From 1963 through 1969, my parents and I lived in Oak Forest, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. We’d come there from our farm in southeastern Illinois so my mother could teach the third grade in the Arbor Park School District, #145. As many of you who have read my memoirs know, my mother had lost her teaching position downstate, and her search for another brought us to Oak Forest. At the time, its population was around four thousand people. Oak Forest was a village, but after living in a rural area and attending a two-room country school, I thought that village was huge. I came to love the life we had there and was sad to move back downstate when my mother retired just as I graduated from the eighth grade and made ready to enter high school. It wasn’t a surprise to me, though, that my parents decided to go back home because all the while we lived in Oak Forest, we escaped it whenever we could. We sublet our apartment and spent the summers on our farm. We spent the Christmas holidays there as well and weekends whenever we could. Friday afternoons often found us in the car making the five-hour drive south.
It was at the end of one of those drives that I experienced something that has stayed in my memory for years. We were tired and hungry when we finally made the turn from the St. Marie Road onto Route 50. We were close to our farm but not quite there, and my father suggested we pull into Art’s Truck Stop for some hamburgers. A juke box was playing a comedy recording featuring a yokel who was telling the story of coming upon a sign outside a building that read, “Hockey Here Tonight.” This yokel, intrigued, buys a ticket and for the first time in his life experiences a hockey game. My father laughed along with the man’s description of what he observed on that “frozen pond” where a smarty man in a striped shirt dropped a hard, round, black thing, and men with runners on their shoes and sticks in their hands tried to knock that hard, round, black thing into a basket that was guarded by its “owner” who didn’t want that thing in his basket. There was a basket and its owner on either end of the frozen pond, and neither seemed to be too amenable to having that hard, round, black thing in its basket. “What is that thing?” the yokel asked the man sitting next to him. “Why, that’s hockey,” the man said.
I’d been watching the Chicago Blackhawks on WGN television, so I was familiar with the game, but I couldn’t figure out why the comedy recording, outside the yokel’s naive description of the sport, was supposed to be funny. My father explained that hockey was a word some folks used instead of the crasser words, “poop,” or “shit.” Aha, a euphemism for good old number 2. No wonder the men with the sticks were trying to clear it from the frozen pond so they could get on with doing whatever it was they had come to do.
Ever since that night, I’ve thought the artist of that comedy recording was Andy Griffith—that is until today when I looked it up on YouTube and discovered that my memory has been faulty all these years. The artist of “Hockey Here Tonight” is Archie Campbell, who would later be a regular on the cornpone comedy TV show, “Hee Haw.”
I tell this story to illustrate a point for those of us who write memoir. We should be on the lookout for opportunities to interrogate memory. Tobias Wolff, at the beginning of his memoir, This Boy’s Life, says, “. . .this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell.” Indeed. If we ask the right questions when we recall our experiences, we can speculate on what the ordinary details of our lives—a comedy record playing on a jukebox, for instance—have to show us about the truth of our living. The question for me, then, is not one of whether Andy Griffith or Archie Campbell recorded “Hockey Here Tonight,” but instead one of why I chose for years and years to remember Andy Griffith’s voice coming from the jukebox that night at the truck stop. Already, I have my answer to that question. It has something to do with the fact that I knew Andy Griffith from his television show where he played Sheriff Andy Taylor. Andy Taylor was the perfect father while my father wasn’t. Often driven by temper, my father, that night, was at ease and laughing. My mother was laughing, too. We were, for those few moments, blessed, and maybe that’s why I chose for all these years to think Andy Griffith was with us in that truck stop, his gentle humor showing us how our lives, if we chose, might be.