Friday, February 18, 2011

letter to my nephew on the day of his wedding

[my sister and brothers decided that when the kids got married we'd give them a dinner table as a gift. i know it doesn't sound like a glamorous gift, but we're not glamorous.]

Well, Noah, you couldn't have been more than 10 or 11, it was around 1992. You and your brother and sisters were staying with grandma and grandpa for an extended period while your mom and dad were out of town. I don't know if it was just for a few days or a week, but it seemed more like a month by the time it was all said and done. Your uncle Al and Lisa and Augie were living there along with me. By the time we got to that last night, you can imagine our patience had been well tested and thoroughly exhausted. We weren't used to having a bunch of toe-headed butterballs staying there for any extended period of time. I'm pretty sure it was august, because there was sweet corn, burgers, and green beans, green onions and tomatoes fresh from the garden.

I think it started with Noel, who at the time was no fan of green beans. She started whining about something or other, Hope was well off in her own world chattering about horses and such, and all poor little Joy wanted was an ear of sweet corn. So while the only other sounds were the rest of us eating, the girls started this fugue of gibberish that rose to a crescendo that was a little dramatic and to this day makes me smile.

"But I don't want green beans! No!"
"Would you please pass the corn... would you please pass the corn... would you please..."
"I think I will take my horse out tonight later."

"No green beans! No!"
"Would you please pass the corn..."
"I love my horse."

"... corn..."

And on and on and on until grandpa couldn't take it anymore. None of us could.

The next evening your mom and dad came over for dinner and to take you guys home. During dinner, Al did a spot on recap of the last night's cacophony, playing all the parts simultaneously. Your mom couldn't breath because she was laughing so hard, as were grandma and granpa, and Lisa, and Levi, and me. And you, laughing only the way a 10 year boy can.

That's the table for me, Noah. Family, conversation, a lot of food, and even more laughter. A paradise. That was my church, my sacred place that I'll never ever forget. Your laughing, Al's carrying on, your grandma and grandpa. The most precious memories anyone could possibly imagine. It's a kind of spiritual currency that both breaks my heart and helps me through the more difficult moments of life, especially these short days of winter.

It's not just a table; it's a holy place that you're always welcome at and which you always seem to come back to, like a religious pilgrimage. People never really leave, as long as you never forget them. Oh sure, they've moved on from life, but they continue to live in the margins of the stories we remember and tell, as long as we keep telling the stories. Now you've got your own stories to make and tell and cherish. Just don't forget the ones you loved long gone. Keep them alive, especially at your table.


Penal-Colony said...

My God, man! I so needed to read that today. These lines, especially:

"A paradise. That was my church, my sacred place that I'll never ever forget. Your laughing, Al's carrying on, your grandma and grandpa. The most precious memories anyone could possibly imagine. It's a kind of spiritual currency that both breaks my heart and helps me through the more difficult moments of life, especially these short days of winter."

Thank you.

switters said...

no, john, thank you. working on the whining and the drinking; no promises on the smoking. not cold here, but not warm either. i think m'dog and i need a fire in the stove though. very windy. i could power this whole place with a windmill if i weren't such a retard. brother al and inlaw lisa paid a visit today. truly a blessing sometimes is this life. but what can you say when you're just stacking the ricks against the moon, if i got the quote right.

topazz said...

You got it right. She's smiling up at us, eternally.

Penal-Colony said...

Your post gave me strength and much to think about today. We're nursing my dad through his worst spell yet. It's very difficult to be in this place, but the alternative doesn't even bear thinking about.

My brother Olly and I expect him to be our guide through the tilling and sowing ahead. He kept a garden all his life but we let it go fallow. Now I'm hoping we haven't put it off too late.

I was born on his birthday [sort of psychic twins, 31 years apart], and we're planning a big shindig for the next one.

I suppose our little community has reached the same waters more or less together and the vastness of it all humanizes and humbles us.

As for the toxins, all our temples are too good for them.


topazz said...

I'm sorry to hear about your Dad, John - I hope he rallies back from this and you get to celebrate that birthday together. I know the feeling of shared birthdays, I was born on the day before my mother's but we've always celebrated our birthdays together at family parties. It was a special thing between us and something else I'll miss when November comes. Funny how that can happen so often within families; my oldest daughter was born on my father's birthday, and my mother died on the same date that her mother died - January 29th.

Penal-Colony said...


My father's mother and her two brothers all died on a Februrary 1st. Strange.

switters said...

my dad's dad didn't own the land they farmed because his dad, lemuel, was so tight. they had to put in their own plumbing. that was verna, who lived to be 98, my dad's mom. 98.

rundeep said...

switters. loved this. A little bit of perfect.
John -- sorry to hear about your Dad. Best of luck to you and your family as you get through this.
My parents shared a birthday -- December 11. A walking, talking argument against astrology. They could not have been more different in every respect. To this day I think they married because they were the best-looking people in town (I could post my dad's pic to prove it!) and for essentially no other reason.
Topazz -- hearted.

switters said...

a fallow field just grows more fertile. people leave. others arrive. let's just try to keep track. and may god help us in the endeavor.

switters said...

funny story that you won't find funny: noel, joy and hope at the kitchen table at mom and dad's; eating breakfast; then joy says, "hope there's no farting at the table." apparently hope had farted; we still don't know; now hope had been riding an imaginary horse all morning in the back meadow; keep in mind they're all just little kids; and hope says, "it was my horse!" and joy says, without missing a beat, "well, tell your horse there's no farting at the table."

now they're all grown up. levi is like 6'4" and very protective, even of his stupid uncle. noah, an airforce captain.

and their gramma laughed and laughed.

rundeep said...

That's an awesome story. Versions of which are told regularly in my methane fueled house.

Cindy said...

Oh what a bit of wonder this is! I've been away from (most) things electronic for a 24 hour retreat. This is what I missed the most.

Isonomist said...

Thanks for dinner with your family, swit. And John, I'm sorry about your dad. February is the most hated month for me, too.

All of you, I love your sorry asses. Keep at it.