Mom is dying. The years of smoking and abuse caught up with her and she was given around six months to live. This was about three years ago. I figure she’s too stubborn to go, but she told me she wants to hold a copy of my first book and read it before even thinking of going anywhere.
Part of leaving this earth and its pleasures of Winston 100's and liter bottles of Diet Coke is getting rid of an accumulation of 70 years of stuff, of treasures, of irreplaceable memories, of just plain junk. A whole house full. She gave me her stacks of old records that she and we would listen to (Marty Robbins, Roger Miller, Nat King Cole, Johnny Horton), her autographed picture of Jim Reeves (signed on a 'Grand 'ole Opry' tour with Homer and Jethro, Baker Oregon, 1954), and all my crap I left behind when my circus of teenhood left town; yearbooks, stacks of drawings and sketchbooks (covered in Batman drawings, of course) and my old comic books.
Oh I have plenty of comic books already. Years of writing for comic history magazines, going to conventions and collecting had left me with boxes of the precious things. These Mom had, however, were the ones I bought at the Seven-Eleven when I was a kid, the ones left after me and my siblings finished with them. They were in the basement, or what was left of the basement after several floods (mostly brought on by my sister and her epic battles with the washing machine) all I had to do was go get them. This was a three-hour trip, so I had an excuse to put it off. My mom’s house reminds of the show Hoarders, so walking into the house proper, let along the jungle of cities that is the basement is not something I undertake lightly.
Finally, the stars aligned. My wife and I packed the car for the trip (Diet Pepsi, chips, Snickers, and a change of clothes from all the cigarette smoke and dirt of the basement) and we headed off to Pasco WA, the Tri-Cities, land of my people, with the old cars in yards and trucker caps to prove it. No, that’s not a dig. I had old cars in the yard as a kid, and one or two 70s trucker caps around as well.
My mom was in her usual place, her old chair in front of the console TV, surrounded by empty or near empty plastic two liter soda bottles and heaping piles of cigarette butts. Yes, even with COPD and on oxygen, she still smokes. This is what addiction is, it is keeping on with behavior even in the face of death. In the westerns that makes you the cavalry, today it just makes you helpless. My mom and I caught up, which never takes long, as we usually don’t know what to say to each other, and I wandered off to find my youth, hopefully still neatly stacked away in cardboard boxes.
I found several boxes of my old comics, about fifteen years worth, all smelling of my mothers' smoke, (and I know my little sister and her friends were down there lighting up too, thinking they were getting away with something) and tattered from reading and re-reading. I would read them, my older brothers would read them, and older sister would read them. My two little sisters would shred them, if they could get ahold of them. My wife couldn't believe how many there were (I couldn’t believe how many were left), and she couldn't figure out how they were going to fit the things into the car for the trip back. I am the packing master, I knew I could make them fit
I, of course, would have to sort them out. No, really. I had to force myself to go through and touch, caress, smooth and thumb through each and every one of them. How would I know what to take back and what to throw away? (Ha! Like I was going to throw anything away.)
As I dug through these 70s-early 80s piles, I found that, back when, I loved comics. I still do but from the age of around six until I left high school, I really LOVED comics. I knew every twist and turn of DC Comics continuity (the many different Green Lanterns, which Flash was in the JSA and which in the JLA), I bought almost every DC title from 1974 to 1982-83 (Except those stupid love books, some of which are now the most valuable) and read them into submission. I found The Bookworm in Richland, a used bookstore that sold old comics and bought them by the foot. I memorized obscure facts and issue numbers. I understood the multiple earths of the DC universe, all of them, it made perfect sense. To me. I was obviously a nut of the greatest proportions, or a kid with no life. These heroes were my friends, and I knew them, knew them well.
I was excavating a kid that I had almost forgotten, and it worried me a little. I found that, yeah, I still like comics, I mean I buy a ton of the things every week, don't I? But...
But the years, as years must, had jaded my view. Working in comic shops and huge conventions had blunted my passion, rounded my love. The all-enveloping darkness had consumed comics and veiled my heroes. I was reading comics to keep up with the numbers, rather then the story. I mourned by not buying them anymore and mentally moved on. It took a bunch of musty, smelling of stale smoke, four color paper to make me remember that kid.
I made a vow that I was going to re-read every one of those books, and replace the ones that had been loved to dusty death. I was going to figure out who that kid was, and what he knew. It would be a challenge...
You see, that kid read every comic he got his hands on, memorized the Overstreet Comic Price Guide cover to cover, collected every mention of comics in the paper and pasted it in a scrapbook... he was a comics nut.
I hugged my mom goodbye, (we Stewart’s are not really huggers no matter what. It always looks like we just don't know how), and she chastised me for not coming by more often. I agreed to try to make it home more, not easy with my life across the mountains, and I picked up and carried the last box out, holding the bottom so it wouldn't burst.
As I loaded the boxes in the car, (I knew they would fit), I wasn't sure I could live up to the pace that kid set, he was a few years younger after all, but I was going to try... in my jaded way.