Big Mysteries

I am forty-two years old. I state this piece of information to illustrate my childhood. We had a black-and-white television that featured four channels. The telephone was a heavy black rotary model that dialed with pulses. To call long distance, you had to speak to an operator. Radio was still big; Casey Kasem counted down the Top 40 songs in the US every week, on Sundays. I had a small, treasured collection of 45 rps singles and 33 rpm long-playing albums. All of that was the background of real life. As a child, however, the bestest thing in life was to read a book.

The school library was a hole-in-the-wall stockroom manned by an elderly lady and the student intern of the moment. I’d take my library card down every Friday and borrow as many volumes as they’d let me take out (four). For a couple of years in grade school, this was a happily endless stream of mass-produced mystery titles. I would imagine that many kids of my generation that enjoyed reading were familiar with The Hardy Boys. That wasn’t enough for me though. I’d exhausted the library’s collection of those titles. Needing more, I didn’t discriminate.

Nancy Drew. Tom Swift Jr. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators was perhaps the series I enjoyed the most, having identified with the portly leader of the trio, Jupiter Jones.

These books had one thing in common – a theme where young people either helped adults solve problems, or directly solved the problems themselves. Often the young’uns would come into direct conflict with adults. They would win.

This was all a fantasy of course. It was part of my escape, coming from a background where my father had left us and my mother had withdrawn into herself. I didn’t want for material things, but had no parenting and was left to my own devices. I attended a Chinese Catholic School, an unusual contradiction in concepts and cultures. I now understand that while the school’s rigid disciplinarian approach fit a segment of children that were prone to straying due to cultural dissonance, it framed adult supervision in a way that independent young minds resented. I was pretty good in school, but teachers never loved my attitude. It’s never a good idea to question the concept of the Catholic god in a Catholic school when you’re ten years old.

I resolved that I wouldn’t become an adult like those I had around me – parents, teachers, fictional ones in the books I read. They disappointed me. I supposed the adult ideal that I had constructed in my head was an impossible benchmark, but I didn’t care. It still affects the decisions I make today. I expect adults to be responsible, diligent, open-minded and fair, just was I wanted them to be in the 1980s. Sadly, many adults I interact with today disappoint me, just as they did in the 1980s. It’s sobering to think that ten-year old me was right about many adults, and baffling to see that many of my generation grew up with the same lack of responsibility, diligence, fairness and open-mindedness as their parents’ generation.

In the end, adulthood really has little to do with age. It’s the person that you are, or the one you’re to become.

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