I dont remember exactly how old I was at that time, five, maybe six with not a care in the world during the summer of '62 when life was supposed to be simple compared to these days. Post-war times, mom's stayed at home raising their kids while the dad's went off to work diligently expecting supper on the table every night at six sharp. Growing up in the small town of Morris, Minnesota everyone knew everybody that was inevitable. Of course we lived right across from the school's playground where swings sat waiting for children to come. School ended and we excitedly came to the park on cool July mornings to run and shout all we wanted, but the roundabout was my favourite memory of those years. I would just sit on the edge and ride it round and round, watching every angle of that park not missing a thing. Some of the older kids would come and ruin my moment by riding it fast, faster, and I would get off to wait until they finished. Too fast made my stomach sick.
"What's the matter Tony, too scardy cat to ride it fast?" They would laugh and tease me.
"No, I just want it all to myself." Was always my answer. and then it was lunchtime.
"How was your morning at the park?" Dave would ask me as he set the table and put a plate of hot dogs and another of buns right beside it. He carefully placed a small array of vegetables, carrots, broccoli florets and cucumbers for us to eat.
"Eat your roughage, it's good for the guts", He would tell us while munching on a salted cucumber.
"It was okay, the same as usual." I would eat two hotdogs and chasing down with a glass of cold milk.
"I want you to clean your rooms today, Mark is coming over." He said as he put the dishes in the sink wearing his apron. He always looked silly in that old apron. I remember it well. The thing had sunflowers on it, the pockets were sky blue.
I called dad by his first name and so did my sister, he insisted on it after the split up between him and my mom. They were not happy so she'd leftfinally to move to Minneapolis with a professor. I can remember my sister crying herself to sleep in her room next to mine for that first winter, and she would become very sad every winter thereafter. I just went about my business, trying to help Dave as much as I could, he had to take care of us single handedly.
Mark would come over then, and he and Dave would sit on the veranda drinking lemonade and getting close to each other. Mark was tall and dark haired, we really liked his kindness and sense of humour. Eventually Mark moved in and they seemed happy together. Nobody bothered us about it, not in those days, things were kept quieter, but I knew people gossiped behind our backs. Once when I was happily gliding on the roundabout the following year, one of the boys began calling me names I'd never heard of, not until many years later after I began college in L.A. That was when I really learned what things were about, gay marriages and bi-sexual stuff, but to me it didn't matter. I loved Dave and Mark both, and only wanted them to be happy together. It had never occurred to me to judge them.
The last summer of middle-school, as I once again sat on that roundabout, I noticed a woman would come to the park every morning, wearing a floppy hat, sunglasses and carrying an expensive purse. She looked well off, I figured maybe she was scoping the land out for developers or something. There had been talk about a tractor plant to be built, residents of our town were excited, it meant jobs during hard times. Late August, when the leaves began to change colours to apple red, lemon yellow, the nights were getting shorter and colder as fall crept forward, he came up to me to say hello.
"How are you doing? My name is Melanie." She held a gloved hand out to me but I hesitated - with curious eyes beneath my freckled face.
"I knew your father a long time ago, you don't remember me." She said softly, so gently it felt like tiny soft raindrops on my cheeks on a hot summer day. She seemed refined enough but the sadness evident in her eyes as if she'd cried herself on lonely sleepless nights. Her expensive car was picturesque of a wealthy husband, she was just far away looking it seemed.
I knew who she was.
I'd blocked out the painful years after she'd walked out, stopped hearing the tears Dave shed on those cold winter nights while he moved on to raise us alone. HIs kindness and loving personality got us through
"N.noooo I don't, should I remember you?" I asked her chin up, showing her I wasn't afraid, but I knew who she was. I saw photo's Dave had kept hidden in the last drawer of his bureau, sometimes I would sneak in his room and look at them when he wasn't home. After that she never came back. I never mentioned it to Dave, who eventually got cancer and died the first year I left for college, leaving our old house to Mark. Mark always told me I could come back home anytime if I ever wanted the peaceful life of a small sleepy town.
I did go back to visit Mark, he'd remained alone and got old as the memories of us remained alive in that house with photo's of all of us in various locations. He tended the small gardens having a nice foliage of roses and colorful impatients to add cozy welcoming in the front. A lovely vegetable garden in the back provided his food stock as he cooked and canned, jarred and pickled for the winter. Mark was amazing that way, he was conscience of daily living needs well. He'd taken care of Dave to the bitter end.
When the cancer got real bad Mark was at Dave's bedside every second he could be, to comfort and bathe our 'other' father. Even with the I-V drip of morphine and a breathing machine hooked up to him Mark stayed. He would read to Dave, his calming voice moving through Moby Dick, the great whale story. It was like soft music in a room filled with death, and then Dave's pain was gone. Mark's loving dedication was so devoted, he'd bought their plots together at a scenic space surrounded with roses, Dave's favourite flowers, for eternity. My mom never came to the funeral of course, or the burial. She never returned at all after that summer, but I didn't care. I chose to not let that kind of bitterness engulf me to the point of destruction that many did. I lived and studied in L.A., then later married and had my own brood, I knew many did suffer. It was okay.
Just like the roundabout our lives go around and around, so we can see the world and decide when to make it stop to hop off, go on with our lives regardless of what others say or think. That is the beauty of making grown up decisions.