Monday, December 8, 2008
Every time we visited New York, my grandparents trotted out a long-standing ritual of herding every member of the family to the driveway. The practice traditionally took place on the hottest, most humid summer day, when everyone sported oily, reflective sheens of sweat and condensation over faces and heads topped by hair frizzing out and up at odd, unpredictable angles. It was under these conditions that the ritual began, every family member grouping and regrouping for photographs. My grandparents had a cherry tree, an oak tree, a lush lawn, and a rose bush. But instead of any of these verdant backgrounds, they invariably chose the white-paneled garage door as a backdrop. About an hour into the routine, everyone would persevere with grim-faced determination, and the countenances combined with the garage gave the shots the look of police lineups. My sister and brother and I have our growth recorded in a series of mug shots.
It is in this form that four generations of Hosey men were captured on film for the first and last time. My great-grandfather, an Irish immigrant who occasionally couldn't recall that I was not my aunt but could tell me the name of the woman who gave him a blanket on the leaky boat to America. My grandfather, a talented writer with a poetic bent (which I discovered, almost by accident, on my last visit with him) who always wore blue trucker-style baseball caps he bought on trips to Arizona, perched loosely on his head so you could see through the part between the top of his head and the top of the hat. My brother, who would one day roll a car at 90 mph and survive, would be homecoming king, would join the Air Force and almost die in training and would return to be an emergency medical technician -- but who then was just my dorky little brother. And towering head and shoulders and chest above them all, my father: math prodigy, winner of every Trivial Pursuit game, commissioner of his fantasy football and baseball leagues, cracker of horrible jokes (which, I've since learned, he learned from his father), terrible but unabashed singer, larger than life in many senses. All but my brother have since passed on.
After the shots we'd talk my grandparents into a shot or two in front of the rosebush -- which were always their favorite, although we could count on mandatory mug shots on the next visit anyway -- and sit on the bench with peeling red paint in their backyard, picking cherry tomatoes from the vine. The round fruits would burst with only light pressure, spraying sweet-tangy juices into our mouths. (Or out of them, if we were really lucky. A projectile tomato bite was one of the rare treats of a New York summer afternoon.) I still only eat cherry tomatoes, although they don't taste as sweet or moist in Arizona. I don't think it's entirely in my head.
It was my grandpa's birthday December 4, the same day we were closing on our new home. Right around that time, my son was making some of the worst puns I'd ever heard.
Damn, I miss those guys.