Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Too Many Genes to Fit Into My Jeans

I decided I’m going to blame all the bad stuff I do today on my Uncle Henry. Maybe I shouldn’t have had the apple turnover at lunch, but it was new to the menu at the Winnsboro Bakery and I have been taught all my life to try new things. I’m sure Uncle Henry would approve. I will just overlook the tiny detail that he was fairly careful about his diet. His main interest at the restaurant we visited a few months ago was introducing me to the newest concept in dining: “the world’s smallest sundae.” It was the last time I saw him. The last of the three Stuart brothers died this week.

This will be my third funeral in three weeks. Wow, I definitely could have had more fun staying in Mississippi.

My Daddy was the oldest of three brothers but my heritage doesn’t stop with him. Not only was Daddy Tom Stuart’s son, more importantly, he was Jane Stuart’s grandson. I inherited the nickname “Janie Go” from her and bear it with great pride.

The entire Stuart family has always embraced life with both arms opened wide. One of my favorite stories is of the time Great Granddaddy Stuart came home for lunch and told my great grandmother to pack up for a trip to California; they would leave the next morning. And Janie Go was ready by the time he got home at the end of the day. This story always sounded suspiciously like the guy was running from the law but Uncle Henry insisted it was true, that he was there to see it happen and, no, his Granddaddy wasn’t running away from anything. He was looking for his next adventure.

The true hero of the story to me was always Great Grandmother. How do you pack, and what do you pack, for a trip half-way across the country in a Model T? For sure she didn’t need to take her curling iron or blow dryer but she also didn’t have instant coffee available. I’m not even sure motels had been invented then and even if they were, it wasn’t like they could e-mail for reservations. No, she had to pack everything they would need including tents, food and pots and pans; all on a moment’s notice. She was my kind of chick.

My father’s family has always been people to try new things. Daddy instilled in me an important component in making any decision. Any time I’m faced with two choices I should always try the new thing I’ve never experienced before. It’s as though the Stuarts are sure St Peter is going to ask how many different flavors of ice cream they’ve eaten in their life and the people who’ve tried the most are the ones to get past the pearly gates.

Uncle Henry’s obituary took up a couple of columns in the newspaper this morning. He had done everything from sailing through the Carribean (just he and Aunt Marcia in a small sailboat) to owning a vineyard in France. He was a war hero who went on to build the largest private airport in Dallas and then, for good measure, served as chairman of the DFW airport board.

But the thing I always loved was the twinkle in his eye that reminded me simultaneously of my grandfather and a leprechaun. Like my own father, the Stuart men simply enjoyed the hell out of life.

They weren’t modest, either. Grandaddy was full of stories hinting broadly that we were descendants of the royal Stuarts in Scotland and it became a sort of running joke around the family. I vividly remember a time when I was around eight years old and we were having a family gathering. It was probably Thanksgiving. That was the time when most of the Stuarts gathered at Henry’s house. Since my birthday is at the end of November sometimes our Thanksgiving celebration would take place on my birthday. For years I thought what a wonderful kid I must be to merit such a huge party, with turkey, pies, cakes and assorted cousins to run around with.

Thanksgiving was always the best time to be a Stuart. Besides the cousins, there was a mountain of food and Grandmother Stuart was famous for her pecan pie. It is only with typical Stuart humility that I can say that my pie is slightly better than Grandmother’s. But only because I take it one step beyond and, in the best Stuart tradition, add more pecans than Grandmother put in hers.

But it was at one of these gatherings when I was little that I somehow ended up with the assignment to fill a sheet of notebook paper by repeating the phrase: “I am a Stuart.” And I did indeed fill the page with the phrase over and over and over. I don’t remember the reason for this exercies but I never forgot the incident. It made me feel important mostly because it seemed important to everybody else at the time. No person is an island. Everyone is a product of the way they were raised and the people around them. I’ve always been glad to have been born a Stuart. Eespecially when they taught me to never pass up a new dessert.

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