This was the year of Dr. Seuss. My mother and father gave me books by Dr. Seuss to read. The first was The Cat in the Hat, then the Cat in the Hat Comes Back. For my birthday in 1959 I got Happy Birthday to You. I loved these books. First because I could read them, second for the wild world they painted. I hungered for them. At Christmas in 1959 we got Green Eggs and Ham. This became my brother Mick's favorite and then my brother Ted's. They loved this book. My mother read it to them each night.
I do not like them Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham. My brothers sat on the big couch in the living room next to my mother as she read the books. I loved them too and I too hated green eggs and ham.
I did not like them in a boat, I did not like them with a goat. I was thrilled by the cat and his improprieties. I was glad when all was restored.
We began to go to my Uncle John's house at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My Uncle John was my father's mother's brother. His name was John Murdoch. My middle name. Murdoch. He had an immense house outside of Philadelphia where he and his wife Eleanor and their daughters, Molly, Peggy, and Alice all lived. We ate wonderful meals there served by colored people cooked by colored people in a kitchen ran by colored people. We children ate in the kitchen away from the grown ups.
I love my aunt and uncle and they gave me my most cherished Christmas gifts. Books. Every year they'd come to our home on Chrismas day with a gift for each of us. Mine was always a book. Ghost stories and mysteries. The Hardy Boys. Places to run to when life was grim. Not that life was ever truly grim but for a small boy a place to hide was a blessing.
Alice was twelve or thirteen years my senior and I thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. An Irish beauty like Grace Kelly. I loved her small attentions and craved the times we had together.
At times we'd visit my father's parents house outside Philadelphia and they would be there along with my father's brother Ed and his lovely wife Simone. Simone was French Canadian and was the first person we knew to wear a bikini. She was witty and sophisticated. Dinner was almost always a wonderful roast of beef. There were whiskey cocktails and talk and we children were shunted to the outskirts.
My father's father, Poppy Wiler, was becoming ill with Emphysema and we were a distraction and a curse. Or so I felt. They had a ranch house with apple trees. We'd play in the back, pelting each other with fallen apples. Yellow Jackets would swarm around us and at dinner we'd run in to sop our bread with the blood of the roast. Rich roasts deep with blood and flavor.
A meal that would never leave, like the sting of a bee that hurts for days afterwards.
Like the smell of cigarettes and whiskey and the distant murmur of adults in talk. Like the perfume of Alice and my mother.
Lingering still. Even here in Jersey City while I type. I've never eaten or prepared a roast that tasted as good. No matter how I try.
I have my grandmother Wiler's cutting board for roasts. It has grooves cut for the blood to run off. We dipped our buttered bread in the blood at the far end. Maybe you can taste it. Maybe you dislike the taste of blood but for me it's a good taste. Like love withheld but always there.