In Lieu of Flowers, Send Whiskey
by Jessica Lohafer
Sometimes it’s good to have a poet around.
Someone who loves giving toasts, writing thank you cards. Who remembers irrelevant details about everyone’s life, only to repeat them back later, with feeling. They give the most mundane aspects of life consistency, a logical progression. They firmly believe that every choice they make directly impacts their likelihood of finding love, fame, or sex. They know what to say. They know what to say because they are so self absorbed that they never stop talking. Eager for attention. Putting Journey on the jukebox. Singing along loudly, drunk, on a Tuesday. Terrified of death.
If this is you, and you stick with the writing thing, eventually, people will ask you for favors. They want a love poem for their wedding. They need an epigraph for their graduation announcement. A letter for their soon to be born baby, a reflection on the world’s current events. It’s inconvenient, maybe, but you love it. Who else would know what to say, at this most momentous occasion? You get choked up, overly sentimental. You write the hell out of it, whatever it is. Use an old school form, even. Fuck, you write them a sonnet, a sonnet so modern no one can tell it’s utilizing a complicated internal rhyme scheme. Why not? This day is only coming around once. They need you. You’re comforted by your expertise.
Are you feeling good? Cocky, even? Here’s what they didn’t tell you. You’re not always going to know what to say.
I don’t always know. And when tragedy hits, it isn’t poetic. It’s dirty, embarrassing. You want to cover your face. When Grandpa Walt passed away this past Monday, my sister and I didn’t know what we were supposed to do. Still don’t, probably. I was going to come up with something to put in the program for his service, something short. I should be able to do that. I’ve got a degree in literature, goddamn it. But I didn’t come up with a thing. My sister and I sat down and tried to remember it all.
He watched M.A.S.H. He watched M.A.S.H. and JAG, and Walker Texas Ranger. He had no short term memory, so we would often find him watching the same episode of something he’d been watching that morning, because he “didn’t remember how it ended.” He was kind. He loved Beef Stroganof and hated skinless chicken. Grandpa Walt was a man of clear moral conviction; he hated the Dallas Cowboys and loved the Green Bay Packers. Often, and when I was far too young, he would offer me whiskey, as a cure for just about everything. One Christmas, he bought us so much Matchbox racetrack, it ran all the way through our living room. He liked smoking a pipe and shitty beer.
The best thing about Grandpa Walt was his nonchalance. The way he could reveal an exotic detail of his life, as if it were nothing. Before I went to Rome, he asked me to see what the gate to the Vatican was made of. So I went, and there isn’t a gate around it; I had no idea what he was talking about. Confronting him later, he only said, “Oh, well it was made of wood, when I guarded it in WWII.” The gift of humility, something never passed down to me. Or, maybe attempted, but unsuccessful. My mouth readying itself to narrate my every own adventure, only quiet when surprised.
I have been quiet this past week. Death is surprising and wildly inconvenient. It irritates me. Having to tell my sister, I was anything but articulate. We worked it out in the kitchen, pooling our knowledge, filling out his character sketch. It helps. Elisabeth looked in the cupboard and grabbed a mug we’ve had for years. Big enough to hold soup, she shoved it towards me and said, “This! This was the mug for his dentures! I think about that every time I drink out of it, and it’s still a little gross.” So we laughed. We laughed and laughed, and laughed again.
Walt Lohafer, we are still laughing.