And so, last week, after at least 55 years of not seeing his name, I read of the passing of J.P. Parks (I have used a pseudonym).
|J.P. ca. 1958|
Just like that he was back beside me at our wooden desks, a bony, freckled only child in a paper-thin flannel shirt, auburn hair stiff as a scrub brush, a biddable boy who would laugh all in a rush if you caught him at the right moment. We were all biddable then, years away from adolescent rebellion, bolted down as firmly as those desks by the nuns' generally benevolent authority.
He lived a few blocks from our primary school, in a dark, small, unreadable house from which only J.P. was seen to emerge, a house where no one was invited to play, not even in the yard.
In class, J.P. was a kind of placeholder kid, no trouble but not memorable, until one event: the fifth-grade Mother's Day gift.
We had an ambitious project. We were each to take home a piece of typing paper, and request that our mother write out one of our favourite recipes. She was to check it for accuracy and sign her name, putting her rep on the line for that spaghetti sauce or cookie. It would have been unheard of for a father to undertake this effort; the O'Donnell twins, whose mother had died, asked their aunt.
We then returned the sheets (without creases, people!) to Sister, who mimeographed the pages and distributed crisp sets. After the ecstatic mass inhalation of sweet, purply-blue mimeo ink, we got down to business, the assembly of our report-cover "book". The cover art was especially inspired: we traced an outline of our hand with coloured pencils.
I still have that frayed, foxed copy. As you would expect, the book was heavy on sweets; my mother sent her double-chocolate fudge cake recipe.
I can write J.P's entry from memory. Sister thanked him, but behind his back, we mocked his mother, clearly a dismal cook.
Take bread, put in pan with egg and milk.
By Mrs Parks
Many decades later, my father, one of the local doctors, began, in confidence, to recount some of his memorable cases. J.P.'s father beat his mother. One night in the early 1950s, he attacked her, leaving her unconscious on the floor, with J.P. in his play pen. He drove off, never to be found, not so hard to do in the 1950s.
Dad, who removed one of her eyes, said mother and son had spent several days alone before she was found; there had been scarcely a scrap of food in the house. The family survived on welfare and support from our parish, but all we kids heard was that J.P.'s mother was sick and could not work.
By the end of junior high, they had moved to a smaller, neighbouring community; I never saw J.P. again.
Now I realize that J.P. wrote that recipe himself, as best he could. He had survived to 67, worked at the local cement plant, enjoyed fishing.
Though the obituary did not mention a family, I hope J.P. had some love, and plenty of French toast. He was a sweet kid who fended for himself, and I wish, instead of laughing at his contribution, we had seen the strength he summoned just to turn it in.