The Tao of Orville

January 1, 2014 

I did the Genehouse trail this morning, down Clifton Terrace to the Great River Road, west to Stanka Lane and up Stroke Hill to Route 3. It was forty degrees, with little wind. I saw flocks of gulls, eagles, a snowy egret and  . . . robins. Robins filled up the woods and cliffsides, pale orange—all birds fade their finery in winter—and chattering away. It is easy to take these T Rex descendants for granted, but a forest of gossiping robins is a splendid thing.

The robins’ din made me think of Farmer Orville, so I stopped at his house and joined him and Quilt Queen for coffee and chocolate chip cookies. I pored over great grandbaby pictures and heard of their plans to visit their son in Australia. They hadn’t seen me since my second surgery, so I demonstrated my new and improved shoulder and said the St. Louis Cardinals were recruiting me. They laughed; they think I’m funny.

Orville looked about five pounds heavier. His hands were placed on his stomach, the way a pregnant woman might cradle her baby bump. Actually, Quilt Queen said it: “Did you notice my husband has gained weight? You know what we call it?”

“Cookie weight,” Orville said, and he laughed his heaving wheeze. In the Tao of Orville, cookie weight is necessary—it gets rid of the cookies. I pointed out that he could throw the cookies away. No, no, no. “Put them cookies through the digestive tract.” Wise words indeed.

“And you take you a tub home, Gene.” A tub of cookies? No, no, no. I did get away with a Ziplock bag of cookies—just to be neighborly and enjoy a nosh while Wisconsin kicks some ass, in football.

Quilt Queen stood and said, “Oh, you have got to see our other son’s portrait. He gave it to us for Christmas.” She fetched the framed photo and passed it to me. I was looking at a mini Orville, same wide forehead and narrow chin, sardonic lips built for wisecracks, sparkle in the eyes.

“He looks just like you,” I said.

“I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” Quilt Queen said. You can’t read her expressions. Her lips are not loose; her eyes are calm and steady. If you’re the husband, you might want to bunk in the chicken coop. Except:

“Sleep with chickens, they will eat you,” Orville said. “Hell, they eat their own eggs. I find out which one is doin that, that bird will have a new name: dinner. Pigs, too. Oh, they will gnaw you good.” So off my bucket list comes sleeping with chickens and pigs.  “I guess my son lookin like me is a good thing. For years, I thought the mailman was his father.”

First rimshot of the new year: Ba-dum-bum.

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