I have an extremely sharp memory. Not only can I remember back much further than most people, but I can remember with much more detail. This does not always endear me to old friends, especially those old friends who are now pillars in their communities and may have sown some wild oats in their youth that they’d just as soon forget. Sometimes old memories are just as hard for me to deal with, especially old fearful memories. I struggle with asthma and upper respiratory illness a lot and it is very common for me to flashback on similar situations when I was very young; I can remember all too clearly laying on my bed alone in a dark room coughing my throat raw, hot on the inside from the exertion but also feeling cold and clammy on the outside from vaporizer mists when the water had gone cold.
Brrrr. I’d just as soon let that one go. Where is Alzheimer’s disease when you need it?
I try to focus on more pleasant things – like the Pontiac that my folks drove at about the same time as the coughing memories. I say “Pontiac automobile” but in the mode of the day it was styled more like a warship with a greyish blue two-tone paint scheme, high fins and torpedo-like grille projections. It was also BIG and I could spot it at a distance no matter how many other “battleships” were grouped around it while parked or in motion.
That car figured prominently in the earliest years of my life but my earliest memories of it date back to 1958 when we were living in Bremerton (WA), one of my dad’s later duty stations during his 20 year career in the Navy. We lived in two different sets of quarters while we were there, the first place was a dark-colored bungalow and the other a two-story town-house much like the quarters assigned to us while I was stationed at FT Richardson (AK) during my own service years 22 years later. I remember that second place much better than the first for three reasons: 1) my painful coughing night terrors happened there 2) I tasted fudge for the first time there and 3) my first “magic fairy land” incident happened there.
It’s pretty common knowledge that subject matter in my visual work leans toward the fantastic. The basic concept of “Fantastic” was hard-wired in my brain from the day the doctor grabbed me by the wrong end and said “ Look! It’s twins but where are the heads?” The word has had many shades of meaning in my life ranging from starships spanning the galaxies to hobbits running from orcs but at this age it meant Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the shoe-maker’s pixies. Unfortunately that sweet, simple belief, was known to the other, older kids in the neighborhood and I was taken advantage of quite often. I also had a slight tendency towards being a loner as well and the combination of the two personality traits made it easier for them to fool me into trading toys or treats for items that were nowhere close to being the same in value. Sometimes I’d be fooled into doing something that I shouldn’t have done.
Such was the case the day I was told about the “magic fairy land” that existed at the end of the trail running down through the woods behind our housing unit. Normally I stayed as far away from that trail as I could because the highway was in that general direction and even though you couldn’t see it, you could hear the cars and trucks barreling along in what I imagined to be break-neck speeds but given our location on a naval base the speeds were no doubt 35 miles per hour or less.
It didn’t matter. I wasn’t nearly as afraid of the cars as I was of my mom. You really have to know my Mom to understand why; she’s more like a force of nature than a person. TV weatherman should include her in their reports : “ Forecast for tonight: June, with scattered areas combining into June-Typhoons measuring up to 222 on the Beaufort scale by mid-day tomorrow”. She regularly warned me about staying away from the highway but as she drove away in the grey Pontiac land-battleship that day she brought up again the dire fate that would await me were I to wander anywhere close to the highway, a fate that made getting run over by a car seem like jumping on a feather bed in comparison.
I think it was her weekly grocery run to the commissary– that day I ended up with more unsupervised time than I usually did though I can’t remember if it was a neighbor or a baby sitter who was actually tending me . Not only was I small, I was sneaky , much more sneaky than a four year old usually is so it didn’t just mean that I could move in a stealthy manner , I knew things like how often I should “get seen” by my sitters in order to lull them into a false sense of security while I went about my business.
This was one of those times. I made eye-contact with one of the other moms just as my own disappeared around in a bend of the road at the helm of the USS Missouri. I found a trail heading down hill and started to walk, eyes riveted on the ground passing under my feet as I set out in my quest for the magic pixie toy land – or what ever I was calling my goal at that moment. Even though it was a cleared trail it was still rough going for my short stubby little-boy legs and several times I thought of giving up but each time I would spy a fragment of something brightly-colored that would draw me on further with visions of those $5.00 toys from the Sears Catalog – the ones we dare not even dream of asking for – being given out to kids playing in a Disneyesque forest dell. I could not believe my incredible luck!
Uncle Walt’s aesthetic vision had nothing to do with the setting I stumbled out into when I reached the end of the trail. I had no idea at first where the brightly-colored items came from, the objects that lured me down the trail but as I stumbled into the clearing it became all too clear. They were various items of trash that had been thrown from cars and the closest thing to a magic toy was a smashed tin head and torso with features rendered in that unnerving androgynous style of Japanese toys from the early 1950s. My magic pixie toy land was a low clearing next to the forbidden highway, and who should drive by at just that moment?
“DAVID RALPH DEITRICK!” It was my mom in the USS Missouri slowly driving along the road next to the clearing and blowing whatever vestige of luck out of the water. I knew I was in serious trouble because she used my full name and she was yelling in all caps! As she motioned for me to head back up the hill to the inevitable spanking I let loose with every invective in my vocabulary* while taking great care to face away from my eagle-eyed lip-reading mom…and it was at that point as i turned away from the highway that I learned my first lesson in the vagaries of kharma.
Sometimes Lady Luck can be a b———**