PART 4. KID ENCOUNTERS
In everything he does in his kid stories, young Shep learns about his world, both in school and in the neighborhood. This involves such varied diversions as promoting nasturtium seeds, amassing a collection of decayed teeth, and being the butt of a cruel April Fool’s joke. (Decades after this experience, April first will represent a major disaster in the creative career of Jean Shepherd, but that’s a story for another time.)
“Selling Seeds, Door to Door to Door”
I remember one time Miss Shields talked us into selling seeds and about seventeen kids immediately raised their hands and said they were gonna sell seeds. Well, I must have been six months old when I discovered I was the world’s rottenest salesman. I am just not a good salesman—I break out in a rash.
I was about in second grade and the terrible desire to be in a group led me into one of the great traumatic experiences of my entire life. The group does it—they just move you, whatever it is. Miss Shields came into the class one day and said, “We have a very special thing today, children. For those of you who would like to earn a little money for the Halloween party and for our big class party and also would like to earn a little money toward buying a set of World Books for the library. We’re going to have a seed-selling drive.”
Near the beginning of my 1966, four-month’s secular, young fellow’s, solo grand tour through Western Europe in my new VW Beetle, I picked up a tourist brochure in Copenhagen.
I knew I’d be visiting some of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals, yet I thought it would be of personal and “artistic interest” to get a feel for a few village churches—ones that the average peasant (such as myself–half a millennium ago) would have gone to weekly.
Entering many houses of worship over four months, I honored varied faiths: the synagogue in Toledo; the great mosque in Cordoba; the cathedrals I climbed the spires of–Cologne, Chartres, and Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. The drama of the architecture, the art of the interior décor. Awe-inspiring, overwhelming, impressive, magnificent, all of them!
On the way to Stonehenge (during those days when one went right up to the monument and touched the sacred stones), one sees, just over the diminutive green hills, the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, dramatic in its very low surroundings, for being free of the urban building-clusters in the center of most cities.
Stonehenge has its own drama—the wonderment at what unknown passions moved and hoisted those stones. What psychological intensity made them do it—the faith of Druids or Who-ids? Alternatively (Having gone underground in Rome), how did I think it would have been to worship in the early days of developing, primitive Christianity, amidst the caverns and human skeletal parts in the Catacombs? I imagine it felt cozy and worrisome, and inspiring in its special way.
All of the above, in their architectural grandiosity and emotion, fill me with admiration for their artistry (maybe even the Catacombs).
How would it have felt, snuggled comfy,
of a Sunday? I liked them a lot.
Warm, inspiring, family-friendly.
Thinking about all these lofty ideas, what does it all lead up to?
At the moment, I encounter three simple-minded and incomplete responses. How did I feel?
My favorite church song as a kid:
There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood.
No lovelier place in the dale.
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale.
Oh, come, come, come, come, come to the church by the wildwood…
(Is it obvious that I’ve come from a Protestant background?)