An outdoor wedding in November is a risky proposition, even in Scottsdale, but it went off smoothly, a couple of puffy clouds in the sky, temperature in the 70s. My niece and her new husband glowed, surrounded by family and friends, the way weddings are supposed to surround us.
There was a cocktail party on the roof of the hotel following the ceremony, prior to the dinner and reception, and I wandered around, taking a million pictures with my phone, looking for Instagram glory, not having much to do. Just a million throw-away shots, nothing remarkable at all, just a collection of faces and cityscape, and now when I skip through them, remembering, that’s where I spot you.
Talking with Ben. Arm around Berg. Teasing Brendan. Chatting up the bartender. Gazing out over the Valley of the Sun, the city you lived in and worked in for so long. You can probably spot favorite bars from the roof, even on the east side.
You look pretty much the way you did four years earlier, at Beth’s wedding in Santa Fe. Scotch in hand, smiling, enjoying the excitement and the young energy, the event, the family. You had them all together in 2005, at your 50th anniversary party, but it was always nice to see them in one place, as scattered as they are. Time to refill that Scotch.
I can’t give you a cigarette to smoke. The cigarettes killed you, sorry. You knew they would, one way or another, but in order to make this counterfactual work I have to take that one bit of you away. You remember that time in 1981 when you got so sick, when your epiglottis swelled and they put you in ICU, a trach kit by the bedside? I’ve decided that’s when you quit. Thirty years was enough, you figured, and nobody wants a tracheostomy. So you stopped then, at 44. Let’s just say.
But hey, look at this. You got another 30 years to play with, along with 7 grandkids and a couple of great-grands just to point out that time doesn’t mess around. I’m already prodding you to take a road trip to Austin to see August Bix Beauchamp. It’s time for your special gift, I say, tightening the nut, and tell the story again, about how you came up to Seattle to see Beth when she was three months old, and it was you, playing with her on the floor, who provoked her first giggle.
“Your grandpa taught you to laugh,” I told her, years later. She learned well, too. That, and how to appreciate good Scotch, something that baffles you but makes you giggle a little, too.
So you need to get to Texas and teach her son how to laugh, I say. It’s up to you, and you sneer a little but I know you’ll do it, and soon.
And I’ll call you later today, your 77th birthday. We’ll talk about how well my Seahawks are doing, but how your Cardinals aren’t out of the picture yet. You’ll gripe a little about how much time Mom spends on her iPad, but I know your secret (you use it too). You’ll give me some shit about something or other, and I’ll take it, recognizing the strands of truth in what you say, and then I’ll hang up and Julie and John will want to know what I was doing, and I’ll just say, “Talking to my dad,” and life will go on.
It will. It has. I’m sorry you missed these past 10 years, although that’s a tricky sorrow, leveraged with fantasy, the kind that invites wallowing and I don’t do that anymore, not really. I’m pretty firmly stuck in the present these days, and I like where I am. I don’t regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it, things I learned the hard way but at least I learned.
I just wanted to say happy birthday, I guess, and how funny it is that I look at pictures of my happy family, and I see you in them, and how of course you are.