a sampling of early chapters of simply revland: how to succeed in life despite yourself

simply revland: the early years

Ah yes . . . the 1950s. For those who had the pleasure, or opportunity, to grow up during that period, I’m sure you can all relate:

  • 5 cents for a Milky Way.
  • No Internet.
  • Low crime.

Life was simple and things moved at a much slower pace. 

And as much as I’d like to remember symbolically picking up this piece of wood as a two-year-old in 1955, my earliest authentic memory as a child was kindergarten at Jefferson Municipal Grade School, tucked away in a cozy blue collar neighborhood, a middle-class community where most folks struggled to make ends meet.

My folks worked hard to provide for the four of us. We didn’t ask for much knowing that. We survived on home-cooked meals and hand-me-down clothing, and on Friday nights we all gathered around our back yard fire pit listening to my dad, Cletis, play his harmonica.

Oh my.

My first day of kindergarten was also my older sister Catherine’s first day as a Journalism student at UND. I missed her desperately, as she certainly wouldn’t have allowed me to wear a Bat Masterson outfit to school for the first month. I guess I thought it was cool . . . even though my older brother Paul wouldn’t properly admit we were in any way related.

Evenings and weekends were spent canvassing my parents' 50-by-150 plot of land that our house was centered on, and what I could possibly do with it (with my parents' permission, of course). I started to dream big, as this was how my brain worked. I was a dreamer. And it didn’t take me long to realize that the educational curriculum I desired was not necessarily available to me, because whatever I was reading in class was not being absorbed and/or registering in my head.

To this day . . . at the age of 67, I have yet to read a book. Am I embarrassed? Certainly not. But how does one survive in a world full of knowledge without having read a book?

Did I mention that I was a dreamer? Oh yeah . . . two or three times.

simply revland: the magical mystery door

In 1960, as a 7-year-old, I was beginning to understand my parents . . . and perhaps they were on the road to figuring me out as well. However, on numerous occasions, I could overhear them talking about me in Norwegian, which usually meant I was in serious trouble, or I had them so perplexed that it caused them to speak in tongue. Regardless, if I had a nickel for every time this occurred, I could have afforded a book on translating Norwegian to English. I guess I was a handful, or perhaps they thought me to be possessed in some way.

Like many of my fellow classmates, I was a “latchkey” kid. I have researched the long-term effects on children who eventually turn into adults, and it has given me a better understanding on what made me tick. Therein lies the rub. I somehow, over 8 different decades, never seemed to have crossed over into adulthood, or at least this is what I’ve been told by many of my adult friends and family members (including my wife). Another side effect of being a latchkey kid is retaining a profound sense of personal independence. That being said, I viewed this attribute as a blessing because . . . quite frankly . . . I had plans. Really big plans.

I desperately despised schooling, as to me it was similar to organized religion. Growing up as a Lutheran, I was forced to memorize the Apostles Creed. Or, in a case of organized schooling, the daunting Gettysburg Address. Who in their right mind thought these things would benefit me? I obviously had other things in mind . . . being possessed as I was. Geez!

If there had been a class called Hooky, I would have aced that lying down, as I continued to excel at that very thing for 13 consecutive years. I knew I had “arrived” when my grade school principal, Mr. Melvey, paid a visit to our house and proceeded to chase me around the back yard, hoping to apprehend me . . . which to his credit, he eventually did. He fortunately did not speak Norwegian.

Teri Bach, my girlfriend, therapist,

and back-yard architectural consultant.

Getting back to the “magical mystery door." The opening, under the front porch, led to approximately 200 square feet of Alice in Wonderland for me, as its contents provided everything I needed to paint my canvas . . . which was my back yard, my solace, my security blanket. I was a child with a dream, with plans, as well as time on his hands. Hands that eventually, and consequently, proved to be my instruments of joy as well as success in life.

simply revland: the fort

" . . . if it only had an escalator"

According to Webster, a fort is a place that’s made strong and secure. It can also be a fortress or a fortification.

But for a child, it can simply be a patchwork quilt held up by clothespins or a large cardboard box turned upside down. Simplicity, as a 7-year-old, seems like the most logical route toward a satisfactory outcome, unless you have a treasure trove of raw material beneath the front porch, and a blueprint leading toward a continuation of solitude and independence. In other words . . .

a clubhouse made for one.

I really had no intention of creating some sort of Taj Mahal, as this blog post might suggest. I had yet to develop any skills, or pretentious visions of grandeur, but I had a hammer, a hand saw, some used nails, and a plethora of 2 by 4’s, plywood, used siding, and some shingles, all waiting for me behind the magical mystery door. As long as I could slap up 4 walls, and a pitched roof, I was good to go, until my vision of a pot belly stove, complete with chimney, invaded my skull full of mush. Winter was approaching and, if I didn’t want to envision “hooky” as a seasonal sport, this source of heat was imperative.

Now, when I think of my parents, Cletis and Edna, I’m reminded of the long-running “Peanuts” comic strip series. Ageless children ― Charlie Brown, Linus, Pigpen, and Lucy ― somehow living in a world void of adult chaperones . . . no parents, no supervision. What a beautiful premise it is and was . . . as it was perfectly indicative of my life experience. How could they not reign me in? I mean . . . really . . . installing a crude furnace in a backyard fort as a 7-year-old? Seriously? Perhaps they knew something I wasn’t aware of. Perhaps they saw me as a special needs child, someone who potentially required additional skills of self-preservation.

How could he survive as an adult without a proper education?

I’m sure they were praying that my behavior was like a passing storm. That I would “grow” out of this enigma-laced space in time. Little did they know.

The Revland Clubhouse, in my mind anyway, was a huge success. I eventually allowed one member to join: my friend Beaver, who lived down the block.

He understood me . . . as he was also a bit nutty. One memory I had was he and I having a good laugh over the shack’s lack of an escalator, something he and I worshipped at the Fargo downtown Broadway Woolworth's store.

Photo Credit: NDSU Library

in closing . . .

. . . the clubhouse was a fortuitous prelude to each backyard project, and just a stepping stone toward developing the skill sets required for future success. I had more plans.

Next up? A multilevel tree house. Read on.