I give him this name because, quite frankly, he’s a freakish doppelganger for Richard Thomas, who portrayed “John-boy” on the “Walton’s” series for the first five years of the run. Only, try to picture him much taller. Same voice.
Mr. John-boy came into my life while I was in that very awkward stage of teendom: which, for me, was kind of the whole length and breadth of the entire span of years from 13-16. Angst, angst, angst, angst, angst! I was so angsty! And being an ascetic isolate, of course I kept it ALL inside. I remember very distinctly drawing in an art class a bottle, like a Coke bottle, beginning to crack from the pressure of the heart contained in it. You’d have thought someone might have noticed that was a tad… unusual. But no. My art teacher was impressed, as always, with my unique style and imagination. I guess she never covered psychology in all of that art training.
On the bright side, I was enrolled in a summer camp for girls during these angsty years and Mr. John-boy’s wife, whom I will dub Terra Mater, was the camp’s director. Terra was indeed that – Mother Earth incarnate – and much, much more. She was thoroughly granola: had already borne four boys and was expecting her fifth at the time she was preparing to be the Camp Director. She hiked on a daily basis and home-schooled her children. As her Bachelor’s degree emphasis was listed as “General Studies,” that came in handy. She seemed to know everything about everything. Her General Studies major wasn’t a cop-out – not hardly! She just honestly wanted to learn about everything! She really should have been on one of those trivia game shows, moppin’ the floor with the MC’s toupee. She would’ve rocked the Kasbah!
You can, of course, see why they chose her to head up a summer camp for a hundred girls: An excellent role model, knowledgeable, amazing in every way. Except that she was expecting her fifth child very soon, and in the preparation phase for this camp, wasn’t receiving a lot of support from others on her committee.
Enter: Mr. John-boy. Of course, he had work and the responsibilities of family life, just as she. But he wanted to do something for her: Something to lift her spirits and to help make this “girl’s camp” special and memorable.
Mr. John-boy owned a string of photography stores in the area. Like his wife, he too was a life-long student, always fascinated to learn something new. Like any good innovator, he pulled together his resources and brainstormed.
Of course, there was the photography. He could acquire and provide still photos and film almost without limit. But in the olden days, children, there was no such thing as digital photography. The fastest turn-around for a print was about 20 minutes if you actually stood there to develop and print the film yourself: a four-step process. Unless you were doing slides, which was only a two-step process: develop and mount.
There was his love of music. The man had a gold flute! I kid you not. He said the gold metal made for a richer sound. I never knew if he was joking. Oh, how he loved that flute! I spent many an hour working late at their house, when he would pull it out and just play. And he was… good! Really good! It was always a treat to hear the pied piper play his golden flute. Only this pied piper led children toward their home and family, instead of away.
And there was the resource of the girls themselves. Putting all this together, his brainstorming session brought him to his intention: a slide show. Three screens draped between the trees with speakers, presented on the last night of camp, reprising the week in pictures, def music and narration. “How’s that for a picker-upper, honey?” Now, to find a couple of the girls who could help take the pictures!
Knowing Mr. John-boy, it’s very possible that the two assistants he had in mind for this job had been a factor of the brainstorming session as well. Something along the lines of, “And how can I help these two highly intelligent, yet troubled girls?” I don’t know if it was, or not. I wasn’t in his head. Darnit!
All I know is that one day I got an invitation to come up to his home with the other girl – I’ll call her Moira Kelly – to meet with he and his wife. This is another thing about Mr. John-boy: they lived… kind of in the mountains. Not really too far from civilization, but far enough that the drive up to his home was splendiferously scenic.
He welcomed us and laid it all out: showed us the equipment we’d use; asked for our input and suggestions. He even had us write and record the narration! I didn’t speak very much in public in those days. “What’s that,” you say? “Quite a 180 from ‘The Monster at the End of this Book’ period, don’t you think?” [see Why the Whimsy] “Why yes,” I would respond, “Yes I would think. I would know that excruciatingly well actually,… because I was there.” But doing this narration wasn’t merely talking. This was performing… wait a second. Some electro-stimuli in the back of the brain is struggling to get free. An old concept? A memory? What is it? Per-form-ing… PERFORMING!
It all came back to me, baby! That spark ignited a firestorm somewhere in the back of my sun-starved brain and I felt the flood of creativity break over the dam! Yeow! This was fun! We worked late into the night and accomplished a ton. Exhausted, I soared.
Driving home on this amazing non-drug-induced high nearly ended in tragedy, however. It was raining and dark, and I – being a bit of a lead-foot new driver – performed a death defying 180 on that treacherous mountain-side road coming down from the house. I really don’t scare easily. But the experience did cause me to reflect.
Excitement + Fun = Unawareness + Irresponsibility, which in turn leads to: Death or Dismemberment… or a tragedy at some level. Once again, I have proven to myself that fun is to have no place in my life. It leads to bad things.
In the night, I silently dammed-up the flood of happiness in my mind, securing it the best way I knew. The creativity was good though, right? If I could only find a way to keep it from getting out of control, then I could use it more. Maybe I could make some windows in my mental fortress or something?
Hey, look! It’s a window!
Everyday Moira and I would go out and snap photos of all the activities at camp. Every night we’d send the film back with a courier to get it developed. Mr. John-boy wasn’t there. He had to work and take care of the other children while Terra was heading up the effort at camp. But he did send us daily notes on the photos we were taking. “Need to get closer,” one comment read. “Aren’t there any more pranks,” said another? Moira and I were conscientious to make adjustments as directed and our photography improved markedly over the course of the week. (Including setting up some pranks of our own, cameras at the ready.)
Thursday came. Mr. John-boy came up to help us assemble the slide show for the following evening. He brought with him the developing supplies so we could finish the last few golden images right up there on the mountain… in the woods… in the dirt. Well, there was a kitchen building of sorts and that’s where we did it.
Consequently, Moira and I were out madly snapping last-minute photos of this-person-and-that whom we just hadn’t represented enough. Meanwhile, Mr. John-boy secured surround-sound stereo speakers to the trees in the clearing and set up the magic-projector-train (MPT) – at least that’s what I call it. Six slide projectors lined up in a row, two per screen, with a master dissolve unit hooked into each one: that’s the MPT. And the concept is something close to this (see diagram). It’s a tremendous mess. Thank goodness for the digital age!
Our job for the last 24 hours of camp was to coherently assemble however many hundreds of photos we had taken into exactly 480 slides, matched and locked with our pre-assembled soundtrack, and programmed into the master slide dissolver. Oh, and there was not a computer in sight. All of this was done in a tent on a lightboard by hand.
It was so AWESO00000ME! The six projector set-up allowed us to project panoramically between two mammoth pines. Think, “IMAX”. As Mr. John-boy had wreathed us in surround stereo, the music from The Cars, Mr. Mister, The Bangles, A-ha*… and us – our voices! Moira and I – echoed through the trees and over the lake. The girls screamed and laughed and cheered. “Again, again,” they chanted! So we showed it again, much to everyone’s consummate delight.
I Thank God for life’s little victories.
Terra was ecstatic. Every face there had a smile. We all went home as movie stars with our 15 minutes of fame safely in our back pockets. Mr. John-boy was eager to give all the credit to Moira and I. He looked exhausted, but happy.
And I? I’m still looking through that window Mr. John-boy gave me: not the same one, but the idea is still there. He changed my life. You really can’t honestly say that about very many people. But he had the audacity to think outside the box; to do a good deed for the wife he loved; to believe in a couple of quiet girls whose potential he saw; and in the process, to touch scores of lives. And as far as I’m concerned, to completely alter the course of one.
Good night, Terra Mater. Good night, Moira.
Good night, John-boy.
*This video from A-ha was truly amazing in its day! Unique and groundbreaking, they were ahead of their time with this kind of mixed medium. (And it doesn’t hurt that Morten Harket is hotter than ever.) This video still gives me chills every time I watch it.