Connecting Scattered Dots
Dad and I enjoyed our evening walks, pausing to scan the skies he’d point out to me various star pictures–“constellations,” he explained–images the ancients saw fixed in the chaos: Cassiopeia, the Big and Little Dippers, Orion… I loved the sound of “Cassiopeia” but never could connect all the dots. I can still point out the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) though the Little (Ursa Minor) eludes, and I can spot the three stars of Orion’s Belt.
The history of the telescope is a long and winding tale, each incremental change allowing the viewer to see farther and more clearly; convex objective and concave eyepiece to convex objective and eyepiece, to Newton’s 1668 addition of a reflector mirror, to achromatic lenses, to silvered glass mirrors to … well on to the Hubble and now the Webb. We speak condescendingly of the Hubble as one might chuckle at a toddler’s attempts to use a knife and fork, but each of those earlier dots had to be connected before the next prodigy could appear.
Growing older is a lot like those ancients, looking at the stars first through naked eyes, then trying to find better ways to connect those starry dots and find a better path. Most of us use words, not telescopes to chart our daily journeys, and sometimes, as we connect more of our own dots, as we gain not only years, but wisdom, comprehending with this clearer, brighter light shown on our previous understanding of words the impact of those vocalizations.
Words that we now, illuminated, understand they can hurt or demean, especially when we who utter them, laugh and say, “Can’t you take a joke?” or, “All I said was…” Sometimes the intention can be horrific if one pauses to consider the literal meaning literally.
Back in October, 1966, country singer Merle Haggard and the Strangers issued, “The Girl Turned Ripe and the Pickers Came Today.” A specific age isn’t mentioned, giving the imagination as large a range as the listener chooses, but witty as they may be, none of the lyrics imply consent, and the now ripe fruit has no say in the harvesting. I remember finding Haggard’s lyrics amusing at the time, without pausing to consider their implications were they to be carried out.
Further back, I remember enjoying Stanley Donen’s 1954 splashy, romantic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers–Russ Tamblyn was soo cute!Later, I learned it was drawn from Stephen Vincent Benet’s 1938 short story “The Sobbin’ Women,” which plucked from Plutarch’s ( ) Life of Romulus which detailed Romulus’s organizing the Rape (or “Abduction,” or “Kidnapping”) of the Sabine Women–some thirty, all virgins save one–to provide wives for the men of the newly-founded city of Rome.
Back to 1951 when, at ten, I went to Canada with Dad to fish and “get away from it all.” Rattling along a narrow back road, he shared a joke: A man walking by a cabin sees a mountain lion leap through the kitchen window. He runs to the owner who’s outside sharpening his saw. “Hey mister,” yells the passerby, “your missus inside? A huge mountain lion just jumped through the window!” Fellow keeps filing, finally spits out a chew, turns to the breathless fellow, and says, “Cat’ll just have to take care of hisself.”
I laughed, then what I later learned was “subtext” dawned on me. I’d connected my first dots.