Thoughts by Richard Bleil
For what seem to be obvious reasons to me, I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood. I’m told that when I was born, we were living in Cincinnati, but I really don’t remember that. I’m familiar with the neighborhood where presumably we lived since my aunt lived on the same street and we would periodically visit with her. The first house I recall was in North Riverdale, a suburb north of Dayton, Ohio. We lived in what at least to me seemed like a large house which we rented from the church which wasn’t next door, but next to the house that was next to the church. It was very cool and had a “peace” tree in the yard. We called it that because the trunk only came out of the ground maybe a foot or two, then split into two large branches looking similar to a “peace” sign. The church owned both our house and the one between the church and our house where the minister or pastor or father or whatever his title was with his family. His daughter actually played the game “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” in her basement, and, yes, her suggestion. I’m not sure how old I was at the time, but we moved out after fourth grade, so I was younger than nine. I’m thinking maybe six or seven?
We had an external garage. Dad used to plant tomato plants on the north side of the garage where they never got direct sunlight. Well, almost never. It was actually an interesting experiment in botany. The plants grew very tall, and never bore fruit until they reached the top of the garage and DID get sunlight. We always had tomatoes late in the season and always very small.
I actually learned quantum mechanics in that house. No, I was not a child prodigy, but there was a screen door out of the basement into the side yard that was kept shut with a long and relatively thin spring. I learned about harmonics there; I would spend quite a bit of time pulling it down and releasing it so I could watch it vibrate in a primary wave. Eventually, I plucked one side up with one hand, and the other side down with the other and released them together, creating a secondary wave (vibrating in two locations) with a “node” in between (a portion of the spring that didn’t vibrate at all).
Mom was kind of a traditional “old-fashioned” mother at the time, believing in the stay-at-home mom who took care of the house and kids while dad brought home the proverbial vegan bacon, but she got bored when my sister and I were away at school all day long. Eventually she started working for that church part-time. I still recall the smell of the mimeograph programs for the services. I’m guessing a lot of my readers are too young to understand what this means, but it was pretty cool. I almost said “intoxicating”, and it probably was since the smell wasn’t really the ink per se as was more likely the solvent.
The neighborhood wasn’t, as I understood it, the best, and survival kind of dictated that your goal was to keep your head down and go unnoticed. Dad used to save money in a drawer and would put a little bit of money away each paycheck for a new house. We moved from there to a suburb south of Dayton called Centerville where the goal was to be very noticed and play sports. As I understand it, dad paid cash for the house. Not an easy transition, and I never fit in, a reality that was pointed out in a social science course in middle school when a teacher was talking about “belonging” and said something to the effect, “and some people, like Rich, don’t really fit in well and probably never will.” I think his name was Mr. Obvious as I recall.
I saw my first pair of naked breasts there. My sister was out on a date, and my parents took me to a sort of sports bar restaurant. You know the one, but I’m reticent to mention it by name. Sitting at the table, mom and dad faced me, and I faced the bathrooms down a hallway behind my parent’s backs. The bar was off to the side, and a group of young people were getting louder by the minute, do doubt annoying my father who never liked noise. Eventually, a young woman wearing a soft fuzzy light sweater left the bar, and I watched as she walked down towards the bathroom. Coming back, walking directly towards me, that soft sweater was tied around her neck. She kind of smiled at me as she walked towards me very subtly. She turned and went back to the bar, when suddenly the crowd burst out into screams and hoopla, attracting my parents’ attention. Mom noticed that this woman was topless although she could only see her from the back. She put her hand over my eyes telling me not to look. They never knew that it was too late.
At that house, I drew a little alien face on a piece of paper and painted it with cobaltous chloride. We hung it on the wall, where it would be blue when humidity was now, and pink in high humidity. After I moved out (my sister was already gone), mom and dad decided that the house was too big for the two of them and moved to a smaller one. I always wondered if the new owners kept it up on the wall (my parents left it), and if they did, if they ever figured out what it was doing. I often wonder about humorous conversations regarding it. “What’s the story with that pink alien in the garage?” “Pink? Do you mean the blue one?” “Uh, no, it’s pink…”