It all began on a cold night in January, back in 51. Snow fell, covering the Berkshire Mountains like a white down quilt. Inside a small cottage trimmed with icicles, a young woman and man held each other beneath a quilt of their own. Little did they know, in a few short months, Hell would break loose in the form of a son.
As a boy I stood watch at the forts I built and fought imaginary Indians. Later in life, I fought off wolves and learned to live with ghosts. There was a stream in the back yard, deer in the field and ducks on the pond. Stone cellar holes, hand-made by colonists sleep quietly in the forest today. No longer supporting homes, time has transformed those cellar holes into giant planter boxes for Maple trees. Now, those Maples stand tall, painting the sky with Alizarin, Sienna and Gold. Stone walls, built by colonists, snake their way from cellar holes into fields and woodlands. They fenced cattle, defined property and divided neighbors. Each of those elements is part of that indefinable something that made it possible for me to recognize myself. I never gave much thought to those days of sunlight spilling down through Maple trees. It is simply the way things were. It was home. And, I watched it fade in my rear-view mirror.
The black top stretched before me like a wound that does not heal and scarred my consciousness with a promise of redemption. I raced on. The whole country raced on. It was 1972. The summer of love was gone. It was a lie. Vietnam was anyone’s guess. My parents were getting divorced. In an odd way, their divorce made the senselessness of everything else seem reasonable. We were all engaged in a colossal exodus. To where, I didn’t know, but one thing was certain. I was leaving.
I could taste the soot in the air as I drove into Scranton Pennsylvania. It was 10:30 PM. when a neon sign lured me in. “DINER”, was all it said. I entered the twilight zone of late night breakfast. The pallor of yellow incandescence hung like a felon above mill workers seated at the counter. They sized me up with a glance. I sat in a booth. “What’ll it be hon,” the waitress asked. “Eggs over medium, home fries, bacon and English muffins” I said. She looked down, over the top of her glasses at me. “Not from aroun’ here are ya”, she said. She called my order out to the cook and headed for the jukebox. Change fell, she pressed the keys. I sat quietly, tapping my foot to The Coal Miners Daughter and the sizzle of bacon.
Time was marked by the ceiling fan; slowly it turned above the counter with cigarette burns, where shoulders bend into rising steam, from years of drinking in routine.
One long blast from a whistle rang out. In a single move of choreographed Americana, each man at the counter downed his java, adjusted his hard hat, reached to the floor for his black lunch box and stood up. They turned for the door and walked out in single file. I ate my breakfast and slept in the car that night.
The Mississippi River is a wide stroke of brown paint slashing through the gut of America. I didn’t care. Cities and scenery flashed by with cornfields, endless cornfields. Then, Omaha, Denver and Salt Lake merged in heat waves floating off pavement. I turned south.
“Mortuary, get married, divorce here.” Vegas screamed from silicon desolation with a nuclear, neon blast. Night falls everywhere except in Las Vegas. I parked in a vacant lot. Amid the glow of the almighty dollar, I slept like a gunshot deer on the hood of my car. By the dawn’s early light, I left Vegas.
San Francisco was in my sights; lands end, but that didn’t stop me. I went to sea, working on ships. Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Japan, South America, Portland, Seattle and the Inland Passage to Alaska all painted themselves on the ceiling of my skull. Killer whales and Bald Eagles perfectly accented the majesty of the Pacific Northwest. Evergreens on the shoreline seemed to grow from the rocks as the rain-washed over them and me. I turned back to San Francisco.
My life was crammed together like city buildings and the rush hour crawl. I sold shoes, managed a print shop owned a hot dog cart, an espresso cart, an espresso kiosk and for nineteen years, a janitorial business in San Francisco. During that time, I wrote songs and had three publishing deals. I wrote, I painted, I photographed and painted some more... always back to painting.
Then, one day in the rear view mirror, I saw thirty years behind me. I had spent decades leaving home. Now, that indefinable something had become all too definable.
It is when I create that I feel the best about myself. It is when I fully enjoy my life, my wife, my garden, and my dogs. It is when the little things are big, like sitting on the porch with a good cup of tea and watching the rain.
Standing on the porch, steam rises from my coffee and fades in the rain as I take the last sip. Then, turning for the door and shaking off a chill, I think to myself,
“It’s good to be home”.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Jake Brown
Jake Brown joined Fine Art America on October 13th, 2011.