This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 4)

IV.

Our family collected songs about heaven like some people collect teaspoons. They marked and measured moments in our lives, like the dirge we learned around the time Mom went blind in one eye.

The world you know as a child is the one given you. You move because your parents move. You are from here or from there because your parents tell you so. You grow up in a religious group and are told it began on Pentecost Sunday and you believe this to the point of arguing in fifth grade with Catholics about primacy of origin, utterly ignorant that Campbell and Stone were 19th century Americans and that your particular religious group was born in the hills of Kentucky. Children live and move about in a world presided over by adults. The lucky ones never have to call into question that world, get to bounce about enveloped in love, oblivious to most anything but their wants. We were lucky and parental love covered over many sins.

I remember aspects about Mom’s blindness. How the morning she woke up and couldn’t see we were in a mountain village, several hours north of Managua. Dad had been holding a health clinic. We’d been sleeping in our Volkswagen camper. I remember our leaving Nicaragua, the time spent in Houston, the parents going to see specialists, the miracle of Mom’s sight regained. I think I remember their having talked about it that morning. I’m rather sure we headed back to the capital early. They probably talked about it all the way home and then long into the night and for many nights. But I don’t remember. Maybe they kept this from us. Maybe a mother touched by blindness was, for us children, inconceivable. As a child it’s hard to see beyond your own needs and desires.

Who can remember what street we were on? Dad was driving the Volkswagen they bought anticipating van-fulls of Nicaraguan brethren and sistren. And there always were. We often fulfilled Christ’s injunction to let the soldier ride along. But on this morning or afternoon, it was only us. Dad was recounting a nurse flirting with him. Only more. Even at seven I knew that overt and blatant propositions were improper. But I wasn’t worried. Mom and Dad were in their golden years and talk flowed between them like light. They trusted each other, were faithful to each other, and could talk about anything. This I do remember; but I don’t the worry about Mom’s blindness.

And yet, that song. One more step, one more step in faith, forward brother, forward, our prize waits for us in heaven. Like I said, a funeral march, each measure dragging like a tired foot up a hill. And mother, eyes closed, singing, One more stepForward brotherThere’s a prize.

This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 3)

III.

Patriotism has always made me uncomfortable. Growing up as a U.S. American in Latin America where ancient, local oligarchies and modern U.S. corporations collude for power and wealth, I distrust the Puritan national myth. Though my family’s whitening was much too successful for us to claim Native American heritage (though this did not keep my grandfather from telling all about his ¼ roots), I know enough to disbelieve the myth of the moral foundation of our country. I avoid church on holidays like July Fourth and Memorial Day. I can’t tolerate the religion of nation; it seems idolatrous to me. This discomfort comes, I suppose, with the territory, with being raised a wanderer.

I don’t fault Pat her love of country. We’ve all been taught to love our homeland. And, when asked, “Where are you from?,” most of us answer without hesitation. Some of us, though, simply don’t know how to respond because we are truly from nowhere.

During college and the few years after, I would reply, “I’m a citizen of the world.” I stopped when a friend told me she thought I was one of the most pretentious persons she’d ever met, solely based on my answer to that question. No one likes a cosmopolitan; especially of the braggart kind. For me, though, that answer was shorthand. It got us quickly to “born in Italy, raised in Latin America” without my having to respond with questions rather than answers. However, there have been times, when asked, that I’ve responded with a barrage of my own, “What do you mean? Do you want to know where I was born? Where I last lived? My ethnicity? Where I consider home? Whether or not I am citizen of these United States and whether I was naturalized or born one?”

People want simple answers. In my case, simple is specious.

Now when it’s asked, I cut to the chase and say, “Italy… Latin America… American parents.”

Regardless what answer I give, more questions follow.

“Were you military?”

“No… medical missionaries.”

The curious will further ask, “In Italy? Aren’t they already Christian?”

“Yes. Well, we’re Protestants; my grandfather fought in Italy in WWII; he felt he had to go back.”

Some will then inquire about denominational affiliation. Those that know something of American religious groups forged in the 19th century, will, when I tell them, further ask, “Are you instrumental or noninstrumental?” We were noninstrumental. To this some will add, “Y’all can really sing… four part harmony and all.” And, it’s true; we can.

We still do, when the whole family gets together, sing, and sing, and sing for hours. This is the case whether at my parents’ house with my siblings and their growing families when they come up from Chile or Mexico or down from Oklahoma, or with my aunts and uncles and cousins, the lot of us gathered from Alaska, Austria, Brazil, the Caribbean in the mountains north of Santa Fe. Songs, gospel songs, are how we spend our time. No session would ever be complete without the family breaking out into a down-home, countrified, low-church, a cappella, tent-revival version of “This World Is Not My Home.”

I am the son of the son of the son of an itinerant church of Christ preacher. Yes, with a small “c.” Yes, we are the ones who do not dance (and we did not), do not drink (though our family, going back at least to my grandfather, did), and we do not sing with instruments. We are the group who throughout the 20th century debated Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and any other Christian denomination foolish enough to think they were going to heaven.

Being from nowhere has always been a point of pride in my family. Church, not nation, has always been our true home. Though biography certainly does a play a part (neither parents nor siblings were born in the continental U.S.), our cosmopolitanism is principally theological in nature. Christianity has always been cosmopolitan. “Paul did not go to hamlets and villages but to cities: Rome, Corinth, Athens,” my father would remind us. “Jesus did not kneel before Caesar or Herod, but in the garden, in prayer.” That we all are positioned at an angle to national, patriotic narratives is one of those felicitous accidents where belief truly did organize biography in such a way as to reinforce the conviction that this world is not our home. No, we are just a passing through, and it doesn’t matter where we live. Our treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue, and those are the ones that matter. And let’s not forget, we simply can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

In fact, we never have.

This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 2)

II.

Maybe her name was Pat. I can’t recall.

My high school years were a procession of medical mission and Habitat for Humanity work groups. Two, three, even more, a year would come down. When I wasn’t working the makeshift pharmacy, stuffing bags full of medicine, giving children swigs of mebendezole, explaining the doctor’s instructions to patients and having them recite them back to me, I was translating for doctors, dentists, nurses, or house building crews. People came and went. A week of work, a day at the beach, and they were gone.

Pat was in her early fifties. Had a son in a rock and roll band named “The Grievers.” She was an honest, blue-collar American, drove a forklift in a warehouse for a living, made ties for the men in her life, had paid her house off years ago. This was her first trip out of the country and she’d decided to come on a short-term medical mission trip to the Caribbean.

She’d packed little American flags in her luggage to pin to shirts. I refused to wear one. Missing home and wanting to celebrate in some way, to establish some kind of solidarity with fellow Americans, she asked us what we most loved about the U.S.. I answered, “Not a lot.” I don’t recall much of the conversation after that. I remember the sadness in her eyes. I remember stumbling between my regret and a need to defend myself.

The tape I play in my mind has me unfolding before her the history of Anglo-American aggression in Latin America since Teddy’s gunboat diplomacy days. But my history back then was much more piecemeal. There were the bits garnered from second grade Sandinista history primers. In 1981 we attended The American School in Managua, Nicaragua. The revolution had already happened and everyone was teaching from government-vetted books. There were the snippets of Castro’s epic four-hour discourses caught on the radio or talked about admiringly by my middle school teachers in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

There was the fact that our encounter happened on this island, an island LBJ invaded in 1965 to keep it from turning Commie.

That the U.S. Marines left once order was restored in the form of a man who governed for twelve years with the use of death squads.

That people I loved knew victims.

Maybe I said something about Chile; maybe I didn’t. I probably did say something about Iran-Contra. After all, the U.S.-backed Contra insurgency was why we left Nicaragua.

It was the Fourth of July.

“Tilaran, Costa Rica. Dad was working with Nicaraguan refugees. My brother and I had just finished a run in the rain. We were supposed to have smiled; I was hungry.”

This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 1)

This World Is Not My Home | by Jeremy Paden

I.

In my first passport picture, I sit on my mother’s lap. Beside us stands my sister. Vietnam had just ended, and Dad, whose number was never called during his undergraduate years in the States, found himself needing to choose between obligatory military service in the Italian army or, thanks to a 1972 change in the law, some form of authorized community service. A conscientious objector, he chose the latter. We spent the better part of 1976, the year I turned two, in Nigeria. Dad, an advanced medical student dreaming of becoming a medical missionary, worked in a hospital.

“Mr. Sunshine” – the writer age 20 months in Milan.

My earliest memory, perhaps, is not my sister’s nightmare on our first night in country, though they say her screams about “the elephants coming” woke me. Nor is it our disobedience, crossing the street to eat our neighbors’ food. That story, too, was told to me. It’s being put down in an open air market in Lagos, Nigeria, by a tired mother. The air was pungent with fresh fish and foods I did not recognize, but it’s not like I have a clear, sharp recollection. It’s colors, shapes, smells, bright tropical light, bustle, and unintelligible language. I have one other memory from Nigeria that I know is mine. Which is to say, not from stories told me, not from pictures taken. It too is vague. And it’s standing in a thatched-roof, open-air hut, people singing church songs in Yoruba. I don’t know how early most people remember. I suppose these were imprinted only because Lagos is nothing like Milan, Italy, where Dad was studying medicine.

Though we left Italy when I was only four, I have a catalogue of memories from those years, all of which are, I presume, from after Nigeria. All are also rather banal: me standing naked and crying on an Italian beach, opening a Kinder egg in a Fiat in some parking lot, disobeying my grandfather by climbing a ladder into an old hayloft and crying for him to get me down. But over the course my childhood, as we moved from place to place, I’d call them up, then zoom in and out on the grain of the wood on that barn or the stitching of the car’s seat, though I can’t remember the color of the car or the material of the upholstery.

Like my father, I am an American citizen born abroad and declared at a consulate soon after my birth. By the time I left for college, I’d lived on three continents, one isthmus, and one archipelago. Another way of adding this up is six countries, four U.S. states, ten cities, and around 18 discreet residences, not counting the bed under my aunt and uncle’s stairs in Goleta, California, where I worked as a security guard for an RV camp and at a roadside organic food stand the eight months before heading off to college.

In a Man’s Voice: Poems & Essay by Jeremy Paden

Jeremy Dae Paden was born in Italy and raised in Latin America. He teaches Spanish at Transylvania University, He is published in Calíope, a critical journal of poetry of Spain and the Americas during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  He is also a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a collaborator in Rose Tree Writers.

Though Jeremy and I have only met in person once, we have somehow found a writing connection, as well as a parenting connection, that bring me tremendous joy. I don’t know anyone else who, upon hearing that I was dyeing absorbant crystals red and brown with wine and coffee for my child’s science project, would have asked if I would send him some more detail so he might work it into a poem.

Jeremy isn’t a poet when he has time to be one. He is one when he wakes and when he sleeps, every day. I can imagine standing behind him in the grocery store and hearing him practicing words about the spiritual ebb and flow of the human psyche as he ponders the nature of standing in lines.

I am grateful to learn from his world view, and I look forward to sharing his 8-part Essay on Childhood: This World Is Not My Home. You may read some of Dr. Paden’s poetry online via the following links, and I hope you will!

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

In a Man’s Voice: Daddy Used to Whistle by Steve Alberts

Steve writes faith-based stories about “God’s grace throughout (his) life.” He dabbles with song lyric writing, is attempting to write a novel, and enjoys acting, photography, hunting, fishing, and woodworking.

Born in Charleston, West Virginia, raised and educated in Spencer, and having Bachelor and Master Degrees from WVU Steve says, “I now live in Tennessee and love it here, but West Virginia is my forever home…until I get to the other side.” Visit his blog, On Steve’s Mountain.

Daddy Used to Whistle | by Steve Alberts 

I love wakin’ up in the mornings!

It’s just starting to break dawn, but I‘ve already been up here for an hour or so… I was way up on top of tHis mountain before I ever woke up this morning…could hardly wait to visit the past…up on my mountain.

Lookin’ down on the little community of Speed…near Spencer…Roane County…West Virginia.

Moved there in ’47.  I was just barely two years old at the time.

We lived there until we moved to town in ’56.

It hasn’t changed much since we lived there in the late forties and early fifties.  O.O. “Double O” Casto’s horse show arena and barns are gone from the field beside Charleston Road, but our old house still stands on up the hollow… it’s the next to last house.

My bedroom was on the left just at the top of the stairs.

When I was real little I didn’t sleep there often ‘cause most nights I had dreams that would awaken me. Most nights I would slip out of bed, sneak down the hall and into the bedroom that Auntie and, my sister, Roylene shared…slip to the sanctuary of Auntie.

Never did figure out why Roylene got to share a bedroom with Auntie and I had to have my own bedroom.  After all, I was the one who woke up every night imagining the bears and wolves from Grandpa’s stories coming to hunt me down. Even the Roy Rogers bedspread with its six shooters and lariats woven into the fabric wasn’t the sanctuary that Auntie provided.  But, that’s another story.

When I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old … and sleeping in my own bed more frequently, early summer mornings I would often awaken … bedroom windows open…the humid summer air barely stirring…and just listen to the sounds.

…songbirds

…the grey fox barking up near the barn in the hill meadow

…the rooster crowing

…the feed buckets clanging

…the barn cats meowing for their breakfast

…and, daddy whistlin’.

It was comforting to hear the sounds of those routines being repeated.  It meant my world was safe and solid.

I could tell when daddy had just fed and milked the old Jersey ‘cause I knew the sound of the stall door opening and the gentle lowing from her little bull calf as he was “turned back in” to nurse the last of her milk.

I knew the barn cats would get a portion from the milk bucket as daddy made his way back to the cellar to set the milk to cool before he finally made his way back to the house.

If daddy stayed with his normal routine next would be the sound of the chickens contentedly clucking as the grain was scattered and then the sounds of the trace chains clinking along the floor of the barn as he began to harness which ever work horse he was going to use to skid logs to his sawmill across the run.

The little grey horse was more tractable, easy to drive, stood well when being hooked, but was lighter framed and best when skidding the logs down the mountain.  If there was to be a long haul or if the logs had fallen in the bottom of the cove and had to be skidded up hill the bay was used as he was a little stouter ‘though a little more difficult to handle.

Lying there in my bed in the early morning I could even tell which horse he had harnessed just by listening to the rhythm of the trace chains as the horse pranced across the barnyard…then I would know whether daddy and Bud were cuttin’ on top of the mountain or somewhere around in the cove … in case I decided to test my resolve by hiking up the mountain later to share his cheese sandwich and drink from his water jug at lunch.

I guess it was part of my growing up to leave the sanctuary of the house, wander up the mountain through those scary woods, find daddy, sit with his arm around me as I ate part of his sandwich, then have to return down the mountain by myself.  I knew each end was safe, but the journey in the middle was sort of scary… at that age.

Once I got near the top of the mountain I always knew what final path to take through the woods by listening for the gentle rhythmic sawing of the cross cut, the sound of the horse skidding the logs toward the landing, or …daddy whistlin’ his way through the day.

The little sawmill is long since gone, but I can clearly see it in my mind’s eye sittin’ on the bank at the south side of the run…the motor and drive train from some old truck providing the power…the large circular blade slicing through the white oak and red oak…the sawdust piling up beneath…the slab pile…the ricks of lumber being air dried…Daddy and Bud Nichols using the peaveys and cant hooks to sort and align the logs to get the greatest yield, the straightest grain… and daddy whistlin’.

Cuttin’ red oak and white oak logs with a two man cross cut saw, skiddin’ it to the mill, sawing and stacking was all hard work.

Most days the routine was the same except for Saturdays when we went to town or Sundays when we went to church, visited with neighbors and rested in preparation for another week probably just like the last. 

And, … most days … daddy would whistle all day long.

Daddy used to whistle

…as he wandered through the day.

‘Till now I hadn’t even realized I had heard him

…I’d been young … busy with childhood play.

Whistlin’seemed to make daddy happier

as he made up a brand new tune.

The tunes were seldom ever alike

Whether ‘twas in the early morning, or

late

…in the afternoon.

Except that “Rock Of Ages”

or

“Amazing Grace”

would sometimes just appear.

I guess those hymns were thrown in to keep him grounded

…humble,

…grateful

…to help keep Jesus near.

‘Till lately I hadn’t realize just how much that whistlin’ stuff

had stuck there in my mind.

But, now I think of daddy’s whistlin’

often

And,

…now

I whistle

…from time to time.

I see daddy when I whistle.

I see him driving his old truck.

I see him working at his little sawmill,

…skidding timber

…and,

…doing other stuff.

But most times when I see daddy

He’s standin’ in the creek

…waiting,

…white shirt,

…dark tie,

Easter Morning,

…lightly snowing.

Standin’ up with his friend Carl

… the Reverend Raymond Straight’s just startin’ to speak.

Daddy “standing up” with his friend Carl Cutright – Roane County, Spring Creek along US 219 south of Spencer – “out Charleston Road” – an Easter baptizin’ – probably around 1950 or so.

Friends and neighbors from the church

were watchin’ from the bank.

Most had already been baptized

but, some were waitin’ their turn.

And, still a  few others were dunkin’

…for a second time

…just to reaffirm

…the cleansing of an Easter baptism

at the shoal along Spring Creek

between Watson’s barn

and the Hickman place

with the neighbors lookin’ on.

I see daddy when I whistle.

It puts a smile upon my face.

Don’t know if it’s seein’ daddy,

the baptizin’

or,

if it’s the whistlin’ that’s takin’ place.

But, more important,

Whistlin’ taught me

at an early age

…to listen

…by now, I guess you knew.

That whistlin’ reminds me of daddy,

…of Jesus,

…of life’s lessons,

the ones we should daily do.

And

…every time I whistle

whistlin’ make me a little happier, too

There’s a whole lot more to this whistlin’ than a man would have ever thought

First there’s

…the whistlin’,

then there’s

…the listenin’.

that leads me to

…the thinkin’

about the sanctuary of my earthly and heavenly homes

…the sometimes scary journey in between

about grace and faith along my path

in things I have not yet seen

I think about my daddy

standin’ in the creek

I think about the cross

about

…our eternal sanctuary

that through God’s gracious act of love

our savior, Jesus, bought.

Thank you Lord for another dawn, thank you for giving me another beautiful sunrise, thank you for those memories of growing up, thank you for a family that taught me Your ways, thank you for not giving up on me when it perhaps would have been easy to do, and Lord, thank you for a daddy that whistles…today up on tHis mountain.

Steve Alberts

                                                                                                            Bethpage, TN

 September 3, 2007

© 2007 Steve Alberts

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.

In a Man’s Voice: Self-Portraits by Steve Alberts

Somehow the pundits had milked the year 2000 for all it was worth with stories about the end of the world, crashing computers, and other cataclysmic projections that never took place.  During the last days of 1999 many of us had looked into the mirror hoping to see a face that had made some positive profound difference for all of humanity before eternity replaced the present.

Then January 1, 2000 turned out to be just another day.

None-the-less, that was the day that I earnestly began trying to document my history.

But, since then I have grown to believe that facts and figures are for the engineers and scientists.  Since then I have grown to believe that the feelings and attitudes which guide us through life are so much more important than the fables that have been repeated enough to become accepted as fact… to be accepted as history.

Now, some dozen years later, with my 67th birthday behind me, as I think about Essays on a West Virginia Childhood, I realize that I wish to paint a portrait of my childhood rather than try to provide you with a photograph.

Yes, a portrait, not a photograph.  And, since I am the artist I can apply the colors and hues with strokes that compliment the caricature I wish to portray.

I do not share the fear that those who believe themselves homely have for a great painter.  My essays will be self-portraits.  Warts will be removed.  Wings and haloes will be properly hung.  Only the scars that reveal great character will be left uncovered.

Then I will unveil myself to you.

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.