"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Red Mountain

In May of 1939, a man could buy a Plymouth Roadking for $645, or a tin of Bond Street Tobacco for 15c. The World's Fair was in full swing in New York City. Mrs. Roosevelt had greeted more than 20,000 Brooklyn women the morning I was born. The New York Times reported that two pickpockets and an umbrella mender "in possession of a screwdriver, pliers, and a flashlight" had been arrested the night before and were repenting in jail. James Joyce's first new work in 17 years, Finnegan's Wake was heralded in the Wall Street Journal as "The most unusual literary event of our time."

So it was. On the night of my birth, the sun, on the other side of the world, was in Taurus. The moon, on my side, was in Aries. Our house was on the side of the hill. In spring, the hillside was covered with flowering creosote, yellow asters, and pink-eyes, which, it seems to me, was another name for Indian Paintbrushes. Clumps of pink and white wild primroses bloomed everywhere (the pollen was thick and golden, and brushed under your chin would tell whether or not you liked butter, or boys, I can't remember which). Thick, waxy desert lilies decorated the roadsides. The smell of spring on the desert was incredible. By mid-May, most of the flowers had been ravaged by the herds of sheep that came through like locusts and ate everything green right down to the dirt.

Our house was yellow. Daddy built it himself from railroad ties, and a locust tree grew in the side yard. There was a screened front porch that let the cool evening breezes blow through, and an outhouse, which I rarely used, being lucky enough to have my own potty-chair beside the ice-box in the kitchen. The wars flourished in Europe, but our front porch was a safe place to be. By 1943, the Wehrmacht was in retreat, Lucky Strike Green had gone to war, and people were singing "Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition." Rocking on our front porch in the evening then, Mama sang to me. She sang, Pony Boy, Pony Boy, won't you be my Pony Boy? Don't say no, here we go, off across the plains. Marry me, carry me right away with you.... There were occasional blackouts; more often searchlights criss-crossed in the dark while she sang of the Fox in the Log: Naaa, naaa, naaa said the little fox, naaa, naaa, you can't catch me!... Or Brahm's Lullaby.
Often she sang about the Poor Babes in the Woods, two children who went for a walk one day, got lost, died, and the robins so red brought strawberry leaves and over them spread.... It was the saddest thing in the world, and I cried and cried for those lost children.

A corral to the north of the house was home for old April, the brown Jersey cow who once kicked Grandpa in the head. Mama always said April was stubborn and mean and stingy, but I liked sitting on her back, my skinny legs splayed straight out, while Daddy milked her. Later, Mama heated the milk in a great silver pan to bring the cream to the top, a thin, wrinkled, pale layer she skimmed off the top with a spoon, while she complained that the cow owned by my Uncle Frank and Aunt Lauree gave milk with yellow cream that rolled off the top like a thick jellyroll.

Old April was uncooperative in more ways that this. When my twelve-year old brother helped Daddy bring her into the corral on the evening she first became a member of the family, she bolted as if she were being led to slaughter, and took off up the hillside, scattering primroses and pollen to the wind, with Brother and Daddy close behind her. They hollared and waved their arms and tried to head her off, each trying to outguess the direction she'd take next. For a cow, she'd have made a good race horse, galloping first to the north, then up the west hill, skirting bushes and galloping across gullies before heading toward town. Dad hollared for Mama to get the car, and as the sun dropped behind the hill, and it was beginning to get dark, to keep the cow in the headlights. Mama grabbed me up, and she cranked up the old green Model A, and off we went, without a word, without a road, up and down the mountain, through ditches, the Model A's headlights shooting out two thin beams of light to illuminate the first truly exciting adventure of my life!


slickdpdx said...

Another great one!

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.