Twist & Shout

August 31, 2020

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Back in the day, sucking my thumb…

Madly dancing with your mother and brother, Meet the Beatles circles the turntable, its iconic sleeve lying on a bronze carpet next to the stereo. You’re not sure the song, Twist and Shout? The memory is faded. Like home movies before smartphones. Technicolor. Monophonic. Giddy.

Your mom is pretty, with super short hair like Mia Farrow or Twiggy. You and Jess wore it long like Beatles. You know this more from photographs than the memory itself. You wish it were more vivid, less fleeting. Five years old, you had no idea a revolution was sweeping the country. Who killed the Kennedy’s? Viet Nam. You only remember dancing. That it was giddy. Your father wasn’t there. Fleeting.

15 pounds overweight, maybe 20, pigeon-toed, a mop of brown hair you seldom combed, you have a favorite sweatshirt and loose fitting cords, from the Husky Collection at Sears. You didn’t care about appearances, not yet. You even tolerated correctional shoes. You were happy, in this brief lull, which constituted your childhood.

The impact your parent’s divorce had on you would come soon enough, in waves and aftershocks. For now you saw your father on weekends and that seemed good enough, special even, with its inappropriate Saturday night movies and boozy football parties on Sunday. Your mother was both easy and difficult to be around. She saw many doctors, went to group therapy. But she knew how to cook like a French chef and you knew how to eat. Her bouts with depression, fits of madness, you did not see it then. Or chose not to.

To be continued…

The Locker (7)

April 17, 2020

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Unfolding the letters again, you remembered their secrets. You were surprised your father had shown no interest in reading them, even after you told him what they contained: that his mother (her name was Mary) had unrequited longings for Jack’s brother, Harry. In notes to Harry, dated earlier than ones written to your future Grandfather, she flirted and pined with him. Though modest by today’s standards, you could tell something was going on. Harry had refused her. You have his letters too. And she ended up marrying Jack.

Upon telling these things to your dad, he said only this: “My father always hated his brother.” That was all you got. Your father changed the subject and never returned to it. You knew not to push.

You consider the estrangement with your brother. Wildly different reasons than with Harry and Jack but the result was the same. You met your uncle once maybe twice and have no memory of it. With each passing month, now years, it seems very possible your daughters will forget their uncle as well. The ridiculous feud with your brother upsets your dad. No doubt he draws parallels to the animus between his father and uncle. Maybe the analogy of a chain is a poor one. At times, it seems your family isn’t connected by anything at all.

Placing back the shoebox, you must reconsider your Grandparents as more than old antiques. They were from a simpler era. Things were easier then, cut and dried. Yet, on this hot afternoon, in this crappy storage locker, you uncovered a truth: Jack and Mary had longings that turned into secrets and eventually became lies. Just like you and just like everyone else.

To be continued…

The Locker (6)

April 14, 2020

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One hundred years ago, where you’re standing was more a frontier than a county. The Golden Gate Bridge hadn’t been built yet. Folks still got around on horses. Once a swamp, Chicago had already been drained and laid over with clay bricks that one could still find if he knew where to look. You recall your grandfather telling you about the horse drawn ice truck he worked on, every morning before dawn the sound of hooves clapping over those clay bricks, delivering sawn blocks of Lake Michigan to restaurants and saloons.

Grandpa Jack almost made it to 100. As far as you know he’d been happy through most of it. He liked watching sports on TV (the Bears and the White Sox but never the Cubs), and, in his last years, riding the senior bus to the casinos where he played the slots and bet on the ponies.

As a child, you saw your grandparents periodically, when they were your age now. But you didn’t really know them. Their lives were like dusty books you had no interest in reading. Maybe you’d picked up on your father’s ambivalence to them or, more likely, you were simply too preoccupied with yourself. By the time you became a teen-ager, the last thing you wanted to do was drive out and see them. This would not change, even after siring your own children. Schlepping the kids 40 miles only to watch them squirm seemed like torture. Begrudgingly, you did it, but it was like checking a box. Hit the early bird buffet and have your family back in the city before nightfall. ______’s attitude was better but even she came to view it as an obligation. Your daughters never had a chance. The chain of indifference perpetuated. You marvel how anyone could truly adore his or her elders. Stuns you whenever you hear someone say his or her best friend was grandpa or grandma. Such a different experience than yours, sometimes you think those people were lying.

To be continued…

The Locker (5)

April 10, 2020

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You carry in the latest load, one piece at a time, careful not to strain your back. Even with all the work you’ve done in the gym, lifting and hauling boxes was perilous. The only thing worse than doing this task would be hurting your back while doing it. You place a stuffed reindeer on top of the highest ornament box, a mighty stag overlooking his domain! You place a pair of small, antique lamps in a section devoted to miscellaneous items. The nicer of the two once resided on a mission style desk in your home office, in the Victorian you and Sarah proudly rehabbed in Chicago. The beloved room became a nursery when Remy was born. Much as your ‘66 Mustang convertible became a Honda Odyssey. You’d given all that up willingly, as any father would.

The shoebox nearly topples on your head. You recognized it instantly. You had first discovered it while helping your father go through his mother’s belongings just after she died. It contained bundles of letters between your Grandmother and Grandfather, many from before they were married. Inscribed almost a century ago, her delicate script resembled what one sees on historical documents. The “J” in “Dear Jack” reminding you of John Hancock’s iconic signature, sweeping and florid yet elegantly true. Grandpa Jack’s penmanship was cruder. Understandable for a depression-era shopkeeper, yet still a far sight better than yours or most any other man that you knew.

To be continued…

The Locker (4)

April 8, 2020

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On the right side were the holidays. Green and red tubs filled with Christmas ornaments. The orange crates held Halloween. Easter didn’t have a container, so you’d put the toy rabbits in a clear plastic bag along with three pink vinyl baskets, one for each daughter. You flash on the many mornings your girls ripped open packages under the tree or mad scrambled to collect candy-filled eggs. Sarah would put a ten-dollar bill into three golden eggs, hoping each child would find only one. The odds of that happening were not good and so you had to whisper clues to each daughter. The night before, after the children had gone to sleep, you and Sarah filled the eggs with candy then hid them. Your wife stayed up super late arranging baskets on the couch, creating a perfect still life overflowing with chocolate bunnies, American Girl accessories, iPods and so much more. You always thought she went too far, spent too much. Now a dead spider was stuck in its own web on the porcelain statue of the Easter Bunny.

To your left were neatly stacked opaque, plastic containers filled with Sarah’s green glass collection, still bubble-wrapped from the previous move, as well as other platters and vases and pottery that will never be opened by you or Sarah again. The hoarding and collecting phase of your marriage was a good one, when you were building a nest together. History now. In twenty or thirty years your daughters might open these tubs looking for treasure…for answers. More likely they won’t give a shit. Somewhere in the stacks is the wedding china; a frilly ornamental pattern neither of you would ever chose now. Picking it out had meant the world to Sarah; so much so she’d made you take off work and go to the department store to see it. She had been so excited it made you excited. Sadly, that phase of your marriage was over.

To be continued…