Having grown up in a semi-rural suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, I never viewed my childhood as unique or out-of-the-ordinary. But my wife—raised in Chicago—assures me otherwise. Largely because of her laughter and amazement over my childhood escapades and because of her prompting to do so, I’ve agreed to preserve these stories in writing. I hope you find as much enjoyment in reading them as I did living them!
Ninety percent of what I’ve put down in the following chapters actually happened. Another five percent is educated guess because I and my siblings can no longer remember the details. And literary embellishment accounts for the final five percent. I’ll let you be the judge as to which is which.
Becoming Tarzan! (Chapter One, Part One)
My brothers and I never had much time for television, other than Gilligan’s Island and Hogan’s Heroes. But late every Saturday evening the excitement among my brothers and me would build until at 10 pm Tarzan appeared on the screen! Never mind that the whole series was in black and white and that our TV screen measured only 13 inches!
We had developed quite a family tradition around Tarzan. My dad, the consummate night owl, had no problem with letting us stay up until midnight on Saturday nights—especially when it revolved around such a great athlete as Johnny Weissmuller! Johnny Weissmuller, the world-class swimmer and gymnast, played Tarzan like no other.
Leading up to Tarzan’s performance each Saturday night, we followed a well-established ritual. First, we all got into our pajamas, or if it was summer, we just stripped to our underwear. (We liked watching Tarzan in our underwear because it helped us identify better with his persona.)
Then we’d herd into the kitchen where we put a large stainless-steel pot on the stove, poured a small pool of oil into it and turned on the burner. When the oil was hot, we sprinkled in enough popcorn to just cover the bottom one layer deep. We’d cover the pot and listen for the first pop. As soon as the popcorn began to pop, we’d shake the pan vigorously back and forth over the burner to prevent the kernels from burning.
The job of shaking the pan was an honorable one that was bestowed on us like a rite of passage once we were deemed responsible. But letting the popcorn burn just once meant stepping down until we could handle the responsibility for sure.
When the popcorn stopped popping, we took it off the heat and melted butter in another small pan. We poured the melted butter generously over the popcorn and added salt. We always made enough popcorn to fill several large mixing bowls. This practice filled the house with the tantalizing aroma of fresh popped corn and heralded the coming of Tarzan.
With the popcorn ready, we’d clear the living room floor and pull in all the dining room chairs. Dad showed us that if we tipped them over, we could sit on the floor using the chair back as a recliner. This setup offered the perfect viewing position for watching Tarzan until the action grew tense. Then, during particularly energy-packed scenes my brothers and I would jump to our feet and participate in what was happening on the screen. How can a kid sit still when being charged by a rhino or wrestling a crocodile!?
In these highly charged scenes our imagination got the best of us as we jerked and punched and swung and kicked and grunted. (In fact, I’ve considered marketing the old Tarzan movies as workout videos.) My brothers and I would finish a thrilling scene like that drenched in sweat and red all over.
Sometimes our kicks and punches got a little too wild and we found we had inadvertently clocked one of our brothers. When that happened, Dad told us to settle down and sit back on the floor. We forgave each other these stray punches and kicks because we knew we hadn’t meant to hurt anyone. We simply accepted these minor injuries as part of the territory of becoming like Tarzan and Tarzan was tough. (To be continued…)