The October People. Chapter 20: The Golden Pig
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost,
The Old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not touched by the frost.
From the ashes a flame shall be woken,
From the shadows a light will spring,
Renewed shall be sword that was broken,
The crown-less again shall be king.”
DREAM JOURNAL December 27, 2006
Night, in the City. There was something about 3 or 4 head injuries and the key to it....but I can’t remember now.
Melissa and I are walking, leaving the City. We pass a 4-floor apartment building with lit windows on the right.
After we had passed, something flew out of a top floor window. It was bat-like in its color, raggedness and the way it flailed, but it was child-sized. It fell to the pavement and bounced high 3 or 4 times. The last bounce carried it right over my head, so I ducked.
I wondered where it went, because I thought for sure it was going to land on my head. It simply disappeared.
Sudden shift of scene to that of a window on the top floor as seen from below. The window was dark, no lights.
A sinister stick-puppet appeared suddenly in the open window. It was ragged and black, with a maniacal Punch and Judy gap-toothed grin and wide eyes with the whites showing all around the irises.
I had the sense that it was alive and looking down at me with demonic glee.
January 14, 2007
I’m puzzled by more of these ‘persistent images’. Though I don’t know how to explain it, Babi and Dede seemed to have had Chinese friends.
Somewhere near the Deli there must have been a ‘take-out’ Chinese Restaurant. It was narrow, darker than the Deli, with old plank flooring. I don’t remember any decorations at all, or any tables. There was just a counter and a few wooden chairs along one wall.
Ah, but the smells here were wonderful too, though entirely different from the Deli’s. The people were thinner, darker, and didn’t dress as colorfully. Their lips moved less than those of the Czechs when they talked. But Czech or Chinese they all smiled the same.
I remember sitting on Babi’s lap in the kitchen there while Dede talked with a Chinese gentleman. There were 2 big, black, gas stoves there with black, cone-shaped pots on them. The lady who cooked so surely and moved so quickly was as slim as a boy, with 2 long, black braids.
Babi was very attentively watching her cook her way. Unlike Babi, she wore dark blue pants, a long, white shirt worn untucked in, and slippers. She smiled warmly as she gave me tidbits of food held by 2 sticks that she had cooled off by blowing on them.
Babi and Dede’s apartment was cozy, clean, and comfortable. The whole feel was old European. In the living room was an upright piano. There was a small table pushed into a corner in the kitchen, with 2 chairs. Dede and I usually ate there while Babi cooked and served. She would eat after we were done. Near the kitchen, in the living room, was a circular, polished, dark wood end table with a black rotary phone in the center on an immaculately white lace doily.
I remember seeing a Chinese gentleman in that apartment once. He was handsome man, with a rugged, bronze face, and silver-streaked black hair. He had a calm self-assurance about him. It feels like he was their honored guest and they were very appreciative of something he’d done, I think. He looked at me kindly, and smiled.
I was fascinated by his gold teeth.
All my life I’ve wanted to find myself a place in the country where I could be as self-sufficient as possible, and as far from people as possible. I wonder if that compulsion grew out of a childhood need to find a safe haven, a place where no one could get at me, where nobody could deprive me of food again. I do know that was I why first become interested in learning to forage ‘wild foods’: I wanted to be able to feed myself wherever I found myself, to depend on no one.
I don’t know exactly where or when it began, but I know that reading “The Swiss Family Robinson” when I was in Junior High really impressed me. And I devoured the Field and Stream magazines in the school library.
But it was learning from a Boy Scout that there were wild foods you could learn to identify and eat that was electrifying: This was free food. I bought myself a botanical handbook as soon as I could and began studying. Before long I had become adept at finding all kinds of wild foods.
Melissa was always amazed at my eccentric insistence on not only growing all our own food, but of also fostering the growth of wild food plants here so I could, literally, “Eat my way from one end of the property to the other”.
It all fits. But even if my interest did sprout from such a strange seed, it’s provided me with much satisfaction, taught me a great deal about the natural world…and I could now survive anywhere.
That ‘terminal’ conversation with George had been bugging me because I knew I had missed something at the time. It was only when I went over my notes of that call again yesterday that it became clear to me.
Jake suddenly starts going out drinking with George, picking up all his drinks and putting them on his credit card? He was deliberately buying George’s allegiance. But why all of a sudden? George had always been Jake’s lackey; he never needed to ensure his allegiance.
The other piece of significa was George’s out-of-place comment that Jake had to stay overnight at Al and Loony Lily’s when he came to do their ‘finances’. What finances? They’re on Social Security. To do their ‘finances’ would take less than half an hour, once a year at tax time.
No, unless they’re sitting on a pile of money that I don’t know about and they’re just hoarding it, there’s got to be another reason he threw that in: Because it would explain why he wasn’t in his office when I called down there to check my theory in March of ’06: He was over at the ‘parents’, doing their finances. Not up here in the dark.
I have ‘Caller ID’ block, but on his machine my calls would still have registered as incoming calls: Which means they grasped the significance of the alarms being set and had to come up with an alibi, and it took them awhile.
There’s gonna be hell to pay some day.
January 22, 2007
Al: “Hi, Frank. Dis is Dad. You…Mom jest wanted me ta letchu know sumthin. She said she had neva hurt chu, as you said… an when da…dat I led chu…she cut chu when you were 5 years old. Dat scar on ya forehead…was when ya tripped ova da wedding gown dat she was tryin on, on her 5th anniversary, (distracted by Lily)…You were, you were small, an ya ran, an ya tripped on her gown, an ya hit da armchair, an we took ya ta da doctor’s, an we had fixed it up (distracted again)…She jest wanted ya ta know dat…”
Lily: (Mumbling inaudibly)
Al: “Gramma was always around…an she loved chu very much too. An da…She…An dere was no way dat any of these things dat you said could have been done without somebody seein it an knowin it…So…”
Lily: (Mumbling inaudibly)
Al: “Cause we lived in an apartment, an we…Gramma was always around…”
Lily: (Mumbling inaudibly)
Al: “…We jest…”
Lily: (Mumbling inaudibly)
Al: “…Ya Mom doesn’t have ta defend herself, cause she didn’t do anything. I jest wanted ta letchu know dat. We had…We love you and Melissa, an hope ya come back ta ya senses! …Okay. We love you. Bye-bye.”
What on earth happened down there to prompt that? Interesting. When was it I supposedly said “these things”, and to whom did I say them?
Grandma Alter was never in the apartment, that’s one of the anomalies I’m trying to figure out. She lived only a block away, but I can’t ever place her in the apartment; nor for that matter Grandpa, or Babi and Dede. It’s like they didn’t want to be seen there.
She doesn’t have to defend herself against what? And what’s all this talk about me accusing her of cutting me when I was 5? Was she talking about something I had said when I was 5? Are they incriminating themselves again? Was she referring to Melissa’s telling her ‘How could you do that to your own baby?”?
But that revealed nothing. It could refer to anything. Lily was being specific. Not a word about Al being innocent, and him I did directly accuse of some things. I had the distinct sense that message was primarily intended for an audience down there watching that performance, not for me.
Ironic that she’d use Grandma as a defense because I’d been thinking about her. There was no way she couldn’t know something bad was happening to me, and that puzzles and saddens me.
Why didn’t she do anything to help me? I have plenty of memories of her now from those years. When I was really young, I was with Babi and Dede all the time, but starting around age 4 I was with Grandma, not them. Babe and Dede apparently asked too many questions, and Grandma didn’t. She was no cuddler, but I have no memory of her treating me badly. She had a good, merry laugh. The only time anyone ever read to me was when I stayed with her while Lily was in the hospital having Jakie.
He was born in February of 1956. Lily would bitterly recall that while she was in labor “…ya fatha was out dancing wit a redhead!”.
I don’t personally know where he was at that time. I was packed off to Grandma’s for the duration. I never saw him until we all were back in the apartment after Lily and Jakey were discharged.
I slept in the bedroom by the back door at Grandma’s. She kept a cardboard box full of old toys under that bed, and when she pulled it out I saw it included some of my ‘disappeared’ ones. I think she was becoming fond of me now. She still neither hugged nor kissed me, but she did seem to regard me more warmly starting that week, as if I had become a real ‘someone’. She read books to me, like “Little Black Sambo”, and played “This Little Piggy”, and taught me songs like “This Old Man”.
From then on, I always accompanied her when I was staying with there when she walked downhill to the grocery store, “The Cracker Barrel” under the ‘El’. The walk home was, naturally, uphill and she always stopped to catch her breath at the same place halfway up 72nd, near the wild cherry trees. She’d always laugh at herself for panting, and after a brief rest we’d start off again, with her pulling the 2 wheeled wire cart with the groceries behind her.
After Loony Lily came back from the hospital, Jakey stayed in the basinet in the living room at night, and in “the boys’ room” during the day. I had no sense of trespass or rivalry. I was fascinated by him; I liked having a ‘brother’ and I couldn’t wait for him to get bigger so I could have a friend to play with.
This was my first look at what ‘childhood’ was supposed to look like. When I asked if this was what they did with me when I was a baby too, I was brusquely told to shut up and stop being jealous. Lily curtly informed me that I was older, and when you’re older you’re treated differently.
But that wasn’t what I’d asked or why I asked it. I wasn’t jealous of him taking my place in the spotlight, I didn’t feel the withdrawal of their affections from me in favor of him; I never felt them to begin with. I just wondered if I too had been loved like that once. And I wanted to be a part of what was going on because all of this was new to me and I was filled with curiosity and questions. But I kept getting warned off, shooed away like a dog sniffing at the table.
Actually, I became an unintended beneficiary as their hatred of me took 2nd place behind their delight in Jakey. For something had changed with his birth…at least for a while. Suddenly, the 3 of them were a family.
Lily was as unemotional as ever, but she did attend to his needs. Al was effusive over him, and photos and movies chronicled his ascent. On one of her last visits here, Loony Lily told us that she and Al always considered Jacob ‘special’. When he was little there was a thumb-sized patch of pure white hair on the back of his blonde head. She told Melissa and I that they used to say that was where the angel touched him.
There were so many new sights and smells for me when he came home. The bottles of ‘formula’ required the strangely serious ritual of warming and cooling until it was just right for him. There was the strong fragrance of “Baby Magic” and “Baby Powder”, as well as the rank stench of the diaper pail.
Watching Loony Lily caressingly rub Vaseline into Jakey’s circumcision wound filled me with a squirming unease. I thought she had hurt him, but she said she hadn’t, a doctor did that.
I wasn’t sure I believed her.
On April 1, 1956, I woke up to my 1st ‘Easter’. Prior to that morning there was no mention of anything called an ‘Easter’, consequently it was no surprise that I was not anticipating it. I just woke up and there were 2 things called ‘Easter baskets’; one for me and one for the month and a half old Jakey on top of our brand-new TV.
Beneath the crinkly yellow cellophane not only were there fragrant chocolates and candies nestled in the thatch of green plastic ‘grass’ in those baskets, but alongside them were a few small beach toys; plastic shovels, rakes, pails, and even a little plastic reel lawn mower.
My guess is they were all from Babi and Dede. For the Czechs, Easter is a major holiday, on a par with Christmas. And Loony Lily would never have bought me anything, never mind a bigger basket than Jake’s. The dozen colored eggs were probably from them too. Only after the move out to the Island did Lily begin to do anything like that, and then she constantly bitched about ‘having’ to do it.
She sternly warned me of the ‘rules’ that morning before letting me have any: I was only allowed to eat the 2 that she pointed out, the ones that had my name on them. I gobbled them. I wasn’t allowed any candy, but I was happy with the eggs and the glass of milk to wash them down.
I know there was some sort of occult-related activity of a long-standing nature in Grandma’s house, which in the 3o’s and 40’s was on the City’s far rim.
Loony Lily often said with obvious pride that all the neighborhood kids thought her mother was a witch. She said that on Halloween, her mother would take down her long, black hair out of the customary bun she kept it in, remove her false teeth and wander around the unlit cellar with a candle. The kids would peer through the basement window and scare themselves, thinking they were spying on a real witch.
There was probably more to it than that.
Grandma used to tell fortunes. She read the Tarot cards, which she kept in their box on top of the dining room cabinet. She read mine once. She also read the tea leaves. She interpreted dreams with the help of “The Red Book of Dreams” and used the Ouija board. She was deeply superstitious and strongly believed in signs, omens, luck and ways of changing your luck. She warned Loony Lily that she’d come back from the dead to haunt anyone who laughed during her funeral.
When she was dying, Lily stayed at her bedside for almost 24 hours. She wasn’t grieving; she was watching and waiting. She drove the others to distraction with her obstinacy in staying there. They finally succeeded in making her leave the room for a few minutes, and it was then that Grandma slipped away. She wasn’t upset at her mother’s being dead, only that after all that waiting; she’d missed her last breath.
I remember now! I distinctly remember Loony Lily telling me that the reason Grandma never came to the apartment was that she couldn’t climb the 3 flights of stairs! It made her too out of breath! Caught her out in another lie!
It’s a constant source of amazement to see how much that Witch lies and lied. There is no way to correct and counteract all of them; it would make cleaning out the Augean Stables seem like dusting the house. She spent her life lying; there’s just too many of them, existing for far too long. Why does that realization, that I can’t correct them all, bring a strange sense of relief?
I feel like I’ve aged 100 years. I sure hope this loss of strength and energy isn’t permanent. Was all that power and vitality I’ve had all these years only fueled by unresolved anger?
Yesterday I suddenly realized that a change in my perception of myself has quietly occurred. Last year, when I first became aware of my ‘hidden past’, there was a strange distance about it because I was still who I thought I was for almost 50 years.
I was like a plant stem that had been severed from its real root and grafted onto another, foreign, rootstock. I saw that scarred child as someone not really ‘me’, but someone ‘else’. I even referred to myself in those photos as “That kid”.
Now that I’m ‘re-grafting’ back onto my original, true rootstock I find myself looking with a bit of distance at the man who for 50 years I thought was me. A blind, duped man who had done the best he could, but never realized something was wrong, something was missing. I had been split in half.
February 5, 2007
I was wrong about my family, my childhood and how I was viewed by my siblings and their families. Add to that not seeing what my own children thought of me, and that’s damn near a 100% miss record.
It should be obvious to me by now that as far as relationships go…I’m a moron.
So why do I persist in using that same defective vision in gauging how the future will unfold for me? If I persist in seeing the world as I’ve done, I stand a very good chance…no, a guarantee that I’ll be wrong again.
I’ve got to change.
Loony Lily: “Hi, Frank…an Melissa…Dis is ya Motha. You are makin me get sick! Because I’m not…We have neva experienced anybody not being…Uh…being in love wit each otha! It jest…An I can’t, all it jest makes…It is very not nice of you! An I don’t know why! An I’m jest letting ya know we still love you, we have always loved chu…Melissa…An I don’t unnerstan everything what happened…but we love you, but you are really making me sick! An it’s going ta be…It’s gonna be sitting near you when …if I don’t really make anything. Okay? I jest wanted ta letcha know. Okay, we love ya……..An, oh, we do wish you would call! Okay,bye.”
Odd, garbled message today from Lily. Was she saying I’ll be blamed if she dies? Mel thinks it was a veiled message that if she can’t pull this off, she’ll make sure I don’t ‘make’ anything either. Either way, she’s now rolling out the big guns.
Let the games begin.
What is this now? The ‘Year of the Golden Pig’!!!??? When Melissa came downstairs this morning and told me she heard on the radio that today was the Chinese New Year and it was a special year, the Year of the Golden Pig, something that only happens every 60 years, I felt the hair stand up on my neck and arms.
A month before this once-in-60 years Chinese New Year, and the October People suddenly call with a radically different, almost desperate, approach.
Then six days before it, she leaves that enigmatic message about ‘not making anything’. Is this a miracle? Or a cruel hoax? What are the odds of all these disparate bits coalescing around a year in the Chinese Zodiac?
But those words, “The Chinese New Year of the Golden Pig”, gave me a few more clues to that puzzle I was working on; Loony Lily’s “Golden Pig” tradition. After I had thought about it for awhile, I told Melissa about my work on trying to remember what Dede told me.
“You’re kidding me. You remembered that much? How come you didn’t tell me? That’s great! Now do you believe me? This has got to be the year that you come into your inheritance!”
“Now, wait. I don’t know...”
“Look, I don’t know whether I’m really remembering or I’m fantasizing so well I can’t see how I am; which would mean I’m really crazy. Or maybe Lily was right and I didn’t remember right what Dede said.”
“I don’t believe this. If you don’t trust yourself, you are nuts. This is the Year of the Golden Pig!”
“I’m sorry. I wish I didn’t have these doubts, but I do. But having said that, you’ll be pleased to hear I think I understand now why the Witch’s ‘family tradition’ of the ‘Golden Pig’ was so important, which makes me think there may be something to what you’re saying.”
“Because she used it to camouflage any recollection I might have of those 3 meetings and what Dede may have said. Think of it:
‘On New Year’s Eve, the Golden Pig flies through the air and leaves 12 shiny pennies, and they have to be that year’s, on the windowsill for each child.’
Right? That was the Witch’s version.”
“Okay. I think what she did was to take key words that maybe Dede said and wove them together. See? ‘Chinese’ becomes ‘Shiny’.The Chinese ‘New Year of the Golden Pig’ becomes ‘on New Year’s Eve the Golden Pig’ comes. ‘12 pennies’ could come from the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. And it’s awfully strange that the Czech word for money is penize, which is pronounced very close to pennies. And ‘lies’ could have become ‘flies’. The ‘window sill’ could be from ‘the window’ I think he mentioned. ‘And it had to be that year’ then would become ‘the pennies have to be that year’s’.”
“She’s good. Maybe the bit about ‘for each child’ had to do with the Witch not wanting ‘it’ left to ‘only one’, like you told me she was yelling in the car.”
“Maybe. She had a lot of time to work it out. She added the finishing touch when we began another ‘tradition’ on January first, 1965; that of going out to eat on New Year’s Day...at a Chinese Restaurant.”
“Oh, I get it. So instead` of ‘The Chinese have a New Year’, it became ‘To have Chinese on New Year.’”
“How can you doubt yourself on this? I mean, look; you think it’s just a coincidence that her ‘tradition’ is a kind of anagram of what you think you remember, and that it’s now the Year of the Golden Pig, something that neither of us knew anything about until this morning?”
“But how do I know I haven’t taken what could be a real tradition and made this all up off it unconsciously? Maybe I subconsciously heard something about this New Year...”
“Oh, God! You are so stubborn! You’re going to drive me crazy! Okay. Do you remember this ‘Golden Pig’ of hers dropping off pennies when you were a child?”
“Yes. But only for a few years. Two maybe.”
“Some ‘tradition’. Do you remember when it started?”
“Yeah. She came into our room, made us sit down and told us about it. That was after Christmas but before New Year’s.”
“How old were you”
“Let’s see. George had just been moved into the room with us, so Kathy had been born....1962 or 1963.”
“Right after these meetings where your grandfather promised you something? You told me you thought it was Christmas of ’61, then Easter and your 10th birthday, 1962. Then she starts this thing on January 1st, 1963. Coincidence? Fantasy?”
“Okay, okay. Pick up the marbles. You win. But it’s still too damn weird.”
“Remember what you said your grandfather told you? Maybe something’s due and she wants to get her story out there first.”
“What I said I thought he said. Christ, you know I have a real hard time with conspiracies… I know, I know, I’m the one who’s usually seeing conspiracies in everything the government or corporations do, but this…this is different. This is like a bad made-for-TV movie, with me in it…You really think she was going to come here and try to tell me some bullsh*t story to my face?”
After a lot of give and take the outline of something emerged that we could both agree on. But though it satisfied my requirements of repressing speculation and fitting the observed facts, I couldn’t accept it, wouldn’t believe in it. It was just too bizarre. Things like this don’t happen to me, couldn’t happen to me.
But, here it is:
Because of whatever they did to me, Albert was disinherited by his father. Whatever legacy there was would be given to me in the future and in the meantime kept where Al and Lily couldn’t get their hands on it. Unless they told me what they did. Then it could be released after it had matured, in the Year of the Golden Pig.
Loony Lily bided her time until Dede died. Then she and Al approached Babi and tried to get her to change what he had set up. Either she couldn’t or wouldn’t. Meanwhile more and more of those who were alive when all this had happened were dying off one by one.
As time went by there were less and less living relatives that could contradict the Witch’s spin on events.
When it was evident Rosa would be dying soon, Lily and Al tried to get her to do something too. Either she couldn’t or wouldn’t. That was why Rosa told me Dede had been right about everything. The $10,000 she left them was seen as an insult by Loony Lily, so it must have been a pivotal part of her argument to Rosa as to why Dede’s terms had to be changed. Maybe it was the amount Dede and Babi had given Rosa and Ralph to launch their business.
If there was either a Surrender Period approaching or a ‘drop dead’ date; Al and Lily had 2 options. They could take a chance and tell me something had happened to me, but not what people thought back then. She favored this option and wanted to portray themselves as the victims of a terrible mistake, a miscarriage of justice by which they were unfairly punished, all the more so because they had even raised me as Al’s own child, despite my being the offspring of a tragic rape. So, if I wanted to be a full-fledged, real member of the ‘family’ and a good son, I’d agree to turn it all over to their real eldest, Jake, and let him handle it. He was the ‘Money-Man’ after all.
Albert did not like that idea. He did not want to take a chance on my memory being jostled into remembering anything. He was scared to death of me. He wanted to skate and he wanted her to just accept the fact that they were “neva gonna have anything”. So what if it all came out after they were dead? They wouldn’t be around to be affected.
But Loony Lily wanted it and pushed and pushed: Which is why Al in desperation nailed her from time to time.
“Doesn’t that explain their behavior?” she asked me
“No, you’re right. No matter how uncomfortable it makes me, it does fit.’
“That was her plan. But you screwed it up by first showing you weren’t going to accept any bullsh*t stories from her and then by cutting her off. No more visits meant no more chances to spin things. And now you really did it by saying you’re remembering what really happened.”
“I still can’t believe she was going to tell me it was all a big mistake. But I’ll grant you that she did think she could make me swallow anything. Like getting me to believe I really was at Jake’s wedding, and that it was me who gave Al the hard time over the nails in the scrap wood. But to come here and say it was all a big mistake? I don’t know….But…Maybe that does explain why she’d want me dead.”
“Well, if she was intending to come and tell me some bullsh*t story, then after that confrontation at Emerald Lake she must have seen I was not going to accept anything from her like that. Maybe she figured if she wasn’t going to get anything, neither was I.”
“So, you think no matter what it’s going to come to you, that it doesn’t depend on them coming to you first?”
“Oh, hell, I don’t know. It’s just speculation again. It’s nothing that I know.”
“I can’t believe that family of freaks thinks I’m brainwashing you or something. You are the most stubborn person I’ve ever met! What is the matter with you?”
“I’m sorry. I just can’t. I can’t believe anything until I believe it. And the more somebody tries to get me to believe something, the harder I dig in my heels. I’m sorry, but that’s the way I am; all my life I’ve been like that. It’d actually be easier for me to believe all this if you didn’t believe me. But of course, that would lead to trouble between us because the more you insisted I was wrong, the more adamant I’d be, and I’d begin to see you as an enemy.”
“Maybe you are nuts.”
The more we talked about what seemed more and more like a 50-year-old conspiracy, the more a part of me rebelled in panic. If I could only remember exactly what happened and what was said, and not have to figure out why they did what they did, I wouldn’t be so worried I was getting carried away. And when I worried I was getting carried away, I began to doubt what I remembered, triggering that whole damn cycle of internal arguments all over again.