A Father's Journal / Labeled for grape expectations
My seventh-grader Julia came home with a project for French class. She had to write a report about all of her family members, including aunts, uncles and extended family members. I wanted to take a look at it to find out if any family secrets leaked out.
I do not speak French but recognize a few words, so I went over her report with a red pen trying to be sure words such as stupide, criminel or clown de cirque did not appear.
I need not have worried. With her first year French vocabulary, she wrote that her mother was nice, liked funk music, was intelligent and generous. She wrote that I liked grapes.
I asked her "Why did your mom get all those great words about her, and I got that I liked grapes?"
She replied, "I already used those words on mom, and Madame Cowenhoven wants us to use different words. She wants us to stretch our vocabulary, and you do like grapes"
"Everyone likes grapes, but I am more than that," I said. "Right?"
"You really love grapes. Remember that Seder dinner we went to in Stamford last year? You went back four times for the grapes. I think you ate all the grapes. Plus grape was a vocabulary word."
"Those were good grapes. Nice and tart and not squishy, I guess I do like grapes. But why did your mother's side got all the good vocabulary words and my side got what was left over?"
"Mom can read French. You can't."
I had my older daughter translate. My wife Laura's sisters are intelligent and beautiful, and my sister Ellen likes cheese. Is that fair? My brother Patrick likes hot dogs, and my brother Tim was born in September. My sister Ann is a teacher, John likes to read, Mike has brown hair (not on the top anymore), Maureen likes to camp and Sheila is a hard worker.
Julia's grandmother on my side likes salad and steak, while my wife's mother is likes to read, likes chocolate and is generous. From her description, my mother-in-law is someone you would want to meet. My mother sound like a perfect date at the Ponderosa Steak House.
I guess its odd coming face to face with how your friends and relatives perceive you. My sister (the one who likes cheese) overheard her 8-year-old daughter, (my niece) describe me to a friend as: "He is seven feet tall and very loud." Let me correct her. My brother Tim (he who was born in September) is closer to seven feet than I am, and the only reason I talk loud at their house every year is that I need to yell over her mother, who is louder than I am.
I ran into a close friend of ours in Norwalk. She has known me for ,ore than 20 years. She was with some friends from Canada. She introduced me as "This is our friend Tom. He's from Alaska." Really? After 20 years, that's all you`ve got? She knows I like steak. She didn't introduce her friends as being from Canada. I figured it out.
Can someone be adequately summed with one line? My wife came up with a line a few years back that I think comes close. When describing my family she said we were "an odd mix of savagery and sophistication." I liked it. My father loved it. He said, "Most people don't put the word sophistication in there."
I have asked Laura and my daughters to use the line as my epitaph. Laura has commented that if they have to pay by the letter, the line may be shortened to just "odd." I guess that will work. It beats people walking by my grave a hundred years in the future and saying to each other, "He must have really liked grapes."
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org