Monday, October 16, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Proud Mary

When I was a little boy, my father would take me to a place near our house where we would buy penny candy and climb onto large rocks on what seemed like a vast and rushing river.  Once we found a rock to our liking, we would sit on the rock and eat our little brown bags of candy while the water roared past us.  The whole thing sounds like something from another century, but that’s how I remember it.  I remember the store where we would buy the candy with its worn wooden floorboards.  The counter had glass jars filled with candy where an amused woman would pluck out the candy I selected to put in the tiny brown to-go bag.  Even then I picked up on how the whole presentation was a folksy ruse, but I still liked it.  I would have a 25 cent budget and have to carefully select the candy to make the money go the furthest possible.  I recall having my first Mary Jane candies there, and I think also Bit O’Honey.  I always avoided those hard Brach’s candies that one only encountered as fused together husks in senior citizens hallway candy dishes.  

After the stressful decision making of the candy purchase we would walk across the street to access the stream.  It seemed like a mighty river, but I think I was about five years old, so my perspective was skewed.  I don’t think my father would have allowed a five year old distracted by a small sack of candy to hop around on slick rocks if there was a chance I could have slipped in and gone over an enormous waterfall.  Then again, things were very different in the 70s and safety was not a consideration.  My parents would be brought up on charges now for the things we used to do as kids.  Skateboarding down hills, riding in the back of pick up trucks with three other kids down the highway at 60 mph, making flimsy go karts, routinely playing with matches/fire/fireworks.  Hell, we would leave the house at 9am and not come home until dinner.  No one knew where we were, what we were doing, or cared as long as nothing too terrible went wrong.  There was one simple rule.  Be home at 6 for dinner.  That was a commandment that could not be broken.  You could have blown off a kid's hand with an M-80, but be home in time for dinner.

I remember having to jump between the rocks like you see in movies where in a chase scene a man jumps from building to building.  When your legs are less than two feet long long, it’s not easy to make that jump.  One time I fell when I landed on a rock further than we had ever jumped to before.  I lost control of my bag and it slipped into the water.  My candy was swept away.  I started to cry silently.  I was ashamed I fell.  I was ashamed I lost my candy.  Most of all I was ashamed I was crying like a baby in front of my father.  He asked if I was OK and pretended I wasn’t crying.  That was either because he knew I didn’t want any attention drawn to it or that as an East Coast Irish Catholic he was unable to deal with any emotional outburst.  Either way, I was OK with it.  He shared his candy with me, even though he had some Good N Plenty which I hated.  Good N Fruity would have been better.  We sat and looked at the water for a time.

We finished the candy and it was time to go back to the car.  I could see the ugly Grand Torino station wagon parked so far away on the river bank.  I was afraid I was going to miss the first jump and fall in.  “You can make it.”  My father jumped onto the rock to show me how easy it was by example.  Of course, he wasn’t five years old and spooked.  I sized it up like Evel Knevel.  I did the lean back and forth 1, 2, 3…  I landed on the rock and fell into my father, who was trying to catch me.  He lost his balance for a second and we both almost toppled in.  When he caught his balance I could see the momentary worry in his eyes.  There would have been a great deal of explaining to do to my mother when I arrived home soaked, or worse yet as a waterlogged little corpse.  “That was close.”  It was a little bonding moment where we both knew we dodged a bullet.  

When I got back to the car I climbed into the front seat.  (No seatbelt/no car seat)  My shoes dangled above the floor off the seat.  It was stuffy and hot in the car.  It was always stuffy in that car.  I turned the crank to lower the window.  My father started the car and we began to drive home.  On the radio a song came on that I had never heard that made me perk up my head.  “Big wheel keep on turning/Proud Mary keep on burning/Rolling/Rolling/Rolling on the River”  I liked how the song connected to how we had just jumped on the rocks in the river, like a shared experience.  It made me feel like I was part of some kind of adventurous American tradition, though I wasn't really sure what the song was about.  The chorus stuck with me.  Whenever I would see a stream/river like that, CCR’s “Proud Mary” would always pop into my head and make me think of penny candy.   

It still does.     


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