Nostalgia is a comfortable blanket to pull over our heads in troubled times. It also makes it hard to breathe fresh thoughts. So, only in moderation.

For most Americans, April 8 is infinitely less notable for the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher than for that of Annette Funicello. Who wouldn’t rather celebrate a cheerful young Mouseketeer than remember an abrasive, nasally politician?

Television was a fickle form of magic on the reservation when I was a little kid. Our aluminum aerial at the back of the house was wired to the top of a tall, spindly lodgepole pine, the kind used for teepee sticks. Mom hollered instructions out a window as Dad stood in the snow rotating the pole a millimeter at a time.

“You had it for a second – go back! There it is! No – too far, go back the other way!” Dad was like an ever-optimistic medieval monk hoping for a sign from heaven as the signal came and went, even while the incessant wind fought to turn the aerial into a weathervane. Our two stations came from different towns 70 miles and 125 miles away, so changing the channel meant going through this tuning process each time.

The original Mickey Mouse Club was already in reruns by the time I was watching in 1963, at age 6, but the Mouseketeers were still in every sense actual fellow children to my generation. They were somehow made all the more real because I could only catch occasional glimpses of their adventures through the static and rolling picture-frame of a black-and-white television. It wasn’t entertainment but a documentary that had been ricocheted out into space and captured by Daddy’s mysterious latticework of aluminum tubes in the air. It was a guide from a distant world about how kids like me were supposed to live.

Dad was in the business of making things happen in ways that were invisible to us. So cancellation of the show didn’t get in his way when I scrawled a letter requesting membership in the club. How he managed it – whether it just required a 5-cent stamp or hours on the phone – I’ll never know. But, endless weeks of waiting later, my member card showed up. The benefits have never ceased.

Just the other night, I dreamt of rescuing a half-drowned colt from a creek, in the company of kids who were a shifting mélange of Annette, Cubby O’Brien, Sherry Alberoni and other dauntless Mouseketeers.

Annette was an “older woman” on the show, from my perspective. But she reminded me of my cousin Mary – equally pretty, vivacious and smart – the kind of teenager who might actually enjoy playing with a first-grader rather than resent it. If the true-life Annette was ever involved in any scandal bigger than allowing her bellybutton to be shown on a beach movie, I’m unaware of it. Please don’t tell me otherwise.

Sherry Alberoni was a far less famous Mouseketeer, but closer to my age. When I stole my first kiss on the Mill Creek Elementary playground that same year, it was from a girl as cute as Sherry. I’m aspirational, if nothing else. Via the awesome power of Wikipedia as a trivia-research tool, it appears Sherry’s still alive, long happily married to a doctor, and is an enthusiastic charity volunteer. Another Mickey Mouse Club success story.

Sherry went on to appear in another of my life-shaping TV shows, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Either because the channel it was on didn’t come in at our house or because Mom and Dad considered it too scary for us, we only got to watch it at Uncle Tom’s house. In the way of first-graders, I was sure my uncle must somehow be affiliated with these crime-fighting secret agents.

In the episode “The Alexander the Great Affair,” Agents Solo, Illya and an innocent bystander were dangled over a “bottomless pit.” For some reason  – keep your Freudian theories to yourself! – this has recurred in my imagination countless times in the past half century. I even tried to dig one at about age 8, declaring victory after four feet.

Innocence and adventure are inexorably linked for me. Meeting each day with fresh eyes, open to possibility. Or so I aspire. “Who’s the leader of the Club that’s made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!”


Matt Winters is the editor of Chinook Observer and Coast River Business Journal.

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