Betcha Didn’t Expect “Heartwarming”!

January 16, 2010

I know y’all don’t come here for “heartwarming”, but every now and then it does us all good to mix it up a bit, I think, so here goes: I got a letter from my step-cousin, Dick Pennock, shortly before Christmas, in which he let me know of a project that was near and dear to his heart. His father, Anthony Phillips “Tony” Pennock, was about to turn ninety, and Dick was soliciting reminiscences for publication in a family journal to be presented to Tony as a birthday gift. In the letter, Dick asked each of the members of his extended family to contribute an essay based on the theme “What Made Me What I Am.” His only instructions to the group at large were: “Cover as much or as little as you like. Keep it under three pages. I mean, you’re fascinating, I’m sure, but not THAT fascinating…”

I have known Tony since the summer of 1967, when his brother Jack married my mom, or to put it another way, since Tony was younger than I am now. Because he lives in Atlanta, and I am a leaf in the wind, we don’t cross paths all that often. The last time, I believe, was shortly after my stepfather’s funeral in 2005. There were three memorial services, actually, one in Cape Cod, one in Prince Edward Island and one in Pennsylvania, for my stepfather put down a taproot in every place he loved and those were three places he loved without reservation. Tony stayed with me for a few days after the PEI gathering, and we talked well into the night each of those days. This is not by any means uncommon when we get together. Our last marathon was also after a funeral, my mother’s, after which Tony accompanied my brother Thane and me on a road trip from Canada to Boston, where we would catch flights to our respective homes: Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Nashville. It was that experience that I chose to write about in the closing of my contribution to the journal:

“By way of a birthday note, Tony, I would like to say that one of my finest travel experiences ever was the ride home from Prince Edward Island with you and Thane after my mom’s funeral. (For those who don’t know this, Tony had air reservations back to Atlanta after the service, but at the last minute asked Thane and me if he could ride with us as far as Boston, a day’s drive from Prince Edward Island, just to be able to hang out together and catch up.) The three of us talked about everything under the sun, as members of this extended family have been known to do. We argued, we agreed, we laughed, we commiserated, and we solved most if not all of the world’s problems.  After Jack’s memorial service, you stayed with me again in PEI for a few days, during which time, in my estimation, we entertained one another exceptionally well. Given your religious leanings or lack thereof, I think it might amuse you that the closest I have gotten to prayer in the past forty years was when you took the helm of my then-new Mini Cooper and the two of us went for a supercharged spin through rural Kings County.”

In all, some two dozen family members contributed essays to the journal: Tony’s three sons, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and their spouses/significant others as well as several of us (myself included) who share no DNA, but think of one another as family nonetheless. Our lives are the richer for it.

Happy Birthday, Tony!