The cocktail napkin I stole from Julie the bartender still smells of the Partagas case within which it's been folded for three months. I put it there on June 21st.

When my oldest brother, Bjorn, was married in Oregon nearly eight years ago, our family made the 30 hour road trip together - for better or worse. On that December voyage, I (clandestinely) suffered my first cigar with Bjorn and Dane outside our motel room and a tradition was born. Two years and a quick spring later, Dane was married in northern Iowa and the tradition bore itself onward, again set romantically in the circle drive of an Iowan hotel. This time, the posse was made complete, by all accounts, with the addition of one bad-ass grandma Mickey. For what its worth, all cigars should be smoked with this woman.

The traditions which have come to bond the trio of Peterson brothers over the years include things both legal and not, but usually harmless and almost always a little charming. At least we think so. At the very least, I've heard it said that one can only be non-violent so far as his brothers are not threatened. And there is truth, here. There is an allegiance, untouchable, which brothers garner.

And so it was, June 21st, in the dark wood and leather basement bar of the St. James Hotel, that my dad patted the breast pocket of his suit and we three boys followed him outside. The eve of my wedding. My brothers in flipflops. Partagas to be had.

At the intersection of Bush St and Main sits LeGrange Park, about 300 yards from a southeast-Minnesota bend in the Mississippi. There, someone fished a pack of Rio Grande matches from his pocket and, with no recourse, we chewed off the ends of our cigars and blazed up.

The Peterson dinner table has never really been a place for easy talk. That is, if the littlest of the red-haired three wants to talk about drawing pictures at school or a favorite hockey player, fine, so long as he brings it to the fore. If not, let it be known that questions of theological and epistemological crises will be opted for and if one is to thrust forth his opinion in such an arena, then one should approach thine table prepared with evidence buttressing such assertions and liberated of such excuses as, "...but I'm only 8."

LeGrange Park is no different. Two pairs of flip flops, sure. But also two pairs of wing tips; my dad's, and his dad's, which I wear, and a four-some of brows that are most comfortable when furrowed. The park fountain rose twelve or so feet, composed of three tiers around which a man my height might make 28 steps in order to come full circle. But if he's like me, sipping with his dad and his brothers on a shooter of Johnny Walker Red, with a half-chewed half-smoked Partagas in his jowl, he'll likely have to walk it more than once, to be sure. Between our conversation about future World Cups and State Department posts and humans and gods and goodness, and the river, sits the Amtrak station. Three trains signal their coming and going.

The JW is cashed and another couple ounces of Crown Royal appear from somewhere.  My brothers and I - Bjorn and Dane both having enjoyed many-a-cigar - hang on to a young fascination with the way the smoke curls up out of our mouths, with the way we can channel and manipulate the clouds daring upward from our lungs out into the world.  My dad, as with all things of this nature, knows these phenomena more intimately than we do.  This man in pinstriped pants, his shoulders accustomed to the weight of various worlds, leans against a brick-mortared post in a small park, situated in the elbow of Minnesota's great river, puffing his cigar and observing his sons be still barely-young men in front of him, and he smiles.  To know that, in some sense, you've arrived as a man, is to watch your dad smoke a cigar with you on the eve of your wedding, smiling, proud that he can be himself, also a man, and quietly marvel in the company of his sons.

Dane's thin tower of smoke crept out from under the bill of his cap and half-obscured the streetlights behind him, while we spoke.  There were few silences, and they were all good.

I tend to straighten my tie frequently; I take such care of neither my language nor my dancing, so it's probably good.  Surely my hands returned to the knot and drape of my tie between drags, while I made a gradual accounting of the numbers that perametered our night.

Lightheaded, and likely playing out of my league, I picked one from the stack of napkins on the bar top, begged a pen, and scribbled down the night's dimensions: A bottle of aged Promis, a room of invaluables collected from across the country, a mother waiting for the sons of her husband and a night not yet exhausted of its mischief.  These are the things we rightfully stow away, in the cases of spent Partagas, hoping to be remembered and written as we knew them.

1 comment:

  1. I don't often reflect or think about my family. Sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to have brothers...

    Glad to have a little glimpse into that world.