Before we begin today’s entry, I’d like to thank everyone who is reading this and commenting. I appreciate the additional memories, which will help when I eventually pull this all together and format it as a regular book. To those who have written and asked about my other books, I refer you to the “About” section at the top of the blog, which has links to my novels. All of which are for sale! Also, does anyone besides me find this typeface too dim? If so, let me know and I’ll use a different template. They won’t let me just change the color of the font. Also, the comment thingy at the bottom doesn’t work right, so if you comment there and it doesn’t come up, I probably saw it on my end but it didn’t make it into the blog. I can always be reached through my email, email@example.com. Now, as they used to say on the Lone Ranger, let us return to those exciting days of yesteryear…
Back to Uncle Oke.
When I had earaches, and I often had earaches — some sort of West Virginia congenital defect like flat, oversize heads with pale, wispy blond hair, like the kid who plays the banjo on the porch in the movie Deliverance — Oke would fire up a cigar, put me on his lap and blow a steady stream of smoke into my afflicted ear, over and over until the pain faded away. Go ahead and laugh, but it worked.
Antibiotics were still fairly new, at least in West Virginia, so we didn’t get them for my earaches. Later, yes, but not then. My mother had been prey to earaches as a child, so she knew how much pain I was in when I was caught in the demonic clutches of one. Unfortunately she didn’t smoke cigars, and my father was out of town during the week, so I would lay in my bed and suffer. And suffer I surely did. Later when Penicillin became available, we would get a shot for everything that ailed us. At the first sign of a sniffle or earache it was off to see Doctor Leeson in his home office where he would take a look at you and whip out his hypodermic needle and give you a shot in your right buttock. His office looked like one of the illustrations in the Life magazine series, Great Moments in Medicine. Not the ones showing ancient Egyptian doctors plying strange medical methods like drilling holes in their patient’s heads to let out devils, but the drawings of doctors in Victorian times, complete with sterilizers sitting atop gas burners. Dr. Leeson had white porcelain trays with hypodermic needles boiling away, just like the drawings. Remember, this is West Virginia in the 1950’s. In many ways we weren’t all that far away from Victorian England.
Another example of our medical backwardness was one of the kids in the band, Bob, a clarinet player, often came to school with an assafidity bag around his neck. Assafidity is spelled many different ways, the Internet tells me. This was an old timey prescription for defeating colds and the flu. Very strong smelling herbs were put in a little leather bag on a leather necklace that was worn around the neck to ward off whatever evil it was that gave you these diseases. The smell was not restricted to the wearer; everyone else in class was aware of it. Bob was embarrassed about it, but not enough to go against his mother’s wishes. I don’t remember anyone ever making fun of him for it, we just knew that parents were odd but when they told you to do something you did it. Most of the time.
Dr. Leeson wasn’t our first doctor, that would be Doctor Jones, a short quiet, no-nonsense pediatrician who taught me my first painful lesson about being lied to by an adult.
This is a good time to introduce my sister, Sandy.
My sister is two years older than I am. My mother always said we were a unit when we were little, referred to as SandyandAllen or AllenandSandy – one word. She looked out for me, except that time she convinced me that it would be a tasty treat to eat a giant spoonful of sand when we were in the sandbox, though I have forgiven her for that. She was always the smart one who could do anything she put her mind to, she got good grades and could draw, paint, write and act, skills she carried through adulthood and up to today. She once leapt on the back of Doctor Jones as he was giving me a shot, screaming “Don’t you hurt my brother!” Which brings me back to the Doctor Lie.
I was really young, three or four, and I was sitting on the examining table, there once again for one of my earaches. I watched Dr. Jones, who had the appearance of a Saturday Evening Post cover of a kindly country doctor, as he fussed around with some arcane piece of medical apparatus. He was just going to place something in my ear, would it hurt? I asked, No, it’s not going to hurt, he said. Which is when he stabbed me in the ear with a giant hypodermic needle to lance whatever infection lurked there, and it hurt like a motherfucker. Along with the physical pain, was the Damned Lie. No it’s not going to hurt. It probably wasn’t the first time an adult had lied to me, but it was the first time that resulted in physical consequences, and I was confused and felt betrayed, which was a brand new emotion. I never trusted him again, and felt that I was in new territory, a new, harsher world, where I could never completely trust an adult ever again. Too much weight to put on such young shoulders? Possibly. But I can still remember, still feel that disappointment and loss.
Oke would take me to the wrestling matches in town. He’d drive over to our house, drop Emma, my grandma, and her sister Jane, my aunt, off for a visit with my mother while he and I went to the matches in the early evening in downtown Parkersburg at the Coliseum, a huge room over a car dealership. The Coliseum hosted a number of venues besides the wrestling: band concerts, ballroom dances, public dinners and when I was older, it was a roller skating rink. I have only a vague recollection of the wrestling setup, a regular ring surrounded by folding metal chairs, but I think this is a generic memory, one not based on reality. What I actually remember is not the wrestling matches, but the bar we would go to, Oke and I.
I think now that we never really went to a wrestling match at all because I have a very distinct memory of sitting on a barstool drinking Coca-Cola (I’m sure it was the first coke I ever tasted) and eating pickled eggs while Oke drank whisky and bullshitted with the bartender. In my mind today, the image of the wrestling ring is very dim, but my memory of the barroom is bright and clear. This establishment must have been very near the wrestling venue because we were sitting there one night when the famous wrestler, Gorgeous George, came in and swept around the room like the King of England, or the President or the pope, shaking hands with the peasants. George was probably the most famous wrestler of this era — the highest paid athlete of his day. My parents were very impressed when Oke brought me home and told them I shook the Great Man’s hand.
I remember George very clearly because I had never seen anything like him. He wasn’t memorable because he was particularly tall or broad or muscular, not like wrestlers of today, but because he had long bleached blond hair that hung down the back of his head in greasy ringlets. He was wearing a very colorful cape, red I believe, with a high stiff collar. He swanned around the barroom, nodding and bowing, blowing kisses, acting in what I would later know was an effeminate manner, keeping his nose high in the air as if he was a nobleman forced into a roomful of peons. Which he was, sort of. It was all part of his stage personae, one of the first wrestlers to establish an outrageous character that was designed to set him apart from every other wrestler and piss off the men in the audience. The fans would get all worked up and scream at him, jeering him for being stuck-up and girlish and acting better than everyone else. He was also the first wrestler to use entrance music: he would stroll down the aisle and into the ring, lofted along on the strains of Pomp and Circumstances, followed by his valet, Freddie, who carried a large silver mirror and tossed rose petals under George’s feet. Once in the ring, Freddie would go around spraying perfume into the air, which he pointed out was made from the famous Chanel Number Five. George always chimed in that the liquid being sprayed that night was actually Chanel Number Ten, “Because why be half safe?”
But I have strayed from Oke and my long road to the band.