One night at dinner my dad said, “Did I ever tell you kids about the time I raced your Uncle George when we were little kids?”
And I was being a typical teenaged jerk, and so I said, “Yeah dad, you’ve told us like a million times already.” Even though that wasn’t true. I’d never heard my dad talk about racing, or Uncle George. Uncle George lived in Minnesota somewhere, and I couldn’t remember the last time we’d actually seen him. There was a photo album somewhere around the house, in one of the big bookshelves in my parents’ room. But even that was kind of off-limits. If we ever got caught snooping around upstairs, it was a big deal and it always ended with a lot of yelling.
My dad gave me an annoyed look, and he was just about to open his mouth to say something to put me in my place, when my younger brother Neil said, “Dad, I’ve never heard that story.”
So my dad closed his mouth and smiled a little, and without looking away from where I was sitting, he said, “Well then Neil, you’re in for a treat. Because this is a great story.” And I kind of rolled my eyes really dramatically, like, man, now I have to sit here and listen to a boring story from my dad. “But your brother’s already heard it, so why don’t we get out of here? I’ll tell you in the car.”
And my dad got up and pushed his chair in, walking away from his dinner plate. “Where are you going?” my mom said.
“Neil and I are going out of for a ride,” he said to my mom, and then turning to Neil added, “You want to grab some ice cream?” to which Neil bounced out of his seat and ran to the foyer to get his coat.
I waited until my dad was out of earshot and said in a mock-loud voice, “And who’s going to clear up all of these plates, your mother?” and nobody heard me, not my mom, definitely not my dad. And that was fine, because I didn’t know where I was going with that comment, not really. As soon as I said it, I realized that all I was doing was inviting my mom to make me stick around and help her clean up. The phone rang, my mom went further back into the kitchen, and I disappeared into my room until I was sure everything would have been put away.
And then I went back downstairs, my mom was smoking a cigarette at the kitchen table, I asked her, “Mom?” and she said, “Yeah?” and I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was in an OK mood, like she wasn’t pissed off or anything, and so I said, “What was dad talking about at dinner?”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“That whole race thing, with Uncle George?”
And her forehead got really tight and she said, “Uncle George?”
“Yeah, dad was going to say something about a race?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him when he gets home.”
And just then the driveway lit up as the station wagon pulled in right by the kitchen. My dad and Neil got out of the car, and when they walked into the house, Dad had a pretty big smile on his face. I didn’t really want to stick around and see if he was going to start smiling in my direction, and so I got up to go to my room. As I rounded the corner from the kitchen to the hallway, I could hear my mom say, “You didn’t bring any ice cream home for the rest of us?”
I didn’t say anything that night, and I was pretty good about trying not to think about it for the next couple of days or so. But just when I figured that the thoughts of my dad and my brother and the story about that race were going to fade away for good, they rallied and made a comeback, something like three or four days after that night at dinner. It was all I could think about. What was so important about a dumb race? Why did my dad have to leave the house to tell Neil? Why wasn’t anybody else talking about this?
So I cornered my brother when I got home from school that day. I said, “Neil, what did you and Dad talk about when you went out for ice cream after dinner?” and I was ready, I mean, I wasn’t going to let Neil go without him telling me what happened. If I had to twist his arm behind his back, or threaten to scratch all of his CDs when he wasn’t home, I hadn’t really left anything off the table in terms of forcing him to talk.
But none of that was necessary. Right away, Neil was like, “Dad didn’t say anything. We drove around town for like fifteen minutes in complete silence. It was so weird. I kept thinking, where are we going for ice cream? Why isn’t Dad saying anything? And then finally he talked, he was like, Neil, when we get home, I don’t want you to say anything to your brother. He’s going to ask you about the race between me and Uncle George, and you don’t say anything, got it? And I was like, what are you talking about? And he said, the race story, from dinner. And I said, OK, are we going for ice cream? And he said, no, no ice cream, I think we have ice cream in the freezer. But there wasn’t any ice cream in the freezer. There’s never ice cream in the freezer. And then I said, but dad, what’s the deal with the race story? And he said, what? And I said, the race, you know, with Uncle George? And then he said, shhhh, be quiet, I love this song. It was that song Old Time Rock and Roll. You know that one, right? And that was it. There wasn’t any ice cream.”
My first instinct was that Neil was lying, but after a while he just wouldn’t stop talking and so I left the room, satisfied that nothing had really happened.
And then later that week at dinner, in between bites of meat loaf, my dad said out of nowhere, “So, I bet you’re wondering about that race story between me and your Uncle George.” And he kind of just smiled. I looked down, but he probably gave Neil a wink.
And I didn’t say anything for a second, but then came back with, “Who are you talking to?”
Dad looked pissed off, but pissed off in a way that tried to make it look like he wasn’t pissed off. So he had this kind of half smile, half scowl. And he said, “I’m talking to you. Don’t you want to know about the race?”
And I looked down at my lap and said, “Dad, you’ve already told that story like a million times. You tried to race Uncle George, but he was always a lot faster than you, and so you never beat him. Come on dad, that’s a pretty lame story. I don’t know why you keep telling it.”
Mom started laughing, but it was like she was trying not to laugh, and my dad shot her a nasty look. Everyone was really quiet for a good amount of time, all you could hear were the sounds of forks and knives clinking against plates and teeth. I thought about ratting Neil out, telling everyone about how Neil told me that him and Dad just drove around in circles listening to classic rock. But I didn’t.
And then five more minutes passed, and I opened my mouth and said, “Hey Mom, do we have any ice cream for dessert?”
And my mom looked at me with a really confused face and said, “Ice cream? Dessert?”
I said, “Yeah, Neil, didn’t you say something about ice cream in the freezer?”
“No,” he said, looking down at his lap.
And I said, “Oh, my mistake. I thought you said something about ice cream in the freezer.” And then I looked up at the table and my dad was just staring at Neil with a really pissed off look on his face.