Tag Archives: memoir

The Porcine Pendant

A non-native but well rooted Vashon Islander and long-time friend sent us an extraordinary and unexpected gift last Christmas.

Cliff had previously bestowed on us a small tin of “Last Supper Dinner Mints” with a miniature resemblance of da Vinci’s famous painting on the lid, and, on another occasion, an Edgar Allen Poe hanging car freshener, which actually worked. To receive another marvelous oddity from him was not a generic surprise, but we couldn’t wait to see the specific.

Cliff is known for his large, generous heart and Yoda-like wisdom, his endearingly oddball humor, and his nearly astounding ability to discern the perfect weird gift.

Retrieving the thick Washington-postmarked envelope from the mailbox, Pamela and I were already smiling in anticipation of whatever it might contain. We imagined Cliff had been again to a certain favorite shop in Seattle, purveyor of a plethora of eclectic, humorous eccentricities. I slit the envelope open, and a slender cardboard sleeve slipped out. It was about the size of a fat pocket comb, but noticeably weightier. On it, a sticker proclaiming “Vashon Pharmacy” revealed that the source this time had not required Cliff a water passage to reach it. Evidently the Puget Sound cultural phenomenon had spread, and Vashon Island residents now support the oddity trade.

I drew the object from its sleeve, and stared at it, realizing what it was: a Christmas tree ornament. An artistic, creative, hugely funny, Christmas tree ornament. I was awed by the perfect genius of it. There in my hand was a five-inch long, red, silver, and black, stylized but identifiable, metallic strip of bacon. Through a small metal eye attached to one end a seasonally colored loop of string passed, to expedite evergreen hanging. Bacon with bling!

You know you have a good and understanding friend when you can thank him for his quirky generosity and tell him your intent to immediately re-gift the object, both in the same message. I assured Cliff that our giving the bacon to our daughter’s family would double the joy he’d already conferred.

You see, our son-in-law and our grandson are both serious, lifelong bacon-o-philes. Their love for the salty, smoked-and-cured delicacy runs very deep—deeper, even, than their common love for anything chocolate, vanilla bean ice cream, and pepperoni pizza. Pamela and I were certain Wes and Caden, especially, would receive the ornament with even greater awe and wonder than we did. Melissa, our daughter, might roll her eyes, but our urge to hang it on their Christmas tree was irresistible.

So, on Christmas Eve the bacon ornament passed to future generations. Wes was most admiring and appreciative. Caden declared it “cool” and went back to his new digital game, yet another Mario variation. Melissa not only did not roll her eyes, but emitted the most enthusiastic gratitude of the three. Three-year-old Kylie knows both bacon and Christmas trees, but didn’t make the connection. She smelled the shiny ornament and turned away in disinterest. Princess dolls are way more important.

But a tradition has begun. The nearly numinous bacon strip was hung in a place of high honor on their fir, and pointed out to visitors. Already, it has the aura of an heirloom.

Thank you, Cliff!


Brad Now

I posted “Brad,” a chapter from Gift of Seeds, a few days ago. The tractor ride I described in it took place almost sixty years ago.

Yesterday, Brad phoned.

After my uncle Everett died in 1960, my grandmother leased her fields to other farmers, and my uncle’s right hand man had to find work elsewhere. The last time I saw Brad was at my uncle’s funeral. He stood off to one side with his wife, Ivory. I hardly recognized him in a suit and without a sweat-stained cap.

After Gift of Seeds was published, my sister gave me the address and I sent an email to Everett’s daughter, my cousin Mary Ann, in Milford, Delaware. I wrote her about the book and the people she knew who appear in it, including her father and our Grandma Stayton. Months later I received an email from Mary Ann’s adult daughter, Stephanie. The email address I’d used is actually hers. Seems Mary Ann isn’t much on email “but she’d love to talk,” her daughter wrote back, and gave me the phone number.

We talked. We scarcely knew each other as children. Now, more than half a century later, we had our first conversation. The next day she called me, and we talked some more. I was lucky to remember half the people she was bringing me up to date on.

“Bedie died, must be ten years ago now, and Herbie’s long gone. Janet lives somewhere in Arizona; I’ll get you her address. Aunt May and Uncle Tom’s farm was sold off in parcels, I don’t know whatever became of Martha or Dickie; Clint and Jane live right next door; we tore down grandma’s old barn last year; the only thing left standing of the farm buildings is the milk house; and Doug—remember Doug?—he lives over to Frederica; my husband Sam’s mom, Mother Day, lives with us. She stills drives to bingo in town at the senior center. A while before Stephanie was born I had a miscarriage, but the year grandma passed, I had my hysterectomy, and Aunt Zena died too; it was a bad year…”

A dust devil of details later, Mary Ann said, “Brad lives right here in Milford. I run into him once in a while.”

“Do you have his address?” I asked.

Mary Ann looked up “Bradie Worthy” in the phone book. I heard her flipping pages. She gave me his information right then. The next morning I mailed Brad a letter with a copy of Gift of Seeds, intending to wait a week and then call him.

He called me first. My cousin had given him my number. My smarter-than-me phone already knew the call was from an unknown number in Milford, but only I knew it had to be Brad.

“Jack? That you?”

His voice touched a gossamer wisp of memory, but this was an older, rural-sounding man, articulate, his tone gravelly but distantly familiar. He knew me by Jack, my childhood nickname.

“Brad!” I exclaimed.

“Yes it is! I got your book. Thank you! Thank you. I’ve never been so surprised.”

“Nobody ever wrote such nice things about me. Brings me back to a finer time, a happy time… Your grandma and your uncle were good people, and real good to me…”

We exchanged memories about family and friends, past and present.

“I read other stories in your book and liked them, but I keep going back to ‘Brad’ and reading it again. I’m still just soaking it up.”

I had thanked Brad in my letter to him, saying the meaning and importance of that long-ago time have stayed with me and influenced how I’ve seen the world ever since.

“Please accept this Gift of Seeds with my profound gratitude for the positive, formative part you played in my upbringing,” I inscribed in the book I sent him.

After a short silence, Brad said, softly, “I had no idea, no idea… no idea at all…”

I could almost see him slowly shaking his gray-haired head in time with the words he dropped one by one into the phone. From a deep well, a lifetime of feelings rose. His voice trembled. I teared up, too.

We’d both had no idea, until now.