Lynn Kostoff

My Misspent Youth

Lynn Kostoff
Lynn Kostoff

It is 1962. I am eight years old. My father builds me a treehouse in a crooked-limbed apple tree. When the leaves are full, the treehouse is virtually invisible from the ground. The tree is on the western border of our farm in northeast Ohio and lies in a wide shallow valley bisected by a serpentine creek.

The valley was once part of an ice mill from the 1930’s when ice was harvested, packed in sawdust, and delivered to city dwellers’ iceboxes. All that remains of the mill are the overgrown and crumbling ruins of the original dam and the creek which now runs through its center. On either bank are leaning weeping willows pulling free of the shoreline and a wandering herd of some twenty-plus Herefords.

The treehouse is small, probably no more than six feet by four, and Spartan: a chair, a bulging box of comic books, a b-b gun, and a shoebox full of arrowheads I’ve hunted down and unearthed over the past three summers.

The treehouse has one unscreened window. I sit quietly and learn to listen to the world.

Later, I felt the need to add what was missing.

It is 1962, and my second window onto the world has three black and white channels.

Combat. Route 66. Have Gun, Will Travel. Hawaiian Eye. The Untouchables. Wanted Dead or Alive. Cheyenne. Peter Gunn. Maverick. Rawhide.77 Sunset Strip. Gunsmoke. The Twilight Zone.

Saturday nights and Creature Feature: The Wolfman. Dracula. The Blob. Godzilla. Mothra. The Manster. Attack of the Killer Shrews. The Blob. The Incredible Shrinking Man. The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Treehouse to television. Television to treehouse. Comic books to purloined copies of Argosy, True, Official Detective Stories, Police Gazette.

The world outside my treehouse now had room for unsolved crimes, cattle drives, bounty hunters, World War II battles, treasure hunts, and Martians.

Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, Cannes Film Festival in 1962. Getty Images
Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, Cannes Film Festival in 1962. Getty Images

It is 1962, but on the horizon is a revolving paperback rack in a Rexall Drugstore in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania where years later I will discover Spillane, Fitzgerald, Conrad, and Cain.

In the mean time, I daydream about girls.

Most of them resemble Natalie Wood.

It is 1962, and President Kennedy is still alive for a few more months, and the Everly Brothers are on the radio, and my parents take me to see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, Hell is for Heroes, and Lonely Are the Brave.

On the horizon some twenty-five years later, I am living in Florence, South Carolina and teaching at Francis Marion University, and I am in the public library on South Irby Street on a rainy Sunday afternoon in May giving a talk on the history of the Hardboiled Detective novel in America when the woman I had been daydreaming about in 1962 without knowing I had been daydreaming about her sits down and smiles at me from the back row of chairs.

In three months, I will ask her to marry me.

Twenty-six years after that, I am sitting on the screened-in porch at our home in Florence, and it’s May, and the azaleas have passed through their temporary riot of color, and it strikes me that the view from the porch is not significantly different than the view from my treehouse.

UnknownMy routine: I get up early and stay up late. I work on the porch and continue to listen to the world. I fill up my notebooks with what’s missing and go on to draft my novels in longhand. I am not eight years old anymore, but once in a while, if I get the sentences right, I can make it feel like 1962 forever.

Lynn Kostoff is the author of A Choice of Nightmares, The Long Fall, and Late Rain. His agent is circulating a novel entitled The Work of Hands. He is completing the first working draft of another novel entitled The Headstart.

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