Churchill took to the woods

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

“These complications cast a steadily gathering shadow over my daily life. They took one away from all the interesting things one wanted to do in the nursery or in the garden…” from My Early Life: A Roving Commission by Winston Churchill

I remember, as a small child, lying on my parents’ bed, looking at the ceiling above me, with my sister beside me. My dad was working at the plant, and my mother was then a waitress at the Terp Ballroom. I would spell letters out loud to my sister and ask, “Is that a word?” Carol would be honest and say no. This was most often the case. This occurred in my pre-kindergarten years.

Then, at the dark age of five, my mother dropped me off of at Shaw School for my first day of school. I remember crying all the way to the front entrance of Shaw School where Miss Jilk, our kindergarten teacher, greeted us with a smile and then my tears melted away.

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I’m reminded of this, from a small book Vennie leant me last Friday, when she came to the Brick House for some storytelling and poetry readings. Austin’s premier storyteller, Mike Cotter, and a young woman interested in getting this to be a monthly event initiated this. It’s my understanding this will occur the second Friday of the month at 7 p.m. Betty Benner, Austin’s resident poet, also read.

Vennie loaned me a copy of “The Open Door — Where Writers First Learned to Rea,”d with selected stories by Steven Gilbert. What a treat this has been.

My favorite, so far, has been Winston Churchill’s “First Thoughts.” He tells us about the first time the governess came and he did “what so many oppressed peoples have done in similar circumstances: I took to the woods.”

He goes on to talk about toiling every day, not only at letters but also at words, and also at what he considered even worse: “figures.” He goes on to say “figures were tied into all sorts of tangles and do things to one another which it was extremely difficult to forecast with complete accuracy.”

Here Churchill demonstrates his eventual progress from his first day hiding in the woods. For some reason, I think males are more apt to relate with Winston’s concerns. Actually, with the exception of a few English teachers, I believe most of us can relate to what Mr. Churchill is saying when he describes this “shadow over his daily life.”

Another writer mentioned in the book is Sherwood Anderson, who became interested in writing, but Sherwood was not a model student. He is what my father would have called a rascal. Sherwood is eventually invited to the schoolmaster’s storage hide-a-way that tells Sherwood: “You do not behave yourself very well in school, but I do not know that it matters.”

This is a facet of education that is often neglected. Sherwood ends up with access to this place where there were books everywhere that he now has access to.

I see reading gaining ground in our educational system. But I also see the contraptions associated with youth and adults and their dependence on them.

I think Skyler, our son, has read more books in his 20 years than I have read in my life, and he remembers what he reads, something his father fails to do.

Now there are more books around here than I can imagine. Many of them “brand new second hand” as Lung, my Filipino friend, used to say before he passed on. He also thought that everybody in Minnesota had a big nose, using mine as a reference. Lydia, our daughter, is also a good reader, and Casey crams at the last minute for finals, like his father did. He is currently working on a business plan.

And then there are the words of Christopher Hitchens: “You will feel better once you leave hold of doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.”

Austin is fortunate to have the library we have. It’s a good place to read, a good place to look out the window, a good place to read the various area newspapers, and if you get restless you can always step out and do a millpond walk and stop on the east bridge and look down toward the culvert and see the fish treading water wondering what this is.