Chapter 14     My Son, the Musician

Elaine writes---

It's time for Mom to get a word in sideways here, this is her 
story too.

I got rather weary of commuting to Renton every day for the 
thankless task of fixing constantly outdated computer systems 
for Boeing Aviation and after 8 years it was time for a break.  
Art had been taking it easy building barns and fences and 
planting crops, as well as teaching English at Monroe High.  We 
also had grant money coming in from the IPR and were doing all 
right economically.  So I got to quit work at last, wheee!

I wanted to be more of a mother to Adam.  He was growing up so 
fast and I was missing out on so much of it.  And our life at the 
Hacienda was more important to me than any job anyway.

Adam and I would often go horseback riding together when weather 
permitted, he was a good rider when he was young.  He liked 
animals and had a good way with them, but they had to get used to
him--strange horses and dogs usually went crazy when they smelled
him coming, but he could usually win them over by talking gently 
to them.

As he got older though, he didn't ride any more.  For one thing he
got too heavy, but also because his own body had so much power
and endurance that he could simply outrun a horse.  But we went 
riding together anyway--he would run alongside me as I rode Starmist 
at a gallop.  Quite a sight.  

Adam was getting really tall about then, much higher than me, or 
even Art, who was almost 6' tall.  I suppose most fathers 
experience that traumatic/proud day when his little boy is suddenly 
taller than himself and I assume they try to be graceful about it, 
especially when they know it to be as inevitable as it was in Art's 
case.  For Art it came when Adam was 8 years old, but he'd already 
been outweighed the year before, so Dad was already used to being 
the little guy in the family.

By age 10 Adam had grown to 6'5" and weighed over 300 pounds. He
got big and bigger and showed no sign of stopping.  Next year he 
flattened our bathroom scale, only built to take up to 300 pounds.  

Adam loved all animals and through the years we've had several dogs 
and cats out on the farm, but Adam's favorite had been Potatochip, 
the half-retriever half-mutt he got as a cute little puppy when he 
was 10.  From then on Potatchip was his constant companion. Adam 
would often go on long walks through the woods with her, sometimes 
ranging as far as 30 miles in a day. Although he had people friends, 
there was no human who could keep up with his pace or endure his 
routine when it came to trekking.  That was their private world 
until he was about 17-18; after that he had to run alone, since 
he had grown faster every year while Potatochip had only grown old.  
He never became so attached to another dog.

He liked cross-country skiing when there was enough snow, which 
wasn't every year.  We had to have a special pair of boots and 
skis made for him, but Art and I both loved to ski and we thought
it something that Adam should learn to do with us.  He was good 
at it despite his oversized feet and he loved to race through 
the woods at breakneck speed.  We worried about that--or at least
I did, typical mother, I suppose.  But he never had an accident 
bad enough to really hurt him, he was coordinated and had an 
incredibly tough body.

As for school, that went pretty well.  There were no more serious
problems since even Peter Sinsley was more careful about picking 
on Adam after his father had lost the famous fight.  I'm sure 
Peter had been warned not to get himself hurt.  

Adam liked school, he had his own group of friends there and he 
wanted to learn.  He did amazingly well despite his dyslexia, due 
to efforts of teachers, Art, me and especially Melly.  But his 
grades were never really tops, because he began to feel that 
studying took too much of his time.

Still, it was in school that his artistic abilities began to
flower.  He developed a nice drawing style quite early, mostly 
to imitate the comic books he liked to "read".  Although he 
couldn't read or write, he could draw a picture that was worth 
paragraphs.  He would leave pictograph notes for us sometimes 
instead of taped messages, just for fun.

This is the “signature” Adam eventually developed for himself: a stylized drawing of a very Big Foot.
But drawing was always a sideline, his real interests and abilities were in music. Art has told you how Adam liked listening to music, and how he had a very precise ear for tones and pitches. He tried to learn piano at home, I taught him a few melodies which he could more or less plunk out, but the piano was simply never his instrument. Ever since the first time Art's old college buddy Steve Bonneville came and played his guitar at our house, Adam had always yearned to play the guitar. We bought him a Japanese classical guitar, with a wide neck to fit his big hands and Steve taught him some chords, so Adam was on his way. But slowly: he strummed and plunked throughout his 9th year, buzzing and muffling the notes, not especially musical, seeming to lack some necessary rhythmic coordination. He really tried and just got nowhere. Sorry, but he played terribly and this is his mother talking. But he was dedicated and there was a music teacher at the Elementary school, Frank Espino, who taught guitar as well as the regular school band and Adam stayed after school every Wednesday to try to learn. Frank saw Adam's problems clearly and instructed him not in melodies or chords, but in proper classical technique: sitting, holding the guitar, trimming the nails, scales; all the boring details. Adam didn't complain at all, just practiced scales patiently every day, sometimes for hours. It seemed that pointless finger exercises and chord progressions went on forever, but no real music ever got played. Having said that, I have to admit that I could be just as guilty as anyone else of expecting adult capabilities from Adam simply because he was bigger than the average grown man. How many 9 year olds are virtuoso guitarists? But honestly, it seemed to us that he would never succeed at this one thing--until one day I went past his room and heard Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring being played sweetly and perfectly on a guitar, so I looked in to see who was visiting Adam. There he was, alone with his guitar. I applauded enthusiastically and he blushed with happiness and pride. At last. From then on he actually became proficient. Frank was seeing him in special classes now, "After all," he kidded, "I'd love to have the reputation as the only music teacher in the world to have taught a sasquatch to play guitar!" Frank began to perceive an actual talent in Adam, who could hear any complicated piece of music just one time and repeat it exactly. Adam enjoyed playing classical music as much as any other style, even though he really wanted to rock. Most of this was going on while he was 9 and 10. When he left elementary school for junior high he continued lessons at Frank's home. He also started playing stand-up bass for the junior high school band. By the time he was eleven he was an impressive musician. Okay, he wasn't a Mark Knopfler, but he sounded pretty good, really. All right, yes, now this is a proud mother talking. Adam also had an amazing vocal ability to imitate almost any sound he had ever heard, including musical instruments. He had been fascinated by scat-singers like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, so he developed a “novelty act” that became quite popular at school: the one-squatch band. Adam and Melly loved playing music together. Her instrument was the piano. I'd started teaching her back when she was eight years old and she'd gone on to lessons at school. She became adept at classical music and also liked to play 50's rock'n'roll. They each shined at talent shows and sometimes they performed together, usually doing rather well, winning school contests. They talked about starting a band, but couldn't decide which musical direction they wanted to take, so never really got a repertoire put together in those days.
Part of being considered a Normal Kid in modern American society is having your own cell phone, of course. The social pressure to conform began for Adam at the age of seven when he became enrolled in the 2nd Grade. "But Mom, all the other kids have themmm" is the usual battle cry, even though it was never quite true. Adam wanted one too, but the poor kid couldn't speak even that little untruth no matter how badly he wanted to. Actually, Art and I thought he should have one, remembering that kidnapping attempt when he was younger. But when we discussed it with other parents we heard so many horror stories about insane telephone bills, kids obsessed with You Tube and general misuse of the technology like anonymous SMS harassment and happy-slapping. But we discussed it with Adam and decided that any kid as honest as him could be trusted with his own phone and it turned out to be so. Besides, IPR offered to pay the phone bill anyway--although probably because they wanted to be able to trace his whereabouts via his cellphone chip. But at that early age, so did we. Even though Adam could not read, he memorized the positions of the keys as well as any telephone numbers that had been spoken aloud to him, so he had no problem using his phone. Later, when his fingers grew too big to hit individual keys he navigated with a pencil, which he always had to draw with. When he was a little older, around ten, his ability to draw also gave him access to other online technologies: he and Melly developed their own secret symbol-code so that they could post simple messages to each other. Melly's own signature was, of course, a kissing smiley-face on a happy heart: (from somebody who loves Addy.) She set up Adam's home computer with those same symbols as icons so that he could use software without being hindered by text unreadable to him. Melly wasn't going to leave him behind as she went boldly into the high-tech future.
As for school sports, Adam had an athletic body, but was never allowed to compete against classmates in school because he was too big, too strong and too fast. But he took up an interest in gymnastics for a few years, which was accepted since nobody resented Adam competing with himself. As Art has mentioned, Adam had been regarded as clumsy when younger, but by the time he was 8-9 he was amazingly good at handstands, kips, high bar, parallel bars, rings. He could execute one-armed chin-ups despite his enormous weight, which nobody else in the school could do at all. People expected his raw physical strength, but were surprised by his grace and skill. Adam took part in several gymnastics tournaments, not officially competing with the other kids, but winning prizes anyway. He was a crowd pleaser, people came to see what a sasquatch could do, even back then he was box office! But by the time he was 11-12 he became too heavy for the school equipment. When he weighed 370 pounds the high bar bent under swinging, the parallel bars broke under a dismount, stanchion wires ripped out of the floor and walls when he did swings. He had to retire as a gymnast.
The summer Adam was 11 we got some friends to take care of the farm and drove down to Mexico for two months. The IPR was kind of testy about us taking Adam out of the country, but since Adam was an American Citizen with his own passport, they couldn't really stop us. We took Melly along as well, Sally was filming in LA and Doug was overworked at Microsoft, so it was fine with them. We camped out on beaches mostly, living in our old Chevy van. Mexicans were pretty polite about Adam, but he certainly turned some heads. He was 6'8" at the time and could just pass for a very tall gringo as long as he was dressed and wearing a sombrero. Since Adam could memorize Spanish words faster than either Art or me, it was very often him who did the talking for our group, so that any questions the Mexicans had about him had to be addressed to him. On the beach everyone could see that Adam was covered with hair (trimmed short all over for the heat), but we spent most of our time in Oaxaca State, rented a palapa on the beach outside of a small village called Puerto Angel, where there were not so many people to bother us. It was very laid back, all the gringos hanging out there swam naked, just like at our favorite lake back home, so we fit right in, even Adam. Doug and Sally came down and joined us there for a week. It would have been hard to come home again if we hadn't loved our own Hacienda so much. While in Mexico we had some sandals made for Adam. Shoes were always a problem for him, his feet far too big and wide for any commercially made shoes by then. When the old sandal maker saw those feet he couldn't believe his eyes. He used twice as much leather as he had ever used for anyone else. He was a jolly old man and kept laughing as he worked. "Este muchacho no tiene piedes, tiene BARCAS! Je je, hijole!" Adam was good natured about it and joked with the old zapatero in Spanish, who threw in a gigantic tooled belt he made right on the spot, over 70 inches around and embossed with a Mitla design. So Adam was happy about that, belts were also getting harder to find in his size as well and he was nowhere near through getting bigger. On our way south we had also visited a little town called Paracho, in the state of Michoacan, famous for all its guitar makers. Adam played well enough to need a better guitar, one with an extra-wide neck because he was still growing and so were his hands, already too big to crowd onto a normal 2-inch classical fret board any more. So once again, Adam spent a day speaking Spanish with a little old man who was both honored and amused to make something special for "el Piede Grande". Ernesto, the guitar builder, was 72 years old and had never been out of Michoacan--and he had certainly never seen a sasquatch before. By then Adam's Spanish was quite fluent and they talked and joked as the old guitar maker hewed out a double-width guitar neck and fretboard and attached it to a half finished body with amazing speed and dexterity. This time the neck was made extra wide, so that Adam could grow into it. Since we had to wait a couple of days for the glue to dry we ended up being guests of Ernesto's large family and meeting everybody in town at a real fiesta, my God, it was fun! Best of all, Adam had a very nice sounding guitar that he could play as he had never played before, with room for his fingers to move. While we were camping on the coast Adam would play at night on the beach. Sometimes for us, sometimes just him and Melly, but just as often when they went off to be alone, a crowd of local Mexicans would show up and sit on the beach with them. They were always interested in Adam anyway, but when he played a guitar they simply couldn't resist, it was a good enough excuse to come over and sit with him. Mexicans are enthusiastic about music and they taught him some songs, La Llorona was a local Oaxaca favorite which became part of his repertoire. Adam was also intrigued by the religion in Mexico. Especially among the Indians (primitive people living in nature, almost like sasquatches) most of whom were devout Catholic pagans. In our house we usually spoke in spiritual rather than religious terms. We all had faith that something keeps the universe running, plays games with it, but we never tried to pin it down to a name or a church. Adam had grown up surrounded by anthropologists, who necessarily view religion from an academic distance, or intellectuals who enjoy theorizing. The abject worship of the Indians aroused questions such as "Who is right, us or them?" We had read him many parts of the Bible, Adam could quote chapter and verse if he wished to. When we got back we looked into the Koran, the teachings of Buddha, the Bhagavad-Gita. Doug had been quite interested in occult philosophies when younger, so we worked our way through Astrology, the Tarot, the I-Ching. Adam became quite an expert in systems of belief over the years. Well, we all did, I suppose, while reading all those texts to him. Adam was searching for something, clues, which he seemed to catch glimpses of in ancient books. Like from the Bible, Genesis 6:4, "There were giants in the earth in those days..." which suggested "sasquatches" to him. Or the story of Samson, references correlating "hair" to superhuman strength seemed to hint that Samson could have been a sasquatch. Beowulf's struggle with the monster Grendel, the Trolls of European mythology and so on. I guess that was only natural. He'd always been looking for an answer to the age-old question: What Am I? His body was so different than anyone else's, he had all those quirks of ability and disability to separate him from us and yet he knew that he was probably more like us than any other sasquatch out there. He wondered what they believed in. "You know, I've been thinking about 'squatches," he told us, "they don't build cities anybody's ever seen, they don't farm food, what do they do? They must do something! So I'll bet they just search for enlightenment, like monks." At another time he might wonder if they were headhunting savages, or Flying Saucer People (he liked to think that he might be from another star-system), but he always came back to his theory of the monk like spirituality of the sasquatches. "Who knows? Maybe their religion is the One True One." Adam and Melly both took special interest in the ancient ruins around Mexico, they could define Aztec and Zapotecan styles and were totally thrilled by the ruins of Palenque. Melly read books about the old cultures aloud to Adam and then they would challenge one another to see who knew more about each ruin site. Neither won, they were evenly matched. It was clear that we had two budding anthropologists on our expedition. They also took long walks alone together. Perhaps they were discussing anthropology, or religious philosophies, I don't know, but it was about then that they began to spend a lot of time without the old folks hanging around.
I'm trying to round out Adam's childhood years before puberty and maybe wandering a bit, but the idea is that he had an upbringing like most American kids. Maybe better, growing up in the country, his parents were happily married (rather than divorced, like so many others), he knew he was loved, we were a family affectionate with each other--two families, including the Wielsons. All in all he was a happy child, healthy, living in ideal circumstances and allowed to progress in his own direction. But life is not always nice to us. Innocence is doomed, sweet childhood becomes bitter adolescence. There is a tragedy coming, which changes everything, but I'll let Art tell you about that, I have no heart for it.

Chapter 15

Adam out of Eden