Decades later, when Melissa and I were in our separate homes
with our own families, she left me a message about a bone density
study that was being done at her local hospital, and all I could hear in
the background of the message was Melissa herself, howling and
shrieking into the phone "Bone Density! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha bwa ha
ha ha ha ha!"
I won't pretend that I was a humorous or clever part of this little
word game we were playing out in the dark meadow by the big fire.
Being the youngest, I had to work very hard to understand the joke,
or to make like I understood, and as often as not I got caught up in
my own mind, my own puzzle, my drifty imagination. I was the one
out of the five kids who was always thrown in the car and taken on
long errands with my parents because I was purely content to sit in
the car and wander around my own mind. Watching the world itself,
the people in it, and my whole internal life was more than enough to
keep me entertained. My parents had an understanding at this time
about disciplining me: Do not send that Scorpio girl to her room for
punishment because she loves it there. So whatever it was that had
them all cracking up - whatever jokes and jabs and teasing Jeffrey -
now JJ Bone - had got going, like referring to my mother as the one
who "got Boned" - I wasn't really getting it. I had no idea. I held on
to the leash of their banter, which ran like a rowdy sheepdog twice my
own weight, but I would not let go.
I quietly thrilled to be packed into my sleeping bag right up
next to them. I felt cocooned by the thick crescendoing song of the
crickets, that voluptuous blanket of summer night humidity, the smell
of wood smoke, the heavy dew of the tall grass around us, the necessary
and anchoring voices, giggles, farts, and squeals of disgust of my
older siblings. This whole perfect night when everyone is still, pretty
much, intact and wholesome, is where I sometimes want the party to
In the morning the sun will come up and the rest of life will
resume - where it will become cliché to admire the beauty of the
stars, facile to feel transported by the smell of wood smoke, childish to
admit to loving your siblings, and weak to be made secure by the idea
of your parents still married up in the house - and we will awaken
and kick out of our sleeping bags and find in the pit a huge bed of
glowing coals, perfect for the slow roasting of the lambs.
But on this last night that we all spend together fireside, being ravaged
by mosquitoes and uncomfortably dampened by the dew absorbed
by the cotton army-issue sleeping bags - when we have not
yet even eaten the lambs - all that yet troubles us is whether, when it
rang, you answered the Bone Phone or the Bone Touch Tone.
When we woke up, the mist was burning off as the sun got strong.
My dad was throwing huge coils of sweet Italian sausage onto the
grill. He split open big loaves of bread to toast over the coals, and for
breakfast, instead of Cocoa Puffs and cartoons, we sat up in our sleeping
bags, reeking of smoke, and ate these giant delicious, crusty, and
charred sweet Italian sausage sandwiches.
Then there were a million chores to do, and my dad needed us to
do them. I learned that I could drive, work, haul stone, hammer nails,
handle knives, use a chainsaw, and tend fires - anything boys could
do - simply because my dad was always so behind, so late, so overextended
and ambitious and understaffed on every project that he was
always in desperate need of another pair of hands, even if they were
only a nine-year-old pair of girl hands. All of us had clocked enough
hours with my dad backstage at theaters, watching the scenery go up
or come down, that by the time he was throwing this party in our
backyard and instructing us to light the paper bag luminarias right at
sundown, we understood theater terms like "the fourth wall" and theatrical
lighting expressions like "Close the barn doors!" and "Dimmer
two segue to three, please!"
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