Friday, May 28, 2010

Bill Bryson - The Thunderbolt Kid

I like Bill Bryson. He's a born and bred midwesterner who, for some inexplicable reason decided to settle in England. I won't hold it against him. Perhaps it's because he fell in love with an Englishwoman. But still, he's gotta miss the cornfields.

In the past two weeks I've polished off not one, but two, count 'em, two Bill Bryson books. The first is called "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - a Memoir".

Unlike "Dandelion Wine" which are stories loosely based on Ray Bradbury's childhood, Bryson's book is an all-out remembrance of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. The title refers to his ability to ZAP unsuspecting people with his imaginary thunderbolt.

He speaks of his family with loving clarity. The foibles and follies are dished up in equal parts, making his family delightfully human. He let's us know that it's OK to say our families and our lives were not perfect. They weren't!!!

Anyone who grew up in the midwest (or anywhere for that matter) in the 1950's and '60's will remember the scenes played out in his Iowa hometown. Even if you didn't grow up in that time period, you'll still enjoy reading about it.

The beautiful old movie theaters (more than one), the magazine and candy shop, the odd neighbors, teacher and classmates are all familiar.

He jogged my memory of things long forgotten... my brother's electric football game. He'd spend an hour or so arranging all the players just so and then he'd plug in the game and turn it on. The entire board buzzed and vibrated, sending all the players skittering and falling in every direction. Another hour would be spent rearranging the set-up and it would all start again.

He made me laugh and wonder how we ever got through our childhood's without a helmet! He also reminded me of being pushed outside first thing in the morning with the admonition, "Don't come back until dark". We spent entire days, weeks and lifetimes out of doors in the fresh air having adventures of our own invention. I rarely, if EVER, see a kid playing outside anymore.

He made me remember a time when kids were not assured every waking moment of their lives that they were "special". We weren't really special. We were just kids in the American midwest, growing up the best way we knew how.

Bill - Thanks for the memories!

The second Bryson book I finished deserves it's own post, so check back tomorrow when we'll all get sunburned with Bill.


OOOOPS!!!! I forgot to mention Bryson's memory of the A-bomb drills we were all subjected to in school. It went like this:

Drop to the floor.
Tuck yourself into a ball underneath your desk.
Put your hands over your head.


I might have been only 8 years old but even I had enough common sense to find this laughable. Maybe it made everyone (parents and teachers) feel secure that they had a "plan" in the event of attack. No need to worry about giving us nightmares about the possibility of attack because at that point in time. I was more worried about aliens attacking from outer space.

My real fear came later when I was a young adult. The Russians still had thousands of missiles pointed in our direction but the most immediate danger was from my fellow citizens who were busy burning our own country down. What a special time that was.....not.


StitchinByTheLake said...

I remember well those days of being pushed outside to play - and loving every moment of the pushing and the day! Thanks for reminding me. :) blessings, marlene

Debbie said...

Great post, Suzanne. It jogged some memories of my own growing up in Texas. Usually barefoot and no air conditioning. Drinking cool water from metal cast glasses and eating iced watermelon, catching horned toads. I agree; I don't see many kids out playing nowadays. But a few roam around here after dark looking for trouble. I feel sorry for them.

Renae said...

I'm on the last chapter of my 20-something read through of Notes from a Big Country which is one of my favourite Bryson's! Have you read that one? It's hilarious. I really like Made in America too.

I really should ready his Australia one given I'm an Aussie!

Leslie T. said...

Great post, Suzanne! In our day, childhood was a magical time because we made it that way for ourselves, finding things to do that required imagination and lots of actual movement, flinging ourselves into a summer's day with the anticipation of something exciting on the horizon. Entire days could be spent building forts, climbing trees, and roller skating all over the place. I still have scars on my knees that bring back fond memories.
My sister and I once built a "go-kart" for ourselves, which actually consisted of nothing more than an old baby buggy frame, wheels, and a couple of boards. We had the greatest adventures with that thing.
Times have changed, and not always for the better. It's fun to dredge up the memories of the days when we built our own self-esteem by learning how to develop our minds and bodies and find the joy in the little things.
I hope you have a great Memorial Day weekend. May it be full of whimsical plans for the coming summer!
Take care!

P.S. Big Memorial Day sale at Jack's this weekend! Yay!

Vee said...

Sounds like good reading, but, sorry, you are special. I, too, loved having my summers and vacations free to roam and remember it all so fondly despite nearly drowning because there was no adult around to watch me swim; my getting stung by a hive of bees; my wanton recklessness as I sat on the edge of the train tracks waiting for the train that I could now see coming. I was stained by blueberry juice, raspberry juice, whatever-berry juice. I never arrived home in quite the same condition that I left that's for sure. Gee, I'd like to head out today for similar adventures. :D

Lori said...

I've read this. What a great read but my all time favorite of his was "A Walk in the Woods." I listened to that one on tape which made it all the more great with the inflections, etc. I love the part in that one where his hiking partner starts throwing the heavy items in his pack over the mountainside.

ytsmom said...

Amen to your comment about kids being 'special'! Everyone is special, therefore, everyone is the same.