“Back in the USA”

I guess I was around seven years old the day my dad walked out on us, a week after buying me my first guitar.  We lived in a small apartment in Harlem.  I remember my mom being stoical, unsurprised at what just happened but knowing she had to keep my brother and me occupied, shield us from the profundity of the moment.
“Time for your bath Harry,” she said to my older brother, “And how about I make us some fries for supper?”
“Sure mom,” we said.
So she went to the small kitchen and set to work, then returned to the living room, where I was now listening to my records.
“What are you listening to, darling?” she asked.
“Chuck Berry,” I said.
“Can I listen with you?” she said, sitting by my side.
Oh well oh well I feel so good today
We touched ground on an international runway
Jet-propelled back home from over the seas to the USA.
“One day you’ll play guitar like Chuck,” she said, over the lyric.
“You think so mom?” I said.
“I know so sweetheart.”
Looking hard for a drive-in searching for a corner cafe
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
Yeah, and a jukebox jumping with records like in the USA.
“Hamburgers sizzle,” I sang.
“One day I’ll buy you a hamburger,” she said, then suddenly remembered, “Oh God the fries!”
And she leapt from the chair and raced to the kitchen, where the pan was on fire, flames reaching almost to the ceiling.
“Go get your brother!” she cried in panic.
“Harry! Harry!”  I yelled, “Fire! Fire!”
Within seconds my brother came in from the shower room, naked and wet.
“In the kitchen!”
Now Harry was six years older than me, not so precocious but mature and sensible. So he took the wet towel from around his waste and calmly placed it over the raging pan, then carried the sizzling thing from the kitchen into the yard, before eventually returning.
“It’s OK mom,” he said, “It’s out.”
“Thank you Harry,” she said, struggling to calm down, fighting the pent-up emotion and tears that welled in her eyes.
And then we all returned to the living room, where Chuck was finishing the last song on the record.  Quiet reigned as the needle scratched then lifted from the vinyl.
“I don’t know what I’d do without my boys,” said mom, falling to a chair from sheer exhaustion.
“We don’t know what we’d do without you mom,” said Harry, nakedly curling his arm around her shoulder.
“And so,” she said, managing a warm smile, “Were the fries ready?”
“They were ready mom,” he said, “Well fried.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Like your ding-a-ling.”
And that was the first time we’d seen her laughing in months.


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