2036 North Maple by Matt Carlson

Home. A sweet place to grow up. Where one wakes up to the sound of birds singing, loved ones nearby in soft whispers, hot coffee in the kitchen with huge windows that open up to a forest and the swimming pool…oh yea, and the tennis court. Your still wet bathing trunks waiting for you on the line…”Hot cakes with maple syrup?” someone asks.”What? Of course,” you reply. And there are those incredible new cool looking clothes in your closet and a beautiful car in the garage. Oh yea, and there are dogs, cats, and fish & lots of wild animals nearby too. Nice…

Probably lots of other things or details we could add in this scenario of what might make the perfect home to grow up in. The picture of this house says it for me: I would’ve loved growing up in this kind of place surrounded by lots of love (with a loving Father in the picture) of course and Mom not always at work.

Love: we had it, me and my three brothers. And no one (I mean no one) loved their Mom like we did! On the day of her strange burial: complete with a nightmarish  24 non-stop journey with several connecting flights, sleeping at a strangers in San Francisco, lots of amazing people I did not know – being awesome- a few not so much –  a trip from Lyon France to Fresno California. There were, in my head, long hours of a seemingly never-ending film of childhood, of her, our last words, our closeness, her incredible sensitivity and warmth. I would never know that kind of love again. I would hold the memory of it to my breast; I would shake it, squeeze it, wring it around in my brain, meditate on it, revel in it, wrap it up around me closely like a warm blanket when everything else was falling apart around me. At least I had been truly loved once by one person AND that for 40 years! That wasn’t nothin’.

The memories of that tractor with a load of dirt crossing the cemetery to put on top of my Mother still flashes in my mind now ; me running from the car like a madman yelling at the tractor to stop, “Stop that tractor !” I yelled at my brothers who too were all running like madmen towards her grave. The tractor did stop and I ran up to it expecting what? To see her of course, but someone (something) had placed an immense cement block on top of her coffin. (Who does that?!)…”BOOM-BA-DA-BOOM!” went my head…

‘A thousand doors slam a thousand times; a thousand needles in a single eye.’

Later sitting around together with my brothers (I realized how much they meant to me) we counted 23 addresses in all. Yep, we moved a lot. Mostly staying in the Fresno area, but twice moving away with one new Daddy to San Jose (1 out of 3) and one potential Daddy in Morro Bay (it didn’t work out)… But the one place that was home for me was that house : we owned it. Dad had worked out a deal helping Mom get into that house and for the first time I knew what it was like to be home. It was 2036 North Maple.

There was a backyard, a front yard, nice neighbors like Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and on the other side the Hernandez’s (an entire family of Mexican Americans). Mrs. Hernandez bringing over home made Mexican food to me on the day Freckle’s my dog had been hit & killed by a hit & run driver. Her 3 week old puppies requiring full time care, my brother Kurt’s face flushed with pain as he told me how she had crossed the road and been run over.

Mr. Stewart was a 70 year old handyman and his white house and perfectly pruned yard made ours look a bit wild. He could do a perfect swan dive in his perfect pool and invited us to come and swim whenever we wanted to. His wife always hid out in the house, but he was always chatting with us. His sudden death by a heart attack grieved all of us; it would be my first funeral.

I had a nice room which I shared with my little brother Michael. We could watch the busy main street from our beds. There was a tree outside my window… Outside of Mom’s was Mr. Hernandez’s driveway and gas guzzling car. Every morning he would warm the motor up for the longest time. “Vroom, vroom,” it went. Drove Mom nuts. Then at least twice a day, the ‘crazy Aunt’ (his sister or his wife’s?) would be out there sweeping the driveway. She could only speak Spanish and I could only speak English. We hardly understood mutual words, but we communicated anyway.

I created an incredible garden in the back of the large backyard: tomatoes, carrots, egg plant, even Armenian cucumbers that twisted and turned in unusual shapes on a chain link fence… I planted Zinnia seeds under the kitchen’s back window – they grew up to be huge and beautiful with orange, pink and lavender…I built an underground fort too in the very back of the backyard with dirt walls (even a dirt chair in the wall) and you could access it from outside the back fence… With my other brother Mark, we collected tad poles from a nearby rainwater reservoir and in a stylish dry well in the backyard, made small pools of tin for them, planting small green plants in the sand around them to make a tropical paradise…Surprised was I to find less and less tad poles each morning; that is until one day when I spotted a cat sitting there!…

I discovered hair for the first time under my arms while leaning against that dry well, started learning how to play tennis against that back wall of the house (for hours & hours) imagining I was a famous tennis star in an international tennis tournament. I even whipped at thirteen, my eighteen year old brother’s butt 6-0 one day on the tennis courts at McLane High School. That didn’t go down well with him. I began discovering my sexuality, my attraction for boys, awareness that I was different.

In that house I learned how to birth puppies, saw my brother build a doghouse, played basketball (with Dad and my brothers) with Dad’s high school basketball net AND post brought all the way over from Kerman; made & ate pop sickles from Kool-Aide; made my first chocolate cake -later saw flies making a nest in it too; read comic books at the table with my brothers at dinner – cracked up by Mom who would on occasion tell us to stop laughing – we would of course laugh even louder while trying not to.

We did a yard sale for the first time; I learned about skin care from our step Mom Patty (Mom number 3) who would come over with Clinic products and do our faces; I discovered masturbation for the first time, got hit in the wind pipe by my brother Mark for the first time – he wanted to watch something else on our black & white television; learned that Mom actually went to the bathroom (though there was never any evidence of it) & saw her get crazy once too (that poor coffee table) ; learned how to stain wood (we redid the bathroom with Mom) and build a table in workshop; learned to edge & mow a lawn; learned about schedules and work detail! ; about party favors on New Years Day (Mom would always bring us fun colorful hats and whistles for the next morning) watched my oldest brother fall in love; listened to our Pastor speak out against homosexuals and feeling that was wrong – I made a choice to be agnostic; saw my second brother discover new friends away from me; took care of my little brother and scared him once (just in order to repeat what my older brothers had done to me) ; learned to care for my little brother Michael – once cleaned off hundreds of ants off his feet, fed him dinner when Mom was late and we played a lot together;  learned that junior high school kids could be cruel & how to fight and protect myself; learned that I liked to write & sing; got home schooled with Mononucleosis; learned that I loved fairy tales and anything to do with imagination; saw the first man walk on the moon on that huge old black & white telly – and became totally enamored with being an astronaut; I experienced death & loss for the first time…

So many important life experiences in that house…2036 N. Maple

Well, finally, I guess it wasn’t so bad after all. Even the oblong mailbox was special with its small metal red flag which would be raised on the side when the postman dropped off mail. Even the olive green front terrace was a safe refuge from the heat during the summer (we actually painted the house from yellow to green); Mom had tons of rose bushes in reds, yellows, & pinks running all along the brick flower bed that lined up from the sidewalk up until the garage. Oh yes, how could I forget the heaters in the floors or the cooler in the hallway ceiling? During the winter, we stood on that heater, during the hot summer months, we would grab our blankets and sleep under that cooler with our pillows. It had a rather loud sound that even to this day, if I hear it, I will fall asleep almost instantly. Planes have a similar noise, so often on planes I simply fall asleep…

Anyway, so many priceless moments. One of my favorites:

Mom would come and give us a kiss, smelling of White Shoulders, tell us she loved us and would call later before stepping out to go to work. We would turn over and fall back asleep feeling safe & loved.

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