Consistency of Milk
a true story about my father
Brooklyn, NY – 1933
Gray. Bread-loaf sized cobblestones, hard-cold. Horseshoes spark the granite, sharp-loud. Horses manure the soiled spaces between, seeding green. Muscular jumps, a boy steals rides on the Third Avenue trolley, back and forth. Escapes down dirt-paved alleys, stumbling over large-frozen pocks. Searches city-seared ground, forgotten coins – nothing. Absent father. Memories of moving at night, quietly hurried. Don't say anything to anyone. Unsettled. Unknown. Innumerable school desks carved, initials – JET – gouged with tight-fist frown. Friend-faces only. (Home – mother's trembling hands at empty coal stove. Stale-crust bread. Stain-empty milk bottle. Wintry rooms. Sister reads; stiff hands turn dreams.) From mud-hard alleys, return to the avenue. Scent of donuts at red-gold Woolworth's – chased out. Filches a sandwich from the Owl's Head Tavern lunch counter. Mahogany dark, stank-stale beer. Whiskey-men self-blinded, curse shouts.
Treadwell, NY – 1933
Green. Quiet-lush meadow grass. Cows lull. Hills roll silent distance below hovering crows. Yellow-silk bamboo corn stalks wind-listen. Church windows and horse sheds shadowed by storm clouds. Big black-jug Catskill Mountains. Past a blue fly banging against the screen door. Rasping cicadas sound the heat. Prepared for the day – a marble-green pocket knife solid against his pocket thigh. Errand first, skips barefoot, past the Harness shop to Barlow's General Store. Eight cents in a glass bottle to fetch milk, whistles the early morning light. Coins spin musically against the glass – but a quick hard pop – the bottle breaks – eight cents scattered. Nickel lost. Quick toe-poking scan. Mr. Carson, long-sleeve white-collar stern, sentinels the post office. Watch the glass shards in those bare feet. Cigar moves back to lips. Frightened to Uncle Rudy's garage across the street. Hammering out like a roaring brook the town's first fire-truck, smiles a replacement nickel, and a bottle of fresh milk.
Treadwell, NY – 1995
Gold. A man vein-thinned with age strains vision in search of bits, tangents on the map. Floppy-hound bunk-mate, soft-worn jeans and linen shirt, sugary-buttered warm-soft bread. Hungry-thirst for the milky thickness of life's youth. White lights up then dims. Twinkling-alive childhood – stretching memory / ambiguous future. Life's parts curl and dust. Oil lamps and crank engines. Horse drays logging across echoing-wide wilderness. Splintery hunks of green wood burn yellow-bright the summer's dusking twilight. Still now. Whole history scene-dense. Church prays quietly, differently diffident. At Barlow's, three buildings joined in creative destruction. Wearied mother buried, sister's debilitated diabetic blindness. Where the nickel disappeared in 1933 – now a nickel. Miraculous coincident – Archetype of recovery: Nietzsche's amor fati. Destiny not for the coin but to recall in still-unfolding fullness of time the consistency of milk. No accidents – a life carved with deliberation: wife and grown children. Through loss, is one invited to possess self?
words: Gregory F. Tague, New York (website)
image: Swati Nair, India (birdy's world)
another understanding of who he was: Dying Hard