Monday, February 28, 2011

The house on the highway, Part 4

At some point we moved to town, to a house on Morley. My father had it moved there from a different location, and a lot of work had to be done on it afterward. I remember we visited there one time while they were working on the kitchen, which was very small, just a set-off part of a much larger room, with a counter and cupboards and appliances. A man was on his knees in the kitchen laying pinkish brownish floor tiles, spreading out a sweep of grooved dark glue lines and then setting the tiles in it, working very fast.

One time on the farm my mother came to me and showed me some of my wooden puzzles. She said the workmen had gotten paint on them when they were working. She said it was an accident, though I also got the impression that they weren't overly concerned about it. She said there was nothing she could do to get it off. The paint was basically in globs, sometimes broad, over parts of the puzzles, like some had been slopped out and fell on them, though they also had some spatters and drips. I was saddened by it, but I realized that there was nothing I could do. I continued to play with them, though I was always bothered by it.

When we finally moved in, I went right to the cupboards in the kitchen, under the counter, and opened the doors to see if there was food in there. I had been very worried that there wouldn't be, or wouldn't be very much. I was very surprised to find that they were full of cans. I mentioned it to my mother, who had come up behind me and to the side. She said something like, "Yes, we have food," seeming to be gently amused by my concerns.

Years later, there was some confusion in my mind about how old I was when we moved in. For a long time I thought I was 4, but it eventually came to me that that couldn't be right, that too many years had passed there. It seems likely that I was 2, based both on my sense of a passage of a lot of years there and on how old my brother was at the time. When we moved there, I'm pretty sure he was still crawling. My mother disagreed, but I remember my father made a barrier across the stairs so that my brother couldn't go down them. It was just a board, something I could step over, but he couldn't because he was still crawling.

Another factor in this is that my father was on active duty in the Air Force until his discharge in June of 1956. If we moved then or shortly before, I still would have been 2 years old, though only a few months from 3. If we moved in late summer or early fall, I would have been 3. However, my brother would have been approaching a year and a half or even a little older, and should have been able to walk by that time. Maybe he did walk and just crawled on occasion. If I remember correctly, the board was down a little ways from the top of the stairs. My brother might have crawled when attempting to go down the stairs, and then been unable to get past the board. I remember being up there, though, and trying to herd him away from the stairs, while he gleefully tried to reach them, and I see him in my mind as crawling then. My mother was downstairs and told me to keep an eye on him, and keep him away from the stairs. However, I can also see him standing, holding onto something to his right for support, maybe the post by the stairs. It's hard to say if the memory is as early as the other one, though.

If we moved there a year earlier, or almost a year earlier, he would have definitely been crawling, and I would have been approaching 2 years old or maybe a little after 2. It wouldn't match my mother's memory of him being able to walk, though. The most likely explanation, I guess, is that my brother could walk, but sometimes crawled when presented with something difficult, such as the stairs. That would put my age at almost 3 or just barely 3.

A complication in this is that I also had to keep my brother, and years later my sister, away from the opening to the long hallway back on the farm. Sometimes the door was left open in the kitchen, and the drop-off to the hallway was a big step down, and they didn't want them crawling over it and falling down into the hallway. I would try to distract them and play with them, ultimately pushing them back, while they kept gleefully trying to crawl over to it. This sounds very much like what was happening with the stairs at the house in town, and it's possible I could have confused the images, but I don't think so.

We still went back to the farm often, to visit the people there, and usually had Sunday dinner there. I remember one time, maybe a two or three years after we had moved, going out in the rain to get into the car to go there.

On September 5, 1959, around 2:30 AM, my grandfather died, at the age of 85. I don't remember anything about it, just what I was told. My mother said he had been sick for a while, and the night he died the dogs kept trying to get into the house. She said that after he died, he kept coming back for a long time. She gave an exact number of days, but I don't remember what it was anymore. It might have been close to two weeks, maybe even close to three, or it could have been something like 12 days. She said she could hear his footsteps coming down the hall, and then he would stop and talk to her mother. She couldn't see him, but her mother could. And though she loved her father, she was afraid of him now, because he was a ghost, and she hid in her room. Each night she could hear his footsteps, though. She said that he talked to her mother for a long time each night, maybe for hours, I'm not sure. He finally said that he had to stop, though, that he couldn't come anymore, that he was only allowed that amount of time. He didn't come after that.

On July 9, 1960, around 9:00 PM, Uncle Doc died, at the age of 90. We had just been at the hospital visiting him. We had been there for quite a while. They were expecting him to get better, so I was told, and it was late at night, and we were finally going to leave now. He didn't want my mother to go, though, she told me later. Before we left, she asked if I wanted to see him. She cautioned me that he had a lot of tubes going into him, and not to be scared by it. She took me in to see him, but the light was so dim it was hard to really tell much, though she didn't seem to be having any trouble herself. I could see a small figure on the bed, under the sheets with the head and maybe arms showing, with some vague equipment around him, including a few tubes, but it was hard to tell where they went or even if they went to him. I couldn't even make out enough of his face to recognize him. I said something about not being able to see very well, but she acted surprised at it. I think I said something to him at her prompting, though I don't remember what now. I'm not sure he said anything back, maybe a muffled groan, but maybe not even that. I was a little scared, apprehensive, about being there in the room with him, maybe because it seemed so odd. Normally I got along well with him, but here I couldn't even recognize him.

We went home then, a long drive, because the hospital was in another town. My brother and I evidently slept part of the way. My mother said that she was talking to my father as he drove back, and that somewhere along the way she said to him, "Oh, there's a cloud that looks like Uncle Doc." Or, perhaps, "That's funny. There's a cloud that looks like Uncle Doc." Something like that. My father said that it meant that he had died. At least that's the best I can remember it, from what she said. When she got home the phone was ringing, and when she answered it she was told that he had died. I went to his funeral, but I still couldn't recognize him. I don't remember anything about my grandfather's funeral, and my mother said that my brother and I didn't go to it, she felt we were too young.

Sometime after the school year ended in 1960, we moved away. I didn't want to leave, but I understood we had to. My father had bronchitis, and his lungs couldn't take the cold and the dampness anymore. He was gone for a while, looking for a place for us to live. He finally came back one night, while I was sitting at a small table working on something, perhaps a puzzle or a game, or maybe even a drawing or coloring in a coloring book. My mother had gotten a phone call earlier and was expecting him. I stayed at the table, working, while my mother went to the door. I was glad he came back but I wanted to finish what I was doing first, before I went and talked to him. She opened the door, and I could feel the cool night air come in. She stood there, talking to him for a while, while I continued working. I hoped to get done while he was still at the door, but after a bit he came to me and stood there, on the other side of the table from me. After a pause he said, "Well. Aren't you glad to see me?" I continued to look down at what I was doing, and said yes, but I wanted to finish this first. I continued working, feeling somewhat guilty, and eventually got it finished and then went and stood near where they were talking, my father standing while my mother worked at something, a few feet away. He occasionally turned his head and looked at me, and eventually I did get to say something to him, briefly.

Initially we went to a house in California, and spent the summer there, or what was left of it. I remember that the salesman pointed out that the house, on the back yard side, had an outside door to the bathroom, so kids didn't have to run through the house tracking dirt on the floor to get to it. I also remember that I was greatly dismayed when I walked out into the back yard in my bare feet, with the dry stiff grass poking them like little spikes. The grass out here was certainly different, not soft at all. There was some kind a decorative pool out in the back yard too, something built with a low circular wall of gray bricks or blocks, with a gray concrete bottom. I'm not sure it actually contained water, though we may have filled it sometimes. For years it felt like we only stayed there for two weeks, though I was corrected decades later, even by my younger brother, that it was all summer. It seems likely that we moved sometime after Uncle Doc died, though, so we may have just stayed there for a month or so.

Before school started, for second grade, we moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, eventually to two houses there, but we moved again before the end of the school year. I finished second grade in Phoenix, and we ended up moving to a second house there, too, and then eventually to Scottsdale, right before third grade started.

We usually went back to Missouri, to the house on the highway, for a month late in the summer. We would drive out there, generally in two cars I think, and then my father would drive back to Arizona. Before school started he would drive back to Missouri to get us, and then we would all go back to Arizona. It was a very long trip, around 1400 miles one way, if I remember correctly. I think we generally took three days to do it.

One summer we didn't go back. The previous summer Charley was upset, and told my mother that he wasn't going to see her again. She tried to reassure him that he would, but he still didn't think so. The year after the summer we didn't go back, on February 2, 1965, he died, at the age of 80. We went back for the funeral. My mother cried a lot at it. He didn't look the same to me as he lay there. He just looked like a little old man, in a generic sense, and not like the one I knew. I knew it was him, though, and I was sad, with tears in my eyes sometimes. It somehow felt like he wasn't really there, though, that it wasn't really him, even if it was his body.

I tried to comfort my mother, but she spent a lot of time crying, and there didn't seem to be anything I could really do. Time stretched on. Sometimes people talked to each other, and sometimes more people came in. Most of the people looked old, though not all. It seemed to be taking a very long time, with nothing really happening, but I was still just a kid. They were probably waiting for everyone to arrive, before they started giving the speeches, although they may have had a scheduled time for it. The small room was filled fairly well, a lot of people came to the funeral. My mother later said that he would have been proud to know so many people came.

We moved back to Missouri in late 1965, and stayed with my grandmother in the house on the highway. We thought my father's lungs had healed enough, but it eventually turned out not to be so.

We stayed there at the farm for several months, though we eventually moved to a place in town, an old two story house with a lot of problems, in a residential neighborhood, with streets paved with bricks. In the winter, there was sometimes snow on the ground, and my brother and I sometimes went sledding down a steep snow covered street, along with to some extent my sister, though she was still pretty little. In warmer weather, I planted some marigolds in the remains of an old stump, that was on our front lawn, out near the road. I recently saw where my mother wrote that I had planted moss there. I don't remember it, but perhaps I planted some with the marigolds, some of the large moss like Charley had had in the barrel.

The trees in the neighborhood had lots of squirrels in them, up on the branches chattering and eating, and sometimes running in little spurts on the lawns. Occasionally one would get hit by a car, and its remains would stay there on the bricks of the roads for a while.

It was evident during the winter that my father was not going to be able to stay there, but we didn't move away until the middle of the summer. I remember on the last day, being back at the farm again, as we were getting things ready to leave. The weather had a somewhat threatening feel, as if it might storm again. There were a lot of clouds, broad, somewhat banded I think, and below them small, low, gray flat-bottomed clouds raced along, going in the direction away from town, looking astoundingly three-dimensional, almost solid. The air felt a little damp, though not as damp as sometimes, and alive, though not as alive as it had sometimes been. The aliveness would disappear in Arizona, along with the dampness, along with the 3-D clouds, and along with the explosion of greenery that was everywhere. My mother hated Arizona, but it felt more like home to me now.

Continued in Part 5.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

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