Craig Nagel, columnist
When I was very young, listening to the radio was an ongoing treat. Every week Grandma and I would settle down on the sofa to hear the latest episode of our favorite program, "Fibber McGee and Molly." Every week, at some point in the evening, Fibber would open the door to his closet - followed by the crash of items falling to the floor. Those sound effects were classic and made a lasting impression on my young mind. Fibber's closet became a permanent symbol of a place so full of junk as to defy hope. Kind of like my shop.
"More than 2.7 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001. C. J. Chivers reported from both wars from their beginnings. 'The Fighters' vividly conveys the physical and emotional experience of war as lived by six combatants: a fighter pilot, a corpsman, a scout helicopter pilot, a grunt, an infantry officer, and a Special Forces sergeant."
Ever since the Pilgrims stumbled ashore from the Mayflower and set about trying to survive in a brand-new country, our national mindset has favored population growth. And why not? To the tiny band of transplanted Europeans scrabbling to avoid extinction in this strange and forbidding place, it only made sense to be fruitful and multiply. An ever-growing population meant more mouths to feed, but with those mouths came hands to help with the enormous task of "settling" the continent.
"For most of the year my daughter was four we lived in Spain, in the warm southern province of the Canary Islands. I struggled with dinner at midnight and the subjunctive tense, but my only genuine culture shock reverberated from this earthquake of a fact: people there like kids. They don't just say so, they do. Widows in black, buttoned-down CEOs, purple-sneakered teenagers, the butcher, the baker, all would stop on the streets to have little chats with my daughter." So writes Barbara Kingsolver in one of the essays in her book, "High Tide in Tucson."
Strange, how an object can conjure up old memories. You see it half-concealed beneath a patina of dust and cobwebs, lift it up, wipe it off, and the recollections arise before you like a genie released from Aladdin's lamp. It doesn't matter what the object is. A baby's shoe, a baseball mitt, a certain cup - all possess the power to propel you back across the years to a half-forgotten patch of time. Once there, the memories come flooding in.
Last week our oldest grandchild set off for college. We hugged him, told him how proud he makes us and wished him well. In the days since he left, I've been thinking a lot about the act of learning. There are many notions of how best to help a person learn. For many years, the dominant theory was pure drill. By repeating something over and over and over, the student was bound (eventually) to find the information drummed, as it were, into his or her memory.
You've heard all about it by now: the Perseids are coming. Summer's meteoric light show, visible especially to northerners, the Perseids begin appearing near the end of July and grace the night sky through much of August. To see them, you have to be willing to forego a bit of sleep. Best viewing is after midnight and on through the wee small hours. Obviously you also have to leave the luxury of your house and get outside, but that's all part of the fun.
On a recent trip to the little town in Illinois where I grew up, a particular building caught my eye and triggered a cascade of boyhood memories. Situated in the center of town, across Main Street from the train station, the building is built of red brick and once housed two places of business. One was a shoe store. The other was Josie's Cafe, which opened the year I turned 11.
There's something about the textures of summer that makes you remember the days of your youth. The trickle of sweat running down your side, the tang of a just-picked tomato, the night sounds of whip-poor-wills and tree frogs and billions of bugs - all conspire to hurtle you back through the years to the summers when you were a kid.
What follows is a chapter of my newest book, "Looking Back," to be published in early August. Back in the 1950s, summer unfolded slowly and seemed to last much longer than its allotted three months. One of the high points was the Fourth of July.