Friday, June 27, 2014

A Tale of Years, 5: 1984

A hinge point.

Grandpa Mathews passes away. It is my first funeral. Jeff and I lurk under coats. Later, I play that one of my He-Men has died, and the others must attend his funeral. Mom tells me to never, ever, play that someone has died.

Later (or before), I ask what will happen when I die. Mom is folding and putting away sheets and blankets in the closet at the end of the hall. She is busy and exasperated (I have likely been asking questions all afternoon), and she tells me, over her shoulder, Jents don't die.

I am relieved. For years, I am relieved.

I am enrolled in pre-school, probably in the summer. There is a girl who announces she has a crush on me. I always arrive after the rest of the kids, and leave at naptime. I arrive one day and am beckoned by the girl with the crush. She is in the middle of a crowd, and she states that We have FOUND our Luke Skywalker, and she raises my arm high in the sky. Every cartoon I have ever seen has taught me the appropriate response to a girl with a crush on you is to run from her.

 I run.

I have vague, timeless recollections of seeing commercials for things like football phones. You can have one (free!) if you subscribe to Sports Illustrated. I do not care for sports, but I have an innate desire for phones shaped like other things. Can we order the football phone?

Jents don't do that.

On television, characters order pizzas, and the pizzas are delivered to their homes. On Weaver Road, we order pizzas, and Mom drives to Owensville to pick them up from Angelo's. Why don't we have them delivered?

We live too far away.

In ways that are hard to grasp, I come to believe that our family is different from other families. There are rules that apply only to us. There are indulgences we are not allowed.

You can imagine, then, my surprise when I turn 5 and become the caretaker of a castle of great reknown.

It is the first birthday I have a direct memory of. It happens in the dining room, which is not where we normally share meals. This is a special occasion. I have filled up an entire hand with my age. I am 5!

Snow falls. Snow angels are made in the backyard, where a structure and a roof has been built over the back porch. Formerly, the back porch was a hellscape of unending sun. Now, it is shaded and a place for tables.

In the front yard, snow dinosaurs. Rolled (with leaves), splattered with blue and green food coloring.

In the summer, suddenly, we are the caretakers of an above-ground pool. For a long time I am terrified of the water. I try to learn how to swim with water-wings, but they throw me out of balance. I am only comfortable when supported by a small, orange innertube. This is the way of the water for some time to come, until I am enrolled in swimming lessons at the Y. My brother takes to it immediately, donning masks and snorkels and captaining rafts and inflatable boats.

My father builds a deck.
I am introduced to Batman, holding court and signing autographs outside of Johnny's Toys. Johnny's Toys has a large window out front, decorated with an elaborate train set. Dad says I should whisper to Batman that I know he is really Bruce Wayne. I say this is ridiculous -- what if the Joker is watching? I will never reveal Batman's secret identity.

In the fall, I am put on a bus. I am sent to kindergarten.
One day I sit next to Preston King. He is my age, he is starting kindergarten as well, but he is taller than me, his hair is curly and large, he is bigger than I in every way. This must be a bully, I decide. I remain unfairly wary of him for the rest of my life.

Another day, I sit next to Geoff. Geoff Wilkins? He tells me his name, which is similar enough to my cousin Jeff's name, that I inform him we will be friends. He is blonde and smaller than me. Geoff responds We are not friends, with a laugh. I feel this rejection for the rest of my life.

(This is some kind of pre-attendance-special-ritual. Preston and Geoff, members of my kindergarten class, are not riders of my bus.)

Every day on my regular bus route, I sit next to Nick Gilkison. He lives on Weaver Road too. He has two younger brothers and dozens of cousins. The Clermont County Gilkisons are a gang, an institution, a deep-rooted tree with many branches. Kellermans, Lockes, Davises, all springing from the core. The first time I spend the night away from home, it is to sleep in a waterbed shared by the Gilkison boys. The first time an exterior object pierces my flesh, it is when I fall while running on a hill in their wooded preserve, and a stick punctures the palm of my hand.

Nick's mom wraps my hand in an exaggerated bandage. I develop a theory: if it's not bleeding, it is not serious.

Next to Nick's house, where the trees part, is The Shelter. A large picnic area, abutting a small cliff that can be climbed, fist over fist, holding to roots. Atop the cliff is a baseball diamond. Past this, a field, and past the field, a creek, and across the creek, more Gilkisons. This is not a public park, though it is sometimes mistaken for such. It is family property.

In 1984, Pa's youngest daughter -- Aunt Sheryl -- marries Lance Cottone. Ma and Pa dance.

I am the ring-bearer. My brother, who is 14 going on 15, serves as bartender.

It is a joyous occasion.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Tale of Years, 4: 1983

Grandma & Grandpa Mathews live on Belfast Road, in a low blue house hidden by trees. It's not properly in the woods -- behind this low blue house is someone else's house, and a barn that sometimes houses a horse -- but it feels like a very Ohio home all the same, with its own yard and hills and valleys and a spring that runs nearby.

It is where my mom spent much of her own childhood. There is no bathroom in this house. It was  chicken coop before it was a home for humans, when there was also a barn and a farmhouse on the property. Those two burned down under mysterious circumstances, with a black sheep uncle inside, with Mom and the Mathews family proper out of town. This is prehistory, and unclear.

Grandpa Eldritch Louis Mathews is a man on the couch. He has big black boots that I liken to Frankenstein's. There is a line of action of figures that Mom occasionally buys for me from Rinky Dink's, figures the same size as Star Wars guys. I have Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein. When I see Grandpa Mathews lying on the couch, waylaid from a head injury that is decades old, I think of Frankenstein and his boots. I do not think Grandpa is Frankenstein. I just think Frankenstein reminds me of Grandpa.

What I think is, I think my Grandpa is Jesus Christ.

Let me explain.
Fount from which I sprang.
There is a painting, or a print of a painting, hanging in the living room of the Mathews home. It is a Peter Bianchi Jesus, probably gotten from a grocery store in the 1950s or little bit later, but when I see this picture, coming from a lack of religion as I do, I say to myself, Why would Grandma have a painting of a man in her house if it wasn't Grandpa? Therefore, Jesus is Grandpa as a much younger man.

(Another time, at Ma's, I have a vision of Han Solo in my head. I imagine this is what God looks like. Young, virile, a man to be followed. I ask Ma if God has a gun that he shoots that is full of water, and when he shoots it, that is rain. Ma is angry. She tells me God does not shoot guns.)

There is a birthday party for Grandpa Mathews. There is a cake in a pink cardboard box. There are party hats and I wear my best Superman shirt. I am adjusting my party hat and the elastic band snaps back at me, hitting me in the nose and beneath my eyes.

Eldritch Mathews, Jeff Mathews, Matthew Jent.
It hurts, and I cry, but not so much that I don't want to put a party hat back on. It's a party hat! I am not going to be the only one not wearing a party hat.

A Tale of Years, 3: 1982

The grass come in. The trees always have.

I have winter memories, but those only become clear later on. For now, it's still the summer I think of.

My brother is 12.

My mom and dad are 32 and 32.

The Big Swing. Aluminum frame, painted brown, a long bench-swing made of wood, also painted. I run circles around it -- I literally do this -- as Dad yells to stay away because a wasp lives there now. I hear him, but I do not listen, and as I'm pumping my knees up and swinging my elbows to each side, there is an intense bolt of light and a pain in my right ear. I'm on the ground, holding it, and someone is beside me -- it must be Dad, but I feel like his voice is far away, telling me I told you to watch out.

I'm taken inside, to the bathroom with Mom. A wasp sting in my ear. There is cotton, there is alcohol, I am swabbed and I squirm and I am held down and soothed, to very little effect, until I tire myself out and lie still.

Later, Dad walks around the swing and sprays something at the ends. The wasps die, I convalesce. For all time, I fear their honeycombed nests.

There is herd of cats and a matriarch called Peaches. Orange kittens, until one is born that is partly gray. Peaches is very friendly and polite. The gray one is meaner. The gray one -- her name should be seared into my memory, too. I can see her eyes, those vertical pupils, but her name is washy. Patches? Cleo? Spot? Who is she?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Tale of Years, 2: 1981

There's a feeling I still feel today in the Ohio River Valley. It is large and expansive, yet hidden. The hills dip down, the trees reach up. You can be hidden there. Taking in the world, but living unseen and unheard. Later, this feels frustrating. In formative times, it feels like patient safety.

"After the monsoon."

In 1981, I am 2 and my brother is 12.

My mom and dad are 31 and 31.

 Up the road at Ma & Pa's. Pa is a farmer, with a former life as a short-run trucker. He wears button-up plaid shirts with short sleeves, which show off his tattoos (a lady in a bikini; a lady not wearing anything; a heart that says Mother). He wears mesh-backed trucker caps that perch on the top of his head. His glasses are big, but he usually keeps them in a leather case in his shirt-front pocket. He breathes heavy. He smiles slow and talks mean. He calls Ma mother. He is my dad's step-dad.

He keeps trailers of junk and detritus and old mechanics around the farm. Right across the road from the farmhouse, where my brother will later build a house of his own, there are several rusted semi-truck trailers filled with parts. When Pa's tractors or cars or combines break down, he goes into these trailers and puts together a replacement.

Ma & Pa's kitchen table. The head of that table, where Pa always sat. Corn on the cob, held by corn-shaped stickers. Those thick wooden chairs, that thick wooden table, the wooden beams along the top of their living room ceiling. Me and Dave, staying the night at Ma & Pa's, on the floor looking up at those beams in the nighttime dark.

The wooden cabinets of our kitchen. The yellow and brown tile of the kitchen floor, fitting together like an alien mosaic pattern. I cannot hear you, there's a banana in my ear. My dad's red sweatshirt, splattered with paint. The sharp metal edges of the toy car I would drive. No shirts in the summertime.

Sitting on the front porch. Watching the real cars as they drove past, because who is that?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Tale of Years, 1: 1980

Memory is tricky, trickful, and slippery.

I remember Grover. I remember the bars on this bed. I  remember later, when the walls are painted blue, which means I remember that they used to be white. I remember Grover falling out of the bed, just out of my reach, and crying and screaming for his return.

Fount from which I sprang.
Matthew, Fry, Cox, Mathews.

I remember the brown van. Two bucket seats up front, wide open space in the back. Wheel wells that serve as seats. Parked in the driveway turnaround where, in the future, Dad installs a basketball pole.

Fish-faces in the backyard, which is 60% grass and 40% dirt. Small tractors and wagons in that dirt,  as rusty as the real things up the road at Ma & Pa's farm. Wheeled around in the red wagon, brown base and red removable rails.

Weaver Road is paved but not lined. Ernie and Jeanette live across that road. We are related in a convoluted way. Ernie is Pa's brother (older or younger? Ernie lives to be older, and Pa continues to work his family's farm, but I think Pa {whose name is Leslie} is the little brother). But Ernie and Pa do not speak. Ernie had a farmhouse too, made of wood, but it is broken and busted by the tornado that comes before my birth. There is a piece of metal in the woods behind our house, wrapped around the top of a tree, that lives on as evidence of this twister. Ernie's house is rebuilt as brick and low to the ground, like ours. Ernie mows his grass once or twice a week, riding a loud, orange mower. Later, we mow his ditch with a pushmower. I am only ever briefly inside Ernie and Jeanette's house. The curtains always seem drawn, though they are often outside. It's a mirror of mystery.

There are haircuts in the backyard.

There are headbutts in the kitchen.

I remember wearing red and blue (like Spider-Man), but I don't know if I remember the outfit, or the picture of the outfit. The thing, or the memory of it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Tale of Years, prologue: 1979

I don't remember it, not a single bit.

Mom & Matt, in the wilds of Ohio.
The house on Weaver Road is finished. Ranch-style, on an acre of land that used to be part of Pa's farm. Three bedrooms and one bathroom. A basement of concrete. A sunken family room with a fireplace. Gravel driveway. Trees in the back, fields on either side. 

My brother turns 10. 

My mom and dad turn 29 and 29. 

There are vague, terrifying images of raggedy-head dolls.

There are family legends of Fat Matt. I don't believe they are to be believed.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Hideout

You had to drive to it. In Chicago! In 2004! How was I supposed to feel about that?

It had a porch. It had a front room with a bar and low ceilings and yellow christmas lights strung up year round. It was made of wood. It was low-lit, but comfortable.

It was a hideout.

The back room -- through a narrow chokepoint of pillars and bathroom doors and stacks of mysterious boxes -- was where the bands played. It felt like it opened up to either side and before you. There were still wooden beams overhead, the floor became of concrete, and there were mystery windows that didn't open and were blacked out from the inside or the out. The beer was in bottles, you went in the summer, they were cool and slick in your hand. Everyone was sweaty, the air outside was humid, the band was loud but the Hideout was in some abandoned square of the city, so it didn't make a difference.

Cars were parked in a gravel lot with a chainlink fence around it.

There was a patio area. Sometimes Andrew Bird came by, tried to blend in, then left uncomfortably when the girls realized who he was and wouldn't stop staring in adoration.

There was music, but also readings. Davy Rothbart brought Found Magazine there in 2004, and he read from letters and journals people had sent in, writings once meant to be secret but now shared among strangers. His opening acts were his brother with a guitar ("The Poem Adept"), and Devon Sproule.

Annie and I sway along to both. We have never heard of them before. We agree that I will buy the cd of one, she will buy the cd of another, and we will burn copies for one another.

It's a little pocket of the world. You can go there on purpose, you can go there by accident. You can leave again and return, or never go back again, but think of it often with happiness, gratitude, and longing and loss. But when you think of it at all, you keep it alive.

Think of it.