In the beginning it was a hazy dark, a small boat - really small, and overhead through faint translucent clouds a moon trying to illuminate the man and woman and swaddled baby lying on the stern seat and I was that baby seeing the moon and hearing my father's muffled voice and the sounds of river water smacking the wooden planks by my head, taking in the light in the sky and the sounds of the night and all that remains in my memory is the moon, the vagueness of a thing that was boat and sounds that were data to be stored so that when I was three years or so and asked my mom about them she shook her head in amazement that I remembered that they had gone out onto the river in the dark of night to look their illegal trap nets when I was about six months old. We had gone out the Old Channel from the small cove that was called either Mae's Gut or Abner's Hole, for I heard those names all my young childhood but was never told which cove or feeder creek was which. And the Old Channel suggested a new channel and indeed there was, dredged in one of those depression-make-works for our county and where Anthony Cameron's cow meadow came down to the shore the old channel wended it's way through the marshy reeds to later join with the new channel and open together into that magnificent river, the Northeast river and which same originally had been intended to be called The Shannon river and where now the meadow and the marsh are gone and a development type of watering hole with its modern dead-ugly boat shed that reflects the taste of its owner, and NautiGoose restaurant, proclaim their sophistication to all the Pennsylvania navy that define our noble town. Years later I learned that Anthony and Rigsy and their sister were but tenants on land belonging to the McDaniels, in particular a husband and wife that I called Aunt Louise and Uncle Deedee although we were related only through a tenancy of our own when we lived on their big old estate in the little house that my father tenanted for supplying them firewood for the big house. "Worst bargain I ever made", my father said often down through the years. "I cut and piled enough wood to last the winter and D.D burning that damn big fireplace to heat that old hulk of a house went through the whole eight cords in a little over two weeks".
All my memories of them are of two avuncular older people that seemed to be the next step beyond a mother and a father.
Tho' I was born at home on the street that now leads down to the town's small park on the river at the time it led down to Harvey's Wharf where old man Harvey held sway like a back country Ymir, burning out competitors some persistent enough to take two or three burnings, killing niggers at the end of a summers work, cutting river ice in the winter, and selling fish beyond memory at ten times on the taking until he eventually did what my Dad had propheted and started killing people at random with his great old shot gun until his grandson said " - don't shoot me grampy, don't shoot!" and he didn't but turned the gun to his own stomach and let loose with two rounds. However he didn't die and lived out the remaining days of his life in the mental home in Chestertown being a pain-in-the-ass to his surviving relatives that owned property - along with Henry - all over the neck as they couldn't sell it as easy as they might have done if he died more quickly for his sins. So that was some of Walnut Street at the time with none of the other residents there as dominant in character as Harry, he with the big hand-painted sign - where now stands another golden oldies home - with a big generic black and white fish topped by Harveys (no apostrophe) Fish Market and obligatory pointing arrow pointing in the same direction as the fish in case no one could figure that out. for Boston and Aunt Birdie Hines, and Mrs Badey could not come close to being a strange grown deity to a little boy even though during the summer Mrs. Badey went up to Crouch’s little store almost every evening and bought a pint of ice cream and ate it all herself while we, my mom and dad and I would all share a pint between us on those rare times that my dad would say "you scream and I scream, we all scream for ice cream" and we would head out from some house we lived in at the time for we lived in house after house there in Perkinsville, we would head out on a twilight kind of evening with the limpid pale dimming light and the perfect heat of the day and the perfect breeze and a kind of feeling of time and place that resides to this day in my mind that is the baseline of the perfect kind of day and none ever comes close again for no matter how pleasant, how perfect they all but my mom are gone and I have new loves in wife and children and grandchildren but that young Skeets as they called me in those pre-school years senses the newness and embraces it but it is not the same world now as that one that came before I realized that I was not the center of the universe, that there was a beginning and an end for each one of us, that the play going on around me was slowly evolving in unexpected ways, that death was a presence off stage waiting for his lines, that I would change and be one of those unknown beings that filled in the backdrop of what I was watching all around me all the time for no matter how far we walked reality kept filling in the background so that it seemed as if I were creating the world without knowing how I did it - one of three surviving streets - for one of the original streets that was to run down along the creek never got past the draw-it-on-paper stage - in that section of our metropolitan backwater of North East, called Perkinsville by one and all, with Beech St being the nearest to Bat Hollow where Shoat Harvey owned the store in which my father at one time was setting on the electric cooler during a thunderstorm and suddenly he landed screeching in the middle of the room a lucky escapee from capricious lightning that had hit the power line, then Walnut, then Cherry St which resisted paving the longest still being a kind of puddly dirt and poor gravel while I was a kid. So thus the country began with Cameron's farm a kind of country holdings barrier holding the town at bay from the dominions of the McDaniels. The father of D.D. and Alex, who started McDaniels boat yard, had come down gunning duck on the bay sometime at the turn of the century to the 1900's and seeing hundreds upon hundreds of acres of land going for pennies on the acre had quickly bought up a goodly portion of the waterfront from Harvey's holdings on the edge of town down to where the boat-yard is now adjoining New Connaught Mannor though I don't doubt if there is nary a soul living there that could call it by name , and running back into the ridge of the neck in some huge holdings of land where now the high school resides, and sundry developments including a damn golf course surrounded by a series of row houses blessed with the name of condominiums or some such ilk. and writing this I think of root words and condom and how the condom catches the sperm and how condominiums catch the influx.
When I was but a few day's old my father bundled me up against the cold and the early snow and carried me across said Walnut Street, through the vacant lot, across Beech and through the cow pasture to the old even then farm house and proudly showed me to the Cameron's. I believe I was possibly three days old for quite soon thereafter, perhaps the next day, the lady tending to my mom at the time as sort of a poor man's nurse - I can't imagine how much she might have made in that time of the great depression, perhaps a nickle a day - told my dad how fantastic a baby I was as I never wet a diaper yet. In one of his lightning rages he threw her out the door, ripped off my square cloth of home made diaper and saw that I had no opening in my penis from which to urinate - a caul-like membrane of flesh was fastened tight across the urethra. He ran the several blocks to the doctor that had delivered me, Dr. Collins himself, who returned with my father and proceeded to take a large sewing needle dipped in iodine and puncture the membrane. Some number of days of urine along with the blood of the sudden wound gushed forth spraying them both as I joined in in anguish and relief I'm sure. Hearing this story years later gave me several long years of worry in my adolescence. I was very slow in physical maturation looking about 12 when I was 15, not to mention being only about five foot two or so and weighing soaking wet possible eighty pounds. No beard like fuzz graced my smooth face, and when we had to shower after sport, with some ten to fifteen wild and horny boys crowding into one large shower stall, groins covered in manly curls, I tried to hide away with my still smooth skinned little nubbin looking like I had wandered in from the elementary school. One friend in particular. Bootsie, asked me if I jerked off much, and I said yeah now and again, and he said do you come yet? and I said yeah it feels really good, and he said no I mean do you shoot stuff out the end? and I didn't know what he meant, no real sex education - or books - back then. When I finally figured out what he meant - "No, not cock cheese. Come! (no spelling of cum then), It looks like a big haulk-full-of-snot" and that it was what made babies, I started thinking about that caul that was punctured when I was four days old. Had Doc Collins stuck the needle in far enough, were there two holes and I only had one, would I ever have a girl friend and get married and have children. I checked this out a lot, several times a day for several years until finally I did the real cum. Then I had to feel guilty about doing it for I didn't have any excuse for doing this delicious hidden shouldn't do-it thing. Like a smoker I quit for good every time. But even though my fathers introduction to sex-ed was to tell me that playing with your self caused you to go crazy and be put away in the nut house down to Chestertown I chanced it on the off chance that I'd somehow only become dumb and not be able to do math. Then around tenth grade I got a pimple on my forehead and this sent him, my dad, into a frenzy of screaming at me about playing with my self like a damn sex crazed nigger and all I could think was the neighbors could hear and my mom could hear and I just wanted to disappear into some void, I wanted to tell him it was only one pimple the kids in school even girls had pimples, lots more than me and I started thinking did girls do what I was doing did they do it a lot to get all those pimples. I wanted to ask our Phys-ed teacher Mr. Miller (he lived to be a hundred by the way) about it for he seemed to be the only adult that ever came close to telling us about the mysteries of sex.
You boys listen to me he would say "Play with it when you feel that way and don't get some girl pregnant" and nobody else would even come close to talking about It. Unless it was my dad when he was mad and ranted on about - but that's enough of that for now cause at this time in the story I'm still only a pre-school little kid telling you about my memories of things and the memories of what I was told then.
Another real memory vagueness of my great father bending over a crib to look for his marbles and me at the time wondering did my dad play marbles when he went out and up the street to some place called Uptown. And in that crib was my baby sister - who died at age six months when I was two. And this snippet of time clarified when I asked him later did he find his marbles and it turned out to be Marvels, his rare pack of store cigarettes which had fallen from the chest pocket on his white dress shirt and spilled into baby Alice's crib. There is no picture in my mind of either my sister or my mom but he was already that stern figure always with his white shirt, sleeves rolled up his slim but powerfully muscled arms and the dark dress pants, both pressed and spotless when he went Uptown with a clean and pressed handkerchief in his right rear pocket. Not to blow his nose, a quick finger stopping one nostril while he blew the other clear served that purpose. The handkerchief was for display in a sense but mainly to quickly wrap tightly around his right fist for the quick blow to someones jaw. "Never start a fight, but if one is forced on you always get the first punch in. A really good-one! You should be able to dim their lights on that first punch and if not they'll realize they can't take it and that'll be the end of it." As far as I know he rarely instigated any type of brawl, but he liked them like later one of my good friends a little younger than I, Mike Holmes - and not his real name Mike for he was christened Molly but never call him that - liked the dominance he could bring to a fight. Pleasant, but quick to temper, quick to forget but loving that dim their lights approach to the world around them - both unable to temper the call to drinking the water of life either. If one drink was good then why not twenty or thirty more to hold the demons of life at bay. People like the Holmes, the Russels, and some good other Irish names seemed to hold a mutual regard for each other most of the time but even with them it never stood in the way of a quick disagreement about most anything and then it was Katie-get-your-gun.
I almost feel ashamed to put pen (ah dream on old man it's a damn computer you're putting this down on) the fact that I cannot to this day recall any vivid picture of my mother, before I was in about the third grade when I remember her setting at the upright piano playing for long intervals of melody either from memory or from music sheets it made no difference, and even in this faded photograph of my mind she is vague in appearance. My father I can remember from early days, teaching me to read, to write, to do arithmetic, taking me to bars, taking me to the woods to cut wood, taking me in some old row-boat to catch fish, taking me along the shore down past the old marsh to the cove at Shady Beach where my fisherman uncles bach'ed it in an old shanty their nets scattered in heaps and piles along the beach, the smell of tar being a smell that still makes me feel that incredible sense of this is what the world is like, taking me to pick berries although these trips were always accompanied by my mom and they would pick water buckets full of blackberries and strawberries and huckleberries depending on the season all growing wild in profusion in Cameron's fields and in the deep woods and strawberries in particular at the Old Ball Diamond where later when the war started it became a lumber mill and then abandoned and now just serves as a wooded bushy field as one turns into North East Isles and I choke silently with laughter at the old Arundel Pier now serving as the home of this cluster of 'town houses' I guess they call them and nice enough when I went into one looking out onto the marshy area that borders Stoney Run (and maybe this - Stoney Run is Mae's Gut - but then maybe not I'll have to ask Marshal Purner) but to me they look like a blight of construction gone mad from the outside, and taking me on miles long early dark of early morning hikes along creeks and the river setting muskrat traps by the hundreds sometimes leaving me alone in silent foggy mists of clearings while he waded thigh deep in some creek plunging his bare arms to the shoulder into the icy waters of winter so that his trap would be placed just right in a muskrat lead or leading me across frozen mini-ponds in the marshes where I could not keep upright on the incredibly slippery ice his trousers freezing in chunks around his legs and him laughing at me falling spinning ' like a hog-on-ice boy'. We ate muskrat about once a year in January or February and I can tell you that it was good, wild meat was good, rabbit, squirrel (though he never shot a one for Charlie Snyder or some one would give us a bunch from time to time. Charlie who made a single shot 22 sound like an automatic he fired and loaded so quickly, and his pride was not to shoot the squirrel and ruin some of the meat but to bark it, to hit so closely to the squirrel that the ricocheting bark or shock wave killed the squirrel or so the story went) and very rarely deer meat - for deer were scarcer then, my dad telling me that he could remember when there were none in Elk Neck, and that the first one ever seen was on the edge of town on the old elk neck road caught in a fence and people came from up country and everywhere just to see it - and for what ever reason he never seemed to like hunting with a gun. I don't think he ever owned a gun till I was in my later teens so the muskrat were trapped with spring-traps, as evil an invention as man has made to crush some poor muskrat or whatevers' leg and have it laying in pain for hours through dark night or in tidal waters that would after hours of suffering come rising in and slowly take its misery away. and often we found a sprung trap with a muskrat leg gnawed off at the first joint so that some poor frenzied beast would be hobbling bleeding away to die most certainly for in all the hundreds of catches he never caught a three legged muskrat or weasel. When my dad lay dying years later in Union Hospital he weakly told me he knew this was his punishment for all the pain that he had inflicted on those dumb animals. "If I had life to do over I would never do it. I'd never set a single trap" but whether it was god or the universe that was inflicting the pain he never enumerated. And his motto for belief was "I'm like the man on the roof-top who starts to slide off the roof and cries aloud 'God Save Me' and about then his clothes snag on a nail halting his plunge to the ground and he looks up to the heavens and says 'Never mind now'" and as is the way of life that too is now my take on the mystery of it all.
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