Top that, Smartacus

The wedding is over, but not the afterglow that will light our summer

After the wedding, we’re left with the sense of what now? How will we ever top that?

I thought maybe I’d bake a pie – blueberry – but as I researched the process, discovered it required a secret ingredient known as corn starch, which we did not have, and blueberries, which I’d also have to go out to buy.

Thing is, I’ve seen so many troubling videos recently of women screaming in grocery stores; I concluded that grocery stores have become our national flashpoints, our asylums, our Speaker’s Corner.

So I decided not to bake a pie, much as I crave pie, almost to the point of hyperventilation.

Instead, I thought maybe we’d go to the beach. There were challenges there too – they closed them. Bars were locked up again as well, the Puritans winning yet another round. First they closed the libraries, then they closed up the saloons again. Now where do I go for enlightened thought?

“How about our den?” my son suggested with a smirk.

“Thanks, Smartacus,” I said.

But Smartacus and I still haven’t figured out “what now?” A long summer awaits, broken up only by a potential road trip that is suddenly in jeopardy. I mean, who wants to see Mt. Rushmore if the presidents are all wearing face masks?

Back in Chicago, my sister seems excited by our possible visit, as does my buddy Doug, who has this magnificent house on the Fox River, a real showplace, with a pool and boats and a beer fridge in the five-car garage. Whenever “Moon River” plays, I think of that house.

Everything back there seems bigger and more glamorous – the homes, the people. Yet many of our California friends ask what we’ll do back there, as if the heartland is some version of “Hee Haw.”

Generally, I just pepper them with their own pre-conceived notions.

I tell them how we spend summer afternoons trying to identify the bug bites on our legs. Then we take a banjo lesson from a woman named Elvis. In the evenings, we head down to the market to thump the watermelons. Thump-thump-thump. “Sounds ripe to me, Lulu. Sound ripe to you?”

Really, these Midwestern trips are glorious. Every year or two, I rediscover tiny truths about my hometown, in that Hallmark way people fall for simpler, more-innocent locations from their pasts.

As you know, I’m sort of sentimental by nature, so going back permanently would seem tempting, yet kind of redundant. You can’t live a flashback.

We’re like the Addams Family with more baggage.  We dabble in the occult. We buy our gin at the Dollar Store. We take home old TVs we find along the curb.

Neither can you overthink these things. I grew up in the ‘60s, and the advice back then was: “If it feels good, do it.” That meant cold beer and lots of slurpy, unrestrained kissing. Which led to kids. Pregnancy is the ultimate tradeoff for feeling good, the loan that lasts forever.

I almost quit drinking when we started having kids. First, Posh was always taking advantage of me (she could be kinda rough). Second, I got tired of waking up with a headache all the time. A hangover is bad enough without a screaming infant in the bed next to you.

Posh was one of those mothers who wouldn’t put a kid down till he or she was, like, 12.

Honestly, having kids probably saved my bacon, which is ironic, since having kids will slowly drive you broke and insane.

Such is life.

Now suddenly I have this new son-in-law, only a week or two minted. I’ve met better men, but not in a long time, and none who wanted to commit to our wacky little tribe.

The daughters are “catches,” both of them — even Rapunzel, the one with too much hair. But bringing a boyfriend home has always been a real deal breaker.

We’re like the Addams Family with more baggage — specialists in grief and denial.  We dabble in the occult. We buy our gin at the Dollar Store. We take home old TVs we find along the curb.

This summer, termites are really enjoying the back porch, and there’s something breeding in the attic (I keep telling the boy “it’s probably just bunny rabbits”).

The stoic patriarch of this whole clan – me — cries at the end of football games and Roadrunner cartoons.

I mean, who marries into something like this? Lunatics? Escapees? Australians?

Hey Smartucus, how do you follow a wedding like that? #ChrisErskineLA #Daditude #Weddings

Finn appears to be none of those, though he enjoys a good toot now and then, which is a very Australian trait. It’s also a reliable coping mechanism and a hellava lot of fun. Just ask Bittner or Jeff, or any of those other social vagabonds I pal around with. Even Verge. Even my attorney Billable Bob.

So, cheers to Finn. Welcome to the jungle, baby.

Meanwhile, readers have been asking: What will your son-in-law’s nickname be? I think Finn sounds just fine. Worked for Huckleberry, the most-famous of the Finns and an enduring symbol of American joie de vivre.

By the way, if they have a son, I plan to call him Huck. I will teach him all the summer skills: rigging a fish hook, spitting a watermelon seed, pinching a bee stinger from your foot with a couple of your mother’s credit cards.

People wonder how we’ll ever top my daughter’s beautiful wedding? Well, some freckled grandchildren certainly might.

More kids. More tiny truths.

Looking for a summer read? Please consider “Daditude,” a collection of my favorite columns from my 25 years as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Thank you!

30 thoughts on “Top that, Smartacus

  1. Chris,
    You are the master of finding the little joys in life.
    Your musings make me smile, relate, tear up – all at the same time. Nothing like kids we love, babies, pals, pets, sunsets, delicious spare ribs, blueberry pie – to add warmth and comfort to our lives. You are a gift to all of us.Keep on giving.
    – Linda

  2. You’re making me hungry for a blueberry pie Chris but Marie Callender’s near has been closed☹️ Can’t wait for you to become a grandpa and lots of baby talks!

  3. Hey, Chris
    Blackberry pie is better than Blueberry and I have the ingredients in my pantry. I always wondered if Dan ever took you out when he tested some of those way out deathtraps he reviews for the WSJ. Did he ever need a passenger that would appreciate being frightened out of his lunch?

  4. Gave your book Dattitude to my eldest son – to update his sense of humor…. Lovely and he is getting there….

  5. Please let us know how many pies find their way to your house after we learned of your craning.

  6. Thank you for another entertaining and informative column! Happy day to you Chris!

  7. QUICK!!!! Find the House of Pies ! No fuss ,no bother !! ( well ..unless they have disappeared! ) as usual , your writing skills never cease to amaze me !! Carry on Chris Erskine !!

  8. Father of the Bride; Job Well Done!
    She was/is lovely. Her adventure is just beginning though it sounds like you and Posh remodeled a great love relationship. Home training is everything!
    Enjoy the heat, bites and beer!

  9. Chris, pies are difficult. Not for beginners. Try a blueberry/peach cobbler. They’re delicious and easy to make!

  10. LOL! Love the part of your story where your CA friends ask what you’ll do back there when visiting the heartland and you “pepper them with their own pre-conceived notions.”
    This reminded me of when I discovered my daughter’s wicked sense of humor. Nine years old at the time, and newly moved back home from Austin, a neighbor girl came over to play.
    My daughter told me later the girl had asked so many questions like: Where are your horses? Do you miss the ranch? Why aren’t you wearing cowboy boots? that she finally pointed her to the sepia-toned, old-west family photo we had taken at Knott’s and told her that was how we lived in Texas, but we had to change when we came to California! And the girl believed her.
    Congratulations! to your family and I hope that Finn doesn’t have to put up with too many questions about crocodiles and ‘shrimp on the barbie’!

  11. This California kid made his first visit to the Midwest (St Louis) 56 years ago to marry his Bride in her hometown. Two daughters later we’ve enjoyed countless trips to summer resorts in Minnesota, Wisconsin & Michigan and winter Holidays (Thanksgivings & Christmases) in STL. Never been to Hawaii.
    Our Pasadena raised daughter even attended Mizzou her mother’s (& much of her family) Alma Mater.
    Never met a lady banjo player named Elvis, but have enjoyed the welcoming hospitality of many family taverns in the Midwest usually named after the owners like “Ben & Amy’s”!

  12. Thanks for another delightful, yet poignant piece.
    I will always be with you in spirit but am signing off of Facebook because of Zuckerberg.
    Bye for now.

  13. Chris you warm my heart! Love that I don’t have to wait until Saturday to have a laugh and shed a tear.

  14. Chris, my husband Tom & I have been a fan for many years and have always enjoyed, laughed and cried on your journey you share with your readers. You have a way of painting pictures with your words, and your sense of humor serves as a gentle reminder to all your readers that in order to continue on this journey, we must cry, laugh and be hopeful by seeing the daily miracles of life that surround us. God bless.

  15. Your columns are priceless, Chris, and each one gets better and better – how is that possible when all of them are so lovely. Your beautiful column about the wedding of your daughter brought me to tears – what a masterpiece of writing and the photos were so lovely. Thank you, Chris, for cheering our spirits with wonderful columns about your family and friends and for touching our hearts!

  16. Do Banana Bread instead. The combinations are endless and it’s so much easier than pie. Of course, you’re now in a position to do both!

  17. I’ve flown back to O’Hare every summer since 2003, but this year as with 2002, I’ll be driving due to “you know what”. I’m hoping it will prove saver than “you know what”!

  18. Selfishly, I was sad when I read you were going to retire! But, you keep writing the best “columns”. You are the best – your writing makes my day!!!! All the best to you and your family!

  19. There is nothing like a road trip. One that gets you out of the heat at home is even more special. May you and Smartacus continue to enjoy every moment of this trip…is he sharing the driving? Travel safely. PS I could almost taste the hash browns!

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