By David Calandro
I remember June in St. Louis and being poor. My childhood was soaked in summer sweat and sleepless nights. Dripping with sweat I walked through Forest Park, past the Jewel Box, thinking of Tennessee Williams. Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie” was my St. Louis, not Judy Garland’s “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Aunt June lived in the state mental hospital where the smell of stale urine was strongest in summer. No air-conditioning for her either. I was already damaged goods by age five myself, so I accompanied my mother to visit her sister. My brother was pristine though. He didn’t join us.
June didn’t know when she moved to St. Louis during the war that the city would become famous for electro-shock therapy or for being the place where the actual exorcism occurred that became the blockbuster movie, “The Exorcist.” She was a lovely lady. She could remember every Hollywood movie and movie star. She brightened when I visited life there than anywhere else. We brought her cartons of cigarettes that permanently stained her fingers. We brought her boxes of chocolates that she consumed minutes after receiving –a definite sign of how much smarter she was than anyone else in the family, considering that other patients stole her belongings.
Her father, my paternal grandfather, asked about June whenever we visited. By early morning he had already positioned himself with a glass of whiskey. He didn’t visit her, nor did her mother, who just sat silently in a corner rocking chair. Aunt June was one of five girls, including my mother, who slept in a single bed in the same shack we visited my grandparents in. The potbelly stove that my grandfather always had to discuss on my every visit sat in the tiny living room as it had always. Soon after greeting me, grandpa would point to the stove and explain for the hundredth time how it was what put Aunt June in the condition she was in.
As a toddler, Aunt June pulled a pan of boiling water from the top of that stove over onto herself and burned almost all of her tiny body. The doctor had come and applied an ointment everywhere on scorched flesh and then wrapped in her bandages head to toe that stayed on for a year. I never quite figured out how those burns and bandages translated into my aunt’s nervous breakdown as an intelligent, attractive woman in her early twenties when her husband left with her son and daughter. Maybe it didn’t, but I loved Aunt June anyway, and she loved me, and that’s all that mattered. I guess now that I was lucky that I was already damaged enough as a young child to be considered immune to entering the dark and scary place of my aunt’s abode and consciousness. My aunt is always in my heart and in the St. Louis that was my home, along with the characters of Tennessee Williams and endless humidity and heat.
About David Calandro
David is a semi-retired nurse and teacher who really wanted to be a journalist. His childen’s book, Open, was published in 2018, as was his article on the Four Freedoms. Born in St. Louis, he now lives in New Jersey. He has written a mystery novel for which he is seeking a publisher. He submitted to The Book Smuggler’s Den because he likes its name and the phrase “Keep it sharp and make it sing.”