Archive for September, 2004

Snow Speed

My family was stationed at a base in Goeppingen, Germany in the early 70′s when my father was in the Army, as I’ve said before. Germany is a very beautiful country. Yesterday’s blog entry spoke about the incredible forested areas that dot the country side. There’s a reason that so many of the old fairy tales are set in Germany– it’s full of so many giant, gnarled trees full of character and history– it’s a perfect setting. And all the seasons in Germany seemed to be at extremes to my young eyes. Maybe it was because of my youth. Maybe it’s because my jaded view of the world has dulled my appreciation of the differences in the seasons– but I don’t really think that’s the case. Germany just seemed to be so naturally beautiful.

The winters in the area of Germany we lived were just amazing. Winter would bring lots of thick blanketing snow that would stay around mostly until the spring warmth would cast it out. It was very cold in Germany in the winter and the bitter cold would harden the snow to a terrific thick shell that made for some of the best sledding that I’d ever experienced. The base we lived on was also an amazing arena for sledding when snow conditions were right because it was set up in a series of descending steps that led downward from the apartment building I lived in, to the school we attended at the bottom– upward to the barracks and base military buildings at the other height. With this lay of the land, the speed we could build up heading downward over each “step” over the frozen, hardened snow was dizzying.

One particular clear day, with the neighborhood kids all out indulging in flying down the hill on their sleds, my little brother and I went out to join in. The conditions were perfect– and I lay down flat on the sled, facing forward to guide the sled with my hands with my brother sitting on the backs of my legs. I was around 9, and he was around 4, so he felt very light (and when you’re a kid, having a youngster sitting on the backs of your legs is nothing. Now, at 41, I can’t even squat down and sit on my own heels for more than 10 seconds or so without my joints screaming at me). We took off, and immediately built up a fantastic head of steam. We were moving incredibly fast and shrieking with delight. We headed down, down, down the stepped levels of each successive cluster of apartment buildings– down toward the school. When we neared the school, I decided to jump one particular drop that looked not quite so steep. It wasn’t so much one of the large “steps” that served as the base for buildings as it was just an isolated drop that was next to a sidewalk leading to the school. As we headed over that drop at breakneck speed, I saw with horror that there was a manhole cover at the bottom. I don’t know what made me react so quickly, but I managed to kick my brother off the back of the sled before I went fully over my self. I hit the manhole cover with a sickening thud as I was driven into it face-first. This was the first time I came close to being knocked out. I remember turning over, dazed and numb– and seeing a crowd of kids standing over me. The were gasping with shock and horror– and I realized why when I reached up to feel the left side of my face (which took the brunt of the impact). It felt oddly warm and sticky, and when I pulled my hand back, my palm was covered in blood. That’s when I started to howl.

I howled all the way back home, as my tiny brother and a couple of other kids pulled me back on the sled to be tended by my shocked but nurturing mother. Rather than chide me for the stupidity of my injury– which was what I was afraid would greet me– she was very comforting and caring. She thought that the side of my face had been torn off and that I would need some sort of surgery– but I guess the healing powers of youth took care of things, because I came through it with little or no scarring. I think that was the first time I came to realize that there existed the possibility that something horrible could happen to me at any given time– that I wasn’t invulnerable. I don’t know if I kicked my brother off the sled before hurtling into that manhole cover as a way of protecting him, or if something deep down in me knew that if I didn’t, he may have landed on me and made the coming damage even worse. Either way, I’m glad I did.

And I don’t think I did much sledding after that.

Mike

The Great ACORN WARS

Germany has a reputation for hosting many beautiful, lush forests… and I can attest to that being true. At least it was when I lived there for a few years some three plus decades ago. My family and I roamed much of Germany taking in the sites during that time (well, my brother and I were of course captive to my parents’ whims in that– but I’m glad they took us along) — castles, restaurants, amusement parks, and the forests. And there were some wonderful forested areas that surrounded the Army base that we lived on– and one particular area that was very near the apartment complex that my family lived in. This wooded area was liberally populated by huge majestic oak trees– and these oaks yielded TONS of acorns. I was fascinated by these big, shiny nuts. I was convinced at the time that by grinding them up and adding water and yeast that I could make some wonderful acorn pancakes. I would beg my mother to let me undertake the experiment that I was sure would result in the world’s tastiest pancakes– but her response was always “Don’t you know how horrible that would taste? You can’t make pancakes out of acorns!” I’ve never, to this day, tried to follow through on that youthful impulse. I suppose that’s because I’m sure my mother was right.

Those big, shiny acorns also served another purpose for the base kids (at least those in my neighborhood): ammunition. Being surrounded by local towns, it was only natural that we would be “invaded” from time to time by local German kids, curious to see what we Americans were like. I think there was a mix of curiosity and some residual resentment (passed on to the kids by their parents) left over from WORLD WAR II, even though this was around 30 years after the end of that conflict. My father tells me of an incident at a parade he took my younger brother to in which he asked a German man with his son on his shoulders if he could move aside slightly so that my brother could see the parade, and the man turned on him and said “Just because you Americans won the war doesn’t mean you own this country or our people…!” So there was a bit of that going on– and when we would get word that there were German kids in the woods in our neighborhood, the call would go out to meet them on the “field of battle”. We had tons of acorns stashed in various locations for just such contingencies. So, I would grab the 7th Cavalry flag I had made with my budding artistic abilities (I was at the time enamored of General George Armstrong Custer and his mounted Cavalry, having just learned of them in my history books), and meet my fellow “soldiers” to repel the dread invaders. It was really more of a game, though– because we would meet the German kids and make sure there were ground rules (the German kids could speak English, whereas we ourselves could not speak a word of German. That’s the norm for so many Americans– we don’t feel the need to learn foreign languages, while most of the rest of the world is multi-lingual), chief among them that there would be no hurling acorns at each others faces. Even as little kids, we knew we didn’t want anyone’s eye’s knocked out by a high-velocity nut. Inevitably, because of our stashed arsenal, we would win the day, driving back the local kids with overwhelming force of acorn. And fun was had by all, I think– although there were some shouts from the German kids such as “Americans go home!” at such times. Maybe it was the heat of battle.

I drew a Civil War era cap on the head of the lead kid (my idealized version of myself as a child, natch). Now whether I actually had such a hat, or it’s just my mind’s eye creating that for my memories I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my mother about that.

And if she remembers me begging her to let me make acorn pancakes.

Mike

Kite Flying

Yesterday’s thoughts about the arrival of Autumn set my mind back to something from my early childhood that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I don’t know why I’ve been in such a reflective mood recently… maybe it’s the onset of a mid-life crisis. I’m not a very materialistic person, so I’m not prone to go out and buy some expensive little sports convertible. So maybe my mind is drifting back to times when I was a kid to compensate.

My father was in the Army– and he and my family were stationed in Germany where we lived for three years. Germany was not a fun place to live for me– and there are tons of stories that maybe I’ll go into at some later date to illustrate why I ended up hating being there so badly…. but I want to concentrate on something positive here. One of the coolest things that my father, my brother and I ever did in Germany was when we would frequently head out to fly kites. There was one particularly incredible spot that my dad discovered that was amazingly conducive to flying kites as high as the eye could see. Dad got so caught up in this activity that he did something absolutely wonderous. He constructed a gigantic kite that was the biggest thing I’d ever seen. It was made of strong but lightweight wood for the frame, and several layers of very strong cellophane that could withstand high winds– and an enormous tail that was impressive all by itself! Each time we went out, he’d fly this monster higher and higher. As huge as it was, he would get it so high, it looked like a little dot. Then he went one step further– he built an elaborate motorized crank for the string release/rewind so he could handle it even better when the high winds threatened to yank it away from him. He started getting the thing so high, that the local authorities had to stop him, because they were afraid it would interfere with low-flying planes (mostly the small commuter types. I don’t want to give the impression that he got it high enough to interfere with the big jets). My brother and I had our own kites to fly, and it was great to take them to that spot, because the wind would just lift them out instantly. There was no need to run and try to get lift– the wind took care of that itself. But it was more fun for me and Matt to just watch my dad and his amazing monster kite soaring higher and higher.

I hadn’t thought about that in a long time and I’m glad that for whatever reason– mid-life crisis or not– it’s a memory that surfaced. It’s a wonderful one.

Later.

Mike

Hello, AUTUMN…

Yesterday marked the first day of the Fall season. Fall/Autumn is my favorite season of the year and always has been. There’s something about the light from the sun that’s kind of otherworldly… it feels like there’s an echo of childhood past tinged with the vague whispers of undiscovered wonders. I’ve always felt a slight sense of sorrow at the waning of another over-ripe summer– but there’s also always been something about Fall that energizes me. It’s the crispness of the air at first light and the gentle tug of war that goes on during the day as the last warmth of summer stubbornly hangs on. That hint of the coming bite of chill from October and November is thrilling.

My father owns many acres of wooded land– about 30 or so, I think– and it’s adjacent to some fields that his neighbors used to raise a few cattle at times. I used to climb over the fence separating the property lines when I was a young boy and lay out in those fields, staring up at the Autumn sky… listening to the gentle winds whisper through the trees… pretending like I was the only person on earth. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. I felt like anything was possible and that the world was endless at those times. I could be anyone or do anything I chose. I think perhaps that’s where the vague sense of sadness I get from this season comes from– perhaps my subconscious drifts back to those feelings of endless possibilities to remind me that so many of them are just unrealized echos.



My buddy JAMAR NICHOLAS is initiating what he’s calling JAMARATHON 2004!!! He’s taking on commissions all through the month of October– and a portion of the proceeds from those commissions will go to the AMERICAN DIABETES ASSOCIATION. You can get all the details about this and find out about Jamar himself on Jamar’s blog. Jamar’s a fantastic artist, a wonderful guy– and this is a great cause, so help the man out, ya’ll!!!

That’s it for today.

Mike

Greetings from PARADISE ISLAND

Today’s sketch is the last of the scans–this time of WONDER WOMAN– I have from the BALTIMORE COMICON. Actually, I nabbed this from the COMIC ART FANS site. It was done for Randy House (I never got his name at the show… his last name, anyway)– so thanks, Randy… and I hope you don’t mind my showing it here.

OK– sorry to be so brief today, but I’ve got to get back to the grind.

Mike