The Babe


The heart of the Babe beat 577,634,400 +/- 25 million times in the course of his story. That's an impressive record of heartbeats, but every other child's heart was beating right along with him; it comes from being human.

Some 138,000 hours must be accounted for. We can use the figures to compare, analyze and evaluate his activities and those of others. It is part of our job of dissecting him and putting him together time after time; take him apart to see how he works; put him together to see how he runs. It may seem unkind, but it's one way to get at the truth.

The Babe encompassed and dwelled in twenty-four significant areas of existence such as games and homework. I arrived at this number (perhaps it should be a couple more or less) from considering what happened to him, before I realized that what happened to him happened to you, to me, to almost everybody. I mean, I made up the table of categories, then found it could be used generally.

Now then, blessed as we are by a fullness of information, we can estimate rather accurately how much time the Babe gave over to each form of activity. Then we can do the same for the average of Chicago children. It is all contained in the Table below.

We note right away that the young have spent a third and more of their lives asleep. Next in time-spending is the 10% given over to school, one out of ten hours of childhood, two out of ten hours of



(ranked by time consumed over 15.75 years)

Name of activity                              Hours       B's %     Aver.child %
1. Sleeping 48,875 33.4 36.0
2. Schooltime 13,680 9.9 10.0
3. Reading books, etc. 11,680 8.4 2.0
4. Eating 10,542 7.3 7.0
5. Lone play fabricating 9,104 6.6 6.0
6. Spontaneous play 7,800 5.6 6.5
7. Watching (inc.infant) 6,694 4.8 2.2
8. Music playing,hearing 4,745 3.4 0.2
9. Walking, wandering 3,750 2.7 2.2
10. Chores,housekeeping 3,640 2.6 3.0
11. Hygiene,dressing 2,875 2.1 4.0
12. Fantasy,day-dreams 2,616 1.9 2.0
13. Loitering,shifting 2,400 1.7 4.3
14. Outings, rural vacations stays 2,304 1.7 2.5
15. Radio,phonograph 2,288 1.6 2.0
16. Movies 1,815 1.3 2.0
17. Homework 1,045 0.8 1.8
18. Sickness,hospital 910 0.7 0.7
19. Drawing, scribbling 500 0.4 0.1
20. Parties,peer groups 400 0.3 0.3
21. Sports,camps 360 0.3 2.0
22. Sexuality 250 0.2 0.2
23. Trains,cars,trolleys 203 0.2 1.0
24. Prayer, religion 153 0.1 2.0

Total Hours.........137,897 (The discrepancy between the theoretical 138,000 and this figure is 103 hours. The exact reality of course may be more divergent.)

time-awake, averaged over all the years of school. Eating consumed about 7% of their lives, caring for themselves and dressing about 2%. The play and games of the Babe and his Chicagoans seem to have been roughly equivalent as well. The average Chicago child, unlike the Babe with his summer vacations at Glen Park, belonged more to community centers and church groups where games were arranged for them.

The average child spent more time at his homework while enjoying somewhat more of the mass media, especially films. In matters of fantasy, sexuality, parties, sickness, "watching the world go by," and walking, the sums are similar. The largest quantitative differences were three in number: the average child passed about 2% of his life in religious activities, whereas the Babe spent only a few hours (158) thus. Most of this was devoted to reading stories from the Bible and passages, nearly all favorable, about people going to church and being reverent, and there were "religious" films such as Quo Vadis and Ben Hur; he also became involved about 2000 times in saying a prayer before meals or otherwise. Also, the Babe dedicated roughly four times as many hours to reading (mostly books, too) and about seventeen times as many hours to learning and performing music.

As important as several of these quantitative differences may be, it would be their qualitative content, not measured here, that explains how two children will come to differ markedly by the age of fifteen, or much earlier, as early as a few months. As an instance, the religious experience may be rich; very often it is not. Moreover, scores of passages in the Babe's books dealt with commonplace religious experiences, school chapels, the persecution of early Christians, religious crusades, tribal rituals, and so forth, and scores of conversations in the family and among his variegated acquaintances dealt with these questions, posed skeptically, of the existence and powers of God, of the personages of the Holy Family, of the veracity of Holy Scriptures, and the social functions (and dysfunctions) of churches, sacred orders, and religiosity.

His heavy reading brought to him a very wide world indeed and his musical experience broadened it even more, not only in the special sphere of musical language and performance but in the social, ethnic, and racial variety of the musician's world. At the same time, it would have been possible, we vouchsafe, to have cut out a large block of wasted time that had been spent in reading poorly written, sheerly repetitious books and with ordinary newspapers, enough time to have provided a rich and varied religious experience, if some such could have been guaranteed -- but by whom, where, and to what end?

In most cases the quality can lend great weight to what the quantity would indicate, or alternatively erode its apparent significance. The Babe and the average Chicago child spent perhaps the same amount of time at meals, but the De Grazia table would be regarded as fancy, and the conversation would be lively. The words, "a child should be seen not heard," were spoken to interrupt too enthusiastic a flow of words. The Babe hardly appreciated the license allowed him no more than he deigned to recognize the consistent excellence of the family board.

For instance, although only under duress could the Mum turn her hand to frying a hamburger, and then only below the Dad's frown, while the ground meat would somehow take the form of keftedes, polpetti, Swedish meatballs, potato puffs stuffed with minced meat, spaghetti bolognese, etc., the Babe would be asking querulously, "If you can't make an ordinary hamburger, why not make a meat-loaf at least?" And his crusade on behalf of soft buns! In vain. The closest he could get to the common menu was by way of Oscar Mayer's pure beef frankfurters, because with hot dogs and on picnics, soft buns were de rigueur; otherwise frankfurters should be eaten with German potato salad or coleslaw.

The quality of the experience with play and games, of sexuality, of illness, of walking, reading, drawing, listening to music, watching music, and so on, we suspect, depends upon something prior -- be it genetics, special associated experience, special education, or all of these, and this something is not to be found in the listed categories. I am hesitant to venture upon the discovery of some genetic constant, some inheritance of artistic, intellectual, and physical faculties of an unusual order, and am rather inclined to search for social and cultural processes, deliberately or haphazardly occurring and producing four brothers who were generally in the first ranking of their school classes, but who also could be smitten by bad attitudes and allow their conduct to alter considerably and their grades at school to decline to the mediocre.

All the boys took readily to music and, with even a meager instruction, could find their way on a musical instrument or through a sheet of music in short order at an early age, say six years. But wasn't this, too, an artifact, conveyed by the presence of the Dad and other musicians in the household -- visitors, siblings and pupils? Also by young musicians long dead such as Mozart and Beethoven. They all had a "good ear for music" -- three had absolute pitch, found in one of two thousand persons, the Dad, Bro Bus, and Victor. The Mom also could carry any tune, whether popular or classic, and was a good dancer, who retired upon marriage.

Her letters -- and the Dad's -- show an unusual flair, but not enough so as to credit a heritable talent; we should be especially hard-pressed to pinpoint a genetic epistolary genius. Graphology, what can it say? Interesting handwritings, confident, straightforward, clear, moving briskly along; but again no one has convincingly traced the transmission of mental and character traits by a study of handwriting, although schizophrenics, for example, have been shown to generate peculiar patterns of writing; but, then, the genetic transmission of mental illnesses are as moot as of mental health. An examination of the Babe's handwriting shows it to be progressive, clear yet decisive, distinctly moving back and forth between the unmistakable patterns of the one parent and the other, in the word and in larger segments.

We are left with this undistinguished idea: if you cross an inflexible and highly disciplined man of pronounced ideals with an adaptable and spontaneous woman, you may get a complex offspring who takes in a large range of stimuli and information which he synthesizes internally in a variety of systematic forms. If the parents get along reasonably well and don't quarrel excessively over their differences, the child behaves "normally."

And precisely because the parents were active, and Chicagoans were active, and he chose active companions and was physically active, he put together what became recognizably the Babe. And his friends, too, of this period when adult characters are composed, were recognizably of his type, as we shall see. Nor might one choose among them who would be bound to succeed, whatever success may be, or however it may matter.