My brother Todd was with us but would have preferred being up in his room, with the door closed - you always had to knock to enter - counting his money, or losing himself in his few but in-goodworking- condition acquisitions: his brand-new electric guitar, his reel-to-reel tape recorder, his dual cassette deck, his electric amplifier, and his brand-new soldering iron. With coils of solder and copper paper clips, he fashioned quirky little uninspired sculptures of boats and trains and skiers. Todd, the second oldest, lay in his sleeping bag tuning us out, playing air-guitar Led Zeppelin while listening on his headphones, which he bought himself with money earned busking in town for the tourists. A loan of five dollars was never denied; it was breezily granted but came with interest and was entered into Todd's ledger. He hired me to give him leg massages after work with my lucky rabbit fur, a half hour I found uniquely intimate and a responsibility I took very seriously, and he paid me in dollar bills and mixed tapes.
Simon, who was closest to me in age, was having a pretty bad preadolescent, very high IQ, low attention span, pissed-at-everybody-and-everything summer vandalism spree. Every cop car he saw was an opportunity for a five-pound bag of white sugar in its gas tank. Glass panes in empty houses gamely blown out with rocks accurately pitched. He was turned on by his badass-ness and was waiting sullenly until we all fell asleep so he could sneak out of his sleeping bag and go relieve his boredom by walking into town and leaving his mark on it overnight.
My sister Melissa, the middle child, was only a teenager but already responsible and professional enough to have a negative white mark on her tanned arm from her wristwatch and a job as a lifeguard. A wristwatch at fourteen! She had the incomprehensible ability to open a whole scrumptious sugary package of chocolate-covered graham cookies, put two of them on a paper towel, reseal the package neatly for another day, and eat only those two crackers. Left to my nine-year-old devices, I would be sick on the whole package within ten minutes. Melissa would be the one in the kitchen with our mother the next day, dutifully shelling lima beans and cutting butter into flour and sugar while I was in the master bedroom rifling the jacket pockets and handbags of all of our guests, helping myself to twenty-dollar bills and quarters that I would later spend on Dr Pepper, Italian meat hoagies with oil and vinegar and hot peppers, and individually wrapped Tastykake iced fruit pies.
While we were all lying around the crackling and sparking pit, wondering how late it was and how late we would stay up, Jeffrey invented a little language and a nomenclature for our family. He started with my dad, "The Bone." This was not his own invention. Some of the carpenters at the scenery shop had started calling my dad "The Bone" behind his back. Playing with words and language as they do, schoolmates had changed Hamilton to Hambone ever since the eighth grade. My father hated being called Hambone and worse, being called Ham, as that is what his own father was called, by his own mother, no less. But someone clever at the skating rink had just cut to the chase and started calling him "The Bone." Have you seen "The Bone?" Where's "The Bone?" You better make sure "The Bone" signed off on that. "The Bone" is never gonna go for that.
From "Pa-Pa Boner," the lewdness and double-entendre of which can still to this day put Jeffrey into a breathless laughing fit, it took nothing to get us going, and soon we were dubbed from oldest to youngest, J Jasper Bone, T-Bone, Bonette Major, Sly and the Family Bone, and me, finally, Bonette Minor. Our battered Volvo station wagon became the Bone Chariot. Something authentically, uniquely my dad's - like the dimmer switches in our house never working, or the house almost being auctioned off at the sheriff's sale because he hadn't paid the property taxes in a year - was "bone-afide." Real, expensive Champagne at Christmas in spite of the lien was "bone-issimo." And parties - all of my dad's parties - became "bone-a-thons."
Excerpted from Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2011 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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