By Geoff Dutton
I am from a farm town that slid into suburbia in time-lapse frames
as I pedaled my paper route after school with a big canvas bag
bringing news of interstate highways and fallout shelters and Sputnik
and that the computers were coming but nothing about the Internet
and remember seeing constellations and eclipses and shooting stars
and watching kittens being born and hearing insects everywhere.
Oh the crickets and cicadas and fireflies and tiny frogs chirping in trees!
I am from a tall Catalpa tree by our porch planted on her honeymoon by
an old lady we knew with its popcorn flowers and string bean pods that
I had to rake up after they dropped and before I mowed the grass sitting
on a sulky my father had kindly made for our Reo lawnmower and
I remember my grandmother’s gardens full of primroses and
sweetpeas and sunflowers and roses and petunias and zinnias.
I liked her morning glories best.
I am from New England and upstate New York houses with quiet
parlors dimmed by Coleus and Geraniums smelling of damp and
tobacco with oriental rugs and overstuffed furniture and flyspecked
wallpaper and radios bigger than me and I remember a boy next door
who I never knew practicing American Patrol on his trumpet over
and over even though the big war my father did not go to was over.
I was five when I saw soldiers suffering a bitter Korean winter on TV.
I am from pogrom-scattered Russian Jews transposed in New Jersey,
merchants morphing into American farmers who forsook the land
for education and lost touch with their traditions and I remember
my aunts and great aunts making blintzes and matzo ball soup
and gossiping about their relatives in Manhattan kitchens while
the menfolk smoked in the parlor and worried about the news.
When I moved to there for college only a few were left to visit.
I am from mineral collections and model trains on a ping pong table
and electronic projects and my chemistry lab where I made soap
and dyes and fizzy stuff and high explosives that should have
killed me but I was lucky and I remember turning my lab into
a darkroom when I got my first camera and father taught me
to develop and print photos like the one I took of a chipmunk
after waiting an hour for him to emerge from his burrow,
under my treehouse where I went to read comic books.
I am from preachers and teacher elders who could bring out the best
in people even if they did not know how they did it except by
listening to people and being helpful even though they did not
always get along with each other, especially with my grandfather
upstairs watching Cronkite and sitcoms and with his devoted wife
and ranting about juvenile delinquents and commies and liberals.
I remember his pride in the hundreds of books that lined his study
that I sold after he died but now in my study I write at his big desk.
And I am from a mother and father who earned little but burnished
the world with their generosity of spirit and activism and taught me
to value truth telling and learning and respect for all and made
me do my homework and feed the chickens and gather eggs and
I remember being sent to Sunday school at a church by myself
where I colored pictures of the Holy Family and drew one of them
flying in an airplane in the clouds with their pilot Pontius.
That was my first pun.
image: Aerial map of my home town made by O.H. Bailey in 1882. When I was born we lived in a historic house next to the church at the lower left and across Main Street from the Town Hall.
Geoff Dutton: I’m a writer of stories, articles and commentary who works as an anonymous writer and editor of technical documents and academic arcana. Few of them have been published, mostly for lack of trying. My route to storytelling is unlikely. For years I performed R&D in computer graphics, programming cartographic techniques and geospatial data models in academia architecture and planning firms. I’ve consulted for defense contractors, a museum, and hardware and software companies. In 2000 and 2001 I put out a weekly blast on trends in information technology for an IT research firm, probably accumulating my largest audience ever. Over the last five years I’ve authored more than 350 online stories, memoirs and articles, and one novel. Some recent and archived writings can be seen on my blog, Progressive Pilgrim Review.