Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Flatheads I Have Known and Loved
It’s just rain… The kitchen window offered me clear perspective through opaque glass; my mood, while somber, was nonetheless inspired for its bleakness. I came to understand that day, that a small boy seldom has control of his destiny. I remember sitting at Aunt Louise’s home-made kitchen table, looking out into the grayness and noticing that even the large sycamore trees in the yard had been transformed into shapeless monoliths. Somewhere past them, obscured by the veil of dull film currently enveloping the property, would sit the dilapidated old barn where Uncle Joe kept his worms, fishing tackle and seining nets. From time to time, as thunderclaps threatened and the crackle of lightning caused the lights in the parlor to blink, I’d mutter under my breath. It’s not fair…
Of course, I could have turned the kitchen lights on, and if I had, I might have been able to better read the Superman and Marvel comics strewn across the table top. Even though it was mid-afternoon, it was more dark than light in the room. I could still see the pages and somewhere deep inside me, I knew they were illustrated in color… but today, they were as gray as my mood. Why turn on the lights and ruin a perfectly good snit? It isn't fair…
I mean, it could have rained two days ago while Uncle Joe was working, or yesterday when we all drove over to Glasgow to put the flowers on Grandma and Grandpa’s graves. Somehow, the rain would have offered some ambience to the occasion. But, no… it was not to be. As our station wagon went down the country lanes and crossed the creeks and rivers, in my mind I saw every flathead lying in every deep hole and I seined every creek for the crawdads which would enable me to catch those flatheads. Come get me, little man… All I could do was sit and look out the back window at where we had just come from; mentally I made a note to come back here someday and teach Mr. Flathead not to taunt me so.
Even as a boy, I knew the futility of wishing things were different. No one had to tell me that disappointment was part of the bigger picture— and no one tried. That didn’t stop me from feeling the despondency, however. After all, how many vacations does a small boy get? Hundreds of times I’d dreamed of putting on those huge rubber boots and wading into the creek with the seine, like I’d seen Dad and Uncle Joe do… I could do it perfectly, I knew I could… How many times had Dad and Uncle Joe promised me that next time, I get to hold one end of that seine? Today was going to be that day. It just isn’t fair, I tell you…
Chocolate ice cream, when combined with a little whole milk and some powdered malt, can be blended into one of the tastiest treats a small boy can ever receive, and surely can take the edge off the most well-developed snit. I know this first-hand, because the sound of that blender triggered some deep-seated Pavlovian response inside me. Silently, I froze in my position, not daring to look around. Any time now, Aunt Louise would walk up behind me, Here, Sugar… I made you a little treat, squeeze my shoulders and buss me on the neck, causing me to smile, even though I didn’t want to. It’s hard to look pathetic when you’re grinning.
Eternity is a concept unfamiliar to a ten-year-old boy. However, that blender raged for what certainly must have been at least an eternity. I could hear her singing softly to herself, so I know she wasn’t paying any attention to me. The refrigerator door had opened and closed several times now… could she be adding fresh fruit, perhaps some ripe persimmons? What’s taking so long?
Then, my heart sank. Aunt Louise might be pureeing turnips or green beans for Mrs. Caulfield’s supper… I could barely breathe…the thought very nearly stopped my heart from beating. Yea, that was probably it, she was more concerned about an old woman who lived a mile down the road, than she was about her own flesh-and-blood nephew. It didn’t take this long to make a hundred chocolate malts! Mine is but to suffer…
I heard the clop of Aunt Louise’s shoes as she left the kitchen. Well, that’s it… Now, the sickly feelings of despair were gone, replaced by the adrenalin of anger. How dare they treat me like this? Can’t they see how miserable I am?
My ascent from that kitchen chair was meteoric. I’m sure I left a vapor trail of steam as I made my way to my bedroom. It was then I heard the voice.
“Where you off to, Bubba? The rain’s lettin’ up… I thought you wanted to go fishin’.” Uncle Joe’s voice resounded in my ears as loud as the voice of God.
“R-right now, Uncle Joe? You mean it?” Don’t toy with me like this.
By now we were walking back into the kitchen. To get to the barn, we’d have to stop off in the mud room to get the rain gear.
“Well, in a few minutes, boy, but first…” he said, opening the refrigerator door, “you’d better drink this malt Aunt Louise made you… it’s likely to be a good while before you get to eat again.”
Through the walls I could feel my Aunt Louise smiling. To this day, I’ve never forgotten how it felt. The transformation was complete. Rain…? What rain?