By Scott Sullivan
When the Green Giant saw the Green Goddess dressing, the valley grew jollier as he ladled it over cut beans and canned creamed corn. Ho ho ho. Kids could mail 4 bits to Le Seuer, Minn., and get back a 16-inch-tall Green Giant stuffed doll. His young apprentice Little Green Sprout, who came along later, represents consumers.
The dressing got its name when San Francisco Palace Hotel chef Philip Roemer mixed mayonnaise, sour cream, chervil, chives, anchovies, tarragon, lemon juice and pepper in tribute to William Archer’s 1921 melodrama “The Green Goddess.” It is staged on shelves to this day.
Is it hard being green? Start with primaries yellow and blue, add tonal spices, voila. As I strode through Indiana cornfields growing up by late summer I was towered over.
Jack climbed a beanstalk to steal from a giant; ripe cornstalks were topped by pollen-bearing gold tassels kids lopped off to help farmers breed hybrids. It was hot reaching up in the sun but we made enough jack to buy records. Music meant something.
Gentle Giant was a cult band whose founders split with Reginald Dwight before he went off as Rocket Man. The later Elton John introduced them to Spirit, a California band catching fire in the states, but by then Dwight and Bernie Taupin had hooked up and they were going different ways. Gary Green was credited on GG albums playing guitar, mandolin, recorder, etc.
We’d come out red with hair bleached and home with enough green paper rectangles to exchange for black vinyl disks, plunk them on a turntable under an arm with a nickel taped atop it so the needle didn’t skip plowing through grooves. Monaural, stereo came later.
Corn was king and fields stretched forever. It was a straight shot on 2-lane U.S. 421, which ran 941 miles northwest from Fort Fisher, N.C., on the Atlantic Coast to Michigan City, Ind. There it T’d (and still does) at I-94 leading west to Chicago, northeast into Michigan, where both my parents were born and had families, Dad in Alma, Mom in Detroit.
From our home in West Lafayette 421 ran through flat fields above which phone poles disappeared into distance. Railroad tracks shared the roadside easement and long trips to Michigan were electrified when trains passed. If they too were northbound, we’d urge Dad to pass them and stick our heads out the windows to gloat at engineers slowed tugging larger loads.
East-west crossroads came at reliable interludes; less so were white roadside crosses the state placed at fatal crash sites, one per victim. When we passed a cluster at night Dad turned his brights on. He hung onto my crayon drawing of a smiling car driver above crude manuscript urging “Keep your I on the road.”
Dad got tired of insurance near the end, but back then liked its challenges and had trophies State Farm awarded him crowned by gold men with suits, hats and briefcases striding off to another close. “What do you want to be, son?” he asked me. I wanted to play etc.
We didn’t play radio in the car except for traffic stations near Chicago. Dad by then oversaw managers in Da Region — Gary, Hammond, more bleeding into each other. Closure of Gary’s steel mills made things so rough there I gave him a teargas pen he kept clipped to his company car’s visor.
In my bedroom I listened to Chicago a.m. stations although Lafayette had a few. I liked WLS, which played current pop music, and WCFL which had White Sox games. WGN was giant that carried Cubs games, so I hated them.
Summer nights I would open windows. If there was breeze it would make cardboard planets in my solar system strung from the ceiling stir and rotate. As it grew darker crickets and cicadas grew deafening and scores from the coast came in. “In Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers … In Anaheim, the Angels …” Oakland A’s owner Charlie O. Finley, who brought his mule Charlie-O to ballgames, had a huge barn off 421 near LaPorte. We could see his team’s green and gold logo on it.
“The Green Goddess” ran for 175 performances on Broadway’s Booth Theatre, named for 19th Century American actor Edwin Booth whose brother John Wilkes killed Lincoln. Like the band Gentle Giant it now rarely plays.
Kraft bought out Seven Seas and was bought out in turn by etc. but a 55-foot statue of the Green Giant (when built in 1978 one of the 5 tallest in the U.S.) still stands guard over Blue Earth and the Mississippi River Valley near I-90.
I loved my parents but had to be someone somewhere else. Michigan, where they’d grown up and we’d vacation mostly visiting his family, was a different green with its lakes and dunes. It had green and blue highway signs; Indiana’s were black and white.
Who foresees nostalgia? One night three years ago after I’d crossed the Blue Star bridge into Douglas I had to turn on my brights to make sure what I’d seen was real. To clarify confusion about its new bike path, the city had placed a yellow caution sign with four black arrows spiced by icons depicting a traffic bumper and cyclist heading straight up. Flashing lights ringed it. No words were needed. Folks on Facebook made fun of this abstract art and soon Douglas took it down. I flashed back to when I was young and the world was green.
By Scott Sullivan