I am the youngest of four siblings, yet my memories have always gone back further than my sisters and brother. This is a painting of the house where I lived for my first six years (June 1955- June 1961). It still stands. The outside finishes and windows have been updated, but it is still the same tiny Dutch Colonial. It is almost totally obscured by trees on Google Earth. When we lived there, those Google Earth shots would have been impossible! The place was literally crawling with children! (also skipping, jumping, climbing, hiding & seeking, chalk drawing, running,etc.) 1955 was the crest of the Baby Boom after all. Crystal Lake was across the street. That is where the Ericsons, Hostermans and DeLays lived.
Our house was at 4438 Shoreline Drive, Robbinsdale, 22, Minnesota. Postage stamps were 4 cents. Flags had 48 stars. Everybody liked Ike. Our phone number started with KEllogg 7. I knew all this when I was three. My earliest and most powerful memory was being held in the arms of my godfather, Gordon, when I was just two years old, in the dining room of that house. He was looking out the door to the screened-in porch. I remember the feel of his laugh, and that it was one of the few times I felt truly happy and safe in that house.
Not long after that party, Gordy committed suicide. It wasn’t clear, at first, that he intended to. There was no note. Gordy had the form of acrophobia that would cause him to have a strong urge to jump from open heights. I have it, too. It is actually an idea, seemingly hardwired in the brain, that the scariness of being on the precipice would be relieved, if one would only throw oneself on the wind and fly. Gordy flew. His wings burned up like Icarus’ in the Sun. I simply never saw Uncle Gordy again; never smelled that smell; never saw that smile; never felt that embrace; never felt that laugh again.
That’s me, in the red jumper, asleep in Gordy’s arms. My therapist asked me, yesterday, when I showed her this painting, “So safety must be a big concern for you. What do you do to make sure you are safe?”
I asked her if that was a trick question.
We had much tears. The fact of the matter is, I have had little consciousness of safety since we moved away from that house. First Gordy disappeared, then we moved away from the Ericsons.
When an ex-offender, strung out on heroin came to my place of work and pulled a gun on me, I was too numb to be afraid. My safety was not on my radar. It was beat out of me at an early age. I just calmly sized up the man, determined what his real motives were and helped him achieve them in a way that was best for everyone concerned. It involved me driving with a loaded gun poked in my ribs for 17 miles. He got into rehab, not prison, and, as a side benefit, I got to live. I knew he was serious and I knew he could pull the trigger. He had done so before, after all, in an armed robbery. I had met him in my role as a volunteer, prison chaplain. We have gotten ahead of our story. It is a memoir. There are no rules for these things to be absolutely chronological, as long as there are good stories, right? I’ll try to tell good stories, and some of them, I dare say, most of them, will be true.
(If you want to purchase this painting, or others by me, visit www.shoutforjoy.net)