Where I’m From – a scatterbrained memoir.
I’m From a Pair of Grammar Fascists, no, a Trio.
My Father, My Mother, My Stepfather. They all knew, they all know, how to say “lie” instead of “lay” – or didn’t you know that pedantic and “proper” dialect? That discriminating difference that only the children of English teachers bother to worry oh-so-redundantly about any more. No? Well, it is a dialect. Yes it is. It is. Is.
Lay down please, Mr. K., the nurse said at the clinic.
I am not a hen, my stepfather said. I don’t lay eggs. If you want me to lie down, ask me to lie down.
No. I lie. Like a dog. What he actually said was DAMNIT I AM NOT A CHICKEN FUCKING HEN
No. I lie again. He did not say FUCKING.
He did say DAMNIT.
We used to say about my second father, that if he calls you : NAME DAMNIT then you know he loves you.
Where I am from, I would gladly have him call me damnit again, just to hear his voice alive and well once more.
But they are gone. Both of them. My late fathers.
I am from three parents.
My mother, my father, and my stepfather.
All of them, each of them, grammar fascists.
My daddy died when I was twenty six. So I remember him very well. But he was only fifty six at the time, ten years younger than I am today, as I write this, where I’m from. He was also an alcoholic. I saw him ripped away from me into the addiction of drugs, I mean his drink and his smoke. Yes, in addition to drinking, he also smoked cigarettes. The back bathroom, attached to his and my mom’s bedroom, always stank of old poop and dead cigarettes. He would come home from the rocket laboratories after spending a hard day blowing things up to see why they could blow up, or why they would blow up, and then go sit on the throne and have a smoke while he slowly took a dump. He would read science fiction.
I miss him. I am from there.
I remember he took me out for a walk one evening in 1956 or then abouts. Pointed to the planet Mars. A brilliant red pinprick of light in the night-time sky. I believe I am from a place where he said mankind will go there one day. Thirteen years later, seven years before my Daddy died, a man walked on the moon. Then another. Walked. And another pair, next trip. Then more. Several. Two by two. They also drove a car. It is still there. They came home. I wonder if they left the keys.
My first father was happy when sputnik launched. He knew it meant that soon he would and could be working on rockets instead of airplanes. I believe he preferred rockets. I believe I am from there. That place in the outer worlds. Where heaven is not just a word. Where the heavens are plural. I used to have a bag of marbles that used to be his. For a while, they were my planets. I told them about Voyager, which he did not live to see. John Glenn rode on one of his rockets. It did not explode.
My mother is also a grammar fascist. I say was AND she is because she is still alive. She complains because her children say lay instead of lie. Ninety seven she will be this year. She was thirty when I was born from her body. She let them cut off a piece of my penis and then she fed me from a bottle. I’m from there. But other than doing to her baby what they told her she had to do to be a modern, independent woman, other than that she was a very good mother. I am from there, definitely. My heart breaks when I think that one day, soon, she will leave me. But at least she did not die thirty years before her time. No. She married an old friend from long ago whom she had not seen in thirty-four years. They had twenty-nine years and nine months together before he, too, died. Ten years ago this summer.
We all die, and will have died, and that is history. We are born, we live, for long or short or in between; and then, we die. It's all the juicy parts that come in-between. That's what matters.
You are from there. I’m from there.
I am from my mother. That’s what I tell Jehovah’s nitwits when they ask at the door who created me. My mother grew me. Then I was born. That is Where I’m From.
Just don’t ask me to babysit the grandchildren, Mom said, when my son was born. She still says it. She hates the sweatshirt my younger brother and his wife and kids gave her last month because it says Grandmas never run out of cookies or hugggggs so have a Merry Christmas. Ugly horrible Xmas RED Sweatshirt. So cute it makes you want to vomit. They are always trying to please her. She loves them anyway. Don’t none of you call me Gramma, she says. She calls me grumpy when I complain. Here I am. Other than that, she is a loving, generous person. She used to be an English teacher. No wonder she’s a grammar fascist.
I am from there, too. Except that I am more than grumpy. I tell tales, like this one. Yes. Here we are, reading another one.
My stepfather was a genius. He dropped out of Berkeley in his senior year because he said they had nothing more to teach him. A couple years after that, when he was courting in 1940, my grandfather and grandmother sat my mother down and warned her not to marry him. It took him thirty-four years to win her back. My grandparents never went to college. They warned her that he would always shame her. They were wrong. But I am from there. Two years later, my mother met someone else. In New York City. On a blind date. During the war.
My stepfather, meanwhile, went to war and became an Army engineer. He was different after that.
After what he saw. He came home, then invented and patented the inductor, which no one uses, but which could provide millions of gallons of fresh water and electricity, merely through evaporation. Of course it would cost a lot of money to build the damn thing. Build the DAMN thing, already, damnit, he would say if you asked him. Later he also inherited land and bought some more and never had to work again for the rest of his life. His children had trouble at school answering that old question: what does your parent do for a living. I don’t know, they said. He stays home all day and reads books, and goes on vacation. Finally he told them to say he was a property manager. Damnit.
My mother says she did not marry him for his money – what little he had – enough to go to Europe or travel America in a motor home – but then, we both live in his house. My mother says it is the best place she ever lived. Thirty-nine years now, and counting. Thirty years with him, then nine as widow. Soon to be ten. She misses him. We all do.
Yet we are in his debt. If he had not paid off the mortgage fifty years ago, neither of us could afford to live here. The house has a view, you see. You can literally see for miles. Sometimes I wish I really were from here – not having to work, staring at the sunset. Because I still live in his house with my mother. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms. Comfortable. I’m retired, with medicare and a small social security payment. I also get work occasionally on the internet, translating Mexican Spanish into English.
So I am at least part-time from there. Here. Where. The sun rises.
Well, however, I fear you must excuse me now. I have to fix breakfast for Mom, and then I am and have this dirty laundry to do and wash. I’m from there. Where. Here.