Leonard

A precocious child, at age two she climbed
In his lap and asked, ‘How did it all begin?’
Somewhat taken aback, The Hatter described
The Big Bang and the Seven Day theory.
Friend said, ‘I think I like the Big Bang.’

Leonard J. Cirino, excerpted from ‘# 5 Goddaughter # 2,’ Mister Hatter’s Matters (2006)

I would like to tell you a story about my godfather.

When I was very young, probably eight or nine, I desperately wanted a reindeer for Christmas. It was the only thing I had on my list, and I made it clear that this was the only thing I needed in order to be happy.

My father privately despaired, knowing how stubborn I could be, until my godfather arrived with a giant blow-up plastic reindeer. There is a photograph of me, arms around the reindeer, completely ignoring my godfather, wearing a horrible white sweatshirt with a sparkly heart on it. He has a huge smile on his face.

No, that’s not the story I want to tell you.

When my godfather lived in Albion, he would always make me Cheerios with brown sugar and milk as a snack. I’m not sure about the origins of this particular exotic dish, one I only ate in Albion (though my father would have happily provided it at home, if I’d asked). I’d sit at the table, swinging my feet, watching the red concrete floor, while my godfather puttered through the house, occasionally muttering things or laughing his deep, smoky laugh.

Wait. That’s not the story I want to tell you either.

Once, someone’s dog got sick and we had a long conversation about life and death, my godfather and I.

No, not that story. Not today.

When my father and my godfather first met, they spent many hours in our old kitchen in Elk one night, and my godfather turned to my father and said:

‘There’s something I need to tell you.’

No, not that story. It is not mine to tell.

I cannot remember, now, which story I wanted to tell you. Can you forgive me?

My godfather gave me so many things over the course of my life: An adult to love and trust as a child, pride in one-eyed madness, the courage of my convictions, a belief in redemption, a firm and unshakable need to pursue justice for all people until my last dying breath, a love of art and beauty and nature.

He gave of himself to everyone, and this infuses my memories of him; that he was generous with his soul and his heart and everything else about him.

He was a good man, and I have a chance to say that of very few people.

My worst fear is to cast away hope,
not to gather my soul to the waves,
but to burst and howl like a child
who has never known the breast.

Leonard J. Cirino, excerpted from ‘A Perpetual Place,’ The Sane Man Speaks (1999)