Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jack, Part 3--I Love You More

Jack continued to grow, his body fed first by his mother’s milk, then by cereal and eggs and pancakes and hamburgers and milk and a hundred other good old-fashioned solid foods. And by malted milk balls. Jack LOVED malted milk balls. His mind and his spirit continued to grow, too. Fed by the love of his parents and his grandparents, whom he would visit pretty regularly. Oh, and by stories—lots and lots of stories. Katherine’s parents still lived in Mrs. Brock’s apartment over in Brooklyn and it was easy enough to go and see them every weekend.
As is often the case with grandparents, they doted on Jack. Sometimes Katherine was jealous of her own son. Her mom and dad were never very demonstrative or silly with her, yet here they were dressing up in aprons and hats and marching around with wooden spoons and metal pots in a Cook’s Parade. She could not remember them ever once doing something like that with her. Of course, times had been different, and harder, when she was a girl.
James parents lived in Muncie, Indiana so visits from them were a once-a-year occurance. Jack thought of these grandparents, Grandpa Charlie and Nana, as a different sort of relation than his other grandparents—Poppop and Grandma Jean. Though there was one particular Christmas—the Christmas of 1957—when Grandpa Charlie and Nana featured heavily. James had been steadily building up quite a body of work and, cumulatively, his books sold fairly well. The family was managing to save some money.
They decided to use a little of that money to take a trip across the eastern quarter of America on a train to see James’ parents for the holidays. Jack had never been out to Indiana before—Grandpa Charlie and Nana always came to New York to see him. Jack remembered that train trip to this very day. He was thrilled to be getting on the silver train that was hissing and venting little eruptions of steam there at the platform at Penn Station. He felt like a character in one of his mother’s stories. HE was having an adventure like some of them did. In so many of Katherine’s stories a journey turned into an adventure, an odyssey, a quest. In Jack’s mind (and in his heart) magic was always possible whenever you put yourself in motion out in the world.
And he was certainly out in the world. He took his aisle seat on the train and turned to look directly at every other face in that car. A coach class inter-city train car in the North in America in 1957 was a fairly diverse place. There were a few men who were obviously traveling salesmen. There were a couple of families like theirs. There were two soldiers in uniform. There was a black-skinned woman and her daughter, who looked to be about Jack’s age. They were all dressed in what one might call traveling clothes.
People today don’t seem to place much distinction between everyday clothes, work clothes, and traveling clothes. People in the 1950s did. Going across the country on a train was a special occasion for most people and special occasions required special clothes
So there was Jack, in his traveling clothes which looked good to Jack when he saw himself in the mirror, but which were scratchy at the neck and cuffs. As he looked around the little girl six rows ahead looked him directly in the eye and gave him a face that seemed to be asking for something—though what it was Jack had no clue. He smiled and turned away, coloring pink as he did. Katherine saw all of this and wrote some things in a small notebook she always carried in her purse.

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