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Jett Superior laid this on you on || November 21, 2002 || 9:52 pm

wooo! ‘Catholic spanking strap’ was my favorite search referral of the day. Hey altarboy, you lookin’ for me, baby?

thunderpants. That word has been making the rounds in my brain for nigh on two days now. I don’t know what to make of it. Perhaps it is a character’s name, one who is waiting to be let out to play with Tangle Eye. *sigh* Write something of worth, wouldja Jett-O?

Ever since I lost my voice three weeks ago, I’ve been listening to the White Album obsessively. I don’t know why; one day a couple of days after my vox went bye-bye the notion of that record settled down into the grey area between my ears and I’ve been listening to it over and over and over. Is there a message in there for me from John Lennon or God or (heaven help me) George Harrison? Get thee behind me, Ringo!!

There is this picture of this young man on the InterWeb looking disconcertingly like my father did when he sported a uniform. There he is, all cammied up, peering beneath a sensitive brow that resides on a handsome boyface out of a black and white photo. It gives me the willies to see it, because I turn my head this way and I turn my head that way and I squint and my eyes fog up and I ask my computer monitor, “When did you stop being that manboy, dad? The one with the soft eyes in a too-young-to-really-be-this-serious face?” My father, he despised his father, and I take a fresh thought in with great gulps of surprise. I guess with the same surprise which he evidenced in his amazement that my sister Fred and I were, in fact, crazy about my grandfather when my dad had nothing but poor relations with him. Poor relations with the poor relations. Heh. The fresh thought? It’s not so fresh, but it has taken me over thirty years now to come to the conclusion wrought tonight: My father didn’t like his father and I don’t like my father, either. Whaddaya know; patterns repeat.

But my father, he was crazy about my high-toned bitch of a grandmother, who was incredibly cruel to Fred and I. I’ll never understand.

Here’s something shitty, and it gives an accurate profile of my father and his siblings (here’s where you settle in for the tellin’, sweet readers):

There are six girl-children and two boy-children that were born to my pop, Clem, and his (died-crazy-and-alone-just-as-I, Jacqueline Elizabeth Whositswhatsits-predicted-at-the-humble-age-of-eleven) wife. One of these children was, of course, my father. He clocked in at youngest, and he was quite the beautiful child, and apparently the hope of the impoverished sharecropping clan that was my paternal family. The only other boy child was fifth from oldest and mentally retarded. His name was Thomas, he was goofy and irreverent and funny.

The way my mother tells it, Thomas would have been just fine, but for a little mishap during childbirth. The family was out in the fields, Mary went into labor and rather than call for help, she did what any sensible crazy bitch would do: She locked herself in the house, closing all the doors and windows on a sweltering day and tried to push nine-pound Thom out of her five-foot-five frame. The baby hung in her birth canal in the Delta heat and humidity, catydids singing along with a swollen buzz, until she was found dehydrated and raving at suppertime. Near-dark. She was wrapped in blankets.

Thom was alive, but mentally impaired. They called it Down Syndrome because of his too-swollen tongue, but he lived to be nearly sixty and posessed no mongoloid eyes or wrongly-knit heart. I happen to think my mother’s story has a little credence.

All my life Thom was a fixture, and even at the age of six –when he was into his thirties– I regarded him as a pesky, noisome brother figure. He was harmless, for the most part, but he annoyed the shit out of me and at the time I didn’t see from whence it came. I now realize that he idolized my father, absolutely adored his younger brother, whom he referred to as ‘Mack’. He had so much love for my dad that it could not be contained. It spilled over to encompass my mother and Fred and me. He went apeshit when we’d pull into the drive; we could see him mount his three-wheeled bike as our car made it up the dusty old farm road some half-mile away. By the time we had turned in to the rutted drive, he had already made it there, flying past the rows of corn lining the drive, whooping and dinging that fucking bell on his bike the entire way. I can still see him to the very last detail: Thick, rough hands smoothing the straight up cowlick, western shirt looking to choke him because he insisted on buttoning it right up to the gullet, tight and hot and uncomfortable as though it may be. His subconcious way, perhaps, of remembering his day of arrival on the planet.

“WHATALL DOIN’, MACK?” he would bellow when my father would roll down the window to tell him to go on up to the house, we’d be there directly. Fred, Thom’s ever-patient and mischevious partner in crime, would climb out of the car and into the bushel-sized square wire basket on the back of the bike so that Thom could pedal her up to the house. I would unfold my coltish limbs, my straight blonde locks snaking into my face, and heave myself from the car. I, selfish spoiled thing, dreaded the greetings. Thom would be at the bumper in a flash, helping Fred out of her basket with the utmost care, and then nearly exploding in delight. Clap-clap, his hands on my father’s back as he hugged him ferociously. Turning to my mother, loudly bastardizing her name, “PURRRDY GWONDOLON! HAH YOU DOON, GUHHHL?” We were all guhhhhl if we were female. My mother always beamed, filled with genuine affection for Thom, and loved him right back. I, hesitant and stiff, fawned over and pronounced such a PURRRDY PURRRDY GUHHHHL after he stutter-stepped B-B-B-B-BETH. As the day wore on, he’d take every opportunity to pat my head, kiss my cheek, hug on me….and through the tunnel of time and distance and adulthood I now see that he wasn’t an annoyance; he was so in love with his brother, the shining jewel in the family crown, that he had more love in his heart than he could lavish on my dad. The natural progression was to give it to my mother, the woman that my father loved, and me and my sister.

I got the bulk of it because they all said I was so much my father. Thom either believed this or saw it himself, and I wish now that I hadn’t been such a shit about it.

Time slides away in small rivulets and big chunks, especially when daddy’s military and you move around. After the divorce, we suddenly became Gwendolyn’s children rather than Henry’s in Mary’s eyes, and my sister and I found it too harrowing to visit the clapboard farmhouse with linoleum floors throughout. As much as we adored Pop, Mary just made our time there hell. We saw Thom less and less frequently, so in his mind Fred and I stayed little girls of four and six forever. At the most, we were maybe eight and ten to him.

Once Mary went batshit and had to be put in the local asylum, Thom was left to the care of two sisters that were fairly local. He proved to be too much of a handful, and was enrolled in a school where, by all accounts, he seemed to be happy. None of the family made much of a concentrated effort to see him on a regular basis, and this disheartened me immensely. I was an adult at the time, living by the seat of my pants so to speak, travelling here and yon on a whim. When I would occasion to get back to Arkansas to visit my mother’s family I would reserve an entire day, making three little trips each time. I’d throw a few things in my backpack –my notebook and my harmonica among them– and head to Trenton to root out the little piece of land that the old farmhouse and outbuildings had stood on. I’d nose my car up the nearly quarter-mile of drive, parking it behind the double willows that stood directly in front of where the house had been. It always seemed to take an eternity for me to finally get out of the car, shouldering my ruck and ambling across the yard to where the house once stood. There was a small concrete slab and some jutting pipe left, and that’s where I would seat myself to look out past the sea of crops, the dancing butterflies at the creek’s edge.

How odd,” I once wrote down, “that I should mourn more for the land than for those that dwelled on it.” Re-reading those words, I felt immense sorrow that I grieved for the soil and not those that had tilled it, had made babies and sweated and died atop it. Right there is where Pop had taken his final, croupy breaths, torn from a stout man of one-hundred and seventy-nine pounds down to seventy-four because liver cancer dealt him foul. Right there is where Mary gave up her final grasp on sanity, having lived her previous five tenebrous years with a mentally defective son in a linament-smelling abode. Right there is where my shiteating aunts’ spouses dickered over my Pop’s farm equipment as he lay dressed in his best pants in the sitting room, the wake not into full swing yet. Right there is where Pop had dipped into his desk drawer with one gnarled hand while holding a finger over his mouth in a shushing gesture with the other, “Here, Beth. Here, Fred. Don’t tell the other grandkids that I give you these…” and depositing a fat heft of coin into our teeny girlpalms. Oh, how I wish I had those silver dollars now.

After a time I would seat myself in the car once again, headed toward the place where many of those silver dollars were spent. It had a sloping roof and plank wood floors and even as late as 1994 had floor coolers that exploded frigid air when you opened them to dip down in for a peach NeHi. Thick, hand-sliced bologna came in chunks, as did the bitter colby cheese, both of which Thom ate day in and day out (sandwiched between generous crusts of home-baked bread) with great aplomb when we were growing up. I was always given a ‘hidey’ and the eye that says ‘I know you and can’t…quite…place….you…’, but I’d never acquiesce and tell, because there was simply too much there on the air waiting to spill forth. I’d just pull my peach NeHi and sit on the long, plank steps taking big draughts of it from the glass bottle down into my memory-parched throat.

Onward, Christian Soldiers, to:

The big, lush cemetery, where my Memaw was buried not fifty yards from my Pop, a joining in the afterlife of what my living parents had torn asunder; the two families are residing once again in the same place, more permanently bound than my parents could have ever hoped at being. My Pop has no elablorate grave stone, because he wasn’t that kind of man. He has a simple bronze marker set squarely in the ground and it is emblazoned with one trumpeting angel along one side and a single star above his dignified name. I think it is quite possibly the most beautiful marker of someone deceased that I have ever beheld. I’ve searched for some ten years now to find one just like it for my own inevitable time as a daisy-pusher. I’ve had no luck thus far.

I used to always leave a multi-page, handwritten letter at his grave. I don’t know why I don’t do it anymore.

After pulling out of the cemetery gates, I’d head the car to town and pull up to Thom’s school. After filling out the requisite forms and getting the goofy plastic name badge (who’s the retard here, huh?) I’d stand outside of Thom’s classroom, watching him for a while. After a time, I’d nod at his teacher, who would approach Thom.

“Thommy, there’s someone here to see you…” I’d smile tentatively, raising my hand in a meek little wave while going to him. He always looked confused, but when I’d ask if he’d like to get a hamburger and strawberry milkshake, it didn’t matter who the diddlyfuck I was, he was ready to buckle in and slap it into B for boogie. Strawberry milkshakes are a divine thing in Thom’s world. They rank right up there with leather belts and his tin sheriff star and Mack.

Over and over he’d ask me who I was, and over and over I would try and explain. He just didn’t get it. Beth was not a grown woman with a smart bob sporting a baby in her belly and sharing pictures of another, Beth was a knobby-kneed six-to-ten year old with a big head and waist-length blonde tendrils that inched their way into her face. “WHOWAH YOU, GUHHHHHL?” and no amount of GWONDOLON-reference or Mack-speak would inch it’s way into his realm of ‘Hey, man, I understand.” Fitting justice that I loved him so completely yet so futilely as the adult me when he, rebuffed and unawares of the rebuffing, had loved me so immensely when I was a kid.

I got four, maybe five of these visits in before Thom died. I think he was happy but confused in his new place. He had spent over fifty years in the same four walls, eating the same baloney-and-cheese sammiches, rinsing with the same Listerine, bathing in the same rusty-smelling well water. I think that his confusion (as confusion often does) led to sorrow or grief, whichever one his child’s mind allowed to take purchase there. I think ultimately the confusion, masked as something else, killed him. No more milkshake visits to my Uncle Thom. No more frustrating hours trying to make him understand that the girl inside was ready and willing to take his hugs, his hand. I am loud like you, Thomas; I am loud and gregarious and I now know what it is like to live in a world that doesn’t understand the loud, gregarious, love-so-hard-it-scares-the-ones-being-loved people in it.

Sadly, I was unable to make it to his funeral because I had the almighty Dee-vorce Court to flail emotionally around in. When I went to the cemetery some ten months later, though, I was given a grim reminder of what utter shitheels my paternal family is comprised of.

There, amidst the backdrop of this very wealthy and well-to-do cemetery where all four of my grandparents, one baby niece, one KIA uncle and two cousins (one murdered in cold blood, one so suicidal that the casket was closed) were interred, I knelt at the grave of Thomas and wept, so enraged that my face was a horrendous knot of fury. He had only a county marker, one of those paper ones with information about the deceased hand-typed upon its face, inserted in a square metal frame and stuck hurriedly in the ground. I drove to the nearest gas station to purchase a calling card, and finding none available, made a slightly illegal (read: free of charge) call to my father in Alaska. I asked him, via his answering machine, why Thom had no marker or headstone on his grave. He never called me back that day to answer.

I asked him repeatedly over the course of the next three years via phone, via e-mail, via letter: “Why is there no marker on Thomas’ grave?” It was if it were a ghost question. It went amazingly unacknowledged over those nearly forty months, but I kept on fucking asking. And asking. And asking. I honestly believe that one question was the last straw; it was the thing that sawed the final tenuous cord of our relationship. In that question lie the statement and the accusation, “You lead such a priveleged existence and you have so little regard for those who love you with all they’ve got. And oh yeah, by the way, you’re a fucker.”

Finally, though, a stone of sweet pink marble was put on the grave.

I couldn’t tell you when the last time I’ve spoken to my father was.

2 worked it out »

  1. tim451 11.22.2002

    screw him. dads suck.

     
  2. April Love 11.26.2002

    That was the most beautiful thing I have ever read.

     

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