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ernesto

Word-doodle of the day

This evening we drove in the white honda minivan toward the west, watching the pink sky, clouds coloured the tinge of cotton candy by the dying sun’s light. Night is now upon us and I sit staring at this keyboard, the plain off-white screen reflecting from my minimalist Columbia spectacles. Tonight, I am a writer, again.

My father sent me a photo of my grandfather’s property in Campolino before he fled Yugoslavia. Today a nondescript white truck sits parked in the garage that once stabled a donkey. In the middle of the drive is the recess in the retaining well that descends to the natural cavern beneath the drive. From there a spelunk and a swim to the fountain on the lower field. That was the route my grandfather took when UDBA secret police thugs came to arrest him for sedition and other charges.

I grew-up with this man and I never knew that truth about him. He seemed such a simple man who liked the simple pleasures and always seemed to be linked to a land I would never know. It took me until recently to rediscover the simple wisdom that he was so eager to tell me as a child, in his broken English. My brother does a great impression of him and his advice. My brother does a great impression of his swearing in Italian and Slovenian, too.

My grandfather bought me my first LP: KISS Destroyer. I always thought that interesting. A man who whistled an old folk song from the old lands, who regularly tuned into the Lawrence Welk Show, bought me the freakiest looking album available in the store. I always loved him for it. I was eight; we listened to it at my birthday party and Jamie managed to put a half-inch scratch into Great Expectations. I did not like that song anyway. I listened to the album for years, always trying to understand Detroit Rock City.

My grandfather was the man who warned me that I would not enjoy the army as a profession. He was right. “You think too much,” he said. “Maybe you don’t think enough.”

He was also the man who taught me how to survive the army. First: sleep whenever you can. Second: eat whatever you can. Third: never volunteer. His particular emphasis was on the eating. “We had a cook stove and we would fight over who would get to clean the pot. Who got the pot got to scrape up the last of the meal.”

My grandfather was always the last one eating at our table. He ate relentlessly. He taught me the joys of bread dipped in olive oil, in the left-over vinaigrette of the salad bowl, or to clean a plate of the last of the ragu.

When my grandfather died, an old man dying of pulmonary distress in his seventies, he seemed very small. Disease does that to a man; sucks the animation from you. Looking into the coffin, I found it unusual that he would look so much better than when he was ill.

His name was Ernesto and when I returned to Guelph, my friends took me out to get drunk. We ended up toasting “Ernesto” with each round until the whole establishment, the Beta Theta Pi frat house, was toasting “Ernesto.”

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