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THE EXAMINED LIFE

The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life - Robert Goolrick

Robert Goolrick's memoir "THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT" reads as much as a confessional as it does a way for him to understand himself, his family, and the influence -- both good and ill -- his parents exerted on him throughout his life. Goolrich grew up in Virginia during the 1950s and 1960s. His parents came from a genteel, privileged background in the South, which gave them both a sense of exaggerated self-importance. On the surface, they seemed to fit the image of a successful couple who never put a foot wrong in polite society. Goolrick's father was a professor at a small college and his mother, a frustrated housewife who nevertheless tried to have a fulfilled life for herself. Sadly, both had their own personal issues which led them to alcoholism and a slow, steady decline in body and spirit. So much so, that by the time of their deaths, both of Goolrick's parents were to be pitied.

 

Goolrick has an engaging writing style that quickly draws the reader into his life. One particular incident in the memoir I found rather funny was when, as a 12-year old, he was walking through the woods to the store to buy an item had long desired for himself (his mother had credit accounts in various stores where Goolrick's family lived and rather than give her son money, she insisted that he have the store owner place on credit the item he bought). Suddenly he was set upon by a group of neighborhood bullies, who proceeded to harass him.

 

“I was twelve years old. I was four-foot-eleven and I chose that exact moment to behave like an a—ho-e toward a fat juvenile delinquent with a switchblade in his hand.

“The minute I said it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. It was worse than saying “Suck my d---,” because at least only tough guys said something like that, whereas … wimps said, “I seriously doubt it.”

“The switchblade moved up until it was just under the lobe of my ear. I could feel how sharp it was. George Hazelwood’s hand was steady as a rock and the other boys’ eyes gleamed with bloodlust and impatience. George was standing so close to me I could smell the wood smoke in his pathetically worn shirt.

“Then we heard it. We heard singing. We heard a group of girls singing ‘Over hill, over dale,’ and then a flag appeared on the crest of the hill behind us, blowing and snapping in the breeze, and it was carried by Kathleen McKenna, who marched resolutely over the hill in full Girl Scout regalia, leading a troop of other Girl Scouts who marched double file singing, ‘Over hill, over dale, ‘ Girl Scouts who wore not only their full uniforms, berets and everything, but also sashes with all their medals for making slipknots and starting fires with two sticks of wood and whatnot. They were so young and healthy and white.

“Kathleen saw me and waved, although she did not veer from her chosen course. In fact, all the girls waved in their Hitler youth fervor, and when I looked up again, George Hazelwood and his troop of boys had vanished. They just weren’t there anymore and my ear was still on my head. I had been improbably saved from mutilation by the Girl Scouts of America.”


A very sobering, and at times hilarious and harrowing memoir.