my English class, and by the end of the year had decided to change my college major from physics to English, determined to prove "them" wrong.

I never really looked back, though at times I must admit I paused to wonder if I would have been wiser to play to my strengths and go into science, not the humanities. If I were making the decision today I doubt that I would have had to choose so dramatically between my strengths -- I would have undoubtably ended up somewhere in the field of computers.

There have been times when I've realized that I let other people control me, not directly, but, rather, by telling me I couldn't do something. Of course, I've gone out and done precisely that, just to prove them wrong. Usually these incidents turned out for the best, but other times I've realized I'd wasted valuable time doing things I never really wanted to do just because someone said I couldn't. like it or not, I had let them control my life.

I've always felt that since I demonstrated a stubborn streak at such a young age that I must have been born stubborn. I also thought I had inherited it from my father, but it turns out that I may well have inherited it from my mother instead. My mother was raised in an abusive home and apparently stood up to her father even though my dad, a large all-city football player was somewhat frightened by a man he considered "crazy." As she deteriorated into Alzheimer's disease near the end of her life and it became necessary to make tough decisions, I was suddenly aware of just how stubborn my mother really was. Perhaps she told all those stories for years because they struck a chord with her. Perhaps she had really encouraged my stubbornness.

The real problem with determining whether these traits are inherited or socially conditioned is that it's precisely the people whose traits we "inherit" that also raise us, ensuring that we will be as much like them as possible.

My daughter and son-in-law conveniently blame me for Gavin's stubbornness and temper tantrums, but I just take those as signs the kid's going to make it in life. A little perserverance is necessary in life. There is, after all, more than a little truth in that sports cliché' that "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

My Old Man and the Puget Sound

A Personal Introduction to The Old Man and the Sea

I haven’t fished for years for many reasons, not the least of which is that I tend to get violently sea sick.

Still, reading Richard Hugo’s poems reminded me just how important fishing has been to my life. My earliest, and most vivid, memories of my father are directly linked to fishing, probably the greatest joy of his life.

I was three or less when I started fishing with my father. I can still remember being dragged out of bed half asleep to make sure we were on the water at dawn when the fish were most likely to hit. I hated getting up that early, but it was worth the sacrifice to be out on the water with Dad, sometimes my mother, and my brother Bill. There are still some things worth getting up that early in the morning for, but not many.

I’m sure it would have been easier for Dad to leave us home and go fishing with friends, but salmon fishing was a family ritual. Thinking back, I feel sorry for dad who had to spend the first thirty or forty minutes of fishing baiting Bill’s and my hooks. I suspect, though, that I learned how to correctly bait a hook before I learned how to tie my shoelaces. But I wasn’t allowed to bait my own hook, or at least drop it into the water, until I could do it correctly. I remembered this ritual years later when I read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

If you’re going to be a successful fisherman, Dad taught, you do everything right. First, you found the best place to start fishing, no matter how far from the boathouse that might be. Lazy fishermen were willing to just drift for salmon, not Dad. Dad would slowly row the boat while our lines were out, at least until we were able to afford a small motor to attach to the rented boat. Even at three you had to keep your line taut, not let the bait drift down too far. Few things are as embarrassing as bringing in a bottom fish when you’re fishing for Kings.

There seemed to be as many rules to fishing as there are rules to life. When someone in the boat had a fish on the line, you always reeled your line in as fast as possible. Whenever someone else brought a fish in you complimented them on the catch, no matter how much you wanted to catch the biggest fish of the day. It was really, really hard to sound excited when you had the biggest fish going, especially when you're the littlest guy on the boat. And have no doubts that everyone, Dad included, wanted bragging rights to the biggest fish of the day. Bragging rights lasted until the next fishing trip.

Of course, sometimes you could be saved from the biggest fish put-down, because Dad would point out that certain kinds of salmon, though I was too little to tell the difference between anything but big and little, tasted better than others. And we weren’t just fishing for fun. It was important to be recognized at dinner by someone saying, “This is the salmon Loren caught.” We lived a good part of the year on those salmon and on the vegetables we had harvested from our garden. Whenever food became scarce, we always had salmon waiting in the freezer.

But most of all, I remember Dad’s sheer enthusiasm for fishing. There are still vivid images of Dad standing up on the edge of the boat trying to net a huge salmon while Bill and I would desperately try to balance the boat by hanging out the opposite side of the boat, our combined ninety five pounds no match for his two hundred pounds. “Don’t rock the boat” has a very special meaning in the middle of Puget Sound for a four-year-old who can’t swim.

Even when things had turned rough, yours truly had lost his breakfast over the side of the boat, the water would be breaking over the bow, the boat would be filling with water no matter how fast Bill and I bailed, and we would appear to be going backward, Dad would yell across the roar of the wind and water, “We’re having a great time, aren’t we?”

Strangely enough, we were.

My hiking partner has noted that when we get stuck in a precarious position -- say six hours out on the trail, little or no food left, it’s getting dark, and we’re not quite sure where the hell we are or which trail to take to get us back before dark-- that I always break into a laugh, a special laugh reserved just for such moments, a laugh that says I’m alive and having a great time.

That’s when I know I’m Dad’s son, even if I don’t fish anymore because Dad isn’t around to go with any more and because I can’t stand paying good money to throw up.

Anderson’s Fairy Tales

Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

This beautiful book and the accompanying volume, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, were my very first books, books I could keep in my room and read whenever I wanted. Small wonder, then, that I grew up loving books and art works.

Because we had no television until I was nearly twelve, because money was short in my family and because trips to the library were few and far between, I read and re-read the stories in these volumes for many years. Obviously, I still turn back to them at times.

These stories became a part of who I am and what I believe. Not all these stories have the same appeal that they once did, but some, like “The Little Match Girl,” still move me every time I read them.

The Little Match Girl

IT was late on a bitterly cold New Year's Eve. The snow was falling. A poor little girl was wandering in the dark cold streets; she was bareheaded and barefoot. She had of course had slippers on when she left home, but they were not much good, for they were so huge. They had last been worn by her mother, and they fell off the poor little girl's feet when she was running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling rapidly by. One of the shoes could not be found at all, and the other was picked up by a boy who ran off with it, saying that it would do for a cradle when he had children of his own.

So the poor little girl had to walk on with her little bare feet, which were red and blue with the cold. She carried a quantity of matches in her old apron, and held a packet of them in her hand. Nobody bad bought any of her during all the long day, and nobody had even given her a copper. The poor little creature was hungry and perishing with cold, and she looked the picture of misery.

The snowflakes fell on her long yellow hair, which curled so prettily round her face, but she paid no attention to that. Lights were shining from every window, and there was a most delicious odor of roast goose in the streets, for it was New Year's Eve. She could not forget that! She found a corner where one house projected a little beyond the next
was colder than ever. She did not dare to go home, for she had not sold any matches and had not earned a single penny. Her father would beat her, and besides it was almost as cold at home as it was here. They had only the roof over them, and the wind whistled through it although they stuffed up the biggest cracks with rags and straw.

Her little hands were almost stiff with cold. oh, one little match would do some good! If she only dared, she would pull one out of the packet and strike it on the wall to warm her fingers. She pulled out one. R-r-sh-shl How it sputtered and blazed! It burnt with a bright clear flame, just like a little candle, when she held her hand round it. Now the light seemed very strange to her! The little girl fancied that she was sitting in front of a big stove with polished brass feet and handles. There was a splendid fire blazing in it and warming her so beautifully, but-what happened? Just as she was stretching out her feet to warm them, the flame went out, the stove vanished and she was left sitting with the end of the burnt match in her hand.

She struck a new one. It burnt, it blazed up, and where the light fell upon the wall, it became transparent like gauze, and she could see right through it into the room. The table was spread with a snowy cloth and pretty china. A roast goose stuffed with apples and prunes was steaming on it. And what was even better, the goose hopped from the dish with the carving knife sticking in his back and waddled across the floor. It came right up to the poor child, and then-the match went out, and there was nothing to be seen but the thick black wall.

She lit another match. This time she was sitting under a lovely Christmas tree. It was much bigger and more beautifully decorated than the one she had seen when she peeped through the glass doors at the rich merchants house this very Christmas. Thousands of lighted candles gleamed under its branches. And many-colored pictures, such as she bad seen in the shop windows, looked down at her. The little girl stretched out both her hands towards them-then out went the match. All the Christmas candles rose higher and higher, till she saw that they were only the twinkling stars. One of them fell and made a bright streak of light across the sky.

"Someone is dying," thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only person who had ever been kind to her, used to say, "When a star falls, a soul is going up to God.

Now she struck another match against the wall, and this time it was her grandmother who appeared in the circle of flame. She saw her quite clearly and distinctly, looking so gentle and happy.

"Grandmother!" cried the little creature. "Oh, do take me with you. I know you will vanish when the match goes out. You will vanish like the warm stove, the delicious goose, and the beautiful Christmas tree!"

She hastily struck a whole bundle of matches, because she did so long to keep her grandmother with her. The light of the matches made it as bright as day. Grandmother had never before looked so big or so beautiful. She lifted the little girl up in her arms, and they soared in a halo of light and joy, far, far above the earth, where there was no more cold, no hunger, and no pain-for they were with, God.

In the cold morning light the poor little girl sat there in the corner between the houses, with rosy cheeks and a smile on her face-dead. frozen to death on the last night of the old year. New Year's Day broke on the little body still sitting with the ends of the burnt-out matches in her hand.

"She must have tried to warm herself," they said. Nobody knew what beautiful visions she had seen, nor in what a halo she had entered with her grandmother upon the glories of the New Year.

These stories have a realism, a brutal honesty, that modern children stories often lack. In fact, whenever Walt Disney remade one of these fairy tales he seemed to “dumb” them down, or at the very least, to water down the harsh aspects so that children wouldn’t be “bothered” by them. And we certainly wouldn’t want the little dears bothered when they went to the movies or to Disneyland. Apparently people don’t spend money in order to be bothered.

It may just be that I have a thing for little “match girls,” but for me at least this story manages to both show the brutal conditions some people live under and the power of any love that does appear in their lives. Even if this love cannot save them from their conditions, it offers the hope that there can be something better

I’m an Old Tin Man

In a quest for self-knowledge, the stories that gripped us as children probably say more about who we are than recent artifacts.

I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz more times than I can remember, and each time I see it I’m amazed how much I am drawn to the Tin Man and his quest for a “heart.”
Perhaps the Lion, with his foolishly fearsome fears is funnier, and the Scarecrow’s desire for a brain, a desire I certainly wish more of more people had, is certainly commendable.

Still, it’s the Tin Man that has always been the most powerful character for me.

At first appearance, the Tin Man seems invulnerable, encased in a steel shell with no heart to pierce. Surprisingly, though, he is the most vulnerable of all, vulnerable not to others but to his own tears, which literally cause him to rust in place.

Maybe it is this quality that I find laughable, yet endearing, because even as a child I didn’t like to cry, at least not in front of others. My mother told stories of finding me as a two-year old hiding in the back of the closet crying because I didn’t want anyone to see my cry. Even today I hate to cry in front of others and avoid discussing truly emotional events in my life that are too painful to discuss without tears. For me, crying is too often a painful experience, a wet badge of shame.

I suspect, though, it is the feeling of being unable to love that most draws me to the Tin Man. The Tin Man feels he must have a heart before he is capable of love. As we discover, though, he is perfectly capable of love, risking his life for Dorothy because he loves her. Before he can discover that he has a heart, though, he must love someone and that love must be returned, that and a “testimonial” from the Wizard of Oz.

In real life, there are few chances to risk your life to prove your love and even fewer “testimonials” of love. Colleges give degrees galore to prove that people have “a brain,” even if they don’t, and the Army gives medals to prove soldiers are courageous, or foolhardy, but few colleges grant “Masters of Love.” How, then, do we reassure ourselves that we do, indeed, have a heart, that we are loving and loved?

Perhaps we can’t. Perhaps it is only through a continuous outpouring of love that we can prove to ourselves that we have a heart.

Even more frighteningly, the Tin Man may be right when he says at the end of the movie that he knows he has a heart because it is breaking when Dorothy leaves. Is it only when we are in danger of losing love, or when we lose it, that we can be sure that we are, indeed, capable of love?

Or, could it be that, like Dorothy, we can discover we have a heart by clicking our heels three times and realizing that we must have a heart if we truly love ourselves? Of course, we can only prove we love ourselves if we share that love with someone else—personally, I think I need a Gavin fix.