happy birthday, Dad

For those of you who were wondering, my nose is a lot better now. The stitches came out last week and barely any trace of the line of stitching is left. That side of the nose looks a bit red and blobby, like I had a scary acne attack, but that’s about it.
The only problem is that the area with the biggest wound repair is right over my nostril, which means a big wad of hard tissue, or something, poking down in my nostril and making it hard to blow my nose. Or as my dad would say, it’s making it hard to pick my nose.
It’s my dad’s birthday, so I thought I would make one joke in his typical style of humor. Someone mentioned the other day that my dad would have made a great comedian in the 1970s, which sounds just about right.

My dad has taught me a very important lesson to carry through life: Never let facts get in the way of a good story. Since it’s his birthday, I think the best way to celebrate this lesson is to tell stories about him.
I asked my sister which stories about my dad she most likes to tell other people.
“The nightgown story … any of the nightgown stories. Need I say more? I like the carving knife one too.”
I only know one nightgown story, and it happened when I was in first grade. We were living in Atlanta at the time, but we visited New Orleans for Christmas. We stayed at my paternal grandparents’ house.
My grandfather was a devout Catholic. He liked nothing better than to extend hospitality to Catholic priests and nuns. One day while we were staying at the house, he had a monsignor visiting from France. You can imagine the prestige of a having a French priest visit (for old families in New Orleans, the French are practically relatives, and classy ones at that), and not just a garden-variety priest, but a monsignor, which is much fancier.
My dad was having a nap when the monsignor stopped by the house. He was asleep in the back of the house, in the room that used to be a big bedroom for my dad and his four brothers. All our stuff was in there.
You know how it is with Southern families. It takes visitors forever to leave because everyone is clustered around the door. The grown-ups were at the side door telling the monsignor goodbye, while I stayed in the living room. I saw my dad walk into the living room from the back bedroom while everyone was at the door.
He was wearing my mom’s red nightgown and one of her wigs. (I should ask my mom what she was doing with a wig anyway. I don’t remember her ever wearing it, although it was the same general frosted color as her hair at the time.) He waved at the door and shouted merry greetings, fairly certain that he’d timed it correctly so the monsignor couldn’t see him but my grandparents would worry that he just might have caught a glimpse. His timing was perfect. My grandmother had a fit, shouting “You bad boy!” and probably threatening to hit him with a broom or worse. My grandfather was shocked. My mom was probably trying really hard not to laugh, but I thought it was hilarious.
In fact, I thought it was so hilarious that when we got back to Atlanta, and we had post-Christmas show-and-tell, I told everyone in my class the story about how my dad was so funny because he dressed up in my mom’s nightgown and wig.
To me, that’s the funniest part. I told everyone in my class, and the girls in my carpool, and who knows who else. My parents went to Open House a day or two later and the teachers all looked at my dad and said slyly, “Oh yes, we heard all about you.” Explanations were then in order. When my parents got home, we had a long talk about appropriate stories to tell in appropriate places.
As you can tell from this journal entry, the talk apparently had no effect on me.
The carving knife incident happened when I was in college. We were still living at the old house (as opposed to the new house, which is a half-block away).
It was Thanksgiving, and my dad had cooked a giant turkey. My dad has never been one of the world’s great turkey carvers, well, at least not until he had a lesson from my cousin, but that’s another story. At the time, he relied on an ancient electric carving knife for holiday turkey duty. The knife was stored in a rotting orange-and-white cardboard box, and I could not remember a holiday when it did not appear. However, by the time I was in college it was definitely showing its age. It was probably as old as I was.
My dad started working on the bird with the electric carving knife. The knife wheezed and coughed and shook and the meat fell from the turkey in giant chunks. Dad gave it a whack and a “Goddamnit” and tried again. It started and stalled. He tried slicing the turkey with the electric knife not actually turned on, but that was worse.
My dad has a very short temper. I should know, he passed it on to me. He shouted an even louder “Goddamnit!” and began yelling about the goddamned knife never working and he’d had just about enough of it and he yanked open the nearby back door and flung the whole thing out into the backyard, where it flew through the air and landed splat in the sandbox.
Suddenly it was funny—the knife soaring through the backyard—and I started laughing and laughing and my sister and mom joined in, and it took my dad slightly longer to see the humor in it and he laughed right there with us. And then went to find a big sharp carving knife to finish the turkey, although it looked pretty hacked up when he was done. My dad has not used an electric knife since that day.
I called my married brother tonight to ask him about what he was giving my dad for his birthday. While I was on the phone with him, I asked him what his favorite story was to tell about Dad. He thought silently a minute.
“I know,” he said. “It’s the one where he was Captain America at C— G– [a family resort]. You know, on the back of EV’s van.”
I’d forgotten that entirely. I have mentioned before that my dad used to like wearing this old Captain America mask we had. (I don’t have that entry archived right now—I really should, too.) He particularly loved wearing it on the yearly family vacations to a family resort in Georgia. Every year we spent a week there with a bunch of other families my parents knew. I went with them when I was in high school and while the resort is perfectly fine, I haaated the whole thing. Why? Because I was in high school, is the short answer. Surprisingly, though, I thought my dad putting on the Captain American mask while we were on vacation was funny rather than embarrassing.
One year, Dad thought it would be hilarious to put on the mask and hang on to the ladder on the back of his friend EV’s van while EV drove slowly around the parking lot near our cabins. But EV had other plans. He drove through the parking lot and onto the road around the cabins, then over to the more public road by the beach, the children’s area, and the circus tent. All with my dad hanging on to the back for dear life while trying to look superheroic. And probably yelling “Goddamnit, Ed, stop the damn van!” the whole way. EV, of course, was having the time of his life.
I sincerely wish we had a photo of that one. I do have a picture of my dad in the Captain America mask but posting it here would really destroy the last remaining shred of pseudo-pseudonymity.
I tried to call my youngest brother to get a story but I couldn’t reach him on the phone. He’s just started a new semester and it’s damn near impossible to find him.
I did call my dad to wish him a happy birthday. After a few minutes, he gave the phone to my mom. I asked her if she had any ideas on what to give my dad for a birthday present, since I hadn’t had much time this week to think about it myself.
“He’s been wanting a CD by, oh, what’s that guy, the one I told you he got a CD from your uncle—John Prine, that’s it.”
“Yeah, I think he has the same CD I do. Is there a particular one he wants?”
“Let me check.” My mom shouted across the room to my dad. “What John Prine CD did you say you wanted? Was it John Prine?”
“Oh, I don’t care which one.”
“But you have one already, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t have any of his.”
“But didn’t your brother give you one of his CDs when we went to visit?”
“No, that was John Prine.”
“I know. John Prine. That’s who I’m talking about.”
“No, you were saying John Prine.”
“That’s right.”
“John Prine. That’s not what you said.”
My mom sighed and spoke to me. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. You heard me. I said John Prine, didn’t I?”
“I’m staying out of this,” I told her. “But you did say John Prine.”
“She said she’s staying out of this,” my mom told my dad.
“Goddamnit,” I heard him yell.
Some things never change. Happy birthday, Dad.