Receiving your Postage was the best kind of surprise. Like you, my grandparents were artists, and they often included small watercolor paintings or cray-pas illustrations in their letters to me. I would hold the envelopes to my nose before opening them to see if I could guess the medium they used. For a long time, researchers thought that pigeons used smell to find their way home, and your relationship to handwritten letters feels warm and familiar, like a kind of homing instinct. I so wish I could join your workshop this weekend, and since I can’t, I followed your prompt.
Dear Uncle Dick: before i had a name for who i am, i had you. when i think of you, my feet curl and stretch to free themselves, and soon they’re up and running back to that cabin in the woods, the lake still sparkling, the smell of sun on cedar shingles. i’m making dinner tonight! you called, and everyone laughed, but you pointed to me and then to bobby: yes, i’m making dinner, and they’ll help. you shooed all the grownups off to the lake and said c’mon kiddies, we’re going to make a real dinner party. you took us by the hands, your skin soft and safe, flecks of paint under your nails and in your hair, and the three of us skipped down that pine-hallowed stone road like thieves. for two hours, we waded waist-high in a field of queen anne’s lace, gathered the flowers up in our arms like they were bales of hay, and carried them home. when we’d piled them on the picnic table you said, go on, i’ll take it from here, and you poured yourself a drink. by the time you banged a spoon against the bottom of a dinner pot, the sun was longways along the lake’s edge and everyone was cranky from hunger. by then I’d pulled a sundress over my bathing suit, anticipating something from somewhere else, somewhere that smelled like gin and aftershave and conversation. what happened next is something i plan to take to my ever-after: as we made our way up from the lake, it was like the sun had set behind the water and rose inside the cabin. the first thing i noticed were the porch railings, wrapped in garlands of queen anne’s lace, thick green braids the size of my thighs. i reached for bobby’s hand and said look! but there was no need to show him, his mouth was an o, his brown eyes shining in the candlelight, because that was the next thing i noticed – the candles. hundreds of tea lights, maybe a thousand, you had filled that place with so much light, the cabin seemed winged. behind me, granny was laughing, oh dick, you’re something, and when i turned, granny and gramps and mom and dad were all laughing, too. come-come-come you called, before dinner gets cold. up the stairs, the pathway to the table was a petaled runway of green and white, on the table, vases of white petticoats, sprays in vodka bottles and medicine bottles, too. and at our places, each plate held a crown of queen anne’s lace. when we were adorned and laughing, you reappeared from the kitchen with a steaming pot, twirled your spoon in the air, and presented the meal with a flourish: hot dog stew for everyone! nothing could contain us then, whatever crankiness people had felt was gone, and it was then that i understood the most important lesson about entertaining: whether the food is good doesn’t matter, it’s all about presentation and connection. as you dished out the bowls, i remember the way you looked at my grandfather like he was something that could be eaten up, and i remember the way he beamed back at you when you ran your fingers through the bristles of his silver hair and placed another garland on his head. it was a smile i saw him make only once in all the time i knew him, a smile i see now he must have saved for you. and that’s when i knew that the words i had heard used to describe you – irresponsible, bankrupt, flamer, cirrhosis – they were all wrong, because when i imagine what god must be like, i think of you.