Monday, December 29, 2008

Jennings Road New Year

Walking down Jennings Rd. took me straight home. It was a straight road, connecting at each end to another straight road. The ditches on each side, piled with dirty globs of snow ran straight, paralleling the crumbling shoulder. Some engineer who laid out these roads at the turn of the century must have enjoyed using his t-square.

Sparky Krey, my neighbor and friend, wasn't able to come out and play. He had chores. He always had chores. He swept and cleaned in his father’s machine shop which occupied a low-slung building behind their neatly kept house. We might have shot some baskets or played horse. But not today. I had recently gained enough strength in my upper body so I could get the ball over the hoop. That accomplishment took a lot of pressure off me in gym class. I still couldn't climb the rope, hanging from the ceiling of the gym near the stage. Pathetic. Sparky could of course. He had developed early and had muscles on his arms. Mine looked more like twigs.

As I turned up our driveway, I stomped out footprints in the slumping piles of snow. My shoes made a cool set of V-shapes. Kind of like snow tires. They were my school shoes, and I wasn't supposed to be wearing them to play, but they were cool, one of the few cool items I had. The top closed shut with a big springy buckle. Black. Very stylish. The rest of my clothes always seemed to be last years or too small. Pant cuffs up over my ankles, shirts rejects from my cousin Bill. At least I had my shoes to stomp out my roadside story.

It was a grey day, not so unusual. The sky hung low but it was too warm to snow again. That would come soon enough. I could smell snow in the hours before the storm. It was a gift. The trees stood naked at the end of our property, scruffing out their space. Maples. Bumpy grey barked. Come March I would tap the bigger ones and try my luck at making syrup.
The driveway was the color of unfinished concrete. A pile here a pile a bit further, spewed out of the back of my Dad's concrete truck. He worked for Westview Ready-mix. If the truck was not emptied after a job, he'd swing by the house and pour the rest into low spaces in the drive, give it a quick rake and head out. Sometimes I'd stomp a footprint into the drying mounds. It made for a solid place to park the cars, but it was lumpy like a lava field. Crashed bikes and trashed knees were commonplace. I knew the Merthiolate bottle and Band-Aid box well.

It was the last day of the year 1959. A new decade was about to come. I was two years old when the last new decade happened. I don't remember celebrating; perhaps I was still in diapers? But this one was different. It seemed that my life might change when the ‘60 replaced the ‘59. I had live all of my remembered time in the 50's, and somehow I was connected to it. How could I pass into this future? How could I leave those years behind? How could I mark the moment?

My parents were planning an evening out. There was a party at the VFW my father was a member of. Highballs and dancing. Hats and horns at midnight. My brother and I had gone there earlier to help pump up balloons and put up crepe paper streamers. The band was there, setting up the bandstands and drums. A few vets were in the bar getting an early start. We kept poking our heads around the corner, hoping to get a bottle of pop or some bar nuts.

At the top of the driveway I stopped to pick up a handful of limestone, chucking it randomly into the fading afternoon. My left-handed throws aimed at the slumping snowman in the front yard gave hopes to my dreams of playing on a baseball team in the spring. I would finally be old enough to qualify. But could we pay the fee? How would I get to practice? And could I ever learn to field a grounder?

My stomach gave an empty growl as I threw the last stone. The air had shifted with the coming of the night. It blew cold from the north, sliding from the arctic and across Lake Erie and settling finally into the bottom of my lungs. It stirred cold and damp. A noisy truck rumbled in the distance. I could almost see the slate colored smoke belching from the stacks; almost see it fade into the dimming light across the flat Ohio landscape. I turned for a moment and saw a single maple tree dark against the western sky. A final leaf was shaking on a low branch, poise to fall into the New Year. I walked a few steps and stood by the branch. The leaf was not attached, but wedged between two overlapping twigs. I lifted them apart and the leaf went on its way.

A light came on in the kitchen window, and I could see my mother, with her hair in curlers, already prepping for their big night. A bluster of wind pushed me towards the house and hurried my step. Looking down I saw the leaf skitter by and fade into the darkness.

I don't know why, but I turned and retraced my steps and wrapped my arms around the maple.
The bark was cold and solid. Together, we said our good byes to the past and welcomed in the New Year.
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