I’ve written before, using as byline Lee Van Dyke.   Sometimes, though,  I can still hear my mother’s strict, harsh, piercing tones speaking my entire baptized name: “Leon J. Van Dyke how could you?”  I was born Calvinist, in a strict Dutch Reformed church.  Calvinism has “original sin,” as a fundamental premise,  discourages all art, except music.  (Think of the Puritans).  Guilt came with my territory.

Consequently I always had things to rebel against.  If I could get away with it, I would.  Drinking or smoking weren’t allowed,  so I thought smoking cool.  At around 14, I skipped school in order to hide out in a field, and spend a warm afternoon smoking and playing cards.   Later, I would drink pre-legal beer while out dancing.   Remember: no dancing, no cards, no beer.  Bases loaded.

But frivolity, dancing, drinking beer, and a Dionysian-like state which has you tipsy, slightly skewed in one’s rational senses,  seemed to me pure joy.  Sometimes I’d get caught.    I think now that my mother would often pretend not to know what I was doing.  I would sneak around thinking I was fooling her.  I wouldn’t want to hear that severe, fierce, sad, ominous, frightening voice.  I am convinced, as is my daughter all these years later,  that if that that stern Calvinist family voice of mine gets heard, it is wise to run for cover.  

When I was around 12 years old, I thought I’d steal some corn silk from a local grocery store, and roll it in cigarette papers, smoke it, and get a little high.   I’d heard, that it would make a smoke almost as good as tobacco.  As it was easy to get my hands on ears of corn I decided I would give it a try.  Got caught smoking behind the garage and heard  “Leon J. Van Dyke, how could you?”  

Mom decided to make me smoke more of it, thinking that it would teach me a lesson. Maybe make me sick.  I didn’t love the  cornsilk smoke, but I smoked rolled cornsilk all afternoon before we all gave up.   I stopped and said:  “Forgive me!” It seemed to me,  a smoke not worth the guilt. 

Probably not corn silk.  Cigars?  Worth hearing her voice in my memory?  Not for all time.  On special days in celebration,  I will chance “hearing” her voicing my name.  When my daughter was born, I distinctly remember driving home submerging my body into a bath tub and lighting a cigar.  I had seen in a “Western” what disgusting macho-pleasure it would be to smoke a cigar while soaking in a warm bath.  You use the bath water for the ashes.  I recommend it!  I still forgive myself easing out of the everyday, and indulging my senses in one of those guilty forbiddens.  From out of the distant past I can hear her voice call out my name,  “Leon J. Van Dyke” .” I know I’m guilty.  “Sorry!”  

There is a kicker.  I knew she’d always love me.  Oh, it’d be fiercely voiced, middle name and all.   Now I realize that she always would forgive and never withdraw her love.  I do still smoke a cigar once in a while just for guilty pleasure.  I do prefer you to call me Lee.

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