“Any pizza is a personal pizza if you believe in yourself.” Sign on a pizza parlor in Clarion PA.
Every year my family gets together in a semi-deluxe rustic lodge, usually in the wilds of Pennsylvania. These are my notes from 2017:
Help, I’m being driven mad by microfiber sheets and ceiling fans. Also a skylight with no blind to cut out dawn breaking twenty feet above the bed, and my whole family sleeping in somebody else’s house in the woods.
The family all together should mean peace and contentment, shouldn’t it? Over a dozen of the people I care most about in the world under one roof – so why was I tossing and turning and now sit wide awake at 5 AM wrapped in a polyester throw on a massive beamed porch staring out into the void that is the Pennsylvania woods? Why are my eyes sunken hollows?
Because I’m not working on my album this weekend and I feel like I should be working. Because I finally have a contract for my book and I’m afraid to look at it. Because I have a show on Friday (and two more later this month) and I hope I can remember how to get up and do what I in principle do but in actuality have only spent a small fraction of the year doing? Because it’s one more summer slipping away and my dad is very old – turning ninety in a few weeks – and that must mean my brothers and I are not actually in our twenties or thirties or even our forties anymore?
I know I’m lucky – except for my mom we’re all still here. But my dad seems frailer and smaller, and he used to be intimidating and powerful as only a dad can be. It’s been years since we had one of the showdowns these get-togethers used to inevitably lead to – me and him facing off in parking lots or on front porches of folksy bed and breakfasts; him asking when I was going to grow up and become respectably employed, and what about my daughter, how was I raising her – we’ve kind of laid all that to rest. I’d defend my corner with almost every fiber of my being, one or two threads reserved for thinking maybe he was right. Now he’s old and more accepting and to him I seem settled. Maybe I am settled? My daughter is grown up and I understand that all he really wanted was for me to be okay.
I go in to pour a bowl of cereal and it’s just him and me in the semi-deluxe rustic lodge kitchen, like back when I was a kid, he and I always the early risers awake alone together. He doesn’t have his hearing aids in and I’m in a manic sleep-deprived state and we turn our bleary focus to a hand-painted plaque on the wall: “When I die, I want to be buried in the woods so my husband will hunt for me.”
My dad chuckles. “Did you see that plaque?”
I say: “I don’t get it.”
“Well, she wants him to have to hunt for her, like he’d hunt for a bear. It’s funny.”
“No, it’s not,” I say. I just can’t help myself, I’m fifteen again, I’m the resident troublemaker. The respect-your-father fibers from a few paragraphs back hover over me shouting “NO” but the rebel in me presses on: “It makes no sense. She’d be buried in the woods, and he hunts and kills, and she’d already be dead. It doesn’t work as a joke, or even a platitude.”
Dad gets huffy. “Well, people can think whatever they want.”
“Yeah, but they don’t have to paint it on a plaque, and hang it on a wall where I have to look at it and be annoyed.”
“Well it’s their house, and in my book that means they can do whatever the hell they want.”
And THE OLD TEAM IS BACK! He, defender of authority and territorial rights, respect for our hosts and in turn respect for HIM vs…me. He picks up his mug of decaf and leaves, and I begin to understand what it will feel like when he’s gone, because I won’t have this anymore. Our contentiousness is part of who we are and the love between us, and as much as I’ve struggled with and hated him sometimes, there’ll never be another person in my life who made me and makes me me like my dad.
“Come back dad!” I want to shout as I write this in my notebook. Let’s talk about the plaque some more. Or anything! Let’s hang out in the kitchen awake alone together just a little bit longer.
Aforementioned upcoming shows
- Fri Aug 11 New Haven, CT Cafe Nine (w/Willie Nile)
- Fri Aug 25 Willow Springs IL house concert (email Jeff@gandtenterprises.com )
- Sat Aug 26 Chicago, IL Bucktown Arts Festival