Tuesday, December 18, 2007

BGA Part Ten


1963: High School was fading from my fertile young mind. Initially, I did not start college. I had some kind of crazy idea that Art and I could save some money and start a wrecking yard. With his mechanical aptitude and my organizational skills and youthful enthusiasm, I figured there was money to be made. Of course, after a year of working, and Art making excuses, I realized I needed to get my young butt into a place of higher learning.

I remember the exact morning that I went to the folks bedroom, stood at the door, just off the kitchen, and announced that by God, I was going to find a way to go to college. Mother was thrilled. Art was non-plussed and somewhat confused. I guess I'll never know how he really felt about me. He certainly was an anti-intellectual, and in many ways a mean spirited man; but he had his moments.

They wanted to make it clear to me that they would provide room and board while I was in school, and when I was just working in between, I would be expected to pay a modest fee to my Mother for still living at home. I had ivory towers in my eyes, so I did not feel disrespected.

Around this time, Mom-Mom and Pop made their first thrust into Eastern Washington. They rented a house trailer in a trailer park in Cle Elum. It was a terrible winter, from some of the letters that Pop sent me. Pop and I began corresponding in letters.This tradition of letter writing went on for over twenty years. I kept all his letters, and oddly, he kept all of mine. Before he passed away, he gave me back all my letters; living history in those two boxes of paper. Prior to that, he and I got together fairly regularly.

As a little kid, I always felt that he and I had that special soul-connection some relatives have. At family gatherings, I would find myself capitalizing all of his time. He was fascinated by my young mind, by my ability to grasp any and everything he threw my way, and run with it. Often when either of us would walk to the phone to call the other, as we would pick up the phone, there was no dial tone; and Pop or I would already be on the other end, having just dialed the number. The phone only rang in our heads, I guess, or in our hearts. It certainly was an odd sensation, and it happened fairly regularly.

As Pop got into the world of octegenarianism, he and I used to postulate that after he passed away, made that great transition, that on his birthday, September 21, every year on that date, I would sit alone in a room at midnight, and if it was possible, he would contact me, show me a sign. I tried it for a couple years, but no luck, just silence and then slumber.

He does visit me in my dreams, as does Mother. Strange to dream of Mother. She died at 39 years old, so when I dream of her, she is much younger than I am...yet clearly I recognize her as the mother figure. Ah, the wonderful machinations of the human mind. With Pop, he always just is there, in the family group, or with me on some adventure; and he never makes a big deal out of it.

While living in the Burien house, Art assisted me several times with my cars. At one point I bought a1947 Chevrolet coupe, and it had a 327 V-8, with Corvette valve covers in it. But the person who had customized it went the El-Cheapo route. He connected the engine to a GMC truck transmission, with car gears in it, but he left all the original running gear, the original 6 cylinder drive shaft, U-joint, and axles.

The engine was in great shape. It snarled like a dragster. In those fine times, there were a lot less police in Seattle. On Saturday nights, for instance, they would have a stronger presence in either North Seattle, or South Seattle, but not in both. So we smart ass street racers would sniff around early in the evening, and then drive to the opposite end of town for our drag racing.

One lovely Saturday night, the cops were in the South end, so we all shifted to the North end. It was raining. I was up on Capital Hill cruising in my hot '47 Chev. At a light, a guy came alongside me in a 1964 Ford convertible, red with a white top. He revved up his mill. It sounded like it had a blower on it. I revved up the 327 under my hood.The light changed. I dumped the clutch. My car roared, then leaped straight off the ground, and when it came back to earth, and all that Corvette raw power was transferred to the axles and rear wheels, all hell broke loose. The transmission blew apart, and I was dead in the water.

I coasted over to the curb. It was 02:00am in the morning. It was still raining. I hiked along until I found a public phone, and I called Art. He showed up an hour later in his pick-up, a Chev I think. He put on a tow chain, and we started off towing my '47 home. We had proceeded about 100 feet, and Art stopped at a stop sign. I tapped the brakes, and the brake pedal went to the floor immediately. I had no brakes. I was headed for the back of Art's truck, and I was chained to it. I steered as far to the right as I could, and slammed into the diamond plated bumper. Art got out, and came back to ream out my ass. He stood there a moment, and then he started to laugh.

"Get out here, and look at this," he insisted.

I got out, and he pointed out that both of my rear tires were bent at a strange angle. My racing had not only blown up the transmission, it had snapped both rear axles too. When I stepped on the brakes, the whole wheel rotated out, and the brake cylinders popped open, and squirted the brake fluid out into the thin air.

We pushed the car back over to the curb. The next day, I returned with a mechanic buddy, and High School buddy, Don Jackson, who had to replace both of those axles right there in the street.

Another car I picked up was a 1934 Plymouth coupe, with the flat fold-out windshield. It looked a lot like a 1939 Ford coupe; which was the rage for hotrodders in the day. I wanted to hop it up some, but on a modest budget. Art went out with me, and we bought a 1948 Chrysler six cylinder engine, a huge block flathead. He assisted me for weeks, and we put that giant flathead six into the little Plymouth coupe. Art manufactured some special parts at his machine shop, and we got everything to work fine.

I got Don Jackson, who still worked at LEON'S AUTOMOTIVE, near Lincoln Park, to paint the heap ice-blue metallic. It was fun to drive this little monster. A guy at work fell in love with it. I had invested only a few hundred bucks in the car. We used to buy cars from an old guy in White Center, Steve, that also had a wrecking yard. This coupe was inexpensive because the original owner had died, and not signed off the title. Steve, the car dealer, had taken the title of a similar wrecked Plymouth, and forged the dead man's name on the title.

The guy at work offered me 500 bucks, and his car. He owned a 1957 Ford Fairlane two-door hardtop, stick shift, 312 V-8. I took the deal. My new brother-in-law, Willy, gave me a deal on a hot tri-power manifold. I got some other buddies to help me buy and put three carburators on it. Don J. and the mechanic, Leon, tuned it up, and put progressive linkage on it. Again, I had lost my mind. That car needed some kind of positraction. When you dumped the clutch, the tires would spin so rapidly, and burn so much rubber, that a cloud of blue smoke would cover the car behind it. I was rather proud of the fact that I wore out a brand new pair of Firestone radial tires in just under two weeks. I got a couple of speeding tickets, and after only a few months, I sold the Ford. It actually scared me; too much power, too much seduction to put the pedal to the metal.

Art bought a classic Jeep at one point. Dick and some others were over one day, and Art decided to show off and demonstrate just what that Jeep could do. There was a fairly deep drainage ditch running along the eastern edge of the property. Each of the homes, had to drive over the culverts to get in their driveways. Art decided that his Jeep could slide its two passenger wheels into the ditch, and navigate back and forth proudly.

He did it forward, but when he tried to back up, or pull out of the ditch, the Jeep buried itself in mud. So right there in front of the house, the Jeep was hopelessly stuck. Art had to call a towtruck to get it out.

1965: I had been at Highline College for two years. I had to start in night school, and then transfere to days. Iwas appearing in plays, writing poetry, and getting terrific grades. I had to start out a couple of quarters in night school, so it took almost three years to graduate.

Mom-Mom and Pop finally made it to Spokane. They bought a great sprawling place near the Spokane river, near the University. It was big two-story house, with a basement. Mom-Mom was finally able to cultivate her dream garden. She got Pop and Dick to till up about a half acre behind the house, and she grew all kinds of vegetables. It was a lot of work keeping up with the demands of what became a mini-farm.

By then Mother had her cancer. Toward the end, she spent a few months living with them in that house. They administered huge helpings of love, and herbs and herbal teas. God, how sad to lose a loved one, and how much sadder it was to witness the torment for Mom-Mom and Pop. They had three children, and when Mother died they had lost two of them. Thier first daughte, Georgia died at12 years of age of scarlet fever. Mother died at 39 of cancer.

Only Uncle Dick, the stalwart Richard Carpenter survived. He is still going strong, coming up on his 75th birthday. Probably will have to hire someone to beat him to death with a board. He won't give it up any other way. I am sad that he and I do not spend much time together these days. Both of us are too sick, crippled, and complacent to make that arduous drive over the pass to visit with each other. Dick, who lived to hunt and fish, hardly does either any more. Hard to believe. He gets a faraway look in his eyes, and he talks about there being "too many ghosts" in those woods, and along those rivers. I too am chased and prodded by many ghosts of the past. I try to welcome them, to understand them...but that's me.

Dick and I used to spend some wonderful days together whenI was a kid. He took me to a movie theatre in Seattle, and we saw a re-issue of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, and he commented that when I was older, maybe I would be able to understand the love story in it. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I understood it fine right then. He used to take me fishing for the day, or hiking. We had some fine times.

When Art was told that Mother had cancer, he decided that she could not handle knowing what was wrong with her. There was this elaborate fabrication that she had had a nervous breakdown, and that her physical problems were secondary to that. What a crock of shit! I think he even got the doctors to lie to her. Art, to my knowledge, never shared all of the particulars of the cancer with any of us kids. From what I could gather, Mother had cancer of the uterus, and it seemed to harken back to 1950, with the birth of Buddy. She had gone to a Naval Hospital, I think it was at Sand Point. There was a suggestion that they had not performed the post-birth clean-up properly, that she had not been scraped or cleaned out completely; that some rogue piece of tissue had been left there, to fester, to wait, and later to become malignant.

Pop and I both felt that Art was a confused coward, a lapsed Catholic felon with the intelligence quotant of a knat. Bud was still fairly young. Clystie had several children by then, and was working on her second marriage. I was in college, was working part-time, and simply had no idea how it would go with her. But the bottom line was that by denying her knowledge of the beast Cancer, Mother never had the opportunity to fight it, to have chemol or radiation.

Thanks to Art, the cancer just grew and grew until it consumed her, destroyed her. During her last few months, she was Auschwitz-thin, with this great extended belly; like a pregnant Halocaust victim. The tumor had to be as big as a basketball. Most people who fight back, who understand their odds, beat the beast "C"; at least for a time. I lament that we were robbed of those "other" years that we could have had with Mother. Near the end, it tore my heart out to be near her. It was so painful to look at her. I, too, became a coward.

When she was finally hospitalized, and she began not to recognize people, and we all had to wear hospital gowns and masks to visit her...I just quit going. I retreated to a place of denial and solitute. I hiked up in the mountains and breathed deep, endeavoring to dispell the toxic cancer and hospital smells from my system.

Mom-Mom was at Mother's side, night and day. Years later, she talked of Mother's moment of death.

" She just rose up a tiny bit, closed her eyes, and sighed; and then softly, gently, settled back down into the pillows."

Oh, those women on our family...what strength and compassion they have. Clystie, there at Art's deathbed, and at Arnold's...like an earth mother, a fallen angel, there to hold their hand, to give them forgiveness and piece of mind.

They kept Mother sedated a lot. She must have been in tremendous pain.I remember a scene in our lawyers office, the whole family was there, because we had just made out the change of name certificates, making us all officially "Buttkus" [ironically, I am the only one who kept the name. Bud changed his back to Stilwell, and Clystie only used Buttkus for a short time].

Mother got up, sickly and thin, with that huge belly of tumor, and the lawyer got a strange look on his face.

" I must say, Betty, it is very brave of you to be pregnant at your age."

We all looked at each other, and no one corrected the lawyer. In the end, I had to decide that the person who was in that bed was not my Mother. The woman I knew to be my Mother had gone away, had already died. This person claiming to be my Mother, sedated, crippled, demented, was certainly not myMother. All that was left was the shell, the husk of flesh riddled with cancer.

When she passed away, the doctors insisted on cremation of the body. Art was devastated. He wanted a casket, and a funeral. We all suffered from Art's cowardice, and it was contagious.We all needed to have held her hand, and look into her eyes while she still recognized us, and tell her that we loved her. But by that point, the absurd charade, the cowardly lie, was too gargantuan, too overwhelming. It became the reality.

So no one really talked about it. As a family, we really blew it. God, if we could only have a Do-Over. What supreme bullshit. When I see her again, I will have to apoligize for the ignorance of all of us, and try to straighten things out.


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