My dad called me. “Jeff, do you know Allie Winston?”
“No, I don’t think I know that name.”
“Well, boy, he sure knows you!”
Since my stepmother died, my father has been trying to find ways to fill his days. Initially, he immersed himself in the arduous task of wrapping up her affairs—selling her car, closing down bank and investment accounts, stuff like that. “I spent two hours on hold today…” Eight to ten of our conversations over the past three months started with this exact same statement. With the great job exodus of the past few years, customer service has taken a disproportionate hit. The resources allocated to situations like my father’s dwindled to almost zero.
Once Diane’s affairs were settled, my father picked up his head and looked around for something to do. He attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting in the city where he lives. After the meeting, he introduced himself to the board president. “You’re not related to Jeffrey Cann, are you?”
The story goes like this: Allie and his older brother Lee came by our house to give a ride to my brother David and me. I don’t know where we were going. David knew Lee but can’t remember ever getting a ride from him. According to Allie, my family had just finished dinner—all but me. I sat at the kitchen table picking at my plate, as I frequently did, trying to steel my willpower to gut down my vegetable. David and the Winston brothers stood by the front door, waiting for me, waiting for my father to release me once I finished dinner. “Jeffrey, eat your beans!”
I protested, pleaded, I invoked manners. “Dad, I’m keeping people waiting.”
“Jeffrey, eat your beans!” This went on for god knows how long.
Ever after, in the Winston households, with the Winston brothers still as children, then with children of their own, and now their grandchildren, whenever beans are served, someone will shout out in a stern, fatherly voice, Jeffery, eat your beans.
I’m a meme.
Sophie pointed out “I’m sure every family has stories like this, we do. It’s just a little weird to find out that one of them is about you.”
We just finished up a ten-day vacation in Oregon. During our trip, several of these stories came up:
Driving on a family vacation to Niagara Falls several years ago, we traveled on a highway with road signs identifying it as Future 99. For the entire trip, and then for years afterwards, I randomly blurted out the phrase Future 99. I have Tourette Syndrome. Many people with TS will uncontrollably utter words and phrases. I’ve never done this. I grunt, I squish my eyes together, I punch my thigh, et cetera, but I’ve never felt compelled to say words. And in truth, my Future 99 compulsion didn’t feel the same as my other tics; it felt more controllable. It felt like something I just enjoyed saying. In time, it became really annoying for my family, which caused me to say it more.
Last week while driving, Eli sat shotgun while Susan and Sophie sat in the backseat reading the Naturalist Guide to Crater Lake they just bought at the visitors center. Eli navigated the trip back to our rental house. “In a mile you veer right onto highway 99.”
“Are you telling me that in the near future, I take 99?”
“Shut up, dad.”
Remember the Alamo
Shortly after we moved to Gettysburg in 2006, the Gettysburg area embroiled itself in something of a civil war. Half the residents vied for a proposed casino complex on the outskirts of town. The other half vehemently opposed the project. The debate was couched under the general argument: The casino will bring jobs! No, the casino will bring crime!
The opposition group was better organized. Yard signs popped up everywhere No Casino Gettysburg. Susan and I mildly sided with the No Casino group, more focused on sprawl than crime. Sophie, three years old, wanted to participate in the debate. With parental help, she colored a large poster board for our front window: No Casino Gettysburg! And then, incongruously, she wanted to add Remember the Alamo! This sign sat in our window for at least a year.
As we passed by casinos in Oregon last week, we told the kids this story. I’m sure they’ve heard this before, but the sheer randomness really caught their attention this time. All week we blurted out “Remember the Alamo” at various times. Maybe we all have Tourette. When we returned home from vacation, a new fight had started. This time in opposition to a new proposed water tower designed to move our water system from electric pump to gravity fed. Yard signs sit by the street now on many properties. “No Tall Water Tower.” When we see these, we say “Remember the Alamo.”
The Translucent Woodworm
Hiking through an old-growth forest, a jumble of giant sequoias, some standing, more littering the ground, altering the landscape, creating awesome climbing opportunities for hikers as if bouldering through a rocky terrain, I encountered a small dead tree standing on the edge of the path. I pushed against it lightly, curious to see if it would topple over or break. “Give it up, dad, no translucent woodworms in Oregon.”
In 1994, Susan and I still dating, we hiked through a forested area in Maryland’s Great Falls National Park. When we stopped for a water break, I leaned against a small dead tree. It effortlessly broke off about three feet from the ground, knocking me off balance. Out of the rotten wood emerged a worm. He was a big, fat guy, about the size of my ring finger, slowly telescoping into the open air. I bent in close to look. I could see through his pale, white skin, and watch the mechanism of his movement. His cartilage or vertebrae or muscles rolled in an endless loop like a tank tread, propelling him forward at a snail’s pace. Susan freaked out. “Stand back! They spit poison!”
In her defense, Susan worked at the time for an international conservation organization with operations in Papua New Guinea. Perhaps they have worms that spit poison, and Susan forgot we were in Maryland. I laughed hard enough to fall on the ground, and the translucent woodworm was born. He gets a lot of air play in our family. Spoken with a cartoon voice, usually while holding up a squirming index finger: “I’m the translucent woodworm, I spit poison at little children.”
I can’t blame the Winstons for turning me into a meme. We would do the same thing. It’s a nice feeling to be immortalized, possibly lasting several more generations. Something to say at just the right time during Thanksgiving Dinner. Something to overuse and carry too far, annoying parents and guests. The next generation observing, encoding, storing away for when they have children of their own.