Nothing beats piney woods for pondering. Nothing I’ve found anyway.
I was in the middle of 3rd grade when my family moved to where pine trees thrive. Louisiana. I admit I wasn’t terribly thrilled about leaving Oklahoma, my home state. Mostly I was upset that I was being pulled from Hayes Elementary School and Mrs. Goddard’s 3rd grade classroom where she was smack dab in the middle of reading The Boxcar Children. I never did get to hear the end of the story, but it seemed awfully cool and a bit sad to me at the time. Violet stood out for me. Likely because of her name, but I think also because she seems creative and quiet. I understood something about her. And she was close to my age.
Pondering up to that point in my life didn’t involve pine trees. It did involve trees though. Willow trees, post oaks and all the other assorted trees that grow in Oklahoma, albeit not as tall as trees grow down south where rainfall is more abundant and the climate more mild. All of which makes for good growing time I suppose. But what we did have in Oklahoma were four distinct seasons. Namely, we had a fall. And I recall lots of pondering sitting or laying in piles of leaves.
Make believe was always a big component of my pondering. It still is. It’s changed of course. I suppose it’s a lot less imaginative today than it was when I was a kid. Kids don’t rein in their imagination. Adults do. Mostly today my imagination leans toward reasonable and what could be – what I hope to be – real. Back then, I didn’t have those limitations. I could make believe that I was the starting quarterback for OU. Or that I was a cowboy in the Old West. Or maybe some world-class sprinter. I never was fast and I always envied those boys who had blazing speed. As coaches would later tell me, I had a quickness, a lateral movement sparked by good vision, but I never valued that much. I thought top end speed was amazing and never quite understood why I couldn’t get my legs to do what those remarkable speedsters could. But I could make believe I had their speed.
I’ve no idea what a life would be like not lived inside one’s own head. Not that I live my entire life there, but I know people who admit they don’t “think much about it.” Me? I do think much about it. Too much sometimes, but it’s pondering the possible (and sometimes the impossible) that makes it go round for me.
At an early age I realized I didn’t ask, “What if?” — I just considered it (pondered) it being real. Whatever IT might be. I really was the starting quarterback for OU. I really could run fast. In my head I’d just become it. No consideration about how ridiculous it might be. Or how absurd the idea. Nothing was absurd. Nobody was there to judge me. It was just me and my thoughts, sometimes acting out in the yard alone. Tossing a football to myself being both the quarterback and the wide receiver. Never mind the impossibility of that. When you’re thinking and pondering, everything is possible. There are no limits except what you choose to consider. I opted for having my cake and eating it to. Which meant if I wanted to throw a brilliant pass to myself, I could do that. Successfully.
Fourth grade was a pivotal year for me. I went to a new school and drew The Ogre for a teacher. She still resides in my top 10 most despicable people of all time. And I should know her name, but I don’t. Probably just as well ’cause I’d tell it to you if I could remember it and she’d likely track me down, sue me for slandering her horrible name and well, that’s not how I imagine it going down. It was a traumatic year that ended with my parents yanking me from her class, and that school and enrolling me across town to a school near my dad’s office. It was fine. I didn’t much care. I was simply glad to be free from the clutches of The Ogre.
I’d been a good student thanks mostly to a mother who demanded straight A’s. I obeyed teachers. I was respectful, as were most kids of my era. But The Ogre was overbearing, harshly punishing the entire class regularly when only one or two students acted up. Shooting spit wads was acting up. No, I didn’t do it. My academic career would never be the same after enduring The Ogre. It altered my outlook on school forever. Maybe it was bound to happen, but within a year I’d gone from wishing I could meet Violet in person and loving to hear Mrs. Goddard read to absolutely despising a 4th grade teacher who I was convinced had Adolf Hitler for a father! The worm had turned.
Coming of age likely does that. You figure out life isn’t what you first thought. Reality smacks you in the forehead and says, “Get a grip.” I did. But by getting a new grip I let go of another one. The one where you don’t take life so seriously ’cause you’re a kid. The one where you can dream whatever dreams you want. But pondering didn’t go very far…it just took a bit of a breather until I reached 5th grade and walked into Mrs. Holman’s class. Dixie Holman. Now there’s a southern name if ever was one.
Some years ago I tried to track down Mrs. Holman because as awful as The Ogre was, Mrs. Holman was exactly who I needed, when I needed her. She was terrific and thought I was a terrific student. She instilled a belief in me that I took to heart. I knew if she believed in me, then there must be something there…because I admired her. She was smart, so she must be right. Sadly, I got word that she had passed away a year earlier. I never was able to make contact with her as an adult. Unable to tell her how much she had meant to me when I was just a boy. My pondering time grew sad for a few days thinking about her and how important a grown up can be to a 10 or 11 year old boy.
Well, I’m not going to march through all my school years, but let’s go back to the piney woods. Since those elementary school years I’ve had a thing for piney woods. If I’m driving through the south and see them, which I often do, I just want to stop the car and go walking through them. I never do, but I can’t pass an attractive stand of pine trees without enduring the temptation. A bed of pine needles under your feet. A canopy of tall pines overhead. The quietness. The smell. There’s nothing like it for pondering and dreaming.
I left the pine woods of Louisiana years ago. For the past 37 years I’ve been away, back to my native land of Oklahoma (for about 9 years or so) and here in north Texas for the rest of it. This is home. It’s where I’ll be buried one day. I’ll never leave. There’s something powerful about knowing that. Knowing that you’re settled, cemented even to a place. This is the only place that’s held that spot for me. Mostly I’ve felt unsettled, which sparks its own kind of pondering I guess. But this pondering, the kind that happens when you’ve grown deep roots is particularly suited to me at this stage of my life.
Inside The Yellow Studio are cartoons, books, music, mixers, audio processors, microphones, a guitar (in the case) and a Chinese lantern hanging overhead. We’re not in the piney woods any more, but I don’t ponder what I once did either. So there’s that. Today yellow walls replace the scenery of the piney woods. It’s here that I spend quite a lot of time pondering, writing, reading and creating.
Today I ponder the future. I’ve always done that. Dreaming, hoping and scheming for ways to make tomorrow better. Optimistic that it will be, and that I have to work harder to make it so. It doesn’t always work out, but I figure if I don’t go for it then it’s bound to end up not so great. So I may as well try, right?
I ponder the past. I’ve long marveled at people who have lived decades and claim to have no regrets. Mostly, I think they’re foolish. Or stupid. Or both. I’ve got plenty of regrets. There are many things I would have done differently if I had them to do over with the wisdom and knowledge I now possess. I don’t kick myself because in real time I did what I did based on what I thought, or felt was right. And mostly, they were right for me in the moment. My regrets may be aimed mostly at what I sacrificed, but that’s the selfish side of me wishing I could have had my cake and eat it, too. But I’m older now and I know that the starting quarterback for OU can’t throw a pass to himself. (insert your favorite OU joke here if you’re a hater)
I still ponder the present. Maybe it’s not really the present when you’re preoccupied with how to make today count more. Isn’t that really kind of a future thing? I admit that living in the present isn’t so easy for me. It never has been. Like those boys who would run fast, I so admire people who seem to just live in the moment. But deep down, the admiration isn’t so strong because they mostly strike me as people who don’t do much pondering. And I’d rather be able to ponder than to live only in the moment.
Life won’t let you have it all. We all give up some things so we can grab other things. I gave up my naïveté in 4th grade so I could grow up I suppose. The Boxcar Children is a storybook. A good story, so far as I could tell, never having made it to the end. And maybe that’s how I’ve always aimed it to be…a never ending story frozen in time in Mrs. Goddard’s 3rd grade classroom at Hayes Elementary School in Ada, Oklahoma. Pondering is easier and more fun when you don’t know the end of the story.