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1976 - Ivan, Buz, Betsy and Tom

And they crashed together in an orgasmic explosion!  

Well, that’s a better start than some, but I gotta be real. I am sure that hundreds of books or stories have started by asking, “Where do I start?” and answering “At the beginning.”  However, I’m not sure what this story is yet.  If it were an autobiography, would it start with birth?  Conception? Maybe it should start with the two forces that came together (and no, this has nothing to do with the first sentence, though that sentence will be uttered by a main character later in this narrative), Mom and Dad.  At this point you might say, well this isn’t at all what I thought it would be and put this book down.  I am not sure whether my story is very personal or universal.  Can your average Joe the Plumber glean anything from it?  Maybe this writing is here for me to finally stop asking questions and find answers.  As with my Art, I am a painter, I often start painting and hope that, once I get acquainted with my painting, it will speak to me and tell me what it needs, I hope that this writing thing will work the same way.  I guess a good question would be “Why?” or more specifically “Why now?”  Because there is a story here that will be lost in time?  Because I have three beautiful daughters that don’t know where the hell their Dad’s “unique” perspective comes from?  I haven’t done well with the dream-chasing thing.  Life kept me busy when I should have been leaving a trail of paintings that would speak for me long after I am gone.  A recent bout with Melanoma finally forced me to see that I was mortal.  Hopefully, I can get this done and it ain’t too late.

This book came out of the dark and hit me in the head at 4:20 am on September the first, 2009.  There was even a ringing in my ears. At that time of the night, or morning, it’s hard to make sense of anything easily and my mind was trying to decide whether this night visitor was friend or foe.  After checking my blood sugar, which was fine, getting a drink, and making a bathroom visit I noticed the feet tingling.  What the hell?  Well, still not sure if this “awakening” was due to a chemical imbalance of some sort of whacked out muses visiting in the middle of the night like coked up Tooth Fairies.  The idea for writing about my life, or my family, or whatever I end up writing about, led to wonder what Dad and/or Mom would think about what I was feeling.  The contradiction that I am, and you will see I was made this way, can entertain the notion that a bit of both of my parent’s perspectives were possible.  Mom, that my ailments where getting the best of me and that the neuropathy in my feet was due to long term high elevations in my blood sugar, that the ringing sound was due to High Blood Pressure, and to ice the cake, High Cholesterol was exacerbating all these issues.  Dad, that inspiration and creativity can make bells ring and toes tingle!  So I decided to write some stuff down because sleep was such a remote possibility at this point.  Am I writing this because of the inevitable end of Tom or because I can’t keep this good stuff to myself anymore?  One thing that I need to address is contradiction.  Am I a melding of two opposites?  If’ so, is this a bad thing?  I often tell my students, I also teach Art at a local University, when you verbalize, or even better, write, it forces you to unjumble the alphabet soup in your brain into a logical or sequential linear stream that makes sense.  I am a visual (and sometimes audio) person so I am sure I will use analogies that have to do with Art (or music) every so often to better illustrate a point.  I am not sure if it’s good or bad but my mind is much like a “connect the dots” with too many dots, triangles and squares thrown in.  These neurons don’t seem to fire sequentially, but go off like a badly-fused string of Chinese Firecrackers.  I am not sure I want to control it but it would be nice to not be controlled by it.  It would have been nice to continue my dreams and now I have to address this whole damn book thing!  My Dad once looked into the heavens and pointed out Orion Constellation in a billion tiny sparkles and talked about the Hunter and even Orion’s Belt.  Lying on my back in the cool grass I had the time and the inclination to connect the dots and find the hunter Orion and his belt.  I am still here trying to connect the right dots, or neurons, as the case may be, to make some sense of how I think or function.  I only hope that I’m not on my deathbed when I get to the “Ohhhh” moment.  I think I have a starting point.  Maybe.  It may be too simplistic but there are no wrong directions when you are brainstorming, though it sometimes seems at times like a “braindrizzle” to me.  I should start with contradiction.  My parents were complete opposites!  I was fed contradiction by arguably the most important influences in a young life, Mom and Dad.  Can contradiction be good in a person?  I know as an artist we find interest in variety, even opposites.  We call red and green complementary though they are opposites.  If I want something that has a rough texture to stand out, I put in it a smooth environment.  I think my personal exploration here will accept that it’s “mostly” a good thing.  Now are there buffers, transitional things that soften the contradictions?  Do I have to “cleanse my palette” between bites?  Why can’t I go from pickle to pistachio ice cream for crying out loud and enjoy the shock?  Well, this is the stream of consciousness style I write in.  I will get off track, deal with it.  There is even a question as to whom I am writing this for.  Do I want people, just everyday people, to read this?  I think I do, I think there will be a lot of personal experience that anyone can identify with that might make you seem less whacked or maybe help you realize that other people feel similar things.  I hope the end product is real.  I hope it’s universal.  Oh my God (OMG in Gamers’ talk), this will be the death of my writing, back on track, back on track.  Maybe the beginning should be the end like those weird movies where the old man talks about himself and, all of the sudden he’s a baby in his story.  I am writing one of those I hate them.  And what the fuck (WTF) is a Prequel?  Who thunk that up?  No way I can go sequel or prequel because this is my first attempt.  I could, sort of, start at the end.  The end of my parent’s life.  

My mother a depressed alcoholic died of nothing, otherwise healthy, with a book about death and dying on her bedside table.  My father a happy drunk, died of Cancer, and, the night before he died, was sitting on the john imagining the Russian Steppes outside his train window.  

There, it’s out, now I can get down to business.  The ending, though not mine yet, is out and I can get to the Prequel.

My father:

My father was born Hubert Hudson Buzbee Jr. on June 13th in Mobile, AL, evidently (according to him) during a hurricane, the son of a preacher man.  Hubert Hudson Buzbee Sr. was a Southern Baptist preacher in Alabama in the early part of the 20th Century.  Evidently his father was a strict disciplinarian who expected the most from his children.  He had one sister, Dorothy and one brother Alton.  I don’t know a lot about his formative years, which, now that I think about it, is strange, in that he was a storyteller. At 18, he left the University of Alabama, before he was finished and headed north to the hub of civilization, Washington DC.  I got the impression, though my father never spoke ill of his home or his family, it was an escape.  All his stories began after he left Alabama, I am not sure he saw it as an interesting time in his life.  His hopes and dreams could never be realized in his home state of Alabama.  He worked for the IRS for a while and then applied at the State Department and got into the Foreign Service as a Vice Consul.  His first post was Dakar, French West Africa, which has since broken up into several countries.  This is where he met my mother and they fell in… whatever.  There were some stories of being the first white man ever seen in some villages, safaris, back when slaughtering these animals wasn’t in any way offensive or wrong.  There was a story about a birthday party where 9 naked belly dancers chased him into the night, across the sands of the Sahara, though he never told me the ending to that one.  My imagination handled it OK.  I can’t fathom the wonder of Africa right after WWII!  It was a time for exploring and discovering that new world and I think he must have represented us well.  I truly lament the fact that I didn’t stick a recorder in his face and ask questions into the night, long before he went with his friend Orion into the Happy Hunting Grounds.  There are huge gaps in my knowledge of the Pre-Tommy days.

My Mother:

My mother was born Corinne Watson Riley on July 23rd, 1921 in Easton, MD.  No significant weather events at the time that I know of.  Again, neither of my parents went into detail about their formative years though my mom was a professed tomboy and wasn’t loved or appreciated by her father.  She had an older sister Betty and a younger brother Jim.  Her father was also strict but his abuse was emotional more than physical.  Her sister Betty, the Belle of the Ball, beautiful and smart, died while away at college, when she was 23 of a Thyroid related disease.  Mom always claimed that her father, in his grief, had said something to the effect of how he wished it had been her instead.  I came to know him as a cruel and intolerant person so I am inclined to believe he at least made her feel that way.  Her mother was occupied with Jim who was her youngest and had a withered hand, whatever that is. She was pretty much alone in that dysfunctional group.  Do you ever get over that kind of thing?  Mom, like Dad, made her escape by joining the Red Cross, during the war and going to Pearl Harbor, right after the bombing and had, according to her, an amazing love affair with a man named Skip, who ditched her and she didn’t ever stop talking about till the day she passed.  When she left the Red Cross, she got a job with the Foreign Service and was transferred, guess where?  French West Africa.  I am again not sure about the courtship details but she met my father, they fell in… whatever, and were married.  I have spoken about Mom’s life many times with many people who knew and loved her and the common consensus is that she was headed toward a life as rich and diverse as my father, except she never saw it that way.  Where Dad “played it up” with enhancements and exaggerations, Mom downplayed it with “it didn’t come out at all the way I wanted it to”.  I do see where her “issues” came from, I only wish she had had the capacity to put that stuff behind her and move into a more productive and happy mode.  Mom got pregnant with my brother in 1947.  Mom’s fear of having a baby overseas and running home to the familiar had her returning to Easton, MD to her supposed family.  Hubert Hudson Buzbee the 3rd was born on June 23, 1948.

And off to Perth, Australia the new family went.

Australia:

I think this may have been the happiest time in my mother’s life.  She talked about her Australian friends through her life and actually went to visit the ones who were still around later in life.  That trip did nothing for her but underscore the fact that we get old and die.  I am sure that this was when Mom first understood the differences between herself and my father.   He was difficult, pretty much did what he wanted with whomever he wanted and never played by the rules.  She told me all my life, in a joking way of course, that I was an Australian Circus Acrobat’s son.  She explained that while Dad was away whaling off the coast of Australia, she had had an affair with this Circus Acrobat in the Aussie bush (excuse the pun).  Even though she didn’t sound serious, it was either her attempt at storytelling, which was unusual to say the least, or there was a hint of truth to the story.  When I spoke to Dad about it, again in a joking manner, he neither denied nor confirmed it, he just started a wild tale, which in my mind made the thing even more plausible.  He started talking about the whaling adventure and launched into an amazing account of having watched two whales “going at it”.  “You know Tommy, that when whales make love they have to swim miles apart and then rush at each other, swimming as fast as they can, thousands of tons of whale flesh, crashing together in an orgasmic explosion!”  I hate the internet, as it will kill all the storytellers with Wikipedia and Google.  I started to check his story about the whales, looked at a couple of boring videos, and decided that, if it weren’t true, it should be, damn it, and left it at that!  Well, he had some evidence as he brought back the skin off a whale’s penis!!  It was a discussed topic many times, the whale dick.  Mom wanted to toss it and Dad wanted to make a lampshade.  Gives a whole new meaning to Moby Dick.  OK, I had to go there.  My daughter Avaryl loves and hates my Corny humor, not sure where I get it.  Anyway, that whale penis skin finally got moldy (according to Mom) and it was tossed.  Valuable historical relic destroyed. 

Anyway, back to me.  Mom got preggy, whether by acrobat or whaler, with me and, again ran for her dysfunctional refuge in Maryland.  I, Thompson Riley Buzbee, was born on April the 15th, 1952.  How much more interesting would this “work” be if she had gone on a “walkabout”, knowing that her second born was an illegitimate son of an Australian Circus Acrobat, and pushed me out amongst the Wallabies and Kangaroos while the low drone of a Didgeridoo softly welcomed me to the world, and the dark hands of an aboriginal midwife offering me up to the Gods of the Australian Outback.   OMG, I wish!  That’s the stuff good stories are made of, but I guess this should be real, though that’s how Dad might tell it.  Well, I was born in Easton Memorial Hospital, an uneventful birth in every way, which I am sure is the very reason Mom came back.  She wanted uneventful, comfortable.  OK, I guess I’ll meet her halfway.  How bout, she delivered me in the soft mud of the cornfield of the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, among the barnyard animals, the soft breeze off the bay bringing the scent of a nearby pig farm, while the redneck midwife, held me aloft and presented me to the one true God, proclaiming, “Praise the Lord it’s a white baby!”?  I say, thank the good Lord she had the nerve to get on the plane to Turin, Italy, my father’s next post, and get back to interesting again.

Off to Turin the new and improved, if I say so myself, family went.

Torino, Italia

It seems I have snippets of memory from Italy.  We were there when I was zero to 4.  It was 1952 to 1956.  I hesitate to check precise dates as this is not an Art History paper and I want to still feel free enough to make a story out of it.  It has to get interesting as I start to be a part of it now.  I remember a pool.  A face.  Maybe a Nanny.  OK, maybe it won’t get interesting, at least about me, yet.  Dad was showing his true colors though.  The story differs a bit according to the source.  Evidently, after my birth Mom lost interest and Dad “defensively” went into his ‘Whoredog” posture.  She told stories of going to pick him up at all hours of the night with baby me and 4 year old Hudson in tow at local whorehouses and bars.  He never denied it, so it must be true.  Mom was always furious, sad, upset, some would say she had every right, but Dad always put it in a way, very unassuming, she wasn’t interested so I just had fun, like it shouldn’t have been a problem.  I kind of sympathize with him, I couldn’t ever live with Mom for long, she drained my essence after awhile, God bless her.  I love that southern expression.  You can put it behind anything!  He was an axe murderer, God bless him. I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  She was the sweetest, most caring person ever, in some regards a wonderful mother.  The cards she was dealt were almost unplayable and yet, I remember wonderful times, she always made my favorite spaghetti when I asked, she knew what we liked and she tried her best to give it to us.  She just had emotional hurdles that she couldn’t keep jumping all the time.  She had to rest.  My father was not the right personality for her at all.  I think being a Diplomat’s wife, back in the “day”, was in some ways more difficult than being a diplomat.  She had to keep up appearance, entertain foreign dignitaries, we all had to be on our best behavior.  She had to drink to be social in those circles, in those days.  A woman with her delicate emotional and physical makeup couldn’t flourish in that environment.  My mother was not a chameleon.  She needed and wanted comfort, safety, nurturing.  I think, though I was of course too young to know anything, that Torino was where the differences (contradictions) reared their ugly heads and though, Dad was always oblivious to it all, Mom felt the full impact of her responsibilities as a Mother and a Diplomat’s wife and started to buckle under the load.  She was a trooper and performed admirably for years and I am sure they still had some good times as she soon became preggy again less than a year after I graced this planet.  In her quest to make a go of it, she actually didn’t run home this time and my sister Gioia (means darling in Italian) Maria Buzbee was born on September the 27th, 1953 in Torino, Italy! A girl!  She really became Mom’s savior and they were close all through the years, until Gioia gently laid Mom down for her final rest at the end of her troubled life.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Off to Hamilton we went, the full family of five.

I might make a go of this leg of my life journey, my snippets are elongating into memories.  When we were transferred to Hamilton, Bermuda where we lived from 1956 to 1959, I was 4-7 years old.  How can I string together the many fragmented memories of a little boy except in feelings.  With a young child it’s not so much what he knows as it is how he feels.  It was warm and smelled of Oleanders, if they smell at all, something always smelled flowery anyway.  I know Mom said to not eat them because they were poisonous.  Nothing better than something so pretty that can sneak up and kill you.  The beginning of contradictions!  The beginning of adventure and even danger! Maybe the smell was salt spray as we were on the coast. Wait, Bermuda is pretty much all coast.  It was a big yard, at least to a tiny boy.  If I went back today it may be a cottage.  I remember Buckingham Manor (why would they name a cottage that?) as being just that, a mansion with a huge yard.  It even had a maid’s quarters, a separate building where Mozelle stayed.  She was big maid too.  Huge in fact!  Somewhat of an Aunt Jemima feel to her.  We would go out the door, the three of us, down a flight of stairs, by the Oleander hedge, down through the Potato patch.  I was very excited to find a potato under the warm, moist, black soil.  We’d take our time through the potato patch, down the hill, to the beach.  Wasn’t a sandy beach if I remember correctly, it was rocky and unaccommodating, even scary.  There was some kind of ruined structure that went into the water and I remember seeing a Sting Ray basking on the rocks below.  Not as big as Mozelle but it was huge for my little eyes!  There was a small island we could swim to, and if I remember correctly, my brother Hudson started managing and controlling about this time.  He could talk Gioia into anything and if they both did something, there wasn’t a snowballs chance in Hell I wouldn’t join in.  Like I said Bermuda was the birth of adventure for us kids.  My parents weren’t doting and would open the door and shoo us out for the day and from there we carried the ball, well.  We explored every inch of that place, found the nooks and crannies only a wee one could fit into during hours of Hide n’ Go Seek.  In the front there was a little secret pond in a grove of trees that Hudson told me was filled with pee.  I would approach it cautiously and he would wait to “almost” push me in.  We added another playmate, our Cocker Spaniel named Elvis.  My first dog experience.  

I started school at 5.  The English system was Form 1.  I remember not being too sure about the whole school thing.  One of the first days I was there my fears were justified when they took a little boy right out of the crowd at morning Assembly, right after we sang God Save the Queen, and yanked his knickers down and walloped him with a paddle.  I was good til Middle School.  My little white bum was staying out of sight, or so I thought.  The English (or Europeans) have a different idea about nudity, especially with little kids.  It wasn’t unusual to see a 5 or 6 year old running around the beach with his shiny heinie out.  I was excited about my first field trip ever until the teacher told us to change into our suits and all the kids started peeling off their clothes right there in the classroom!  I can’t remember her name but there was a little girl I liked that I couldn’t look at for weeks after that. I wouldn’t be the well-adjusted old dude I am without a few childhood traumas, right?  How bout fashion traumas at that tender age?  I remember Dad wearing these ridiculous Bermuda shorts with knee length black socks and black shoes.   It was so bad that even a 5 year old developed enough of a fashion sense to reject it!  Then I saw the school, Sandy’s Grammar School, had a mini version of my Dad’s horrific outfit and it was the uniform!  I learned a bit about humiliation with these lessons.  Dad bought a Mobilette, which is a motorbike (I emphasize bike) much like a bicycle with an engine.  Somehow he still pulled off the whole Playboy Diplomat in that garb on that contraption.  At least the Mobilette was a short-lived embarrassment.  That bike was so little that Mozelle, our HUGE fat maid, sat on it and bent the frame rendering it useless. 

I awoke one morning to the sad news that the old man who had tended the little veggie garden by out house had passed away, not really knowing what that was until Mom explained I wouldn’t see him again.  I remember clearly that it rained only on that garden that day and we made a big deal about what that was all about.

It was a great “Leave it to Beaver” life at that time.  It was very much a family at least from my little eyes.  On weekends we would go to Coral Beach or the Grand Hotel to swim and dig.  Always daring each other to swim out deeper or jump off the high dive.  I ended up knocking four of my upper teeth out and cutting my lower lip all the way through on the diving board at the hotel.  Straight to the hospital where the doctor asked me to wash my mouth out and I was appalled and excited to see water pouring out the hole below my lip.  I had a little goatee like my Dad except it was made of little black stitches.   Other notable hospital visits were when I was playing with window putty on the window and punched right thru it.  Smart.  More stitches, in the wrist.  Another time, at the beach, Hudson and I were poking on a Man o’ War with a stick and Gioia picked the stick up and put it under her arm.  Never heard her scream like that before or since.

The experience in Bermuda still resides in the recesses of my mind as one of the calmest times in my life and in our family history.  It was a time of little contradiction, though I may have been too young to know what was really going on, I am happy with ignorant bliss.

On to Managua!

When we moved to Managua, Nicaragua, where we lived from 1959-1963, I was 7-11 yrs old.

To be continued...

 

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