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Friday, 09 November 2007

Follow the Bouncing Ball

By Rabon Saip of Elder Times

I don’t recall exactly what year it was, but it wasn’t too long after World War II. Something that had been a part of my childhood experience came to an end one day and the memory of that event still haunts me.

I was sitting in a movie theater in San Rafael, California, listening to an invitation I had heard many times before. A cheerful voice invited me to: "Follow the Bouncing Ball." Yea, a community sing-along.

The screen lit up with a lively rendition of Shine On Harvest Moon and, enter left, the bouncing white ball. I was mesmerized by this little character, by the way it bounced over the syllables along the bottom of the screen, keeping time with the music; by the way it would pause over just one syllable now and then and settle down for a double or even a triple bounce.

Just as I always had, I started to follow along, joining in with a few others. But most of the audience just looked on in silence. Seeing this, those of us who had opened our mouths gradually fell silent.

It was strange. Images of a moonlit country-side continued to show up on the screen and Shine On Harvest Moon continued to play, but for the first time in my experience, most of the audience seemed oddly opposed to the sing along. And, after all these years, I still wonder.

Were there some in the audience who just didn’t want to be reminded of the painful associations they had with this once popular sing-along? So many friends and relatives had never come home from that war. Were they just wanting to forget?

Were there others who were simply indifferent, or to whom the bouncy little character was un-cool, passe, part of a more innocent and backward time? Some might even have felt a little embarrassment for the theater management. Didn’t they know the war was over? America had won, let’s move on. Was this continued showing of the bouncing ball simply an oversight?

I felt inhibited, and a little confused. I leaned back in my seat and imagined my disembodied spirit flying circles around the beautiful Art Deco chandeliers high above, banking and swooping, observing the audience. I heard a young voice asking why we couldn’t still have a community sing-along, even without a war.

I had mostly known WW II through the experience of the adults around me. From the time I first heard an awestruck whisper that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor until VJ Day, I could feel the anxiety, the uncertainty, the unspoken pain. I remembered the ration books for butter and sugar, gasoline and tires. I remembered the patriotic war songs and movies, the Nasties and the Japs, the Movietone News and the battle scene photos in the newspapers.

Now, as an impressionable youngster, still attached to the telepathy of childhood, I could feel a subtle undercurrent moving through the audience around me. The collective heart, which only beats in the company of others, and knows so much more than any one heart can hold, was awakened.

As we sat in silent witness to that little bouncing ball, each wrapped in the spell of his or her own relationship to it, there was a brief moment when the most tender and loving wave of compassion swept over us.

We had followed the little bouncing ball into history, through fear and sacrifice, strength and grace. We had learned a lot about ourselves, about our capacity for love, and for power, during those recent war years. Americans had united as a whole nation with the single purpose of ultimate victory. Our huge national family was made humble and intimate as we shared so much the same hope, and the same grief.

What the war had taken away could never be restored, but, at least, the world had begun to learn a better way; or so we thought back then.

To my knowledge that was the last time the bouncing ball made an appearance in the Rafael Theater.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


This brings back a flood of my earliest memories. One which stands out is the recycling: it's treated as some bold new idea now, but during WWII it was a daily routine of American life. I remember as a small child, just learning to read, a poster which read "Save Fats and Waste Paper," and I had this mental image of people taking jars of lard to the bank, and throwing papers into the street.

I also recall my proudest moment each week was when I did my regular job of stepping on and flattening the tin cans my grandmother had saved up during the week: I didn't understand the war or what it meant, but I felt I was helping win it.

You opened my memory gates as well, Rabon. I had forgotten that bouncing ball. I think the reason people didn't sing was because there was no human leader to get them started and they felt embarrassed. I have attended many "Meller-drammer" theaters where everyone sang along with great gusto. It's because we all started at the same time and no single voice stood out.

My memories of WWII are of scrap drives, victory gardens and war bonds being sold in schools.

Yes, the whole nation was united and it's sad that we can't be that way again. If any war can be called just, that war was as close to being so as possible. And that was what united us.

I faintly remember seeing that bouncing ball at the Sat. movies my mom took me to in the 40's, but I have no memory of singing along, and I wish I did.

What a touching story. I enjoyed it very much.

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