Virtual fish and flying Fords

Aug 6th, 2013 | By | Category: Personal Columns

It is a while since a serious conversation with a six year old, a while since encountering world where anything is possible, a while since a magical realism worthy of the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Why shouldn’t the digital fish in a virtual aquarium live on a diet of postmen? Why shouldn’t a line of cars across the carpet constitute a traffic jam so long that the police must come and arrest the driver at the front?

Of course, if we have ever had such thoughts since the age of six, we are hardly going to admit it. The American writer Garrison Keillor understands those thoughts that we have in childhood days, that we are never going to repeat in our adult years, and certainly not if anyone is going to laugh at us about what we tell them. Keillor reassures us that we aren’t the only ones to have had such ideas.

Clarence Bunsen, one of the most loveable of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon characters captures a moment that has about it a familiar feel:

“Anything that ever happened to me is happening to other people,” says Clarence. “Somewhere in the world right now, a kid is looking at something and thinking, ‘I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.’ And it’s the same thing that I looked at forty years ago, whatever it was.”

If that is true and our lives are being lived over and over by others, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

If that is true, somewhere a boy rides next to his father in a car, his eyes level with the top of the dashboard, and pulls back slightly on the window crank which lowers the wing flaps and makes the Ford rise toward the clouds. He tests this principle with his right hand out the window, feeling the lift. He sees that the clouds are following this car; so is the sun. The car is under his power and is the center of the world”.

Are there not countless kids who had such thoughts, or similar ones? The world is a magical place where reality has not yet crushed the power of imagination, where a big old Ford car can become an aircraft soaring through the sky. Anything is possible in the realms of the imagination; the unexpected, the unlikely, the absurd, they are all acceptable. All around the world there are kids whose imaginations can take them on the same flights. Keillor captures those possibilities, those speculations, in a unique way.

And there is reassurance as well in Clarence Bunsen’s reflections. “It’s the same thing I looked at forty years ago”, he says. There is a continuity in childhood experience.

Conversation with a six year old is a reminder that Fords can fly and that virtual fish dine on imaginary postmen, and that any version of reality is possible.


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