When starting to write this blog, I thought of the old Everly Brothers hit, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” in which there is a line that says, “I’m Dreamin’ My Life Away.”
I can’t remember the name of the first creative writing instructor I had in college, but I can remember how he got me to consider writing a novel. We had just completed an assignment of writing our first short story. Mine was about a boy growing up on a Pacific Island and his adventure at taking his father’s fishing bird out in the lagoon of the coral atoll. Instead of fish for dinner, he catches and kills a shark with just a knife. I assume I must have done a good job with it, because, after reading it and the others in classes, the teacher caught me after class and asked, “Do you have any more of these stories?”
I was caught by surprise, but with little thought I replied, “Sure.” Having spent two years in the Navy flying down to small islands in the Pacific, I figured I could come up with more. “I suggest you write them, then,” he said. So I did. I wrote a couple more for that class and then, after graduation and getting a real job, I wrote every day on the 45-minute bus commute into and out of Boston. The result was The Ages of Oosig, my first novel, which to this day I am still working on publishing. And then I wrote another novel. And then I started on a third.
My intent here is not to brag that I accomplished this feat since all of them are unpublished at this loin. But I wanted to reflect on the fact that, while writing that first story, I was in college as an Electronic Engineering major, a career that I achieve only tangentially as a marketing writer for a high-tech company. I was taking the writing course as a diversion from the complexity of engineering studies. Those few words from a professor gave me a dream that I have carried with me ever since. Now that I am retired, I can work harder at making that dream a reality.
I wonder if you have similar dreams of a future unfulfilled? Is that so terrible?
Life growing up on the Oregon Coast was not like being raised in other parts of the United States. One day while I was traveling from my home in Oregon to San Jose State College where I went to school, I stopped at a Sambo’s restaurant for breakfast. I think it was in Eureka, California. You may remember it as the breakfast place whose logo was an unfortunate takeoff on The Story of Little Black Sambo and featured a black boy eating a pile of pancakes while a tiger circled him. Founders Sam Battistone, Sr. and Newell Bohnett thought it would be cute to play up the reference to the popular book by Helen Bannerman, despite the fact that they were just combining parts of their names for the restaurant.
[This might actually be a photo of the Sambo’s where I stopped, although this photo is from 1974, probably 10 years after I was there. Note the more generic logo. Out of 1200 restaurants in its heyday, only the original in Santa Barbara still exists.]
But the name is not what I’m writing about. After I ate, I was walking back to my car when I past a dusty, beatup car parked on the street. A movement in the vehicle caught my attention for a second and I glanced in as I walked past to see a large reddish-brown dog climbing over the seat. It wasn’t until I was 10 steps past that it dawned on me that it had an awfully long tail for a dog. I started back for a better look and pulled up short as a huge cat face stared out at me. It was a mountain lion, often called cougar or puma, or even panther depending on where it roams in the world.
I could see that it didn’t have a chain or collar around its neck. No, I didn’t go up and pet it. Thankfully the window was rolled up. If I had had more time, I might have waited to see who came out of Sambo’s and got into the car. But I needed to get to San Jose to pick up my roommate at the San Carlos airport.
At the time, it didn’t strike me as too odd for someone to have a mountain lion for a pet. Today, looking back, I understand why everyone I’ve told who was from outside of Oregon was amazed. But that was life in rural Oregon. In fact, my wife laughs that, while other kids had bomb scares at school in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we sometimes had cougar scares. They would infrequently be seen wandering the school grounds.
Life on the Oregon coast is still rough in many places. But that’s part of its charm. If you haven’t visited, do so. You never know what you might see.