My Mum didn’t die a peaceful death. She got bitten on her toe by a rattlesnake whilst walking through the big park at night in her flip flops. She didn’t have the cell phone with her because my Dad had it that night. The poison got into her veins and stopped her heart. The next time when we saw her, she was all stiff and puffy. But her face was angry, most likely about the cell phone, I think. My Dad says she comes back in the form of a hurricane every few years or so and it’s our goddammed duty to weather the storm. He says they can call ‘em whatever they want – Irma, Katrina, Harvey, but they all Hurricane Josephine to him.
Eight a.m. in San Juan, California and it’s already eighty-two degrees on this June morning. I’m in running shorts and a tee-shirt as I step out my front door to pick up the paper.
The black and white patrol car prowls my street like a predator looking for its next meal. The mechanical beast creeps toward my house, signals a right turn, pulls into my driveway.
Charlie stood on the porch waving. Well-done Charlie, the oldest son, the abider, the Oak Park of the family, the village closest to their father, who was Chicago itself.
I try hard not to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but some of the things Germans do are just wrong. Over the years I’ve learned to tolerate all manner of behaviors that made my younger self uncomfortable: people shaking hands in non-professional contexts, people not smiling when they say hello, people not knowing how to wait in lines, et cetera. I’ve even adopted a few behaviors that would strike many Americans as odd: I bag my own groceries, I don’t tip unless the person actually deserves it, and I can listen to political opponents without wanting them dead.
The night I asked Lena to drop out of high school and marry me, it was freezing. We were waiting out a fall hailstorm, hunkered together under the awning of Kennywood Amusement Park’s Haunted House which was Lena’s favorite ride, even though she rode it with her eyes closed. “Oh, Lennerd,” she said, “Yes. Yes!” Afterwards, we rode the neck-whipping wooden coaster, Thunderbolt, and she was a good sport about it.
My father was struck speechless for the first time in his life on the day that my mother fell through the ceiling.