Wednesday, May 2, 2012
THE GHOSTS OF CHILDHOOD’S PAST (Part I)
The Huzby and I recently went by the house where I spent the first years of my life—from birth through the summer between my second and third grades. Needing more than a mere drive-by, I asked that we park, and have a walk around. Based on an outside examination alone, the house had been upgraded with a brick sitting porch and bay windows all around. It had been downgraded by slipshod gardening and a past due paint job. The overall look was quite a bit different from what memory provided. Regardless, those memories rushed me. The Huzby indulged me as I internalized the exterior of my first home.
I pointed out where the big walnut tree used to be between our house and the Lecce's. Their Pomeranian “Faw-Faw” seemed to be allergic to walking and children. My strongest recollections of him were that he was generally carried and I could look at, but not touch him. The mom, Joyce, bleached-blonde and extremely fit, used to teach tap dance and gymnastics to the extended neighborhood which included my sister and me. (Somewhere there’s a picture of me in a pink bunny suit tap-dancing my little cotton-tail off with a line of other bunnies at the Los Gatos Elks Club.) Apparently after Joyce’s divorce, she decided mowing her grass while wearing a mini skirt was the right thing to do. I clearly recall my mom making a declaration after her own divorce about how she was going to mow our lawn in a mini-dress since Joyce was doing it. Desperate divorcees in the mid-sixties? Call it what you will. I think I see a flash-back reality show opportunity.
The bushes where Mom hid during “Where’s Mommy night” were gone. (If you need clarification on” Where’s Mommy night” please see this blog entry http://evelynnave.blogspot.com/2011/05/in-advance-of-mothers-day.html) It was a relief not to have to picture here there, cowering like a mischievous child in the bushes, waiting for my Dad, my sister, and me to go searching for her. With her in her nightgown and my sister and I in ours, in the smack-damn middle of the night, it has the feel of a surreal, Victorian nightmare. It’s still hard for me to fathom her thought process during that ridiculous drama.
Some of the same rose bushes remained. I recognized the Queen Elizabeth rose my mom planted in honor of my sister—also an Elizabeth. Back in those days I was pretty sure that plant was responsible for the uppity attitude of self-importance my sister seemed to exude. In truth, it was probably just her older-sisterliness I found offensive. Imparting so much power to a thorny but beautiful shrubbery seems to my adult mind as being overly Naturalistic and unreasonably superstitious. What was probably really bothering me was that we grew no foliage named for me. No doubt I suffered from a vegetation-induced inferiority complex. In case you doubt how profoundly this affected me, I am painfully aware that there is an Evelyn rose which was never cultivated in our garden. :::Sniff.::: You'd think I'd be over it by now...
The peach tree that used to be on the parking trip was replaced by a liquid amber. When I was around four, my dad, armed with a pruning saw, attacked the tree which was suffering from peach leaf curl, and ended up slashing his forearm. There was a lot of anger and blood involved in my hazy recollection. I believe that was the precipitating event for the replacement tree. I am quite sure that was the first and only time I’d ever had peach leaf curl explained to me but the resulting misshapen leaves were extremely impressive. How else can you explain that I still remember what ailed that tree?
The biggest, most memorable thing that happened outside our house (There was plenty more action going on inside the house which I won’t be addressing in this missive.) was the night a drunk teenager came rounding our corner, not quite making the turn. The result was the front half of his car landing in our den and the back half of his car becoming a temporary lawn ornament. My sister and I—young enough to enjoy the deep sleep of innocence we were due—found out what had happened the next morning. By then, the totaled car and surviving driver had been taken away. Plywood sufficed where pulverized stucco had given way. Our kitchen play-set which, the night before, had occupied a large portion of the room, was twisted and mashed beyond salvage. I remember finding a lone headlight in the rubble of toys, plaster, and architectural shrapnel that covered the carpet. Luckily we were not a house of night-owls and no one had been reading, sewing or playing house past bedtime.
My dad supplied this tidbit about that night: He had just started (or finished) his honeymoon and was with his new bride at his mother’s house in San Francisco. My mom called in the middle of the night insisting he come down and board up the gaping hole in the house. Instead, he called his old high school buddy who lived in San Jose (Mr. Frank—I’ll never forget you!) and he came to deal with the wreckage. Mr. Frank had four kids and a wife of his own, yet he drove over in the tip-top of darkness and boarded up his old high school pal’s ex-wife’s home. That’s a really good friend.
Less outstanding but still present were memories of the grass hill we played slip-and-slide on, the sour grass and pomegranates we were allowed to eat only outside, the roof where I witnessed what I believed was our cat being killed by another cat (Mom told me they were mating—an explanation if found impossible to believe given the violence involved.) and the steeply sloped driveway our car (in which I was sitting) once inched backwards down,while Mom got out to open the garage door—a far too exciting event that I still encounter on the occasional stressful night's sleep.
Having taken in enough of the outside of my original abode, the Huzby and I got in our car and drove to meet my brother and sister-in-law for a walking tour of downtown Los Gatos. On the way from the house to the main artery, I began to recall another exterior theme. As we drove, a the list of places I'd scouted and cataloged as nests, nooks or crannies—possible places I would run away from home to—blinked into my murky repressed consciousness.