Friday, March 12, 2010

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s


While I’ve yet to reconnect with any childhood friends, my new foray into Facebook has me thinking about them just the same:

There was an immense Italian stone pine that shaded our graveled driveway. It was quite tall but also round, with layer upon layer of branches that tended to spiral, and which formed perfect steps for pulling oneself up and climbing at the main trunk. I spent a lot of time in and under that tree, listening to its music and savoring the privacy and shade. But whenever friends or relatives were over, the kids all scrambled up, usually one or two at a time, constantly blinking to prevent bits and pieces of bark from landing in our eyes. A cousin my age, whom I haven’t seen in years and who is a new Facebook friend, climbed higher than any of us. I wonder if he remembers. Being smaller and much more agile, he once managed to reach an area where the branches were smaller and closer together, until he was virtually pinned between them and I was wondering if I should call for help — as if either of our hairy full-grown fathers, busy laughing and shouting in the kitchen through a cloud of cigar smoke, could have shimmied up to the rescue. Besides, there was a matter of pride involved. I remember, though, how things suddenly became serious, and then for a time desperate, as we both held our breath, I just a few feet below him imagining each precarious step downward a dozen times before it was taken. Again, I wonder if he remembers — and if he does, if he remembers it as such a dramatic event. Maybe not. Busy with other games and adventures, we never spoke of it afterward.

There was a party under the tree once — a little summer affair that attracted four other boys from our farm neighborhood. Two were my age, and the others were two or three years older and from rougher backgrounds, although they were essentially good kids, and wary descendants of the Dust Bowl. One died of a heart attack back in the Nineties; the other I lost track of after high school, although one afternoon his older brother did drive his car drunk into a nearby irrigation ditch....

In any case, we had a party. I remember distinctly that I had orange soda, and that we were eating potato chips that cost thirty-nine cents for a big bag. When they went up to forty-nine cents, my father flipped: “Forty-nine cents for a damn bag of air?” — and after a brief chip moratorium, he started buying them at the new price. I don’t remember what the others drank. Probably Coke and root beer, which was really my favorite at the time — Hires, or Dad’s.

One thing my mother didn’t like about the kid who died young was that his nose was always running, and that his only attempts to deal with it were made with his tongue....

Another of those kids ended up falling in with the wrong crowd and wasting away after blowing his mind on drugs. I used to receive twenty-page letters from him. They were handwritten on both sides of lined yellow sheets in an almost indecipherable scrawl, and contained insistent, paranoid, pie-in-the-sky nonsense interspersed with flashbacks to our childhood — common ground impossible to sanely share in the present. And then a few years ago his letters stopped. What else do I remember about him now? Picking grapes together on his father’s farm; throwing clods at each other from behind a manure pile; playing in the water under his ancient, aromatic magnolia tree....


Recently Linked: My thanks to Cassandra Lotus for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Cassandra has her own blog going, Live Righteously — something I thought about while I was there reading her thoughts, with Janis Joplin playing on her jukebox. A friendly welcome, also, to Dibakar Sarkar, a thinker who writes, but who has no wish to be a writer....

Updates:
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s” is my newest Notebook entry. Old notes are archived here.

A link to my new Facebook page added to my contact page and News and Reviews.

In the Forum: road apples vs. barn biscuits.

11 comments:

Caio Fernandes said...

what made me think at the end is that it is so personal , unique but extremely universal .
here i am , another generation , country , culture , saying for every sentence " as happened with me " " yes , i know that !!" .

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Caio. I couldn’t ask for a better response. That means a lot to me. And thanks for taking the time to read a piece this long.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

William,

this ought to be lengthened into a full short story.I do get that distinctively 60s feeling when I read this (especially with the big 39 cent bag of chips and Hires rootbeer) Love the title!

RUDHI - Chance said...

Your memories are entertaining my brain with life-pictures... maybe also because I have to read slowly to translate into mind-imaginations!

William Michaelian said...

Great to hear, Conrad. The title was one of those effortless arrivals that sometime appear as soon as a piece is done. So when it happened, I didn’t hesitate. I’ve written a number of things that feature this Sixties composite dream world — stories, journal entries, poems, remembrances in Songs and Letters. That well never seems to run dry.

Rudhi — I write quickly, you read slowly, and somewhere in our imaginations we meet. I like that arrangement!

Anthony Duce said...

I enjoyed your writing a lot today. Took me back to days of tree climbing and childhood friends I hadn't thought about in a very long time. So many stories left behind. Thank you.

William Michaelian said...

Anthony, thank you. I was telling my wife just the other day that no day goes by in which I don’t think about the old homeplace — the house, the yard, the surrounding vineyards and orchards — and especially the “cast of characters” from those days. We were fortunate to have a steady stream of visiting friends and relatives. I remember as a kid basking in the stories and cigarette smoke, the sounds of their voices. And I can still remember bits and pieces of their conversation.

Vatche said...

Great piece, William. It made me remember the childhood I had, which was not too long ago, but still fresh in my mind. It's hard growing up and seeing all your old friends disperse into different crowds.

However, I believe that those connections, whether they are made of strings with two tin-cans at each end, a telephone wire, an internet line, or even a chain, the connection is still there. I try to keep in contact with every friend as much as I can and your piece, William, has reminded me again how important it is. Thank you.

William Michaelian said...

Vatche, beautifully put. I agree with you completely. And you have the ability, I know, to keep those connections alive, even as you make new ones along the way.

Elisabeth said...

I'm late to this one, William, but I just had to leave a comment. It's wonderful and flows so beautifully. If this is what Face Book can inspire then I'm all for it.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Elisabeth. Like any new thing, Facebook certainly gets the mind going in different directions. My head is still spinning from the experience. I’m glad you like this piece. We both spend a fair time looking back, don’t we?