Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Old Vacant Houses (1956-‘58)
Regardless of the title, the story to be is really a short story about friendship. We have perhaps only a few genuine friends in a lifetime, for myself, I can count them on two hands, and if I scratch the old one out, maybe one. In my old age, I can say I got a few more than I expected: Apolinario M., or perhaps Sister Marleny, Father Marcelo, and to be frank, my wife, whom I married not because I needed a wife but a bosom friend. While in the Army, Sergeant First Class Charles T. Hightower was a true a pure friend, he died in 1982. In my adolescent years, Sid M., he died at nineteen, and Bill K., he died in his thirties (and during those High School days, while at the school, I can’t honestly say I had any special close friends, a lot of acquaintances, but none I hung out with, Dave Olson was a friend of such quality for a short period of time). In my pre adolescence, my brother, and Mike Reassert whom I might consider to be my first friend, other than my brother, whom I met at St. Louis School, in 1956, and we remained friends for a number of years, whom this story, if I can ever get started on, is about, him and I, and vacant house.
As men we desire a multitude of relatives, —but we don’t call them friends, we live in crowds, some prefer them others not so much, but they are not friends, rather fly by night networks. And barfly’s are not friends, if you remain sober. At work we have work friends, but they are mostly part of the grid, but one can acquire, a lifetime friend; Robert Kramer, whom was the Vice President of Midway National Bank, in the 1980s and ‘90s, was a good friend, but the hardships of life separated us. We have brothers and sisters and cousins, and nephews, sons, and daughters—but are they friends? Usually not, just blood and sometimes similar DNA. Some have the wealth of servants, and father and mothers to help one avert the dangers of like, whereas we exactly see the contrary of a friend in them. Save only friendship would one give to the other, unsuspiciously and eager his or her time, and perhaps a lot more; my mother was more a friend in her retirement years than in her working years. What rank, what merit should we attach to friendship? One even loses his own relatives, careless it may be and scorns and jests, to content a friend. Some unhesitatingly to procure his own death to save a friend, save only friendship will do this.
As you can see in writing this preliminary part to the sketch out, I have gone quite the distance to talk about friendship, but Mike R., and I were like two peas in pod for number of years, especially when we went romping and searching old vacant houses in the St. Paul, Minnesota in those mid to late 1950s. I was eleven years old, Mike a tad younger. Empty and deserted buildings, houses, with apartments in them, which held several species of insects, to include all shapes and sizes of spiders, and designs in cobwebs. Looking about one becomes overcome by poverty which when you look back has no grandeur to it, these apartment complexes perhaps at the turn of the 20th century were luxury, were now ruined, moldy debris, drapery torn, waving out the broken windows, wine bottles allying about with branches and bits and pieces of bushes that were over grown along the side of the houses along with vines creeping in through the windows, and the summer breeze over my eleven year old conscious face, the houses wanting to once again to look respectable, but never will.
The view extends on the whole downtown inner circle of the city. A city along the Mississippi where small boats lull at the docks, and big boats glide down the peaceful river, where if you listen close you can hear the cracking of heavy rudders; the white ferry boats gleam in the sun, as we, Mike and I search the houses for treasures. I once found a large old Civil War map, kept it for a dozen years. And once a large framed picture of Notre Dame, of Paris, I kept it even longer. Such treasures turned the wheels of my mind back then, and provoked me in later years to go see Paris, and Notre Dame, four times.
Birds flew in and out as if from old medieval machicolations: some of those old houses had high arches from door to door and ledges that nests were constructed on, and from them the birds chippered at us, and pigeons had their say.
More often than not we’d spot a drunk, and his partner sprawled out in one of the empty rooms, with dilapidated chimneys on one side of a wall, and we’d gaze at them, and listen and breathed deep ready to run as if in the notch of battlement, enjoying the balmy air circulating throughout the rooms from the many holes in the roofs.
Most of the places, we romped through, were impregnated with pungent odor of the ruins. Thus, without thinking of anything in particular, I dreamed I was Marco Polo, soaked in sweat among the polished ivory.
Let me please end this with a gracious note if I may. Now in old age, health is the highest gain, but when you are young, as Mike R., and I were in those far-off days, contentment was the highest wealth, and that contentment came out of trust and friendship. We were free of the bad. We were good only because we were to each other, the noble ones. That is to say, we were at ease with each other. Unfortunately, children seldom find that in a parent, even when they grow old, if they could, they’d find a path to the stars.