Momma Lockhart and Me


Momma Lockhart

Momma Lockhart. That’s what I called her. She found me one day in 1963, by the rail yards in Sioux City, Iowa.

It was good that Momma Lockhart and her husband, Ray-Gene, found me when they did. I was four years of age, but already a heroin addict, made so by a couple of Chinese communists who had abducted me a few months before from a carnival in Georgia. I’m sure I wouldn’t have lasted long with the Wongs, my kidnappers. They only gave me Rice Krispies to eat, and of course, regular — and increasingly large — doses of heroin.

Perhaps they would have eventually smuggled me back to China, and who knows how I would have turned out. Maybe I would have wound up living in Beijing and working in a fireworks factory, or maybe I would have gotten a job somewhere else, for example, cleaning toilets in the central Shanghai Train Station.

Momma Lockhart was a real sweet lady. She and Ray-Gene named me Butane. Ray-Gene liked that name because he worked in a lighter fluid factory around the corner from the house. He collected old Butane cans in his basement, and he did real interesting things with those cans. He even made Momma Lockhart a lamp from a bunch of those cans.

Momma Lockhart brought me up like one of her own, and she used to watch out for me real close-like. Lots of times, when her natural-born children, Smoky, Nick and Ash, would beat me up, she would pull those critters off me and say, “Now play fair ya’ll! Butane don’t play rough. He’s refined-like.”

Momma Lockhart was a swell cook. She could make a mean plate of frankfurter and beans. We ate frankfurters a lot. Sometimes Momma cooked special meals, like ground squirrel meat and olive pie. For treats, we shared big jars of maraschino cherries.

We had home-made molasses from Granny Lockhart’s farm outside of town. We each used to get our own special bowl, and we’d dip our frankfurter rolls in there. And, on Christmas, we had Momma Lockhart’s world famous Crisco pie, a tasty mix of lard, oats and sugar.

When I was 17, I left Momma and Ray-Gene’s house to find my natural parents in Georgia. Momma Lockhart was real sad on the day I left; she cried a lot and kept locking the front door to keep me home. When I finally managed to slip away, she came running after me. I was touched but kind of embarrassed, too, because she ran down the road in her house coat and pink, fuzzy high-heel slippers.

It was a shock because I’d only ever seen her wearing them inside the house — on mornings after she and Ray-Gene had been to a moving picture. It was part of her routine to try and make herself look like the star she’d seen the night before – like Miss Marilyn Monroe or Mamie Van Doren or someone special like that. I sure liked having Momma Lockhart serve me my morning oatmeal looking like that. It gave me funny feelings in my tummy … and even further below.

Anyway, there she was, running down Industrial Boulevard wearing those high-heeled slippers with the little bits of pink bunny fur on the toe part. And wouldn’t you know it, when she caught up to me, she slipped on a sewer grate and fell. She broke one of her shoes, too. It quickly became obvious that she’d under-dressed because she didn’t have on any underwear, and her birthing slit was plain out there for all of Sioux City to see.

Yep, sprawled on the corner of Industrial and Main – that was the scene.  Her hair curlers were littered about her head. It seemed she was down there for an eternity, and neighbor women started to draw near. I tried for a while to convince her to get up and go home and make some franks and beans or eat some molasses.

Finally, it was a promise of a few swigs of Wild Turkey from my hip flask that got her up. As she limped around, blood ran from her knee. I dabbed at it with my hanky, and then I lit a Lucky Strike and put it in her mouth. Off she went, sobbing, mascara running down her face.

In my mind, I can still see Momma Lockhart hobbling down Industrial Blvd, handicapped by a broken slipper heel, shoulders heaving with grief. She turned to wave a few times with her lace hanky. And when I turned the corner, she was gone from my sight, but not my memory.



Buried Alive


Jonathan had never seen a dead body, well, not counting the kind you see in the movies. He had never even been to a wake or a funeral. Nor had he ever seen a real wooden box, a coffin, that you bury people in.

Still, the 11 year-old had an obsession: He was afraid of being buried alive. His fear kept his mind totally occupied during the day — especially when he wasn’t at school. And at night it took him a long time to close his eyes and fall asleep, he was so afraid that he’d open them and find himself in a dark coffin.

Jonathan was afraid that someone might, at any moment, snatch him off the street and force him into a van. He imagined that it was a white van — the kind with no windows. In his fears, he’d be driven to a field in upstate New York, where he’d emerge to find a raw hole in the earth and an open pine box perched aside a giant mound of brown earth. The person who kidnapped him would be joined by another man and then they would force Jonathan into the coffin, close it and nail it shut. Then they’d lower it into the waiting earth.

Inside, Jonathan would scream, trying to drown out the sounds of dirt being thrown down onto the top of the coffin. And he would hope that, after his torturers left, a passing stranger would somehow hear his cries, muffled by the earth, and call the police.

Just imagining this made Jonathan shake with fear.

Jonathan found some relief from his scary thoughts in his schoolwork. But he was small, skinny and spoke with a shy, soft tone. That made him a target among the other boys, who, when they weren’t hitting each other with a big red ball (senselessly, Jonathan thought), would gather around Jonathan calling him names. “Sissy” was the kindest name. The cruelest, cutting into Jonathan’s self confidence, were: “fag,” “fairy,” “gay.” There were even some girls, the prettiest, most popular ones, who joined in the bullying, calling him “Jenny.”

Jonathan wondered why these kids took so much pleasure in hurting him. Maybe they were really unhappy. But why? They all seemed so popular and good-looking, and many of them came from the richest part of town, a section with beautiful homes on the water. In summer, the kids would dive off a private dock and sail in the skiffs their parents had bought for them. At school, Jonathan would bring peanut butter or tuna sandwiches — maybe an orange for dessert. But these kids brought store-bought sandwiches with them every day for lunch — ham and cheese or salami or turkey. Jonathan would watch them at their lunch table, as they laughed and feasted on bags of chips or small cartons of pudding and jello.

Jonathan’s best friend was Jesus; He used to talk with God and ask Him for help. He listened very carefully to the priest on Sundays when he talked about Jesus, and Jonathan imagined walking around with Jesus and being one of his students–even wearing a robe and sandals. Jonathan tried to turn the other cheek when he was being bullied. That’s what Jesus had told suffering people to do.

But some days, when the bullying got really bad and there seemed no corner of the school where Jonathan could hide, he thought it might be a relief to just take a walk to the 14th Street bridge and jump into the bay below. Once, Jonathan even went there and, for a long time, at least two hours, just stared over the railing into the gray water below.

Jonathan didn’t jump because he knew that God would be very angry with him if he did, and maybe he’d go to hell. And what if his hell would be to spend eternity lying alive in a coffin?

Then again, if Jonathan jumped, he wouldn’t have to go back to school the next morning to face the grave-diggers.