May 23

Sitting around the table

We drove all afternoon and into the evening on Friday. We got to my mom’s just in time for dinner, barbecue that we’d picked up in Nashville. The three of us sat at the kitchen table and spooned out brisket and sides and had a wonderful and tasty time of it.

Saturday felt like a good day to sleep in, but my shoulders didn’t feel like sleeping in. I’d lay on one side for a while, get a bit achy, roll over to the other side, get a bit achy, and repeat. But with all of that extra time, from the not sleeping in, I pestered my mom to give me things to do to help her around the house. She doesn’t like to give me things to do, because I’ve come to visit her and not to work, but then she likes the help. Also, having had a full lifetime of learning how, I am good at good-naturedly pestering my mother.

So I vacuumed the pool. Then I shimmied up a tall ladder to change a light bulb. After that we upgraded her security system.

She had some homemade chicken salad, which I requested, and bought our dinner. The way I see it, I was working for my food. Also it kept her from having to do a few things and cemented my status as The Best Child.

Sunday morning we went to church with my grandfather. The sign on the outside says the church dates back to 1939, which is a fairly decent amount of time for that hill and holler. Some of my grandfather’s people have lived up there since the state was a territory, so the church is half as old as the roots. I’ve written about this before. My great-grandfather gave the land to the church. He and his wife attended faithfully.

He led the singing, he offered prayers, he oversaw the Lord’s Supper and he helped run the business side of things. When we were visited, he and I would walk back down the street to his home. We raced the rest of the family, who took the car back. This was a big event for a little boy. Sometimes we won. But, always, my great-grandfather was game for the race, even when we started going a bit slower. Their son-in-law, my great-uncle, is an elder there today. There are still relatives from three different sides of my family tree that attend there.

It’s also getting grayer and thinner. My lovely bride and I were probably the second youngest people there. But they are lovely and inviting people. Always have been. I’ve visited there my entire life. I am a decades-long visitor.

A few years ago they went to a multimedia format for sermons. The preacher can point to his right and show you verses and illustrations from a PowerPoint or a Presi. This is nothing new, but it still amuses me to see it in this particular place. Occasionally they’d put a song on the screen, something that wasn’t in the hymnal. It’s odd, to me, when that happens. The songbook is an important part of everything.

Yesterday, you couldn’t help but notice the three cameras in the back of the building. This tiny little country church is streaming to the web. Someone writes them, my grandfather said, from another country. This tiny little, graying, country church is going global.

The preacher, a man who’s preached for 50-plus years, surely, mentioned the URL at the end of his sermon.

They’re still working on embedding those videos, though.

Today we chatted with a friend in Germany, giving him all of the best Memorial Day wishes, but as a joke. He’s active duty and it aggravates him to no end when people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as they often do. I was going to let it go this year, but then we heard a DJ in Nashville on Friday make the error, so then I had to incorporate that into the joke.

He’s going to be retired in the next year or two, but I’m sure we’ll still be sending him fake cards on the wrong days. At least he knows they are fake and in a properly sarcastic spirit.

If he wasn’t overseas we’d have invited him over for lunch. We had burgers and ribs and my grandfather came over, so we played dominos. Here’s my partner, ready to score all of the points.

Over the last four or five years, maybe, my grandfather has been teaching us. That sounds like it takes a long time and that we’re lousy students, but it’s a couple of games a trip, so our progress is uneven. My grandfather and my mom are a team, The Yankee and I are a team. They usually win. There’s no end to his joy at trouncing the college kids. And that is what they often do. All this education, we struggle counting dots. Two years ago, as a gag gift I received my own set of dominos and, to his eternal delight, a little solar powered calculator. We still win about the same amount, despite having the opportunity to practice. And, despite that opportunity, I am still very slow, because I am counting and doing math and trying to remember the rules and see the larger strategies and so on.

We win one or two here or there. The goal is to get to 500 points. He’s doing this math, two or three levels of it, really, in his head. My mother is crunching the numbers in her head. I am pointing at dots and mouthing words, “26, 27, 28 … ” For a good long while this amused him. Now, I think, he just wishes I would get better at it and hurry up and put down my bone so he can score 35 points with a simple flick of his wrist. Probably he’s going to put a time limit on me. That might not be a bad idea, actually.

I am the butt of a lot of jokes while we are playing dominos, but I earn them, and I own them. Once, he sent me a video of him counting dots, fiddling with his dominos, dropping them on the table, counting more dots. It wasn’t trash talk, it was trash gesturing. Without saying a word, he deconstructed my entire game, such as it is. He was completely absorbed in the tiles in his hand, and he only looked up at the camera at the very end, to smile. How can you not love that? Plus, my being the punchline makes him laugh, which is one of the all time best things.

Occasionally things break our way in the game, and we’ll win a hand. Today, for the first time ever I think, we won two games in a row. Also, late in one hand I found myself understanding the dominos that were still in play. I may have to count the dots, but I am learning to count tiles.

I resolved to get my dominos and start practicing even more.

Dec 22

I fixed a thing, we ran some, and did other things

I decided to try to get cool son-in-law points this weekend. My mother-in-law had grown frustrated by a leaking kitchen sink. They’d had a plumber out, but that hadn’t worked. So I said, “Let me go get, and install, a new faucet for you.” The old one was, well, old. And they have weird water, so a new fixture wasn’t uncalled for.

It went like this. I went to Lowe’s. Found a faucet. I purchased some other things because my in-laws don’t have the widest array of tools on hand. I took half the old faucet out and realized I didn’t get a big enough crescent wrench. Grrrr. Having failed at my first goal of going to one hardware store for this project, we went to Walmart and got some more crescent wrenches. And then I labored at the silly old faucet and it’s decades old components for a good long while.

Finally, the new one went in, but I kept running into a leak from the supply hose. The cold one was fine, the hot supply line was a spraying mess. I tried, oh how I tried, to make it work. After a late lunch I, grrrrrrrrr, went to the local small hardware store for new supply hoses. A guy walked me right to them and, showing the amount of studied disinterest that indicates he’s almost ready to work at Home Depot, he showed me the many size options available. I took the most likely candidates and then I asked the guy “Why do you suppose this one is leaking?

The old one was a plastic-rubber style, popular in the 1980s or so. It was undamaged. He looked down the hose. “No rubber seal.” I showed him the old cold supply hose. It worked just fine. He glanced at it, turned and walked away mumbling, “I don’t know.”

This guy need to be wearing a vest in a big box store, ASAP.

Anyway, we got the sink working. It does not spray under the cabinet. It does not drip when she turns it off. My mother-in-law is very pleased. Despite that project dragging on way longer than it should, and longer than I’d promised, I think I might be the number one son-in-law now.

We went for a run, just before darkness fell.

We had great sunset views along the beach for one of our favorite 5Ks.

But then, when the sun went down, it went down quick.

On the far off, westernmost point over the sound we saw the sun go down. It turned dark before I could get there, despite an almost-sprint to make it to the beach. But imagine about two thirds of this amount of sky in that brilliant red.

Also today The Yankee got her mother’s new iPad set up. And, tonight, she digitized all of their old slides using a machine I picked up this year. There’s 1,100 of them, all sitting on an SD card, and in the cloud, and in all of those carousels. We looked at the first several hundred of them on their TV this evening. Their daughter was a really cute kid.

Dec 22

Merry Christmas




Dec 22

Brick Christmas

Today we’re in New Jersey. Us and the cold — and I know no one shivering wants to read about that. We’ve been lucky with the weather all the way around. Oh, it’s cold, but it’s as cold or colder everywhere else. And we’ve only seen flurries. And where we are, in New Jersey, everyone has power.

Christmas in New Jersey is with my lovely bride’s god parents. My god parents-in-law, if you will. There were only 10 of us there today, where there are usually 15. But the day, which is always great fun, goes like this.

You go inside and up the stairs, hugs and handshakes, and then you look for the pickle. The Christmas pickle is a lesser known tradition. Seems to stem from some Germanic origin, or late 19th century marketing. (And if I had a nickel for every time something without a clear provenance was possibly attributed to those two things … )

This tree has two pickles on it, and if you find them, you are due a year of good fortune. Everyone always finds both pickles. That’s family for you.

I also spend a few minutes studying all of the other ornaments. The godparents-in-law have an interesting collection.

There are hor’dourves. After your first experience with this particular party’s habits, you know precisely where to sit. And, of course, they changed up which end of the table would have the shrimp. I was out of position. There are presents, one person at a time, youngest to oldest. I’m sixth of the 10 present today, so I’m above the mean and the median. Yikes.

(When all 15 people are here, I sit 10th.)

Later there’s a lasagna dinner, which is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. My godfather-in-law is a third generation Italian immigrant, and he knows what he’s doing. And we all love him for it. My mother-in-law always brings the Christmas Crackers, a thing which I’d never known about until my first Brick Christmas in the oughts. This year’s Crackers had some bad puns and good trivia. We all took turn reading those.

After dessert one of the kids suggested the board game Blank Slate. Never heard of it. Had a blast. Everyone did, old and young.

And that’s Brick Christmas, it’s always great fun for everyone.

We’re staying in New Jersey tonight. Pull out bed in the downstairs den. I fear that my back will never be the same.

Dec 22

Yet another travel day

We woke up early enough this morning to take a little bike room. So there we were in the bike room, pedaling away, thinking about what was upstairs, not getting packed. But I got in 25 miles — which was great!

This was my first ride in a week, and my last ride for a week. Meanwhile, the calendar keeps churning and my yearly mileage record is still out there, waiting to be met.

I should make it, but probably not by much.

Couldn’t do more than 25 miles today, and let me just say, he wrote, that based on how the rest of the morning and early afternoon developed, I did not have time to do 30, or even 27 miles. The day was perfectly, accidentally, plotted out.

We got cleaned up and finished packing. I loaded the car and drove us to the airport. We made it through security and down to our gate with no incident, having left the house six minutes later than we wanted, but with no stress on time.

(Let’s see if we can do that the next two or four times in a row before it’s worth really remarking on, though.)

Anyway, to Delta, and a plane that winged us away to LaGuardia Airport. Here we are flying into Queens now.

They’ve been working on LaGuardia, an $8 billion renovation, since 2016. The terminal we flew into today opened last June. And they’re now nearing the completion of this whole project. Joe Biden, then the vice president, famously said the old airport belonged to a “third-world country” and the mid-project experience was none better. But now, here we are, the airport the New York media is calling the first new major airport built in the United States in the last 25 years.

What is not be available: mass transit.

Can you believe that?

Getting to the rental car companies is no easier. Landing at Terminal C there is sometimes a shuttle to Terminal A. From Terminal A you’d have to take a second bus to the car rental people, who are off the premises. Or you could walk. It is not, repeat, not, conducive to walking. This whole design is as naively 20th century New World as can be.

We took an Uber, instead. Two, actually, because we got in the wrong car the first time.

There’s egg on my face but, hey, it’s in your car, lady, and not mine.

So we got the car and then drove toward our next stop: Pennsylvania.

At a key moment on the two-hour plus drive (about the same amount of time as the flight, I think) The Yankee noted that we have been in seven states in 36 hours. It was then that I decided to tally up our travel mileage this holiday season.

We had dinner with her god-sister’s family. We spent the evening playing card games with their daughters. It’s fun watching them grow up, and it’s a special treat to be able to spend this time with them.

This is their oldest, when she was about a year old, in 2009.

Tonight we were talking about colleges. She’s brilliant, I’m surprised we weren’t talking about graduate programs.

Both of those kids beat me up playing cards, so if that’s any indication …