Now that I have finally shared with you all the story of how I came to meet my biological father a couple of years ago, I can now go on to relate some of the incidents that happened on the two occassions I went over to meet him and his family.
The first “Lifeslice” story that springs to mind happened in the summer of ’04 when I brought my fiancee Sandra and my two kids over to meet the members of the newly-extended clan.
This appeared to be quite a daunting trip for many different reasons – for example, it was the first time my kids had travelled with their daddy's girlfriend, so that was always going to be a challenge. Also, as my father lives in Oregon and we intended to spend equal time with my mother in San Francisco, it made for a complicated itinerary. Finally, although I had gone over myself to press the flesh the summer before, there was still some doubt as to how the two families would interact for an entire week.
On the first point, things went quite well. There was one incident when my then-9-year-old daughter turned to Sandra and snapped “Well noone asked you to come!” when things weren’t going her way, a phrase she was quick to both take back and apologize for even before I got involved. For the most part, the four of us proved compatible travelling companions.
The itinerary, however, was a whole other ball game. In future, when I travel to the USA for two weeks or less, I am going to head for the one spot and let other people come see me. Imagine how I felt when, about to embark on the second leg of our journey from San Francisco to Medford, Oregon, I was told at the check-in desk that all of our remaining flights were cancelled, and that it was somehow up to me to notify the travel agents. Since they were based in Dublin and it was midnight there at the time, I had little hope of contacting them in time to catch our flight.
To prevent that long story making this one even longer, I’ll just say we got reinstated after much shouting and roaring. It did not help my blood pressure one bit, however.
And that leaves everyone getting along. This went brilliantly. Not only did we spend time with my father Mark and his wife Vicki, but my half-brother drove up from the Bay Area with his wife and two kids who were only a bit younger than mine. This made for a very relaxed seven days with just the right amounts of company from all age groups to keep things interesting for everyone throughout.
The only thing to go wrong for the whole week was poor Sandra catching a bad tummy bug which had her laid up for long periods of time. Despite this, even she managed to enjoy herself, spending the bulk of the time lounging by the swimming pool. As we were not yet engaged at this point, she was the one who had most to lose on this trip, with no direct ties to anyone, and it was her handling of the whole ordeal which went on to give me the courage to go down on one knee a month after our return to Dublin.
My father Mark wanted to do something special to round off the visit, so he booked as all in for dinner at his golf club. This sport is his favourite pastime – alas, despite my being something of a sports fanatic, golf is not one I intend to take up for a good few years to come. He did bring me out on the course one day but unfortunately my hacking and flailing was to trouble the groundskeeper more than the scorekeeper.
Given the immaculate weather enjoyed by southern Oregon in July, the Rogue Valley Country Club made a breathtaking setting for both a round of golf (though I only managed 9 holes) and an evening meal out in the patio garden. And so Mark, Vicki, Sandra, the kids and myself all put on our finest clothes and took our seats for our 6:30pm reservation.
Since Mark had made me feel so much at home during our stay, I had not realised just how fancy this country club was until just after we settled at our table. We were briefly joined by no less than The President of the Club, who had an air about him that makes you feel obliged to print his title beginning with capital letters. Now Mark wasn’t exactly kissing his ass, but his interaction with this dignitary did make me realise just how important his standing was among these people, and all of a sudden I felt very responsible for the behaviour of my kids, even more so than usual.
Now, don’t get me wrong – my daughter RA and son CJ are normally well behaved, but as any parent will know, there are few kids that don’t have their moments, especially when pitted together. And so once the President had said his pleasantries and left us to enjoy our meal, I had become extra concerned with how they could draw unnecessary attention to our table.
The “ordering the food” obstacle was negotiated easily enough, as there was a kiddie’s menu which did perfectly well for both of them. Although RA had been going through a phase of wanting things from the adult version, she had actually been warned prior to this event to make do with the hamburger and fries selection.
Things got interesting as we were waiting for our starters. There was a tempting selection of different breads in a basket in the centre of the table, and once we had ordered, we all waited for Mark to take a slice for himself by way of a signal for us to do likewise. Once I had chosen what I think was pumpernickel, I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was CJ beside me, who was afraid to reach for some bread himself for fear of sending his glass of water tumbling into the basket in the process, which is one of his party pieces.
I gladly gave him a piece of french bread, and could tell by him that he wanted me to butter it for him as well, and so of course I obliged. I smiled to myself as I was doing so, for the butter was rock hard, and I had been telling Vicki only that very morning how that was just how my grandfather liked his butter, so much so that I had coined the term “Grandpa Butter” to describe it. As far as he was concerned, if it didn’t go through your toast as you applied it, it was too soft.
Seemingly Vicki did not see me take care of my son’s needs, but she was looking when I was carving a hunk of butter to apply to my pumpernickel. This sight also activated her memory banks to our earlier discussion, and it inspired her to blurt out –
“Ha! That’s just like Grandpa Butter!!!”
Please take one moment to look at this scenario through the eyes of my then-seven-year-old son. Obviously the formal nature of the occasion would have been lost on him. It was just another meal, and his most important concern was how soon were the coke and the fries going to appear before him.
Then you must remember how he perceived my grandfather. All CJ’s life, “visiting grandpa” meant what had to be for him and his sister a very depressing half an hour spent at the beside on a frail old man hooked up to tubes with even more sorry sights and sounds present in the surrounding beds on the ward.
Given all of this, imagine if your impatience for fries led you to ask your daddy to butter a piece of bread for you, only to hear once you had taken a big bite out of it that Vicki was referring to it as having been covered in something called “Grandpa Butter”. You have no idea what this means, but you sure know how it sounds. What would you do?
Our attention was not attracted by the boy himself, rather his sister, as she screamed –
“CJ – DON’T DO THAT! THAT’S JUST DISGUSTING!!!”,
…which of course alerted both our party and everyone in a two-table radius that he had just spit up a half-chewed piece of bread into the tablecloth.
Little did my daughter know that what she had in fact done was take the anger I was feeling towards him and channeled it back onto herself.
“Be quiet!” I said, in my best whisper-shout, because I knew how he was going to react next. Sure enough, the tears followed.
Naturally, everyone around thought he had been choking, so we had to allay their concerns before we did anything else. I immediately knew why he had spit out the food, but could not explain it right away as I didn’t want Vicki to feel bad. All I wanted to do was clean up the mess, calm him down, and get on with dinner.
All this time my father remained stoic.
That is, until he heard RA’s subsequent actions. She could not resist this opportunity to seek the moral high ground over her sibling; sadly for her, she was unable to find it.
“For goodness sake, CJ, you’re so unbelievably rude!” she proclaimed, nose in the air, as she proceeded to reach right across Sandra’s bow for another slice of bread, nudging though not actually spilling her own water on the way.
As she looked in terror at the teetering glass before her, the irony of her actions hit her all at once, and it was written all over her face. Luckily her newly found grandfather was able to see the humour in the whole thing, and he started to laugh loud and long, which in turn prompted us all to see the funny side.
Once the tension was over and the onlookers were satisfied that there was no need for paramedics, we went on to have an excellent evening which provided a fitting end to a (mostly) relaxing vacation.
My daughter’s poor etiquette reminds me of a brief story my mother always brings up when the subject of table manners is mentioned. It involves her and her two brothers as youngsters around the dinnertable, an occasion my grandmother has always seen as a time for airs and graces every single day of the week.
One night, my Uncle Jim lunged for something across the table much as my daughter did, which prompted this retort from his mother –
“Don’t you have a tongue, young man?”
To which her quick-witted son replied–
“Yeah, but my arm’s longer!”
I laugh every time I tell that story; at least I will until my two give me a taste of the same medicine!
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