Down By the Bay (with apologies to Raffi)

The little house down by the bay, where I grew up, was called the Rookery by the locals - this was back when they stilled called crows "rooks." I was in my teens before I knew that, but I sure as hell knew about the crows from the time I could talk. They were everywhere around the house - my brother, Ronald, and I got to know them so well that we could even tell some of them apart from the others. We gave names to our favorites.

We didn't mind them, but they were the bane of my father's existence. He spent most of his life trying to make the watermelon patch out back into a cash crop, and the crows would eat them before they could grow beyond seedlings. About every half hour he'd shout "Boys! Crows!" and that would be our signal to grab a couple of brooms and chase the crows off of the watermelons. They always came back.

It's just my mom and her nurse there now. I took off the day I turned 18, left California all together, and ended up in St. Louis. Ronald joined the army, came back a bit worse for wear, and started a family outside of Phoenix - he works in some sort of technical job. Dad died of a heart attack with a broom in his hand, but he got his wish: for one reason or another, the crows are gone now, too. There are still watermelons; Ronald and I pay a couple of gardeners to see to that. I like to think that the watermelons are his gravestone - his eternal monument, growing anew every year. 

Ronald goes back to the Rookery now and then to see Mom, but I don't dare. It's simply too depressing for me to see what kind of shape my mother is in, and the things my mother will say. She doesn't recognize me; mostly she just stares at her hand, or fills nonsense into crossword puzzles. Occasionally she'll spout some gibberish, like "did you ever see a bear combing his hair?" or "did you ever see a nail that looked kind of pale?"  I never know what to say, and I can't handle that. 55 years old, a successful man, husband and father, and I don't even know what to say to my Mother. In that awkward second when she asks her questions, I'm a failure.

Mom is far gone enough now that most days she doesn't remember me at all, but I remember her. The crisp linen smell of her dress - it always smelled line linen, even when it was splattered with watermelon juice like one of those colorful Jackie Kennedy dresses that were popular when Ronald and I were little. We used to joke that the dirty dresses made her fashionable. And they did.

When Ronald came to tell her she was going to be a grandma, she just stared at him for a while, then finally said, "Did you ever see a llama wearing his pajamas?"

Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow. Back to my home, I dare not go. For if I do, my mother will say "did you ever see a moose kissing a goose?"

Down by the bay.

(I wrote this about 5 years ago and rediscovered it today)

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Adam's New Book: Sept 2013