Better And Better

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Looking back.

When I went off to Methodist Youth Summer Camp in early August of 1983, I was 11.

I had already gone to Boy Scout summer camp at Sid Richardson Scout Ranch the month or two before. It had been a long week of hiking, canoeing, and sweating. More significantly, however, it had been my first week away from home.

At Boy Scout camp, I remember going to my tent one evening, and crying. I still can recall hearing my best friend, then and now, remarking on it to someone (his father?), who said, "Leave him alone." Fabric walls don't stop even gentle words of concern. Grateful for the time alone and yet embarrassed that my sobs hadn't been effectively muffled by the Coleman sleeping bag, I stopped, and by and by joined the rest of the troop for supper.

It wasn't so much that I was a Mama's Boy (I'm fairly certain that I was) that drove me to cry "I want my Mama" into my sleeping bag, as the fact that I was away for the first significant time while my parents were beginning the separation that would eventually lead to their divorce. While I later felt that things actually got better for us kids after the divorce (Dad was very attentive as a divorced father, meaning that we actually seemed to see more of him afterwards), it was a time of Change, and a boy who is uncertain during change seeks his Mama. She wasn't there. Only boys and good men who volunteered as Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters were there.

The next month (or the next-- a quarter century has obscured some facts), I went off to Church Camp. It was way up at Lake Texoma, and we all gathered at a large regional church to get on the high-capacity vans to go. My father took me up there, and as I waited to get on the van, he handed me a paperback book. He asked me if I was nervous about the time away, and I said that I was not. (I felt that I was past that weak point, so long ago, about a month or two before.) He told me that a lot of boys were not used to leaving their families for any time when they were eleven years old, and somehow managed to compliment me for being mature enough to deal with it. I felt embarrassed, a little-- I should be mature enough. Just look at me: about 5'11" to 6'00" tall, eleven years old. Probably about 170 lbs. I was man-sized, in most cultures. [But still a boy.]

I got on the bus, and had an enjoyable ride with kids that I would get to know over the next 7 days. It's amusing that I still can remember some of the songs that we listened to on the radio; they tended heavily toward the Eurithmics. When I arrived at church camp, I found that our "cabins" were kind of bungalows spaced widely about the camp. I was in one with a group of 7 other boys of widely different cultures. I was neither the center point of our group, nor the outcast. I was an island unto myself; I was approachable, but discrete.

Well, a bit of loneliness almost set in, one night, when I opened my paperback (I think I was supposed to be studying a text for vespers, or something), and found an inscription from my Dad. I can't recall if it said anything more than "To Matt, Love, Dad." But does it matter? That's about the only part that matters in any inscription I've ever read: Who, why, and from whom. I seem to recall that he dated it. The paperback was a thick one, and had a painting of D.D. Harriman looking wistfully up at the stars with a spaceship in the background. It was The Past Through Tomorrow, a compilation of stories by Robert A. Heinlein.

I started with the first one, "Life Line." I was hooked.

My reading of Heinlein's works continued, with me consuming all that I could find in the school libraries (almost exclusively juveniles, but I found, inexplicably, a ratty hardcover copy of I Will Fear No Evil, which was racy stuff for a rural junior high school library). I kept it up long after the man died (I remember that hollow feeling, standing in Fultz's News when the counterman told me he had passed), and long after I had come to the conclusion that he was an idealist and a Dirty Old Man.

I don't doubt that a lot of my current philosophies have been influenced by a science fiction writer who died 21 years ago, and with whom I disagree about 1/3 of the time.

It's funny where you get your beginnings.

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12 Comments:

At Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:25:00 AM, Blogger Mikael said...

I was influenced by his writing as a teenager, though I only read I think 4 or so of his books. The ones that made the biggest impact on me was Starship Troopers and (I think) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Not entirely sure on that one, it's been a long time, but the part that made an impression on me was the society where you could either choose to be armed, or not, and if you were armed, you had to be willing to accept duels(I think there was some drawback to not being armed as well, though you were exempt from dueling). I don't necessarily agree with the idea, but it sure made an impression on me, made me think.

The other big impact, reading wise, on me in my early teens was probably the Prince Valiant comic album series... don't laugh. For some reason it made chivalry a very solid part of my values.

 
At Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:57:00 AM, Blogger Turk Turon said...

Great essay!

Takes me back to my own days of Boy Scout camp, and later, sailing camp in North Carolina.

Thanks.

 
At Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:25:00 AM, Anonymous Jay said...

I love Heinlein. I tell everyone I know to read Starship Troopers. It changed my outlook on a lot of things. I started reading Heinlein in High School and was very unhappy to hear that he was already dead.

 
At Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:54:00 AM, Blogger John B said...

We have an admiration in common. I actually found Heinlein in the grade school library. The bookmobile had a librarian who was kind of anal about letting kids read paperbacks. This WAS the 70's. Finally my Mom came to school on bookmobile day, and told the librarian to let me read anything I wanted as long as there wasn't a legal prohibition on it. So I didn't actually get my Playboy and Penthouse until late junior high. After exhausting the possibilities of the Star Trek paperbacks, I stumbled upon RAH and never looked back.

IMHO the best story was Have Spacesuit Will Travel. Followed closely by The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

My 3rd best Heinlein story was told by Larry Niven....
The return of Senator William Proxmire!

Matt if you haven't read it, it's the only print story that made me leap up from my seat shoving my fist into the air.

 
At Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:40:00 AM, Blogger TOTWTYTR said...

"Idealist and Dirty Old Man."
You say that like it's a bad thing. :)

Some of his later stuff suffered from the fact that he was so big that he couldn't be edited unless he wanted his work edited. Some of it was priceless, some worthless. Still and all it was and is incredibly readable. I just finished re-reading "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". I had to buy a new copy as my 40 year old $0.75 copy fell apart.

 
At Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Crucis said...

Heinlein was a Master. Not only as a writer but as a philosopher. There is more truth in the "Notes from Lazarus Long" than found in many a text book.

I live not too far from Heinlein's last residence. It's been sold a number of times since his death. I doubt the current owners know, nor care of its significance.

 
At Friday, August 28, 2009 12:24:00 PM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Agree Matt, we ARE what we read...

 
At Saturday, August 29, 2009 11:40:00 PM, Blogger Gay_Cynic said...

For a lonely young man uncertain of his identity and his place in the world...Heinlein and a retired cranky old Methodist Minister added a lot of sense, ethics, and comfort to the world.

God bless'm both, each master philosophers and teachers in their own way.

 
At Friday, September 04, 2009 4:55:00 PM, Blogger MilSpec said...

My Dad also started me on Heinlein when I was eleven, Have Spacesuit Will Travel. The Past Through Tomorrow and Time Enough For Love are the two I've read most often.

Yay for Dads!

Richardson was good but Worth Ranch was the place for me.

 
At Friday, September 04, 2009 4:57:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

I got my first 50-Miler at Worth Ranch. (by canoe on the Brazos.)

 
At Monday, September 28, 2009 4:41:00 PM, Blogger ASM826 said...

Just found your blog and read the newest post on training and practice. An issue I have been thinking about lately. Working back I got to this one, I will be posting about it in the next day or so.

I have been writing a series of blog posts since mid summer about Scouting, and your post bumped a memory.

Thanks, I will be back to read some more.

ASM826
http://randomactsofpatriotism.blogspot.com

 
At Friday, October 23, 2009 6:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, this story reminds me of my first scout camp and my discovery of heinlein. I went to camp Trexler, somewhere in eastern PA. Despite the fact that it rained every day, I was having a great time until wednesday or thursday night, when we went on an obstacle course called "trexler rangers." it consisted of normal teambuilding activites, culminating in a walk across the shallow part of the lake. Being a brand new scouter, I only brought one pair of shoes, and this walk soaked em. for the rest of the week I had to wear flip flops. My feet were blacker than midnight at the end of the week, but man, I fell in loving with scouting after that.
Fast forward one week. My family had gone on vacation to lake champlain in vermont. It rained every day this week as well, so we spent a lot of time in shops and museums. We were in a little used book store where I found a copy of Starship troopers. The philosophy was lost on me back then, but I loved the action. I've reread it dozens of times since then.

That was 2004. I became an Eagle scout October 4th, 2009.

 

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