Copyrighted 2015 by Greg Cielec
A Poem on a Bar Room Wall details the year leading up to my fortieth birthday in 1998. Actually it covers a little more than a year, starting in the spring of 1997 when I got snow bound in a Chicago airport coming back from a spring break vacation, and ending on my fortieth birthday in June of 1998. It was a crazy year, the craziest of my adult life. It was a year of old and new love, breaking and entering, life and death, big wins and heart breaking losses, travels to far off places, and when another low rent school administrator almost got me to switch careers.
The story starts in March of 1997 in Chicago because that was when my reoccurring dreams started, but actually it all goes back to a lot of different places and times…our house in Parma Heights when I was a young boy…someplace in Holland during World War II…on an aircraft carrier in the China Sea during the Korean War…hundreds of Friday nights in various high school gyms, and a thousand Saturday mornings at the West Side Market.
The two reoccurring dreams both always started and ended the same. The first took me back to my college days, and Amy and I were in her upstairs bedroom in the house she and Katie lived in on Summer Street. It’s a warm spring afternoon, and you can hear birds, street traffic, and kids walking back and forth to classes outside her open windows.
We are lying side by side on her bed, and I can smell the freshness in Amy’s skin and hair. The drapes are rustling slightly in the breeze as we fall in and out of sleep. I glance at her alarm clock and see I still have time before I have to head off to Rufus’s to work.
I start to kiss the freckles on the back of her shoulders, and my arms reach around her and cup her breasts. As a pinch her nipples with my thump and forefinger she comes out of her sleep with a smile. I then run my hand down her side and across her smooth bottom. She starts to turn her head and her upper body, and we lock into a kiss. Just as we are about to turn and face each other, I woke up.
The other dream took place in the house in Parma Heights we moved to when I was I young boy, sometime before my father died. I’m about seven or eight and I am lying in bed too wide-awake to fall asleep, waiting for him to come home from a business trip.
My mom is in the kitchen waiting up for him too. There is a pot of fresh coffee on the stove, back then there was always coffee on the stove, and a plate of food in the oven staying warm.
I hear a car pull into the driveway and I know my dad is home. I wait for a moment or two before I rush into the kitchen. I wait until I hear the backdoor open and close, and wait another moment to give my parents some time alone together. I know they are kissing and hugging each other and telling each other how much they were missed. I wait a couple of minutes before I make my move. I tip toe to the kitchen doorway and peer in. They are already sitting down with a cup of coffee in front of each of them, an ashtray in between. I see the back of my father’s head as he is doing all the talking, and I see a look of nothing but love and admiration in my mother’s face.
I make my move as I yell out, “Daddy,” taking a running start towards him. I hear his laugh, he hears my voice, and he starts to turn around and then…and then I woke up.
And just about the time I started to have my dreams about a long dead father and a long ago girlfriend an independent minded grandmother sat down in the public library in a small English town with her favorite grand daughter for a bit of technological education. The Internet had finally arrived on the south coast of England.
“Really, Grams, you can’t be afraid of the ‘net,” nineteen year old Annie told her maternal grandmother. “It’s connecting the world. Let me show you how I send emails to my friends in the states.” For the next hour or so the two of them sat in front of the screen as Annie showed her grandmother her favorite websites, how to use a search engine, and the ins and outs of email. She even set her grandmother up with her own email account using one of the free web based email sites that were just then becoming popular.
Annie was her grandmother’s favorite because of her independent streak, which was also the reason she was in her own mother’s doghouse. Instead of marrying the local boy she had dated all through school, one morning set off for the bright lights of London (financed in part by a secret loan from her grandmother) and did not return except for an occasional visit, when she would stay at her grandmother’s instead of her own old bedroom at her parent’s place. Her grandmother never questioned her about her piercings, her tattoos, the color of her hair (currently dark black with a purplish streak), or the late hours she would keep on her brief visits.
Miss Polly enjoyed these infrequent visits from her granddaughter, and never missed the opportunity to hear first hand about the outside world. Widowed now for five years, she greatly enjoyed the independent life she had living alone and doing as she wished. Her children never quite could understand her situation, and several of them had asked if she wanted to move in with them. Not a chance, she would say to herself, not in my lifetime.
There were a few other things her kids didn’t understand about their mother, especially her going back and using her maiden name after the death of their father. Sure, their marriage wasn’t perfect, but what type of woman does that? And they had also heard that she would occasionally stop by her self at the White Horse to have a draft in the afternoon. Not often, and never more than one, but what kind of woman does that? Especially at her age.
And when she was in town, Annie would join her grandmother for her afternoon draft. Annie loved the way the afternoon regulars would rise off their bar stools and bow and greet her grandmother, all calling her quite formally “Miss Polly.” George the bartender would greet her with a smile and say, “The regular, Miss Polly? Let me draw it for you and I’ll bring it over to your table.”
Annie was never quite sure why her grandmother always picked the same table, raised in the corner that overlooked the whole tavern. She knew the White Horse was the tavern her grandmother’s side of the family always considered as their own tavern, but it was now on the other side of town and dozens of establishments away. But it was also one of the classier places in Dover, always comfortable and filled with smiling faces.
On this particular afternoon, after their stop at the local library, Annie could tell something was on her grandmother’s mind. Seeing what could be done with the Internet had definitely made her think about something, what she was not sure.
After they each had taken a sip of the pints in front of them, Miss Polly looked at her grand daughter and said, “When you said you could probably find almost anyone in the world on that thing, did you really mean it?”
“I’m not positive, Gram, but it is a way of life for a lot of people. Newspapers publish online versions, there are sites with white and yellow pages, others that give you directions to anyplace you want to go. Why do you ask?”
And then for the first time that day, but surely not the last, Annie was surprised by her grandmother as she lifted her glass and finished it with three big gulps. “Before we get started, Sweetie, you better go get us another round. We’re going to be here quite a while.” When her granddaughter put the second pint of the day in front of her, Miss Polly was ready, she thought, to finally talk about what had been on her mind for the last fifty-some years. She looked her Annie in the eyes and raised her hand and pointed, “Do you see that picture on the wall over there? Well, the day it was taken…”
Two hours, and several more pints later, Annie and her grandmother were back in the library sitting once again in front of the same computer. If you were watching them that day you would have noticed the most particular looks on both of their faces. A bit of it was the beer, but also you could tell that both of them had been recently had laughed and cried to an extreme. Their tear streaked faces showed surprising amounts of happiness and joy.
“Grams, you sure that’s the way you spell it? And that’s the right city? Let’s punch it in and see what comes up.” And after some clicking on a few different pages, an article from an Ohio newspaper titled “Surviving World War II Vets to be Honored” filled the screen. It included a photo of a still handsome silver haired man of seventy or so, standing in front of what looked like a meat counter at a market.
Annie watched as her grandmother’s eyes widened in surprise and she clasped her arm, turning to her and saying, “Oh my God, that’s him.”