Philip Matthew Butera grew up in Buffalo, NY, earned a BS degree From Gannon College in Erie, PA, went on to serve in the US Navy then received a MA in Psychology from Simon Fraser U. in Vancouver, Canada. He expanded his education with post graduate courses in Psychology and Creative Writing. He is the author of two books of poetry, “Mirror Images and Shards of Glass” and "Dark Images at Sea." His first novel, “Caught Between” – the true story of an off duty NYC cop who killed a mafia leader’s son is due out shortly. He is a contributing editor who writes a weekly Art and Literature column for EatSleepWrite.net. He also has a column in the quarterly magazine, Per Niente. He lives in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The Shiny Blue Button.
The play area the child occupied was comfortable and full of interesting things to look at, play with or read. There was a record-player/radio atop an old book case with a small box of 45’s next to it. The play area wasn’t very large, just a hallway between his parents master bedroom and the upstairs bathroom. The child loved this part of the house; it was his domain and he had spent long hours by himself playing and doing what comes naturally to a child who was used to being on his own. He was an only child but he never seemed to be lonely, his imagination kept him busy and his mind active.
From childhood, through high school, college and beyond the boy found refuge in this play area, which remained the same during all those years. Pictures on the walls changed along with the boy’s progression, from The Lone Ranger to Dodger’s Duke Snyder, then Elvis, replaced by Bob Dylan, The Beatles and a large peace sign. Little girls in schoolroom poses or out in nature playing with cats or dogs made way for teen-age pin-ups, Sophia Loren of course, to a tasteful photo of a Playboy model. One picture far to the right under the small white porcelain light fixture seemed to remain through all the changes. It wasn’t in a frame, just an idealized picture of one of John Paul Jones’s ships with scotch tape on the four corners.
The objects on the walls changed with the times but never the configuration of the room till the house was sold in the late seventies. Against one wall was a wooden school teacher’s desk and chair opposite that wall an antique book case with all the baseball team decals on the wood framing. The
At one corner of the desk was a black phone, the upstairs phone. He remembered when he was 12 or 13 he would come home from school and call his girlfriend who lived a distance away. When her father would answer the boy would get frightened and hang up. When her mother answered he would try to be “conversational” and ask politely for his young sweetheart. He would use that phone to call his buddies and cousins, he was lucky to practically have a private phone to use. But he knew he was not to abuse that privilege because while he was on the line an important caller might be trying to get through with important information to share with his parents.
There was a large cedar chest, the original home of his mother’s trousseau. The outside had a deep scratch, gotten when the swivel desk chair was spun out of control, tipped over and fell onto the chest. His Dad put some touch up on the scared wood but the scrape never disappeared.
The trunk was jam packed with the treasures a boy needed to help him understand the world that surrounded him. There were toys, games – Monopoly and Clue but an only child rarely plays games where a number of other players are needed. An only child imagines. There were drawing tools – a slide rule and a pencil gadget to draw circles, comic books - Superman was his favorite then The Justice League of America - a pencil box he had since first or second grade, lots of little rubber cowboys, a signed photo of Captain Midnight, a cool black Zorro mask, a set of six shooters in their Hopalong Cassidy holsters, small red box of caps, marbles – heaps of cat’s eyes, a Texas Rangers badge, keys to long lost locks, decks of cards - Old Maid, Snap, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, baseball cards, lots and lots of baseball cards including the whole set of the 1957 Dodgers and all the other natural dream creators that make a child feel his world has value.
Next to the desk was a child’s faux leather red chair, a staple of the boy’s life from the beginning. In that chair sat a large chocolate-colored Teddy Bear. When the boy was six or seven years old, his father asked him “What do you want Santa to bring you?” The boy surprised his father by saying a big Teddy Bear. Teddy Bears are for “little” kids but the boy’s father was one of six children and the boy’s mother was one of thirteen. They didn’t realize a child needs a pal to play around with even if he is stuffed. Teddy was usually dressed in cowboy gear, but occasionally he wore a blue football jersey with the white initial “P” on the front. Sometimes he had a black pirate hat and a patch over his eye, sometimes he was a detective’s side kick with a too big brown shirt substituting for a Humphrey Bogart raincoat.
He was the boy’s best friend and he sat in that chair throughout the years. The boy had no secrets from his pal, they rode the Western trails together, went to sea, even a few times to the moon but they didn’t really have the proper uniforms to stay there long. They would listen to the radio together, the station would be changed regularly to try and catch a favorite song. They would nod to each other when they heard one and they would sing along, but not too loud. The boy and the Bear were of one adventurous mind. And they were involved in many exciting undertakings.
The chocolate Teddy Bear had lost his nose when the boy was a young. They were scouting Indians when the boy tripped, the Bear flew out of his arms and his snout hit against a valuable Angel lamp from Italy. Teddy had lost his nose. But the boy’s mother replaced the nose by sewing in its place a shiny blue button with an anchor impressed on it.
That Teddy Bear overlooked as the boy struggled with homework through the years especially with math. History was easy and English exciting, the boy loved to read. His father had brought him books, large bound books with names like, “The Book of Marvels”, “Architecture of the Italian Renaissance”, “The World Atlas”, “Famous Seaports of the World” and many more. The boy would turn the pages not completely knowing what he was seeing but comprehending it uniqueness or majesty, certainly there was nothing like this in his neighborhood. He would point out special photos to Teddy and they would discuss the world that was growing in their understanding. Through the years his father gave him books. Books about animals, painters, art, poets, history, mountain ranges, islands, countries, the world, etc. and the boy was captivated. But there was this world with numbers the boy could not grasp.
The boy remembered when he was in high school before the math finals every year his Uncle Matty, his favorite Uncle whom he loved like an older brother, would come to his house and sit in the swivel chair after supper and teach him the whole math course in a few nights. It seemed so “logical” when Uncle Matty explained it not at all complicated like the priests made it out to be. Usually, during this tutoring time, Teddy would take a nap; he knew Teddy Bears had little use for algebra or geometry. Yes, this small space between bathroom and bedroom was very special to the boy. It was the center of his life, where he was nurtured and matured and Teddy was a part of that.
Years later the boy, now a young man, was sitting at the desk looking over at his lifelong buddy. He stared at the Bear’s nose, the blue button with the impressed anchor. The boy now a young man looked down at what he was wearing – a blue uniform. There were a number of shinny blue buttons impressed with anchors. He thought about the old days, about his youth and how much this room and that Teddy Bear were a fabric of his being. The young man knew that for years he would be gone, maybe to places he had heard were nightmarish and very dangerous. He also knew nothing would be touched or moved in this, his space. It would remain the same till he returned. He was leaving to go on active duty in the US Navy and he was worried, but he knew his sidekick, the chocolate Teddy Bear would still be here to welcome him back when he returned.
The young sailor stood up and hugged his old friend after he heard the honking of the horn outside, he knew another close friend had come to drive him to the airport. He took a last look at his safe haven. He tossed the wet tissue into the trash can and walked down the stairs to kiss his very anxious mother good-bye before he left.