Fargo, pt. 2

My dad loved “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof, which came up on the iPod shuffle as I write this. But of course.

The ceremony was short. Afterwards the kids had their revenge and made the parents pose for photos. Big family photo. The papas, the mommas, the sons, the daughters. Tradition! When the pictures were done I slipped away to take a few pictures – the church basement, the church kitchen where great vats of coffee were brewed for the faithful, the post-war addition where the kids were instructed in Sunday school. I ran into the pastor. He’s leaving Elim for another post; it’s like the military. You get reassigned, and duty calls. We’ve only met a few times over the years, but he’s one of those immensely kind and decent men you feel you’ve known forever. Big, Scandinavian, warm hands, kind eyes. He counseled my mother in the hard times, watched her fight, laid his broad mitts on the box at the end and said the words. I’ll never see him again. And that’s fine. He was there with the welding tool before he left, and that bead will hold.

The reception was held at a golf-club restaurant on the edge of Fargo. Gnat played with her cousins. Toasts, speeches. Someone clinked the glasses, demanding the kiss. My father, being of the Greatest Generation generation, is not exactly given to public displays. He stood, he went the opposite direction from his new wife. He kissed his daughter, he kissed his grandchildren, he kissed his daughter in law. He went back to his seat. And gave the best kiss to his wife.

Back to the house for cake. Ethnic cake, as befits our people: a tower of concentric circles of almond-laced pastry. The aunts and uncles and friends came in, the men and women who formed the congregation of adults of my childhood. Some dimmed, some the same, some more robust as the years bear on. Cousins not seen in years. A quarter to ten - the sun hasn’t yet set. Out to the garage in the dim twilight to see Dad’s new Harley. He fires it up. He gives it some gas.

New Wife, new bike. War hero, business man, driver of double-tank semi trucks, able to scoop up Gnat with one hand and make her shriek with kisses. One hundred weeks from eighty.

And his new bride? As a I said, a New Yorker. Long ago. She’s been up here for decades but you can still hear the boroughs in her speech. Just a wonderful woman, and she comes with a great assortment of kids sharp and funny and wise – you don’t often get a new set of relatives halfway down your own road, and when they you connect with everyone you meet, well, count your blessings and raise a glass. But we had to leave the party at ten thirty. The pool closed at midnight, after all. And Gnat was ready to swim.

I dropped them off by the room, parked the car, hit the bar. They had Svedka vodka in two forms not previously known: Citron and Clementine. I ordered the latter, went up to the room, got the video camera, and shot Wife and Gnat playing in the pool. Played some pinball in the arcade. Went outside to have a cigar, and had a laugh: right there. That’s the road. That’s the road I took to the Pizza Hut when I came back in the summer of 78, and first took up the waitering trade. It never occurs to you when you’re twenty that you might stay at the hotel you pass every night en route to work. Why would you? Why would you come home to Fargo and stay at a hotel? Of course just because you can't think of a good reason doesn't mean a good reason won't come along.

Back up to the room. Gnat’s on the bed.

“I want Patrick Pancakes,” she says. “Can I have Patrick Pancakes for breakfast?”

Sure, hon. I click on the TV, flick through the channels.

“Ooh, Star Trek.” So it is. I plug in the iron. “Can you tell me all about Star Trek, Daddy?”

But of course. Why, I first saw Star Trek at my Grandparent’s house, which right next to the house where your great-uncle and great-aunt live, and they were at the party tonight. But that means nothing to a five year old. I have no idea how much of this she’ll recall. I have dim memories of my first motel trip – happy memories full of glee and astonishment. I paid a trip to that motel before they knocked it down.

I expect the Fargo Holiday Inn will be around for a long time.

Just in case, I slipped the Spongebob Menu in my suitcase. If she forgets, I’ll tell her. And if I forget, some day she’ll read this, and put it all together.

Midnight came and pool went dark. Not every day you marry off your dad, I thought. I smelled chlorine and motel soap and distant cigarettes, heard someone laugh down the hall, and I fell asleep.

Home. Fargo. Back. Good.



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