Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ophelia Redux

As I was sitting here trying to think of a topic for this blog, my mind…I suspect with some ulterior motive of its own…presented me with the picture of Jean Simmons as Ophelia in the 1948 movie of Hamlet (Laurence Olivier played Hamlet). Gone utterly mad, she wanders beside a stream, idly picking flowers, her eyes indicating that no one is home.Singing little snatches of song, she makes a garland of flowers for her hair, then, totally unaware, she falls into the water and floats gently downstream on her back, oblivious to her fate. But she’s happy.

Knowing my mind as I do, I took the scene as a clear metaphor for my blog-writing. There are as many topics for a blog as there were flowers along Ophelia's stream, and I pick them as randomly as she did.

I seem at the moment to be in a small patch of lovely little 1940s (they come in a variety of shades). I don’t even have to bend over to pick one. It is of our tiny house on Blackhawk Avenue on Rockford’s far-from-fashionable south side. (Of course it was my parents’, but I always thought of everything they had as mine, and they never dissuaded me from that belief.) The front door of the house led into a small, narrow living room, painted green as I recall, with only one window, other than the one in the door. On the right-side wall of the room, about three-quarters of the way down….maybe eight feet…were two doors; the first to my parents’ bedroom, the other to mine. My room was only large enough for a single bed and a dresser. I don’t think there was a closet. Across from my room was a large brown metal oil heater with a stove pipe running from the back to close to the ceiling, where it bent and vented to the outside. This was the primary source of heat for the house. The oil was kept in two large drums behind the garage, and I assume there were pipes which ran between them and the house to supply fuel to the heater. Between the oil heater and my room was a large opening into the kitchen. We got our water from a well equipped with an electric pump which, when it elected to go out, necessitated my dad crawling down into a wood-covered pit beneath the living room’s only window. This usually happened in winter, of course.

For the first couple of years we lived there, we had no bathroom. There was an outhouse in the back yard. It simply never occurred to me that we might be considered either deprived or poor. It is simply the way things were, and much of the nation lived as we did.

When my folks could afford it, they built a room off the side of the kitchen which became my bedroom. My former bedroom became a bathroom.

I remember lying in my bedroom with my comic books when my folks weren’t home, tracing pictures of Superman and Captain Marvel and Batman and Robin, only I would trace them as being naked (easy enough to do, since they always wore skin-tight uniforms anyway), which provided an early-teen boy with far more heat than the living room oil burner could ever have produced. To avoid being caught, when I finished with them, I would slide them into a crack under my window sill, where they would usually fall between the walls. I often wondered what might have happened had, in the course of the house’s eventually being demolished, someone had found them all. Unfortunately, that speculation was never realized, since the house burned several years later.

We lived there from the time I entered third grade through seventh or eighth grade. I learned to ride a bike there, and we planted a tree which is still, to the best of my knowledge there though the house is gone and only an empty lot remains.

And you see? I’ve picked only one flower! There are fields and fields of them, just waiting to be picked. If I can only avoid falling into that stream…

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (


Eric Arvin said...

What a lovely reminiscence! Love the comic book stealth. I did something similar. And what a cute photo!

Btw, my absolute favorite Ophelia on film is Helena Bonham-Carter in Zefferelli's version. Girl has crazy down!

Kage Alan said...

Lovely, sir. Quite lovely. And they say you can never go home again. You just did. =)