I requested discharge from the Army because I am gay. The look on my commander’s face was that of sloppy shock. His hairlip opened slightly and he chose his words carefully: “I have no problems with your homosexuality, Taylor. There is no reason why you cannot finish out your enlistment. Why must you go about bringing all of this out into the open?”
“It is not your decision to make, Sir,” I replied with a smirk on my face. I had just been topped by a black soldier stationed down in southern Germany. He drove three hours just to see me. We met at the gay disco ‘Construction 5’ in downtown Frankfurt. I was feeling pretty as hell and had the utmost courage when I handed my commander my typed statement that proclaimed my gay innocence and request to be discharged. My lover Gilly Wells had just been reassinged stateside and I knew I’d never get topped like that again, especially after permitting that queen from South Germany to get all up in my like that. I felt so dirty and alone. I wanted out. Why give my young life to my country when as a bottom there are but a few good years for one to find the top of one’s life.
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Meme grew a tea garden. With a huge stash of powdery 10-10-10 fertilizer and a hoe she worked like a pastry blender, she planted her sacred herbs near her award-winning blue potatoes and the two rows of marijuana planted atop heaps of chicken droppings along the side of a hen house.
Dad claims the little tea garden saved her from a terrible bout of summer flu. Almost everyone catches this mysterious illness, no matter what time of the year. It is a sudden sickness that hits one hard, out-of-the-blue, and suddenly. “I feel like hell, Barry. I can hardly move,” Meme cried, her red hair matted along the side of her Irish face like the claws of a crow grabbing an ear of corn. “Go outside to my tea garden and clip two pieces from each of the plants and bring them inside. None of your pot, though.”
“We boiled all the little stems—the catnip, mint and everything else she had planted out there. There must have been a dozen or so plants,” Dad explained. “She was up and walking around twenty minutes later. I was scared when I found her insider her trailer looking so sick.”
Meme entered her blue potatoes in the Huntingdon County Fair and always won the blue ribbon, but the tea was for her own consumption. At the time, very few farmers in Huntingdon ever saw blue potatoes and already Lipton had destroyed nearly all tea gardens in Appalachia. She sent away for the potato seed from a garden catalog that also sold her an egg that she incubated in a little plastic contraption with a light bulb that came from the same manufacturer and distributor of the eggs. We watched the chick hatch and grow into a short-tailed hen that Meme called ‘Sally’. Sally laid eggs that were not brown, but rather slightly green on the shell, just as was advertised.
Meme’s cider was the better than her tea, I bet. I don’t remember the tea garden that Dad spoke of this morning nor the rows of marijuana that dad used to make many friends, but I remember making cider with my grandmother, the most beautiful red-head this side of Dublin. There was an entire orchard surrounding her trailer. My grandfather planted it. We used a juicer that required paper filters that Meme sent away for. Jug after jug was filled and every now and then I took another sip in a little glass with yellow flowers painted on it.
Meme was not impressed with marijuana, according to Dad: “I asked her if she wanted to smoke some one summer night. She took a few puffs and said, ‘I don’t feel a damned thing.’ A few minutes later she ate half a cold chicken.”
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We grew so many potatoes in Pennsylvania that come April, we had enough left over to cut into pieces and plant next year’s crop. They went six inches under a rather chilly ground in what was, in retrospect, the best damned organic topsoil west of Hershey. Dad always hauled in several loads of cow manure from a local dairy farm.
Skin sides of the tubers went down with the white part sticking up. We planted only according to the “Old Farmer’s Almanac”. One year, my grandmother planted potatoes under a full moon, going against recommendations from that yellow paperback, and an old wives’ tale that warned against planting potatoes in the dark of night and not early in the morning. Meme awoke to find all those little white pieces of potato she had carefully planted six inches apart, had made their way, six inches below ground, to the top of the soil where they slowly spoiled under the warm rays of an early April sun. She must have blamed the incident on some sort of curse and not the realization that gravity from a full moon may have had something to do with it. They still tell that story back there this time of year.
We ate potatoes almost every night. On a blue moon, Mom sometimes made spaghetti. Most nights it was those potatoes we planted in April that lasted all year in a cellar that stuck off from our real cellar—a little hole dug underground from our double-wide, where the potatoes stayed cool all year, despite a woodstove just a few feet away. When Mom sent me downstairs after school in the evenings, I always picked the largest, so come April there were mostly wrinkled little potatoes with all those eyes looking up at you under a thin covering of lime dust.
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