Here's one from the archive, to get the long-form running.
New York State Highway 67 runs north through the farmlands of Ballston Spa. The hay fields and tractors rusting at the margins remind me of my hometown in southeastern Connecticut, but here there’s a sense that the rural gloom reaches all the way north to Canada, west to Lake Erie, and south to the Tappan Zee. “It looks like Donetsk out there,” I joke with my brothers, because the Ukraine has been in the news. In Donetsk, they have tractors and worry, too.
We speed past a tumbledown Victorian farmhouse. In the front yard, nestled among forgotten york rakes and wagons, is a shining silver Airstream camper trailer, its front bumper buried in the green highway berm. It’s up on blocks. We laugh at this. We are used to trucks and cars without wheels in various stages of repair, but a whole Airstream is a little much. “That’s the summer home of the Yellow King,” I joke again, because True Detective has been in the news, too.
In about half a mile, my brother looks up from his phone and says he thinks the house with the Airstream is the address we are looking for. The tires crunch over the highway shoulder gravel as we roll to a stop. We decide he must be right. There are no other homes or driveways for miles.
Approaching the Airstream from the south, the sun glints off its worn silver roof. It looks brighter from this angle, and I think for a minute about hauling it out of the grass, slapping some tires on it, and taking my family on a road trip to California. I am always looking for reasons to drive across the country.
Our uncle is lying on a couch inside the farmhouse. He is awake but groggy. The window over his head is open and the damp air of April blows in. Beside him, a wood stove burns hot. When we enter the room, a blond-haired woman is handing him a bottle of beer with a flex straw bent over the lip. Our uncle labors to lift his head to sip from it.
I apologize for not coming sooner. He holds my hand and forgives me.
The farmhouse is a commune of sorts. The blond-haired woman, youthful and cheery, takes his hand from me and sits beside him on the coffee table. She calls him their founding father. He takes another sip of beer, leans his head back, and smiles. There are other people in the house, rinsing dishes in the sink, shuffling about their rooms upstairs. Through the open window, a kitchen garden is covered with sagging deer netting.
Our uncle is asleep. The blond-haired woman asks if we are the nephews from Connecticut. We laugh and say yes. It means a lot that you’ve come, she says. We wouldn’t have all this without him.
Beside her on the coffee table is an open garment box filled with photographs. To pass the time, we sift through them. I am struck by how much our uncle resembles our father. I wish I did not view the photos, because now all I can see is our father on the couch.
This is ridiculous, of course, because our father is teaching seventh grade math near home and not dying on the couch of a new-age hippie commune with an arid vegetable garden and an Airstream without wheels in Ballston Spa. I look again at the photographs to see if I could, in those snapshots of their youth, spot the moment where our uncle went one way and our father the other.
A man comes in. He is tall and olive-skinned, with a bright smile. I am Pedro, he says. Your uncle is my friend. Who would like a beer? The blond-haired woman rests her head on my uncle’s yellowish arm while Pedro hands out the bottles.
My brothers and I sneak a look at each other and shrug. The beer is good, the room is simultaneously cool with the air of spring and warm. Our uncle’s little habitat is now crowded with five people—the blond-haired woman, Pedro, and the three of us. Perhaps there are worse ways to go.
It occurs to me that I do not know our uncle well. I know that women entered and exited his life, and that his charisma likely confounded our father. I wonder whether our father feels the same way about our uncle as I do about my brothers. Paternalistic, frustrated sometimes with their choices, responsible for them even when that concern is condescending.
I look again through the photographs and it hits me that our uncle and our father rarely appear in an image together. There is our father on his wedding day. There is our father chopping wood. There is our father building our house. There is a man who looks like our uncle, living the life our uncle could never quite construct for himself or perhaps never wanted. I find it both endearing and voyeuristic that our uncle has taken these pictures, and that he has kept them.
This realization makes it easier to take up our uncle’s hand again before it is time to go. I love you, I tell this man I don’t know, and he smiles and squeezes my shoulder. Pedro says, that is good for him to hear. I hope we will see you again.
Driving out, I think again of digging through the tall grass for some tires and hooking the Airstream to my truck. What a trip it would be if we could fix it. Just me, my brothers, and our father, driving to California. To kill the time, we’d shuffle through the box of photographs and listen to him tell us, here it went wrong, here it went right, and in the afternoon, the western sun would be warm and the breeze off the Pacific cool and full of comfort.