David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Memory Can Be Kind (Native Son #19)
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

As a kid, I used to hurry everywhere. I’d fly down the stairs, swing on the newel post, and dash for the kitchen while my dad shouted, “Hey, sport! Be careful!” Darting through the kitchen, I’d scoop a handful of fish sticks off a plate instead of sitting down proper, stuff them in my mouth whole, wash them down with a gulp of milk, then kiss my mom at the sink. The slam of the screen door behind me couldn’t cover her laughing call, “Young man!” Jumping on my bike to join my waiting friends, my young brother followed me onto the carport to ask if he could come along. “No way, squirt!” Then I was off, pedaling into the lightning-bug flashing dusk. I had freckles and a striped shirt. A cowlick. I was called David Lea because my next door neighbor was David Allen and our moms couldn’t call us in by just our first names. We’d both come, see?

My mom didn’t work full time. She didn’t have to. Dad took care of everything. Mom cleaned house, cooked, and raised four boys. She substitute taught and baked brownies for the Volunteer Rescue Squad. She played bingo at the church and sometimes I played with her but I had to hand over whatever I won; I was really just helping her play more cards. She tucked me and my brothers in every night, all except the oldest son who was in the Army. Mom was pretty, I knew it. All the guys said so, but I made sure they didn’t go too far with that.

Dad didn’t want mom to work, he figured it was a sign that he couldn’t be the breadwinner, so he did his day job at the airport talking to pilots to help them land, then drove a Groome’s limo at nights taking folks to D.C. or hotels in town. On autumn weekends he worked the parking lot at college football games no matter what the weather and in summer umpired softball. He had multiple sclerosis so none of this was easy for him but Dad was raised by tough folks. Foreigners. I went along with him sometimes, handling a flashlight in the rain to guide cars to him in the muddy field outside City Stadium, or sleeping in the front seat while he drove back from Washington National Airport near midnight, or watching softball and beer drinking.

My brother closest to me in age and I had to share a room all the way from when mom brought me home from the hospital to when he went off to college. Sixteen years. I liked the door left open at night and he liked it closed. I wanted to read after lights-out and he wanted to sleep because he had two paper routes. He was in a really bad car accident and a coma for two months. I didn’t go to the hospital once to visit him. Sixteen years of that.

We had a dog that lived forever. I found her in the back yard stiff. Then we replaced her with another dog that ran away all the time.

My youngest brother looked up to me. He came to all my games and carried my Dad’s lawn chair for him because Dad couldn’t make it into the stands. One day my little brother was in the backyard playing with a long stick, and the crazy dog ran up and grabbed the other end with his teeth. The dog tried to run off but my little brother held on and they went around in circles until my brother threw a punch and knocked the dog out. This happened.

My oldest brother came home for the first time from Viet Nam. He was a quiet boy when he left, and back home he sat in his room for hours listening to a reel-to-reel machine he’d bought in Tokyo. He’d recorded hundred of songs, Bobby Vinton, Elvis, Motown, The Beatles. I could sit with him and listen, but I couldn’t talk. That was the rule.

I learned every lyric to every song I heard with him, and never sang them in his presence. I memorized the weight of my father’s hand across my drowsy shoulder on those dark rides when I heard him call strangers “sir.” My mom hated it when I took off my smelly shoes under the dining room table at meals. I was sent to wash my feet in the bathtub; one time she caught me doing it in her kitchen sink. Wow.

It’s funny what I do, what I sort of, and what I don’t remember. As a kid I ran everywhere. I had friends on bikes. I had a brother in the Army. I had a good looking mom and a tough dad.

So did you.

Posted in Boomer Articles, Boomer Mag    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, childhood, parents, child, rva, home


Leave a Comment