Goodbye, Mr. Wonka

Willy Wonka died on Monday, August 29th. Yes, I know his name was Gene Wilder, but stick with me here. For most of us in our mid-forties at this time, Wilder’s portrayal of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is a significant piece of our childhood. For this reason, though Wilder did several other great films, many of us still view him as Willy Wonka.

The movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, had a bit of everything in it. Well, not romance, and I’m okay with that. It had action, mystery, a cool storyline, memorable characters, hope, and yes, a resolution at the end. It also had quirky humor, which as a kid, I couldn’t fully appreciate. As an adult, however, I find it refreshing, even now.

Take for instance, this exchange between Wonka and Mr. Salt (whose daughter was Veruca, a bratty child if there ever were one. I guess she would have been considered entitled in today’s society.):

Mr. Salt: What is this, Wonka? Some kind of fun house?

Wonka: Why? Are you having fun?

Or we can look at this statement, after Wonka is asked about the legitimacy of a contract (yes, there was a contract in the movie):

I’m sorry, but all questions must be submitted in writing.

One thing that was evident to me when I was a kid was that all of the children who won golden tickets (with the exception of Charlie) and their parents were all brats. Yes, the parents were brats, maybe even more so than the children. It was always the behavior of the children (and their parents) that led to something drastic happening, thus leading to many people’s favorite scenes involving the Oompa Loompas.

(I want an Oompa Loompa right now!)

If you are not aware, the Oompa Loompas trotted out after one of the kids did something they shouldn’t have and they sang a little ditty. There were always three verses to the songs, and the Oompa Loompas always appeared as if they were begging you to heed their warnings.

Oompa Loompa doompadee doo

I’ve got another puzzle for you

Oompa Loompa doompadee dee

If you are wise you will listen to me

Then came the puzzle, which was never really a puzzle at all, but more of a declaration on manners, something that 45 years ago, when the movie came out, was more of a topic than it is now. Yeah, hard to believe, isn’t it? My favorite declaration…err…puzzle is as follows:

Who do you blame when your kid is a brat

Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat?

Blaming the kids is a lion of shame

You know exactly who’s to blame:

The mother and the father!

Like I said, that’s not a puzzle, but a declaration.

They always closed with a message about doing things the right way.

Oompa Loompa doompadee dah

If you’re not spoiled then you will go far

You will live in happiness too

Like the Oompa Loompa doompadee do

In a way, each verse to the Oompa Loompa’s songs was like a story, with a beginning, a middle and an ending. Only these stories were more like parables, meant as a lesson to anyone who would listen. And that is one of the beauties of the book, and by extension, the movie, which expanded on Dahl’s thoughts.

There was more to Willy Wonka then just lessons that, as children, most of us missed. There was wisdom.

A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.

This was Wonka’s response to Mr. Salt (yet again) when he said ‘that’s a lot of nonsense,’ to the fact that the geese that laid golden eggs didn’t know Easter was over. I always wondered what he meant to this. Was it Wonka’s way of saying all work and no play makes Mr. Salt a dull boy? I don’t know, but there is a ring of truth to it: too much seriousness can make you totally unhappy. And sometimes being naive to something is not necessarily a bad thing.

One of my favorite nuggets in the movie is how Wonka replies to Veruca (go figure) when she says, “Snozzberries? Who’s ever heard of a snozzberry?” His response was to grab her cheeks with one hand and turn her face to his and state:

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

It’s not an original saying. In fact, that is the opening portion to a poem simply titled, ‘Ode,’ by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. But when you think about it, both O’Shaughnessy and Wonka were right. We really are the music makers. We really are the dreamers of dreams. All of us, whether we realize it or not, are dreamers and our souls and hearts are the music makers. The dreamers of the world are the ones who make changes. They are the ones who don’t tend to conform to societal standards. They are the ones who not only think outside the box, but they break the box down and throw it into the incinerator. And then they build their own boxes that someone else can think out of and destroy at a later date.

Dare to dream. Dare to make music that is different than the norm. Dare to write what you want to write and not conform to the rigidity of the rules of writing. Dare to tell a story that moves people. Just dare.

The rest of that poem is as follows, just in case you were wondering:

We are the music-makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers

And sitting by desolate streams;

World losers and world forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.


With wonderful deathless ditties

We build up the world’s great cities.

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire’s glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song’s measure

Can trample an empire down.


We, in the ages lying

In the buried past of the earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

And Babel itself with our mirth;

And o’erthrew them with prophesying

To the old of the new world’s worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

Or one that is coming to birth. 

Lessons, lessons, lessons all about life are present throughout the movie and brought to life by Gene Wilder’s work as the quirky, and somewhat Eeyore-ish, Willy Wonka. Again, to quote the movie:

So much time, so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

So much to do, so little time is what he meant, but if you weren’t paying attention you missed it when watching the movie. There is so much truth to that. We all want to do so much, but do we use our time wise enough so that we can get those things done and enjoy life as well?

Though there is so much more I can go into with the brilliance of this movie, there is only really one more thing to touch on. At one point, shortly after everyone is allowed into  Wonka’s candy land (literally), Gene Wilder sings a song. The song is titled Pure Imagination and it was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley specifically for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I have always thought the song went so well with the movie and especially the poem, ‘Ode.’

How, you ask?

We are the dreamers of dreams and these lyrics:

If you want to view paradise

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to, do it

Want to change the world?

There’s nothing to it

If you want to make changes in the world, you have to dream those dreams and then get after it. Willy Wonka wanted to create candy children would love. He wanted to give a home to the Oompa Loompas. He wanted to create the everlasting gobstopper. He dreamed the dreams and then made the music…err…candy so many people in the movie loved.

Willy Wonka was different. So was Gene Wilder, who really epitomized the concept of being your own person. They both taught us to dream and to chase those dreams and to not be like everyone else.

(Anything you want to, do it.)

Today I say goodbye to Willy Wonka and Gene Wilder. Thank you for your whimsical view on life and the way you gave a generation of children hope.

(What to change the world? There’s nothing to it.)

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Meeting Mr. Washington

On Friday I posted about this chain letter I had received. Interestingly enough, I received one comment, which I think is spam, berating me for the subject and misinformation. If the comment wasn’t spam, I would like to declare (since clearly it was missed by the individual while reading it) that the e-mail was sent to me. I thought the meaning of the e-mail was the important thing.

At any rate, I said I would post something about my daughter on Saturday, but didn’t have a chance to. Now, here we are on Monday and I have a moment so I wanted to post the piece.

This originally appeared in The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama, back in 2007. I’ve gone through it and changed a few things, but kept the story the way it originally appeared.

Sit back, enjoy…

So we’re different colors
And we’re different creeds
And different people
Have different needs
It’s obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you
So what could I have done
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully…

–Depeche Mode
People Are People

I’m going to go ahead and apologize for this article right now. Why? Well, it’s not really about horror and it’s also not about writing.

In light of the world around us and my ever watchful eye on my surroundings, I write, yet another blog on people. If you are bored with these types of things go ahead and hit the GO BACK key now. But, if not and you want a nice little story in the end, stick with me and read on.

In our world of terrorism, hate crimes, men murdering their wives and vice versa, school shootings, rapes; athletes doing things they shouldn’t do, young actresses and actors delving more into the drugs and sex and alcohol, all of which provides negative exposure for our children to see, it’s a struggle just to keep kids on the right track.

The glitz and the glamour are out there and, now more than ever, our children are faced with pressures that some of us can’t even fathom. A lot of kids think that money just magically appears out of thin air and they want everything. Children have cell phones and Facebook pages and access to things many of their parents didn’t have at the same age. The struggle to be in the “in crowd” is more prevalent these days. The bad boy image haunts us both in our boys and girls.

Our world is a mess.

And through all of this negativity we have to figure out how to teach our children the values of life; teach them morals. It’s hard when there are children under the age of six living next door to you using curse words that begin with F and end with K followed by a YOU, or an OFF. It’s hard when other children get what they want and pitch a holy fit until they get it and your child sees it. It’s hard when the world dictates something other than what you are preaching, especially where religion is concerned.

My best friend is a black man from Philadelphia. My family is of Cherokee background. My dad is a mountain boy. My next door neighbors to one side are Mexican and lovely people. I won’t go into the other side, simply because there’s not much positive to say, so I won’t go there.

People are people. Just as the song says. We all have feelings and opinions, whether some of us want to admit it or not.

With that in mind, I would like to tell you a brief story.

Every morning, my wife gets up and takes me to work—we have two vehicles, but these few minutes are really the only time during the day that we have alone. In the evenings she picks me up and the kids are with her. So, really, if you have kids, you understand that each alone minute is worth it’s weight in gold.

But that’s not what this is about.

When my daughter was six-years-old, we had one vehicle, so these morning trips to the office were accompanied by our two children. Chloe is a very observant girl–she always has been–and every morning for a while she would see this man on a street corner sitting on a bucket. He was an older black man with a gray beard. He looked like he may have been homeless. Every morning my daughter asked, “Daddy, who is that guy?”

“I don’t know,” I usually said.

One day the man wasn’t at the corner, sitting on his usual bucket. My daughter got worried and asked where he was and if he was okay.

“I don’t know,” was my response.

The following Monday he was back at his usual spot and my daughter was elated. So elated in fact, that she said, “Daddy, I want to make that man a card. Can I do that?”

“Sure, Sweets (that’s what I call my daughter), you can if you want to.”

When we got home that evening, she made the man a card using card stock my wife had, markers and stickers. On the inside she wrote: “I just wanted to make you this card. I hope you like it. Love, Chloe.” She put it in a red envelope and proceeded to decorate the envelope. On it she wrote: To you, From Me.

The next morning she got in the car, card in hand and told me she wanted to give it to him. We drove the same route as alwaysand, sure enough, there he was, sitting on his bucket, looking out at the world passing him by. I pulled over and parked the car by the road and turned to my daughter.

“Come on,” I said.

“I don’t want to get out, Daddy,” she said, her nerves getting to her. I was kind of glad—that means she’s listening when I told her not to talk to strangers unless Mommy and Daddy are present.

She asked me if I would take the card to him, so I did.

“Excuse me, Sir,” I said as I approached him. “Can I talk to you for just one second?”

He turned his brown eyes to me and I saw a kindness in them and I knew he wasn’t going to go crazy on me.

I explained to him about my daughter and how she saw him everyday and even got worried about him when he wasn’t there. I held out the card to him and said, “My daughter made this for you because she wanted you to know that someone cares for you.”

He took the card and I watched as tears welled up in his eyes. He opened it up and read it. I thought he was going to cry.

“You tell your daughter this is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.” I believe every word that came out of his mouth.

I shook his hand and talked to him for a few more minutes, never minding that I was going to be late to work.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said.

He nodded. “Sure.”

“Can you, please, tell me your name so I can tell my daughter.”

He smiled. “J.L. Washington.”

“Mr. Washington, it was nice to meet you.”

I turned to go and he said a few other things, not much but enough to know my daughter had really touched this man. “Thank you. May God bless you and your family. Thank you.”

In the Bible it says, “Do unto the least of these and you’ve done unto Me.”

Sometimes in our society of violence and sex and stupidity and greed, a six year old child speaks the loudest by an act of kindness, an act of love. As you go about your day, look at the children near you, and remember that, if we are to have any future, then we need to raise them up right with morals and humility.

And, one more thing: People are people. Different colors or beliefs shouldn’t matter. We’re all flesh and blood and one act of kindness really can go a long way to making the world a better place to live in and to raise children in.

Until we meet again, my friends…

[[Herbie’s Notes: This happened nearly five years ago. Since then, I have learned that Mr. Washington has passed away. The news of his death saddened me.

Also, Mr. Washington became a focal point in my (as yet unpublished) novel, Cory’s Way.]]