Addition and Subtraction
by Bella Rum
Thanksgiving was familiar: all the same people, all the same side dishes, the bird, the kids, the location. All the same, but different. When we arrived, my brother was standing at the stove frying oysters. Before he even turned to greet us, I could tell by his posture that he wasn’t his usual hostess with the mostest.
It was still a nice day. My brother’s house holds us well. It isn’t a huge house by anyone’s standards. He built it before he made his fortune , when he was a kid really – about twenty-three. He had almost no money, a beautiful piece of land facing the wetlands, the knowledge and ability to build a house and friends who knew how to do what ever he did not.
Less than halfway to the finish line, he ran out of money. He was a waterman, and banks didn’t like to loan money to watermen. He was sitting on the foundation of the house, swinging his feet, bare studs exposed, when his friend Jimmy drove down the driveway. Jimmy asked him how it was going. He told him he’d gone about as far as he could go with his own money; his pockets were empty.
They talked for awhile, a poor boy and a rich boy, and Jimmy left and returned shortly with his father, a very prominent and connected fellow. His dad asked my brother a few questions about the property and if he owed anyone anything. Jimmy’s dad told him he would get his loan, the building recommenced, the loan was repaid long ago, and the rest is history. We have a place we all gather for all occasions, to celebrate or to lick our wounds. Jimmy’s dad is long gone now, but Jimmy and The Brother are still loyal and best friends.
It started out as a very small two-bedroom house back in 1970, with a large deck facing the water. A few years ago, he got a friend to add a family room big enough to hold all of us. Nothing could have perfected that house like that addition did. It’s all it needed. It’s a house that’s just right in all the right places, with not an ounce of wasted space.
He could build a much finer house now, but he told me one day, “This wouldn’t be enough for a lot of people, but every morning I look out at the water, and I always think that I’d never want anything more or to be anywhere else.” He rises early on Sunday, and while Donna still sleeps, he makes a big breakfast, and sits at the table overlooking the wetlands where he turtled when he was a kid, floated around on flat-bottom skiffs and generally lived the life of Tom and Huck. He’s one of those people who never left home. He traveled everywhere, but always returned to a place that made his heart beat in a way that no other ever could.
So, his house is our destination. We gather together to eat, and then we break up into small groups, and that’s when smaller, more intimate conversations take place all over the house. We spread out, mill around and spill over onto the deck. It’s the most comfortable place in the world, built among the trees with the most peaceful views in the world, but I’m biased. It’s home, and he’s the one who remained at home, and he’s the one who calls us all back.
Thanksgiving was what it had to be. My sweet, crazy Aunt Ruby was the one who talked about Dad. My brother and I scooted around it for some reason. Neither of us broached it. On the way home, H said, “Talk about the elephant in the room.”
As we left, my brother followed us onto the deck. He looked at me, and all he said was, “Our family is changing.” I could only manage a nod. His misery was all over him, and those few words capsulized it for him and for me. We are now the front line; no one stands between us and whatever else there is beyond this. There was nothing more to say. And we parted without mentioning Dad by name. I tell you the truth, I have such sadness as I write this. I know that all things change, I know it will get better, but it’s such a hollowed-out feeling right now.