Jack F. Matthews, Sr., Winter 1941-42, Texas
As posted in “Beginning: Red Ants,” there is first a setting out, a beginning of all things. Nations and tribes record their origins and seed their narratives with great events and heroes. Beginnings do not stop with national revolution or constitutions, but are present in the family, the circle of kin. Not stopping there, the setting out goes even farther down into each sentient, solitary being. Corporeal narratives, we each are.
The beginning is that earliest moment of consciousness, not self-consciousness because that comes later under the mesquite tree in Texas when the wind blows (at least for me, it was). It may be a song, a face, an automobile, truly anything under the sky that sticks first in the mind, imprinting a memory. At that moment the setting out begins and does not end till death. It may never be written, never told; but it is embedded in the flesh.
Mother’s setting out, she tells me, was when she and her father, Jake, were crossing the Bend Ford on the Colorado River near her Uncle Nathan’s home on horseback, riding double, when the horse slipped and fell on her. The river bottom, only one or two feet below the surface at the ford, is solid granite like the face of Round Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas, and mother, Jake, and horse entangled, thrashing in water. Her leg broke and they sent for Dr. Doss who set the leg as her father fashioned a small crutch for his two-year old to walk. The river became a constant theme in her life: the flood, the boundary, the swimming. Gywn crossed the river at Bend Ford many times after the fall, but the accident was her setting out, with horse and water above her and a father to save her.
My cousin and I were sitting on the ground outside the one-room trailer house on Austin Avenue in Brownwood, Texas, looking down at a clock. The year was either 1943 or 1944. The bedside clock was a throwaway timepiece, the face removed, the case gone, but the wheels and spring intact. In our play, the clock had been wound tight, the wing nuts stuck in the ground. The alarm went off and the clock spun around and around. My cousin and I gazed as only children can, intently focused on the exposed wheels and clock turning in the dirt. Wheels clicked within wheels turning. I looked away from the spinning clock and saw green bamboo stalks beside the trailer. I looked down, my cousin stared at the spinning clock until it stopped, turned again, then finally stopped. She looked at me. We giggled. My beginning was an old clock stuck in dirt, spinning round.
Two-and-a-half miles away from the spinning clock and trailer house, Camp Bowie trained soldiers for the war. My father, Jack Matthews, had left the camp, left us, and was jumping out of planes for extra money, urging Gywn to keep flying the Irish green. He was parachuting with Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, destined for Europe and every major combat operation from Normandy to Berchestgarten. The Band of Brothers, Easy Company. Since Gywn and Jack had divorced shortly after the war, I knew few details about him. I found a cache of letters in her things following her death and I did not open them until the summer of 2009. When I found out he was a foot soldier in Easy Company, I ordered books overnight from Amazon.com and read his story, his name in print.
In Gywn’s cache of correspondence, I read the letters and documents dated until 1946. There was a story beyond the narrative my mother had told me and its plot lines were different from what I had been told as a boy. I stopped reading and put the letters back in the Bigso Boxes of Sweden I bought from Container Store to preserve them. I have put them aside for now because there’s a story to be told. An old, old story, along the banks of the Colorado River in Texas, before the spinning clock, before my beginning, but in the flesh of my family.