A Day in the CountryPrint
Imagine the absurdity of Dad on a horse …
By Brian Doyle
And speaking of horses, let me tell you about the day in Vermont that a woman with the best of intentions said to my dad, And you sir, will you be riding today also? This question sent all five of his extant children into such gales of laughter that my youngest brother Tommy says his cheeks still hurt, and that was many years ago, when he was a scrawny child with a head as big an apartment building. You never saw such a long head like a rhombus on such a spindly child. It was like a regular child had been suddenly issued a shoebox for giants instead of a cranium, and the poor boy had to carry the epic thing around all day long by himself, drifting to port and starboard depending on the prevailing wind, while enduring our suggestions that he just hire a wheelbarrow or see the zoning commission about maybe going commercial. His forehead alone was as big as a billboard, and someone with entrepreneurial vision would have shaved his head and towed him along the beach in high summer and made a mint.
Anyway, our dad, who was of course wearing his weekend fedora, looked as startled as I ever saw, but in characteristic dad fashion he expressed his astonishment only by cocking an eyebrow, whereas his children were crumpled and howling in the well-manured grass, and even our elegant dignified mother lost it laughing, which was a rare and lovely sight. Usually mom was gently amused, or mildly entertained, or bemused, but on occasion she lost it completely and fell to helpless giggling, so much so that she would actually weep with laughter, which is maybe the most infectious thing in the whole world, someone you love just totally completely utterly helpless with uncontrollable merriment, which finally shudders and staggers to a halt, although you keep bursting into smaller fits for a while, like a thunderstorm petering out in fitful showers.
The horse lady, bless her soul, somehow mistook our hilarity to mean that our dad was a master horseman, and we were laughing because the very idea of him cantering casually when he was an Olympic equestrian or something was funny, and she actually then suggested that dad examine the mount, as she said, at which point one of us laughed so hard, there was a small accident. You hate to identify the subject of a mortifying episode like that, even many years later, but that was Tommy, who had to ride home in his Spiderman underpants, with his pants flapping in the wind behind the car where our dad had tied them to one of the tailfins of the station wagon.
There were other entertaining moments during that particular vacation, many of them featuring Tommy, come to think of it, who is today president of a prestigious high school, and it seems to me now that there was a moment of epic comedy like this every single year we drove north through Queens and Brooklyn and over the bridge into The Country, but one of the things I like best about a good story is that it knows where to end, and who would miss a chance to end with Tommy in his Spiderman underpants, with his pants flapping behind us from the tailfin of the car, as the rest of us sat there quietly except when every four minutes or so someone said examine the mount! and we all lost it again completely and totally and utterly. Even Tommy.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the novel Mink River. He writes the weekly Epiphanies column at theamericanscholar.org.
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