Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In the beginning there was fire

In the beginning, there was fire.
At least in my family. Or my memory of my family.
There was an oilfield in Minnesota. It was Fugate family's property in the early 1930s. It may be a depression for everybody else, but not for the Fugates, nope, because the Fugates had property and the Fugates have talent and brains and the Fugates have oil.
In my mind's eye, I see all All the bigass, moneyed, priveleged, Godblessed Fugates are strutting around on that moneygiving oil-spurting property. My Grandfather. His brother. Their wives. They're having a family picnic and celebrating all that privelege. Someone may even have wanted to take a photograph. Had them all cluster in together...

And some idiotasshole lights a cigarette.

The fire roars out like some bluewhite living thing, a hellspawn caricature of the Holy Ghost, and in microseconds the Fugates standing around are transfigured into writhing, screaming things on the ground like redmeat screaming illustrations from Grey's Anatomy.

My Grandfather is a tough Scots-Irish sonofabitch and it takes him a day and a half to die. He could've escaped unharmed. But he ran back into the fire to pull his sister out. And had third degree burns over 90% of his body.

My Great Aunt (Marion McLanahan) sees her Father, Mother, Uncle and various other relatives killed before her eyes. She is only 7 years old. Something about the horror of that sight fixes her at the age of 7 for the rest of her life. No matter how old she gets, she will always be 7 years old.
I know all this from my father's stories, the ones he told me when I was a little kid. Somewhere along the line, he stopped telling me stories and started telling me lectures His stories were fascinating. His lectures were boring as hell.
In my second year of college, I realized I had the great American novel on my hands. If I could just get those stories down on paper. But he wouldn't tell them anymore. I'd ask about grandmother louise's pony. He'd tell me that women were nest builders, I had to start thinking about my career, the world didn't give a shit about my goddamn creative talents, it's root hog or die, baby, root hog or die. How do you like them apples?
I'd get the lecture of the day. A massive assault on the sorry ass false onsxiousness he'd spotted in my skull. An exhortation that people were rotten and materialistic and the world would bust my balls and kill my pride if I didn't have money, property and a career--sound ground to stand on that'd allow me to tell the bastards "Kiss my ass."
But I'd persist and try to trick him into telling me fragments. I hit on the clever strategy of stuffing a tape recorder down the front of my jeans. Not the leak modern numbers. The bell and howell cassette recorder they'd bought me in 1968. Huge mother fucker. Half the time he'd notice it. "You sorry little shit. Did you stuff a goddamn taper corer down your pants. But I'd keep at it.
Tell me about the time Uncle Marion beat up the bully picking on Aunt Jo.
How you wanted to rig a pulley in the church, swoop down with robes and fake wings like you were angels, and steal the election plate.
The contrasts in the depression who'd come in the Hotel restaurant with a dead roach in a baby food jar-- and hide it under the food so they would have to pay.
Tell me Dad. Tell me.
90% of the time, he'd zero in like a secret missile on the theme of a root hog or die attitude in a psoriasis world.
Like Tristam Shandy. He never told the cock and bull story. He'd always veer off. A digression. A point he wanted to make.
But I kept trying.

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