So. Happy Father’s Day, just for starters on this crisp early morning in Enchantedland. The sun is still a pale orange promise shading the backdrop of mountains, and I finally have the quiet than can only arrive after the debarkment of a houseful of guests. If you don’t like the word “debarkment” you can go fuck yourself. Much of the power embodied in the Poetic License I earned by writing a book, and scribbling over 2,000,000 words published herein, lies in the right to make shit up.
OK, that might have been confusing. My Poetic License—the physical presence of which hangs all framed and gilded on the wall facing me now—grants to me various authorities to make shit up. Make up words, make up new sentence structures, make punctuation abnormalities routine, and, likewise, we poetic licensees can lie with immunities to the criticisms appropriately leveled at a regular person’s writings.
Which reminds me. I have a favorite word. It became my favorite word the first time I said it aloud as I was hoeing a row of sweet corn back to Austin, Texas. I was five years old and I was weeding a row next to Daddy weeding a row next to Mother weeding a row, who was next to my Gram—a quite young and handsome woman of fifty fewer years than today—who was cutting okra pods from their stems and dropping them into a bushel basket.
Gram used a sharp, hooked carpet knife to separate pod from stem, and the slimy okra juice had stained her hands and clothes. Granddad was still alive and kicking, and he was over to the Callahans Feed Store shooting the shit with whomever squatted with him at the card table that sat next to the cash registers. Sister was just turning four and she dragged Gram’s wire-trussed wooden basket across the clumpy surface soil between rows.
It was early morning and the prior night’s dew still chalked the dirt chocolate brown, and my clothes were damp—almost wet—from rubbing against the taller-than-me corn plants. “Pastor Browningwell gave an inspiring sermon last night, don’t you think?” Mother said as she wiped sweat, or maybe dew, from her face. My mother was a pretty woman of superior social upbringing from coastal Virginia, a woman who met and fell in love with a Johnson man from Austin, Texas. Met right after the war when Daddy was stationed at the Quantico Naval Base and was commissioned to decommission the Navy ships made useless when World War Two was terminated by Mankind’s second most destructive force. Dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese shortened the useful careers of much military hardware and software alike.
Mankind’s most destructive force is bigotry, hate.
“What part are ya talkin’ ’bout, Mother? They was some a that shit I don’t cotton to.”
That was Gram, and the tone of her voice caused all farming labor to cease. I remember that I nudged my hoe into the bottom of the row and leaned into its handle the same way as Daddy would do during the brief breaks taken when weeding. “Me, I wasn’t too happy with the pastor last night. I’m a thinkin’ we might a hired us a Grade-A, Nummer One assholie. Me, I’m a thinkin’ we shoulda hired that Martinez fella from down ta Brownsville. He was real handsome and had some big, strong hands on him. Pastor Browningwell’s got parlor woman hands—all clean and not a single sign a hard work. Cain’t trust a man with parlor woman’s hands.”
Mother bucked at Gram’s words and thrust the chest of her breast-filled work shirt Gram’s way. Defiantly, Mother made her point in defense of Reverend Browningwell. “I especially liked what he said about how we Baptists are the only real Christians and when he quoted Timothy to condemn the Sodomites.”
My father was a good man—honest, helpful, hard-working—and he loved my mother desperately. My mother was, is and has always been a bigoted and vocal right-wing Christian. Daddy spent an inordinate amount of his time supporting and defending Mother. I do sympathize with Mother in just the one instance. It would be hard for any conservative socialite asshole to be married into a clan of near-communist, hedonistic Texans. But Mother chose her life and did so in adverse disposition to the loud and strong advice of her own family.
“Let it go, Gram,” Daddy would plead. “Please, just let it go this one time—just this once.”
And just this once, Gram did. “Fuck it,” she said, and went back to cutting okra pods.
“Yea,” I said with enthusiasm, “fuck it. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it.”
I had no fucking idea what it meant, but I knew I had just fallen in love with a word. “Fuck it and fuck this and fuck that.” I started imitating a chicken, strutting and flapping my arms. “Fuck, fuck, fuc-kuk!” Daddy and Gram were finding my actions hilarious, so I pushed onward. “Fuck this, fuck that. Fuck the corn, fuck the okra,” and now I turned to Mother and said to her, I said, “and fuck you!”
The entire world went still, quiet. Seemed that funny had turned, suddenly, not so funny.
“Butcher Einstein Johnson,” Mother snarled as she grabbed my ear and twisted. “You will regret the day you were born!” and she started dragging me, by the ear, toward the house.
“Boy don’t know what he said, Honey,” Daddy pleaded. “He’s just a boy, Mother. Tell him what he did wrong and punish him next time—when he understands what he did was bad.”
Mother heeded not my Daddy’s plea and dragged my ass all the way to the kitchen, where upon she stuffed the dirty bar of Lava soap—used by the entire family to wash hands upon entering the house after work—deep into my mouth. I can still remember how it grated against my teeth and how I gagged when it rough-dragged against my soft palate.
“You’ll burn in Hell, Butcher, you’ll burn in Hell for certain. You’ve the Devil in you son, and it’s my duty to wash him out.”
You might notice that I was not referred to as Mooner in this story and your observation would be prescient. This was two weeks before my sixth birthday and a month before I started First Grade whereat I was nicknamed my first day in school. If you give a shit about that story, go buy my silly fucking book and read it for yourself.
“Muth ahs thon’th untherphannth, Muththr. Thwath ahth tho twronth?”
“What did you do wrong? What… Did… You… Do wrong??? You little heathen, you know exactly what you did. If you ever, and I mean EVER say that to me again, I’ll drop you at the orphanage and you’ll never see your family again!”
It seems that I stood frothing at the mouth and cramping all over my face for days. I cried and wondered what it was that I did wrong. It wasn’t until after we’d finished eating dinner that night and the dishes were cleared from the table that I learned I still had punishments to take. Mother pulled Daddy’s thin, black leather belt from the pocket of her house dress and said to us, she asked, “Who is taking the first licks on this boy for what he did to me this morning?”
The entire table looked down at their hands and said nothing. After a full thirty seconds of Mother searching for eyes with which to connect to her own, she slapped the belt on the table and said, “OK, I get it. Butcher, get over there and put your hands on the table. You know the drill, Buster.”
“But why, Mother? What did I do wrong?”
“You know what you did wrong, now get over there. Now!”
My mother hit me several licks and held out the belt to the table, and I started crying tears of hurt and misunderstanding. Family custom was that each person present could express a sentiment about the youthful offender’s transgressions and take a few licks in their turn. This time Mother stood alone with belt in hand, a slight to her that she took out on me. She whipped me harder, and said, “I asked who will be next.”
Again no answer, so she whipped me harder still. Daddy jumped from his seat and grabbed her hand. “That’s enough, Mother. The boy has had enough.”
Now Mother and I were both crying. “What have I done so wrong, Lord, that You curse me with all of this?”
Fuck is still my favorite word, and my mother left yesterday afternoon headed back to Texas from her visit to La Casita Johnson de Santa Fe. It was a weird visit and not totally unpleasant. It seems that Sister and Anna spent the ten hours of drive time to Santa Fe asking Mother to be nice. I know that because Mother told me ten times a day, and I’m telling you this story because Mother told it Friday night at the dinner party I threw in her honor.
I invited all of my new Santa Fe friends for a roasted pig BBQ to meet Mother, Sister and her wife, Anna, and also my third ex-wife (the same Anna). I had to be asked several times “where is your ex-wife?” before it finally settled with those invitees not close to me that two guests were the same person. Again, buy my silly book for further elucidations.
Anyway, Mother told this story on me not for its long term humorous natures of childhood mistakes, but rather, to illustrate just what a hard life she has endured at my evil hands.
“Sometimes I wonder if Mooner pays people to befriend him,” she asked the table of diners. “I also wonder what I did for God to punish me so. My son is a heretic and my daughter a homo-sex-u-al. I’ve quite a cross to bear.”
Anyway, as I said, it was a relatively pleasant visit and I only wanted to slit her throat twice. OK, I wanted to slit her throat ten times but only envisioned the doing of it twice. I’m glad she came and I’m glad she’s gone. She’s losing more of her memory and she’s unsteady on her feet and maybe she’s loosing some of her mean.
Maybe. Manana, y’all.