Monday, July 9, 2012

Nothing Halfway

My Uncle Ed is the world's best story-teller, and his profession as a large animal veterinarian was the perfect fodder for his after-supper tales. Pushing back from the table, he'd cross his long legs, curl an index finger around his pipe stem, look toward the ceiling and close his eyes against the smoke. Then he'd begin.

"I got a call from this old fellow over by Mechanicsville," he'd say. "Said he had a calf that didn't look quite right." And off he went, painting a word picture that enthralled his listeners.

Most of his stories ended with him covered in mud and manure--doctoring large animals in Iowa is not the white-coated experience network television would lead you to expect--but the path leading through the mud was usually funny, occasionally poignant, and always entertaining.

Uncle Ed and his wife were married 60 years ago, just two weeks after his younger sister and my father were married, and over the next decade the two couples had their children in a way designed to maximize the amount of fun cousins could have: My sister and their oldest son were born the next year; the following year my second cousin and I were born, and this pattern continued until nine kids sat around the table listening to Uncle Ed's stories. We grew up believing that the most magical days of summer involved trips to Iowa and playing with these cousins from the cool of early morning to mosquito-bitten bedtime.

Life goes on, though, and with each high school graduation another child would disappear from this communal life. We kept up with family news through our parents, but decades went by when we didn't see each other. When my mother died my cousin K brought Ed and Lenora to the funeral and we wept together, knowing that this probably would be the first of four similar meetings.

This weekend, though, Husband and I picked up Boy#1 and headed to Iowa where we met Much Older Sister and her husband, as well as my father and the Lovely Widow. We remarked on the landscape, which looked as if it had been styled by the Iowa Tourist Board, and I hummed Iowa Stubborn on a repeating loop. Then we walked into the church where Ed and Lenora stood, and 40 years dropped away in a flurry of shrieks and hugs. We're older, more wrinkled, less mobile, and exactly the same.

Later we gathered in the same living room where we had gathered as children. Even though he hasn't smoked in years and his hands were crooked over the head of his cane rather than the stem of his pipe, we fell silent when Uncle Ed looked toward the ceiling and closed his eyes.

"I remember  the time Dr. Frith loaned me his brass speculum, and the calf swallowed it," he started out.

Time is funny. It stretches to accommodate our absence from each other, then with a SNAP! it brings us back together again, ready for another story, and to continue the one that began so long ago.


  1. Perfect! Just perfect! Send the link to Stanwood.

  2. yup,,,,there's nothing like family gatherings and the old stories,,,,and making new ones. :)) csl