Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Old Man

I've been known to mistake Johnny Cash for my dad.  Not that there's a resemblance of any kind.  I think it has something to do with the voice, or the country-boy slang.  Whatever it is, there's always been something interchangeable about them.

In his heyday, before he retired and moved to Arkansas and started dressing like the Cajun Chef, Dad wore plaid western shirts with pearlized snaps and carried a Parker ball point pen with blue ink next to the check book in his breast pocket.  Sometimes he came home form work with butterscotch candies tucked in his denim jacket and I'd meet him at the van door all jumpy in collusion.

I got off easy I've been told, never having received a spanking or belt-whipping from the old man.  Seems he could be hell on wheels if you crossed him.  Later, he would brag to his mistress about never laying a hand on me while her kids, my expected every-other-weekend playmates, ran raging through his house threatening the well kept order.

During the week, Dad was Levis, plain black work shoes, and black steel lunch box.  On the weekends he was brown cowboy boots, hat and punched-leather belt.  Whatever he was wearing, if he wasn't smiling his face looked sour, all scowly and pinched in the forehead.  I worry for frown lines because of this.  

"I was so ugly as a kid ma had to tie a steak around my neck to get the dog to play with me," he'd say trying to rouse me.  It's no wonder I get a little nostalgic listening to Johnny Cash sing Country Trash:

I’m saving up dimes for a rainy day
I got about a dollar laid away
The winds from the south and the fishing's good
Got a pot belly stove and a cord of wood
Mama turns the left-overs into hash
I’m doing alright for Country Trash

It just sounds like part of a story he'd tell.
I don't have any particular insights into Dad's character like I suppose I do with Ma.  It seems he chose his life and if he regrets it now I wouldn't know.  We don't talk about anything real.

What I do know is that most of the things in the world I love to love I understood as a course from him.  It was always Dad who loved being outside best of all, wrote his own brand of poetry, painted pictures on our walls and grew dark and burnt digging in the garden.  

I'm guessing there's a lot of the old man stored up in these bones, a lot I'd like to do away with, a lot I'm good to keep.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Occupying Time

As a kid I believed in amnesia.  Thanks to Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd I knew if I got a conk on the head I could forget myself completely and all it would take was another conk to make me right again.  Those were the days.

The red house, the first house, had a spacious back yard, kept up and organized in the only way I imagine there was to deal with the noise and constant motion of the Interstate.  There was a patio with a built-in dog kennel and brick barbecue, a huge weeping willow out by the ditch, the laundry line with my white plastic swing attached to a pole and an inordinate amount of ordinary flowerbeds.  I loved the moss roses best.

Along the left side of the yard was a row of fruit trees, apple, pear and cherry, that acted as the natural barrier between us and the neighbors.  I always heard how Dad and the Mr. didn't get along.  "They're too much alike," Ma said throwing my notion of an ideal playmate through the spin cycle.  It would be a good long while before I figured that one out.

Whatever the original intent, those fruit trees were the perfect size, just right for my little self to climb into the saddle of a low branch and bonk my head against the trunk.  Nothing happened, save for a few lost cherry blossoms.

So, I'd bonk again, test myself and realize I still knew my name, still knew where I lived.  Maybe amnesia didn't agree with me.

I eventually went and grew up and learned it takes more than a whack on the cherry tree to make a girl forget, and that forgetting isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Right now I would give next to anything to remember clearly, to be present inside the workings of that little me mind, to wonder at how it all fits into the tiny box that is one moment.