Mrs. Wheeler

Image by ivabalk from Pixabay 

I’m not sure what her maiden name was but it sure as hell wasn’t Wheeler. She was as Hungarian as Hungarians came but she married a guy by the name of Wheeler. He was an airplane mechanic for a huge airline and he made good money so they had a very comfortable house in Queens where they boarded me.

I was clearly a source of revenue for them but overall they did not treat me poorly. I was like an associate family member and went wherever they went; shopping, visiting relatives, fishing…whatever. She was a good cook and that combined with the fact that she believed I was too skinny led me to become more filled out.

And so food was never a problem. I got anything I wanted. And plenty of it. Goulash, chicken paprika, spaghetti and meatballs, devil dogs and black cherry soda.

She had asthma, had gained weight and so the image and rough coughing voice was not pleasant, especially when she wanted me to bring her a cup of tea or cigarettes up to her headquarters on the main level.

This was during an important part of my life. 5th grade, well you go through a lot. I had to transfer schools to live with her and the new school was better but the teacher sucked. More on her in another story. I had to leave behind a girl named Claudia…maybe a blooming first love and my best friend Ricky to go where I knew no one. But there were decent kids in the neighborhood, and her sons took me under their wings and taught me about their music scene…Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition, The Cream, all kinds of psychedelic shit. Her wanting to fatten me up with her cooking was an act of caring. Overall they were okay, and it may have fueled a life long affinity for things Hungarian.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

Late…Again

Image by martakoton from Pixabay

“MOM!!!! I swear we were going to be here on time. Early evening!”

Shelly’s mother stared a hole in her.

“Look, I know it’s hard to believe but I swear it’s true. It’s not fair! We left the movie early and everything. I missed the ending just to make you happy and now I’m gonna get grounded.”

Head shaking.

“I wish I could prove it but how do you prove something like that? It’s not like we can interview him.”

Her mother reached for the phone.

“Yes. Call him! You will see. Our story will be exactly the same.”

While her mother spoke to Johnny’s father, she glared at her little sister who was watching from the kitchen, giggling and clearly enjoying the show. “You shut up or I’ll pop you good once mom is gone.” Her sister stuck out her tongue.

“Oh nothing momma. I was just speaking to Tammy.” Tammy snorted from the kitchen. More glaring.

Her mother hung up the phone.

“See! Our stories are exactly the same right? What? How can you not believe us if we had the same story? I swear it was a racoon!” Tammy was howling in the kitchen. “I’ll knock your block off I swear to god!”

“No…Not you momma! It’s Tammy she’s being a little jerk.”

Her mother pointed to her room and held out her hand for her car keys…a sure sign of a long grounding.

“It’s not fair…wait! What do you mean he said it was a skunk? That IDIOT it was supposed to be a rac…oops.” Tammy was making raspberry noises from the kitchen now.

She started up the stairs…defeated, to a chorus of ‘liar liar pants on fire’ from Tammy. “You’re gonna get it.” she hissed at her sister.

The Girl On The Steps

In a different life, I’d still know her. We would have gone to Kindergarten together, had the run of the neighborhood when we were old enough, Andrew Jackson High School; maybe Queens college.

I started off with a picket fence, little brick house, type of existence. The picture was from 1961…the fifties really, because the fifties didn’t end until Kennedy was shot. It was still a post war American exceptionalism type of world. There was no question of America’s greatness. The evidence was all around us, working class folks, all owning beautiful little homes with beautiful little lawns in a beautiful little neighborhood in the greatest city on earth. Vietnam had not yet taken the piss out of us as the Brits like to say. There was a lot of piss to take out. Still is.

Ours could have been any neighborhood in any Norman Rockwell inspired movie. Boy played by Jimmy Stewart. Girl played by June Allyson. Fetchingly normal…all in our little ecosystem within the larger confines of the great city that was the capital of the western world. In that movie, she was the girl next door.

I have several old family pictures of us together…the adults thought we were adorable. She must have some too. I wonder if her life stayed together better than mine…I hope so. If not, I hope it came back together like mine. I can’t say I miss her…I can barely remember. But I miss the idea of her. I wonder if she misses the idea of me.

Doon

Memories are more than just recalled thoughts that flow through our brains.  The memories also evoke feelings, and can even excite the same senses.  For instance, you can still smell the coffee brewing each morning in your grandparents kitchen.  Something like that.

In 1965,  I was a seven year old city kid from Queens, NYC.  I knew nothing but pavement, subways, buses, crowded streets, cramped apartments, and Cunningham and Central Parks.  You think of the midwest as flyover country.  But if you have eyes, and senses and the openness of a young child,  it is a place, like many others, that can explode your horizons.

It started with my first plane trips;  leaving out of of the iconic TWA terminal at JFK,  then a sleek 707 to Chicago, followed by a wingover turboprop in Ozark Airlines livery.  The Ozark flight was the more interesting of the two.  It operated much like airlines did in the thirties…hop-scotching across the country from one small/big midwestern town to another.  Land. Taxi to a small terminal with people waiting on the tarmac.  Drop off some passengers, pick up some more.  Over and over until it was our time to be dropped off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sioux Falls was the big town.  I had not seen Doon yet, a tiny town in Iowa that was fully self sufficient.  Bank,  grocery, hardware,  luncheonette,  gas station, and of course the standard midwestern town park.  Shady,  with swings and a baseball diamond.

A few miles outside of Doon lay the farm of my second cousins Dot and Ike.  And it was here that my horizons expanded.  I learned to ride a bike here,  I learned to ride a horse here (I was also stepped on by a horse here), I learned to swim here,  and I saw what it took to put food on all of our tables.

We had fun, but we also did chores.  We were not there as laborers but Dot and Ike were solid parents.  They believed that daily chores were important to a child’s upbringing.  And so we put away hay, and cleaned stalls,  and fed the animals.  It was a small farm, only 44 acres as I recall.  but to me it was like a universe.  And when we had free time,  which was most of the time,  we wandered its woods, and its streams and its ponds.

I was too young to make anything out of it other than it was fun and that New York now felted stifling and confining.   And I am only now understanding how it impacted me.  I need space.  I am now an accidental Midwesterner.  I am also at heart a Southerner.  I reject the labels that are put on both places by those with smaller horizons and closed minds.  Over my young years my mother piled on more and more of these type of experiences,  and they always involved space, and they always involved the outdoors.

Post Script:

I travelled there with my Great Aunt and another distance cousin.  I have been reading a history of my family from both geanological and historical records.  I got sent down this path after reading ‘Evangeline’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  We called my great aunt “Vange”.  I always thought it a strange name but that is normal in our family.  Looking at some census records I just saw that her actual name is “Evangeline”.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Dad

I liked the darkness.  The smell of sawdust from the game table.  Blue or magenta glowing lights back-lit a wall of liquor bottles.  Rough women and rougher men. No one wanted to talk to a kid. They had serious drinking to do and the world’s problems to solve. I had to entertain myself.  There was always a TV with a ballgame on if all else failed.

On days with my father,  we went to the Worlds Fair.  We went to the beach.  We went to his job driving a city bus.  But the days always ended the same way;  sitting in a bar where he drank himself stupid before driving me home in that Chevy Bel Air station wagon.

On bonus days,  where I was just being babysat,  I could stay at the home of some woman he was shacking up with.  Once,  staying at one of these places, I was bored and made some friends with the local kids.  Older, they encouraged me to throw a rock at some other boy.  I opened up his forehead.  Everyone split and I remember the kids mother complaining to my father.  The was the last time I saw my father and when I was a little boy I assumed it was because I had been bad and thrown a rock at a boy.

I still have a hat that he bought me from the NY Worlds Fair.  He had my name embroidered on it.  He spelled it wrong.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved