Friday, February 19, 2010

One-Fourth of a Whole (Lot of Crazy)

It's not the best picture of us. But we're all there, almost, except for Amy, who was hiking.

In the background, you can see the hutch where Steven (in the light blue shirt) keeps his clay.


I've been revising this short little memoir about my dad. It's my first time in this genre, and my dad is such a fascinating character, I thought I'd try it with him at the center.

Because there are eight of us kids, though, that's way too many secondary characters, especially for a short piece. Out of the eight, then, I picked two.

One of the siblings I'm including is Amy, my sister who comes right after me (I'm the first). She is strong yet vulnerable, and I've always been interested in her explosive interactions with our dad. At seven, Amy went through a phase of dumping her dinner milk on my dad's head every night. And he took it from her! He laughed over it -- all one hundred times!

Amy is absolutely gorgeous, and dresses impeccably. Her interior design skills are topped only by her culinary wonders. In some ways, she is my dad's opposite. And yet, the two share the same fundamentals; both work for the same county in law enforcement, they've both kept their faith, they are both ambitious.

In this memoir is Amy's engagement party on a dock on Lake Tahoe. It was Greek-style, and we were all wearing white. Except for our dad, in his orange and brown Hawaiian shirt.

Through Amy, I could show that my dad likes to keep his kitchen complete. He never lets up about the mixer dough-hook that went missing a decade ago. Like the San Francisco Fire House Cookbook. Like my mom's best recipes.

Through Amy, I could show my dad's frustration and compassion. And his acceptance.

On the other hand, Dad has been trying to straighten out Steven for 26 years.

Steven is like the family cat, or Sea Monkey. We never know what he's going to do, but it's always fun to watch. Steven lives in Portland with his girlfriend two deaf cats, and sells insurance, and crafts papier mache skeletons in skeleton costumes in his spare time. My boys love Steven for his elaborate Lego creations. And over the years, he's filled my dad's kitchen hutch with all kinds of clay people: a businessman, a skeleton, Darth Vader.

When I left for college in San Francisco, Steven was heading to kindergarten. He and I stood on the front porch, crying, and he told me he was worried about his big step. Because he didn't "know how to know things."

When he could barely talk, Steven asked how ants can eat, if they don't have fingers.

On his second grade homework of fill-in-the-blank adages, he wrote "A rolling stone gathers no .... FANS."

If a tool is missing at my dad's house, it's because Steven took it. If the house is loud, it's because his friends are playing "Rock Band" tournaments.

Steven has pushed and continues to push our dad's patience to the limit.

I use him in the memoir, not only because anyone who knows him (and everyone knows him), could see how much color he adds, but because of what he brings out in my dad. Through Steven, I can show my dad's blood boil, but also his tender side that comes from Steven's purity, love, and hilarity.

There are five other characters, and I mean characters, that I wish I could use in this piece. It seems untrue to me without them.

But they are for another chapter: their tattoos and straight As, their obsession with the 49ers, their love of justice, their slovenliness and cleaning compulsions, their husbands and wives and daughters,their time in jail or law school.

We are all really different, but we all love our dad, and we all love each other, and when we're together, it's magic.


dainsma said...

Okay Jennie, how in the world did your sister manage to pour milk over your father's head MULTIPLE TIMES and manage to live?

If Dainius did that to me even once I think my eyeballs might actually pop out of my skull. I shudder to think what would have happened if I did that to my dad. And he's one patient dude.


Suzette Saxton said...

Love the magic! And what a great photo. Lovely family.

It may just be my browser, but the print on your blog is tiny and kinda hard to read - just thought I'd mention it.

Have a great weekend!

Steven Englund said...

Hi Jennie! We are "peices of eight." That's not only the name of the pirate gift shop at disneyland... it's when the pirates used to chop one coin into eight peices. That's where the term "quarter" comes from.

Anonymous said...

I try to comment but they don't get posted.