Kissing in the woods . . .
Once a military trail, now a lovers’ lane, Flirtation Walk or Flirtie Walk was opened to West Point Military Academy Cadets and their guests in the 1840’s as one of the few places they could flirt and kiss in private. Part of the path is smooth sailing on firm ground, but there’s bumpy parts, too–perfect for falling into your guy’s arms.
In my upcoming novel, Buck Crenshaw’s romantic dreams are thwarted on one balmy evening along Flirtation Walk as the military band practices in the open air. We all know Rose Turner’s no good for Buck, but he doesn’t. A much better girl waits right under his nose, but you know young cadets. They’re silly.
Do people sneak off into the woods to make out anymore? In our town we had “The Pond” and “The Woods.” Is everyone afraid of ticks? Where did you go for secret romance?
Many a heart went pitter-patter under the arches of glorious trees . . .
Think while listening to Dick Powell sing about Flirtation Walk.
As a writer I’ve given myself the task of writing about one self-actualized person. Yes. Only one. It’s like writing about a martian in a way or maybe what it would be like to write about Custer and his charming wife Libby. I’m not self-actualized, by the way, so getting into the head of someone who is is at once a challenge and exceptionally freeing. Wow! Here’s a girl (Buck Crenshaw’s girl at the moment) who’s managed to get her basic needs met, says what needs to be said without a stammer or bone crushing guilt and has a few peak experiences along the way. Buck doesn’t know what to make of her, but he’s smiling through it all.
He’s the typical American man of the 19th century as Stephen Ambrose depicts them in Crazy Horse and Custer:
But this girl is farther up the triangle (if this really is a thing and I’m not so sure looking up from somewhere in the middle).
We’ll see what happens if you come with me through The House on Tenafly Road all the way to book five (which may actually be book four as at the moment I’m doing some heavy editing).
Grenville Dodge decides he really wants to build a railroad across a continent. No big deal. Custer throws himself headlong into crazy situations and by all accounts has a splendidly happy marriage and peak experiences galore. We can debate if he was a jerk or not or if the curls suited him. A group of girls mobbed him in the grand parade at the end of the Civil War, festooning him with flowers. His life was golden until he slipped off with some men and got them all slaughtered. Was that a peak experience or just crazy? When you read about Libby and Custer in her book Boots and Saddles you’re amazed at their bravery, good humor and love, living in tents and racing their horses. Self actualization with a cherry on top. Maybe one day I’ll go back to riding and race with reckless abandon, but for now I’ll write about Buck Crenshaw being in awe of this girl (he’s a little scared).
Anyone out there feeling self-actualized? I want to know!
West Point from Phillipstown–engraving by W. J. Bennet
One of the many reasons I gave up TV, most modern movies and modern fiction is because I was so utterly bored by the “white man as the ultimate scum” story-lines. Even if the story wasn’t directly about the scum, it was implied that for the most part white men were stupid, greedy, evil and did I mention stupid? I don’t mind writing about the occasional white dumb scum when the situation arises, but I hate jumping on bandwagons and my real experience doesn’t fit that mold anyway. Okay, all judges are now black or hispanic and all women are expert fighters. Ho hum.
Confession: I refuse to make any minority group look perfect. Perfect people are boring and unbelievable. Buck is by no means perfect. He beats up and throws a black cadet at West Point over the Palisades (well, sort of and the guy survives because it’s a small fall), but then the black cadet (Milford Streeter) is a selfish and conniving young man who uses his race to guilt Buck into doing foolish things that, let’s just say, have a negative effect on Buck’s ill-fated academy years. Neither of them are complete scum (though some say all men are scum). They are both flawed. When Buck comes down with the catarrh (a cold) Streeter gives him a home remedy his grandmother used to use–the secret ingredient being pulverized peanuts. Buck’s adverse reaction leads to a whole lot of drama for the already hated Streeter. Buck is not a racist. He comes to hate Streeter on his own terms and with some good reason (if you knew Streeter you’d understand how annoying he can be).
Then there’s a missionary later in book two who happens to be a non-practicing homosexual. (When I write I don’t censor myself) I have no idea why he had to be gay with a pretty messed up past, but there he was befriending Buck and William and causing all sorts of commotion with conversions and such. His bad past comes to light, but so does his extremely positive affects on the people around him.
And that’s the way it goes. The stupidity and selfishness of humanity comes out in different shades across the cultures, genders and sexual orientations, but in the end the flaws, the love, the generosity and the humor in all their forms are a lot more interesting than trying to force new stereotypes down people’s throats.
Inspiration for Buck’s sister Thankful Crenshaw (and what a delightful dress!)
La Parisienne by Renoir