Eight catfish were swimming in circles, in the stationary tubs. Around and around, and then huddling in the corner, over the small round white drain plug, somehow avoiding the chain that was attached to it, and to the side of the tub. The water smelled fishy, and there was the overall background smell of the tubs, which was somewhat like the smell of a wet concrete sidewalk. The fish had come from the Schuylkill River, and I was a little afraid of their whiskers, their black shiny skin, and the fact that my cousin Frankie said that they had some sort of spines that could sting me. It’s hard for me to realize, just how young I really was, when I look back at childhood events. I have to do the math, and I start to remember how I saw things, and what I was thinking. I look at my own son to get a handle on what it is like to be a kid of 8 or 10 or 14. If I am lucky, finally, I can remember what I was feeling at a particular time. When I can do that, my myths about my past can fall away, to be replaced by the Truth. Those fish swam around the stationary tubs, inside our 13 room farmhouse, (my parents counted the foyer, the cellar, and the two unfinished rooms in the attic), between hundred acre cornfields, in Linfield,Pa. The place was really wonderful to grow up in, if it wasn’t for the adults who ruined it. We had Such’s Hill, which was 1/4 mile long STEEP sledding hill. Half way down that hill, was where, at 14, I saw Mitzi Ackerman, and Lisa Bernadini dancing in front of the upstairs windows of Mrs Keene’s in their underware, waving and smiling at us. I was confused the next time that I ran into Lisa, that she really didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with me. Funny, how 14 year old kids think. I know now that she was probably embarrassed by what she and Mitzi had done. At the bottom of Such’s Hill lived Mitzi Ackerman. She moved in when Chip Such and his family moved out. Mitzi was the first girl to actually do anything socially with me alone. We went skating on her pond, and I was terrified. She was one of the prettiest girls in the school, and later became the most popular girl in our junior high, but for that one day, when she treated me as a peer, and a friend, and laughed and joked, and genuinely paid attention to me,I knew I would love her forever. We never did anything together again, after that. I don’t remember whether I was too afraid to ask, or whether she turned me down, or what. I do know that I was heartbroken for a long time after that. I thought that be- cause of her, my life would become tolerable. I’m wondering why my father didn’t go with Cousin Frankie, when we got those catfish. I do remember that we didn’t actually catch them; we had gotten them off of someone else, who didn’t want them. The river was really too dirty to eat anything that that could actually live in it. I’m wondering if my father was drunk again, and that was why he didn’t go with us; maybe he stayed back at the Linfield hotel, which was right by the railroad tracks overlooking the river. I wish I could remember. So much of my history, is out of my reach. I hate that.
I do remember some things though. I remember one time that my father got drunk. He made this sandwich, with liverwurst, and onion, and peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, and mustard, after eating a bunch of salted peanuts, and drinking a whole bunch. I remember playing outside, and seeing him on the chaise lounge, a folding lawn chair, with aluminum tubing frame, and 4″ hard foam cushions, covered with vinyl. It had an adjustable back, and my father had it all the way down, so he could lay flat in it. I remember coming up to him, to ask him something. I remember being terrified, because at first, I saw what looked like “guts” on the ground, and I thought that he was dead, that somebody had killed him. I was 6 or 7, he was drunk, and what I saw on the ground was his vomit. No one explained that to me, and even after I figured out that it wasn’t “guts” on the ground, I still wondered whether he was going to die, because I didn’t understand being unconscious from drinking too much.
Those fish, my mother made me pull the plug on them. I’m not sure whether they had died, or whether they were still alive, and if they were alive, what did we do with them.I do remember being made to scrub out the tub. I hated that, and I remember I believed that I would never finish. That neighborhood, with cornfields, and rolling hills, streams, and farmhouses, and Mitzi Ackerman, went the way of the polluted Schuylkill river…adults out of control built a powerplant, and that entire neighborhood is under the shadow of the cooling towers of the Limeric Atomic Power Plant.
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