Monday, March 23, 2015

Easter On the Road

Easter On the Road

      As a child I often wondered how Santa Claus would find me. There was a pretty good chance that we would not be living in a house at Christmastime. Odds were we could very well be driving down some blue highway in a beat up old station wagon and sleeping in roadside parks or empty parking lots. It worried me, but, somehow mama and Belvin (my stepdad) found a way. It didn't take much to please a little boy. A note saying that he loved me and that he hoped I would have fun playing with the Jack in the box (or whatever small toy had magically appeared under the picnic table) and to be sure to give my mother and stepfather a big hug and a kiss and to tell them and my older brothers that he loved them, too. It was always signed, "Love, Your Friend, Santa."
      Well, by the same token, I worried about the Easter Bunny. How would he know that I, Duffy, was somewhere in North Carolina or Texas or some other far away place beside the highway, or sitting in the backseat drawing pictures of rabbits and Easter eggs? He knew last year and the year before that, but what about this year?
      There were lots and lots of children. Thousands or, maybe, even millions! He was so busy. Not as busy as Santa, but, still, very busy and he did not send letters or notes.
      As Easter drew near I would begin peppering my mother with questions. Are you sure he knows? Do you think he will remember this year? Which state are we in now? Has he ever been in this state before? Yes, but... what about... is he... does he.... will he...? I sure hope he... do you think...? And on and on and on... and on.
      As I dozed off to sleep I could not hear what those hushed tones in the front seat were all about. At times that whispering reassured me. Other times it worried me a great deal and my sleep was fitful.
      I awoke to the sound of my older brothers laughing and mama telling them to help Belvin gather wood for a fire so she could cook supper. I had forgotten, momentarily, about the Easter Bunny and colored eggs.
      I was hungry and it was always fun eating at a picnic table. At this suppertime mama cooked hamburgers and fried potatoes. I loved this meal because it required catsup on the burgers AND the potatoes and I loved catsup. I didn't mind picking out the onions from the potatoes and putting them on Belvin's plate. I also didn't mind whether the burger was on a bun or Wonder Bread. Buns had too much crust anyway! Mama and Belvin drank coffee. Clyde and Jarry split a Coca-Cola and I had a cup of Kool-Aid.
      It was dark by now and mama had fixed up a bed, of sorts, for me,  under the picnic table. The older boys would share the back area of the station wagon. Mama slept in the backseat while Belvin scrunched into the front seat.
      The next morning, very early, I was awakened by the sound of the car doors opening and closing. Once again the cookfire detail began and mama got the things out of the Coleman cooler and we had my favorite breakfast... pancakes! Mama was an expert pancake maker!
      After breakfast, as mama was washing dishes in an aluminium dishpan and Clyde and Jarry were helping Belvin pack the car, I shoveled the last bite of my pancake into my mouth and, as I drank my last drink of milk, I remembered, with both excitement and trepidation... Easter... the Easter Bunny... colored eggs... and an Easter basket.. oh... what if...?
      I looked at mama and said... "Mama...?"
      "Yes, Duffy...", she said, as she reached for my empty cup. Then, as I continued looking her way, she looked passed me, moved her head slightly to the left and said, "What is that... Duffy... what in the world, Duffy... look... over there... beside that bush... what IS that?"
      I looked... and looked... then.... I saw it. It was light purple and yellow and... just the size of... an egg! I fairly pounced from the wooden table, almost falling down, and squatted by the bush. I reached and picked up the beautiful egg.
      "Mama! Pop! Clyde! Jarry! Look here! Look at this!"
      Pop took the empty dishpan from mama and stood looking over towards the small fence which was about twenty feet away.
      He pointed, saying, "Duffy... look ... over there... by the fence. What is that... what in the world...?"
     The bunny had found me just as in Easters before. Mama handed me an empty, cardboard, IGA egg carton and suggested I should keep looking very carefully as there just might be some more of those colored eggs.
      With Belvin's help, I found precisely one dozen, twelve, Easter eggs and I was careful not to crack a single one of them. I would share them, later, with my family.
      That morning as I opened the backdoor of the station wagon I saw, on the floorboard, a not too big straw basket. It was almost full with green grass, real green grass, only slightly wilted, but still nice and green. I still remember how it smelled. Under that grass, there was... you guessed it... jelly beans and a paper wrapped hollow chocolate bunny.
      That morning, as we hit the highway again, I said, "Mama... you were right. He did remember!"
      "Of course", said mama.
      "Better get some gas", said Belvin.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'll Have Another

      When I was about ten years old my mother began a career as a Nurse's Aide. She started in nursing homes and the first job was in Florida. Than particular one was made up of several cottages which were connected by cement walkways. 
      It was summertime and I had to go to work with mama because there was no school and we couldn't afford a babysitter. I didn't like the idea one bit and would've much rather been playing cowboys or army, but I had no choice. 
      Sometimes I would just follow mama around while she did her work checking temperatures, emptying bedpans, and doing any number of tasks. She smiled a lot and was very kind and cheerful with the folks in the nursing home and she made sure that I was smiling, too.
      Often mama would come up with things for me to do in order to occupy my time and also to be helpful. She would say, "Take this newspaper to Mr. Thompson's room and read to him." Or, "Go down to Mrs. Reed's room and see if she'd like for you to read something from the Bible." Once, when I was being especially cranky, mama said, "Now you straighten up and go right over there in front of cottage number two and you just jump up and down and act like a monkey! You just be as silly as you can!"
      Well, I made it through that summer and went back to school and mama went back to work without me. The following Easter I had to go to work with her again and she had a plan that did not sit well with me at all.
      The bunny suit she made for me had ears at least a foot tall and a cotton tail as big as a cantaloupe! She declared I looked adorable, but I didn't feel very good about it.
      She filled an Easter basket with colored eggs and I had to hop from cottage to cottage singing, "Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin' down the bunny trail!." All her co-workers clapped and laughed and agreed with mama that little Duffy was simply as cute as could be. There is a large, framed, photograph of me in that bunny suit and if you look closely you will see that little Duffy is not pleased. I smiled in front the residents that day, but mama could not get me to smile for the photographer.
      All that is well and good, but something else happened that day which was quite remarkable. There was am old fellow named Pete who lived there. He was sitting on the front porch of cottage number one, in his wheelchair. I hopped up the steps and gave him an Easter egg. He grinned as my mother helped him crack and peel the egg. I went into the cottage to visit other folks who lived there. I came back outside and was hopping down the steps to the walkway when Pete said, "I'll have another, thank you."
      Now this  would not have been such a big deal except that Pete had not uttered a word in the five years that he'd been in that nursing home! Not a word had he spoken, and now, as clear and plain as day, he'd said, "I'll have another, thank you." Everyone, mama especially, was astounded. When she asked him why he'd not spoken before this, he just said he'd had nothing to say! I gave the old man another egg.
      One day, when mama was in her eighties, I was standing in her kitchen doorway. She was sitting at the table eating a bowl of icecream. She looked at me and said, "Who's that man standing in my fireplace!?" We all knew she'd been slipping lately, but this was a heart-breaker. A short while later mama became a resident at Augusta Nursing and Rehabilitation. She passed away there, one day in 2006. She thought it was 1941. She was sixteen years young, picking up shells on the beach in Galveston. I didn't tell her any different. I'd just reach down to the floor, the sandy beach, pick up an imaginary shell, and drop it into her hand. One day, the last day, she held out her small hand and I touched it gently. She looked at her palm, smiled a little, and said, "I really love Periwinkles." I said, "Me too, mama."
      Here it is almost fifty years after that little Easter episode and I don't wear a bunny suit, but I still entertain in the nursing homes and retirement centers a few times a month. I play my guitar and blow my harmonica. "You are my sunshine...." and, sometimes, I jump up and down and act like a monkey. 
      When I was ten years, I disagreed with her, but looking back, I think mama was pretty smart and I'm sure she knew what she was doing when she insisted that I wear  that silly bunny suit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Aunt Clara Part Fourteen

 He layed the deck on the table, face down, and said to Aunt Clara, "Cut 'em, sis?" Aunt Clara merely tapped them, saying, "That's okay, Jack, I trust you."
      "Good", he said, and began dealing the cards. "Dealer's choice", he exclaimed, "And I choose five card draw. Nothing wild. Nickel ante. "So", he said, "Ante up ladies and gentlemen!"
      We all threw in a nickel each and studied our cards. Yvonne was to Jack's left and so it was up to her to go first. She looked at the hand she was dealt and stuck her tongue in her cheek. "I'll bet a quarter", she said and slid a quarter to the center of the table. 
      All I had was a six of hearts, a three of hearts, a nine of somthing or the other, a ten of diamonds and a Queen of clubs. Some hand, but I didn't want to chicken out this early in the game, so I threw in a quarter to match Yvonne's bet. 
      Aunt Clara was next and immediately placed her twenty-five cent bet, announcing, "It's your turn, Jack!"
      Jack placed his quarter bet and turned to Yvonne.
      "So... how many cards, young lady?"
      Again, tongue in cheek, Yvonne carefully pulled one card from her hand and layed it face down on the table.
       "Only one?", Jack asked, "You sure?"
      "Yes", she said, "Only one, thanks."
      Jack dealt her a single card and she picked it up and looked at it, slowly, and placed it in with her other cards. 
      "Bet?" , said Jack. 
       "Uh...hmm...ok...I bet... fifty cents!", she exclaimed and slid two quarters across the table.
      I threw away two cards, the six and the three, and picked up two cards. Damn it. A five and a four! Useless! This time I layed all of my cards on the table, face down, folding. 
      Aunt Clara said,  "I'll take two cards, please", discarding two as she spoke. Jack dealt her two cards and she placed them in her hand, cocking one eyebrow. "I'll see your half a buck just to see what Yvonne's got there!"
     Uncle Jack said, "I think I'll just stick with what I've got. I will see the bet and raise you... another half a buck!"
      Yvonne and Aunt Clara matched the bet and Jack said, "So... young lady... whatcha got?"
      Yvonne presented a full house. Three eights and a pair of aces. Pretty good I thought. Clara showed a pair of fours and nothing else. "Oh well", she said. "Can't win 'em all". 
      Jack cleared his throat, slightly, and whispered, "Not bad, young lady, not bad at all... but not good enough I'm afraid. I do not believe that a full house beats ... a straight flush. Read 'em and weep." He layed his cards on the table for all to see. Eight, nine, ten, Jack, and Queen. All the same suit. I can't remember what suit they were, but they were the same and Uncle Jack had won the first hand. He rubbed his hands together and, rather quickly, slid his winnings to his place at the table, then stacked the quarters neatly in front of him.
      To make a short story even shorter Jack cleaned us all out over the course of the next several hands. I think Aunt Clara might've won one hand. Yvonne won two or three and I won zip.
      Jack pushed his chair back from the table and, not bothering to count it, put his money in his pocket. He stood up and, with his hands on his hips, he did a little tapdance, singsonging, "Now that was fun and that's how it's done, that's whatcha get if ya bet with me!" He took a slight bow and grinned that shiney toothed grin.
      I was feeling bummed out and a little bit embarrassed. I didn't mind losing, but I didn't want to lose THAT bad. Not even one hand? Jack, sensing my mood, came over and stood behind me, resting his hands on my shoulders.
      "C'mon Davey, don't take it so hard. It's just a game.....right...? Besides, there's always next time... maybe... and maybe you'll win next time... maybe... I doubt it...", he whispered, "..... but maybe."
      He walked around and sat back down in his chair, drumming his fingers on the table and humming what sounded like some kind of jazz tune.
      Then there was an unmistakable moment of awkwardness. Finally, after several seconds which seemed like hours, Yvonne spoke up.
      "Uh... Uncle Jack... do you mind if I ask you a question?"
      "Sure, why not?", said Jack. "Go for it, young lady."
      "Well", she said, "I was just wondering... uh... well... why, exactly, are you here?"
      "To teach you a thing or two about playing poker, young lady! Right?!"
      "Well, no," Yvonne said. "I mean... why are you REALLY here?"
      "Like I said, I'm here to play a game of poker with you and your dad. And my sister, your Great Aunt Clara. Anything else? I could loan you a few bucks if you want to play some more!"
      "No", Yvonne said, "That's okay. I just thought. I don't know. I just thought maybe you were here for some... I don't know... just some other reason. Nevermind, Uncle Jack. I was just wondering."
      More awkward silence, then Aunt Clara said, "Oh, c'mon Jack, tell us why you're really here. I mean besides just to play a game of poker..."
      Now Jack's mood changed. His eyes lost that sly little glint and took on a more serious, darker, look.
      "Well, uh... if you must know, I'm here because... I... uh... it's getting kind of... lonesome... back there. Nobody really wants to ... you know... play poker.. or anything...with me. I don't know. They.. everybody just... sort of... ignors me. Even my enemies. They don't care... what I do. Or don't do. I owed them a pile of dough and they stabbed me to death. They left me dead on the beach in Jersey and that was that. No more games. No more sneaking around and, after a little while, they just ignored me altogether. So, I came here. Clara's here and she likes it so I thought... maybe I'd check it out, too. Never thought I could get... bored... or lonesome... but.... well... anyway... you asked. So there. I guess I'm in need of .... maybe... a little fun... maybe.... friends..." 
      "Love?", Yvonne ventured.
      "Well", said Jack, "I don't know about all that."
      "Oh, c'mon Jack," Aunt Clara volunteered, "Everybody needs love, Jack, even you... right?"
      Then she patted him on the top of his derby hat as if he were a little boy. He grinned a little, looked at her with one eye, and said, softly, "...Yeah, well.... whatever."
      By the way folks, you can read Aunt Clara's story, beginning with part one,      There are lots of other stories there, also. Thanks! Duffy

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Aunt Clara Part Thirteen

 As I drove down Magnolia Avenue I sang along with Willie. "Whiskey river take my mind..."
I was feeling really tired so I decided to take a nap in the parking lot at the shoe shop. I shut the motor off but left the radio on at a very low volume. I leaned the driver's seat back as far as it would go and closed my eyes. The next thing I knew,  there was a light tapping on my window. It was Yvonne motioning me to roll the window down. I recovered my senses, rolled it down, and she handed me a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. "Here you go, Pop, just the way you like it. Real cream, no fake stuff, and two sugars. Careful, it's hot."
      I turned the radio off and, gratefully, took the coffee. She was right, it was hot. It was also very tasty.
      "So", I said, "You ready for your poker lesson?"
      "Oh, yeah", she said, "I'm ready. Only I think I'm going to be giving him a lesson!"
      "You go girl," I said, as cool as possible. She rolled her eyes a little, reminding me of me.
      "What time is it?", I asked. "Ten 'til midnight", she said. "Can we go on in? I'm cold!"
      We walked across the street and a little ways up the alley to the side door of the shop. I unlocked the door, but just as I was about to step inside, Yvonne touched me on the shoulder and whispered, "Shhh, Papa, listen... you hear that?"
      I nodded my head yes. It was some old song I didn't recognize. It sounded like something from the nineteen twenties or maybe the thirties.    
      We made our way through the backroom, the "storage" area, in the dark. When we got to the swinging door, the one leading into the big showroom, Yvonne tapped me on the shoulder again and said, softly, "Wait, let me take a look." We could hear the music plainly now and, as Yvonne moved past me in the darkness, I could also hear what sounded like shuffling shoes. Like... dancing. Yvonne opened the door slightly and a beam of light fell across her face. I was listening and watching as her eyes grew wide and she smiled big. 
      "What is it?!", I whispered, "C'mon, Yvonne, what is it?!"
      "Oh... my... God", she whispered back. "I can't believe it. Oh, Papa, you won't believe it either. Look". She stepped back into the darkness and I moved forward and peered into the room. The music, louder now, was playing fast and, as I adjusted my eyes to the light, my heart fairly skipped a beat. Or maybe it doubled up on the beat. There they were. Uncle Jack and Aunt Clara... dancing! Jack in his silk suit and his gold toothed grin beaming. And Aunt Clara, not in her wheelchair, but rather... twirling and swirling and kicking up her heels. They were doing the Charleston!
      Then, suddenly and at the same instant, Jack and Clara turned and looked in my direction. They were dancing in place now and motioning with their heads for us to come on in.
      Yvonne had been watching over my shoulder and did not hesitate to push past me and into the lighted room. She stood there for just a moment and then took off in sort of a quick skip. When she got to where they were doing the Charleston she began doing it, too. The three of them were dancing up a storm and I just stood there like a dummy. An absolutely amazed dummy.
      Yvonne was motioning wildly for me to join in. 
      "C'mon Pop! It's fun! C'mon!". But I just stood there, breathing a little too heavily and tapping my foot imperceptibly  I've never been much of a dancer and didn't want to embarrass myself. I just stood there staring and wondering.
      Finally the song ended and the three dancers hugged as they smiled and laughed.
      Uncle Jack lit a cigar, took a swig from a silver flask, and sat down on Great Grandma's old wicker chair. Aunt Clara eased herself into her wheelchair. Her magical, flying, wheelchair.
      She said to Yvonne, "Sweetie, your papa looks a little confused!"
      Nodding her head in agreement, Yvonne walked over to me and said, gently, "Papa, think about it. I mean really. If Aunt Clara can fly... what makes you think she can't dance?!"
      Then, once again, I felt that wonderful, indescribable, sense of ... joy... and peace... and light.
      Uncle Jack scooted his chair over to the card table and began shuffling the deck.
       "Let's play poker", he said, as he winked at Yvonne.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas On The Road

      On my way home from the shoe shop tonight I was remembering a Christmas from my youth. As I was growing up we traveled a lot, because of my stepfather's work. Or lack of work. We moved all the time and I went to eighteen schools before finally graduating on my eighteenth birthday, but right now, in this little story, I was only ten years old and we were on our way from Cleveland, Ohio, to Florida and we were in  North Carolina, It is very cold!! 
      There was an icey drizzle and, as usual, we were staying in a roadside park for the night. It was the night before Christmas, in fact. Here we were... mom and pop and us four boys. Christmas Eve and we were "camping out" again. Mama was great at making the best of a rough situation. Staying in the roadside park was "camping" and packing up and moving on was "another adventure".
      Well, on this Christmas Eve she found a way to make it okay once more. She removed a box from the little U-Haul trailor while Pop built a fire. Then, wouldn't you know it, it was time to decorate the tree! That's right, we picked a small pine nearby and Mama and us boys began hanging homemade decorations and throwing on the tinsel. 
      It was a small tree, but still too tall for me, so one of the other boys placed a star made of tin foil on the very top. There were no lights, of course, but it didn't matter this time. The night was cold and wet, but the fire was warm and the little tree was beautiful!
      Mama cooked supper on the fire and fed us boys and then it was time for bed. At this time we didn't have a tent so we slept in the car. Usually it was boys in the backseat and Mom and Pop in the front seat, but not on this night. This night, Christmas Eve, mama would be able to stretch out on the front seat, instead of sitting up. Pop actually slept under the car so that Mama could rest a little easier. Now, there is a man for you!
      The next morning, Christmas morning, at daylight, Pop built another fire while Mama began taking the decorations from the little tree and putting them back in the cardboard box. Then she cooked breakfast for us all and we were on the road again. I turned and watched our Christmas tree 'til it was out of sight.
      "Mama", I said, "You forgot to take the star off the top of the tree!"
      "I know", she said.
      She smiled at me and I went back to sleep.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Aunt Clara Part Twelve

 I raised my glass to Jack's and repeated, "Here's to livin'... and dyin' ". I guess my toast was a bit weak, Jack raired back, shaking his head, and said, "Davey, loosen up boy. You're too tense. That's the most boring toast I've ever seen. Life and death, son! Livin' and dyin'! Say it like you mean it! Now.. c'mon let's try that again!"
     "Okay", I said, "But you gotta understand I'm kind of in shock here. A little nervous, you know?!"
     Jack smirked and gave that gold toothed grin. 
      "Why, Davey? Why you in shock? Why you nervous? Davey... why you, as Elvis would say, all shook up?!"
      "Well", I said, "Maybe 'cause I'm sittin' here at the bar... with you... I'm sittin' here with... a dead guy?! Yeah, maybe that's it...?", I said, sarcastically.
      "Well, excuse me", Jack exclaimed Steve Martin style. It wasn't just a fair imitation. He sounded exactly like Steve Martin! Exactly! I couldn't help it. It made me laugh so hard I spilled my shot of whiskey all over the bar and I even managed to spill some onto Uncle Jack's silk suitcoat.
      "Hey, watch it there young man! I died in this coat, you know? besides that, there are thirsty..."
      "Yeah, I know", I said with a grin, "Thirsty drunks in Indiana. Sorry about that Uncle Jack, but that was really good. I mean the Steve Martin thing". 
      I grabbed a handful of napkins from the holder on the bar and, as if presenting him a gift,  handed them to Jack who snatched them in mock anger and began wiping the spilled whiskey from his suit.
      "Such a waste", he said. Then he motioned to Joyce and held up two fingers like a peace symbol. 
      "A couple more here, Joyce, for me and Mr. All Shook Up. Please."
      She brought the drinks over and set them on the bar, then went back to reading her book.
      "She likes romance novels", said Jack.
      "How do you know?", I asked.
      "Never mind", he said, "Just trust me, Davey, she likes romance novels."
       I started to say somthing else, but Jack stopped me.
      "Now", he said, "What do you say and how do you say it?"
      This time, in a hearty gesture, I proclaimed, "Here... is ... to... livin' and dyin'!"
      "That's better", Jack said, and we both downed our shots. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I returned to the half dark room, Uncle Jack was gone.
      Joyce said, "He told me to tell you he'd see you at the shoeshop. Somthing about a poker game at midnight."
      I reached for my wallet, but Joyce held up a hand, saying, "He took care of it."
      "Oh", I said, "Okay, thanks."
      I had some time to kill so I decided to take a walk. Walking is a good idea, particularly if you've had a couple shots of whiskey. Plus, it's good exercize, from what I hear. I got my guitar out of my car and began walking towards the park. When I got there I sat down at a picnic table and took a bunch of folded papers out of my jacket pocket. I had recently written several songs, but had yet to put them to music. The first one I unfolded was called "Whiskey Down, Whiskey Blue" and it started like this, 
      "I'm feelin' pretty good
       I'll take another shot
       I'm in the mood 
       for whatever you've got
       Whiskey down, whiskey blue
       All my whiskey dreams came true..."
Hmm, I thought, a country song if ever there was a country song. I put the words to a simple three chord arrangement and tried not to make it sound too much like Hank or Willie. Not and easy task for me. 
      Satisfied I had not ripped off someone else's tune, that it was original, I put my guitar back in it's battered case and walked back to my car. I settled in behind the wheel and turned the key. The engine started and, before backing out of the parking space, I turned the radio on and, lo and behold, there was Willie singing, "Whiskey River". Small world, I thought.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Aunt Clara Part Eleven

I blinked hard and clumsily stuck out my hand and shook his. It was a left handed shake.
“Coltrane?” I asked.
“Yeah, you know, John Coltrane. One of the greatest jazz men of all time. Right up there with Miles Davis in my not-so-humble opinion,” he replied.
“Well,” I answered, “Yes, I'm sure there's some Coltrane on there. Probably some Miles, too.”
“No,” he said, “I'm in a Coltrane kind of mood. So are you. I can tell. You might not know it, Davey, but you...are in...the mood for some John...Coltrane!”
“Okay,” I replied, “Coltrane it is.”
Jack touched my arm, stopping me from getting up. “Oh, don't get me wrong,” Jack smiled, “I like all kinds of stuff. Even Dylan. Not much of a singer, but a hell of a writer.” Then, faintly and sweetly, Uncle Jack began to sing:
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
...The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

“God, I love that one,” said Jack with an edge of emotion in his voice, “The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind. Now that's some writing! And he was just a kid, you know. Twenty-two, I think.”
“Yeah,” I said, “He's my favorite. I call him the Shakespeare of our times. That's what I tell everybody.”
“Well, I don't know about that,” he replied, “But I like Mr. Dylan. He's seventy now, or seventy-one, and still rockin', right? Got a new album just came out, too. I think it's called 'Tempest'. Nothing to do with Shakespeare though. And I'll tell you this,” said Uncle Jack, “Bob Dylan is sounding more and more, his voice anyway, like Louis Armstrong, don't you think?!”
“Yeah,” I answered, “He is. You're right. I hadn't thought about that, but yeah...Louis Armstrong. Hmm.”
Jack got up from the bar-stool and strolled over to the jukebox. I watched him put a five dollar bill in and a moment later, Louis Armstrong was singing...
“...And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...”
Four more songs, I thought, I wonder what's next?
Jack sat back down on his stool and said, with a slight shrug, “No Coltrane. That's okay. I'm not in the mood now, anyway.” Then he motioned to Joyce, the bartender, and she walked over to us. “Couple of shots please, for me and my Great Nephew here! Make mine Jack Daniels, Jack for Jack!” he laughed, “And whatever Davey wants.”
“Jameson's,” I said, just above a whisper. 
“Of course!” Jack half-yelled, “I shoulda known. You're stuck on all that Irish stuff! Guinness for yer beer. Jameson's fer yer whiskey. Don't you ever go out on a limb and try something different, Davey? Something new? I mean...just for the hell of it?!”
“Well..uh...sure...sometimes....I guess...I might...uh...” I was stammering again, and for obvious reasons, feeling a bit foolish. 
“Well?!” demanded Jack, smiling big now, “Don't you?”
“Okay,” I gave in, “I'll have a shot of Jack Daniels, Joyce...please.”
“There you go, Davey.” Jack grinned from ear to ear now, showing a gleaming gold tooth. “There you go my boy.”
Joyce set the shot glasses in front of us. Uncle Jack picked his up quickly without spilling a drop, as I picked mine up, rather slowly, and just a little shakily, sloshing some onto the bar. 
“Don't wast it,” said Jack, “There are thirsty drunks in Indiana.”
I frowned a little at his politically incorrect remark but didn't say anything. Jack raised his glass in a toast, and as I raised mine he said, “Here's to livin', Davey, and dyin'! I've done both, and believe you me, they're worth drinkin' to!”

Aunt Clara Part Ten

Yvonne got in her car and drove away and I got into mine. It was early afternoon, but instead of going home, I decided to go to the bar. I had to think this thing over. 
As I pulled into my regular parking spot the voice of my father was in my head. I was ten years old. I said, "Dad, have you ever thought about thinking about thinking?" He laughed just a little, which hurt my feelings. I was serious as a ten year old could be. 
"Son, if you keep on like that you will drive yourself crazy. You think too much."
"I can't help it," I replied, "I'm just trying to figure it out."
"Figure out what?"
"I don't know," I cried, "Maybe just everything, that's all."
"Well nevermind all that , son. You just live and be happy. You've got a mom and dad and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and friends and people who love you very much and that's all that really matters. Now you go and pick up sticks out of the yard and get ready to help me now. Then we're gonna wash the car. Okay?"
I sighed a long sigh of disrelief. 
"Okay," I said.
Now here I was, forty years later, still trying to figure it out. Had I driven myself crazy with all that thinking? Well...that's debatable. I've heard that art is subjective. And pain. Maybe crazy is subjective, too. How would I know anyway?
I got out of the car and slowly walked the hundred feet of so to the back door of my second home. The bar. I opened that door and felt the cool A. C. and the darkness of the place take me into its arms. 
There was only one customer in there so I pretty much had my choice of stools. I picked one near the jukebox and sat down. Then I immediately got up and turned to that jukebox, a modern digital one, which only took bills. I fished in my pocket, pulled out a couple of singles and stuck them in the slot. It grabbed them one at a time and the screen came to life. Too many choices, I thought, too many choices, but I'm not puzzling over this one. I knew what I wanted to hear. Dylan, the shakespeare of our times. "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding": 
"Darkness at the break of noon 
Shadows even the silver spoon, 
the handmade, the child's balloon, 
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying..."
I turned back to my stool, sat down and a nice long drink of Guinness. Crazy comfort, I thought.
"A question in your nerves is lit
yet you know there is no answer fit..."
Joyce, the bartender, walked over and said, "Davey, this one's on him."
"Who?" I asked. She pointed to the gentleman at the other end of the bar. 
I looked down and raised my glass in his direction and mouthed "Thanks". He slowly got up and strolled, or more swaggered, over to me, stuck out his hand and said, "Jack is my name and gambling's my game. Any Coltrane on there?"

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Aunt Clara Part Nine

Yvonne asked me if she could borrow the photograph of Jack and Don, the one where they look like dandies in the Depression. I said, "Sure, but why?". She said, "Well, I think I'd like to do a painting of them. It's a cool picture." "Okay", I replied, "I think that's a fine idea. Paint away!"
      "Oh yeah", she said, "I meant to ask did Uncle Don and Uncle Jack... uh...die? Do you know, Papa?" "Yes... well, I think so anyway", I said, "Uh, as far as I know, Uncle Don had a heart attack and died a few days later with his family around him and , uhmm, well, Jack was killed on the beach in New Jersey. Stabbed to death. By the mob. At least that's how the story goes. He'd gone up there on some kind of business that had to with the speakeasy. He'd gotten into debt. Gambling, I think. Anyway, the police found his body on the beach, a knife in his back. They called Aunt Clara and she had him shipped back to West Virginia. That's where he was buried. In Point Pleasant, West Virginia." "Wow!", exclaimed Yvonne, "That's wild!" "Yes", I said, "It is, isn't it."
      It was one p.m., closing time on Saturday,  and Yvonne and I were both excited and a little nervous about the coming poker game with Uncle Jack. Not the game itself, but just meeting and being with him and Aunt Clara. "I hope he shows up", Yvonne said. "Oh, I believe he will", I said. Then Yvonne whispered, "Papa, I've been studying up a little on poker, online. It doesn't really look all that hard to play." "Oh, it isn't, but Jack is a pro so don't get any big ideas about beating him just because you won a game of rummy with me and Aunt Clara." "No", she said, "I just don't want to seem like a complete dummy." "Don't worry, darlin', you're no dummy and Jack knows it or he wouldn't want to meet you." Then Yvonne said, "Listen Pop, if he's so good, a pro as you say, then why did he get into such hot water with the mob?" "Good question", I said. "I never really thought of that. Hmm... can't win 'em all, I guess." Yvonne kind of rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah... right."
      We closed up shop and went our separate ways agreeing to meet in the parking lot across the street. "What time?", Yvonne asked. "I guess about dark", I replied. "Okay", she said. Then her cellphone buzzed. She looked at the screen. "It's Uncle Jack", she whispered, "I hope he's not cancelling." "Answer it, sweetie", I said. She pushed a button to take the call. Then she pushed that button that turns on the speaker. "Hello... Uncle Jack?"" Hello yourself, Yvonne. How did you know it was me?" "Well, you know, your name was on the screen." She laughed a little. "It is a cellphone, you know... a cellphone? One of those new fangled contraptions we talk on nowadays?" "Right", he said. "I forgot. Don't get smart young lady. This is your Great, Great Uncle Jack talkin' to ya here. Jack's my name and gambling's my game! I just wanted to let you know I'm running a little late. I'm always late! Late? Get it? Late... as in... dead? It's a joke, girl. A joke!" Yvonne laughed out loud. "Yeah, I get it, I get it." Then Jack said, "Listen, I'll be at the shoeshop at midnight. That okay with you and your dad? By the way, how is your old man, your dad I mean?" "Oh, he's fine. Want to talk to him?" "No, not really, " said Uncle Jack. I'll see you both tonight. Midnight. Get ready to learn how to play poker and how to lose at the game! Later, young lady. I gotta go now. Goodbye!" He hung up before Yvonne had a chance to reply. "Holy smoke, what a character", she said, " I can't wait to meet him in person." "Me too, " I said, "... I think."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Aunt Clara, Part Eight

    Jack's half brother, Don, was handsome, but not as handsome as Great
Uncle Jack. Don was tall, over six feet, and a good deal rounder than
Jack.They both wore mustaches, Don's being longer and wilder while Jack's
lay shorter and neatly trimmed.  True, Uncle Don's mustache was wilder, but
Jack was the wilder man.
    It was okay with Don to just be more or less "normal". He liked
spending much of his time being a conductor on the train, supporting his
wife and children, going to the little Baptist church on Sunday mornings,
and dabbling on Wallstreet. He didn't call it gambling. Few did. He called
it investing.
    Nineteen-seventeen was a big year. America entered the "war to end all
wars" and, in nineteen-eighteen, the Kaiser gave up and the whole thing was
over. My grandpa came home and married my grandmother. Uncle Don got a job
on the B&O Railroad along with his younger half brother, Jack.
    No one hired "handicaps" back then, but Aunt Clara got a job, too. As
a telephone operator. They put a switchboad in her house and there it
stayed for the next forty-five years. I told you this before and I repeat
myself now, but only to refresh your memory. And mine. Remember there was
alot of striking going on in America at the time. That's how Aunt Clara got
the job. The phone company, later to become Bell Systems, put that
switchboard in her living-room, swiftly and surreptitiously, in the middle
of the night. Our hometown banker, Mr. Murray Thompson, was going to have a
telephone, strike or no strike, so Miss Clara went to work and no one, not
the banker, not the doctor or the lawyer, or the folks who just liked to
gossip, was the worse for wear. Just a few years later, when Prohibition
kicked in, Jack's speakeasy would also need a telephone.
    So World War 1 ended, Prohibition began, and the Roaring Twenties
roared. While much of Europe staggered and squirmed in its poverty, trying
to awaken from a nightmare, America staggered for a different reason. It dreamed
happier dreams of wealth and kicked up its heels and danced to the rhythm of
that new musical sensation called "Jazz".