In the mail the other day came a Christmas card from Don and Marie, along with a letter reporting that their oldest daughter Jessica (a prune-faced little brat when we knew her) has been accepted at Dartmouth.
The letter goes on to enumerate the other "wonderful events!" the family celebrated in 1993.
It seems that Don was recently promoted and now makes such an incredible salary that they have to take their money to the bank in big Hefty trash bags.
Marie is doing well at her law firm and was named president of the Garden Club and PTA, and still managed to find time to grow a 200-pound, bell-shaped squash that took first place in its division at the state fair.
Their youngest, Alan, led his soccer team in scoring and is doing college-level physics in ninth grade as part of some super-mutant-gifted-and-talented program where, in their spare time, the students sit around and design shuttle re-entry systems for NASA.
The letter concludes. "Write back soon and tell us how things are with you!"
So I ripped a sheet of loose-leaf paper from one of the kids' school binders and moistened the tip of a No. 2 pencil and wrote:
Dear Don and Marie,
Please forgive the sloppy handwriting, but as I write this, the house is pitched at a 15-degree angle and my desk keeps rolling across the room, which I will explain in a moment.
All is well here. The kids are doing fine, too, I suppose. We don't see them much -- they spend a lot of time watching TV in the basement. There is a sullenness about them, although maybe that's not surprising, given what happened to the house.
It started when we were moving some snow tires out to the front yard where we keep the old refrigerators and washing machines. Suddenly there was a noise like a rifle shot.
I ran to the back of the house and discovered a huge crack in the foundation. Within seconds, the house was tilting at a severe angle and the cable went out. Naturally, the kids went nuts, storming out of the basement and screaming: "This better be fixed in time for 'Ren and Stimpy!' "
We had to get a structural engineer out here, who said it looks like the whole damn house is sinking. He said it would cost big bucks to right it and reinforce the foundation.
Well, thank you very much, I thought. So much for Christmas presents this year.
The other night we ate our dinner off tray tables in the living room as usual, but it sure felt weird not to be watching "Wheel of Fortune."
Nancy suggested that we could have a conversation for a change.
"About what?" the kids snarled.
"Well," she said, turning to me, "how's work going?"
"Don't ask," I said, poking my fork listlessly into a can of Dinty Moore stew. "Newspapers are on life-support systems. Long hours, little pay. End of story."
Nobody felt like eating after that. Then all of a sudden -- because of the angle of the room, I guess -- the TV slipped off its stand and started sliding down the hallway and the kids started whooping and chasing it, so that pretty much ended the conversation.
Let's see . . . what else? Well, Goldie's not around anymore. The little fella got hit by a mail truck a couple of days ago.
The kids were pretty torn up about it. Me, I never cared much for dogs, and even less for Goldie. He didn't know very many tricks, except "sit" and what dog doesn't know that?
Anyway, we buried Goldie out back under one of the pink flamingo lawn ornaments. It was a very moving ceremony, although right in the middle of the prayers, with everyone bawling and stuff, Sean said: "When will the cable come back on?"
"It wouldn't kill you to read a book," I said.
The kids all looked at each other and smirked, and then Chrissie said: "Heck, we might as well finish planting Goldie."
I said I didn't know when the cable would be back, that these things take time. With the house listing at a 15-degree angle, it seems to me we're lucky even to have electricity and running water.
Now all the kids do day after day is stay down in the basement and play Nintendo.
I thought I smelled something burning down there. Like soup or franks and beans or something. You don't think they have a hotplate, do you?
Love to all,
Kevin, Nancy and the kids
P.S. -- Let us know when we can come and visit!