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 stop.
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!"
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.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
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