Your Sunday Brunch Special: Grow up, Superboy

Way back in the deeps of time, I was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal. It was the end of summer, and the weedy bank was playing hide and seek with some bright afternoon sunlight trying its best to filter through the leaves of an old elm tree.

When I say “end of summer,” I mean school was about to start—five more days of freedom. The thing is, I was stuck in a crevice of time. My friends, the kids I had found a place with, were all a bit younger. Those kids were still in elementary (primary) school, whereas I was starting middle school (in fact, junior high school). A trick of birthdays and school deadlines put me in the way of a buzzsaw that would inevitably cut my friendships asunder. Not only that, the grade school had a different start date than my new fief of educational thralldom. They were already suited up in the new jeans and stiff-keep-your-shirt-tucked-in button up the center first day of school clothing prisons.

Winding the clock back a bit from the weedy bank, when you were leaving the haven that is those first grades of school, it seemed like the teachers always got such pleasure from informing you that “you’re not a baby anymore!” “There will be homework and term papers and cigarette smoke in your lungs!” Ok, not the smoke, though it seemed like a lot of them smoked in the alley behind the teacher’s lunch room.

“I know what it means to hide your heart from a long time ago
It keeps you runnin’, yeah it keeps you runnin’
It keeps you runnin’, yeah it keeps you runnin'”

My pals faced none of this. It didn’t really matter though. Summer vacation was starting, and that last day of school was like coming up from being trapped in 200 feet of water for nine months. Waking up that first day of summer vacation . . . but I digress. It was the end of summer, and I was alone. Alone in a spot that I normally shared with a few mildly twisted persons like myself. But now there was nothing but the breeze, the water, and the tree leaves rustling, seeming to whisper things like, “change is coming—you won’t ever be doing that stuff again—the stuff you did this summer—that’s over with—you’re not a child anymore—don’t bother dreaming about being a superhero, or Tarzan of the Apes (I held on to that one for a few years—even toying with the idea of running away from home to Africa)—or reading those silly comic books.”

Not a baby anymore. A shadow had fallen across my path. My path of life. The ever darkening shadow of growing up. It wasn’t fun, not in the least. I think I even pondered what it might be like to have to buy gasoline for a car. Terror.

I get gathered up by whiffs of orchestral wanderings sometimes. If you want to know what triggered this thought-spray, it was a very short but to me poignant Mark Snow composition called “Grow up Superboy” that I have in a playlist.

It’s nothing so grand as John William’s “Leaving Home” (also a favorite) but for me there’s just something embedded there that reminds me of that day in the field when I realized that these episodes of being tossed from the train into a desert weren’t over. I would always be alone in some fundamental sense, grazing the surface of the unknown in some way or other. And so it has been. Can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed the anticipation that much.

Postscript. I’ve been sitting here honestly wondering if all that really happened by the canal in the field, and I don’t know. I do know that the thoughts are old, and capture something of what things were like in those days. That’s memory for you.


  1. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Bill. My experience was a little different, but you’ve still captured that moment when childhood isn’t really quite childhood any more.

  2. Jason, I probably made it sound like all fear and no fun. Mostly there was some anxiety. Super introvert and all. Lots of kids I knew seemed happy to leave childhood behind.

  3. Does this post in some way reflect your anxiety in retiring from BYU?

  4. Moving. My earliest memory is from the day before I started kindergarten, back in the olden days when starting school in early August would have been considered a violation of the social compact. Anyway, I was swinging on the swing when my sister approached me and said “I hope you are enjoying your last day of freedom.” Thirteen years seemed like an awful long time back then.

  5. iAlex, no, not at all. Although that is certainly a transition. However, aside from the anxiety of having to prepare for classes, not much has changed there. I still work in my research group, I still have a couple of offices on campus, and I still hide out in the library!

  6. This mesmerized me. I can relate. And that last paragraph had me thinking of Proust.

  7. Peterllc: Exactly.

    Thanks John f.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I was a huge Tarzan fan when I was a boy, and I read all of the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novels (both the 24 official ones and some of the unofficial ones as well.)

  9. So that’s where you were hiding when some of us needed help in 312. :)

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Yep. Good stuff, WVS.

  11. Wow, this resonates due to a similar experience. I was about 13, alone at a place special to me. I buried something in the ground for me to retrieve later….once I felt reconciled to whatever I was feeling? I’ve taken my own kids back to that spot several times, but haven’t felt like digging yet.

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