Monday, November 23, 2009

Along the corridors of my soul

This morning, as I walked along the dimly lit corridors of my soul in search of something to share with others, I discovered this small room, way down at the end. I hadn’t been in there for many years.

I felt along the edges of the doorframe for a light switch. There wasn’t one to be found. What I did find sitting on the floor close to the door was an old kerosene lantern and a box of stick matches. Both of those items were antiques. They were clues as to the contents of that room. I picked them up and back out into the main corridor. The main corridor was dimly lit but compared to the inside of that little room a single candle would have been a brilliant light.

The little lever on the side of the lantern squeaked in protest as I forced the glass chimney to raise enough for access to the top of the wick. I slid open the matchbox, drew out a long stick match and drug it down the abrasive side strip. The match sparked and sprang to life, wafting that familiar sulfur odor under my nose. I breathed it in deeply, waiting for the scent to give birth to old memories. I wasn’t disappointed; they came to my mind’s eye in a flood.

I recalled how long it had taken me to grow a thumbnail of sufficient length and strength that would allow me to strike a match the way I had seen so many old western movie stars do it. It wasn’t as easy as they made it appear. How many times had I broken the matchstick because I used too much pressure on my thumb?  How many times had I received a painful flash burn because the match ignited so quickly and I wasn’t fast enough at getting my thumb out of the way in time? Finally I resorted to the tried and true method of dragging the match head along the outside of my denim covered thigh.

With all that remembering I had to blow out the first match and strike another, then I reached in and under the glass and lit the wick. It ignited slowly. I supposed that the wick had dried out a lot. I was fortunate that there was still some fuel left in the lantern. The flame grew and smoked badly. The wick actually needed trimming but I hadn’t thought to bring along any scissors. Dummy me!
The flame was burning more wick than kerosene so I adjusted the wick a bit higher and the flame brightened somewhat.

Stepping inside that dark room and holding the lantern up high I could begin to see the contents of the room. What a mess! There was a heavy layer of dust and cobwebs everywhere. I spied a rusty, old bow-saw laying on top of a chopping block. Suddenly I knew what was stored here. These were my memories from way back in 1953. Peppertown Ridge Road, Dearborn County Indiana, just outside of Harrison.

Suddenly I was overcome with feelings that I hadn’t experienced in so long, they felt alien to me. Want, need, hunger, no; starvation! It was much more intense than simple hunger. Hopelessness, depression and FEAR. Then I became aware of this growing weakness in my body. My knees wanted to buckle and stop supporting me but something inside kept them from giving in. Where was this strength coming from? It shouldn’t exist. I knew; it was my survival instinct taking over the circumstances. A hard life would not defeat me that easily. I was made of better stuff than that. BUT fear won out and drove me back out into the corridor.

“No wonder it has been so long since I’ve been in there,” I thought to myself as I could feel my strength returning. I stepped back inside long enough to retrieve the lantern, blew it out and set it back on the floor just inside the door.

Back in my writing room, I tried not to think about those days. If it’s true what they say and anything that doesn’t kill us has a way of making us stronger, then I should be Superman now. But I know; Superman didn’t cry or fear anything. I was weeping and fear had come and sat down on my lap.

It didn’t help when I thought about Mom and Dad and how those circumstances must have affected them back then. No wonder Mom died at the age of forty-three years. She had been consumed by worry and concern for her five children. The amazing thing was; she never allowed any of us to see it.

I watched Dad take his last breath and leave us. He expelled his last lung full as if it was a great relief. A life-long struggle has a way of doing that to the strongest of men. I don’t know what sense organ was functioning that allowed me to understand, but I knew it was time to let him go.  If he thought that we couldn’t have gone on without him, he was the kind of man who would have fought death with every ounce of strength he had. We owed him that final liberty. He had earned it. I took that great ham of a hand of his in mine and said “Go on Dad; Mom’s waiting for you.”  I think I saw a faint smile on his lips as he stepped out into eternity. There was a great “Swoosh” as his absence created a vacuum in my spirit.

That’s all I have for you today. Hope I didn’t leave you hanging. It’s just the wrong time of year for this kind of memories. Up with joy and happiness. Down with fear and sorrow and regret.    

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