The roots of my interest in writing go back further than reading my first poems to Sherry and has something to do with the songs of the 40’s and the nursery rhymes that our father taught us. It has something to do with my childhood play in the tall grass by the blackberry bushes. Talking to myself then, out in nature, my writing mind was born through the monologues, lectures, and soap box speeches I gave when no one was there. I was especially eloquent when the swampy land surrounding the bushes filled in with water and froze in the winter, and I had my ice skates on. Talking while gliding felt especially important. I don’t know what I could have known then. I don’t remember what I said. But I recognize the way writing happens for me now is similar to what happened back then.
Before Game Boys and Play Stations, kids had to be inventive. When color TV came into our living rooms, some mothers in the neighborhood said, “Don’t sit so close to the TV set…” and then something about radiation. Today, children use computers at younger and younger ages, even though to sit in front of one is like sitting in front of TV. We weren’t allowed to watch TV during the day whenever we wanted to, any more than we could have a shower every day. Back then we had no running hot water in our house and bath night was once a week.
It seems that I remember whole days when we would walk on furniture because we had decided that the floor was water, and if we fell in we would surely drown or maybe be eaten by sharks. Jim had cars made of clay with wax paper on their bottoms, which made them zoom across the kitchen table when he gave them a push. Dan, who only ate cucumber sandwiches back then, played outside with his best friend, Robert. We had elaborate ways to tease each other, like when Kathy typed a formal-looking document and tried to convince me with it that I was adopted, or when I scared Sherry with an invented devil that I named “Beggorah” and left notes from him under her pillow. We made paste from flour and water, and beauty potions at the bathroom sink. We wore sweaters on our heads for long hair and bath towels for skirts, playing “teenagers,” or we looked at the Sears catalog for hours, making imaginary orders.
When I first learned in catechism class that people had souls, I knew mine had to be in my mind. It was a special place of originality that no one could control or take away from me. I don’t really know where the soul resides, but I feel that mine speaks to me through my mind. It might say, “Don’t put that there, it will cause an accident.” It might say, “I love this…but not that…Go outside now and get some sun.” Or, it might say, “Go get some paper and write this all down.” And so, that’s what I do. I’m learning to do what my soul tells me to. Is that the purpose of life?
Post notes: Most of the names above are those of my siblings (there were 9 of us). Walking on Furniture is an excerpt from my book 2002, The Jim and Dan Stories – part an account of my brothers last weeks and their deaths a month apart, part memoir of growing up together in a large Irish Catholic family of 11, and part a chronicle of the first 6 months of grief and coping with it.