My sister couldn’t pronounce my name when I was born. She had a toy monkey named Jocko. She called me Jocko. It stuck.
There was a sign leading down to the place where I grew up that said Markin Farm. Nothing grew there. My mother said the word Markin was a word in the Spanish language that meant fields.
My father worked downtown. He left every morning wearing a suit and tie. I always thought I would be like that, but I never was.
There were no other children where I grew up. Another child came over and my mother wanted him to be my friend. When we saw each other he asked me where my shoes were. I asked him what else he was going to say. I went to his house one time.
I spent my summers under the hedges with a group of cocker spaniel dogs playing in the cool loose dirt with a truck and other toy wheeled vehicles. All my friends had four feet.
The first pony we had was named Snowball. My mother would go on long walks through the fields leading Snowball with me on the pony’s back. I couldn’t ride by myself and my mother liked to walk. I learned to ride that way.
My older sister couldn’t get a dress on a doll named Betsy so she threw doll and all out the window. When she realized what she had done she burst into tears. The doll broke on the terrace. It happened so fast. She couldn’t believe what she did and suddenly said I threw it out the window. My mother couldn’t imagine my sister could do such a thing either. I denied it over and over again and again. Betsy’s face was broken.
My mother took me into the next room, and tried to get me to confess. She said God knew if I was lying so I might as well tell the truth. I asked if God could see through walls. The subject was changed. I didn’t get spanked, and there was no other outcome. The doll’s face got repaired.
My parents worried that I was listless, and nothing seemed to concern me. My mother, as only a mother does, pointed to a photograph and said I was going to be a preacher. As a young man when I flew over the house in a home built aircraft she said I was going to be an aeronautical engineer.
Soon we got another pony that was mine, but when my sister had a friend over the friend would get to ride my pony. I would whisper in my pony’s ear when they could see. Without fail my sister’s friend would fall off. Every time my pony went around a certain row of trees in the back field he would cut sharply back toward the barn. If a person wasn’t ready for that sudden change in direction they would be trotting merrily along, then they would go straight and downward while the pony went hard left. It didn’t happen to me. I was ready.
One time when we were getting Snowball ready for a pony race my pony ran too so Snowball would have some practice running with other ponies. An experienced adult rider was on my pony. Her feet were in the weeds. When the practice race was over my pony was still going full speed ahead. They had made the mistake of racing toward the barn. What stopped him eventually was a long farm gate that separated the back field from the barn area. When the lady came back to where we were standing she said she could not stop him. She said she tried to turn, but even with the pony’s nose touching her knee it kept running straight ahead. She said as the gate got closer and closer she imagined the pony running through it like in the cartoons leaving a silhouette of them behind. She was laughing.
Before long my mother’s grandmother on her father’s side died. After that we got more and more horses and a bigger barn. There were school horses and some show horses, and other people would learn to ride. There was a riding teacher. With the money from riding lessons we would go to horse shows. I had a 4-wheel drive chassis named Morituri. I preferred motorized transportation. My one brother had a motor bike. He felt the same way about horses and transportation as I did, even more so. During the summers we would sit on two rock walls ten feet apart and talk about the most recent motorized scramble around the trails and fields. Mothers taking their children to ride would drive by us sitting on the wall. Several hours later they would go past again on their way to pick up their child. We may have moved while they were gone, but it didn’t seem that way.
My mother’s stepfather was a very wealthy industrialist. The house we lived in was his temporary quarters while his house was being built. Our families often had Sunday lunch together, and some Sundays we would all go to church. One Sunday when we went to church the sermon was about how it easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. We rode back in his most luxurious car made in England, and he said it was a lousy sermon. We did not share any of his fame or fortune when he died, but my mother said he was like a father to her.
My mother’s real father wasn’t poor either. He died before his mother. My mother’s father’s father was a well known architect in New York City. Recently there was a picture of his house in a magazine. A super-star had just bought it and that was why there was a picture. It said who the original owner was, and it named my mother’s grandfather. I took it to my mother. She looked at the picture and said it was her grandmother’s house. She said she had many Sunday lunches there and her grandfather raised Beagle dogs. She never read the story with the picture. It was not as if she did not want to; she just didn’t.
My grandmother on my mother’s side invited me to her house for dinner. She often talked about dying. That day she said she wanted to buy me a suit to wear to her funeral. She and her husband had just talked with lawyers about their wills. She went on about how she had no money. I said I didn’t have any either and then asked her if he (her wealthy husband) would give her some. He was sitting right there, and was amused. A few years before that night I was in a restaurant in New York City with them and some other family people. She said when she married him, he “introduced her to the balance book”. Then he quickly said that he “introduced her to a few other things too”.
At her diner table in Cincinnati she once told me that adverbs always had to follow verbs, and she didn’t know why. She said there was such a difference in saying I love only you and saying I love you only. He was sitting at the other end of this long polished table. I was sitting next to her and I said, “The English language is subject to change”. There was a long silence and nothing more was said about that subject.
Often when I was a small child she would put both her hands on my head and say it was a think tank. She called me “think tank” when no one else was around.
When I first learned the multiplication tables she asked me to write them down for her. She said she did not know them. She carried those multiplication tables in her purse until the day she died. My mother’s half sister said she found them when she cleaned out my dead grandmother’s things.
One time when I was much older they were sitting at either end of a small table of magazines in their library having a drink before diner. She asked me if I thought it was better to be cremated or buried. I said that when I was on leave from the army just before I went to Vietnam my mother sat on the edge of my bed and asked me if I was killed would I rather be cremated or buried. I told my mother I would rather be cremated.
I said to my grandmother that the whole idea of being in a hermetically sealed coffin and never rotting seemed unnatural. Plus, I said, if buried, there is no guarantee that someone won’t dig you up for fun or profit. Her husband was sipping a martini, and he made some guttural sound of agreement. They were eventually both cremated and buried.
Soon after she died her children went to her house to divide up her things. My mother did not go. She sent me and one of my sisters. The table in the dining room was piled high with polished silver. Over on the side of all this was a little glass candleholder. It held four candles and was made up of many tiny glass pieces held together with brass wire. My mother’s one full brother was there. He looked at the candleholder and said how different it was from everything else in the room. It had been in the dining room for the last several years. He wondered why his mother put it there, and why she had it in the first place. His mother, my grandmother, had told me about it once when I was there for diner. I told him what she had told me. She said when she left her first husband (his and my mother’s father) she went to live in Paris, France with the two of them. It was a difficult time, and she said she bought the candleholder to make their dinners a little brighter. When he heard that, he walked into the next room with his back to everyone, and he didn’t say a word.
My grandmother’s father was a famous American illustrator. The “penny press” and “yellow journalism” were well established where he lived. She said her father often had female models come to his studio and he drew or painted from them. A newspaper reporter tried to get a female model to have sex with him so the newspaper could report what happened. My grandmother said nothing sexual happened. Did the reporter write the story that nothing sexual happened? Or, did her father tell his wife and she over heard them? Or, did he tell her? I did not ask. It was a nice story about faithfulness.
My father’s parents were born and raised in Italy. They came to the United States quietly in a boat full of Italians. They met for first time in the United States and were married. My father loved music. When he was a small boy he played a cello which his mother threw down stairs. No one ever said why that happened. He never played a musical instrument, but he managed the Cincinnati Opera and did other opera work most of his life.
He went to college in Boston. He once told me that when he went there his mother told him to shave off his mustache so he would look less
Italian. He finished school at the University in 1932.
His first job was mixing concrete. There was an economic depression. Later he got a job in New York City’s public relations department. Soon after that he started his own advertising agency.
My Italian grandfather’s first job in the United States was concrete work also. The Forman told him and two other Italians to break up a reinforced concrete wall with sledgehammers. The only right they had was the right to quit, and he did. He went to work in a shoe factory and became a foreman before he retired. My father’s mother’s family ran a corner grocery store in Rochester, New York. My mother told me she and my father were riding around in his raggedy old car when both of them got hungry. He stopped and bought a loaf of bread. That was the meal. She said shortly after that they got married.
When we were children with horses we rode around a ring with stalls on the outside facing into the middle. There was wire mesh on the front of the stalls. One horse was very aware of the other horses moving around. This horse had its hind quarters close to the wire mesh and it was leaning against the side of the stall. Its tail was lifted to the side. Later the person who takes care of the horses explained to me in no uncertain terms that the horse was in season which he explained again, clearly, using many four letter words, means the horse had its biological urges in mind.
When I went to school I was supposed to show my parents my tests so they knew how well or poorly I did. We had a long driveway with deep woods on one side. I buried many of my tests there. I also ate quite a few. The teacher would always pass back papers beginning with the best and ending with the worst. When the teacher got to mine it was always one of the last ones or the last one. One time she held it up for the whole class to see. It was a standardized test on newspaper type of paper. All through the test I kept tearing off little pieces and chewing them up. It would have made really good spitballs if I were making spitballs. I was really embarrassed when she held it up. I didn’t think I had eaten that much.
Another time during recess in the fourth grade me and two other boys pinned a beautiful 3rd grade girl down on the ground and kissed her. I had noticed her for a long time before that and I suppose they did also. The one-man disciplinary committee told us if there was a next time we would have to wear the girls’ uniform to school. I did not quite see the connection, but it never happened again. That same person was also a teacher who liked to read. When I was in his grade two years later he frequently brought clippings from newspapers to school. Once he read to us about a father and child who went for a walk when it was snowing. The child stopped the father and asked him if he could hear the snow falling. The father realized he had not heard the snow falling, but that it definitely was making a sound. We then talked about sensory awareness and visual bias. That was in the sixth grade.
In the fourth grade the class lessons were about fractions. We were told about pieces of a pie. Meanwhile there was a kid over in the corner with a micrometer who at recess was able to measure the thickness of a person’s hair down to the nearest thousandths of an inch. He was always in trouble with the teacher. Plus, his desk was a mess. That bothered and disturbed the teacher very much.
That school was divided into two halves: the upper school and the lower school. The separation was between the sixth and seventh grades. My parents were told that I had to go to another school because the school administration thought I needed a different environment. I was not invited back.