Jackie can feel the low rumble beneath him. The breeze blowing in gently through the open windows. He is perched on the edge of the back seat, reaching up through between the bucket seats. His right hand clamped firmly on the shifter. James punches the gas a couple times making the rumble faster and louder. Jackie knows that he has to hit all the gears perfectly. He sits waiting for James to push the clutch in.
The clutch goes in, Jackie slams into first gear just in time for James to pop the clutch. He feels the rear wheels break loose as James starts to feather the gas to gain grip. Then the RPMs are screaming and the clutch goes in, second gear and this time the rear wheels just chirp but Jackie gets pushed back from the acceleration, he has to plant his feet against the front of the back seat. RPMs getting high again, in goes the clutch, third gear, no chirp, just power. The speed is pushing him back further and further but still he holds on. One more gear. Clutch, he catches fourth gear and a nine-year old’s fragile grip breaks free and he flops back against the rear seat.
Jackie knows the drill, sit up, seat belt on. The air from the open windows is howling all around him, and he’s watching the trees as they fly by. The thumping of his heart eases and starts to slow. Nothing left to do but wait until the next stop, then it’ll start all over. Just waiting for the next rush. Left with the smile so big that it hurts his face, he feels right with the world. He belongs.
(The names have been changed to protect the………well, you know.)
So much time has passed that details elude me. I try to remember because I know how much it would mean to me to remember. But I’ve forgotten so much.
Prospect, New York, a town of three hundred and fifty people or so, even now, was an excellent place to grow up in the 1960s. It taught me lessons about community and knowing your neighbors, about reaching out and helping where I could. It was the kind of place where a little boy could sell yesterday’s newspapers to the neighbors for a nickel with a cookie thrown in as a tip for delivering them right to their front door. It was the kind of place where a neighbor would stop by every day to have a little boy tag along with him up the hill to the post office and impart on him more wisdom and direction than he could ever know.
Mr. Thomas was very tall, or so it seemed to me but then I was quite small. I do remember that I had to reach high to hold his giant hand. He was a published author, though I didn’t really understand what that meant. He was most definitely a local historian, that being the subject of his writing, but I didn’t really understand about that either. I know that we started our daily walks to the post office before the age that I started school but I’m not sure if they ended altogether when I entered kindergarten or whether they were only relegated to weekends. You see, I’m not sure just when they started or exactly when they ended.
I don’t remember the contents of even one conversation we had. I don’t remember what his voice sounded like or what his face looked like. I only know that we had conversations. I know that whatever he said to me at such a young age clung to my heart and sparked a fire that has wafted and waned from time to time, but has never gone completely out. It has lost its way while I wandered down paths too numerous to recall, but it has always held tight in piece or part and is an ingredient in that recipe that has served as the core of that which defines myself to me. It is a component of me that seems as if it was always there. Its roots sunk deep into stone even when the wind and rain tried their hardest to sweep it away.
That spark has been a place to escape when things were difficult. It’s been an old friend to me on stormy days. A candle in the window and a fire in the hearth, arms to hold me, a gentle voice to comfort me. It has been a way to scream my most painful epithets to those who never had to feel their sting or bite. It has kept me from apologies I could never have found the words for. It helped me to decide what to keep within my heart and what to allow to peel from me like a skin that needed shed. It has saved me from myself and sorted out the webs and vines that twist from time to time to confuse me and make me lose my way.
In figurative terms, it has been a god to me but in reality, it has been the bridge back to my God. It has helped me to unwind and refine that which I believe and that which I don’t. It has helped to sort those things that I draw near to me and bask in, but also, those things which I shun. It has allowed things to flow from my heart that I did not know were mine. For better or for worse, it has shown me all those things that I am made of.
Such a difference the spark of writing has made in my life. Such a difference a kind old gentleman made, whether I can remember the details or not. I gave him my company in walking to the post office at the top of the hill and he showed me my eyes for seeing the world around me and turning it to writing on a page.