I was four years old when we lived on French Street. An historical two-story green duplex, which had served as officer quarters for the Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot. My babysitter lived next door. One day at lunch, I looked at her hands and thought: Your hands are so beautiful. How lucky you are to get to keep them. My brother had insisted that, because I had touched a corroded battery, my fingers were going to rot off. He had also turned my tricycle into a go cart and frequently brought snakes into our front yard. Sometimes I would take my nap on the couch next door, sucking my thumb for comfort. Now and then the babysitter would send me home to nap alone, where there was no comfort: something monstrous lurked in the kitchen. And upstairs, in my mother’s dark bedroom directly to the right of the top stair, lived a wicked beast. Avoiding the beast required running from stairwell straight ahead to bathroom, or from stairwell to the right on a diagonal to bedroom, which resulted in more exposure time in the large open hallway. The basement, with its fresh pile of coal and ancient coal-burning furnace delivered its own horror.
My Uncle Mel
Uncle Mel was always my favorite. I felt more than a bit of kinship toward him, so I did worry that the cleft in my chin would turn into the deep prominent dimple of his chin. Mel and his wife Margaret had honeymooned at Niagara Falls. I saw the photographs. Well. Niagara Falls became my future destination. I heard a story about his tying a brick around a bad tooth and throwing it out the window of the bedroom on the second floor of the farmhouse when he was a boy. Apparently, he tied the brick around the wrong tooth. Ouch! In another story, he and my mother were up on the roof gorging on pickles. Something my mother said caused him to jump off the roof (she was a bit of a devil). Vaguely I remember hearing that Uncle Mel had suffered from a great depression and received a record number of shock treatments in the state of Indiana. At his funeral, I noticed his eyebrows. They looked exactly like mine.
The Carter Farm
By the time I came along in 1963, my grandparents’ farm was a shadow of its former glory; nevertheless, I thought it remarkable. We drove for miles to get there. Past the Indiana Ammunition Plant. Past the Tasty Freeze. Past the gas station that sold orange crush soda in brown bottles from a decrepit vending machine. Finally, we reached Otisco, Indiana. The house sat on the left. Typical Indiana white clapboard farmhouse. Lizards on the back porch. Screen door that gently slammed and led into the kitchen. For Sunday dinner, I sat on a red metal Cosco step stool chair decades
before it was retro and ate fried chicken. I admired baby dolls in the Sears Roebuck catalog before they were vintage. I vaguely remember a Christmas celebration in the living room, pink bells filled with angel hair on the tree. The vegetable garden. The barn. The summer kitchen. Barbed wire fences and cows down the lane. Queen Ann’s Lace. Stories about my grandmother’s exquisitely decorated sticks of butter sold for spending money. Going to market. My mother’s pet pig. The one room schoolhouse. More vividly, I remember the image of my grandfather, Michael Carter, lying in bed, close to the wood burning stove, dying of cancer.