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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


composition in gray #17

Today is my grandfather Brink's 110th birthday. He didn't quite make it to 100. He got up in his 90s and the frailty that goes with it. He was a greenskeeper at the public golf courses in the Kansas City area. He'd worked a country club once and that was enough. On the public courses the golfers repaired the dimple in the green their ball made when it hit. They didn't do that at the country club. Tore the greens up. On a public course, the golfers would make the effort to pick up the chunk of grass and dirt the club chopped from the ground hitting the ball in the fairway. The golfers at the country club didn't replace them. On the public course, the golfers treated him with respect. At the country club, every one of them believed he was Jim Brink's boss, but Jim Brink didn't see it that way.

He was a country boy who grew up on a farm in what is now Kansas City. His mother lived into her 90s on the farm that the city had grown around a long time before I was born. By the time he grew up, he was in the city and took up working on a golf course. I believe his mother and dad met on the boat from Bremerhaven to New Orleans, possibly in their teens. They probably took a paddle wheel steam boat up the Mississippi and then the Missouri over to Kansas City, a small town that grew incredibly fast around a huge stockyard. Railroad was there. Growing up there was dangerous. Grandpa was in a gang when he was young. Possibly all Germans. Surely his brothers were in the gang too. His brothers and sisters I never warmed up to. They were mean to kids. I was simply scared of them. The boys my age and older were scrappers looking for a fight all the time.

In fact, grandpa's favorite song from back in the 20s was That Ole Gang of Mine. He grew up not many years past the time of Jesse James and that bunch from the Kansas, Missouri border just a little ways south of KC. A gang. Teenage tough guys carrying .45s to gang fights. I expect in grandpa's day and place a gang was necessary for a kid's survival, like in American inner cities today. Jim was the one of the kids who was not so Germanic in temperament and didn't make out like a tough guy. But he was. I didn't know it then. When I was little he'd take me to the bar on 39th St at Wyandotte, I think, somewhere around there, Tony's. Tony was a movie Italian bartender of the period. I was Jim Brink's grandson. All the men in there were friendly to me. It was in the time when neighborhoods had bars the working men went to in the evening for a few beers. I loved going to Tony's with grandpa. Sitting in there with with big dogs.

I rode the horsey on grandpa's back until I was 6, when I got too big. I hated it when I was too big for grandpa to put me on his shoulders and ride his back. I didn't like that part of growing up. The house grandpa and grandma lived in was on Rainbow Blvd a mile or so from the hospital where my friend Wendy Salinger was born while I was living there with grandpa and grandma. Wendy and I met in Charleston many years later. When daddy went off to war when I was 2, my mother took me by train to KC from SanDiego. We stayed with them a couple years until the war was over. For me, they were idyllic years. 3 yr old in a house with 4 people who love you like crazy and take care of you. My mother's younger sister still in high school was also there, Auntie Marge. Then Uncle Sonny came home from the war and stayed in his room, shell shocked, pinups all around on the walls, the first place I saw the picture of Marilyn Monroe on the red bed. I associate that picture with Uncle Sonny's private hideaway. He just died a year or 2 ago.

Jim Brink's grandbaby got a kick out of standing on the rung of grandpa's chair at the kitchen table while he was having bacon and eggs. Grandpa would give me a piece of bacon and it made my day. Then he'd go to work and be home later for supper. There came a time it was silly for me to stand on the chair rung, I might break it. It didn't work any more. I saw the dog that lived there, Brownie, run over on the road in front of the house. Rainbow was in transition at the time from a road where the ice man delivered ice from a wagon drawn by a horse. Then one day it became too busy a highway for horses and wagons, and dogs. I've heard it said I would sit down in a hole in the yard dug by the dog, with the dog and play like I was reading to it. Possibly telling it the stories my mother read to me before sleep every night. That was something else I hated growing out of. It so happened I grew out of it at the same time the rooster came home from the war and brought the war with him.

I lived with grandparents in the summers during high school years and worked for grandpa on the golf course. We called him Simon Legare. He was rough on us boys, there were 3 and sometimes 4 of us whose job was to weed the greens, him attempting to keep us working instead of talking, which we managed to do all the time anyway. We were a sorry bunch. Not like kids were in his time. We'd never done anything but go to school and play. The way he grew up, kids our ages were doing every kind of work on the farm and were good at it. The 50s, when generation gaps were getting notice, had this white boy with a grandpa and something like a firewall between us, not much got through, because we didn't know how to communicate. We were interested in radically different things and were of radically different ways of thinking. For me it was rock & roll and keeping jokes in circulation. For him, it was work and his relationship with his wife. He was of the generation of people who paid attention to what they were doing.

He wanted to train me to be a greenskeeper so I could work with him and then take his place when he can retired. But that was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but a greenskeeper wasn't it. I didn't want to do anything. I was of that postWW2 time of James Dean, hoods, Elvis, juvenile delinquents, Little Richard, black kids going to white schools, them just as scared as the white kids were, early television, the Abomb, the Hbomb, bomb shelters as status, motorcycle gangs, rumbles, zip guns, bicycle chains. The Fonze is a cartoon. It was a rough time to be a kid. You never knew where it was coming from next, walking home from school, in school, at a movie theater, a football game, basketball game. It was the beginnings of the way it is now in high schools.

When I was 15 we moved to Wichita for a job. A couple weeks before we made the move, I heard on the news a bike gang killed a guy in Wichita and left him in a ditch. I'm thinking: Terrific. Of course, that's the very place I want to go. About as much as I want to go to Baghdad. When we landed in Wichita, it was not far from where they found the dead guy, about a mile. Hooray. Will I live long enough to graduate from high school? Remember, that was the 50s with a lot of white gangs of juvenile delinquents who stole hubcaps and car parts to customize their cars with. Somehow I survived.

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