Category Archives: Domus et Familia

Posts about home and family

Late night in the craft shop

My brother turned 46 this week. Not my oldest brother. He’s 54. The brother who turned 46 is closest in age to me (which makes me older than I thought.) This brother and I used to fight a lot when we were kids. I’m not really sure anymore what we fought about, but maybe we just spent too much time in close proximity.

When we got old enough, our parents separated us for the summer. I’d go to camp for a month and then he’d go to camp for a month. That worked until he was old enough to be a counselor. Then he went to camp for both months. Which turned out to be fine because, for whatever reason, we did not fight at camp. We got along pretty well there, actually.

When I became a counselor, we actually hung out together. We’d play cards late at night when all the campers were asleep. Some of the counselors would hang out in the dining hall, but a group of us would go down to the craft shop and play spades. If you don’t know the game, it’s something that people play in teams and it helps if you can guess what cards your partner has. It especially helps if your partner has the Ace of Spades.

The deck we played with most often was a set that commemorated the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Each of the cards had a historical fact about Texas, and the Ace of Spades had directions to the LBJ Ranch. When our opponents did not know this particular deck of cards, I could ask my brother something innocuous like, “Have you ever been to the LBJ Ranch?” If he said yes, then I knew he had the trump card.

It was cheating, but it seemed like a fairly benign form of cheating. There were other benignly illicit behaviors going on in the craft shop. Since the campers were not allowed to have cokes, drinking them was our chief pleasure. We used the cans for spitting juice from the tobacco we chewed. This was definitely against the rules for us as well as the campers.

At some point, word got back to the camp director about the Copenhagen we’d been using. He was a very good man, and none of us wanted to disappoint him. For me, he had created a place of peace and stability in the midst of an uncertain childhood. I owed him a great deal, but when he asked me a direct question about goings on in the craft shop, I lied to his face.

About ten years later, I took a car trip across the country. On the way back home, I stopped off at camp. It was the middle of the summer and the middle of the day, but the camp director stopped what he was doing to spend a little time with me. I told him how much camp had meant to me, how it had provided a shelter from my stormy family life. I also told him that I had lied to him, and that I was sorry.

He looked at me through slightly teary eyes and said, “That must have been really hard for you to say.” And then he thanked me and invited me to stay for lunch. I still had a place at his table.

Malcolm Williams died this summer. There was a memorial for him at camp today. Hundreds of former campers were invited to attend. A few weeks ago, I found some decks of those LBJ playing cards on Ebay. I bought a couple of packs and sent one to my brother, along with a poem.

In the Craft Shop
(For Allen on his 46th birthday)

On summer nights
Under a bare yellow bulb
We observed a truce
Called brotherhood
Which trumps all

Do you know the way?

Sweet and low like a gift your bringing

There is no “after this” left (as in, “after this, we are moving.”) We are moving. Friday.

Actually, I’m going to be the last one out the door. By the time I get to Birmingham, the rest of the family will have already moved. Their stuff won’t be there yet, but they will. I’ll get several days of automotive mediation with the weight of our possessions behind me.

It hit me yesterday, when we got back from Splash Country. No, I did not take pictures at Splash Country. I think they might frown on a middle aged guy with a digital SLR snapping pics. But when I got back, I realized that the next big thing we had to do is move. There is no other big thing waiting. I almost cried in Target. Then I bought some ravioli.

There is the bit about getting tattooed this afternoon. That’s no big thing though. Not anymore. I have been contemplating a new tattoo for some time, and then I saw Jason Krekel’s “Esse Quam Videri” at the Wild Goose Festival. If your going to rip someone off, Krekel is a good person to steal from. Since we are both stealing from the State of North Carolina, I guess that’s ok.

My brother’s traveling song is “Truckin’.” I get that, but it has never quite fit me. Mine is “L.A. Freeway.” I’ve rarely experienced just one emotion. I’m sad and excited, alternating between the thrill of being able to take such a radical step and wondering why in the world I would ever want to leave this place.

It hit Tallulah last night too. Came out sort of different for her, since the thing on top is that she misses her mama. I get that. I miss her mama too. And mine. We cried together. Who would have thought that would happen, or that it would feel like the greatest thing in the world. I’ve got a lot to learn.

All the live-long day


Why, oh why, do I care about college football? Lo, it has been many years since I paid any real attention to any sort of sport. True, I did play football as a young man, a very young man, and I know the difference between encroachment and a false start, but that’s not made any difference up until now. Now is when Mack Brown is retiring from the University of Texas.

Brown was the coach at the University of North Carolina before he moved to Austin. UNC Football is a lot like University of Alabama Baseball: it’s something for the campus to watch until the real sport starts playing. At UNC, that would, of course, be basketball. Mack Brown did a good job at UNC despite the obstacles and that reminds me of the coaches who came and went from Vanderbilt when I followed them as a kid. So I like Mack Brown.

And I like Texas Football. Their’s is a brand of the sport which has never really struggled with the veneer of amateurism. You can call it cheating if you want, but Texas calls it entrepreneurial. Plus they make it look cool, what with the burnt orange and the boots. You can defend the University of Tennessee all you want, their orange ain’t cool.

So I am intrigued with this drama about who will be the next coach at Texas. They weren’t able to get a replacement quickly, so this might take a while. I’m thinking of ordering a pizza. Something with barbecue on it.

The Casual Station

When I was a very young child, my family lived near a lake. This was not a “lake-in-the-woods” kind of lake, but a big ol’ TVA impounded reservoir of a lake. The river so impounded — by the J. Percy Priest dam — is the Stones River, which gave its name to two great battles of the Civil War. Among the commanders of the Confederate Army were Braxton Bragg (for whom Fort Bragg in North Carolina was named) and Leonidas Polk, erstwhile Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi and founder of The University of the South. But that’s all superfluous to our story.

This lake near which we lived was relatively far from our relatives in the Nashville area. To go visiting, especially in winter, inevitably meant coming home in the dark. In those days, decorating with lights was not quite as common as in our own time, so seeing someone’s yard lit up with a seasonal display was something special. A lot of homes did have trees in the window, which were fun to spy as well. If no lights were visible, one could always watch as the moon followed wherever one went.

This interminable journey was almost always accompanied by a soundtrack from WZEZ, EZ-93 FM. The dulcet tones of “easy listening” radio would fall over us like saccharine blankets. It was a wonder to me that my father could stay awake to drive with such stultifying music on. But as my years grow longer (and I am older now than he was then) I can see the appeal in soft, soothing music. Of course, the 70’s were a simpler time.