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.

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