Monday, October 28, 2013

Feast of the Hairiest

Due to circumstances out of control, my parents and I moved from Minnesota to Pennsylvania in the middle of my ninth grade year.  We looked behind us in the rearview mirror at everything we were leaving behind: our house, the rest of our family, our dashed expectations.  We drugged our dog so that he would be comfortable making this uncomfortable trip with us.
It did not take long to settle in again as a family unit, for as much as we were up for that.  We lived in a nice hotel with suppers out for a month while my dad did his work and my mom prepared our new house: cleaning, scraping, painting.  I would go there from school every afternoon and start homework next to the heat register in the empty family room—no furniture yet, but drapes on the window.  I would lay my head down on the fumes of new book and new carpet smell, hallucinating, or maybe just tired.

We were good and proper people always looking for the best in life.  We were also fans of big breakfasts.  We ended up going out a lot for meals, which was totally anti-us, but we did it because circumstances demanded it.  Our first breakfast in our new chosen town—the three of us sitting there with our own personal bullets in our own personal chambers—was tense.  The waitress came around, all cheerful.  “Would youns like some more coffee?”

I cringed in the way that a fourteen year old girl does when she knows that something like the paint is about to jump off the walls.  I knew my dad could control himself in situations like these, but my mother…no.  She was just too curious.

“Youns?” she said to the waitress.  “How do you spell that please?”

I further sank into the dark heart of my not-knowingness, me sitting there with my orange juice.  My dad sat across from us; I never knew what was on his mind.  But I knew where my mother was coming from, and where she was going.

“I guess it would be y-o-u-n-s,” the waitress said.  “Why do you ask?”

“Well I’ve never heard that term before, so I just wanted to know.  Thanks,” my mom said, raising coffee in a standard white mug to her lips.


Everybody picks up language differently.  All families have their own lingo.  I talk to my dad on the phone tonight and one of the first phrases out of his mouth is “feast of the hairiest”.  

I can hear my mom bustling around in the background, probably cleaning, wanting to correct.  It is torture for her to keep quiet.

“Whaddya mean, Dad?”  I say.  I don’t care about anything other than hearing my father’s voice.  He’s concerned about my voice, which is deep and low because I’m recovering from a sinus infection, but the best of him wants to tell a story.

“Do you remember the feast of the hairiest?” he says.

I do not.  “What is it?” I say.

My dad clears his throat a thousand splendid times before saying, “Well, do you know anything about the horn of plenty?”

I roll my eyes and throw my silent fit.  “Yes.”

My dad sallies forth in his way and I can feel him grinning: “That’s the feast of the hairiest!”

I’m stumped.  I cannot go further with this man or this conversation; I am too much like both of those people in that house.  I bite my tongue and am too quiet for too long.  I hear my mother in the background: “That’s not the right one!  It’s the other one!”  Suddenly my dad is tired and has to let go of the phone.  But he insists upon his love of me.  I love him too.

“Ma,” I say, when she’s finally back from wherever she has deposited my father. “What’s the feast of the hairiest?”  I always think I can make it through Halloweens without having to know more.

“Well!” my mother says.  “It’s a very cute story.  When your oldest sister was just learning words, we always had a stitched picture of the horn of plenty on our wall.  She couldn’t say ‘feast of the harvest', so she said 'feast of the hairiest'."

She smiles to herself.  I can always hear my mother smiling.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Same As It Ever Was

It takes a long time to get to know a person.  It kills me that my nieces and nephews and sisters and my brother know my parents better than I do.  My dad’s sister knows him better than I ever will, and my siblings know our cousins better too.
Yet I remain a favorite, the curse of the far-youngest child.  My sister loses an entire eye to cancer and still voices to me on the phone: “But Katie, everything is worse when it happens to you.”  My brother tells me for the jillionth time that I have to get over everything.
You always think you’re special until somebody close to you dies.  The loss makes you grab your face.  You want to see it coming, but obviously you see it too late. Every death is different.
You wonder if the dead people want their stories told.  Weren’t they grabbing for attention earlier?  Is your attention now misdirected or selfish?  What were they expecting from you?
I have a nice friend from high school who was a popular cheerleader with long layered chestnut hair that I would covet from the seat behind her at assembly, where I sat because her last name started with a C and mine started with an M.  I looked at that beautiful hair for three years.  I looked at the happiness she was, plus I loved her older brother, like we all did.  
At that time, we had not yet been schooled in the agenda of loss.  I’m sure that most of us hadn’t seen a funeral, yet there we all were, dressed in black, when my nice cheerleader friend with the chestnut hair survived the crash that reduced our graduating class from 187 to 186.  We went to visit her in the hospital.  We had quiet graduation parties at picnic tables, sometimes with beer if the parents allowed it.
My chestnut-haired girl has no memory of this.  There are nice things about a coma.
You always want to tell a good story.  Hands be tied and eyes blinded, you feel like you have to deliver.    

Somebody asks or indicates that you should be the storyteller.

Do you have any Indian in you?  some people ask.

I’ve had a little bit, you joke.
You remember the night when you happened to be out on a date with a guy from the Catholic school, and you in all your wisdom invited him to the keg party of your school.  It was the last time you would see the girl with curly blond curls, this taller girl with green-blue eyes, the one you photographed last week as “Best Looking” for the yearbook.  She is not serious this night; she is lovely.  
You don’t know what you will miss.
Your date drives you home but you are stopped on Montmorenci by the police cars and lights.  Parents are coming down the hill, shouting for their children.   Your parents don’t want it to be you.  Nobody knows who it happened to.
There is nothing bad that happens to people, unless it goes unnoticed.