Thursday, November 08, 2007

Homesteading the realms of memory (Part 2)

Looking at their lives makes mine seem stale somehow. My life has had its ups and downs, from my childhood joys of catching lizards and hunting rabbits in the Texas outback to the pitfalls of school and bullies, the first stirrings of lust and sexual desire, the religious tenets drilled into me (causing a plethora of confusion and terror and, at times, ecstasy), and on to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Most of that has been put to paper and remains a legacy, however trite or incomplete, for my progeny. Like Lonnie I hunch over my desk and wrestle with the past, homesteading the frontiers of memory. And now I march forward with the same fears and worries as when I was a boy, accented now with financial jitters and loss of self-confidence, my body slowly decaying, eyes weakening, my hearing shot out, my body failing where once it was strong and solid.

It neared midnight again. Lori in bed but my eyes wide awake. I sipped whiskey hoping it would dull me into sleep but I feared another night like last, when my legs twitched and the music in my head would not silence. Tomorrow was the start of the workweek and I hated the idea of it. I feel I was born for the idle life but can’t recall a single Parker who lived it.

I’d fallen under the spell of a past that was before my time. The small box of black and white photographs my mother gave me was a puzzle of nameless faces and unnamed places I needed to understand if I was to understand myself. We change over the years, generations finding their own voices and customs, but underneath it runs the same blood, refreshed with that of outsiders through marriage and love. I wanted to find that past, to fathom it fully, to get beyond this failing of mine where I cannot untangle relationships beyond the shallow umbrella of parents, grandparents, siblings. I wanted to go back.

Lonny, too, went back, jouncing down dusty oilfield roads in search of the old homestead. He doesn’t mention when, or what age he was, but the house was completely gone. He wandered alone searching for signs of his past and found little. There was a concrete stock tank, a new windmill, but that was all. He looked for a dugout he and his brothers had made but the winds and sands had erased it. I can see him there, an older man, trying to piece together the ghosts of his past, sifting through the mesquite and catclaw for something he could name and call his own. And finding nothing. With all trace of his life removed, the land a stranger and he to it, he turned back for the car when something caught his eye. In the sand at his foot glittered an ancient shell casing. He reached down and picked it up and scrubbed it clean. It was a .32-20 shell. Age had blackened it but the caliber markings were still readable.

His father had owned a lever-action rifle and a single-shot handgun in the selfsame caliber. He doesn’t say but I’d wager he rolled it in his fingers and held it up to squint at the markings and slipped it into his pocket where it rattled against a handful of coins. He had to remind himself to start breathing again. And suddenly he felt eyes upon him, presences, a host of people watching him as he glanced around, wet-eyed, wondering, a small smile slowly breaking across his weather-beaten face.

But perhaps that’s just the writer in me, romanticizing the unknown. Maybe he stood there with the shell loose in his fingers and felt a deep sadness well up, and felt the years hammering at him as they had the old house, busting it down and sweeping away all evidence that here a family had tamed a wild and desolate land with nothing but dreams and iron will. Maybe he dropped the cartridge in the sand and stepped on it and smoothed it over until it disappeared like the traces of the wooden well tower, the chicken coop and the outbuildings, the single-room house laid plumb with the North Star.

But Lonny was a writer, and he wrote, even if we have little evidence of it other than a few scattered pages rapped out while camping beside a lake in an unidentified state. Sometimes it’s not what we say that’s important but what we don’t. In the quiet post-midnight hours of another day, exhausted, my eyes gritty and bloodshot, I scrambled between the lines, between the periods and commas and line breaks, hunting the man who haunts my dreams. And the more frantic I searched, the more I found myself.

Writers look beyond the ordinary, an innate mysticism that can only be interpreted in terms of spirituality. We are called to write. And his calling was somehow passed down to me. I cannot deny it nor wholly comprehend it, and like the genetic quirks that plague me—my trick knee, my restless legs, the blood pressure that threatens to explode my heart—it’s hereditary. But it is also a gift. I might question it, and at times distrust it, but now, for the first time in my life, I can accept it. This was Lonny’s gift.

Weariness staggered me. Pushing away from the computer, I shambled toward bed and the plains of West Texas. I was seven paragraphs into tomorrow and I wasn’t finished. Hell, Lonny and I were just beginning.


Anonymous said...

Tom, I feel so utterly incapable of responding to your writing.

Your stories linger in my mind and often touch me deeply, yet I fail in my ability to share just how your words affect me.

But I enjoyed these two columns about Lonnie and "homesteading the frontiers of memory."

I loved your images of Lonnie finding the shell casing - the way it might have been.

And ... "Sometimes it’s not what we say that’s important but what we don’t."

There's a depth to your writing that is somewhat troubling - and I mean that in a GOOD way. There's so much BEHIND your words that it takes a couple of readings to really "get" your columns. You're not a surface kind of a guy.

Anyway, Tom - you make me think, you make me feel, you come up with phrases and images that blow me away.

Tom Parker said...

Cheryl -- You make it all worthwhile...

Muchas gracias, mi amiga