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From Whence I Came

More thoughts from the bench...

Sometimes, this one flashes through my eyes so clearly I think I'm there again. It's the first memory I have of my life. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I was three years old. It's funny. Like setting the WAYBAC Machine (from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) to 1953, the furthest point in time my imagination can travel.

I'm standing at the screen door of our house in Spokane, Washington, and I'm watching my older brother playing with his friends in the front yard. My older brother's name was Robert Dallas Price (it still is).

I should explain a couple things...

One: Robert (my older brother by four years) and I had different fathers. He never knew his father, as the man (an Air Force captain and charming drunk) chose to disappear rather than marry our mother. Robert always enjoyed explaining to little old ladies who inquired after our differing names with, "Well, you see, madam, I am a bastard child."Robert always enjoyed explaining to little old ladies who inquired after our differing names with, "Well, you see, madam, I am a bastard child." My father (an Air Force sergeant and another charming drunk) did marry my mother after she discovered she was three months pregnant with me.

Two: My mother (who grew up in an orphanage on the south side of Chicago with her brother Buzzy... who may or may not have been her real brother) had a habit of using the geographical location of where each of her four boys (no girls) were conceived as a middle name. Robert got "Dallas," for you-know-where, Texas. Younger brother number one, Kenneth, got "Kane" for Spokane, Washington. Younger brother number two, Jeffery, got "Allen" for some town that had an Allen in it. Mother never said which one. It was a secret, and she took it to the grave. I don't know why; she just did. I got "Lynn" for that industrial, melting-pot of a town just north of Boston, Massachusetts. (Famous along the North Shore as "Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin.")

All this makes me think that my brothers and I didn't grow up in a family, we grew up in a Tennessee Williams play. Much aided by the fact that Mother would've been perfect for the role of Blanche Dubois. Not that Mother ever said, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." But she did say, "I work and I slave, and this is the thanks I get." Lots. Each time delivering the line to great dramatic effect.

Back to the first thing I remember in my life...

I was standing at that screen door in Spokane, Washington, in 1953. My older brother, Robert, was playing with three boys from the neighborhood. The game they played involved him and two pals standing in a Radio Red Flyer wagon parked on the grass in the front yard, while a fourth kid came racing down the sidewalk on a bicycle, cut into the yard, and rammed into the wagon. My big brother (who I already held in awe) went flying.

I giggled or burped or made some other bodily noise that caught my brother's attention.
"I know! Let's put Denny in the wagon!" he cried.

I should explain something else...

My actual name is "Denis," not "Jon." And let me tell you, it was hell growing up with the constant taunt: "Oh, look, look! There goes Dennis the Menace! There goes Dennis the Menace!" My well-reasoned retort, "Oh, yeah, smarty pants? He's got two n's, and I only got one, so there!" did little to alleviate my suffering.

So, the wagon. In the front yard...

Robert ran to the door and took my hand and led me onto the grass. I was wearing cloth diapers and T-shirt with my breakfast still on it, and I was barefoot. Robert lifted me into the Red Flyer. It felt like I'd been lifted a million feet into the air. Robert put me in front of him, in the dead center of the wagon, like a human shield, which was OK because it would take me another 47 years to find out what a human shield was.Robert put me in front of him, in the dead center of the wagon, like a human shield, which was OK because it would take me another 47 years to find out what a human shield was. My brother's two pals jumped in the wagon with us, and the fourth kid peeled away on his bicycle and spun around to a screeching stop a billion miles up the sidewalk.

'OK?!" the bicyclist shouted from the other side of the universe.
'OK!!' my brother and his pals shouted back.

The bicyclist stomped on the pedals and raced our way.

I remember my brother's hands on my shoulders, holding me tight. I remember his voice, "It's gonna be OK, Denny, It's gonna be OK." I remember the bicycle coming closer and closer, getting bigger and bigger, then it slammed into the wagon... wham!

I went flying.

Mother came running out of the house in a tent-like, flowered dress called a muumuu. (My Air Force father brought a few from Hawaii.) She was pregnant with younger brother number one, then, and found such garb both exotic and comfy. Anyway, Mother is running out of the house and she's yelling, "Jesus H. Christ! What are you boys doing?! Trying to kill yourselves?!"

Mother shooed away the neighborhood boys and told Robert, "You just stay in the damn yard!" as punishment for being so reckless. Mom picked me up, carried me into the living room of the house, and dropped me in my play pen. She went back to the kitchen, where she drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, and listened to Opera on the radio. I escaped from the pen (again) and waddled across the living room and watched my older brother Robert from the screen door (again).

First he lay on his back, watching the clouds, saying things like, "Hey Denny, there goes a big snake!" and "There goes an elephant, Denny!" Then he got bored watching clouds and rolled over onto his belly. He picked through the grass looking for ladybugs and four-leafed clovers. That's what he said anyway.

÷ ÷ ÷

Jon Steele worked as an award-winning cameraman for Independent Television News of London for 22 years. In 2002, he published the now cult classic of war reportage War Junkie. In 2003, he became disillusioned with television news, put his camera on the ground and quit. The Watchers is Steele's first novel.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Watchers Used Hardcover $6.50

Jon Steele is the author of The Watchers

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