I left a mistaken impression here on Sept. 26 that Written Word Magazine (http://www.writtenwordmag.com/) was nearing defunction. It’s very much alive, but its Web site was coming up oddly on my PC. I’d wait interminably, wanting to go out for a long walk or a short beer, until the graphics loaded. Then—huzzah!—there in its archived June 2008 issue was “The Wishing Pool.”
This has been one of my favorite stories, written in January of ’06. Why? My childhood days were ominous, filled with omens, portents and symbols. The child matures when the signs come together. I put together a few of these signs and secret codes in “The Wishing Pool.” I’m happy, not only for its publication, but because the youngsters in the story nibbled at my heart. Perhaps I once was “Otto,” making bets on when the first snowfall would close school and wondering when my father would come home from his business travels.
My own childhood days in a small Oregon town were filled with tokens as powerful as having a Lone Ranger pistol ring. They were as mysterious as the X-ray machine at the shoe store where we watched our toes wiggle while the salesman sought out our Buster Browns. We believed in 1946 that the dead cat we found in the bushes had died violently. Why else would its mouth have turned into that horrible rictus? It was poisoned—and this was our nexus of fear: To touch it would be death for us too.
We were in awe of tramps, like the one who reputedly lived in the willow grove by the Northern Pacific tracks who carried a shotgun loaded with bacon rind. Yes, bacon rind, my brother, Chuck, explained: This was so he wouldn’t actually kill you when you were shot for intruding. We knew tramps left secret messages on our houses, messages hidden so carefully that only other gypsy tramp initiates could tell whether this house or that one would offer a welcome.
Every event, every glance, every crack in the sidewalk was filled with meaning. Dogma was established by my friends in second grade. “If you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back.” And, there was World War II revisionism, “No, no, if you step on a crack you’ll break Tojo’s back!” And each of us guaranteed a little good luck by stamping on a Lucky Strike pack.
Oh, and in regard to “The Wishing Pool,” sometimes kids know everything and understand very little. You know this. You were a kid once, weren’t you?