Friday, November 11, 2016

swish

As time goes by, certain memories begin to blur and jumble together. It's only fragments remembered and one begins to wonder if the pieces have been put together wrong. Sometimes I used to tell people about some family history with a little riddle, when the conversation turned to such matters. "You know my Grandfather had two wives but he was married three times," I'd say and watch their face for a realization, or wait for them to ask how that is possible, or see that maybe they were not even paying attention. As I came to know the story, Grandad and Grandmother Harvey were divorced, but then got back together, got re-married to each other and tried again. When I asked Grandad about this, he said he really tried to make it work, but it didn't and he didn't really understand why. "I even took her to Europe!" he explained, showing how much effort he put into the thing, illustrating how at least the second divorce was surely not his fault. Grandad's third marriage was to his second wife Carolyn. As far back as I can remember, Grandand & Carolyn were a unit. We would always visit Grandad & Carolyn. When I was young, I never thought to wonder why Grandad & Carolyn lived in Wisconsin and Grandmother & Graggy (our great-grandmother) lived on the other side of the country. I have no memory of when it happened, but I remember Grandad talking about how he met Carolyn. He said he was at some event in Chicago, perhaps some kind of dinner, "and I saw the swish of her skirt and I knew I had to have her." That may not be exactly what he said, in fact, the language doesn't sound quite right for Grandad, but I think the tone conveyed was along those lines. At some point, Carolyn's mother, Mrs. Hayes, came to live with them. She lived in one of the upstairs bedrooms. During one visit when Ross and I were younger, I think she was there and the door was usually closed and we didn't see her too often. She seemed very Southern, formal, proper, distant and perhaps not too fond of children. Or perhaps just rambunctious boys like ourselves. Later when I came to visit by myself, I saw more of her. She would come with us out to eat or shop. I remember an instance of going shopping in downtown Racine and I came around to her side of the car when we stopped and helped her out of the car, and walked with her arm through mine to steady her gait over the rough brick sidewalk. Grandad & Carolyn made kind of a big deal about what a gentleman I was and Mrs. Hayes seemed to warm up to me a bit more after that. I would sometimes sit by the fire with her and talk. Sometimes I couldn't really get what she was saying, so it felt a little bit like a chore, but it was nice and felt like a gift I could give her without too much trouble. She was about a hundred years old then I think. It's possible that some or all of this could be inaccurate. That makes me feel a sense of loss, knowing I had these memories and they were sharp and organized at one point. It makes me remember the English professor who picked me up from Aberdeen airport when I went to Scotland for my junior year of University (he was a Scottish professor of English, not a professor from England). He said, "Keep a journal while you're here. If you do you'll be glad, if you don't you'll regret it." I don't remember his name, but he had red hair. If I had kept a journal I could probably include his name, but I didn't keep a journal while I was there. Nor while I was visiting Grandad & Carolyn and Mrs. Hayes. I found a photo which included Mrs. Hayes, but like my memories, a large portion of the image is occluded.
Mrs. Hayes, Carolyn, Grandad at Wind Point
Mrs. Hayes, Carolyn & Grandad at Wind Point

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

glue

As you might recall from my post just over ten years and one month ago, mosquitoes were a fixture of summer life at the cabin. And as you also might recall, one harrowing night, I killed nearly 30 mosquitoes while writing a postcard to Carl. I have no definite recall of the exact number, but for some reason, 26 pops into my head as the final tally. This is the kind of thing which doesn't really matter much; whether it was 28 or 35 or even 24, it was a lot. But it might be possible even now to verify this number. As I killed each mosquito, I put a drop of Elmer's glue on the postcard, on the parts I'd already written, and entombed the fallen mosquito for posterity. Or at least for Carl. I had a few chuckles thinking about Carl receiving the postcard, or perhaps a too curious postal worker being disgusted at the miniature graveyard, but forgot about the postcard soon after taking it to the post office in Phillips on my bike. Some years later I visited Florida and found out Carl was living there again, or still, and tracked him down. He happened to be moving some boxes in his garage when I drove up. While we reminisced, Carl reached into one of the boxes and pulled out the very postcard. I read it and ran my finger over the tiny smooth transparent burial mounds; modern day accelerated jewels of amber punctuating sentences complaining about the scourge of mosquitoes. Maybe he put it back in the box, and maybe he still has that box. Or maybe he gave the card to me. If so, I might have put it into a box of my own. In some box, if it hasn't gotten too wet over the years, might be the means to discover the number of mosquitoes killed during the span of the writing of a postcard.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

some flavor soda

During a summer visit to Racine, we attended the 4th of July parade and some kind of picnic. I don't know which year it was and the memory is rather vague. It seems the memories of two or more 4ths of July might be mixing together. There was the visit in the seventies, when I was quite young. There exists a very seventies looking photo from this visit.
Seventies Racine
Family visit to Racine
One memory, probably from this visit, is going down to Uncle Bill and Aunt JoAn's on Main Street. In their back yard, or perhaps a neighbor's back yard, were some picnic tables with snacks and possibly barbecue. There was also a large metal tub with wooden handles. This tub had been filled with ice and soft drinks of many kinds. Most of the ice had melted by the time this memory formed, and many of the drinks had been taken. My brother and I saw enticing sodas at the bottom of this lake of icy water and the first moment of plunging our hands in to grab one felt glorious against the sticky heat of summer, but the next moments went from uncomfortably cold to numbingly painful as we pushed the bottles around looking for the best one. The memory fades a bit after we each captured our quarry, except that we left the area and opened our sodas and mine was the best soda I had ever tasted. I don't recall the flavor, perhaps it was a cherry or strawberry soda, maybe creme soda or some kind of ginger ale. I was amazed; I had no idea soda could be that good. We drank our sodas and ate some food and did whatever kids do on the 4th of July, and after some time we resolved to go back and get another amazing soda. I think we had wondered down the street a bit, and there was some difficulty with unexpected fences and blind alleys, and I remember feeling a bit uneasy that perhaps we couldn't find our way back. We eventually did, but everyone had left the area. The tables had very little desirable food left, only crumbs of cookies or chips in the bottoms of bowls and perhaps a few lonely hot dog buns and half empty bottles of mustard. It had gotten a bit breezy so napkins and paper plates were fluttering around in the wind and the sun had fallen behind a house. The tub of drinks had very little ice left, but the water was still freezing cold. The choice of sodas had diminished significantly. The thought of plunging my hand into the tub for a soda promised only damp chill and shadow, and moving the bottles around in the bottom of the tub revealed only unappealing looking unknown sodas, none of the amazing kind I had gotten earlier. We both selected one of the thus far unwanted sodas and took a deep thirsty draft, almost retching at the terrible taste. For perhaps for the first time in my life, I abandoned a bottle of soda after only one unwisely large and optimistic gulp. As good as the previous soda had been, this one had been twice as bad.

Monday, November 11, 2013

geographic

The houses we grew up in only had one bathroom, so Grandad's house seemed rather luxurious because it had one and a half bathrooms. Downstairs there was a small tiled bathroom with only a toilet and a sink. Its hue was sort of brownish orange, and during the summer days when we stayed at Grandad's, that little bathroom seemed to have a special coolness. Perhaps it was because of the tile and the porcelain which was cool to the touch even on a hot summer day.
Downstairs Bathroom
It was a comfortable place, and there was a little rack of magazines to peruse while sitting on the toilet. For a while, there were some very old National Geographic magazines in the rack, so it made the space seem like it was a bit disjoint, out of time, and out of space. One could shut the door and be transported to a summer day in the late thirties and read about the danger clouds looming in Europe and the new hundred mile an hour streamlined train engines thundering across the American prairie. The little room also had the ground floor opening of the laundry chute, which was a wonderful thing to us. Then when done with the article, it was time the flush the toilet, wash the hands and return to Wisconsin in the early eighties.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

spite

During a visit to Racine, Grandad & Carolyn taught us a card game called Spite & Malice. It's played with two decks of cards. It can be played with up to four players. Sometimes Grandad, Carolyn, Ross and I would play. We enjoyed it. If we were taking too long to decide what to do, Grandad would get impatient and say, "Come on.." with some witty phrase about an ice age coming or the season changing. Then if we continued to delay, he'd threaten that our move would be forfeit and sometimes begin a countdown. I always wanted to make the best play, so I would think over all the possibilities, and must have taken an annoyingly long time. I got a bit faster as I learned the vagaries of the game and I'd be planning my next move even before I was finished with my current one. Then as I understood the game better I got faster and would make my move the instant the opponent laid down their card on the discard pile.
I was more into playing games, so I think I enjoyed it more than Ross. Sometimes I would play it with only Grandad or Carolyn, or occasionally both of them, while Ross was doing something else. I don't know if they let me win, but I was pretty good at the game and often won. I really liked playing and for a while, I would play as many games as possible. Every time I won, they would make some comment about how lucky I was, and how they would have to raise some money and send me to Las Vegas so I could make them rich. I remember a couple days of playing game after game with Carolyn. After the first few, she would say it's the last one, but I'd convince her to play just one more. Between games, and during breaks, I would make us glasses of Lipton instant sugar free iced tea. For some reason I really liked the chemical taste of the reconstituted tea and saccharin. I drank glass after glass, and began to associate the strange metallic taste with winning. After that visit, I always wanted to play that game at home, but Ross didn't want to play too often. Whenever I had the chance, I would teach a friend that game so I could play with them and usually beat them. Most people would play a few times with me, then not any more, either because they didn't like the game, or perhaps they didn't like losing most of the time. So every time I visited Racine after that, I always made it a point to play at least one game with Grandad or Carolyn, or both, if possible. It was such a pleasure to play cards with them in the living room on the old card table.
Cozy Living Room Fire
Living room with fire
(card table not pictured)
I remember playing in the summer when the weather was nice and the windows were open and a nice breeze blew through, and playing in the winter when there was a fire in the fireplace, radiating its warmth and cheer over the card players.
When I was in college, I taught some school chums to play and enjoyed a few games of Spite & Malice. I bought some Lipton instant sugar free iced tea to drink while we played, but I think they had changed the formula, and it lacked the harsh metallic taste of victory. After that, I never won with such regularity.

Friday, November 11, 2011

undercover radio

At Grandad & Carolyn's, Ross and I would stay in the guest bedroom where there was a large bed that we had to share. There was a little folding stand which could be unfolded to accommodate a suitcase. On the far side of the bed was a little alarm clock radio on the bedside table. The ceiling slanted down to meet the walls where roof sloped into the space of the room. The bed was comfortable and the room seemed a little formal and cozy at the same time somehow. One summer when we were there, Grandad gave Ross Ivanhoe to read, but thought it was too advanced for me. He gave me a strange old book, probably from the twenties or earlier, with a green cover, like a boy's adventure book, set in ancient Egypt. Ross and I would sometimes read our respective books in bed for a while after we were supposed to be asleep. I was a little jealous of Ross's book, and was quite sure that Ivanhoe was not too advanced for me, especially when Ross would read a quote like this to me, "No silver will I give thee, unless I were to pour it molten down thy avaricious throat—no, not a silver penny will I give thee, Nazarene, were it to save thee from the deep damnation thy whole life has merited!" which was already familiar to me, since Grandad had recited it on more than one occasion. But I enjoyed my book too, if for nothing else, the fact that it was old and hard covered, with brittle yellowed pages, and ancient looking type. And I have a vague impression there was a boy throwing a stick on the cover. I think Grandad gave me the book, and I may still have it somewhere. But sometimes, we would get caught with the light on much later than we were supposed to be awake, and then it was really time to turn off the light and go to sleep. So we would turn the light off and wait a while for the adult to return to bed, or to go back downstairs, then, whoever was on the far side of the bed would reach over and turn the AM radio on the clock radio on, and with the volume low, would search for something distant and interesting on the radio. The more distant it was, the more interesting it seemed. Sometimes we would get a Milwaukee station, or Chicago, coming in strong, and we would drift away from those, searching for New York or Boston or somewhere in Texas, a remote and wavering signal, we would strain to listen to the news, or some music, until it gradually faded out or became too staticky. It seemed magical, the sounds drifting in across the ether from some faraway place, late at night. And it seemed slightly, yet deliciously, surreptitious, since we were supposed to be asleep long before. I remember wondering if my dad and his siblings had done similar clandestine radio listening in the same room in the distant past. And we would get tired, and eventually fall asleep, sometimes waking later to turn off the radio, which had been jazz music, or an old time fire and brimstone preacher, or news from the east coast, but was then only a low shhhhh of static.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

antenna

Grandad & Carolyn's house had a sort of balcony on the second story which was accessible via a door at the top of the stairs. This door was always closed and usually locked. But nothing interests young kids as much as a place they're not supposed to go, so we always wanted to go out on the balcony. It didn't matter so much that we were told the roof might not support us and we could come crashing down through the balcony into the kitchen. We were sure that we could be careful and step lightly and enjoy viewing the yard from on high. We did manage to go out a few times, and perhaps a good scolding made it seem that we shouldn't try to open that door again.
The house also had a large television antenna. There was a control inside which controlled a motor on top of the antenna to point it towards Chicago or Milwaukee or wherever there might be a television station for better reception. It was a great marvel to us, since we had mostly experience with rabbit ear antennas and we often looked up at in wonder.
At some point, we noticed that the television antenna tower passed very close to the balcony, and to us, the structure of the tower looked very much like a small ladder. After some consideration of the merits of trying to climb this ladder, we came to the conclusion that it was a good idea. I think it was Ross who first carefully stepped over Carolyn's flowers, tried out the handhold, then the foothold and began to climb. It looked easy and exciting and fun so I was quick to follow. It became more difficult as we climbed. And when we came next to the balcony, it didn't seem likely that we'd be able to get over to it, so the logical thing to do was to continue climbing up. We had a great view of the yard, front and back, and I think it was sometime around this time that we began to realize how high up we were. I also have a vague memory of trying to go down, and feeling empty space under my foot when I began to take a step down and not liking that at all. My arms and legs were getting tired, and I was wishing there was a way to get down without having to take all of those backwards steps into potentially empty space.
I'm not sure if it was Grandad or Carolyn who noticed that we weren't around, but Grandad came out and called us, and we watched him look out front, then come around back. We were so proud of our accomplishment that we didn't stop to consider that our accomplishment could get us in trouble, so we said, "Hi Grandad!" and waved to him. He looked around and couldn't tell where we were so we yelled some more and he finally looked up and we waved again. Perhaps fortunately, we were too far away to see the expression on his face, but for some reason he didn't seem as pleased about what we had done as we were. Carolyn had come out, and went inside to get the camera, and took a picture of us up on the antenna, and Grandad commanded us to come down.
Suddenly the fear of putting my foot down onto a rung of the improvised ladder that wasn't there seemed a minor thing compared to the fear of further stoking Grandad's quite evident ire (though, could it be that he also laughed for some reason?). We descended as rapidly as possible, to meet our doom at the hands of the Judge. I don't remember the exact nature of the punishment, but it could have been as bad as a long lecture of safety and common sense.
I haven't seen that picture for many years. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it ever existed.