My earliest memory is of July, 1945. I'm sitting on a rough woven straw carpet on the front porch, in warm sunlight. There’s a large trellis beyond the railing covered with blossoms of honeysuckle, jasmine, morning glories and roses with vines of sharp thorns. Buckeyes, elms and maples line Superior Street on both sides, and from that dense mass of green leaves comes a loud buzzing. I wonder what’s making that sound. It’s natural and sort of calming and pleasant, but at the same time seems odd, and nobody, not even grandma, seems to notice it. Beside me is our big white, blue-eyed cat. Its paws are folded beneath him, and his eyes are narrow slits. In the bright sun I feel content, safe. It’s a drowsy pleasantness, a perfect state.
In the window above and behind me is a white, red-bordered flag with two blue stars. Grandma says they are for my father, Chester, and his brother, Alex, who are in the Army. They signed up when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. Alex is in England. My father is stationed on Oahu, in Hawaii. Grandma says war means fighting Japs and Nazis who want to take over the world. Our boys are there to keep that from happening.
It’s hot so I’m wearing no shirt, socks or shoes, just a flimsy pair of shorts with a fly. When I lean forward it opens, when I lean back it closes. My little cock, I observe, is like the fire hydrant half a block down the street. Same short body with a rounded bulge at its top. The hydrant is also like the spigot in the kitchen sink. When you turn the handle, water rushes out. Like my willy, when I pee.
I think of the picture of a little boy on the paper bag that holds the loaf of bread grandma bought earlier this morning at the store three blocks away. The boy is holding the round loaf against his chest, and he has a knife, and is cutting the loaf…only he is doing it the way one of grandma’s old lady friends said you must never do, which is to slice bread pulling the knife toward you. It’s safer to cut away from you, because if you slip you won’t stab yourself.
I put my hand into the gaping hole of my shorts and idly twirl my cock in a clockwise direction. To my great surprise it gets stiff, something I’d never seen before. I stop, and twirl my willy in the opposite direction. It goes down. Very strange! I try it again. Same thing happens.
Why does it do that?
I have no idea.
Suddenly white cat leaps up, bounds quickly down the porch steps, and disappears around the corner of the house.
“Janek!” shouts my grandma, invisible behind the dark screen door. Janek is my name in Polish.
“That’s DISGUSTING, stop it!”
She pushes open the door, bends over, and slaps my hand. Her face is all twisted up. I wonder what makes her so angry.
That’s the word she used yesterday when white cat went behind the player piano in the dining room and left a pile of smelly shit. When she found it she grabbed a broom and chased white cat all over the house until he fled out the front door. Yes, that pile of shit WAS disgusting.
I can’t connect her angry word with what I am doing now. Twirling that part of my body feels no different from scratching my arm, or tugging my earlobe. I am only three, but that’s precisely what I think. She is simply wrong.
Infantile erections are not sexual, but merely the result of the constriction of blood flow from the penis, either by a full bladder or other pressure. In my twirling in a clockwise direction, I had likely been pressing the heel of my hand on my lower belly, and then when twirling counter-clockwise, I’d lifted it. But grandma, being a Roman Catholic, believed in the toxic Augustinian notion of original sin, and interpreted my playful, curious experimentation as masturbation, and therefore dirty, disgusting, and above all sinful.
I have no memory of Grandma ever hugging me, cuddling me in her arms, running her fingers through my hair, patting me on the back, leaning down from that high altitude to give me a kiss. No recollection of her ever smiling. Just that cold, grim look and the light reflecting off her squarish rimless glasses.
Grandma’s dourness was caused by the fatigue and pain of the latter stages of Addison’s disease. But she was a stubborn, determined woman who barked orders to the guy in the truck who used a chute to dump coal into the wood-sided bin below the basement window. Then grandma, despite her painful muscles and joints, would energetically shovel the coal into the big furnace. Coal dust glittered in the slanting sunlight from the windows above.
One time in the basement I watched her chase a chicken, catch it, and cut off its head with a big knife. Blood spurted as the headless chicken kept running around on the basement floor, flapping its wings. She made a big batch of perogies to go with the roasted bird.