My First Phone Number

The other day the Jersey Girl and I were discussing the wonderful movie Lion, and specifically the part where a five-year-old boy, suddenly finding himself in a strange city a thousand miles from home, was unable to communicate his home town or his mother’s name — but nevertheless could fend for himself and survive for months.

Could we have done the same?  As five-year-olds, would we also have been unable to communicate to the authorities about how get us home?

rotaryphone-jpeg-size-custom-crop-755x650I’m quite sure that, at the age of five, I didn’t possess the kind of hardiness, stoicism, and long-term survival skills “Saroo” showed in Lion.  (After all, he and his brother were out stealing coal from trains and using other techniques to try to help feed their family, and I was just growing up in a small but tidy house in Akron, Ohio.)  But, I did have one thing that Saroo apparently lacked — my mother drilled all of the little Webners relentlessly, so we would memorize our names and our phone number.  Even as a small boy, I knew my name, my street, my city, and that seven-digit number that someone could call to let my parents know where I was.  And, in fact, when I went wandering around the block on one occasion, I told the nice people who found me my phone number, and they called and Mom came and got me.

Even now, 55 years later, that same phone number comes immediately to mind.  I can’t remember the phone numbers I had in my college apartments, or when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., or in our first homes after moving back to the Columbus area, but I remember that first phone number with ease.  It’s as if the drilling with Mom at the kitchen table as I ate another bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning engraved that phone number into the deepest synapses of my brain, where it can never be erased.

Of course, it’s totally useless information now — but still, it’s kind of comforting to know that I still remember something from so long ago.  Mom did a pretty good job.

Lion

Last night Kish and I went to see Lion at the Drexel.  It’s one of those independent films that lurk under the radar screen and never get shown at the local suburban multiplex — but that really have an impact, where you find yourself thinking about it hours or days later.

Lion tells the story of “Saroo,” a five-year-old boy growing up in a desperately poor family in northern India.  To help his illiterate mother, who heads the family, Saroo and his older brother Guddu steal and sell coal and look for work whenever and wherever they can.  When Saroo convinces Guddu to take him on a quest for “night work,” everything breaks down.  Saroo finds himself trapped on a train that travels more than a thousand miles and deposits him in Kolkata, where he is alone and unable to speak the local language.  He becomes one of India’s lost children.  (Shockingly, the film notes, in the closing credits, that each year 80,000 Indian children become “lost.”)

The boy doesn’t know the  correct name of his home town, or his mother, and has no way to return.  The scenes of the small yet resourceful little boy trying to eke out a life in a vast city are unforgettable and heartbreaking — yet he survives, is eventually placed in an orphanage, and is adopted by an Australian couple who later adopt another Indian boy.

Twenty years later, Saroo has grown up in a beautiful waterfront home in Tasmania and speaks English with an Aussie accent.  He begins to find himself haunted by memories of his long-lost mother and brother and an overwhelming guilt that they have been frantically searching for him for all those years.  Using Google Earth, railroad routes and estimated speeds, and a lot of maps he starts a seemingly impossible quest to find his home town — a quest that complicates his relationship with his adoptive parents, his adoptive brother, and his girlfriend.

Lion is a well acted and filmed movie, with staggeringly beautiful scenes of the Indian countryside and overwhelming scenes of little Saroo abandoned in an uncaring city.  Dev Patel is excellent as the grown up, obsessed Saroo — showing acting range far beyond the comedic roles I’ve seen him in previously — and Nicole Kidman is equally good as the strong and loving adoptive mother who resolutely tries to hold her diverse family together.  But the movie is stolen by Sunny Pawar, who plays young Paroo with a genuineness that can touch even an insensitive brute like me.

Keep an eye out for Lion and try to see it in a theater, where you can fully appreciate the cinematography and really terrific soundtrack.  And if you do, be sure to stay in your seat until the very end — when you’ll learn why the file is entitled Lion.

In Like A Lion



They say March comes in like a lamb or a lion.  In Columbus today, where more snow is falling, we’ve drawn the fierce and roaring lion.  The snowfall is making the riotous jumble of lawn furniture in our back yard look like a bad effort at modern art sculpture.

They say that March goes out the opposite way it came in.  If so, that would be fine with us.  It seems like this winter has lasted forever, and as far as we are concerned the lamb-like weather can’t get here soon enough.

Lamb, Or Lion?

It’s March — the most unpredictable weather month of the year.

IMG_3200We’re all familiar with the old saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, or vice versa.  But, which is it?  Sometimes the answer is not so clear.

Last night we had a discussion about whether, in central Ohio, March was coming in like a lion or a lamb.  The temperature was at freezing levels, with snowflakes blowing down.  I took the position that March had come in like a lion.  The alternative view was that 32 degrees and a little snow wasn’t that bad, and that you could only invoke the lion if the weather was abysmal — temperatures in the teens, raging blizzards, and so forth.  That seems like an awfully high leonine standard to me.  It’s just a lion, after all, not Godzilla or Darth Vader.

So, I’m going with the lion.  If March had come in like a lamb, it seems to me, there’d be kids on the seats of the teeter-totter at the neighborhood playground, not swirling snowflakes.