Saturday, January 9, 2016

The rainbow that fell from the sky and other things my oblivious parents gave me ~ a memoir (maybe)

Between an infinitely splitting headache and piercing beeps from my buddy’s constant water-boiler gone dry from a dementia moment I had 10 hour earlier; this personal story in the voice of another takes hold of me. 

Color, it is something my Great Aunt knows I am confident about. It is central to our conversations as we walked heel-to-toe to my school bus-stop a full eight front lawns away. We walked together more often two years ago when I arrived and I attended half-day kindergarten. I am now seven. Today we are walking together, all of us, our dog Jake included because mom is not feeling well.

Today I want to think about things that make me feel good. It has been awhile so it comes to me like from a memory and I begin to talk about colors. “Auntie Suezie, How many colors do you see in the rainbow that fell from the sky?”

These talks have no rules, except maybe, they do. They are questions and answers full of color.

I live very near my Great Aunt. In fact, I have a room in her house. It is my first very own room. I would not have picked flowered wallpaper for my walls, but no one asked me. The flowers are now mostly covered up. Mostly New York Yankee stuff collected or made for me by my mom. A lot of the stuff I got on my 6th birthday. Mom kept calling it a ‘theme’ party. I do not know what theme means but I think it has something to do with baseballs or the Yankees. Anyway my bedroom walls were almost totally covered with things mom did with her after party reorganizing. Reorganizing I think means making more wall space visible and then covering it up. I actually do not spend much time in my room. It is where I sleep. I now have other rooms for the things that I do.

The room greeted me with outstretched arms when I arrived. A picture of Michael Jordan with arms, as big as in life, filled one wall. It was Black & White like me. These enormous shiny arms had hung in the room since Uncle Austin, nearly thirty, was eight. It was his room in much the same way it is now mine; the same white with blue flowers and the ‘cover-ups’.

I did not see the whole word a first. I was not a reader like I am now. This poster is the whole length of my bunk bed. I did see five letters:  W   I   N  G S . After I sounded them all out with mom’s help the word blew out of my mouth just as it made sense to me:  WINGS.  There were more words printed underneath Michael Jordan’s picture, much smaller words, that my mom read to me. "No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings." -William Blake. I guess that is something you can do with wings.

Auntie found this poster a local shop in the center of town the year she moved here: 1995. Google told us it was made in 1989. Nike made it. I learn all this from Uncle Austin when he came to visit. I have a t-shirt with the Nike on it. I want sneakers.
Uncle Austin said “It is an original, just like you. Show me your wings” I did. We laughed and he scooped me up in his arms. Auntie passed by as we are giggling. “Wings and words of a poet, just like you” she says and gives Uncle Austin one of her best smiles. This was something I would come to know.

My mom was quick to say “We can take this wallpaper off, paint the room...”  But before she could get the question “What color?” fully out of her mouth that line of thinking was quickly paused with “Hah, No” in a rather firm tone that I also would also come to know.

Attempting a recovery from the tone, Auntie Suezie says “Flowers are nice for everybody. They’re blue flowers. Blue is for boys, right!" There is something much deeper from which the tone came; but it stays deep among the pale blue lines of flowers that covered my room.

With a stunned look my mom, her name is Jane, says “Yeah sure”, quickly realizing that this was her son’s first room. She replies “Derrick”, that’s me, “has lots of things. I am sure he won’t notice the flowers much when we finish moving in.” Already thinking about a Yankee blanket that could nearly cover one full wall she would plan the cover up and keep the peace for her boy.

"Sure, that's fine."  Auntie replies from a far off place. "It will be a guest room again someday." Someday is not now. That means I am not a guest. It is my room.
Truth is the only thing that really got my attention was the idea that the room had a door; a door which I could decide when to shut.

Only Auntie knew how much the room looked like the one she once decorated for a little girl named Jen who was not her own. This is something I come to figure out when Uncle Austin visits and says with his broadly bald face smile “Hey mom, not ready to let go of those blue flowers yet, I see.”

I heard the adults talking while the Little Red Truck got filled up. There was something about an agreement for three years. I was getting pretty good at numbers so I listened when I heard numbers. “Maybe, five.” That sounded better because five is bigger than three.  

There was more talk that sounded like rules for my mom “To be what she could be”. Some of the loudest and quietest big people conversations were full of talk about rules. My parents kept saying they were trapped by the freedom rules. Most of these talks happened before family meetings that did not include me. Whatever these “freedom rules” were, they made it possible for me to have my room.

We moved after the little Red Truck was full. At first I missed all-day kindergarten but I liked wearing Yankee t-shirts and sneakers that glowed in the dark to school. I now had pets and my room and a different room with a computer and a table and crayons and Legos. I almost did not have time for a half-day of school. I was happy to wait for 1st Grade, for all-day school.

Half-days meant someone needed to be at the house in the middle of the day and that needed a calendar with Auntie’s name on it for taking me to the bus and meeting the bus if my parents had things to do. Mom always had more things to do than Dad. It had always been that way. 

You see, we, my mom and dad and me, had been living in a three room apartment. There sirens pierced the night and dark curtain kept the street lights out. My bed was in a room just off the kitchen. It was the ‘everything’ room that connected with an large arched opening to my parents’ side where they watch TV, play video games and did big people things.

Just before we moved mom got a table from a friend of a friend. It came apart so it could be easier to carry up the three flights of stairs to where we lived. I was surprised how big it was when it got put together. She stuffed it into the kitchen where the folding table was before. It was wood. It was special for Thanksgiving Dinner. My dad, his name is Bud, and me, hurried our Thanksgiving eating up because we wanted to be watching football on TV in the big people’s part of the ‘everything’ room.

We did not have Christmas at this table because we moved. Dad’s friends helped him unmake that table and carry it down all the stairs to the Little Red Truck, a truck that looked like a box on wheels with red letters spelling out ‘Little Red Truck’ would move all of our things to a house. The house already had a table in the kitchen. It had an even bigger wood table that eight people could sit around in the Dining Room. I learn something new. There are rooms named for what you do in them like eating.

A house is mostly different from apartments because the stairs are inside. There is more grass between the sidewalk and the front door that no one uses. Mostly we use the door through the garage. At night the sounds are different and the shade on the window can be put up or down. There are more rooms. The calendar showed the year as 2013. Everybody sat at the Dining Room table for a day near Christmas and talked and ate and talked some more. Christmas we had other places to be where I got lots of things to bring back to the house.

The next Thanksgiving mom, dad and I went to grandma’s house. That is my dad's mom’s house. Grandma’s family table was full to overflowing with big bowls and pans and boxes of food of many colors. It took three trips from our car to carry in all that mom and me made: Green French Bean Casserole with orange crunches, red sausages & green peppers, some yellow macaroni with a name like lazy-on-ya with white cheese, orange and red chicken that you can eat without silverware, a purple berry filled fresh baked pastry from my school fundraiser and four types of cookies that we decorated the day before. There was a dessert with layers, white and brown and red made with special things we needed to get at the store that were hard to find. One was coconut. It was for the white part.

Curious George’s Coconut Vowels held word that fell on the beach in the computer. He did not eat his coconuts. Coconut being food was a surprise to me.
The kitchen is where the people in the house meet the most. It is colorful. It has two walls with red apples, farmers and chickens on it.  When Uncle Kirk and all his kids came to live in the house they made the house bigger. The last room Uncle Kirk made newer was the kitchen. It was modernized. He could do a lot of things from out of his mind with his hands using the tools we passed in the garage. We come into the house with the garage door.

The day we baked cookies Auntie did not say much of anything. Auntie always had somewhere else to be after feeding the outdoor cats she called “the boys”. Feeding the indoor cats, Hector and Fuzz, had become my job. While we were baking she passed through the kitchen to look out the big window in front of the sink into the backyard.

The window was her favorite thing about the kitchen. She told me on one of our walks to the bus that window is why she bought the house. She said, “A window is always a new picture and the bird feeder invited birds into the picture. All shapes and sizes and colors of birds: Red Cardinals, Blue Jays, Rock Doves, Wrens, Sparrows and sometimes a black and white Woodpecker with a red cap and a fuzzy gray Squirrel.

The kitchen was just like the one she imagined having when she was my age. She got the ideas about her dream kitchen from magazines she found in her Aunt Rosalie’s house. The magazines had lots of pictures too. The 1950 kitchens were full of colors even pink and robin’s egg blue toasters. The 1960 kitchens had more yellows and reds. Aunt Rosalie was a painter so many thing around her house were there because of color.

Each morning after filling the Gazebo Bird Feeder Auntie walks Jake. She always says “Jake is Uncle Austin's dog”. There is a gazebo in town. Sometimes people go there to buy local food at the farmer’s market or listen to music. That is how I know what to call the shape of the bird feeder. I do not see her cook much in the kitchen. She goes away a lot to give my mom space to be a mom with a kitchen.  

Our tall stainless steel refrigerator is always covered with school papers. I have the most stuff on it: drawings and writing practices and quizzes with gold and silver star stickers. Mom and dad put their fancy papers on it too holding them with magnets. Theirs say “Certificate” and “Valedictorian” and have the letters CNA which is not a word. This did not happen right away. Mom got the first one. Dad’s was on the refrigerator for my 6th birthday party. That was the reason for two cakes. I guess it was pretty special. Everyone was telling him “Congratulations”.

Anyway that cookie making day nearly every appliance and pan Auntie and Uncle Kirk owned and some unfamiliar to them were in use. The kitchen was one big mess. I waited to be told what to touch, stir, throw in trash, and add to the bowls. It did smell real good; I wondered if that was the coconut.

At Thanksgiving dinner mom says. “I have an idea. Let’s share what they are thankful for.”  I understand some people use this time before eating to pray, we do not pray but I have had dinner at friends and they said “We are thankful for these blessings Lord. Amen.”

I am the last to share. I feel like we are putting together a puzzle. Everyone’s piece cannot be the same. Grandma is happy we are there with her. Mom has a job. Dad is a CNA. I blurt out: “My home.” Blurting is not my style unless talking with Auntie on the way to the school bus. I typically shuffle my whole body, lower my head, make some murmuring sounds and say almost answers until I get some sense of which one might be accepted as right. 

My mind filled with this whole story when it was supposed to be saying the names of the colors. We have only followed the oil slick past two front lawns. Jake has finished his business. Colors, there are more than three. In the rainbow that fell from the sky I saw purple, pink, green, many blues and gold.

"Yes, Gold and Aqua, Teal, Turquoise" Auntie says. "Sometimes beauty can come from things that do not mix well together as they stretch in the light." Then she hurries us "Run. It's late. We have a bus to greet."

In silent clashes and musings, a life yet to embrace “A Room of One’s Own” dwells precariously in consumptive times.

Curbside with Virginia Woolf

Take up the tradition, write… increase the endowment for our daughters. Money is from where freedom will come. Could I have accidentally found justification for my illegal pursuit of cash?

1978. Spring. Saturday.
The sun is warm but not enough to heat the pavement. My legs are starchy white and could benefit from some sun.  They are smooth shaven not out of habit but as an investment in the pursuit of income by the hour. This hour had no appointment so I sit curbside at the motel and read:   

The narrator writes, “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time . . .”

No comments: