The Longest Day
by Kathleen M. Brosius
An expression one conveys, when a story is told, tells a lot about a
man. As I sit here at my computer, and if I close my eyes, I can see him—
my father sitting in his chair. Someone may have just congratulated him on
a small accomplishment. He would have sluffed it off, his reply, “Oh,
somebody would have done the same thing sooner or later.” This gentle
man rarely took credit; instead, he most likely would turn the conversation
to a “little story,” as he put it.
The one story he told, that did give him and his partner credit, was
the evening the two attended the wake of one of their fishing cohorts. After
a lengthy day of checking box-traps, Pondo and his buddy, John Crowley,
decided it was getting too late to go home and clean up, so they trudged
up to the back door of their fallen friend’s home. As the widow met them at
the door, they apologized for not changing their clothes. Their clothing was
wet, wrinkled and smelled of fish. The only thing on them that was of any
order was their hip boots, which were neatly gathered and strapped just
below their knees.
The young widow grabbed the two men and hugged them, tears
spilling from her eyes. “You old rascals,” she cried. “I wouldn’t want you to
come see my husband off any other way.” She pulled them into the parlor
and showed them off to relatives and friends.
Another story frequently told was the day Pondo—my father, his
brother Pede, and their dad were working at Minipark, a spot of land along
the Minnesota Slough, where a few old buildings housed all the fishing
gear. Pede and Grandpa spotted a bull snake. Grandpa May hated
snakes. Pede picked the snake up by the tail and began swinging it around
in the air, hoping to snap off the snakes head. The tail snapped off instead,
sending the rest of the snake flying. Grandpa, in horror, watched as the
snake sailed right toward him. With a twinkle in his eye, Daddy continued
his story of how he’ll never forget the look of terror in his father’s eyes
when that old snake wrapped itself around his neck.
When my dad was about to tell a story, I could always tell if it was
going to be a sad story, when tears would form; or a funny story, when a
gleam would radiate from his eyes and his face would beam with joy. Either
way, the emotion always chocked him up.
Every time a wedding would come around, Daddy told the story of
someone whose wedding was on December 21, the shortest day of the
year, which would be followed by the longest night. And then with a chuckle
and that twinkle, Daddy would say something sly and just off-color enough
to cause our mother to sharply say, “Oh Pondo,” and shake her head. I can’
t remember whose wedding or what year, but I remember that chuckle and
Daddy had quite a following. Pals from up and down the Mississippi
River, would bring a six-pack and spend hours with him sitting out back
surrounded by piles of fish nets. Whether he got some of his stories from
other story-tellers or whether he actually experienced at least part of his
stories, he knew how to tell them. One story, beloved by his children,
grandchildren, and great grandchildren, was about an old alligator that lived
in a hole in the basement. We never did see Oscar, but if the story was
true, he’d be a giant of a reptile today.
*The two longest days of my life were the days that our parents died.
By the time, the day of each of their passing ended, I had lost my voice
because there were so many people who I needed to call.