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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Your sweet-corn summer

The lad takes on O'Hare, golf lessons, fishing and Grandma's grill.

August 23, 2008|Chris Erskine

Chicago

DEAR SON,

Since you are only 5, I thought you might appreciate a written record of your recent vacation. I find memory to be an increasingly specious companion. So I thought I'd compile this little travelogue of our visit to the heartland.

We arrived at O'Hare, rested and on time. It was the first time travelers had ever arrived that way at O'Hare, and the FAA immediately began a thorough investigation.

"We're here to see Grandma," you assured the TSA staffers, who drew their guns and nodded politely. You know the Midwest.

I've got to say, I was really proud of the way you dragged your own suitcase through the airport. It was a heroic effort, though you ran over the toes of four grown men as you tried to navigate that crazy turn into the men's room just outside the American terminal.

Of course, they were good sports about it. Only two of the victims threatened to sue you. I'm always forgetting that the Middle West has a higher octane of testosterone than we get out there on the Best Coast. I took it as a good reminder that we were back in the big-shouldered hometown of Al Capone and Hillary Clinton.

On the road, you regaled us with details of your journey. You asked about Grandma's dog (Penny) and how your six crazy cousins were faring. You adore your cousins. Whoever invented cousins invented a wonderful thing.

At Grandma's house, your cousins greeted you like royalty. They were summer-freckled and red as strawberries. You had no idea exactly who they were, since they had all grown several feet since you last saw them. Some had butts who didn't have butts before. They surrounded you as if you were Bob Dylan, the Miley Cyrus of my generation.

Now, this is something you should always know about your aunts and uncles. They are an extremely happy lot. Their secret? Good Irish stock. You may have noticed that several of them wash their hair with vodka martinis. In fact, most of their favorite activities here are grain-based.

Son, you're 5 now, so it's probably a good time to be forthright about your background. You have a certain amount of leprechaun blood in you. Nothing to be ashamed of. I encourage you to be proud of your roots. Embrace your ethnic differences. They may one day get you into a good community college.

By the second day here, your eyes were the color of root beer. You smelled of musty pool towels and bug spray. You filed for divorce that day -- from me.

Really, it wasn't my idea to try to teach you golf. You wanted to learn, remember? You took to the sport right away, heaving your club about 15 feet in frustration. You hail from a long line of guys who throw their three-irons a lot farther than they are able to actually hit with their three-irons. When I said we are generally a happy people, I meant everywhere but the golf course.

I tried to save the relationship by taking you fishing. You liked that better. We dug worms in Grandma's backyard then headed to a nearby pond, where we sought out the mighty sunfish, one of the greatest sports fish to laze about a shady pier.

The first sunfish had to weigh 4 ounces, easy, and nearly pulled you out of your flip-flops. After that you seemed to get the swing of things. With your Uncle John's help, you were Hemingway. You were the Young Man and the Sea.

Another sticky summer day, we fixed Grandma's grill, the one with the rusted-out gas jets (in the Midwest, metal has a half-life of about four weeks).

We could've purchased a new grill for about what we spent on the replacement parts, but that's not the point. The point is that Grandma now has the grill where your late Grandpa used to stand over steaks, admiring the tomato plants and the prairie sunsets. You see, in the Midwest, they still eat for pleasure.

To have that grill working again means more to your Grandma than you could ever know -- more than a new car, or a new house, or a new diamond ring.

For that, I thank you. Grandma thanks you too. The old girl has always been good at squeezing 120 cents out of a buck. If she were 15 years younger, I'd run her for president.

Still, never forget the very first words I told you about generational wealth: It's never too late to marry for money. But it's easier when you're young.

Love always,

Dad

--

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com. For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.

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