When I was in third grade we lived in Eugene, Oregon at the base of a long hill on Washington Street. The slope eased about a block from our house at the edge of Washington Park, a large 2-square block of space with a playground and a wading pool on one end and a large grassy hill that dissected the land into a couple of baseball fields on the other. We were free to run to the park and play for long hours into the evening, certainly a different era. In the summer we would get up in the mornings and run straight to the park, only visiting home for lunch, a slab of bologna on white bread, smothered in mustard, a Suzy Q for good measure and a tall glass of overly sweetened Kool-Aid to wash it all down. On these most pleasant of days, Mel would position herself on our front lawn and enjoy a fine skin bake. Fully basted in Johnson’s baby oil, beer in hand and Bowie or the Stones blasting through the house stereo, Mel wouldn’t leave her position until she obtained an optimum hue.
The hottest days had a rhythm. After lunch we would all head back to the park and quickly submerge ourselves in the wading pool. The game would start with some sort of chase around the concrete lake, ensuring that we were good and sweaty, and end at home base, the cool water. The pool had a huge spigot at one end from where the water gushed and Jerry and I would hold Jason against the effusive flow and release him like a tiny pebble being shot from a sling shot. It was typical to stay at the park until the sky would begin to dim and then amble home for food. One late afternoon, Jerry and his friends congregated at the edge of pool obviously formulating an evil plan and then quickly disappeared around the side of the bathroom building. I gathered Jason. Within minutes their plan became clear. I couldn’t believe that the thugs had targeted the sweet old man sitting at a very near park bench- he had been waving to Jason and I all afternoon. A barrage of rocks fell hard upon the man and as he stood to shuffle off, his jacket fell from his lap and I quickly recognized his nakedness. The gross display riled the group and the onslaught of rocks became more vicious as the man abruptly attempted to exit the park. I remember him stumbling down the street as the boys followed him screaming, “Fucking pervert!” and throwing rocks.
The sun had zapped our energy and the little shack would be stuffy and hot. Dad and Mel certainly weren’t staying around in such a state of discomfort and would start the evening routine of getting ready to go out to the tavern. Again, the music in the house always set the mood for a party. Mel loved Bowie and he played him perpetually. Once Bowie was scheduled to be on Soul Train and we were miles away leaving the grocery store at the exact time the show was to start. Mel shifted into, “they’re gonna have to catch me,” mode and flew home going at least 80 down E 13th. My favorite part of the evening ritual was watching Mel put on one of her long gorgeous wigs that fell past her waist and wore thick bangs that hung right above her smoky black eyes. She would pin a rolled up sock to the very top of her head to make sure she had a great lift with the wig in place. It was a rarity to see Mel not wearing one; they were her trademark. With her locks securely in place and bathed in Love’s Earthy Musk, Mel was ready to head out for the evening.