As I approached the top of the stairs leading to the area we now called the attic, the space was dark except for the light from the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. This was the area we used to store things; many of Mom's special possessions, here in her space that Pops had designed for her to be 'creative'. This used to be her office, if you will, where she could write, paint, sew, or do whatever creative project struck her fancy for that week.... Or as it became, just her quiet space to go unwind, delving into the latest novel or autobiography that she happened to be reading. We all knew not to interrupt, just give her a little time and she would return downstairs to our world. Sometimes, when she was creating, rather than reading or writing, she would let Jack and/or I come up with her, as long as we were quiet, being careful not to interrupt her ‘focus’ so the finished project would be exactly what she wanted it to be. And sometimes, she would find a simple project that we could help her with, like when she created pages for the albums, her ‘memory books’ that would forever hold the stories of our family. I knew she had been creating the ‘memory books’ since she was about my age, and that I should be able to find some with Uncle Jack in them, at least from when they were all kids.
|Magpie Tales #36 photo prompt|
Now if I moved along the wall to the right, I could find the other window, matching but in opposite form. As I moved along the wooden paneling of the wall, I again came to the ribbed edge of the window panel, and in reverse traced to where the key was, gently turned until I heard the click, then again finding the ring at the bottom of the panel and pulled it open as well, letting it swing to the right. Again the days sunlight unleashed itself into the other part of the room, gently making its way into the creative energy of the space, and coming to a rest on the brown leather couch along the other wall. Now I could make out the tall shelves along the wall between this window and the couch. The shelves where she kept the many ‘memory books’ all lined up in order as her life unfolded over the years. I reached over, letting my fingers trace the spines of the albums, counting, skipping over the first couple of years. I knew those were the ones she experimented with, and then finding the first of the ones she would pull to sit with Jack and I on the couch, laying them out on the wooden coffee table. She would slowly go through the pages, letting us explore the pictures, the small papers filled with the words of her poems, the crafty little ‘art projects’ of paper, glitter, string… whatever items she felt would bring back the memory of events, days gone by, as she told us the stories of her childhood, her high school years, and how she met Pops when she was away at college.
I set the album I had pulled from the shelves down on the wooden coffee table as Mom used to do, and glanced up to the painting on the wall above the couch… This experienced by me, I drew from my own memories, a smile spreading across my face as I drifted to the day when Mom told me that her and I would be going to my first ‘Art Exhibit’ at a gallery. There was a new Spanish artist, Silvia, whom had just unleashed a burning within Mom's heart, a love of her paintings, so much so, that Mom just had to have this one, entitled 'Lost Boat' for the wall here above the couch in her office. Mom had said, ‘This artist, this painting unleashes so much creativity for me.’
|'Lost Boat' by Silvia|
I too, found myself drawn in by the artist, unleashing a desire to add color to my simple drawings that I had been working on with Mom’s guidance, teaching if you will, and how to create depth to my one-dimensional pictures that I brought home from art class. My teacher had always been happy with my work, but Mom knew, inside me there was always a feeling of something missing from them. So we would then work together, here in her office, her showing me how to add that missing color, or depth or… All of the things I still needed to learn about art, but that my ‘grade level’ hadn’t yet covered in my classes.
I sat down on the couch and gently opened the album that rest on the expansive wooden table, slowly flipping through the first few pages of memories. These were still the pages fairly early, of the fun times Mom, Jack and Howard had during there summers here in this house. In the album were pictures of them playing on the banks of the creek, stickers from the high school carnival and parties with them celebrating birthdays with their friends and family. As I glanced through, it struck me that all the photos of Uncle Jack, even though they were at parties, or the carnival, he looked so serious. His face drawn, his eyes seemed dull… Until I reached the page entitled ‘Harvest’. Various colored leaves, including the Princeton Sentry and the Maple, were scattered around the page. Just under the bright orange title at the top of the page, was a picture of Uncle Jack holding his ‘harvest’ of a very large pumpkin, both arms bowed at full length wrapped around cradling it, and a huge smile stretched across his face, almost ear to ear. Then just below it on a small piece of cream colored parchment paper, the following poem scrawled in rough, handwriting,
Autumn full color,
Orange pumpkins, fields of wheat,
Season of my heart.
Sitting there for a moment, I tried to digest the words, the picture, looking for some understanding of this gruff, anxious man whom Uncle Howard had brought with to see Jack at the hospital yesterday. I tried to grasp, understand… why had we seen, heard, so little of him if he was our other uncle? Uncle Howard had always been such a big part of our lives, always over to see us, spending time playing games, watching movies, picnicking with us in the back yard. I wondered, if at the very least, why had we never really heard Mom or Pops, or Uncle Howard even, speak of him in their stories. I thought I remembered seeing him at the hospital after the accident, his head and face wrapped in the white gauze… I thought I remembered them going to the airport to pick him up and the accident happening on the way back to our house. I thought I remembered being told that he was going to live with Grandma and Grandpa so they could take care of him, just as we had Uncle Howard, so they both could get better, get strong enough to take care of themselves. I looked back down at the page and again read the poem and looked at the smile stretching across the picture.
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sounds of voices coming from the yard. I got up from the couch and moved over to the open window near the leather coat hanging by the wall. Looking out, I could see that it was Pops, standing near the edge of the forest, talking with Uncle Jack. I could see Jack sitting on the ground beyond Uncle Jack playing with a small long-haired dog, its fur black covering its head, then going to white over the rest of its body. And then I heard Uncle Jack tell Pops, ‘His name is Lyn… he’s a Shih-Tzu, Lyn being short for Lyndon B. Johnson. I named him for the thirty-sixth president who completed Kennedy’s term of office after his assassination, and then was re-elected in 1964.’
Toby popped over the tall grasses out from the darkness of the forest, followed by Gremby and Uncle Howard. Gremby is short for Grembolait, just as Uncle Howard had called his mom’s Crème Brulee. Being a Lhasa Apso, as is typical, his fur is the creamy light brown with the reddish brown splotches of tufts poking through, the same creamy light brown of the custard his mom always served over peaches when he was young. Grembolait was his favorite desert, she would specially make it for him on days when he did particularly well on a book report or on his spelling test when he was little, maybe around Jack’s age.
Uncle Jack asked his voice still gruff, ‘Jack has your dad here, taught you anything yet about our great Presidents?’ ‘No sir,’ I heard Jack say as he stood up and moved over behind Pops, grabbing on to his pant leg. Uncle Jack continued, ‘It’s important that you learn about history. You should ask him to tell you some of the stories, some of the history of our great country…’
My thoughts searched my social studies lessons, trying to remember what I had learned of this Lyndon B. Johnson. I remembered learning about the assassination of Kennedy, and learning he was one of the best presidents we have ever had, but all that I could remember about Johnson was the Vietnam War. I remembered Mom and Pops telling me how horrible war was and that many innocent people died or are injured and it forever changes their lives. I looked back down to the yard, again listening, now seeing only Pops and Uncle Jack there. Uncle Jack was moving around, pacing with those same jerking movements I saw when we were at the hospital. Pacing, cigarette in hand, smoke billowing from his nostrils as it had at the hospital. Then I heard Pops, his voice angry, telling him, ‘I told you, you are only welcome here if an adult is here. I don’t want you around the kids by yourself. If you can’t follow this, then stay away from my kids, or so help me…’ Pops turned, shaking his head as he walked toward the house and then out of my view. Uncle Jack stood there seeming to talk to himself for a few minutes, then I heard him whistle and saw Lyn and him disappear into the forest.