Journal entry: October 15, 1994 (age 25)
“Oh, I’m so glad you boys are both home this weekend. You can help your father clean out the eaves!”
My brother, Dan, and I nodded at our mother, and then gave each other a look that said, “Uh-oh, here we go…” We don’t mind doing chores at the house, which is expected during our semi-annual visits from the Washington, D.C. area. But this particular chore was always a fiasco. My parents’ house, on Cornell Avenue in Vestal, NY, is on a wooded lot, and there is always an abundance of pine needles, leaves, and other detritus clogging the eaves. Unfortunately, the lot slopes in the back, so getting to those eaves involves use of an extension ladder.
Dan and I hauled the ladder from the garage, and pulled the ropes to extend it to its full height. Then began a well-rehearsed family drama. Each of us knew our parts. Dad was the rugged adventurer, ascending into the air to rid the family homestead of nature’s cholesterol. Dan and I were his youthful apprentices, standing on either side of the ladder’s base to “steady it.” I didn’t take physics in high school, but I’m pretty sure that it would take more than four hands at the bottom of a 30-foot ladder to prevent a 175-pound man from falling if he leaned out too far. But we held the ladder dutifully, and suffered the indignity of being pelted with wayward clumps of dirt. At those times, half-apologetic words fell close behind the debris: “Did I hit you, boys? Sorry about that.”
The most dramatic role in this annual tableau was reserved for our mother. As usual, she emerged from the house just as Dad reached the edge of the roof. From her vantage point on the ground, she gave helpful bits of advice, such as “Oh Jack – you’re going to fall!” As always, this input was offered in a loud, trembling voice on the edge of tearful despair. From on high, came the expected pause, followed by the exaggerated sigh. “Anne, why don’t you wait in the house?”
Dad then resumed his strained clutching for a twig that would almost be in his grasp if he could just stretch his torso out a little farther. More panic erupted from Mom: “Oh dear God, Jack! You’re going to break your neck up there!” Before Dan or I could point out that his neck was more likely to break down here, Dad had already replied to Mom in a forceful, basso profundo tone. Go inside!” he commanded. Mom looked back and forth between Dan and me for some expression of assurance. We both gripped the ladder more tightly, our faces pictures of grim resolve. As she headed inside, we heard her mutter her closing line: “Oh, for the love of Mike!”
Finally, Dad reached the twig, and with a grunt of triumph, wrenched it and a clump of leaves from the gutter. It was an exultant moment, reminiscent of God and Man’s outstretched hands meeting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Then the father threw his quarry down from the heavens, sullying the upturned visages of his not-only begotten sons.