The soles of a woman’s feet, as seen through the eyes of a five-year-old, from inches away. My earliest memory. The soles are covered with tiny, fresh cuts, many still bleeding. I press myself against the foot of a king-sized bed where my mother, Laura, lies on her back with her feet up on a pillow, nursing another Bloody Mary, smoking a Pall Mall, and watching Groucho Marx on TV. A striking twenty-eight year-old, my mom believes she looks more than a little like the soon-to-be first lady, Jackie Kennedy.
Earlier that autumn day in 1960, one of the last warm ones before the brutal Chicago winter, mom took me to the beach, down the cliff from our home. After a picnic lunch of camembert and crackers, I announce that I have to tinkle. Mom makes a display of annoyance, picks me up, and heads toward the rickety beach house which has been recently vandalized - there are broken windows, and the floor littered with tiny pieces of glass. She carries me in her arms across the glass shards to the washroom where I can pee properly.
Later that day, I can’t stop staring at the bottoms of my mother’s feet, mesmerized by the carnage - an indelible image. Why couldn't she just let me pee in the sand or in the lake? Why does everything have to be so fancy?
“Dammit!”, cries mom, “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I can carry you,” I offer.
Mom chuckles, “Silly rabbit, Duffy, you’re way too small.”
I know someone who could carry her, easy. He’s big and strong… but pretty wobbly.
My father, Bernie, is a bit of a mystery to me; bohemian, unpredictable, kind of a swashbuckler, but distant, not quite real, more like a character in a movie. A writer, and a gifted painter, dad draws and paints with me - it’s our primary interaction. A nude painting dad did of mom on their honeymoon, called I Haven’t a Thing to Wear, is prominently displayed in our home, a somewhat unnerving image to see every morning over Cocoa Puffs.
Everyone says that my dad has the greatest sense of humor, but I don’t get most of his jokes. The one where he says, “Why don’t Jews drink?” (wait for it…) “Because it dulls the pain!” is especially confusing because dad is a Jew and he does drink. A lot. Mom jokes too, calling her husband “the Tarzan of mood swings.”
As far as I can tell, my dad is not like other dads. He seems to have no normal job, and does not like normal sports. Dad’s sports are skiing, tennis, and his big passion, sailing. He spends more time on his boat than at home, or work, whatever that is. He’s a great sailor with lots of trophies, and a bad driver, with lots of car accidents. And I forgot to mention the other sport he loves, one that not too many dads are into - bullfighting.
Dad travels almost every year to the ‘Running of the Bulls’ in Spain. He brings back gifts for me, like real, sharp bull horns, a red cape, and a colorful, tight-fitting matador’s outfit. After a few drinks, he has me put on the outfit and stand way down the long hall, holding the cape, in trembling fingers. At the other end of the hall, dad starts snorting and pawing the floor with his feet, and holding the bull horns to his head, he charges maniacally down the hall directly at me, his petrified son. Ole!