Monday, February 27, 2017

Spoken and Unspoken

Buddy with Amy Peck, Grandmother Laura Peck (with her Bible) and Theodorus Peck.  My father Buddy hated this photo, hated the popular sailor suit for boys.

October 1932 was just three months after Pa died.  Buddy could count the days, almost hours, since his pa had died and now was buried in a plot not three miles from Grandma Laura’s house.

That would be 5,236 strides, which Bud counted each day as he ran and walked to his pa’s grave site. His whole world had become a gray green and the sky always dull gray. There was little laughter, his face almost was frozen in sorrow.

But today, Ma was canning for Grandma, putting away some beans and tomatoes.  We should have done this earlier. But... Theodorus had died in early July and gardens wasted away, but for a few plants. Back in the garden house, produce had been picked and cleaned.

So, Ma scrubbed the table and quart jars; Ma chopped beans, canned tomatoes with Helen by her side.  Grousing and muttering under her breath, Helen anticipated a slap at any moment, knowing Ma’s patience was mighty slim. 

Words flowed freely in Helen’s mind, however. She had developed a colorful collection of metaphors after Pa died, from cousins and neighbors for whom she cleaned house and did laundry to earn some coins for Ma.  With her sharp intellect, Helen allowed the glorious language cavort silently. She found a perverted form of happiness with this delightful language.

One of the biggest thoughts she had that day was Where the hell is Buddy? She smiled. 

He left me here in deep shit (Oh, it felt so good to think that word!) and, God damn it, he better haul his ass (another satisfying word) up here. Instead, Helen asked Ma casually, “Where is Buddy, Ma?  Isn’t he ‘sposed to help out today?”

Ma wiped her forehead with her soggy stained apron and sighed.  “Oh, I ‘spect he is still helping your grandma move furniture and reach up to high shelves.  Her bones are so crippled and she sure can’t take a chance to climb up to reach her china.” 

Amy also squeezed back the painful thoughts of the immense load placed on her by Theodorus’ death. Tears rolled quietly.  

Why oh why did you leave me, Dorus?  How could you have left me?  I don’t know what I am doing, how to do it!  Your ma is no help at all, not one bit.  I believe I have a fourth child and her name is Laura. Dear Lord, grant me Your wisdom…Amy prayed quietly wanting some sort of an answer, but expecting none.

Theodorus Peck in Michigan, photo taken by new bride, Amy Nichols Peck.

Helen sighed and smashed steaming tomatoes a bit more forcefully than was needed.  Take that, you red steaming pile of crap!
Amy Nichols Peck, bride

She hammered them once more.  Hell if I .... “Hmmmm” were the only sound spoken, but a flow of profanity streamed freely through her brain,  all focused on Buddy, none of them kind, none of them speak-able in front of Ma.

While Amy prayed and Helen did not, Buddy was moving rugs and chairs in Grandma Laura’s house. Willingly or unwillingly never had mattered.  

Do this, Buddy.  Move it over here.  Climb up and get that vase.  Dust and wash it. Climb up again. A mind-numbing day, and Buddy was locked into a rhythm dictated by Ma and Grandma.

 “Move that chair here, Buddy." 

I just moved it over there, old woman! Gee whiz! Can't you make up your shriveled brain?  

"Oh, my goodness!  Won’t you just look at all that dust!  Buddy, take that rug outside and beat it, won’t you, be a dear.”  Then Grandma Laura retired out to the porch and fanned herself.

Buddy remembered that rug, remembered it well.  He and Pa played on that rug and read books on that rug. That rug was where Pa in his coffin rested the night before his funeral.  

Buddy struggled with that heavy wool floor rug, grabbing it over both hands, and dragged it outside where a sheen of drab green enveloped Buddy.

With a deep groan, Buddy heaved it over the clothes line. Wire clothes line gave its own groan, and sagged until the edge of the rug brushed autumn grass. 

The first swat was ineffectual and Buddy swung again.  Why the hell am I doing this? Buddy was stunned that he thought that word, but it was somehow comforting. Damn! 

A second swat permitted some dust to fly.  Buddy looked at the floral design on the rug. Pa, we liked that rose.  You traced your finger here, there.  Pa, why did you stop doing that? Why did you stop?

Another swat gave dust a chance to break free from rose-bound flowers. Pa, if you were here, you could help me. You would help me. I'm not strong enough, Pa.  I can't do this by myself. I can't do hard work, what you did, all alone.

Pa, I'm only nine years old. 

Swat swat swat, and Buddy paused to let his arms rest. 

"Pa, I hate you!" Buddy hit rose rug with all the strength he could summon. 

"I hate you!" Buddy kicked it ferociously.  It swung on the wire, back and forth, each time Buddy struck it.   

"You left me, you left Ma, you left everybody! I hate you!" Buddy sobbed uncontrollably and leaned over, resting hands on knees.

He kicked the rug beater out toward the outhouse.  I could throw this damn contraption into the hole.  I could say it was an accident. Knowing Ma the way he did, Buddy knew she would make him climb down into all the crap steeping in the dark.

Buddy began swinging erratically, with each cloud of dust he sobbed and wiped his nose.  I miss you so much, Pa.   

You coulda gone to see a doctor sooner and he woulda healed you. I know something coulda saved you! 

Why didn't you go?

"Why didn't you go to a doctor, Pa?" Buddy asked, quietly.  

He dropped Ma's rug dust-covered beater, himself dropping to dried grass, breathing raggedly.  He whispered, "I don't hate you, Pa.  I love you and you died.  If I could run over there where you lay in your box, in that dirt, and climb down there with you, I would. I would!" 

Rising to his feet, Buddy continued his job, his face now beet colored with each swing, and then muddy with sweat. Whatever he thought or said was eaten up by sheer exhaustion.

Laura Borrowman Peck , a young nubile woman, before marriage to Lewis B. Peck
That was when he heard, “Oh, Buddy!  You need to rest for a while.”

What?  Rest? Did that old woman actually say that?

Grandma Laura grasped his sweaty hand.  “Why don't you head to the cellar and bring us some cool cider?”

No need to ask twice, Buddy flew down to the dark chilly cellar and decanted a quart jar from the barrel, and replaced the plug. Grandma Laura sipped from the jar, appreciating tangy cider, then passed it to Buddy.  Between them, the jar was emptied in a short space of time.

Grandma Laura hiccupped, “Oh, my.  Please excuse me!” She patted her mouth with an embroidered hanky.  

“Why don’t we have more, Buddy?  It is a hot day, and you have been working so hard. This time, though, fill that large pitcher on the sideboard. I will find us some nice glasses, that will be more civilized. Then you can relax.  You are such an exemplary worker, and could use more liquid.”

Buddy made his way down the cellar steps, a bit wobbly, but he managed to fill and then carry heavy pitcher to the porch. 

Between the two of them, Grandma and Buddy emptied her antique pitcher, and leaned back in a relaxed state where all seemed glorious. 

“Buddy, let’s sing some songs!” Buddy nodded carefully, as his vision blurred when his head moved.  “Something cheerful, I think.  Hmm.”  

My Grandmother Amy Peck, with Gr-Grandmother Laura Peck. As always, Laura carried her Bible where ever she went.  Being president of the local temperance unit, Laura would grab any drunkard and recite Bible verses to him.  They would often cross the street to avoid her.
Then she cut loose with a well-known drinking song, then moving on to songs with jaw-dropping words.

Buddy stared at her in awe and newly found respect.  

Buddy felt a sudden, urgent need to leave and talk to his ma.  He called to her, as he staggered back to the garden house.  Amy emerged, and with a single sniff, discerned that a large amount of liquor had been drunk. 

She grabbed Buddy, yelling, “BUDDYWHATHAVEYOUBEENDOING?”  She wailed on Buddy, until Buddy threw up on her feet.

About that time, Amy could hear Grandma Laura’s reedy voice singing, Roll out the barrel.  Amy dropped Buddy and raced to Laura’s front porch where she was ripping into the second stanza. 

Helen gazed down at Buddy with his vomit covered face. “Dammit, you are one stinkin' bastard, you know that, dontcha.”

They both giggled and Helen sank down beside him.  Although Helen was blurred in Buddy's vision, Buddy slurred, "This is the best I've felt in a long time."

Buddy gazed up at a clear sky, and for a short bit of time, the sky was blue, grass green.  A bit wiggly, but his world felt good.

I had to search for swear words since I don't swear or know many words.  The lists of words is long, most of them referring to body parts and sex.  The list of words from the 1930s were not too different. No offense is intended here.

Dad told me this story long ago.  His sorrow was palpable still after seventy years. This event was probably the first time he allowed himself to actually mourn.


Bish Denham said...

Wow. You've painted a beautiful picture. Bittersweet.

Sherry Ellis said...

I enjoyed reading this. People certainly have their own ways of handling grief. It's hard to lose a loved one.

Valerie said...

Excellent. I felt a heavy touch of nostalgia as I read this. Now I know where you are (my link to your 'other' blog was all I had) I will visit again. Your writing is too good to miss, after all.

Yolanda Renée said...

Yes, nostalgia, lovely pictures! Great story. And cuss words, whoops, my family had a load of them. :O

Crystal Collier said...

Losing a parent is definitely one of those things you never get over, no matter how old you are, but it is particularly affecting the younger you are. My father passed away when I was 25, but my youngest sibling was 16. We all carry that sorrow in our own way, with the hope of seeing him again one day.

Share my Garden said...

I just love to study your precious old photos and then read the stories that lie behind them. some upright member of the temperance movement to keep cider in her cellar and proceed to get blotto!

D Biswas said...

Love these memories you've shared. It was bittersweet.


Nas said...

Its hard to lose people close to us. And grief is such an emotion that it needs outlet.