“Now my father’s brother,” my dad says, “he was nothing like that. He took after his mother all the way. He was nothing like his father. Nothing. That was the better way to go, that was my uncle Joseph. He was like his mother, he was kind, he was hardworking. He was in a band, I forget the name but they were big. This one guy in the band, he didn’t stay with it, he went on to be a priest, but for a while he was the number one player in the world on the, what do you call it?” He holds his hands up ambiguously. “The bass. He was the number one bass player in the world. He was dating this gal once, they went into the city on a date, they went to the Copacabana. This was back when the Copa was a real place to be seen. She said to him, do you like it here? Could you see yourself playing here? And he said yeah, of course, and she said if you marry me I’ll buy it for you. But he turned her down, if you can believe it, and he went to be a priest instead.”
My dad tells me this story while we’re sitting on the edge of the sand at the lake, back near the grass and the picnic table, clinging to a little edge of shade under a tree. There are ants everywhere and we pretend it’s not a problem. I have never heard this story before–I’m not sure, before today, I would have been able to tell you that my father had an uncle named Joseph–but it is so typically one of my dad’s stories. The only way this could be a more typical-of-my-dad story is if some celebrity entered the narrative.
Wait for it.
“But while they were big, they were a big deal. Frank Sinatra wanted to sing with them once and Joseph turned him down! Joseph said he wasn’t that good. But it was early in his career, Frank Sinatra, nobody knew who he was. I think his mother–you know my grandmother, Angelina, Joseph’s mother, I think Frank Sinatra’s mother was a friend of hers. They were in Hoboken but they came from Sicily. That’s where my grandmother came from, she was from Palermo. You’ve never seen anyone who worked as hard as my grandmother, every day of her life.”
My mother, she’s upset about a woodchuck that’s coming onto her porch and eating her parsley. “He’s a big fat one, you can see his little pawprints in the morning. And he runs fast! You wouldn’t think he could go so fast, the little jerk.” I keep laughing when she talks about it, which is the wrong answer, this is a Very Serious Problem.
The weather was perfect for the lake, eighty-eight degrees and a cloudless blue sky for most of the day. Every twenty minutes or so my mother would shiver and say oooh, it’s going to rain, I can feel a storm coming in. I feel bad sometimes that I get so impatient with my parents, but it’s hard sometimes. We’re all doing our best.
I should go–I need to maintain constant vigilance over the coffeemaker this morning. It’s a little cheapie four-cup Mister Coffee, and my mother gets them through the morning by just adding more grounds or more water whenever the mood strikes her. This produces an unending stream of undrinkable coffee; this isn’t one of those things where they’re satisfied and I’m being a know-it-all. They’re both unhappy with the coffee, my dad complains constantly, and yet nothing ever changes. I got in here early this morning and made the first batch of coffee myself, the normal way, where you measure the water and the grounds.