?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
19 July 2010 @ 08:35 am
I don't think I'd use it in ice cream, though...  
Went to the Farmer's Market this weekend. It was approximately a bazillion degrees and all the humidities, and every single person who lives in Kansas City was also there, and maybe some tourists too, I'm not sure. We actually don't buy much produce there, since we grow most of what we want at Grandpa's - tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, cubanelles, jalapenos, pumpkins, and watermelons; garlic, thyme, tarragon, mint, basil, sage. So we just picked up some limes and avocados, and then made our way to the spice and herb store, which is amazing. We buy a lot of their seasoning blends and such, stuff like Garlic Herb and Creole and Orange Pepper, but our favorite item is their Mexican Dip Mix.

It's great, because you can use it for just about anything. Grilling some chicken? Mexican Dip Mix! Making rice? Mexican Dip Mix! Spicy cheese for nachos? Mexican Dip Mix! Compound butter for roasted corn? Mexican Dip Mix! Mexican dip? Mexican Dip Mix!

Also, my dad finally managed to get us to watch the first episode of Castle with him, which Laura had been resisting, but it actually wasn't that bad. I mean, 90% of the charm is Fillion, but Rob Bowman directed the pilot so the visual style is nice, and there were a few laughs.

Wrote another short story; this one took me about two weeks. Some of the details, though not the main plot, are based on stories Gamps has told us over the years, so it was a little more personal than I usually write.

August 12, 1933 was the best day of Harry Grozniac’s life, the kind of perfect, simple, happy day a child takes for granted but which always remains at the surface of the mind, able to be summoned in perfect clarity even decades later.  Harry would always remember that day - miserably hot, his father unemployed and in a foul mood, capped by a supper meal made of up meat of suspicious provenance, leading to frantic lines outside the outhouse.  Harry would remember, but it was a day he never told us about.

Harry told us about plenty of other days, especially from 1933, the year he was eight years old.  Some of the stories made us wonder how we were lucky enough to have been born in the first place; his childhood seemed to be one close brush with disaster after another.  He told us about the days he and his brothers woke up before dawn, ran down to the river, stripped off all their clothes and, holding them in a bundle on top of their heads, swam across, clutching a piece of driftwood.  One of Harry’s friends was swept away one summer, his body never found.  But it was the best way across the river as far as Harry and his brothers were concerned, much faster than walking down to the bridge, and much cheaper than hopping on the streetcar.  Once across, they might sneak into a picture show, or trade grimy nickels fished out of gutters for handfuls of penny candy.

Harry told us about days they would crawl through fields and yards, stealing rhubarb and sweet corn.  The day his oldest brother tried to hop a train only to misjudge his leap, two of his toes crushed against the rail - his mother’s cries when he hobbled home, the brothers’ helpless laughter.  The day Harry took his father’s shotgun outside, pretending he was the sheriff of some lawless frontier town.  The gun went off accidentally, blasting a hole clean through his mother’s best roasting pan, hung outside to dry.  Harry told one of his brothers, and after they determined the pan couldn’t be saved, they hammered it into a ball and threw it to the bottom of the outhouse, then blamed the pan’s disappearance on the neighbor boys.

But Harry never told us about August 12.  I only found out about that day after he died.  I wonder if he ever told anyone.  I don’t think he did - I think he kept it for himself, a memory that was his and his alone, and to share the secret would be to tarnish it somehow, diminish it.  Because on the face of it there’s nothing especially memorable about August 12, 1933, nothing that sets it apart from any of his other adventures.  If I could ask him about it, I would ask him if that day represented the best part of his childhood, the sense that something wonderful was just over the horizon.  Even now, after reading everything I found in the attic, and after all his stories to us when we were kids, I have a hard time imagining the world he grew up in, and what made the visit that morning so special - when it happens to me today, it’s just awkward and annoying.  But for Harry, it was magical.

Harry was up before dawn that day, as per his mother’s orders, to cut the lawn, front and back.  He worked furiously, hoping to finish before the sun made its way above the houses and trees and the day became too hot to suffer.  The mowing was easy enough, although it was best to try and run while pushing the mower, so the twin blades would rotate fast enough to actually cut the grass cleanly, not just tear at it.  But the mower was heavy, and by the time he got to the back Harry just couldn’t keep up the speed anymore.  He cut the grass right behind the house as best he could, then walked the rest.

Harry had been working for two hours and yet the sun was only beginning to make its presence known.  He still had to edge the lawn along the street and the path to the front door and all around the house.  Harry hated edging - slow and tedious, and pointless, as far as he could see, since the lawn looked exactly the same after as it had before.  But his mother would be able to tell, so Harry got a knife out of the kitchen and sharpened it, then got started.

There used to be a pair of clippers that Harry would use, but they’d gone missing down in the confused jumble of tools in the tiny structure built out of scavenged scraps his old man called a barn.  Harry had got a walloping the day he couldn’t find the clippers and had made the mistake of asking at supper if anyone else had seen them.  It was the kind of mistake Harry learned not to make again - now, when something went missing, he made sure the trail didn’t lead back to himself, and, if it were possible, that it instead led to one of his brothers.

Harry scooted back to the next section of lawn to be edged, the gravel of the road scraping his bottom and the heels of his hands and the bottoms of his feet.  He could edge about three feet before he would have to move again.  He grabbed the grass in one hand and cut if off to make a nice straight edge along the street with the other hand.  By the time he got to the back of the house the knife would be dull enough he’d have to saw a little bit, but right now it was just as easy as pie.  Grab the grass, slice down, then toss the clippings into the yard - he’d rake tomorrow, when the clippings had dried out some, lying twisted and yellow against the still-green grass.

Sweat slid down the back of his neck, pooled at the small of his back.  Harry let his mind wander.  He thought about how nice it would be to go down into the root cellar, lie down between the bread and butter pickles and the gooseberry preserves, lie down on the nice, cool dirt, an empty potato sack for a pillow.  Lie down there in the dark, share a bed with the roly-polys and the beetles, smell the good smell of damp stone and unfinished wood.  Feel the weight of the house above him - they may not have new clothes or much interesting on the supper table, but they had a good house.  Solid walls, sturdy floors.  Harry’s old man had built it himself, whenever he could steal a minute from his job at the meat-packing plant, while he and Harry’s mother had lived with her cousin in a single tiny room off the kitchen, Harry’s oldest brother just a baby.  The three of them had come to America with everything they owned in a single pillowcase, and now they had a house, a real house, and a big, healthy family.  Harry was filled with love and pride for his parents, especially his old man, who was out looking for a job today, same as every other day the last couple weeks.  Harry knew he’d find one soon; he was smart, and strong, and could look at just about anything and know how to take it apart and put it back together again.  Harry wanted to be just like him when he grew up.

A sound, cutting through the stillness of the day.  Not birdsong or kids at play or old Mrs. Jarnevic down the street yelling at her husband again - no, Harry tuned most of that out.  This was a sound he didn’t hear very often around here.  The sound of an automobile engine.  Just about everyone Harry knew walked or took the streetcar; most people didn’t even have a driveway.  Harry stood up, threw the knife blade-down into the yard.  Sure enough, there it was, turning the corner onto Harry’s very own street.  An automobile, and a real beauty, too.  The sun was shining right at the windshield, and the driver was hidden by glare, but Harry waved enthusiastically anyway.

The automobile pulled over and stopped right in front of Harry, who was already thinking about how jealous he’d make his brothers, telling them about this tonight.  A man stepped out of the automobile.  He was younger than Harry’s old man but older than Harry’s oldest brother.  He had shiny black hair and bright white teeth and was wearing a suit, an honest-to-God suit.  Harry couldn’t have been more impressed if the President himself had shown up.

“Hey there, son, your old man home?” the man asked.

“Nope.  He’s out looking for a job.”  Did the man’s smile get a little smaller?  No, he probably just wasn’t used to standing around in the hot sun in that nice suit of his.

“How about your mama?”

“Why?  What do you want?”  The man laughed, good and loud.  Harry wondered if maybe the man was a detective, on the trail of some bank robbers - or maybe he was a bank robber himself, looking for a place to hide his big shiny automobile till the heat died down.

The man extended his hand and Harry shook it, as hard as he could.  “The name’s Frank Jenkins,” the man said, “and in the back of this car I’ve got a machine that will change your life.  Does your mama write much correspondence?”  Frank walked to the automobile’s trunk, and Harry followed, a thousand possibilities running through his mind.

“Well, sir, she writes an awful lot of letters to her sister, back in the old country.”  At least he thought that’s what ‘correspondence’ meant.  What would change his life?  Maybe it was a raygun like Buck Rogers had, the Disintegrator Pistol!  Or a rocket pack.  Harry could definitely use a rocket pack.  Frank opened the trunk and Harry peered inside.  Yes, it was some contraption, with about a hundred buttons on long skinny metal arms.

“What do you think, son?”

“What is it?”

“It’s a typewriter,” said Frank.  “No more slaving away with pen and pencil.  Makes a good clean document every time.  Why, you could use this on your school work, impress your teacher.”  Harry didn’t want to tell the man he cared less for his school work than he did for cutting the lawn, and reached out a finger to touch the side of the machine.  The typewriter.

“You want to try it out?”

“Sure!”  Frank pulled a nice, white sheet of paper out of a box and put it in the typewriter.  Harry didn’t see nice paper very often; he usually did his sums on butcher paper his old man brought home.  Frank stepped aside, and Harry looked at the empty page.  He didn’t know where to start.  Literally.  “None of the letters are in the right order!”

“No, they’re not,” Frank agreed.  “If they were, you might be able to type so fast the keys would stick together.”  Harry used his index fingers, carefully sought out the letters, and typed: Harry had a very big rocket pack.  Frank laughed again, took the piece of paper out of the typewriter, and handed it over to Harry.  “Look at that.  Looks a lot nicer than if you’d written it by hand, don’t you think?”  Boy, was that the truth.  “Why don’t you go show your mama?”

So Harry ran up to the front door, flung it open and hollered, “Ma!  Ma!” as Frank followed and stood on the front porch.  Harry’s mother was right there in the parlor, patching some trousers.

“Excuse me, ma’am?” Frank asked, and Harry’s mother came to the door, arms crossed.

“Look, Ma.”  Harry showed her the paper, but she kept her eyes on Frank.

“Ma’am, your son has already found out, but I would like to show you how easy it is to use our new typewriter--”

“Don’t want it,” she said, and yanking Harry back a step, swung the door shut.

“Ma!” he protested, and she smacked the back of his head.

“You know how much thing like that cost?”  And she went back to her sewing.  Harry ran to the window, but Frank had already gotten back into the automobile, and as Harry watched, it drove away down the street.  Harry went outside and retrieved the knife, took it back to the kitchen (ignoring his mother’s requests that he clean off his feet), and went straight down to the root cellar, where he stayed for the rest of the day.

It was tough for Harry to find the time to write his stories without his brothers finding out, and tougher to hide the stories once they were written.  The toughest of all was holding onto his nickels and dimes and watching his brothers buy penny candy and roasted peanuts and bologna rinds that they never shared.  But after a few weeks he was able to afford nice, white paper of his own.

Harry wrote a story about his rocket pack, that he used to fly over the roofs of his neighbors’ houses, and protect them from the evil Mongols.  He wrote a story about Detective Frank Jenkins, a hard-boiled cop who didn’t take no nonsense from anyone.  He wrote a story about One-Eyed Hank, the most feared bank robber in all the land.  And he wrote a story about the time a door-to-door salesman showed him the first typewriter he ever saw.

Harry kept his stories in a shoe-box.  When the edges started ripping he taped it up, and before long it was more tape than box.  Harry bought his first typewriter after he came home from the war, but he didn’t use it to type up his stories.  He used it to type up work reports and employee evaluations.  His children used it to type up school papers and college applications.  And eventually it was replaced, by a newer typewriter, a word processor, a computer.

I found the typewriter and the shoebox filled with stories up in the attic.  Not of his childhood house - that was torn down more than fifty years ago to build an overpass.  They were both in the attic of the house he moved into with a wife and three small children, the house I used to play in as a kid when my parents would drop me off while they went to the movies or the grocery store or wanted a whole Saturday free.

I was cleaning out Harry’s house for the estate sale, the only grandkid still in the area.  The typewriter was wrapped in a brittle garbage bag, and the shoebox was right next to it, covered in spider webs.  It was over ninety degrees outside, so it was probably a hundred and five or so up in the attic, but I sat right down and read every single story.  Then I took the typewriter and shoebox down and put them carefully in the trunk of my car.

Now I’m typing Harry’s stories.  I bought the best white paper I could find, and even though I learned how to type in a computer class when I was eight years old, I only use my index fingers.