Ever articulate Gordon Solie, with Mr. Wrestling Two and One.
Steely Jones, the little girl in this picture, turned nine the day I wrote this...the day Baja hosted the strongest quake in eighteen years, to my personal experience and interest, here in San Diego. Her father, my childhood friend T.J., inspired me to begin this very blog, upon finding and immediately rekindling our friendship last year.
He remembers the household I describe here well, with a fondness for its stability that reflects in his own that he and wife Fonda (hello!) provide for Stormy here. Well, just as his household is held together by the ritual of watching Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, my own seemed to hinge upon the programming of WTBS.
On this Earthquake Easter, I'd spent the afternoon reading about a passion that consumed my Dad's attention every Saturday evening (and other times in the week after I left home) as surely as costumed cut-ups consumed my own: professional wrestling. If you are not from the South, you may only know, and perhaps with derision or fondness, depending, the national wrestling proffered by Vince McMahon and company...but thanks to satellite TV and syndication, the Super Station, home to the Atlanta Braves and constant sixties sitcoms, also carried our region's brand of "rasslin'." Athleticism and strength, without which Southern masculine culture would be impossible to recognize, met colorful personalities and well-worked angles (story lines) about confrontation and triumph, a sort of emotional release valve to the tempers and frustrations and limitations encountered in daily life. Sometimes that valve reflected some very real life leaking, as actual violence and the threat of violence of that sort seemed to lurk around every corner just outside the sights of every institution! But nobility and friendship, too, as well as grudges and fights, were just as likely to develop in the very real story lines chosen by the people you knew.
You would have to appreciate how much physicality and rough housing (and automobiles) figure into Southern culture in the late twentieth century, a place still filled with bar fights and confrontations waiting beyond the peace of every country road. It's still a place where some men retire from these things to take their families to church, an institution nearly as basic as having a bathroom or a kitchen in the lives of those who lived in any way outside "the ways of the world"...a world that waited around every corner, with loud cars as ubiquitous as mosquitoes across the humid summer air.
While churches gathered to celebrate other emotions, sometimes with drinks of eternally quenching waters, and sometimes with righteous fire, a world of passions most unpredictable, a world of the unexpected, a world of laughter and loudness and restlessness and wrestling principalities waited beyond the cut grass and late sunsets.
For all that, you learn later, the places with volume were far less frightening places to be than the ones hidden, unspeakable, without voice, and also, without safety. Raising their two kids where one could find a little space without sounds (except nature), but without harm as well, must have seemed some degree of success to my parents. What they could offer us of the world beyond that, was in the hands of God, if anyone at all. The safest place I could be, however much I might grumble over Dad's Virgo-like gruffness and introspection and dominance, was beside his lounge chair and spit cup for his tobacco juice. If I didn't like that, I was welcome, if not instructed, to go play outside.
So today, I revisited the world of my roots, with names like Wildfire Tommy Rich, whose Winnebago was parked outside a place we ate on vacation once, and Mr. Wrestling number two. I have to mention him a moment, as he was an especially big favorite: a masked good guy? All right!!! Boy was I confused by his turn as a heel (bad guy role), explained patiently by my Dad. "I still like him, Daddy," I said. "Lot of people still like him," he said, spitting Levi Garrett juices. "They do that sometimes. They get mad, they play the bad guy." "Is he still good?" "Well, he's decided not to be, but he probably will be again one day." "When?" "When he's ready! Just watch it, son!
Redemption, villainy. It wasn't like in the cartoons, it was about factors I didn't understand, like all real adults...though you couldn't help but implicitly trust some of them, root for them, just because, however much you might hate them for one thing, there's too much time spent identifying with them to really see them, in the end, as so bad a guy.
So many names, today: Ole & Arn Anderson, Bret "the Hitman" Hart, the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes; Ric Flair, the Junkyard Dog, Big Chief Wahoo McDaniel, Nikita Koloff, the Road Warriors (Animal and Hawk!) Ricky Steamboat, Tully Blanchard, Jake the Snake Roberts, the Midnight and Rock and Roll Expresses...Sting...Lex Luger (yes, a play on the Superman villain's name), Roddy Piper, and yes, a couple of dozen more I'd not pictured in a couple of decades...household names used in countless jokes around the house, like Andre the Giant...a number that came along, like the Rock, after I was married (young!!!) and too serious a thinker to sit but rarely with my old man and his shirtless, sweating, hammy, saliva-flecked promisers of pain. On a day when my complex shook like a canvass during a "suplex", I relived my imitations of announcer Gordon Solie as I would play out weird mish-mashes of comic book characters and wrestlers and men created on the spot in the back yard, hardly giving thought to how fortunate I was to have a back yard, a place where my imagination ran wild, unmolested, while some of my cousins lived on crowded streets in apartments that smelled of cigarettes, even if we all ate the same Hamburger Helpers...
I realized sharing my sudden nostalgia for the wrastlers might strike a chord in the roots of many of my American friends...it probably makes some kind of kinship with other cultures, as well, since it is not terribly difficult to comprehend. It serves not only to put us in touch with the loved ones of those days, and perhaps, a sense of belonging we may have taken for granted. From those feelings and memories emerges a re-invention of those innocent selves we once were---not morally perfect, were there such a thing available, but rather, innocent of experience, still grasping and questioning, yet full of imagination, and perhaps, hope. That re-invented self seems most useful in generating a knowledge of a wholeness we possess, the form of which often appears a secret.
I think those nice, peaceful days we are given are secret gifts to reflect upon the moral compass we hold, and the stunning beauty revealed by a world, whatever its flaws, when we follow a genuine certitude that connects the moments of our inner life as a coherent path that threads the strongholds of our greatest fears, through this life, our integrity protected as cargo, protected across stormy seas, until it reaches the harbor of its greatest appreciation.
Wow, thanks! Every individual reader shapes the words that flow from needs beyond my ken. These, I share with gladness, for by that philosophy, they are yours as well as mine.
Take care, Cecil