They Were the Best of Times
Summer’s in the south,
Rooted deeply in deep back country,
where planes hardly heard;
train whistles rarely blew,
and city sounds never happened.
Grandma would teach me to fetch the eggs.
At night, we would say our prayers,
And she would tell me,
“Get yourself an education, son,
you only get one chance at being smart.”
Grandpa taught me how to work the land.
How to plow and seed,
patch worn down fences,
chop wood for the wood stove,
and look beyond what is in front of me,
and see that which waited out there for me to grab onto.
“Treat the land right,
and the land will multiply for you.”
Weekend’s would come,
family and friends would gather round;
tables set three deep,
filled with country smells;
fried-chicken piled high, golden brown,
mashed potatoes steaming a white heat,
corn on the cob glistened in the afternoon,
and black-eyed peas by the thousands;
though they never stared at me even once,
along with all the other trimmings sitting there,
waiting on the invasion from our bellies.
Women-folk in the parlor talking,
men on the front porch talking manly things,
and I would sit under an evening sky,
cranking the handle, making homemade ice-cream.
Nighttime was special, Grandma would say,
“That’s when all God’s children come out to play.”
Those were the best of times.
Now, the house is faded and worn down,
the ax sits in a corner of a shed, rusted;
the ice-cream crank, broken in two pieces.
Echoes of voices play over me like an easy waltz,
as I walk around this special place one last time.
Gone is the chicken-coop and patch-worked fences.
Gone are the early smells of breakfast.
Gone are the long days of unforgiving heat.
No more Saturday evening dinners,
no more banjo strumming,
like Grandpa would do on Sunday.
No more tall tales,
no more hugs.
I couldn’t help but cry, for the last time,
But I feel them every day raining inside me.
They were the best of times.
The above photo is the old homestead.
This house felt the births of 10 boys and 2 girls.
It was torn day some time during the mid-1990's.
That's one of my uncle's, not the best view for here,
but the only one I have.
Standing on the walkway outside my grandmother's house, holding my dad's hand. I'm watching tall palm trees sway against a darkening sky. There are few, but bright, stars in the sky. There is a cold, dry wind rushing past me. The air outside smells mostly like sidewalk.
That post-pool trip feeling.
I love that feeling of being just barely sunburnt. Not "burnt to a crisp" where you get blisters and peeling skin, but that feeling where you're warm and sleepy. It reminds me of the countless times my parents would take me and my brothers to our neighborhood pool when they had an hour or two to spare.
We'd splash around for an afternoon, and since we were all paler than bleached paper we had to constantly reapply sunscreen. But, despite my parents' hard work at coralling three toddlers, we would still get burnt anyway. We'd head home after a while, our eyes stinging from the chlorine and our hair stiff from the water. We would then wait for our dad to make us some post-pool sandwiches. They were the same as any other sandwich we would get for our lunch, but something about eating them after swimming for hours made them taste... better? After that, it was time for a nap. That's where one of my favorite feelings in the world comes from: lying in bed, slightly radiating heat because I got a little sunburnt, slathered in aloe, and peacefully drifting off to sleep. I have lived through that feeling hundreds of times, and every time I feel it I am always brought back to being a happy little kid, oblivious to everything and loving it.
Meaning in Meaninglessness
While I can write about any story revolving around my childhood, sometimes the things I remember most vividly are the my meaningless observations. This includes repetitive actions like looking out of the window of a car and simply watching the road go by or swinging back and forth. These actions would always keep me calm and I would just drift off into space. I honestly don’t know why my mind specifically remembers these almost surreal experiences sometimes but whenever I think about them, I feel very nostalgic and it fills me with a strange childlike joy.
A Place I Want to be Right Now
From when I was just eleven months old up until now, I can hardly recall a summer not spent in Citta Della Pieve, a small Italian town located somewhere between Umbria and Tuscany. It was in Italy where I was baptized, took my first steps in the plaza, and where I first lived after being adopted from China. The musky smell of tobacco, oil paint, pine nuts, and fermenting grapes are some of the most distinctive smells I can remember. I see the old men with bushy beards and crooked teeth lounging in the shade, rolling their cigarettes, and my Nonna carefully painting the poppies and apricots from the backyard. I feel the soothing darkness of the cantinas and my hands pulling apart rough, sappy pine cones in search of the precious pine nuts. I hear the whirring and squeaking of the pedestal fans and the buzzing of the house flies that seem to be everywhere. Actually, it’s not often that I smell those scents outside of Italy, but anytime we make pasta or see a particularly blue and cloudless sky, those earthy scents and memories seem to appear, reminding me of what I consider to be my hometown. I’ve moved (homes, states, and schools) quite a lot throughout my life so far, but what’s stayed consistent are those summers in Italy with my grandparents and my passion for painting and cooking, which stemmed from my experiences there. I’m getting older, and life is moving quickly. I’m busy with school and applying to colleges, adjusting to a new home and community once again, and keeping in touch with friends and family, all amidst the pandemic. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to physically go back to the little town on the hill where the olive trees sway and the air is permeated with heavenly scents of fresh fruit or roasting meat. But even just writing about that place makes me feel like I’m already there. I look forward to better times when I can go back and life will slow down again, even for just a moment.
I remember playing with about a hundred Barbie dolls in my childhood. It was a winter day and the warm sunlight was streaming in through the transparent blinds. I was sitting on the cold tiled floor wearing my soft purple woollen sweater with pink sweatpants and little furry boots. I had this really big rectangular writing table painted with blues and whites. I had set up my dollhouse on it. There was a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen and a lounge, all decorated with the best most sparkliest furniture fit for a queen. I had just bought the refridgerator to complete the kitchen set and it was a shocking pink color with glittery doors and inside was a variety of juices, milkboxes and desserts. My favorite plastic dish of all time was the banana split. That and two chillies purple and red that I cooked in a little fry pan for my dolls to eat. Those were good times, simpler times when I didn’t have a care in the world. School was fun and full of activities and little friends who looked after me like I was their child. I wish I could just go back in time and play in a world full of comfort and remain in a bubble of positivity, imagination and innocence.
When I was a boy
I had wandered the
With an empty sky
Above me, wandering
With a friend and
After time I had
Lost him and
So was I to him
Until we crossed
Paths and civilization
Had found us once again.
I fly through the air for what seems like a full minute before landing abruptly on the pile of blankets and pillows on the floor. I push myself up and then laugh, giddy, looking up to see my younger brother climping the stairs two at a time with his blanket wrapped around his neck. I quickly move off the pile of blankets we have set up under the staircase and my brother grins at me. He puts his chubby hands in the air and lets out a war cry as he flings himself into the air and lands with a dull thud, in the middle of the blankets.
"Did I look like a real superhero that time?" he asks, breathless. I nod vigorously.
"Can I try the cape this time?" I ask. My brother nods and unties the blanket from around his neck. I wrap it around my own small neck and then we both race up the stairs to fly again.
Destroying other lives
Somewhere I lost my way
When exactly it was I can’t recall
When I needed direction
You were not there
When I needed a hand up
You were not there
Somewhere I lost my way
You let me wander aimlessly
Lost, alone and frightened
Screaming out in pain
Screaming for you to see me
Screaming for you to help me
You turned a deaf ear
I was my own problem
You never had the time
You were too busy
Destroying other lives
Deep into my thoughts. The chill that I caught when I heard my name didn’t tame me. Nor did hearing it a second and third time. Instead any color in my skin leapt from my fingers. As I knuckled down. And dug them into the laminate desk before me. Even deeper then I’d had been. As I scoffed and hummed giving no regard to each attempt to get my attention. Or the tension it’s built in the unfamiliar familiar North American Cold War era classroom.
Expecting my overplayed display of resolve to find me a greater audience (arguably my greatest fear at the time) And spurn on the storied disciplinary action of corporal punisher Ms./Ms’s Hildegard (no last name) I did then what she’d least expected.
As her response had just nearly finished welling up inside her. I spoke up! And she and the rest of the class. All standing and backing away now. Choked up and or gasped. As a student talking back to a teacher. Even rationally. Was rarer than sashimi. Or Americans eating it at the time. (1981)
I explained my position. Why I wouldn’t be taking part in such an such activities. And I apologized for any inconvenience this causes. While thanking her for accommodating me in advance of her doing anything of the sort.
"Nin! Nin! Nin!" I’ll spare you the rest.
The tirade Miss Hildegard went into was so stereotypically Angry incensed Fürher. You’d think I was bullshitting you. But as is implied I am not in the slightest. And it didn’t end there. Only after berating me at length and then failing to physical force me upright for ten to twenty minutes. Did she succumb to the fact that her efforts where futile. And the threatened trip to the principals office. Was now my reality. Five year old (1-0) Fifty year old (0-1)
I secured my backpack jacket and things. And turned to leave once again giving no regard to her instructions. Turning right down the long hallway as expected until reaching its end. I then turned right leaving out the front door of the school. Rather than turning left to the principals office and enduring anymore of what I saw as needless and insignificant thing to argue over. With a five year old no less.
I sat outside backed up to some bushes where kids get picked up after school. And listened as my class finally pledged their allegiances to the flag. Hildegard sharing her disdain for free thinkers & hippies. All good for nothing troublemakers she’d say. For the next hour maybe two. I dosed of and napped thru most of it.
Until they’d figured out I’d gone missing. And a search party was put into action. My peeved mother and her now staunchest (fearing lawsuits) supporter Vice principal McNally quickly finding me. Blood boiling now though over their failure to foresee this incident. And circumvent it happening altogether by maybe briefing Ms/Ms’s Hildegard before hand. Needles to say I withheld scathing searing comments, due judgement of their failures in this regard. As I answered questions and explained my side of the story without embellishments. As was corroborated by the eye witness accounts of the other students present.
That was the first day of first grade for me. The biggest physically but youngest in age by far in class. And that was but the first and most minor of the Knock down drag out fights. Ms/Ms’s Hildegard and I locked horns and tussled with each other in that year. The next is so audacious. The cries of bullshit will be difficult to quell but you can ask Vice principal McNally if you don’t believe me. She was my daughters fifth grade teacher and she’s still there teaching even now forty years later. But we’ll save that for later now won’t we.