Along Memory Byways
John and I are flying to Canada. We landed at the Montreal Dorval airport. As passengers disembark the plane, an airport official approaches and asks me to leave the crowd. To the officer’s surprise, John steps out along with me. They also asked another gentleman in the group to step aside. We are escorted to a nearby office. An official sits back in his chair, feet crossed on the table. With a casual wave, he points me to a seat. When he sees John, he bolts to a sitting position, feet off the table. He asks John why he is there, and John explains why both of us are visiting Canada. My father has died, and we must be with my mother in Ottawa.
It takes a few minutes to examine my passport, green card, etc., ask a couple more questions, and are cleared to leave. John has been listening to all of this. I have noticed him gripping his fingers and squeezing his hands together. I can tell he is seething. Hesitant to leave, John, polite as ever, raises his hand and wishes to ask a question. The officer nods.
“I know you were not the person to pull us out of the crowd.” A pause. “Why us?”
“Random checking, sir.”
“Her and that Asian gentleman over there? You call that random?”
Johnny Boy has made his point. With a “Thank you, but there’s another word for it,” he pushes back his chair, takes my hand, and we walk out.
Cruising the Tri-state
“Whoa! What do we have here ahead?”
I look up. A stopped car and a cop vehicle pulled up on the side of the Tri-state, bypassing Chicago. The officer appears busy writing a ticket.
As we speed down the highway, John is at the wheel. We are going to dinner at our favorite Greek restaurant in Lombard. The audio tape plays Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” and John hums along. The flaming saganaki, zesty Boutari wine, and celebratory “opa” are doing a slow jig in our heads.
It’s Thursday evening, and I have picked up John from O’Hare airport before returning home. His field rep assignment is in Dallas. Our home is in Naperville, and this is our weekly routine. He loves driving the Cutlass Supreme, although he did not recognize it when I pulled up next to him at the airport.
“I forgot how sporty it looks!”
He is relaxing now, driving after a grueling four days. His schedule starts with early breakfast meetings and ends with late-night dinners. In between, they packed the day with customer meetings. It is go-go-go at the helm of the Dallas office.
Suddenly, he spots the blinking blue lights of a stopped cop car. The heyday of the 50s cruising culture has caught up with the 90s! The juvenile John springs into action. He rolls down the window and amps up the music loud. John guns the engine, ready to whiz past the police car, wide boyish grin ear-to-ear.
My Asian instincts kick in. Give trouble a wide berth and respect the law. Instinctively, I turn the music down as we fly low past the flashing blinking lights.
John is furious. I have stolen his thunder, his fun. He turns on me with a ferocious roar.
“What the heck did you do that for?”
I scream back.
“The cop would have dropped the ticket and given us a chase instead.”
“He wouldn’t have–the ticket is more important.”
Of course, John would know.
I am about to say, “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately, you old gray-haired fool of a man? You are no longer some wild teenager having fun laughing and waving at cops as you zoom by!” But I bite my tongue. It is better to save my astute observation for a more receptive moment.
We arrive at the restaurant. We are seated, still simmering at being deprived of some silly adolescent fun. The flaming saganaki arrives, and Boutari is poured into chilled glasses. The entire incident fades away, almost. It ebbs but is not forgotten. I am sure it will re-surge down the road.
John raises his glass with a smile and wags a finger at me.
“There will be other stopped cop cars, but don’t you ruin my fun next time.”
I promise not to interfere next time.
“No problem. I will let a fifty-year-old fool make a bigger fool of himself next time.”
“Damn straight–I want to see the dropped-jaw face of the cop.”
Oh well! That’s Johnny Boy for you.
All Grownup and Immature
A pile of laundry in my arms as I’m coming down the stairs. Mildred beckons me to the front door window. She is peering out, watching some of the new neighbors.
Without turning around, she says, “Who is that person John Phillip is talking to?”
I squint around the cul-de-sac outside.
“That’s the guy whose family has recently moved into the house next door.”
“Oh!” says Mildred. “I thought he was the guy from across the street.”
“No, this guy is younger, with two little girls. The guy across the street is an older, more mature person. He has grown up kids.”
Mildred pauses, eyes narrowed, digesting my words. Something has struck a nerve. With a dismissive toss of her head, “Hey, John Phillip’s got grownup kids, that doesn’t mean he is mature!”
A brief pause, followed by a meaningful sideways glance from Mildred. I stare back wide-eyed, lips pursed, suppressing a smile. A moment later, we both burst into helpless laughter.
“Don’t you ever tell him I said that?”
“Of course not, never,” making a promise I knew I cannot keep.
True to myself, I have to share this little gem from the inimitable Mildred at the next Turkey gathering. Peals of loud laughter fill the room. A woman, a department head no less, rolls off her chair to the floor laughing, adding to the raucous hilarity.
The Turkeys can’t keep a secret either. Millie receives a flood of cards sympathizing with the immaturity of her grownup baby boy. I am at the receiving end of pretend dirty looks from a highly pleased Millie.
It is not John’s favorite place, being on the losing end of an argument. At some point, I cannot recall precisely what and when he is losing a fight with me. It’s a rarity. But it is happening.
Frustrated, he blurts out, “You.” With a menacing frown, he stutters, “You, yo-yo-you are just like Pat Smith.”
“Oh,” I say, “thank you so much for thinking I am such a wonderful person.”
This does not sit right with John. He walks away, gnashing his teeth.
Of course, I have to tell Pat Smith about it. She does not quit ribbing John for the longest time.
“So, you think your wife is like me?” Pat keeps on and on. John learns to grin and bear it. He knows Pat. She is an excellent match for his wicked ways, giving back as good, if not better, for all that he doles out. Ever clashing in opinions, Pat has a way of calling a spade for what it is: a spade.
As he claims, Pat is not one of John’s favorite people. He misses her if she is not at a get-together and nags her husband, Den. Why did he not bring Pat along? He loves the rare moments when he thinks he is ahead of her. Scarce moments, though.
An Easter Musical
Easter is coming, and Pat is participating and practicing with her choir group. Pat is also with the Sweet Adelines and travels with them on singing tours. An evening concert of hymns, psalms, choruses, praises, etc., is planned for Easter. They invited the entire turkey flock.
We arrive late and sit behind the last row on extra chairs to handle the overflow. Despite this, several folks also stand and lean against the walls and doors.
It’s been a long while since John has seen the inside of a church, and he is excited. He sings all his favorite songs with great gusto in his eleven-year-old choirboy mode. It seems like Renee has never heard John sing: never thought he had a religious bone in him. She keeps leaning forward slowly to watch him singing three seats away. Wide-eyed and eyebrows raised sky-high, it amazed Renee at John’s enthusiasm. John catches her eye, winks at her, and adds arm action to his singing. A couple of other turkeys watching this can hardly hold back their sniggering. Later, over pizza, John clarifies to Renee.
“I left the church long ago but loved the singing.”
I should also add his fascination with flaming candles. When we holidayed in Europe for a few summers, we visited every church we could for the pyromaniacal John to light candle after candle.
I know you want to know what I know. I have observed he is one of those sneaky faith followers who will not hazard admitting to it. His private conversations with God always began with, “Why me, Lord?” On the few occasions, we find ourselves in church for a wedding, a funeral, or a christening, he drops a substantial check in the collection plate, bribing his peace with God.