The Garden State (Part 1)
I awoke eager to see “the garden state” in daylight for the first time in years. It took twelve hours of continuous driving to arrive at cousin John’s door, and leave it to him to make every mile worth while. It turns out that the garden state is a winter wonderland this time of year (so, no gardens), appropriately, but the scenery of John’s personality was sufficient to round out my experience.
John is actually my second cousin, and the only child of great Uncle Al and Aunt Betty who lived for many decades in Manhattan. This visit is brief, but necessary, as John is planning to take us to Al and Betty’s new assisted living home in New Jersey.
“He’s always been my favorite cousin,” Mom says to me when John steps out of the room to use the bathroom between jokes and galoshing glasses of wine.
John is over six feet tall with a growing keg belly and a loveable, full-of-cheek face. His skin is Italian olive and rosy pink, accented by deeply graying hair.
When he laughs, his arms freeze in motion and he tosses his head back gregariously as a widening smile spreads across his face. It is as if he is tossing the love of the world back into himself when he does this, drinking it up like the Greeks after a long evening of elegant debauchery.
“You’ve gotta try this, try it, here, try it, it’s unbelieveable, God help us,” he half-hollered across the kitchen island last night.
“It’s about five different types of rum, garnered with pineapple chunks that have been saturated in it for two weeks.
Two bites of those puppies at about two-hundred proof each and you’re done for.”
He pours my mother and I a shot of the concoction. The evening roars onward like a blues cruise through the Caribean. John takes one solo after the next, guiding our midnight band through politically incorrect jokes, herioc stories of pediatric miracles (his speciality), and memories of the legendary Nyhan family from which he descends.
In the morning he is alerty yet slightly hungover. My parents and I are adorned with books, bottles of wine, and promises of gatherings at his house in East Hampton as we load up the car. Dad rides with John in the new Audi, its seamless ivory body gleaming under frostbitten sunlight. Mom and I follow behind them in my dirty, dependable Chrysler.
It takes fifty-five minutes to drive forteen miles through interstate traffic to Fransiscan Oaks, Al and Betty’s new assisted living home. Despite his jolity, John has made it clear that he disapproves of his father, my beloved Uncle Al. This is the only part of our visit that I cannot resonate with. As we enter the sterile yet homey doors of Fransiscan Oaks, this thought tugs at my conscience and I am unsure what to expect once we all get in the same room…(to be continued)