I got back from doing some laundry to find that the freshly warm seat left by my generous derriere is now occupied by two of the 99% non-human inhabitants of the Druzgal Chalet: Baxter the black lab and Shaggy, the hirsute, perpetual kitten. (The remaining occupants are stink-bugs, wasps, mice and squirrels.)
I’m not setting out to create some highbrow metaphor of Occupy anything. I’m just having fun with our own version of human-animal inequality here in the boonies of Washington County. I was originally planning to talk about the great life our animals have and about how much they give us in return for that life, but got distracted by the following thought process…
When I saw them occupying my recently vacated corner of the couch, I hollered aloud “He Sammed me!” Immediately following was nostalgia and a wave of sadness at things personal and unshared, things once celebrated, now lost. Sam McManus was one of Pappap’s friends. Sam was a little mentally challenged but that didn’t make a difference in his friendship status with grandpa. He would show up at the house visiting, just like Pappap’s other friends, and he was both teased and listened to like anyone else in and outside the family.
Among the friends there were Mundo Pino and Paul Marcoline. There was Gene Rummel, into whose arms I once jumped and smashed a raw egg he was carrying in his breast pocket to do a trick to entertain me. Some of the visitors were relatives, like Jim Crooks, who told me stories of Pappap as a young boy, stories of a pet owl and of Pappap getting up in the middle of the night to go set off hunting traps when he had a midnight epiphany that they were cruel.
But Sam McManus is lingering in my mind today, the way he lingered in Pappap’s house. Unlike the rest of the fellas, who would bring a banjo or an egg for a trick for the kids, or a deck of cards to play poker, Sam would just stand. He would stand, and stand, and stand, always hovering just over the edge of Pappap’s chair. It was the best chair in the house and only Pappap sat in it – except when Sam took over.
Sam could wait out that chair all day, standing and swaying and listening and watching everything going on in the house. But the moment Pappap would get up from playing pickup bluegrass or from visiting, even if just for a quick bathroom break, Sam would quickly plop down in the seat and not move again until it was time for him to go home at night.
It didn’t take long before taking someone’s chair as soon as they left it was called “Samming.” At family get-togethers we still laughingly complain when someone “Sams” us.
Sam is gone. Pappap and most of his friends are gone, and as I exclaim here and now, to no one, that I’ve been Sammed, I’m answered with silence and a disinterested sigh from a sleepy dog.
When I started dating Kurt, I heard his family use the expression “Shuffle your feet, lose your seat.” I’ve heard a number of varieties over the years. It seems this occupying of recently vacated seats is a favorite game in most homes. But I’ve never heard the verb’ing of a name the way we immortalized Sam McManus.
No point to my rattling prose today. I just wanted to mark a little tribute to Sam, to nostalgia, to Pappap and his friends, to a house empty of all but one human today and to the 2 lumps occupying 99% of my couch.
Or maybe there’s a tiny point. As we get older and begin losing the people who once shared these stories with us, we think more fondly about the ones remaining. Our family is quirky and crazy and eccentric, like a lot of American families. Every time I look at my brother’s picture below, I’m reminded just how lucky I am to be part of this blue-collar, all-encompassing hillbilly circus I call a family. I love that instead of the usual heavy-metal fingers, my brother used American Sign Language for “I love you” while rocking out inside his welder’s helmet and America t-shirt.
I’m gonna text my brother now, hug my dog and scoop him up so I can wedge myself underneath him and the cat.
I would love to hear any of your nostalgia stories. This is Ms. Marla Jane #GoGirlPower, over and out.