The Long Teasing Tongue of Memory

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Контент 14+ I used to think that memories were sort of like the old tires that piled up outside the second-hand rubber store near my childhood home in Martinsburg, West Virginia. For that matter, there was also a company that made head-stones for the graveyards of the town. It was on the other side of the lot behind our house...

Talk about memories. Tombstones -- and the blank marble shoulders stood in silent groups, like frozen packs of silver wolves. There were no names etched on them, which made them seem even more anonymous and forbidding, but one day I glimpsed a snake (my first serpent) slithering gracefully along the surface one of these stones, and I recognized him as an emblem of death -- well, I was afraid, but the snake had no fear at all.
The names of the departed must have been carved inside the building or somewhere else, making their gala appearance only at the green gravesite. The inlaid title of some departed father or mother firmly chiseled onto a stony suitcase, acknowledgment of who somebody had once been, receding into the softness of marble grains.

But I was 5-6 years old, and I didn't know anything. My first best friend was a boy named Jimmy Brumbaugh who lived directly across the divide of our medieval battlefield. His house, I recall, was made of red brick (which I somehow envied), while ours was comprised of a kind of yellow stucco. In the summer we could sit in our houses and listen to each other eat lunch and dinner. I would hear them rattling their plates and silverware, and it seemed obnoxiously loud. I wanted my family to be louder, so I would bang my utensils as hard as I could. By God, our lunch was better than theirs and we were enjoying it more !!! Concorenza. !!!

Otherwise, Jimmy and I played in that great field...Oh, games I cannot recall! It was superb until someone remembered that he was a year older than me-- and so he started school a year earlier. He was a Catholic, and the Catholic school was straight across the street, Queen Street, to be exact, which ran smoothly and widely through the lazy south end of our town. Therefore, one autumn, Jimmy started disappearing into that damned school while I sat at home. I would hunch myself on our big front porch and watch him go. The cars back in the 1950's had faces. Human faces with human expressions that revealed personality and character. Many times I sat on the porch peering into the faces of those Fords, Mercuries, Pontiacs, Plymouths, Cadillacs, and Chevrolets..... big cars with big gas tanks, and I would play games with the faces. Then one day, I was riding too hard on the swing and I shot forward and bashed out a tooth.

Behind our house, set out in rows, were the backyards of all the houses on that rising street, and in those backyards were clothes-lines the women used to hang up the laundry on. If, afterwards, you stood and looked at the effect made by those columns of ghostly, billowing white sheets, the effect was mesmerizing -- although that is only how I would express it now; back then, it was just normal, and any of those hard-headed housewives would have laughed like fools if you said that the sheets looked like a fleet of ships in the ancient world. No, they would have said; they look like sheets, they look like laundry, what in the hell are you talking about, boy?.

Then there were the Olinger girls. Karen and Theresa from up the lane. They were beautiful, blond little girls and very playful and even almost tomboyish. But entirely female. In the summer they always came bare-footed, and I recall a sensual reaction to their bare feet. 60 years later, I still have this, I suppose, strange attraction, to beautiful female feet. I don't know where it comes from, but I guess it started with those Olinger girls who, if alive, would be my age now. Funny old life, isn't it?.

I finally moved away, and only 15 years later returned to spend a drunken year at a local college. My grandparents had bought a double-wide trailer, and I stayed there for a year. Often enough we rode past the old houses. brick and yellow-whatever, and I saw that the vacant lot I had run rampant on as a five-year-old, and imagined as a huge plain, was, in reality, just a tucked-in vacant lot. I eventually tracked down Jimmy Brumbaugh. His nickname had become 'Barf', which, in the American lingo of the day, meant "vomit". So evidently, Jimmy drank too much. Also, he was gay.

Anyway, memories are made of this. Big streets turn into little ones, Perfect mothers and fathers are revealed as ordinary members of the human crowd. The headstones bear the names, and many people return again and again to salute them. To recall..

To me, there is nothing sadder than an old man or old woman wandering alone in an autumn cemetery. The winds fly at their shoulders, and the dark night stands before them like an expressionless sentinel....
Jimmy Brumbaugh and I were Achilles and Hector and we fought together near the ancient city of Troy. Sometimes we rode big chestnut horses amid the auburn fields. We stopped at inns and had fabulous lunches topped with flagons of mead... In the distance, the hounds were baying, but we rode on, returning only before sunset. Then we led the steaming colts into their stables, and heard them whinnying behind us, and went home. From inside the castle, I could listen to the bells of evening tolling out the hours.

But by morning it had all shrunk away. Jimmy, in his shiny raincoat, would dart out amid the traffic and slither into the school, while I sat by the window, or wandered out back to stare at the mute headstones once the rain had stopped. Or simply collapsed into some vast chair amid the throb of piano keys that were pounding through my mind there in the dull and uneventful town of Martinsburg, West Virginia...

===Eric Richard Leroy===

One thought on “The Long Teasing Tongue of Memory

  1. I’m sorry, but according to what you write it doesn;t seem like that boy was your best friend. Friendship is not much of a competition but of pure joy of spending time together, especially when one is a child. Really sorry to read that those memories, which could warm your heart later were not able to do that.

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