As I slide into the end of my 30s and head towards middle age, I begin to appreciate the stories that make up my family’s ridiculous history. As a kid, you really don’t comprehend the great tales that make their way around the dinner table at Thanksgiving or over beers and dogs at a BBQ on the Fourth of July. If you’re lucky though, the stories get told enough times while you age.
This latest and greatest comes from the master yarn spinner himself, my father. Growing up in Layton, PA…
Trust me, you won't know where that is unless you are from the area.
OK, do you remember Silence of the Lambs?
That house at the end? Layton.
The tunnel that Clarice Starling and Jack Crawford go through on their way to the funeral home to inspect the body of the first girl killed? Layton.
Can I continue?
OK, so, growing up on the farm in Layton, PA, my father’s bedroom was basically an icebox. Before he came along, it was used to hang meat, usually pig, from the closet. It had exterior walls on three sides of the room, so it kept quite cold in winter. On January mornings, he would wake up, put on winter clothes and a coat and play in his room. His room was a modern day nerd’s wet dream; a room that smelt of bacon.
My uncle, around 10 years my father’s junior, moved into my father’s room and it became his. In 1980, when HE married, they renovated they the house to accommodate the styling of the latter quarter of the 20th century. This included redoing what had become known as The Ham Room. My uncle’s belongings from his youth still resided in the room. Odd ends and bits adorned the tops of dressers; a marble here, an interesting rock there, all frozen in time.
It was summer and the room’s lack of insulation made it as cold blooded as a reptile. Shirtless while he worked, combating the heat, he and my uncle increased the depth of the shelving in the closet, where pig carcasses once hung. My father, not as svelte as he was in his youth, had the makings of a belly that passed onto his youngest, me. After finishing, he spied a black marble, which he originally mistook for a cow’s eye due to its size. The wheels began to turn in his mischievous mind. He instructed his younger brother, now in his 30s, to go fetch my mother. He often sent his brother on errands, as older brothers do, usually with devilish intentions.
He came down to the kitchen, where my mother was working on cleaning up from lunch or dinner, not sure which, and made up some reason to bring her upstairs to the ham room. She obliged and climbed the rickety old steps up to the second floor. She opened the door to the empty room where various tools and remains of carpentry sat. My uncle said she needed to look in the closet, for whatever reason he invented.
My mother walked to the closet, and slowly opened the door.
There, in the top of the closet, was a large, stark white mass of something, with an eye fixated on her. If filled the entire space in the doorway and actually crept out an inch after being freed from captivity of the closed door. A scant of hair adorned the top and bottom right sides. By definition, it could be a large scale, actual, hairy eyeball. The blobulous eye-thing stared at her and for a moment, there was thought to be a blood curdling scream forthcoming. Instead there was simply a sigh and “Oh, George!” that escaped her lips. She turned and went back to her work, shaking her head in disgust.
This fleshy beast was simply my father, propped up on the shelf in the closet, shirtless, with his stomach hanging out. His arms and his feet hidden on in either side of the door frame. That onyx marble he found was positioned square in his navel like some kind of side show belly dancer from East Germany.
How my father managed to wedge himself, shirtless, in the closet is a mystery. How he managed to not succumb to the intense heat of a Cool Hand Luke style imprisonment is an amazing testament to his fortitude. How the shelving managed to not crack and disintegrate from his weight is simply a nod to his carpentry skills. Go dad!
And so it was the legend of the ham room was born.