Wednesday, July 16, 2008

 

In Which We Gather for Story Time...


So, we do this thing at dinner. Every night, after we sit down and start eating, the Brownie will drop her fork and look at me. "Dad, tell us a story."

I've always told stories at dinner--can you believe it?--but made an extra effort to tell them more often right after my parents' death, and then those stories were all about them. It's the only way I know to bring them back to life and I fear without those stories, my kids will not remember their grandparents so well. They're not long--if you wrote them down, they'd amount to about a thousand words (or a really short blog post for me), but they carry the kids through dinner and they seem to enjoy them.

To be honest, we've got into quite a habit, a ritual, really. And over time the stories have expanded in scope--Grandma and Papa Up in Heaven still get a large share of the stage, but more recently I've begun to rotate in some stories along the old favorite theme of The Misadventures of Daddy. So it was last night. I never know what story is going to pop into my head, which I think is wonderful, although occasionally awkward too.

Last night, the Brownie said, "Tell me a story," and I gave Her Lovely Self a meaningful look, which she utterly failed to return. Although perfect in all other respects, my wife has the worst memory on the planet, and so had no idea why the Brownie's words would stir me.

Tell me a story she had said. Not "us," but "me." And it was that slightest change in her usual request that affected me powerfully. As a writer, I'm keenly aware of the value of recurring words, images, and themes throughout a story. Sometimes they can be overdone, but often enough, they just serve as excellent laces to knot the whole together. It happens in stories and it happens in life.

And when the Brownie spoke, I immediately thought back to a winter night in early 1992, when I was young and poor, living in a crappy, freezing apartment in Chicago. Her Lovely Self and I had just come back from a party. We were not quite dating yet, still at that exquisitely painful stage where the honking big elephant of your mutual attraction stands foursquare in the room, but you can't quite acknowledge it.

She wouldn't like me to tell you this--and of course has no memory of it herself--but my future wife was quite the fish when it came to drinking back then and that night she was positively shellacked. I rarely had more than one drink at a party--a family history thing, you know--so I was fine, but there was no way I was going to let HLS drive back to her apartment. I offered to drive her there and walk back--the perfect gentleman--but before I could get an answer, she disappeared into my bathroom and was gone a long time. When she came out, she was wearing a voluminous old t-shirt of mine and not much else.

While I was wondering whether I should tell her I had been using that t-shirt as a bath towel (I was very poor and couldn't afford the real thing), she staggered down the hall to my room, collapsed on my bed and proceeded to moisten my pillow with her adorably blubbery snores. The t-shirt/bath towel was hiked way up, enough that I could briefly admire her taste in lower undergarments (burgundy red with a kind of little starburst pattern), before I pulled the magic trick of yanking the sheets out from under her without disturbing her--like she was a vase on a tablecloth--then I covered her up and tucked her in.

I was a t-shirt-and-boxers sleeper myself in those days, so I prepped for bed, ran my head under water, brushed my teeth, then grabbed my trusty LL Bean camp blanket and my other pillow and was about to consign myself to a night on my couch--which I had obtained under salvage law the day my neighbor put it curbside. He had good reason--there were no springs left to speak of in that couch, so really it was like sleeping in a hammock.

But just then, Her Lovely Self stirred and muttered. "No no, stay here with me." And she slapped the empty side of the bed once or twice, like a master calling her dog to come on and jump up.

Well, I wasn't that perfect a gentleman, so I promptly dropped the blanket, and hopped, pillow and all, over her and into bed.

Now, let me say here and now that nothing happened. Honest. But it was still a milestone moment for me. I lay awake for a long time, just so damn chuffed to have this woman--however insensate she might be--in my bed. And then, just as I found myself drifting off, she stirred, gave the most enchanting little snort and looked around, puzzled, like she had no idea where she was (which I'm sure was the case). Then her eyes settled on me. I waited for her to ask me what I thought I was doing there, or just to tell me to fuck off.

But instead, she simply smiled at me, flopped back in bed and said, "Can't sleep now. Tell me a story?"

Tell me a story?

"Tell me a story, Dad," the Brownie repeated.

"Well, okay," I said. "But it won't be the one I was just thinking of."

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Awe, that's so sweet!!
It really is interesting how a mere phrase can stir up old memories.
And I applaud you for being such a gentleman. Guys aren't like that nowadays.
 
This just joined in my favorite posts from this blog. Beautiful and so wonderfully told. I'm going to go back and read it again right this second.
 
"Like she was a vase on a tablecloth"...love that line! I also like "still at that exquisitely painful stage." Ah. Yes, we all know that stage. Reminds me of when I met my husband.
 
And you tell stories so damnable well. I'm blown away every time I read. At the end of your posts I always ask myself, "How can I learn to write like that?"

You rock, MM.kkpei
 
That awkward edge of dating is so awkward, isn't it?

Thanks for sharing the memory.
 
But there's also something to love about that awkward phase--an undercurrent of energy that is possibility.
 
How sweet! I just love your stories, too!
 
THAT's a good story!
 
You are a true and very real romantic. I hope Her Lovely Self reads this, and after the blushes, remembers and smiles at the memory.

Over from authorblog where Jim (Suldog) nominated you for Post of the Day. A great nomination.
 
really really beautiful.

Thanks for sharing. Hope HLS didn't mind. :)

Hugs,
 
When Suldog suggest we check out "the best writer on the internet" I know I have to come see.. and I'm glad I did. Another blog to visit regularly. Thanks, Sully!
 
Thank you for another great story (and the reminder of how sweet the beginning of a relationship can be).
 
Great post, brother!
 
Twinks totally stole my comment...

Awwww, that's so sweet!

:)
 
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