Heating Oil and Monkey

I can smell Dad now: he smells of heating oil and monkey. Having consigned his adult self to fixing refrigerators and oil heaters for a living, it was all Dad could muster, given the abuse he suffered as a child and his subsequent breakdown at the age of seventeen. Repair work — Dirty, grimy work, helpful work that made others’ lives better — was tedious work of which his beautiful mind grew bored. So, every evening in order to decompress he carried a newspaper pouch heaped with leftovers across Second Street to his pet monkey, Squeako. The beast’s Sacred Feeding Time was sacred to them both. Mom refused to go. She had had enough of the monkey business — all the injuries Dad’s various monkeys had inflicted on her and Dad through the years. Often he allowed me to go with him to feed Squeako.  This was where the mere memory of Squeako and Dad combined to make that sharp blend of monkey and heating oil. It permeated his skin and clothing. I both hated and loved its pungency; it invades the nose of my mind right now.

He — Dad, not the monkey — could have been an architect. As with any creative, not all of his ideas were home runs. But, judging from his many brilliantly conceived ideas such as the the Luggage Buckle, and the Tricycle Go Cart (fastest in the hood), and the Duct Tape Butterfly Bandage On the Six Inch Chainsaw Wound (self inflicted), the Taj Mahal For Primates turned out to be one of his best. He designed and  built an elaborate network of rooms and runs: a heated feeding room, an exercise room, sleeping space and the piece de resistance (in Port Angeles we called it the piece of resistance): the Sun Tower. Ah the Sun Tower, but I digress. Another time, perhaps, you and I will pick fleas together in the Sun Tower. Right now, I want to talk about Dad’s music.

As a professional musician myself, I can say with confidence that Dad’s musical talent was of the highest caliber; he possessed an excellent ear and a fine-tuned, silken voice of phenomenal range. His rhythm was on point, his interpretations were marked with great insight and tenderness. This was a man of great creative potential, potential of pure essence stripped of him at an early age by his own father who quite thoroughly abused him. At the age of seventeen Dad, before he was Dad to me, snapped under the strain of abuse. To say he never recovered his essence would be a gross understatement, though it helps to believe he did the best he could.

So, it’s a thing worth thinking about. Abuse often triggers the onset of mental illness. Here’s a link: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/15/how-child-abuse-primes-the-brain-for-future-mental-illness/

Abuse, a prolific breeder, begets a many things. It begins with verbal abuse which, in turn, spawns emotional abuse. You can’t document verbal or emotional abuse. Can’t take a picture of it. Hard to get a witness. It’s insidious that way. Makes you think you are the crazy one. Then, abuse breeds more abuse: physical, sexual and where does it stop? So a person copes by shutting down all but the most basic survival system. That’s what happens to so many abuse victims. They, in turn, abuse because abuse and subsequent shut down have stamped their imprints onto their psyches. Such was the case with Dad when he was a boy, and it all started with words. Not only is this worth thinking about but it’s worth changing ourselves for.

Abuse –our rampant societal ill — from parent to playground to President — smells to the mind a whole lot like an uncleaned monkey run. Abuse starts with our words. Escalates from there. Like a slow buildup of discarded banana peels, buckwheat pancakes, oatmeal slime and sodden newspapers, the stench builds as the breakdown of waste continues to pollute that which was once clean and new, until that place becomes unreachable.

Such wasted space robs us all.

Mental illness is a huge problem. And where does much of it begin? Perhaps it begins with the quieter thing to which we have grown accustomed: verbal abuse. We do not have to scream at or beat another person in order to abuse. Perhaps we as a race have grown so accustomed to a verbal abuse so subtle that we do not realize we ourselves are abusing others with our words, with our put downs and our withholding. Abuse spawns more abuse,  so why not prevent what we are able to prevent? Why not nip it in the bud and stop our cruel words, our unkind actions? Or let’s stop withholding and actually dare a conversation about the effects of withholding? This is where it begins.

Dad failed to reach a potential that matched his gifts. He didn’t need to be famous or spectacular to be successful. Most of us don’t. He did need to live the way he was designed, in accordance with his gifts. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and subsequent mental illness stole real life from him. Adult he, in turn, abused his family, withheld from us. And, when life got to be too much for him he went to that dark fortress he had erected in his mind, one not unlike the Taj Mahal For Primates. Instead of giftedness, he smelled of heating oil and monkey.

Perhaps I am being unfair. On church days he added Old Spice to the mix.

Refrigerator Box Stories

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Big Bad Wolf, last seen wearing Granny’s nightcap, sails a derelict boat named Harley and reportedly escapes to Canada.

The inspiration for Little Red Riding Pants came from my father who suffered from mental illness. I realized even when I was a child he went in and out of a catatonic states and was becoming unreachable. I also knew if we walked together the soothing rhythm and sway of walking would open him up and he would begin to talk to me. Many nights he spent time walking with me downtown to the big zigzags that ran like hairpins up the face of the hill overlooking First Street. We raced up and down those zigzags; he, clumping along in his lace up work boots, pretending to lose the race to my two dollar Mary Janes. We didn’t care. We had fun.

I remember being thirsty for his words. He told me love was the most powerful emotion in the whole wide world. I remember wishing he would tell me more.

While I was still little, before his mind slipped away forever, he spent a lot of time reading me bedtime stories. With a wildly creative mind like his he couldn’t help but make many of them up as well. All the neighborhood kids loved him for his pranks, stories and, of course, Squeeko his (real)pet monkey. Kids didn’t know how much he suffered. Nor did it matter to them. There was no stigma. All they knew was he spent time with them. With him they were completely safe.

We lived across the alley from General Electric. Every week they put out tall refrigerator boxes in the alley for the trash men to take away. I assisted the trash men and hauled many of those boxes across the way to my back yard where we built super-deluxe refrigerator box forts. When the neighborhood kids caught word, they brought sleeping bags and flashlights. Then we waited, our faces all lit up, whispering until Dad appeared. Not that we saw him at first. We knew he had arrived when we heard the scratching — soot-blackened fingernails on the sides of the fort and a low “Mwoohahahahaha…” of his voice. Of course we squealed, pretended we were freaked out. He hunched into the shape of a “C” just inside the box opening and told stories and sang us songs.

In the Sixties and Seventies there was precious little help for those who suffered from mental illness, mainly primitively administered shock therapy, something that scared him to death. He told me so when I was just a girl. My audio book, Little Red Riding Pants’ Narrow Escape is a tribute to Real Dad, the Dad who sometimes held me close and spoke of love and stories, before his wonderful mind disappeared, irretrievable from an illness that robbed us all.

Here’s a link to Little Red Riding Pants’ Narrow Escape: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/evastanfield

Swain’s General Store, Part Two

 

Perhaps, I spent my most memorable moment at Swain’s when I turned ten, long before I became an employee. Every year we Stanfields made homemade root beer with Old Fashioned Root Beer Soda Mix (gotten at Swain’s, of course-at least in the sixties). We kids picked discarded beer bottles out of garbage cans, and bought new bottle caps because, of course, Birdie Stanfield the Self Sufficient One owned a bottle capper.

While we mixed the root beer, that fragrance of warm, fruity brown liquid filled the house and reminded me of gentle ice cream pillows in an icy mug piled deep with sweet, latte-colored root beer foam. All I wanted to do was jump into a root beer float and do the backstroke.

Mom said we had to let the root beer ripen for a few weeks which, to a little kid felt like a few years. With great reluctance, we capped the beautiful, drinkable nectar into bottles and set them in a dark pantry on the back porch beneath the watchful eye of a dim light bulb for a very long time.

We had plans for that root beer.

When it finally reached its full bloom of flavor, we each grabbed a bottle, snapped off the bottle caps, and set out for Swain’s. And bragging rights.

Oh, the looks we received. We were too cool, parading through the scenic hills and valleys, the aisles of Swain’s, taking deep swigs of root beer from umber beer bottles, checking out rows of Can’t Bust ‘Em jeans, steel-toed boots, and Welch Leather Loop suspenders. Concerned shoppers stopped to stare, looked away, walked again, stopped and turned back with incredulous eyes pulled to the irresistible magnetism of a double take.

We took the evaluation process we could see taking places in their eyes as our cue to leave, so we bought popcorn from a cashier too busy to notice our bottles, and finally burst out of that store with our now empty beer bottles. My brothers and I inhaled deep breaths of pristine air, laughed our heads off. I felt older, smarter; the fine edges of my newfound cockiness blurred ever so slightly by the ittiest aftereffect of guilt.

Ah, Swain’s, as much a part of a Peninsula childhood as log booms, mountain lakes, fishing, and a River called Elwha the color of cat’s eyes rushing to an icy Salish Sea.

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Swain’s General Store, since 1957

Have you been to Swain’s? You can see Sasquatch paraphernalia on an end cap, a great selection of camping gear, and some seriously tough clothing built for such a place as this glorious and sometimes punishing Peninsula. Oh, and you might want to try the popcorn, which you will find situated at the front, close to the cash registers.

Swain’s General Store

It’s not that the Olympic Peninsula doesn’t have much to offer a visitor. It does, but I am compelled to ask, have you ever visited the real Port Angeles? Have you experienced the intricacies and possibilities of an iconic place of business with its own internal landscape as vast and varied as the space it inhabits: have you been to a place called Swain’s?

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Swain’s General Store “has everything.”

Sure, on the Olympic Peninsula, pristine lakes drop exclamation points beneath tips of craggy crevasses and lap at ragged edges of evergreen bowls in colors too exquisite to name;  just one of their colors impossible to label, all colors unthinkable.  It’s true, rivers the color of cats’ eyes furtively search their banks for silt to shoplift from beneath arthritic roots of black evergreens and umber feet of Madrona trunks clawing and scraping glacial melt that rushes  by from snow-capped peaks, strutting joy down, down turbulent avenues to the depths of the Salish Sea. This piece of land, this Peninsula, nearly an island hanging by threads of ragged inlets like the sleeve ripped from the body of an entire continent, promises astonishment, joy, and unsurpassed beauty, yes. But have you gone to Swain’s and checked out the jutting fishing pole trees and acres of outdoor clothing? Have you seen all the mountainous flavors of Idaho SPUD candy bars, Aplets and Cotlets, and Almond Roca there, or observed rivers of nuts and bolts, galvanized thirty gallon trash can-invaluable for monkey capture-rushing down the main aisle to cash registers, flowing into pickups waiting like handsome steeds in a rain-soaked parking lot?

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Olympic Mountains

When I was a kid, I grew up in Port Angeles, the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, set like a gemstone amid the stunning backdrop of the Olympic Mountains . We lived in a Victorian, five bedroom house right across the alley from Swain’s General Store, on Second Street. We frequented Swain’s every time we had a need, especially when we planned to hold one of our famous yard sales beneath the maple tree, not that we kids were much competition for Swain’s. My brother, Jack, perhaps the most successful businessman of us four kids, paid Little Susie a penny for every paying customer she could find in the neighborhood and bring to the sale. We ran to Swain’s for tag board and markers so we could advertise effectively. Swain’s had everything, after all, from tag board to shoes. Don’t forget the popcorn-ten cents then, twenty-five cents now.

With paper route money I bought my first horse bridle and gleaming saddle in the equestrian aisle, across from sporting goods, where I also bought fishing tackle and a license too, right before I went fishing at Peabody Creek. I even got screws for Dad when he sent me to Swain’s on an errand to the hardware department, deodorant for myself when I began the perspiration of adolescence (Chapter Three of my book Second Street), and slippers for Mom at Christmas. Swain’s existed as our sole go-to place outside of the Tradewell Grocery Store and the garden in the back yard.

It was from Swain’s I stole my first and last package of headbands the colors of a rainbow. I always was a sucker for color; I admit, the beauty of those headbands proved irresistible.  Across the alley I, thief, sprinted, and I hid them in the branches of the pear tree in our side yard, where Mom wouldn’t find them and I could return to get them later. But my experience with Swain’s was about to teach me crime did not pay.

I was wrong about Mom. As a perfectly balanced counterpoint to Swain’s motto, “Swain’s has everything”, it could safely be surmised that “Mom saw everything.” I swear she had eyes in the back of her head, because she saw me hide the headbands. Big mistake on my part, an underestimation the size of a gaping hole in the black earth of my thieving sole. After the bitter sting of a pear switch across my back side, she marched me across the alley to apologize to the lady behind the counter at Swain’s. Mom made me give the headbands back.

When we grew old enough to work, three of us four kids got jobs at Swain’s. I began at the age of fourteen as a Christmas bagger, graduating into a cashier position when I grew old enough. I worked for a total of seven years at Swain’s during Christmas and summer breaks and learned a lot of important lessons like:

  1. The customer is always right
  2. Be polite, no matter how bad you feel.
  3. Start work on time.
  4. Hardware is everyone’s friend.

Swain’s was, still is, a great place to work. Thanks goodness they forgave the headband incident of childhood and gave me a job.

To be continued….

 

Squeeko

The Rhesus monkey, Macaca Mulatta, inhabits India, northern China and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Florida (since its introduction there in the early Twentieth Century). It also migrated to parts north, along the west coast of the United States. Recent history reveals the rosebud-faced primate was reportedly seen roaming as far north as Second Street Corridor in the city of Port Angeles, Washington in the Sixties and Seventies. Details of this adaptive creature have been documented in a yet-to-be-published work entitled SECOND STREET. The book is about Second Street, a place near First Street.

In addition to lots of interesting  and questionable facts, the author of SECOND STREET claims the existence of four additional monkeys, supposedly descended from the same familial line and raised on Second Street.

Since Second Street is near First Street, and in the vicinity of Swain’s General Store, it is worth considering whether or not the monkeys shopped at Swain’s General Store. Local wisdom says they may not have actually shopped there, though there was much speculation about where the package of headbands and five Idaho Spud Bars came from.  In addition and furthermore, it doubtful the monkeys were seen at Swain’s at all. The store’s motto, “Swain’s Has Everything” proved untrue for primates: they had no bananas.

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Unfortunately, Squeeko was fatter than the Rhesus shown above, due to his excessive buckwheat pancake consumption..

. The book SECOND STREET contains mostly factual information.

It should also be noted the monkey’s diet includes insects, fruit, vegetables, mice, rats and, when seasonally available, very young children.