Some days are perfect: why not say so?
The Column: 07.22.22
A summer evening on the porch overlooking the Connecticut River and Her Healthness has relaxed the rules and we’re having beef hamburgers off the grill and corn on the cob slathered in actual butter, not a vegan imitation, and the Parisian niece has baked custard tarts so delicious I decline a second knowing it would push me over the edge into decadence, a gent in capri pants and caftan, smoking a Gauloises in a cigarette holder, listening to the Gypsy Kings on my earbuds, aloof to those around me.
I’ve avoided decadence so far except for a mild addiction to Dairy Queen Blizzards, which so far is under control. I’ve avoided COVID and knee replacement and wood ticks that carry a virus that makes you talk endlessly in run-on sentences about a former president, and so it’s a pleasant evening, and we hear the happy cries of children at an old children’s camp nearby that teaches traditional values of friendship, sharing, good manners, daily chores, curiosity, and creativity. Children are not allowed electronic devices and “social justice” and “healing” are not in the mission statement, presumably “friendship” and “sharing” cover that. The boys and girls wash their faces in the morning in cold water at an outdoor trough. It’s not a church camp so they miss out on Ecclesiastes, but there is an evening campfire and I’m sure I’ve heard “Kumbaya.”
The niece and her husband are exhausted from a long day of home improvement, something else I’ve avoided. And I have escaped from youthful ambition as well to become a beloved uncle, listening to the patter of conversation and tossing in punchlines. The niece knows about tastefulness, the nephew is in finance, Her Healthness knows salads and music and art, and I am required only to be amiable.
In England, the temps got up past 100 Fahrenheit, but it’s not my problem. H.H. is an insomniac and listens to the BBC in the wee hours to induce sleep and so she is up on things British. Not me. My people left there during the reign of George III, put monarchy and Oxford accents and warm beer and baked sheep’s kidneys behind them and learned which side their corn cob is buttered on. There are no Dairy Queens in Dorset, Durham, or Cornwall, only Her Majesty and her corgis, and that’s the end of that, so far as I’m concerned. I could not be seduced by some Thames temptress the way poor Harry was stolen away by Meghan. I am content with my American woman.
This is her old family summer cottage and she is busy freshening the place up and disposing of hereditary trash, while I watch her do it. Today I held a screen in a door while she tightened the screws. That was my one assignment of the day, that and toweling off her back after her shower. “Scratch my back,” she says sometimes, and I do and I am good at it. So apparently she intends to keep me, which is good to know.
My classmates are fading away. I think back to the guy who had a heart attack at our 50th class reunion while I was giving a speech, paying tribute to old teachers — meanwhile, Rex was slumped over his mac and cheese, his neighbors asking, “Are you all right?” and he was not. My speech was the last words he heard in this world. I wish I had told a joke instead so that he had gone out laughing. Maybe the joke about the man who walks into the house with his hands full of dog turds and tells his wife, “Look what I almost stepped in,” which sums up much of life in one sentence.
We washed the dishes — H.H. believes that a dish towel only spreads germs so the dishes were racked up and left to dry overnight — and I put my hand on the niece’s shoulders and told the two of them to go home, which they wanted to do but didn’t know how to express it, and I sat on the porch with the lady and scratched her back, up high, between the shoulder blades. “Higher,” she says and I massage her elegant shoulders. This is not a chore, there’s not much creativity involved, it comes under friendship and sharing. Justice is a fine idea but I’m going for wild good fortune and now I have it in my hands.