Imagine if you will, the previous day’s reading assignment was a excerpt from a James Fenimore Cooper novel. The main character was none other than Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Bumppo of the Leatherstocking Tales. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Cooper’s work(s), here’s a tiny bit of character background. Natty was a Caucasian boy who grew up among Delaware Indians but was educated by Moravian Christians. As he became an adult, Natty was a fearsome warrior and the ‘good guy’ in the series. The books were written in the 1800’s but portrayed his character from the mid-1700’s until the early years of 1800’s. Cooper’s five book series included such classics as The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans – both of which were made into movies.
The fictitious Mr. Bumppo was characterized as living in the 1700’s and the 1800’s, so why not discuss him in the 1900’s for our English class? You know what would make this super fun? How about an oral essay report where you had bring Natty to life in your own story but still set in his time? Oh yeah, that would be a hoot! This will be especially groovy for a kid who is afraid of public speaking! Bring it on!
Now at this time in my academic career, I was how shall we say…lazy? Oh yeah, lazy. I hated to read ‘good’ literature. I really hated looking for symbolism and alliteration. Absolutely (bleeping) hated it! I did not care one iota about the subject matter or symbolism. Tell me a story, make it interesting and skip all of the snooty subtext. Do that and we are cool.
Now it is the late hours of night and the oral report is due tomorrow. My attitude towards what needed to be done was pitiful and unproductive. I had skimmed the excerpt and was unimpressed. Based on the portion I read, I took a guess on how the story was going to unfold and was even more apathetic. Sitting in front of my Commodore computer’s keyboard and staring at a blank word processor page on the monitor screen, I was stumped. But then as luck would have it, the music Gods interceded to dispel my writer’s-block.
Normally for this kind of homework, I would have my cassette radio tuned to local radio station 103.3 KHTR, but on this night I was playing a cassette tape I had purchased recently. That tape was Def Leppard’s Hysteria. Their slow song ballad Love Bites was fading out and after a few seconds of tape hiss: STEP INSIDE, WALK THIS WAY, YOU AND ME BABE, HEY HEY! The tune was upbeat and sure to be one of the band’s upcoming releases. I was already hooked.
Lacking any real inspiration for Natty, I grabbed some Def lyrics and set out to make Natty more cool. Full disclosure: I do not have the original essay piece I wrote or remember exactly how long the assignment said to make it but I think it was in the neighborhood of at least a paragraph and needed to be three to four minutes. So…I plopped Natty down in a remote portion of the jungle with a spear and a tune in his head.
Inevitably, the next day came. When English class arrived, I know I was not the first person to read but I also remember that I wasn’t the last. I do recall almost having my heart beat out of my chest while waiting to be called upon to step in front of the firing squad, er…the class. When my turn to read was finally at hand, I stood up and um’d and popped my tongue through my 3-ish minutes of torture.
Natty was alone in the forest. It was a part of the forest he was not all that familiar with but he continued down a path that was barely there. He had his favorite spear in hand so that made him feel a little bit more safe. Nearby, a tree was oozing yellowish sap. Some sort of animal had clawed away some of the stickiness. In Natty’s head he started singing:
Pour some sugar on me, oooh, in the name of love. Pour some sugar on me, come on fire me up!
More words came to mind and he tried to remember them all as he walked faster trying to get to the next settlement. This song could be on the lips of every song singer if he could make it to the settlement without getting killed. Everyone would know is his name and sing his praises for this tune. The jungle closed behind him as moved swiftly down the path and out of view of this storyteller.
There was a bit more to the story but this was the portion I recalled. Needless to say, my English teacher was none too impressed. She did commend me on being creative with injecting a bit of music into my idea but said it did not match up with the character’s priorities and established traits…blah blah blah. She said other stuff and I got a C+. But that event in time has stuck out to me as a point where I began to get interested in creativity and telling stories. The creative license given to writers is pretty phenomenal, I’m just saying.
You may be asking, what sparked this trundle down memory lane? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe it was someone drinking a Natural “Natty” Light beer or maybe someone on Twitter referenced Natalya “Natty” Neidhart. I do not remember for sure but this marker in time started blinking and beeping in my mind. I’ve found here recently that the best way to expunge these memories and ideas is to simply write about them and then they seem to rest easy. At least this is what works for me.
If you have a similar experience you would like to share, please message me and let me know. Who knows what else we can spark?