Memory Sickness

Perusing old Sears catalog photos a few weeks ago I tripped over this image and fell into a James Lileks-like nostalgia spiral. My childhood friend Donny had this exact bedspread, and you could measure my childhood by the longing it instilled in me for the working class normalcy of Perma-Press™ and Dacron. Also a room of one’s own.

My family pulled cast-off items from the “Free Box” in front of the Happy Belly health food store. This is to say I did the pulling, as my parents thought it entirely normal a 9-year-old should forage for his own clothes.  Also, to line up his own rides to school hitchhike to town. Or walk up the hill to the cousin’s house to use their shower, hot running water not being part of our familial equation until after I left for college.

Growing up, I assumed Donny was middle class.  NFL themed bedding! I was living in a plywood cabin. Anyone with plumbing and electricity was doing well. But Donny’s father did shift work in a local manufacturing firm and adjourned to the corner stool at Al’s Redwood Room at 5 pm until his wife collected him in the Ford Pinto station wagon when his money ran out. Their house was a 2br rental.  Donny’s room was a sectioned off area of the garage with faux wood paneling. He had a Nerf basketball hoop suctioned cupped to the wall.  We created our own hybrid sport with Whiffleball bats, a nerf ball and a twin bed as a trampoline.   After he and his sister moved away, his parents downscaled to a trailer. When his father drank himself to an early grave, his mother returned to her people in West Virginia.  I liked her. She gave us graham crackers after school and a vat of chocolate goo we could smear across them like cream cheese.  Somehow we remained skinny little beanpoles, the both of us. His were Sears people. I came from Free Box stock.  Nobody was fat then, despite our best efforts.

A few years later I saw Randy Weaver’s cabin on the news and realized I was looking at my parent’s house, only with the politics 180 degrees in reverse. When I think of 14-year-old Sammy Weaver dead on the ground, I know I would have done the same thing: run to defend my fathers fenceline. Boys are hardwired for that. Piss that away and a father can wander the blasted heath like Lear.

In Boomer fashion, my father pissed it away, and a small fortune as well, yet wandered not, lived his life as selfishly as he began.  In one of God’s delicious ironies, he finds himself in his seventh decade caring full time for my mother whose memory is composting by the week.

You only remember the bad things, she used to tell me when I visited. Now she and my father have dialogue like this:

Whose wine glass is this?
That’s your wine glass over there.
That’s my wine glass? Whose wine have I been drinking?
The wine in your hand.
I have two wine glasses?
You have three glasses going.
So which one is mine?
They are all your glasses. You keep starting new ones.

Since I left, the original plywood box (mounted six inches off the ground on buckets filled with hand-mixed concrete) has expanded horizontally and vertically in a style that can be characterized as Mendocino Gothic Ad Hoc.  They just kept adding rooms, then redwood siding and decks on three sides. A massive solar array.  Bizarrely, a Steinway grand piano.  If you think there are building permits involved here, think again.    Note the crumbling rock barbeque pit in the foreground.  This was our kitchen for the first two years in the country.  Yes, that was the plan, to the degree anything was planned.

When they realized they couldn’t have sex in the same room as their children,  a bridge too far even for them, they adjourned to the A-Frame, a plywood annex. This was their bedroom for 10 years.

But now, necessity demands my mother have an ADA compliant walk-in shower, the slip and fall deathtrap sunken tub they’ve used for 25 years having become a hazard.

So my brother in law, my nephew and I, last week converged to build another non-conforming addition to the house, complete with rain shower. This is something I once promised myself I would never do. Yet there I was, laying tile, while the others installed new wiring and pumping and drainage and essentially replumbed the entire house.  The parents paid for nothing. The moral of the story being the Boomers get everything they want.  Except time.

21 thoughts on “Memory Sickness”

  1. It’s entries like these that make me glad I still subscribe.

    “When they realized they couldn’t have sex in the same room as their children, a bridge too far…”

    LOL

  2. “ After he and his sister moved away, his parents downscaled to a trailer. When his father drank himself to an early grave, his mother returned to her people in West Virginia. I liked her. She gave us graham crackers after school and a vat of chocolate goo we could smear across them like cream cheese. Somehow we remained skinny little beanpoles, the both of us. His were Sears people. I came from Free Box stock. Nobody was fat then, despite our best efforts.”-

    One of your best essays.

  3. You have the makings of a “Hillbilly Elegy” with a Mendocino, 60s Hippie slant here. (One of the few BOOKS I’ve actually read in the past few years, btw.) I read plenty…….just not books. Why…….?

    …….sites like Lileks. LOL. I’ve “wasted” many an hour there. Though I should like to think of it as entertainment, which it is. Some people prefer to watch CSI-Fill-in-the-blank. I prefer to surf Lileks.

    For the uninitiated: https://www.lileks.com/

    1. “You have the makings of a “Hillbilly Elegy” with a Mendocino, 60s Hippie slant here.”

      Don’t tempt me. I may not be able to refuse.

  4. Damn. They really were hippies. I thought you were joking.
    BTW, that bedding is hideous. Def not licensed by the NFL. Had to scour that photo to find my Raiders!

  5. You may have accidentally started a Gen X emotional support group. My cousin and I still share dark humor about our first day at school where we were asked to right down our address in case of emergency. We each put down a license plate number… Fo’ reals. Latchkey kids? We dreamed of having a latchkey.

    1. Thank you, Joanna. It’s the three step rule of home ownership: First time wrong, second time better, third time proficient.

  6. Jack Baruth recommended you on his site a while back. I can see why, you’re very talented. That essay reads like a triple distilled Hemingway short story, before he lost it.
    Thank you

    1. Earned Boomer criticism is the one generational advantage granted the Gen X’ers. And it has been appropriated from us by the Millennials. Without portfolio, mind you. Such entitlement!

  7. Fascinating.

    “This was our kitchen for the first two years in the country”.

    Where did you emigrate from?

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