My Robot Is Pregnant theme song!

tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

December 20, 2006

The Stockpot is a restaurant.

The Stockpot overlooks salt piles and scrap iron. Before they banned smoking inside, I knew who to expect in there. Today Marsha was the only one I recognized, and we had walked in together. It was slow and we got a table at one of the three windows so we could watch the action of the riverfront. A yellow loader moved piles of road salt around the dock. The river’s surface was pocky like a bad case of acne and yellow bouys bobbed up like boils ready to burst. Boy. Boy oh boy. It was beautiful. The bridge to Maine was a single span and a small pleasure boat ripped a wedge as it headed up to the bay.

The server set two coasters down, then a pint glass of local brew on each of the coasters. Marsha was talking about her dead grandmother.

“What is it called, when you have those squares of plastic mesh and people weave pictures in them? Anyway, she had one of those in the shape of a hand, and it said ‘BINGO’ here on the palm. It was on a stick and she would hold it up when she won.”

Her Grandmother loved bingo.

“I wanted to bring it to the wake but my father was worried someone would steal it. Who would steal a bingo hand at a wake? We should have thrown it in her grave before they buried her.”

She picked up her beer, the foam was just a thin scum across the top now. I had taken a sip already, and then a good drink.

“BINGO!” I shouted, pretending to throw down the bingo hand.

A face of the salt pile collapsed and I mentioned it.

“That’s because that tractor is digging into the pile,” Marsha said. “The funeral director was so weird.”

“Why?”

“Making inappropriate comments. ‘That was a pretty big rock on your Grandma’s hand.’ (she was loaded) ‘I thought I was gonna have to cut her finger off below the knuckle!’ Can you believe it? Or, ‘I thought I was gonna hafta inject her lips with solution they were so dried up, but then they turned out all right.’ Who would say that?”

People continued to drive over the bridge, just the shine of sun on metal roofs flashing in the distance.

“We all sat with our backs to the casket and talked to other people, no one stood up and said anything about her, except Kai, who had to read a prepared speech from the Church about unbaptised people going to hell, like Kai and I. My Grandmother gave a lot of money to the church and the Priest kept talking about how devout she was. She was never nice to us.”

A lot of thoughts went through my head, about my own grandmother especially. She’s 86 years old and will be gone from this world soon. She’s very nice to me and I will miss her, but we don’t talk to much. She tells the same stories from her childhood over and over.

“The Pickering Farm we used to call it. My father had it torn down during the Depression because he was worried tramps – that’s what they called them, men who walked along the tracks looking for a handout or a place to sleep. They’d knock at the door and my father would always say, ‘There’s a pile of wood that needs chopping if you want something to eat’ and he’d feed them supper if they wanted to work. But he was worried someone would burn it down so he had it torn down.”

My grandmother sits in her chair facing the television, which I ask her to turn off because I’ll try and listen to it and her at the same time, and end up tuning her out. I sit beside the television facing her. She looks at me and tells me something new this time.

“My father had it taken apart, all the windows and doors and the fireplace mantel he had stored, because it was a very old house. From the 1700’s. I can remember as kids we would play inside it. There was a secret set of stairs behind the chimney that led to a hiding spot. A lot of old houses had them, if the Indians attacked they could hide.”

I tried to imagine that house standing where fiddlehead ferns grew now. The Indian shutters that closed from inside the house to keep them out. I couldn’t picture Indians on this land. Indians seemed like something out West, a product of cowboys. To her perhaps it was like the World War Two cement bunkers along the Atlantic are to me. Run down crumbling moments from a time I never knew, but heard stories about. Those WWII stories had replaced the Indian stories my Grandmother heard and it was impossible for me to imagine what she was talking about.

Marsha and I finished our beers and while she went to the restroom I paid the tab. When she came back we walked out into the cold air, my nose dripping as it readjusted to a new temperature. I hugged her goodbye and went to my car, she to hers. I drove around town for a while, going to find the new library I heard they had built.

The streets of Portsmouth were changing, some slowly, imperceptibly, a dying limb removed, a new lilac planted. Others, like where the new library was, I could still imagine where buildings once stood that were now gone. I drove down streets that should have triggered thousands of memories, but they didn’t come up. 15 years had passed since I had walked the sidewalks, doing things I thought I’d always remember. Instead, I had a vague sense we had skateboarded in that driveway, and used to cut throught that yard, but none of things that made me laugh back then could I remember. My memories had gone the way of my grandmothers. I could remember where buildings once stood. I could remember I once played, and I could remember that that play felt really good. I could feel an absence, because I didn’t play like that any more. But those memories were so thin. A feeling attached to houses, or corner stores. Halls in a high school. Nothing specific.

Perhaps someday I’ll be old and sitting in front of television because there is so little to remember. It will be important for new things to happen, and my legs will be unsteady, my ankles weak, my knuckles swollen and my fingers rigid. There is no way to go out and play in the woods. I won’t sit and remember the good times. There will be my mind, thinking about changing the channel, or moving the cat who is napping in my lap.

7 Comments

  1. By reading these stories, I want to come up there and take some photos to go along with your stories. They would make an interesting book about life on the seacoast.

    Comment by Jason — December 21, 2006 @ 5:28 am

  2. What would be really cool (to me, anyways) would be to capture the evolution of Portsmouth over the past 20 years. It’s very possible that my own life experience (having moved there 20 years ago) causes me to be biased but it sure does seem to have changed a lot over the years, or at least the population has. I’d be interested to see who is living in the shanties by Strawberry Bank these days. I’m guessing not too many fisherman.

    Comment by Lyle_S — December 21, 2006 @ 9:39 pm

  3. Landry, I called Jason Boucher, who is in touch with Ken Paul, and we should all meet at the country view restaurant. We’ll order two Lumberjack Specials and do it buffet style.

    Ron Gallant wants to meet at the Greenland Buckhorns Truck Stop (aka Cuzzin Richie’s) on christmas day, since his parents are in Florida and he’s on his own this time.

    You with it?

    Comment by jon — December 23, 2006 @ 8:31 am

  4. Lyle, I’ll have to make a trip down there to the waterfront and report back.

    Comment by jon — December 23, 2006 @ 8:32 am

  5. horse pucky!
    you don’t remember because the men in little black suits showed up, poured too much drink down your troat and left you in the woods with you memories showing.

    Comment by takeabath@hotmail.com — December 27, 2006 @ 4:38 pm

  6. i haven’t checked in awhile, and i must say that i am really impressed. that is really beautiful, jon. that is the best thing of yours i have read in a while…it takes 1st place now (old #1 was the story of he carpool from los angeles to san francisco). sounds like the trip home did you some good. what’s next for your adventures? back to san francisco?

    Comment by kendra — December 28, 2006 @ 10:03 am

  7. Thanks Kendra! I’m back in SF now, with a lot of video and photos to put up. My Dad has a digital camera, but he takes it into CVS (a New England drugstore chain) and gets his photos printed out. He doesn’t have the software to do it on his computer and doesn’t want it. It was so frustrating not to be able to post any the past few days…

    Comment by jon — December 30, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

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