Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The Toolmaker’s Other Son

A Memoir by Galen Green

Fragment #6 of 99; Rough Draft
Copyright 2005 by Galen Green; All Rights Reserved


(continuing in the middle of the beginning of Chapter Two: Wichita)

None of this would probably be worth mentioning, had I not grown up to be “The Toolmaker’s Other Son,” the son who has spent what some folks seem to regard (often behind my back) as far too much of my adult life writing and singing songs, as though vaccinated (as the old vaudeville joke goes) with a phonograph needle. Like Garrison, who obviously can’t get that old radio stuff out of his blood, or like Woody Allen whose every soundtrack is woven together with tunes from the various hit parades of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, or like my generation’s most memorable voice, Bob Dylan, whose public singing debut at the age of 4 found him singing that wonderful old swing-era tune “Accentuate the Positive” at his grandmother’s birthday party—like these and millions of other men and women raised in the middle part of the 20th century – I myself now look back upon my own life and career shaped and driven by the rhythms, rhymes, themes and often self-defeating philosophies of those 3-minute ditties which filled the world’s airwaves throughout my childhood.

Let’s not mince words: Harry & Margaret adored Bing Crosby and vastly preferred him over Frank Sinatra, and that has made, as the last line of Robert Frost’s poem reminds us, “all the difference.” I learned to walk upright to the melodies and cadences of the radio that Margaret played from dawn till midnight as the soundtrack of our little lives together there on Estelle Street in Wichita in the years 1950 and 1951, when our nation was switching over from the flavor of Harry S. Truman to that of Dwight David Eisenhower.

Not all of my earliest memories, however, had to do with music or with what came out of the radio. I remember, for instance, reaching, one fine summer’s afternoon in 1950, for a little yellow stuffed toy chick which just happened to have a live wasp sitting on it, so that I immediately received in my tiny toddler finger a jolt that I’ll never forget. Margaret reported that she finally, after several weeks, had to get rid of the little yellow stuffed toy chick because whenever I saw it from then on, I became agitated and pointed to it accusingly with these words: “Chicky bite!” Thus began my lifelong education in the dynamics of operant conditioning.

Some of the most pleasant hours of my early childhood there on Estelle involved my mother’s “red” cocker spaniel bitch named Linda. She must have been 3 or 4 years old when I entered the picture, and had had her first litter of pups (Whose father, as Harry always insisted on stating the matter, “had come from a good neighborhood.”), when I myself was only a few months old. Because of the proximity of my arrival in Linda’s world to the arrival of her puppies, and, of course, because of the helplessness which this new human baby crawling around on all fours out in the backyard during that summer and fall of 1949 shared with her own relatively helpless doggy babies, she took a particular maternal proprietary interest in me. Harry must have related this fact on literally hundreds of occasions, to anyone who would listen, for the next 30-some years, until his death at the age of 74 in 1982.

Harry and Margaret both tended to be that way with any story they considered to be worth repeating at all. In all fairness to them, I suppose that this tendency is fairly common, if not downright universal. Indeed, isn’t it largely because of these situations, incidents and anecdotes which our elders won’t restrain themselves from endlessly repeating that we ourselves possess some semblance of semi-factual basis for remembering our role in the world, way back in those golden days before our passage into the so-called Age of Awareness? I suspect so.

And thus it was that Harry would always end his rendition of how Linda their cocker spaniel had insisted on adopting little Galen as just another of her pups -- to be herded around the yard by the gentle nudgings of her cold, wet, black little doggy nose – with the phrase: “She just thought he was one of her pups.” Thus it was that I suppose that I began to think of myself early on as something to be adopted. But then, aren’t we all, in one sense or another. Something to be adopted, I mean. It’s just that in my case it’s always been handy and tempting for folks to latch onto that label of “adoption” and to make more out of it than is really there.

And so I’m guessing now, from beyond the grave (as folks used to say), that the two of you, brought out of China in the mid-1990’s by your now-dead mother Sarah, are going through your adult lives carrying a similar stigma. I can recall at least a dozen occasions when you were small and I would tell friends about these two little adopted Chinese girls I had in my life, named KaiLi & AnMei, that even the most worldly among my adult friends would immediately ask, “Oh, do they speak English?” Verily, verily, I say unto you, this whole adoption thing is a dimension known fully only to those of us who’ve spent our lives dwelling herein. Don’t you agree?

When I embarked on this project of drafting an open letter for the two of you to read when you’re all grown up and I’m dead and gone to wherever my earthly remains are most needed for gruesome forensic experimentation, I made several promises to myself. One of these promises was that I wouldn’t limit the brightly colored jigsaw puzzle pieces here in this box on the living room carpet to “Galen Green’s Greatest Hits,” but that I would, instead, include in it, for posterity to scrutinize beneath its merciless microscope, at least a few examples of my writings which reveal some of those facets of my personality which I’ve tried to keep hidden throughout my life – somewhat in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln when he told the photographers that he wanted to be remembered “warts and all.”

It’s in that self-deprecatory spirit that I’ve decided to reach deep down into the bottom stratum of our big puzzle box and pull out a piece so shamefully mendacious that I believe that I’ll place it way over here in the farthest southwest desert corner of this enormous space we’ve cleared here on the living room carpet for out purpose. That way, if either of you decides that it might be best to simply kick it over there, under your dad’s easy chair, to be accidentally swept up later and thrown out with the trash next Thursday, well, that would be OK, too. Anyway, for better or worse, here it is:

{insert here: “Christmas, 1949”}

Another reason for my including this shamefully dishonest little prose poem (probably composed circa 1975) in my open letter to you is that I wanted to demonstrate to all those other readers out there who’ve claimed, throughout much of my writing career, that the source of my failure as a fiction writer has been that I’m wholly incapable of lying, that this charge has not been entirely accurate. While I’ll readily admit to having been neurotically – if not quite obsessively – “hung up” (as we used to say) on the truth and on telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (probably something which Harry & Margaret instilled in me with a tad too much zeal), I have at least dabbled in the dark arts of mendacity, even though it may have been little more than a stylistic exercise, intended to exorcise some demonic craving I felt within me to pit the little David of my id against the Goliath of my super-ego. Who’s to say? Certainly not me – not I.

Still and all, even with its myriad flaws, “Christmas, 1949” does somehow strangely put me in mind of the spirit (i.e. the flavor, the odor, that aura of indefinables) which I can’t seem to help associating with that semi-conscious (dare one say hypnogogic?) ether in which we float through earliest childhood. Marcel Proust I ain’t. Can we agree on at least that much? Besides, I’ve probably already said enough on this subject, for the time being.
Suffice it to say that those first three years of my life, there in that little two-story house on Estelle, were lived in an atmosphere of blissed-out semi-oblivion, relative to some of the other three-year stretches I was to find myself enduring later on in our story, so much so as to convince me that that sort of relatively carefree early-childhood experience might well account for the human psyche’s collective invention of a Golden Age, a Garden of Eden.
Over the past 56 years, one of the handful of questions I’ve been asked most frequently has been, “How old were you when you found out that you were adopted?” The short answer to this question is that I was first informed that I was an adopted child at so young an age that I simply cannot recall a time when I did not know that Harry & Margaret had adopted me. It was simply part and parcel of what I learned “at my mother’s breast,” figuratively speaking, of course, in the same sense that I knew that I was a boy and not a girl, that our doggy’s name was Linda and that she was very friendly and smelled good to me (especially when her fur was wet), that we lived on Estelle Street in Wichita, Kansas, which was somewhere near the geographic center of a country called The United States of America, which was the best country in the world, that the family across the street was named Brown (Edith & Henry) and that they had two sons who were somewhat older than me whose names were Larry & Daryl, that the family living in the house next door to the north was named Ketchum and that they had a little girl my age named Shirley, that the family living in the house on the other side of ours was named Stone and that they had a little boy named Stevie who was a year or two older than me (but they moved away and I never saw him again, even though he’d promised me that he’d come visit me someday), that my momma’s name was Margaret and that she had been a school teacher before they “got” me, that my daddy’s name was Harry and that he had grown up on a farm somewhere near where my grandma and grandpa lived and that he worked as something called a “toolmaker” at a big factory called Boeing where they made some of the biggest airplanes in the whole world, and that my momma and daddy and I, along with their mommas and daddies were Methodists which were a kind of “Christians” who worshipped God who made us all (along with everything else, including lots of things that nobody can see) and loved us all and whose son Jesus was the reason we had Christmas and Easter and went to Sunday School and church downtown every Sunday.
My point here being that there never was a time that I can recall not knowing any and all of these basic facts of life. Of course, there were quite a number of significant facts of life of which I was not aware back then, which might most quickly be summed up in the simple mega-fact that not everyone in the world was like us and that I still had a thing or two to learn about them and about the world we all shared. And I still do. And always will. And, as much as it’s about any thing, that’s what our story here is about, what this book is about. Not to spoil the ending for you or anything like that, but that’s largely what being “The Toolmaker’s Other Son” is about. Learning new stuff.

In 1952, when I was 3, we all moved into a new house (an old house that was new to us) at 1737 North Lorraine, me and my momma and daddy and Linda, whose puppies had all been adopted by then. (There’s that word again, “adopted.”) The day we moved in, I somehow managed to sneak off without supervision long enough to stick one of my momma’s metal bobby pins into an electrical outlet and thus to learn what standard house current (A/C) felt like when it passed through one’s tiny toddler fingers. If you haven’t already tried this yourself, I don’t recommend it. Trust me on this one.
Wichita, Kansas, in those days, was a city of a quarter of a million people, at the junction of Highway 54 (running east and west, aka Kellogg) and Highway 81 (running north and south, aka Broadway), and somehow situated at the spot where the Arkansas River forks off into the Big Arkansas and the Little Arkansas, which nobody in those parts – either then or now – pronounces like the state where Bill & Hill are from, but rather the way someone with an extreme rural twang might try to pronounce the words “Our Kansas.” In other words: “R-Kansas.” (Hey, don’t look at me. I just paint what I see.)
Wichita’s chief industries back then were wheat, cattle, oil and airplanes. My daddy, as well as the daddy’s of many of my friends in elementary school, was employed by the aircraft industry, as has already been established. Besides being the home of Boeing, Wichita (touted as the “Air Capital of the World,” a boast which, like most, backfired into a veritable stink-blast of cruel jokes) was also the home of Beech and Cessna. (Learjet came along in the 1960’s.) Even though the sign we passed every time we drove back into Wichita on U.S. 54 reminded us that Wichita was the home of Glen Cunningham, who’d held the world’s record for running the mile at the time the sign was erected, I learned at a very early age that Wichita was even better known as the home of Wyatt Earp, who’d been its deputy town marshal for probably less time than James Garfield was President. His exploits (or highly distorted retellings thereof) were later dramatized on a TV show in which he was played by the handsome, dashing actor Hugh O’Brien, at around the same time that another short-lived TV series aired entitled “Wichita Town,” most likely filmed in Culver City, just outside of Los Angeles, California.
If I haven’t already hit you over the head hard enough with the themes of airplanes and gunslinger as they related to the Wichita in which I spent my childhood, please rest assured that I’ll come back to do it some more later on. I promise.
But this a story about me, The Toolmaker’s Other Son, not about Wichita. The year was 1952, and we’d just moved from the little two-story house on Estelle to what, by comparison, amounted to a hovel on north Lorraine. Later, if time permits, I’ll attempt to explain why my parents chose to make this move; it was rather complicated. Also, I should probably explain at this point the need for designating this particular hovel as being on north Lorraine, the reason being that our family later moved from there to a house on south Lorraine. But that was to be many years later, with that particular move marking the beginning of a whole new life for everyone involved.
To my knowledge, the highest plateau on the rolling Kansas plains upon which Wichita was built must be somewhere on what is today the campus of Wichita State University. Before that, it was simply Wichita University (municipal -- and far too expensive for folks of our socioeconomic caste), and before that, Fairmount College, a respectable liberal arts school founded by ______________ in the year ______.
Our little split-shingled, two-bedroom/one-bath, one-story gray bungalow with its single-car garage on north Lorraine sits approximately one city block from the southwest corner of the Wichita State campus. (I say “sits” because it was still there – and actually occupied – when I last checked, on a drive-by visit in the spring of 2002, even though I know for a fact that it had been boarded up and tentatively condemned, at one point back in the late 1980’s.) During the years that I was growing up there, one could stand on its tiny concrete front stoop and look over at the official residence of the university’s president. I actually ate lunch there in that stately mansion, one sunny noontime in 1958, the honored guest of the school’s president’s handsome blond young son, Jeff Corbin. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Please forgive me. It’s just that my growing up in such close proximity to the university campus proved to be one of the most decisive determining factors in shaping my destiny – in bending the course of my life’s river this way instead of that – and I want to be sure to squeeze that into my rambling reportage.
As I was saying, the university campus and our humble working-class neighborhood immediately to the southwest of it spread out on what has always appeared to me to be as high a plateau as is to be found in those parts, though I could easily be wrong about that. From there, the land slopes ever so gently downward toward the banks of the Arkansas River, several miles to the west. Along the way, one finds the older sections of east Wichita – the freight yards, the stockyards, a number of grain elevators, miles of residential neighborhoods and a hundred small businesses, and finally, crowding for a mile or so up to the banks of the river, Downtown Wichita, which itself turned out to loom so large in my legend.
(. . . to be continued . . . )



The Toolmaker’s Other Son

A Memoir by Galen Green

7th (of 99) fragments; rough draft
Copyright 2005 by Galen Green; All Rights Reserved


(continued from section ii. of Chapter Two: Wichita . . . . . )

. . . for a mile or so up to the banks of the river, Downtown Wichita, which itself turned out of loom so large in my legend.

All right, so where were we? I was three years old, and our tiny nuclear family, along with our cocker spaniel Linda, moved from the house on Estelle to the house on north Lorraine. In thinking through how best to describe that period of my childhood, I find it difficult to come up with a lexicon that’s not fraught with sentimentality objectionable even to me. As with those earlier days spent crawling and then toddling on the floor, ‘midst ankles and grown-up voices, my third year on earth was spent almost exclusively in the company of Margaret, the retired schoolmarm, whose life between her graduation from high school in 1929 (?) _____________ and her marriage to Harry in 1941, followed immediately by their big move to the big city (They never tired of reminding me that their honeymoon night was spent in their new apartment on Waco Street in Wichita because Harry had to be at work the next day, bright and early, building B-17’s to be shipped to England as part of FDR’s “Lend Lease” package to save the British Isles from the onslaught of the Nazi blitz.), was spent teaching in one-room schoolhouses throughout Franklin County, Kansas. I could devote an entire chapter to her life as a schoolmarm, and very well might, if time allows. Suffice it say for now that Margaret seems to have missed teaching school so much that significant portions of the days which she and I spent in one another’s company (before Lois and then Kevin came to live with us) were devoted to a variety of school-like activities, all of which I enjoyed beyond measure, but my favorite of which had to have been those hours I nestled beneath her wing while she read to me. If there’s a Heaven, then that’s what it will be like.

Perhaps in the long run, however, the most deep and abiding impressions left floating around inside me from the early 1950’s are those impressions I assimilated through the filter of Harry’s and Margaret’s own experiences, as I observed their observations and as I experienced their experiences – vicariously, as t’were. I realize that I’m not saying this right. But it’s the closest I’m able to come, as I muddle my way through this therapy of attempting to tell you my story. And so it is in this spirit that I reach into our big puzzle box and pull out another jigsaw puzzle piece to share with you.

{insert here: “For Concha” – a sonnet published in Kansas Quarterly in 1972}

Concha (who pronounced her name “Consa”) was the wife of guy named Guinn Walker who played banjo with Diana Freeman and me, back in 1968, in a little folk group we called The Canadian Railroad Trilogy. (We got a few gigs – mostly at places like The Cedar on east 13th Street – but split up after a few months for all the usual reasons. For one thing, we weren’t that good.) Even though my acquaintance with Concha came many years after my formative filterings with Margaret, the experience in my late teens of observing Concha going about her housewifery and her motherly tasks with her own small children somehow put me in mind of my own childhood, of Margaret’s laundry basket hurrying from the shower, etc. Come to think of it, that brief period in 1952 and‘53, before Lois and then Kevin became my foster-sister and adoptive brother respectively – that brief period when Margaret and I had each other all to ourselves (at least during those hours when Harry was at work at the airplane factory) bears some resemblance, in memory at least, to those fragrant remembrances so lovingly immortalized by Truman Capote (before the booze began to drag him down).

Certainly, ours was a loving family in those early days. And it remained so for . . . a few years, even after my lofty status of “only child” became radically transformed in the calendar year of our Lord 1953. For that matter, however, ours was quite an agreeable neighborhood – the one we moved into there on north Lorraine in 1952 – in stark contrast to what it was to evolve into, throughout those reputedly “tranquil” years of the Eisenhower Administration. Let’s see if I can name the families who lived on our block back then, on both sides of street. Beginning with the house next door to the north, there were the McGivers, the Irelands, and the Jonkers. Beyond 17th street (a relatively busy thoroughfare), all was outer darkness – even on the sunshiniest of days. Across the street, starting at the north end of the street, there were the Chapmans, the Kays, the Howells, the Rydiords, the Cramers, the Fottses, the Winegars, a house I was never sure about but which appears frequently in my nightdreams as “the house I was never sure about,” and on the southeast corner the Trumbles. Across the street from them, at the far south end of our side of the street, there were the Hannimons (sp?) [the only openly Catholic family on our block], then Mrs. Hill, the Moores, the Edwardses, the Schultzes, the Davises, the Hankses, and then back to us, the Greens. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether or not I spelled most of their names properly; and I’m far too busy to track down a 1953 Wichita phone book. However, if you’re feeling hyper-energetic some afternoon, please feel free to do so. I’ll be interested to know what you find. Or, better still, perhaps you’ll be able to run across one those things we used to call a “criss-cross directory” or street directory. (To my knowledge, they’ve done away with those, in the interest of 21st century domestic privacy and confidentiality. In other words, the publishers didn’t especially want to get sued as a result of the undesirable employment of the information they were giving out.)

Roughly half of the families on our block had a child or two close enough to my age that I was seldom at a loss for playmates. For instance, the Jonkers had a girl my age named Linda. And because her name was the same as that of our cocker spaniel, I confusedly informed my older cousins Cecilia and Linette that the girl down the street “looked like” my dog. I was to have that little misspeak thrown back in my face for the next 45 years. The Chapmans had a boy named Mark who was three years younger than me. He was a good kid, but more of a protégé in my preteens than a peer. (And I wish to add, in the interest of full disclosure, that he was not the same Mark Chapman who gunned down John Lennon.) The Hankses, next door, had a son my age named Jimmy and a younger son named Johnny. (Hey, they didn’t call it The Baby Boom for nothin’!) I’m not sure what to say about the Hankses. Let me check the libel laws and get back to you. Fortunately, they moved away in the late 1950’s. Next door to them, the Davises had a son a year older than me with the improbable name of Galen, though everyone called him Buddy. As older boys tend to do with younger boys, he proved to be a powerful influence on my values, interests and tastes during those early years. The Schultzes had a passel of girls, all older. Their main contribution to my enculturation was a little chant they’d intone while jumping rope out on the sidewalk. It was simply the repetition of this nonsequitur: “Shake-speare. Kick in the rear . . . Shake-speare. Kick in the rear . . . “ As was the case with many of my friends’ fathers (as well, of course, as with both of my own biological parents), Mr. Schultz had fought in World War II; though in his case, a rumor persisted that he may have fought on the German side and been resettled in our secluded little Wichita neighborhood as part of a deal he’d cut with the victorious Allied Forces in exchange for informing on some of his fellow Nazis. I’m sure we’ll never know the truth of the matter – just as with most of this life.

Of all the children I grew up with there in our pseudo-microcosm on north Lorraine, however, the only two with whom I formed bonds of friendship which lasted into adult life were George & Darrell Moore. George was (is) my age, or rather six months younger, a triviality that tends to count for a lot when you’re not yet old enough to attend kindergarten. Their father was named Harold, though everyone called him Buzz; and their strikingly good-looking mother’s name was Darlene. She was pregnant with Darrell at the time they moved into the neighborhood, which couldn’t have been more than a few months before or after we did. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning this piece of minutia were it not for the fact that Darrell Moore and I were to cross paths half a century later, like a pair of star-crossed characters stumbling blindly through the darkness of an ancient Greek tragedy. Trust me: when I finally get around to telling you about it, you’ll be thoroughly convinced that such a thing as Destiny truly does exist and that we are, just as the ancient Greeks understandably believed, merely helpless puppets in its thrall.

It must have been somewhere within this tiny time-frame between our moving into the house on north Lorraine and my acquiring both a brother and a sister that I experienced one of the most unnerving interpersonal encounters of my childhood. I tried to describe it recently in a letter to my cousin, Dr. Jane Stone. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that that letter (or at least an excerpt from it) is buried somewhere in this box of jumbled jigsaw puzzle pieces. But before I try to rummage around and dig it out to share with you here, a bit of background may be in order.

I was raised by old people who were, themselves, raised by old people. Consequently, I have traveled through this life with what friends and critics alike have at times described as a very old soul. As my girlfriend in high school, Pam Batchelor, once said of me: “Some die young, and some are born old.” (Neither of us could have guessed at the time just how unintentionally prophetic her pronouncement would someday prove to be.) Certainly, there lurked a kernel of truth in PB’s friendly jibe. When Harry & Margaret adopted me, he was 41 and she was 37. I remember looking around a crowded church basement one evening at a Cub Scout function when I was perhaps 10 years old and suddenly realizing that the parents of most of my peers were young enough to have been Harry & Margaret’s offspring. But that is, as they say, not even the half of it. Margaret’s father, W.K. McCall, didn’t even marry until he was 40 (although Phoebe once mentioned to me that rumor-mongers in their village were breathing abroad the suggestion that W.K. had been married previously – way back in the 19th century). Thus, Margaret was raised by a father who was 45 years older than her. The topper, though, was in the case of Harry’s parents. His mother, Etta, was just shy of 50 years old when he was born, and his father, Ira, was even 3 or 4 years older. Moreover, Harry’s siblings were all senior citizens by the time I entered upon the scene. Therefore, when I mention in passing that I grew up surrounded by some very old people, I am by no means exaggerating. In fact, my brother Kevin (the toolmaker’s other other son) and I are the only members of our generation I’ve ever known of whose grandparents on either side were both born before the American Civil War (1861—1865).

OK. So that’s the short version of how it is that I was raised by old people who were, themselves, raised by old people. Here, then, is an excerpt from the letter I mentioned earlier that I wrote recently to my cousin Jane, touching upon the aforementioned unnerving evening I spent with the oldest person I’ve ever known “up close and personal,” – my father’s mother, Etta (born in January of 1861):

{insert here: excerpt from letter to BJS, on my evening with Etta, 1952)

Please don’t get me wrong. I consider it to have been one of the greatest blessings of my life – a life crammed with enough blessings to choke a horse – to have actually had the privilege of knowing and meaningfully interacting with real live walking talking Victorians and Edwardians. It probably has as much as any single cluster of factors to do with who I am and how it is that I got this way. These wonderful, mysterious, multi-dimensional men and women provided me with, among other things, a bridge to the 19th century, and hence, to the past generally -- to that place we tend to call “history,” meaning, usually, that cosmos of realities worthy of our remembering or of our somehow uncovering and/or dis-covering by whatever means might be available to us. But as far as any appreciation of why it is we might want to understand that cosmos of realities more often referred to as “history,” therein the patient must minister to herself/himself, my dearest children. Still, it’s a question worthy of an answer. And if Dumb Luck grant me the opportunity, I’ll try to answer it someday. But if not, I encourage you to write that book yourselves, for your own grandchildren’s generation’s fortification against “the evil to come.” (And it will come. It always has. It always will. The readiness is all.)


On three separate occasions throughout my adult life, I’ve experienced the convergence of motive, means and opportunity that made it feasible for me to undergo one form or other of what we used to call “talk-therapy” back in the 20th century. (More of that, anon. OK?) On each of these three occasions, my so-called “therapist” or counselor would begin by asking me a predictable (if ultimately forgivable) set of background questions about myself, mostly concerning my family of origin. Getting past the adoption piece was complicated and confusing enough, but once we came to the piece concerning my birth order and sibling position, even the most stalwart among them would tend to balk. Was I an only child or the older of two sons or the baby brother of a much older sister or a middle child caught in some sort of attention-starved sandwich? Or, Heavens Forefend, a bit of each? For what it’s worth, I myself find this to be a fascinating question – but, like so many of the questions raised by this telling, probably ultimately unanswerable.

At the time when little Galen celebrated his fourth Christmas with his momma and daddy and their cocker spaniel Linda, at the end of 1952, he’d lived his entire life up to that point as an only child, a kind of demi-god. This was a characteristic he shared with his two closest friends in adult life, Marie Smith and Art Dunbar, both of whose sibling position was that of the first-born child. (Every oldest child is, of necessity, an only child up until the time when the second child is born. Yet to confuse the personality structure of an oldest child with of an only child would be rank folly. Agreed?) Sometime during the summer of 1953, however, little Galen was presented with an older sister – a much older sister, eleven years older. He was only four, while she was fifteen and getting ready for her sophomore year at Wichita’s East High School. Consciously, he was madly in love with this dazzling new creature. She was pretty and funny and nice to him, and she smelled good. Yet, somewhere in the stinky depths of his psyche, he surely must have resented the overthrow of his godhead by the encroachment of this interloper on his turf.

Before he could even begin to adjust to this first shock to his social dynamic, however,

(continued . . . )

Sunday, October 28, 2007



As I walk amidst the human debris of my city,
These gravestones fail to dazzle my blood.
But a sharp wind from Milwaukee does,
And so I choose to muzzle
Myself with my collar turned up, still I wince,
As I squint out over these labels I am.
December’s bright wind grows intense.
Upon my face, here among the damned.

Once, lost tribes walked in frazzle of genocide,
Here, where immense engines rise and fall and sizzle
Their songs to sing our circumstance.
The far horizon, like a clam of earth and sky,
Seals around the sticky slime of life.
I look out at them, these driven dead,
Hell-bent for nooky.

My tearing eyes take in each ounce of landscape,
Here where the worn-out lacky
That was my father makes perfect sense,
Inside this earth, this fortune cookie.
These pickled corpses cannot guzzle
Another drop of wind or whim,
For they have felt the final fizzle
Snuff out their fuses, sans “BLAM!”

These granite markers, cold and numb,
Endure this wind, this flow, this rinse
Of human madness and the slam
Of storm and war and arrogance.
I wish I had a cup of saki
To warm my hands and light my nozzle.
For this is the weather for playing hockey
To the tune of winter’s icy chisel.

A pine tree sways like a furry lance.
The yellow grass is a sea of bristles.
Far off, the city hums, and hence,
I think of you. This brief epistle
I share with you like a Christmas ham
Is meant to bring you peace when we
Are far apart in Vietnam
Or any hell from which we might wish to be set free.

Words and Music by Galen Green c 1986

Performed on Peasant Cantata c 2003
Excerpted here from The Toolmaker’s Other Son
(rough draft copyright 2005 by Galen Green)