May 10, 2007
As I was saying, I’ve been catching flashes of you today, curlers in hair, pushing that ancient lawn mower over our ancestral land (an acre of swamp), when there was nobody else to do it, so that I might muddy myself in it–playing football, groping neighbor girls, and whatnot. I’ve been catching sour whiffs of your dreaded stuffed bellpeppers today, your inedible spaghetti sauce—oh, and that other gruel, the one with the lima beans—and it actually smells good all these years later. Okay, better, it smells better.
I’ve been thinking of you at the end of the hallway, playing your accordion. Actually, you were just sort of strangling it to a chorus of burps and squeals. Still, it was the loveliest music I’ve ever heard.
I’ve been thinking about how, now and again, one of my friends would be walking past our house and you would lean out the window and wave them in. You would greet them at the door and size them up. Then you’d say something one might expect Mrs. Butterworth to say, something like: “I’ve seen more meat on a neck bone.” Next, you would force food on them. Almost invariably, your captive would try and refuse the food, claiming that they had eaten already. But you wouldn’t have it, would you mother? You would set soup, bread, cold bell peppers, cookies and carrot sticks in front of your captive, standing guard until they ate every morsel. Then you would whisk them out of the house. The instant they were out of earshot you would turn to me and say something decidedly un-Mrs. Butterworth, something like: “What, you think I’m made of money? I can’t afford to feed the whole damn neighborhood! Tell your friends to eat at home! What, their mothers don’t feed them?”
I’ve been thinking about some of the things you taught me. Specifically: That God was in everything, you just couldn’t see Him. That a church was not a building. Not to laugh at the misfortunes of others. Don’t tell people to shut up. Not to take it personally when you told me to shut up. That the yolk was the part of the egg that was good for you. That the white was the part of the egg that was good for you. And that it was okay for a boy to have a glass of wine, as long as it was the blood of Jesus, or it was right before bed.
Of course, I’ve learned differently on all counts, that is, that an egg is an embryonic chicken. That you can see God, He’s just a bit elusive. That rolling your eyes is another way of saying shut up. That it’s okay for a man to drink wine, as long as he doesn’t drink three bottles and roll around the carpet in mixed company (I’m not saying I abide by any of this, I’m just saying I’ve learned it).
I’ve been thinking of that haircut you gave me– over and over and over, from toddlerhood into pubescence; you know the one– the very same cut which earned me the nickname Little Lord Fauntleroy.
The sad part is, if I had enough hair left now, I’d gladly wear it again. Just like that old green sweatshirt, if it would still fit. You remember the green sweatshirt, mom. Remember how all the neighborhood children would gather at the bus stop in front of our house, and I was there amongst them? And how every morning without fail, you would emerge from the house in your blue bathrobe (oh sweet-smelling garment of my wayward youth!), with curlers in your hair, and stand on the front steps—do you remember? Again without fail, you would be holding my oversized, green hand-me-down sweatshirt (I think one of our ancestors wore it during the Peloponnesian War, if I’m not mistaken. Or something like that). Do you remember mom, how you would call me to the steps, and when I arrived, much to the delight of the others, you would put the sweatshirt on me, and I would rejoin the others. And as the bus approached, you would call out to me: “Joooohnnny! Looooove yaaa!”
What you never knew, mom, was that the instant I boarded the bus, the sweatshirt came off. Every day I tried to ditch it– on the seat, under the seat, in the seat in front of me. But every day as I disembarked, somebody would pick up my sweatshirt, and call out to me: “Joooohnnny! Looooove yaaa!”
To this day, that sweatshirt hangs in my closet. Thanks for caring, mom. Looooove yaaa!