For Thanksgiving, an elegy of hope: “Loving is a gerundive, Dusty, and her name is Amanda.”

Uncle Willie wrote his very first Thanksgiving story this year, but it’s much too long to be a blog post. Here’s an extract:

From Dusty: An elegy of hope and love.

“What now?”

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

Thursday, November 23, 2017 – Thanksgiving Day

[omitting 7,500 words]

If we live our lives in quarters, like a basketball game, around twenty years to a quarter, I spent the first quarter of my time alive quarrying solitude, the second reveling in it and the third recovering from it – my life with Adora and Naso and Dusty and Megwyn and all the family and pets they brought with them.

And the fourth quarter? You could tell me that I’m driving the shopping mall choo choo train every day – every single day – to fulfill needs I never knew I had. My thinking is that the train wants to fishtail when it’s too empty, so I like to fill it up with kids.

I’m not being coy. I hate it that dogs and people keep dying on me. But I love it when puppies and babies come yipping, come squalling. A man without children can have no grandchildren, and yet I have five thousand of them – every once in a while, on the train. And for at least a thousand of those kids, I am all the grandfather they’re getting – and maybe all the father, too.

Your family is who you say it is. If you don’t believe me, ask your dog. Naso made me her family, and we made Megwyn our family. Naso brought me Adora, too, and she brought Tegan, her I-don’t-know-how-to-reckon-it-niece who has always been a good friend to me. She figures in two Christmas stories I’ve never written, so you know, along with other adventures in haughty scholarship and petty crimes.

And she came by today with a young man she won’t quite call her boyfriend but who had Thanksgiving dinner at her house, with her family. They brought me a plate, which was beyond gracious, so don’t tell ’em I gave most of the turkey to Dusty after they left.

And there is more, which is good, because I need it: Megwyn is pregnant, and she’s just about ready to pop – and I mean just about any minute now. They came down the hill from Show Low yesterday, just in case, and she’s in a birthing room at Thunderbird Hospital right now, as I write this. That was Tegan’s next stop, after me, to pitch in with ice chips, corridor-traipsing and the old “he-hoo!”

“Should be fun for you,” I said to Tegan’s friend. His name is Josh, same as her father’s, and if he thought about that, he might feel even more crowded. “Thanksgiving dinner with your folks, the maternity ward and I share your father’s name?” And all of that is funny, second because Tegan owes no admiration to her dad, but first because she is a first-class strategic thinker who never thinks to use her femininity strategically.

He shrugged. “I’m the oldest of five kids. I’ve been the back-up breathing coach more than once. Girl baby, right? Have they picked a name?”

Tegan said, “Amanda,” and I could hear her singing love for a child she hasn’t yet met.

Josh smiled at that. “Gerundives always have potential.”

My turn to smile. “Loquerisne linguam Latinam?” Do you speak Latin?

He grinned. “Carthago delenda est!” That’s too easy. That could be bullshit. But then he said, “Another gerundive.”

“Naso or Flaccus?”

“Naso your dog?” Tegan asked.

“Different context.” To Josh I said, “Who do you like better?”

He shrugged. “Martial is my pet, the grafitti rap star of his day.”

I grinned. “There we go.” To Tegan I said, “We’re arguing about Roman poets, like The Stones versus The Beatles: Does he prefer Big-Nosed Ovid to Floppy-Eared Horace? Turns out the man’s a rebel and a comedian, traits I admire no end.”

She rolled her eyes, saying “Dead languages…” She’s a Senior in high school this year, but she’s always been good at making adults look silly.

“You know gerunds, right? Nounal-verbs, like the word ‘reading’ in ‘reading is fundamental’?”

She nodded.

Josh said, “If you knew gerunds like I know gerunds, your knowledge would have more potential.”

“He’s teasing you. A gerundive is a verbal-adjective, a verb form that describes an idealized potential future-perfect state. It’s the subjunctive on steroids.”

“The Presumptive Subjunctive? No, the Dictatorial Subjunctive!”

I said “Brophy boy?” – but it wasn’t really a question. If you meet a kid anywhere near Phoenix who can make jokes about Latin grammar, you’ve met a student of Brophy College Prep, the best Jesuit education to be had here.

To Tegan he said, “‘Agenda’ in English is a gerundive. It means, essentially, ‘that which will have been accomplished.’ That’s a great big zero if you parse it as math – a wish and a prayer. But you can call it a hope, instead, and it is the hope contained within gerundive ideas that gets any job done.”

I nodded, saying, “A gerundive is the potential for the ideal, but it’s also a sort of vow to make it happen. ‘Amanda’ is gerundive. It means loving – and I can’t think of a better name for anyone.”

“How about ‘Speranda’? Hoping. Hoping for hoping. It’s practically recursive.”

I said, “Sperando spiro. Amando amo. I breathe by hoping. I love by loving.”

Tegan smirked in my general direction. “I never should have brought him over.”

I grinned at that. “I never want to let him leave.”

But they did go on to the hospital. Tegan will phone me when the baby is born, then later they’ll swing back here to stay with Dusty while I go to meet Amanda for the first time. That’s what family is for, even if you have to assemble your own from scavenged components.

I gave Tegan a poem to murmur to Amanda, when she gets to hold her, the closest a man without gods can come to a prayer:

Poetry is leadership.
Leadership is love.
Love is family.
Family is hope.
And hope is poetry.

And then we waited, Dusty and me, as the wintering sun set, as the gloom crept into spaces too long silent, rooms emptier every day – rooms soon to be filled with Megwyn’s children and someday with Tegan’s children, and someday soon enough with a puppy, I know. It took me long enough to figure it out, but I don’t do well without family. Nobody does.

Meanwhile, I talk to Dusty because I always talk to Dusty. And I talk to him just the way I always have, just the way I talk to brand new babies, knowing full well that we’re already in complete agreement about everything that matters, knowing that the words I intone are just an ornamental filigree embroidered on the void:

“Who’s not a dumbass?”

Dusty has no clue. That’s how you know he’s a dumbass. Even so, he knows everything that matters – how to live in hope, and how to die in love. And so I said to him just this, and it’s nothing, and it’s everything:

“Loving is a gerundive, Dusty, and her name is Amanda.”

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