Friday, April 13, 2007

Thunderbolt kids - Who the Hell is Bill Bryson?

A couple of months ago I finally got around to reading Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I say 'finally got around to' because as soon as it was published I intended to read it for two reasons: first, I have read some other of Bryson's books, and rather enjoyed them; and second BB and I grew up more or less in the same time and the same place, and I wanted to run his memories past my own.

Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa wasn't in itself particularly breathtaking ... Iowa for most of the world is a long way from anywhere ... and Des Moines doesn't figure particularly high on any scale of newsworthyness.

In a sense neither was the post WWII era of the late 40's and 50's particularly breathtaking nor newsworthy. Coming in the wake of the war years, it didn't seem dramatic. Coming before the Swinging 60's it didn't seem colorful.

When I first came across a book by Bryson, I was interested to note that he, like me, grew up after the war in Des Moines, Iowa; and the he, like me, was an expatriot American living in Europe. How could it be that I never ran into BB during all those years? I knew everybody of interest in DM, didn't I? Was it all because BB grew up south of and I north of Grand Ave. (the great social devide in DM west)? But no, my peer-group and my family sphere came from all over town both north and south of Grand Ave, and East and West of the DM river.

In the wake of my Roosevelt High, class-of-'64 40th anniversary reunion [of course I didn't actually travel all the way from Oslo to the reunion] I exchanged some emails later with my old gang, and enquired about BB ('who the hell is this Bill Bryson, anyway?'). Rosy Ransom was the only one who responded, and she said: "You know ... he's Betty Bryson's little brother". But who the hell was Betty Bryson? All the girls in DM those days had alliterative double initials: RR (Rosy Ransom), KK (Katie Kasten), LL (Laura Lemon), LL (Linda Lee), MM (Marlys Meyers), BB (Betty Bjork), BB (Barbara Britton), BB (Betty Bryson). Still, no bells rang.

At sixty, I consider a 54-year old to be 'my age.' I was born in 1946 and BB in 1952, six years later. For a 16-year-old, no 10-year-old is a peer, nor vice versa. The chances of their paths ever consciously crossing are minimal, no matter how much they move around in the same space. If they keep moving in that space long enough (say, 44 years) the chances become much larger, because the peer potential increases in direct proportion to the ratio δ : α where δ = age difference and α = total age. [Thereby, the peer potential between a 10-yr-old and a 16-yr-old is about 4, while between a 54-yr-old and a 60-yr-old is about 20]

So just because BB and SM were born six years apart, and as adults didn't stay put in DM, there is virtually no way they could have known each other.

...Pity, I think I might have liked the guy.

1 comment:

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