We've had a couple talks in the past dealing with idealism. Youthful innocence is in essence idealism. This lack of worldly experience or sophistication lets a child be a child, without all the encumbrances and cares of the adult. Those children without innocence, or who have lost their idealism prematurely, have not been allowed, for whatever reason, to just be a child.
I have been trying to think back and understand where in life I lost my innocence. I can't put my finger on a single episode, but think mostly it was an evolution of sorts.
It may have started when my older brother confided there really wasn't a Santa Claus, that our parents were the ones who placed presents under the tree. I remember mulling over that thought for a while before asking him if that meant the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny weren't real either. That day I broke from the earthly bonds of pure innocence, and started on my journey of self actualization, and a growing independence. What else did I believe that was not true?
I think it interesting that a children's story gives us a metaphor for innocence we use to describe an innocent or gullible person. In the book Pollyanna, by Eleanor Hodgman Porter, we are introduced to Pollyanna Whittier. In the book, everyone is taken by her cheerful and infectious optimism. Pollyanna loses that innocence through some dark events, and spends a great deal of the story trying to regain her idealism not her innocence, as that can never be regained.
Of course a child is a Pollyanna. They put their faith in the wisdom and teachings of their protectors, usually their parents. We tell our kids little white lies to protect that innocence. Our kids believe us with that blind faith, like Pollyanna before she lost her innocence. In a normal life, that idealism is peeled away a layer at a time, not unlike peeling an onion. For some, it takes longer than others. My youngest sister was sheltered more than the rest of us, and we used to call her Pollyanna well into young adulthood. I was one of the oldest, and being a boy, was around my dad and uncles on outdoor type adventures, so I gave up my Pollyanna ways earlier in my life than she.
Once a year, my dad used to take me on an exotic fishing trip. Several different years, we went to a remote outpost on a good sized lake in North Central Ontario. The name of the lake was Little Vermillion. There were no roads to our log cabin on Lake Vermillion, at least not back then. We drove as far north as the roads went, which was Red Lake. From there, we took a bush plane, which was equipped with pontoons. The planes of Central Ontario Airlines were moored, just like boats, next to wooden docks on Red Lake. Some of them had single engines, and some of them were big yellow, twin propped planes called Beavers.
On one of the first trips, as was usually the sport, the rookies, or first timers were to become the brunt of the jokes and setups of my father and my uncles. This time, it was my brother and me who were the rookies. I lost a lot of my innocence that trip. I left a small part of my idealism up there in the north woods. It all started at those docks on Red Lake.
The pontoons on the aircraft looked a lot like the pontoons on a boat with that name. On the planes, there are inspection hatches, or metal circles about a foot in diameter which are integrated into the pontoon sides. My father had my brother and me convinced they were going to take the screws out of those hatches, and because there wasn't enough room in the plane, that's where we had to ride. I know my brother fretted a bit that we had to ride in those pontoons and kept asking dad if we really had to ride there. Dad kept up the charade until shortly before we left. I remember being resigned that we were going to ride there, and was actually looking forward to the thrill. I was always more of a thrill seeker than my brother. Needless to say, we all packed into that small plane, and took off from Red Lake; we didn't really have to ride in the pontoons. Flying just over the tops of the trees, we flew the 40 some miles to our cabin. But the setups for the rookies continued.
We always caught a mess of walleye. My dad was the cook. I was to learn this trip my dad had a special indoctrination for the rookies involving a loaf of fish. He would take a piece of bread, cut off the crust, and then cut the bread into the shape of a filet. Into the batter, then into the frying pan it would go.
I will have to admit I ate that fish with gusto. He was laughing hysterically while we ate the bread. So was my uncle Bill; he had already been the rookie the previous year. They got me to admit it was the best fish I had ever eaten. When my dad asked, laughing the entire time, if I had found any bones in that fish, I lied and said I had. I didn't want him to think he was that good a cook or fileter; that's just my nature. That just got my uncle and dad laughing all the more. Yes, I ate an entire loaf of fish that day.
There were several other episodes that trip. They had my brother convinced there were bears up near the outhouse. I think he held it for several days. Maybe my brother dismissed with his Pollyanna tendencies that trip too.
Those trips were really fun. My dad did have his comeuppance that trip however. In a week, when the plane arrived to pick us up to go home, we loaded all of our gear into the plane and started to taxi to the middle of the lake. The pilot shut down the throttle and looked at my dad, "OK; tell me where the rocks are." My dad turned the whitest I've ever seen him, and he threw a minor fit that the pilot didn't know where the rocks were. It was his turn to fret. I think he held his breath until we finally lifted from the water in that nearly overloaded bush plane. He finally took a breath when we just barely cleared the tops of the trees at the lake edge. I do remember the next year we flew in one of the twin engine Beavers.
Until next time-
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.