The Funeral

“We can’t have a funeral until we put on a pot of beans,” I mutter while carrying a handful of fresh green beans from the strainer in the sink to the pot with caramelizing onions and bacon pieces sizzling away in the bottom.  I let the beans fall from my hands and a few droplets of rinse water pop and sizzle when they hit the hot bacon grease.  I turn back to the sink gathering another handful of beans and Vivian looks back at me with her seven-year-old look that says,” don’t bullshit me right now.”

“What?” I stop and say, a little more animated now, standing still as drops of rinse water fall from the beans to the floor, “people will be hungry after the funeral.  At Dad Dad’s we had ham sandwiches and chicken wings in the back of the church.  I had beer on ice in the trunk of the car. People get hungry.  And thirsty.  You feed them.”

She relents from her constant questioning about

‘when is this funeral going to happen?”, then tells me she is going upstairs to work on the casket.

“Besides,” she adds clumping her feet heavily on each stair as she ascends, “it’s only us going to be here.”

“But you never know who might stop by,” I say loudly, my voice chasing her up the stairs,  “You have to be prepared when you are having a funeral. It’s just how it is.”

It’s not that I didn’t want to get Mr. Bluefin into the ground but more to the point dinner needs to be cooking so we can eat before we have to be back at school for Lynn’s kindergarten  open house. 

I am not heartless.  I do feel for her but Mr. Blue fin is not the first fish to die at our house.  There have been others and they all had burials at sea but then I admit to myself Mr. Blue fin is different.  He has been here longer then any other animal with the exception of Maddie Dog.  He has been through thick and thin.

Vivian comes back down stairs, walks by with a little yellow plastic box in her hands and as she passes she says,  “Dad, can you open the garage? I want to get the shovel out,” she pauses, “I need to dig the grave.”

“Sure honey, I can do that,” I say gently and with a lot less sarcasm.  I pick up a dish towel and wipe my hands as I walk to the back door.  “Can I help you dig?”

“No, this is something I’ve got to do myself.” she answers with resignation.

“Where you going to put the grave?” I could just see the dog digging it up which would be far worse then the fish dying.

“Under the apple tree,” she says.

“Oh, thats a good spot in the shade and all.  That will make a good resting place,” I say in a soft voice and with the realization the dogs can’t get to the apple tree.  I open the garage then reach up for the shovel and slip it out of its holder.  I hand her the shovel and watch with my hands on my hips with the dish towel still in hand as she walks off.

As I walk up the few steps to the back door, I am glad I decided to make meatloaf this morning, it’s her one of her favorites.  I go back inside to turn the beans, turn the heat down and put a lid on it. I start work on the rest of dinner.

It occurs to me as I am peeling baby carrots Vivian has never experienced a funeral, and then as I am standing there with my mind wondering, I couldn’t remember the first funeral of which I was aware.  I am sure I went to a few funerals but I didn’t really know the person, a great uncle or aunt or something.  People so distant their death didn’t really arouse any emotion.  It had to be Grandma’s or Ken’s.  Ken was my dad’s best friend growing up.  I was as close to Ken as any uncle.  We vacationed every year with his family and got together at Christmas. He died young.

I hadn’t had much history with death.  I could only emulate what I knew or had seen, and by seen I mean on TV.  All these years later I can’t tell you how I felt at my grandma’s funeral but I can remember Ken’s.  I was supposed to feel sad so I tried my damnedest to be so.  My dad is sad.  It might be the first time he truly feels mortal.   In the back seat of my dad’s car I lean my head against the cool window and blankly star out.  It is winter and there is a cold rain.  In my head I wonder if this is how sad feels.  My button-up shirt and necktie were scratchy against my neck.

The back door slams shut.  Vivian walks into the kitchen carrying a small brightly colored bouquet of flowers.  It is a hodgepodge of different blooms from around the yard.  She sets them gently on the counter and asks to use the permative marker, she has always mispronounced permanent.

She climbs up on a bar stool at the counter.  On the little yellow box she has been carrying she writes, Mr. Blue fin, in her best handwriting.  She sorts through the flowers looking for the best ones for her bouquet.

“Hey Viv,” I start in, “I think we should go to the open house then have the funeral.  That way Mommy will be home.  I think she’ll want to be here.”

“OK.  Can you help me get Mr. blue fin out of the tank and into the casket?” she replies with a note of serenity.  I nod and answer, “Sure, whenever your ready”.

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To Give Thanks

 

I don’t know why but I always find the silence during heavy snowfall deafening.  It’s a wonderful time for reflection.

Amy moves about uncomfortably in the hospital bed.  I look down at the pulse monitor on her forefinger.   It is a bright red beacon in the darkness.  On her arm closest to me I let my eyes follow the faintly lit trail of her IV line to where it disappears into her taped and bruised hand.  This time they only had to stick her with the IV needle four times before they found a vein that didn’t collapse.

A gray and black leopard patterned blanket, a blanket Lynnie gave to her mom for good luck, covers Amy’s legs.  Three days of treatment again, but this is day three, 4 more hours to go and then we are done for the year.  Every set of completed treatments feels like an accomplishment, no more waking the girls up early to get them to before school care, no more waking up at 2am, panicked, and thinking I overslept and we missed an appointment, or watching the EKG machine obsessively, knowing what each reading means but we are done and in a few hours Amy will begin to come out of it.

I pull the car into the driveway and park.   It won’t be long before Vivian gets off the bus.  I have enough time to get Amy into bed so she can sleep, the treatments are exhausting .  An hour after Vivian gets home Lynnie will get off the bus.  Today is really no different than any other day, the ketamine treatments are a part of our life now.  We get through each day as any other family might and like everyone else we jump each hurdle as it presents itself.

It’s in the passing moments of mindlessness that I find myself reconciling our new life, and much like someone stuck in an abusive relationship I am constantly creating ways to make it livable while ignoring the obvious.

Vivian is upstairs reading and Lynnie is playing with her guys, she is having an interesting conversation with them but I am only sort of listening.   

In the pantry I collect up ingredients.   I load up my arms, a Cambro full of flour, another of sugar, on top of them I lay a bag of brown sugar and a jar of green and red Christmas sprinkles.   When I get everything together I call the girls and we begin measuring ingredients.  It’s time to make some Christmas cookies.

As 2017 exits, we are ending the year much as it began.

I try to give Amy’s days structure.  It is around 1:30 in the afternoon when I wake her.  I bring her coffee in her favorite Klimt mug, sugar in the bottom until it forms an Appalachian sized hill, half and half to cover, and to the top with strong, hot, coffee.

This afternoon I don’t have the time because we are making cookies, but on the afternoons when I don’t have lots to do I lie in the bed next to Amy while she sips her coffee and we talk.  We relish these afternoons.  Sometimes we talk about pop culture, on others it’s about something we read, there are days when we laugh hysterically, some afternoons are spent bringing her up to date on the kids school stuff but it’s on the days we talk about how lucky we are, even in this worst of moments, that we both feel fortunate.  We know that with a few simple turns of fate our situation could be wholly different.  We know we are the exception and not the rule, the fact that I can stay home with Amy while, we hope, she begins to recover is a luxury, that her illness hasn’t depleted our savings is because we have and can afford good health insurance.

We also know we have an amazing family always at the ready to help in anyway but on top of that we have great friends who continually call or text to ask if we need anything.  I will likely turn down the help but it is more with the knowledge there might come a time when we will need it rather than we don’t want it.  Besides when you reach out it lets us know there is a world outside of Amy’s disease and on bad days sometimes it is the best thing that happens.

It is still snowing, it is a lighter snow, and I am thankful.

 

The Best Tomato Soup In The World

THE TOMATOES FROM MY garden slowly begin to trickle into my kitchen. Just a few barely ripe ones at first, the kind that are still a little green at the stem end.  I pick them out of excitement, now they need to sit on the counter for a day or two to fully ripen. Soon they are followed by deep red fully ripe tomatoes, enough to slow roast a tray of San Marzanos until they shrink and shrivel and get the tell tale taste of raisin and intense tomato. Continue reading →

The Best Burger in the World

The Best Burger in the World

The sacks on the table, dotted with spots of grease and limp from French fry steam, are from Burger Chef. I have a plain cheeseburger. It is the first burger I remember eating. I eat them with glee and in anticipation of the next time my father would pile us into the back of the metallic green Plymouth Fury and drive us the short distance to the shopping center to pick up dinner from the shiny new burger spot.

Shortly thereafter, we packed up and moved to the country. Everything changed. That’s not to say we didn’t get to eat at burger joints anymore — we just didn’t get to eat at them as often. We didn’t eat at Burger Chef all the time to begin with, but at the new house there were no eateries close by.

At our new home, the height of my formative years, if we ate burgers, it was from the grill on our porch. The burger meal was best on the weekends when we came off the boat after a long day on the lake waterskiing, tubing, and swimming. We were wet, sunburned, and wrapped in beach towels. As we walked up the hill from the water, fresh-cut blades of grass stuck to our damp feet and, at the top, we sat down to the table on the back porch deck with wet hair and water-freckled arms. A pot of long-cooked green beans speckled with bacon, a plate piled high with boiled corn on the cob begging for butter, thick slabs of sliced Early Girl tomatoes, and a stack of juicy burgers hot off the charcoal grill waited for us, courtesy of my mother.

At the table we built our own burgers. Mine was always the same, 1 1/2 slices of American cheese, mayo, thickly spooned onto the top bun, Boston lettuce, and two thick slices of homegrown tomato. By the time I got close to finishing the sandwich, the soft Kaiser roll was soaked with tomato and beef juices, making the last sloppy bites the best — napkin mandatory.

But when you leave home, you stretch your wings, or at least I did, and you experience the world without the watchful eyes of your parents. You do things you shouldn’t and you do things you should. But I figured I’d get it out of my system, experience as many possibilities as I could. I won’t settle on any one thing until I have none left to try:

The Hinkle Burger: Caramelized onions smashed into the patty which is griddled on a big steel flat top. Double cheese means two slices on a single patty, not two patties. College. My first true love. The burger, fries, and blueberry milkshake is a hard memory to run from.

White Castle: A plate of sliders, double cheese with extra pickle. The break-up girlfriend. A friend with benefits.

And then there is the fall I spent in Austin as a newspaper intern. The jalapeño burger, theschnitzel burger, the Tex-Mex burger, the BBQ bacon burger, the Cordon Bleu burger, and the breakfast burger. Incorrigible. Notches on the burger bed post.

The Wheel-In Diner. Post graduation. A goober burger. Peanut butter slathered on a bun, a burger, and your choice of toppings. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.

The Corner Bistro. Dream big. The big city cheddar burger. Served on a toasted English muffin. As close to a corner office as I want to get.

The stuffed blue cheese burger, mushroom and Swiss, bacon California Reuben pizza Cajun 1/2 pounder Swedish meatball foie gras wagyu … and ground short rib burger. All delicious but nothing more than meaningless hotel rooms on an endless road trip because in the end, you discover, there is nothing like the comfort of home,  The Lake House Burger.