Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When I Am A Young Man, I'll Smile Purple

In 1995 I moved in with my Aun't Noon in Zionsville, IN, where I was already from and, in any case, living just down the street from her.  Why did I move the four blocks into her home, at age 22?  I had gotten into trouble that I won't go into here, and lost a realationship with a woman who had been living with me.  In most of the typical ways that people would look at this sort of thing, I certainly didn't deserve the kind attentions of my Aunt.  I had screwed up in life, and lost a good woman for all practical purposes (in fact a woman my Aunt, not entirely to my pleaure, had set me up with.  Friend of her daughters.)  Moreover I had lived for a few years, after dropping out of a wonderful College, an aimless and trouble filled life.  I suppose there remained something, however, that my Aunt could remember.  What might I mean?

As you have already guessed, she was no stranger to me.  It is one of the many fortune's of my life, and not diminished by the plurality of the others in the least, that my Aunt Noon (Mary) has been in my life since I was, as she would put it, a "babe."  She is a keenly intelligent, warm hearted, no nonsense woman, who also happens to have distinguished herself in Indianapolis, and probably, truth be told, Central Indiana, as a Dermatologist.  Having never had much acne, or other skin disease I haven't had much of an opportunity to ask one of her competitors about her, but I run into people who have been her patient all the time.  And... I have spent a great deal of time, I wish you knew how lucky I was, with that fine woman, my Aunt Noon.

When I was a twelve or thirteen year old, and my parents finally could allow me to ride my bicycle throughout our small town of 5,000 without incurring the wrath of child protective services, I would understandably fly toward the drug stores for candy, and then to the library for another kind of confection.  These distractions while powerful and enduring, in the case of the candy, into an embarrassingly late period in my life; (I stubbornly refuse to acknowledge my library problem) both had an oddly short half-life once experienced.  It was difficult to stand in the candy section of the store, stuffing your face with gobstoppers, and Hubba-Bubba, and looking around through the green flourescent light delineating that strange stratification that occurs with cigarette smoke, and think to yourself, "I think I'll make a day of it."  It was, like most appetite driven distractions, a kind of work, that had it's beginning and (you almost worried about it before you were underway) it's fairly quick end.  As a child you didn't think about this much, it was just a product of the experience that you took for granted.  Some things are fun a long time, others, not so long.  

My Mom would usually suggest some sort of wholesome sandwich and ice cream place for my brother and I (or I alone.)  Most of the time she would take us herself, of course.  It is really a nice memory.  I marvel at her endless kindnesses in even going to the trouble to imagine such gifts for my brother and I.  I sometimes think, due to the fact that my Mom had a really very spartan childhood where spending money was concerned, that much of the material side of my privilege from her amounted to a kind of delight that she took in seeing her kids experience a days pleasure in something completely unnecessary.  That sounds obvious, but the reason I mention it, is that when I am thinking about my childhood self, it was far from obvious.  The things I take for granted about my Mom can have an odd, disconnected from her life, and just the way things ought to be quality to them, which is, of course, the magic of a mother.  So what might seem completely obvious, is none the less unappreciated by my reflexive "son" assumptions.  My mother very intentionally, created for me a sort of wonderland.  Partly because it was fun, and she loved me so much.  And partly because such an action reworked the rules of the world she grew up in (obviously only to some extent.)  

So, after the obligatory luch of pizza, or chicken salad sandwhich, or the occasional DQ (Dairy Queen) Full Meal Deal, and the face stuffing fest that was in such full compliance with my nature... it would be time to regroup and ask the age old question that all thirteen year olds are burdrened with:  how might I best maintain my relations with the important people in my life.  My tongue is purple, and my insulin reaction strong, if I can stay on my bicycle all the way to my aunt's (less than two miles), I'll be in like Flynn to something kinda Zen.  And you know, it basically worked out that way.  Isn't childhood wonderful (for me.... I mean.)

My Aunt Noon had a house at the end of a long street at the end of the bag.  But this was a fairly interesting bag as these things go, for the street had been built atop a very slight ridge top (truly a tiny one, that really, in all likelihood was more the topographical result of various stages of the Little Eagle Creek river flooding to the South of her house, forming a steep ravine, and to the North of her house eatiing away at various portions of the land (in conformation to the sweeping shape of the river itself, therefore giving you the impression of a high spot, or ridge.))  Her driveway was about a fifth of a mile lane that shot a rather straight path through a bunch of cherry trees (tall spindly things) along both sides of it a skinny patch of woods that she spent years hacking back to the long skinny boundaries of that peninsula of her property.  Really, just something of an access gate to the road, sqeezed between a huge alfalfa field on one side (just lovely, with cows and big circles of hay), and a sort of identical arrangement with her neighbors to the east (long driveway, strips of property to either side, and an either rustic, or symbolic fence like thing depending on one's point of view.)  The lane swept down to a huge, brick, two story house that I spent enormous amounts of time in as a visitor, and sometimes, guest, when my parents were out of town, and we were still too young to stay at home alone.  Just thinking of the place gives me strong sensations of my youth.  It doesn't hurt that some of my best friends of my childhood lived on the same street, and remained there until I left Zionsville for good.  Kind of a two decade still life that was made off with by that behooded rascal, and mastermind, Father Time.   

I'm sure there were many times when my brother and I would bicycle over and my Aunt was in the back yard, planting hosta's or some other such extremely shade tolerant plant against the heavy woods that swept up to and in fact superceded her house.  Pretty much her entire street, and development, was a footprint, placed Godzilla like, right down on a maybe third growth woods.  Her property was perhaps two hundred, or one hundred fifty yards from a sanctuary of sorts that seemed to really be just a flood plain not even safe for bottom land agriculture.  In addition there were some high tension powerlines and a freeway right of way back there, all of which seemed to conspire to the creation of a lovely, and yet somehow legally mandated, park: Starkey Park, which was a really important part of my young life and teenage years.

Though, like I said, I am sure there were many times my Aunt was out back, on her acre and one half or two acre property, what I remember best was her slow creation of the only spot on her property that could really provide the full sun required for daylillies she was developing a passion for.  So my brother and I would tear down the "ridge", her street, and come to her cul-de-sac, hit the rather rude bump of her ubiquitous suburban curved curb, and stop our bikes grinning like we were the mailman with a tax return check.  Of course, we had not a damn thing to offer, but our smiling purple teeth.  And as Billy Collins pointed out in his marvelous exploration of the mystery of a mothers love (yeah, not the same, but come on...) in his poem "The Lanyard,":

The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano 
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the "L" section of the dictionary 

where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard. 

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist 

could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench 
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard. 
A gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard. 
Or wear one, if that's what you did with them. 

But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand 
again and again 
until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother. 

She gave me life and milk from her breasts, 
and I gave her a lanyard 

She nursed me in many a sick room, 
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips, 

set cold facecloths on my forehead 
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard. 

"Here are thousands of meals" she said, 
"and here is clothing and a good education." 

"And here is your lanyard," I replied, 
"which I made with a little help from a counselor." 
"Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, 
strong legs, bones and teeth 
and two clear eyes to read the world." she whispered. 
"And here," I said, 
"is the lanyard I made at camp." 
"And here," I wish to say to her now, 

"is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth, 
that you can never repay your mother, 

but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands, 

I was as sure as a boy could be 
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom 

would be enough to make us even."
(billy collins)  

............ I guess I sort of thought my blue tongue and teeth and stupid grin would be enough as well, for my Aunt.

In all seriousness, there was an element of my nature, as you may have already noticed in this Blog, that my Aunt might have enjoyed along with the candy colored lips of her nephew.  I suppose, in all fairness, I have always been extremely alert to the sort of things that are important to the adults around me (and hopefully my friends as well.  Although I have my dullard moments to be sure.)  And I suppose I may have been pulling a bit of an Eddie Haskel with some of the adults in my life, though nobody ever accused me of this (crosses his fingers behind his back, whilst pretending to scratch his spine...)  But in all honesty, my Aunt is a fascinating figure, who lavished a genuine (and always has) joy on me my whole life.  Even before her own children were born, she no doubt considered my siblings and I as stand ins for her own hopes at family, don't we all see our nieces and nephews that way?  So I have always felt that I have received an outsized gift from my Aunt of love, for a long, long time.  In any case, even as barely a teenager, I suppose a light shone in my eyes that will often shine in the eyes of a young person who knows someone is there who will listen and tell you the things themselves that are important.  And among the many things we talked about (and still do, now, going on thirty years) were, of course, this small bit she had removed from the black forest of her property to grow what looked like big piles of green leaves with one, extremely vulnerable stem coming out of it.  Seemed like an awful interesting ratio of effort to reward, given the afternoon I had been enjoying.  My Aunt has this self conscious way of smiling, that belies her steel trap mind.  I don't know if it is an artifact of the era from which she came when to authentically speak her mind would have left some pretty devastating casualties in Kendallville Indiana (where my family originally springs.)  That said, it's a very endearing part of her personality, that with large quantities of cherry trees falling every which way, and this tiny flower sort of puffing out is verdant finery like Marie Antoinette or something, my Aunt sort of gets that this passion of hers is a vision, a bit otherworldly:  and she thinks it's pretty funny as well.  Until you experience her variety of confidence, it is easy to not realize how powerful a thing it really is. She doesn't really defend her choices, just kind of laughs along with the ambition that they intimate, and pulls out her considerable charm (and energy, and garden snips) to get on with it.  With time, trust me, the world sort of does this mirage like, heat wave movement around her, and ta da!  it's done.  It's not just endearing... it's impressive.  Real impressive.

She's not so modest as not to realize this on most levels.  So spoiling her is a snap, and a great deal of fun, since if you make eye contact with her she kind of winks at you, saying, "Hey buddy, I appreciate your interest."

Needless to say, the spoiling, in my life, as far as my Aun't is considered, has been a mostly one way affair.  And yes, you can tell from this Blog entry, that I have had a sweet and special and deep closeness to her for a long, long time.  Where it was interrupted, it had to be for fear (on her part) that she might be damaging me by not waking me up to the fact that I am a more capable person that I used to sometimes want to believe.  But I have never felt anything but the hardest to explain sensation of joy in her presence.  You can tell from this entry: I just admire and love my Aunt Noon.  

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