You probably didn’t know this, because there’s a lot you don’t know about my life these days, but very infrequently I write a blog. Don’t get me wrong, the fact we’re not close isn’t really a ding on you – it just is what it is. I moved 2000 miles across the country and you remarried into another family – people I didn’t particularly like. Shit happened, feelings got hurt and some relationships were irrevocably damaged. Not exactly a blissful Brady Bunch merging of two clans, but you seemed happy with the arrangement and in the end that’s what counted. As I get older, I can appreciate that desire to still feel relevant and useful. And certainly taking in and taking care of your new wife’s grown-ass children, who always seemed to need something, probably made you feel good. Being the Man of the Hour is a lot more gratifying than listening to your daughter drone on about a place you’ve never been to, activities you find boring, and dog farts. So I get it. But I resented it.
However, in your last days, those same people I have derided for the last 25 years as grifters, graspers, and hopeless losers have done everything in their power (however feeble that might be) to make you feel comfortable. For which I am grateful. And now I have to admit it’s possible I was (just a tad) judgmental. I know – contain your surprise. But in my defense, I am a middle child – and we middle children excel in distrust, deviousness and holding grudges. We’re really good at holding grudges.
Since you don’t have much time left, I decided to write you a letter because it’s hard sometimes to say the things you want to say during the course of a regular conversation. And I’m better at writing things down ( hence the occasional blog post) And because I wouldn’t begin to know how to write about dying with any grace or sensitivity, I decided to write about The Childhood. I had a great childhood – aside from being grounded most of my high school years – it was pretty idyllic. I remember living in Virginia and riding a bus an hour every day to the Catholic School where the only hot lunch you got was the weekly “Hot Dog Wednesdays.” (probably the reason why I’m still scared of nuns to this day, but hot dogs are my Kryptonite). OK, maybe that wasn’t so fun, but I remember liking Virginia a lot. Rolling hills and going to the neighborhood pool where you taught me to swim and would let me stand on your shoulders and dive off into the pool.
During the Virginia years, I remember going on those DC trips to see Aunt Joann and all her kids which was great fun. You adults all got drunk and played bridge while us kids ran wild. An occurrence that still continues at every Family Reunion. Did you know the first time I ever smoked pot was at the Dark reunion in Kalamazoo on Lake Gourdneck? Oh man that was a fun reunion. In fact all the Family Reunions were fun – I feel lucky I got to grow up with a dad who had so many siblings and a shit ton of older cousins who I thought were the epitome of cool. Tim Dark taught me how to throw a Frisbee properly (in addition to the whole pot thing)
And I used to love to go to Michigan every summer to the lake. Sometimes you’d take me fishing – which was boring on one hand – but on the other hand it was great to be out on the lake in a boat early in the morning with my dad even if we never caught many- er – any fish. Remember that time I wanted to jump off the floating dock by myself, but you said I had to jump into your arms so I turned, ran and jumped off the opposite end? At which point you probably had to save me from drowning, after all I was only 4 at the time. At the lake is where I learned to play cards on those rainy days when we were trapped inside together with nothing to do, something to prevent us kids from killing each other. You’ll be happy to know I’m carrying on the family tradition of Drunk Card playing.
I remember those trips down to Florida to visit Grandpa and Grandma McBitter and staying in their house on the canal. Since I was an incorrigible brat you always had to defend me to Grandma McBitter – let’s face it years later, at Grandpa’s funeral she STILL remembered me as The Worst Grandchild ( out of hundreds!) And I still remember her as “The Terrifying Grandma with Serious Helmet Hair.” Grandma McBitter told me a crocodile lived in the canal and ate ducks and small disobedient children. And I totally believed her.
When we moved to Indiana, I absolutely did not want to go – I told you I would just live with the Morgans. But you told my eight year old self that I would like Indiana and that I would quickly make friends with all the kids in our new neighborhood. And it turns out you were right. The neighborhood was filled with kids my age and there were a lot of fun summers riding bikes and hanging out at the neighborhood pool. There were swim meets where the kids would all eat powdered Jello, while the adults were probably all drinking coffee laced with booze because I distinctly remember lots of raucous Grown-up Gatherings in the neighborhood – leading me to believe you were all Drunkards ( must be genetic then)
I remember you fake spanking me in the basement on a couple of occasions. Because I was always in imminent danger of committing a spanking offense–every once in while you took pity on me and spanked a board instead while I would fake cry.
I remember you teaching me how to hit a softball, this spared me from being that kid on the team that everyone hated – because they couldn’t hit the damn softball! I remember you teaching me how to sail a boat and not getting mad when I crashed it into the wall at Geist Lake. I also remember you tying the boat (not very securely) to the top of the family car for one of many lake vacations and spending the many hours in the car wondering if it would fall off.
That was a recurring theme – Will the Shit Dad tied to the Top of the Car Fall Off? When I was in college you came down to pick me up for a school break. Debbie and I smoked a couple bong hits before you arrive thinking that being stoned would be a pleasant way to pass the time while you chauffeured us home. Imagine my dismay when you said you were tired and that I should drive and then proceeded to make me stop at a lumber place so you could pick up some fence posts and tie them NOT AT ALL securely to the top of the car. As if driving high with your dad in the back seat isn’t bad enough – I also had to worry about the damn fence posts falling off. Watching them sway back and forth was strangely mesmerizing – adding to the difficulty of driving.
And then there was that time you came down to college because I had overdrawn my checking account. You wanted to help me figure it out but I told you I had dropped my checkbook in the toilet, rendering it illegible. Which we both knew was a lie. In the end you made me take out a loan to pay off my debt but you were good enough to co-sign so I could even qualify for a loan. This lesson is probably the reason I actually turned out to be financially solvent as an adult.
Sometime after I graduated from college, you sold me Grandpa’s car for a mere $500.00. That old Chevy Caprice served me very well for a long time. It had a back seat as big as a couch and could go like 125 MPH. In addition to selling me the Caprice, you took that piece of shit Buick Skylark off my hands for which I was eternally grateful. I once had to drive to a wedding in a tight long sleeved taffeta bridesmaid’s dress with heat blasting so the Skylark wouldn’t overheat on the 15 minute drive – in August. In fact I’m convinced you and Mom gave me the Skylark as a college graduation “present” to force me to get a decent job, to pay for all the repairs. Well played – it worked.
So you see Dad, you gave me lots of useful life skills:
How to swim – something which I am amazed to report – people don’t do well here in Oregon. In fact, my strong swimming ability probably saved my life more than couple of times when we were drunk rafting down the Deschutes River and got tossed out of the raft
That fishing is usually pretty boring – but a good way to spend quality time with someone you like (and it’s more fun with beer but I learned that all by myself)
How to hit a softball: at least until the day comes when I finally hurt myself because I’m foolishly playing softball in my old age ( then I will probably be cursing you )
The Game of Euchre: What is more fun than having drinks and playing cards with good friends? Something you can still do it when you get old (and drunk)
How NOT to tie a knot
How to sail: This hasn’t been to useful yet – but I fully expect to use those skills when I marry Rich Husband # 2
How to drive: Also very handy our here in Oregon where apparently Portland natives learned how to drive from their Great Great Grandparents driving Model Ts
Even though we aren’t one of those families who are always in constant communication about the minutia of our lives and gratuitously hugging one another, it’s important that you know I remember all these things. And much more. But I’m saving the “Did someone hear a lion roar” for your eulogy! Because who doesn’t love a good fart anecdote at a funeral?
Your middle child from hell ( and also your favorite child even though you’d deny it for the sake of your other less favored and less gifted children)