Better Homes & Gardens, Oct. 1959

Putting Gnat to sleep. Planning the next day, what we’ll do, what we’ll have for lunch. Me, I love lunch. So little hangs on lunch; your expectations are low and easily met. So it’s hard to be pleased by however it goes. Some people like variety; others have the same thing every day because they can, and because it’s the one meal where a family man really has complete control. Breakfast might be drawn from the shifting stores of cereal and fruit; dinner is variable by law, because we’d all rebel if the same thing was served each night. Even the single man objects. The single man in his lowest state rotates between fast-food outlets, because even the dullest example of the genre knows there is something inexcusable about eating McDonald’s every night. Mix it up. A little Taco Bell. Hell, Sbarro’s if you’re feeling ethnic. When I was living in Dinkytown, working at the Valli, I ate all my meals at the restaurant – employee discount, that was the excuse – and I ran through five rotating items, each of which was simply a different combination of ingredients. Didn’t matter. Just saying “I’ll have the baked rig” instead of ordering pizza again made you feel civilized. Same rules for breakfast: you operated under the belief that French Toast was somehow different than pancakes. Different species maybe; same genus. But lunch? Ask a guy to make his favorite lunch, then ask him if he could eat this every day. For lunch, that is. Not would he want to. Not would he like to. But could he? Yeah, sure. No prob.

So she says she wants soup. Ah. I bought some character-branded Campbell chicken soup – Jimmy Neutron, Dora, that sort of thing. Indistinct licensed shapes essayed in the difficult medium of pasta. The same brown jots of chicken, the same luscious broth (I cut the water by half; why dilute good hearty broth? Especially in the fall. You’re asking for pneumonia), the same mushy flavorless carrots, which I’m convinced are added not for taste or nutrition but simple for aesthetics. The sole note of color signifies vegetables. (Of the celery we will not speak.)

“I bought some extra special all-carrot soup,” I said.

“Ewww.” She’s tired, snuggling up. “But at least it doesn’t taste like anything.”

“It’s a travesty of carrots,” I said.

“What’s a travesty?”

“A bad job. Soup carrots are a travesty of carrots. When I was a kid at my grandma’s farm [why grandma’s? why not grandfather’s, grandparents? Why was that the first noun my brain picked from the shelf?] we used to get carrots right out of the ground. There’s nothing better. They don’t taste like soup carrots or even baby carrots and certainly not cooked carrots, which are also a travesty of carrots.”

“A tradesty.” She yawned. “Tell me another story about the farm.”

I don’t have many. There aren’t that many of us. First you had the people who farmed, then the ones who grew up on a farm and left for the city, then the ones whose parents grew up on a farm and took you back on weekends, then the kids whose parents were the last to hold the connection to agrarian America, and never quite noted the moment when that cord ran through their hands and out of their grasp. Not that they were holding on particularly tightly.

“Once I went to get eggs in the chicken coop. It smelled. Horrible. Chicken poop. I walked in and they all went NUTS, jumping and cawking and screeching like they’d never seen a person before.” In retrospect, who can blame them? I had come for their children. I would leave with their children. Their agitation was entirely understandable.

“Tell me more.”

But there’s not much more to tell. Certainly not the Death of the Badger in the culvert, which formed the basis of my first novel in first grade. Moments, impressions, pictures – walking through the woods along the Red River, finding an ancient tractor abandoned 30 years ago; scraping the dust off your skin with Lava soap after a day on the combine; riding motorcycles down long thin empty county roads in the summer. The farm was another world, even though it was only ten miles from home. Every day was Sunday, and Sunday was another country. It was in the Land of Sunday I first saw Pong; it was in the Land of Sunday I first tasted a beer, courtesy of Grandfather: ew, how can you drink that? It was in the Land of Sunday I saw the first episode of Star Trek on NBC in Living Color – Grandpa had a set, we didn’t. Happy to go and happy to go home. In the days before the interstate we took Highway 10 home, the road where my mom and dad had spun out years before I was born – landed in the ditch in the winter. (I always thought the scar on his forehead was from that accident, until I asked; no, he was kicked in the head as a kid. Simple enough thing, but when you’re dead poor you don’t go into town to get it sewn up nice and neat.) I always fell asleep going home. The highway curved around an old farm and the new drive-in, and whenever the car made the curve I felt it, and knew we were close. Sunday was over and Monday was next; duty loomed.

I just realized that my earliest memories, the ones that stuck, are all from the Land of Sunday.

“Tell me more tomorrow,” she yawned. “I want to go to sleep now.”

I kissed her goodnight and turned down the lights. She doesn’t like the dark – things move – but Jasper’s on guard at the edge of the bed.

It’s not really what you remember when you’re older. It’s what you don’t have to remember or try to forget.

Lovely day. Sixties; bright. The electrician came, and went. A guy came to blow out the sprinkler system, another end-of-summer ritual. He has a tongue stud; he listens to the Hugh Hewitt show. I took Gnat to the bus stop – she’s in full Goth mode this month; today it’s a black spider-web pants and a black shirt that says BOO in orange sequins. This is the Best Halloween Season Ever, she insists, and I can’t argue; the weather is clement, the trees still tree, the browns and oranges advance at a respectful pace. It’s a good October when the wind blows and the sound of the leaves above exceeds the rustlings in the gutter. This is the month for winding it all up, finishing the ideas of your long green days; by the 31st I accept that the limbs will be bare, the lawns frozen with that false frozen green of grass shocked to death by the mean quirk of an unexpected frost. November will arrive, as usual, with its mixture of pompous self-importance and uncertainty. It never knows what it’s going to do. It might get orders from Winter, and bury us all; it might simply retire to its study and let the clouds thicken and lower, let the rain drizzle and sleet, while it bothers itself with Thanksgiving pieties. Do the supermarkets have the multicolored corn cobs out? Excellent. Ceramic turkey candleholders in the seasonal aisle of the drugstore? Good, good. Pilgrim hats and blunderbuss cut-outs in the store windows? No? They don’t do that any more? Ah. Well.

Too early to speak of that. Much October to go. This month used to bore me, but that was before I saw it through Gnat’s eyes. Now it is AWESOME and without question the BEST MONTH EVER.

Except for the fargin’ Water Feature.

Pampered Man-Without-Perspective backyard project update: The Water Feature leaks. (I’d tell you the name of the company, but I’m waiting. Waiting for a satisfactory conclusion. Waiting for a reason not to post 16 pictures with the company’s name attached to each file.) I suspected that it leaked when I filled the tank, turned on the pump for that nice running-water sound – a euphonious babble now synonymous with money draining from my wallet - and the Water Feature was dry after 53 minutes. The ground around the site was spongy and damp.

I don’t think a well-designed Water Feature requires the owner to spend 20 minutes filling it with a hose every 53 minutes.

It’s a suspicion I have, nothing more.

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