Cold December

What do you do afterward?

What we did was stay home. For a while we just didn’t go to school or work or anything.

And it was this fiercely cold December, that first month after he was gone, but every afternoon my brother and I went running. (Why the hell would we go running? Please see: Family dinner.) And the cold presented this nice kind of challenge, something around which to marshal our energies. So it fast became our ritual to discuss, in detail, what constituted appropriate attire for the day’s weather. And then we’d gather up all the fleeces and hats and mittens and scarves and layer them on, and we’d duck out into the winter.

On my usual route there was a place where the road crossed over a little stream, and I’d hear the sound of it and I’d slow down and look at how the black water cut through the blanket of snow.

river runs through it

And I'd talk to Dad. I didn’t say anything much – "I miss you, Dad"; "I love you" – but there with the sound of the water it didn’t seem as silly to think he heard me.

Back at home we’d strip off our wet clothes and hang them on the clothesline in the basement and then we’d put on the kettle for tea. We’d open the cupboard for mugs and there was Dad’s ridiculous beer stein, a twenty-four ouncer that he’d gotten in a Yankee swap one year. The best part was that it had a picture of the NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt on the side.

“A man-sized cup of tea!” Dad always said, holding the stein in his left hand and the string of a tea bag in his right, bobbing it once or twice before discarding it, so the tea came out just the way he liked it, weak and milky.

We’d see that stein there in the cupboard, as we selected our mugs.

And then we’d rustle through all the foods people had brought. In the days afterward people brought us trays and pots and boxes of food. Minestrone soup. Loaves of bread that were golden on top from an egg wash. Boxes of Bartlett pears, round and burnished like they were from a catalog. Casserole pans, each representing a different nation’s cuisine: lasagna; enchilada; spanakopita. There were pecan shortbread cookies dusted in powdered sugar and loaves of banana bread.

Our cheeks were still bright red from the cold and our hair was still damp with sweat, and we’d drink green tea and rustle through all the foods, and we’d eat.