All the Halloween stuff came out today. There’s not much, but I remember (insert coot-signifying harmonica melody here) when there wasn’t any Halloween stuff to take out, let alone put away. Maybe one skeleton from the Ben Franklin, conveniently jointed so you could fold it up. Now we have rot-free faux pumpkins, strings of pumpkin lights, pumpkin bobbleheads, pumpkin bowls, pumpkin snowglobes, and pumpkin bubble-blowing bottles left over from three years ago. (I know, because I can carbon-date the detritus from the graphics. Target changes their Halloween designs every year.) I suppose I could dig down deep and find something horribly wrong about this, but I can’t; there’s nothing wrong with Halloween that November 1st can’t cure. No one wakes on December 26th to find the tree has been half-consumed by rodents. Pumpkins, on the other hand, have their faces chewed off in the night.

The school has forbid costumes, incidentally. There have been complaints from the Church Moms. By which I mean some Moms, in the Church basement the other day, were complaining about the ban on costumes.  I’m sure someone complained, though – or at least someone looked like they might complain. There’s always one, and everything must be retooled to accommodate their red throbbing outrage. 

On the other hand, tomorrow is Butterfly Release Day. Gnat’s class has been raising butterflies, and they were scheduled to be let go into the sheltering arms of Mother Nature. Unfortunately Mom’s in a bleak killing mood. It’s too cold. You don’t want to release lovely Monarchs only to see them flutter, falter, and spiral down to the leaf-strewn ground, wings beating a pitiful protest. I don’t think it would traumatize Gnat; she would tell me that they died in that very serious voice that had a hint of something else, the secret knowledge that if anyone ever said you never saw a butterfly die she could say uh huh, did so. She dealt with the rapture of the fishes well enough. Cried at the first, but there is only one death, as they say. (She’s much more solicitous to Goldie now, I’ll tell you that.)

This is odd: as I’m writing this I’m digitizing some old 8mm footage. Part of the 06 archive-my-entire-fargin-life project. Just found a tape of Fargo in ’99, and it’s playing in a corner of the screen . . . oy. There’s that staircase in the basement of the DeLendrecie’s department store, the inexplicable three-step staircase I remember for no reason, no reason at all. I just remember shopping in the basement with my Mom, stopping at the grill for something to eat, looking at the Black Cow illustration on the side of the soda machine (root beer and ice cream, right?) and spinning around on the stools until I was fit to rupe. I don’t know if that was 20 memories mashed into one, or one singular event that lodged in my head for reasons unknown – the brain was new to the permanent-memory-formation game, perhaps, and decided to nail this one down as a prototype.

 . . . now I’m across the street, according to the tape, shooting the bank building where my dad once had an account. Like all the banks in Fargo it was monochromatically modern, the sort of white-veined marble clad rooms with tall silver ashtrays that looked like alien probes. The sort of bank that made you think Mr. Drysdale would pop out and offer you a loan. At this particular bank I always got a small roll of Life Savers. If I lived in Fargo and the bank still existed they’d have my money. Sometimes it’s that simple.

. . .  good, good; a train just came by; I can use that in the site. What am I doing now? I’m pointing the camera at the ground.

Oh. Right.

I’m looking for her name.

My dad bought a brick with my Mom’s name on it. When they renovated the depot they sold engraved paving stones to defray the cost; the patio is filled with the names of the quick and the gone. It almost feels disrespectful to walk here – stepping on a crack and breaking one’s mother’s back has nothing on this, which contains actual mother names. And cracks.

It was an October just like this one when she died – cruel and cold, cold before its time. I was thinking about that today while waiting for Gnat at the bus stop, and I felt an untoward and unwelcome emotion I think I’ve suppressed for ten years. It’s not quite anger, but it’s . . . vehement dismay. I read the obits every day, like many, and I frequently note how people have had a brave or valiant struggle with the disease that took them. At some point the struggle is over, of course; at some point the race is run, and I imagine it’s often the point when things change quickly. You’re sent home; calls are made; people assemble. By then it’s too late to say all the things that should be said – and believe me, there are so many things. My mom was insistent up to the end she would beat this, and while we saluted her confidence and optimism, it also meant that no one could ever begin to broach the notion of the Great Summing-Up, the series of conversations in which you tease apart the knot and follow the threads back through the years. Even when she went into the hospital for the last time.

I would have loved to have asked her about the three steps at DeLendrecies. Even if she had no idea why I remembered, I think she would have liked to have known I remembered.

If the last words I hear on this earth are “I remember Chuck E Cheese, Dad,” I will die with a smile on my lips.

Now the window is playing a movie of Jasper catching the Frisbee in our backyard in 1999. He’s having a blast. I miss mowing that lawn; it was small enough so I could do it in a half an hour, and it left me sweaty and smelling like gas and oil and surely in need of a beer, yes sir, yes sir indeed. Now I pay the Aztecs to shear the slopes of Jasperwood.

The lawn-care company sent by a fellow to blow out the sprinkler system today. Usually it’s the crew chief, but today – I’m sorry, this year – it was someone else. Short guy, Hispanic, heavy accent, but of course more versed in my language than I am in his. I took him downstairs to the sprinkler control panel, and apologized for the strewage of small plastic toys – Gnat had dumped out several bins the day before.

“No apology,” he said with a shy grin. “I am a father, too.” 

He left; I filed my column and went down to pick up Gnat. The sun had come out, which was a rare surprise. She got off without her coat – of course – and we walked up the hill to home.

Oh my gosh, she said. Look at the leaves.

She was right: in the morning I’d noted how the trees on the boulevard still had most of their leaves, but between then and now a vast coordinated dumpage had ensued. The trees were still rich and green, though. This was just the start.

The birches are almost empty, I noted.

Yeah, and that one too. She pointed to the tree that goes bare overnight, it seems. Then she looked at the hill and grinned. Hey, remember when we laid here and did the homework after school?

I do.

That was fun. I wish we could do it again.

We will.

New Quirk and a particularly rich Fargo update. See you tomorrow.


    << >>

c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.