“How come you don’t have any beard over here, where you have that scar?”
– Son, one recent Saturday
Right on the edge of my chin, on the left side, there’s a scar. It’s not a big one, just a couple of centimeters long, and since it is where it is, you don’t really see it, especially if I’m clean shaven. But then I make a funny or scary face, or grin, the scar travels a little further up, and it’s there for you to see it.
And every once in a while when someone realizes I have a scar on my face, she asks me about it.
“How’d you get that scar?” she’ll say, and I’ll smile and say:
“You should see the other guy.”
And then I tell her the story.
Ever since I realized it was cool to have parents who have done extraordinary things, I’ve told all my friends that my father won a Finnish championship as a young man. It was a major ace in the hole when other kids were bragging about their parents’ successes.
Now, my Dad was no longer a player, like Lare’s father – who played Division II soccer – and my Dad wasn’t a candy wholesaler like Pekka’s, but he sure had won that Finnish title.
Except that he won it in pesäpallo, which while being Finland’s national sport, was, and is, also a small and rural sport, and therefore, not the coolest of sports.
Also, he only sort of won a championship. That he was on the team that won can’t be disputed and never will be disputed, because I have the evidence right in front of me. On my desk there’s a photo, a newspaper clipping, in which he’s holding the trophy and his teammates are all around him, beaming.
Wife looked at me, and raised her eyebrows.
“You gotta do what you gotta do. There’s no other way,” I said.
“You’re right,” she said, got back on her bike, and kept on riding through the overgrown grass and some bushes. We were discovering things, and nobody said it would be easy.
It’s never cold in the beginning. My fingers still work, so I can take photos with my mobile, and do a Facebook check-in. The cold doesn’t hit until the last ten minutes of the hour, and by then, I’m so close to going home I know I’ll make it out of there alive.
I look down to my feet, and I see that I’ve managed to stomp a perfect square into the snow, and that makes me happy. I’d smile, but the muscles on my face won’t move anymore. I look out to the ice to see if Daughter is still skating around in circles. She is. I look at the clock at the other end of the field, and note that I still have seven minutes to go.
I missed him at first. I guess I was reading my book and, besides, it was the subway, so people are coming and going all the time. Even people with accordions, and guitars. Not that he had any of those. What made me pay attention was a word he used.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a few bucks to give to an apartmentless man,” he said.
We were walking home from school, as always, my friend and I, talking about this and that. I couldn’t stop thinking about the advertisements I saw everywhere. I could see one right then, on a lamp post.
“Take an egg to work,” it said.
Take an egg to work? How? As far as I could tell, it was impossible. It was funny, but impossible.
INT. – A CLASSROOM – DAY
Two dozen adults sit on small chairs, facing a teacher who’s smiling and nodding to them.
The sun is out and the beach is crowded but we found a spot, we found a spot! It’s not too close to the water but not too far, either. It’s not too far from the café but not too close to the garbage cans, either. It may be a little too close to the soccer game, but Wife promises me I won’t get hit by the ball so that’s where we lay the blanket.
And yes. Yes, there is a soccer game going on close to us. They’re playing barefoot on a dirt field, the kids and their fathers. The shirtless children are brown and browner, some by birth, others turned brown by the scorching sun. The fathers hop around trying to figure out how hard to play, whether to let the kids get the ball easily, or whether to use their bodies to separate them from the ball, so they experiment with their own kids.
Every family’s got them. Their very own legends. Stories that may or may not be true but that get told so often that even if they didn’t start out true, they’ve become such a big part of the person they’re told of that they might as well be.
Like the one about how I learned to read. The family legend is that I always asked my parents to read for me, and tell me what each letter was, until one day, when I once again asked my father to read comics to me, and he just told me to do it myself. So I did.
Or how the reason for my not eating tomatoes – (Except that I sort of do these days, on pizzas and in salads, but never just a slice of tomato) – is my father making me eat one at dinner even after I said I didn’t want to. I put it in my mouth, but threw it back up again right away.
Last weekend, Wife and Daughter packed their bags and drove south. Now, because it had been snowing when we got up, instead of driving to the cottage, as planned, they only drove south for ten minutes, parked the car at the In-Laws’, and spent the weekend at their imaginary cottage, giving Son and me the male bonding weekend we had talked about. (And the female bonding weekend to them).
This was to be a weekend of life lessons, something they would make a Hallmark movie about. Son and I would talk and hang out, watch movies, eat hamburgers, and while doing that, I would drop some words of wisdom his way.
Like, “Did you know that they just found the Apollo 11 engines?” or “Did you know that there are actual flying cars these days but they’re now called roadable aircrafts.”
And Son would nod, and take notes like I was going to ask him to. That was the plan. But first, we had to run to the train so we’d make it to the 12.10 showing of the 3D version of “The Phantom Menace”.