An Alternate History of Brian J.

The blog received a visitor from someone in Katy, Texas, the other day:

Which led me to a little reminiscience. The spellchecker assures me reminiscience is not how you spell it, but I feel the narcissistic review of one’s life in “What If?” models is at least as scientifically valid as most social “sciences” taught in the universities and, seemingly, more scientifically valid than a lot of computer models designed to guide public policy and citizen compulsion.

At any rate, back in the early 1980s, my sainted mother was newly separated and soon-to-be newly divorced and was seemingly in retrospect eager to vacate Milwaukee. She had numerous friends there, mostly neighbors or friends of my father’s or ex-wives of my father’s friends that my mother got custody of in the divorce. But her family was mainly in the St. Louis area, where we eventually ended up (eventually being a couple summers after the separation). But my mother briefly, it seemed, considered moving to Katy, Texas, where her youngest sister lived with her then-husband as his work took him there.

As my third grade year ended, I had just finished up my beginning music class learning the saxette (a little whistle later replaced by the new-fangled technology or better marketing program of the recorder which replaced it as the beginning musical instrument). I wanted to sign up for the public-school-offered piano class in fourth grade, but my mother wouldn’t let me sign up for one of the limited spots because she thought we wouldn’t be there for the beginning of the year–we would be in Texas, right down the road from Mickey Gilley’s place (research indicates that “right down the road” means on the other side of Houston in Pasadena but not any more–Gilley moved to Branson at some point, so by my mother’s logic, I live just down the road from it now).

However, that did not actually come to pass. We did another two years at Carleton before moving to St. Charles.

Still, the visit from Katy brought fourth some speculation (a couple minutes’ worth, anyway). How would I be different today had I started the fourth grade outside of Houston, Texas, and graduated from high school down there? Would I have developed an affection for my adopted home state which I really haven’t for Missouri? My aunt shortly decamped for Missouri after a couple of years in Katy; would we also have moved back, or would my mother have gotten a job that compelled her to stay in Houston? Would I have a Texas accent and wear a cowboy hat instead of a fedora? Would I have read Westerns instead of mysteries? Would I actually like bro country in the 21st century?

It’s fun to briefly speculate. Except for the last bit, which is horrifying.

Still, what might have been? This seems appropriate:

Sweet Christmas, that song itself came out, what, ten years after the events I’m talking about, which is to say twenty-five years ago.

I asked my aunt about this to verify whether she was indeed in Katy, or if it was Tyler, Texas–about that time, a Texan girl came to Carleton and said she was the great(x)-granddaughter of John Tyler, so perhaps I was conflating the memories. I say great(x) because in the almost forty years since, I don’t recall how many greats were lined up. Four? Five? At any rate, over almost forty years, I am not sure how many of these memories of mine to trust, and I told my aunt that there aren’t many people left you could set me straight.

My aunt set me straight: she was surprised to hear that my mother considered moving to Texas to be near her. She thought we were already in the St. Louis area when she moved to Texas. In my mind, though, it was more serious than that, but perhaps it was from a child’s perspective, as I at the time wondered how desert-like that part of Texas was, and I worried about facing Gila monsters in the yard. So whatever my mother might have said, even in passing, I took it seriously in my even-then neurotic way, enumerating an unlikely bundle of worries. And a likely one: saying goodbye to friends.

Well, maybe we were in St. Louis before my aunt moved to Texas; perhaps my sainted mother talked about it when living in my other aunt’s basement and when she was separating onion rings on an assembly line aside immigrants and was considering anything an improvement. Maybe I’m mixing the timeline up because we moved several times in those years, from Milwaukee to the basement a modest house in a well-to-do suburb to the trailer park to the gravel road. Perhaps my mother only dreamed of this in Wisconsin, perhaps she talked about it with her mother or my aunts in St. Louis, all of whom have passed away. Who knows? I’ve reached out to my brother to see if he remembers any of it or if I am just making up fancies in my mind about my youth.

Next up: I shall speculate what would have become of my had I learned to play piano in the fourth grade. Certainly, it would have prevented me from the current mental and neurotic roadblocks I have to learning a musical instrument in my forties (the guitar experiment ended shortly after this rather sanguine update a year and a half ago). Would I have been in band? My beautiful wife ensures me that is an unalloyed good in high school and hopes our oldest does it should he go to public school next year, even though he’s not that enthusiastic about it. My youngest, though, started piano lessons in third grade and really swings on the trumpet already. Would I have been like that?

I look forward to the full resumption of normal activities so I can fill my days with normal busyness and not this nonsense.

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