I finished college late, well into my thirty’s and when Debbie and I were pregnant with a baby I learned about constructs in a logic class. A construct is something that people agree what a thing is going to be. We agree that a dollar bill is going to have some value but by itself the paper doesn’t so it is an agreed upon construct.
So, when Debbie was pregnant with Abie I said, let’s do this kind of fun construct experiment. Whenever we make mashed potatoes we are going to dye them blue so Abie will grow up eating blue mashed potatoes at home. Then when he goes to grandma’s house or his friends and they happen to serve mashed potatoes he will say, “What’s this?” And they will say, “Mashed potatoes.” And he will say….well, we won’t know what he will say. But Debbie said, “Why do you want to screw up our baby?” I said, “Debbie parents screw up their babies so many different ways, this is one way we can screw him up and we will know where the source of the screw up was.” She said, “We are not doing that.” I said, “Okay, it was just an experiment.”
We wind up having two boys, Abie and Zack, and one day we are in our pickup truck to go to Alesci’s Italian grocery store to buy pizza dough, peperoni and cheese and once in a very long while I would also buy a package of cigars. These are little, short, hard Italian cigars called Parodi cigars. My grandfather smoked them, he would keep a whole box of them on the top shelf of the dining room closet. When we were kids we would steal his cigars and try and smoke them. I would also buy the boys a Slurpee at the 7-11 around the corner.
So, I lite up a cigar and the kids are slurping their Slurpees and I say, you know these Parodi cigars are the finest cigars in the whole world. And the kids are like just listening, they are nine and ten and they listen attentively to their Dad. “My grandfather smoked these but you know what makes these special? They are called Parodi’s and they are named after the Parodi geese. Now, you remember when we go hiking in the park in the spring and there would be goose shit all over the grass and paths?”
And the kids are “Uh-Huh, slurp, Yeah, slurp. ”Well, they grow the tobacco in Virginia because that is where the finest tobacco is grown, they ship the leaves over to Italy, they feed the tobacco leaves to the Parodi geese, not just any geese….Parodi geese. The Parodi geese eat the tobacco but they can’t digest it so they poop it out. It looks just like the goose poop that we see in the park. Then these little old ladies come in their aprons and they pick up the dried goose shit, which is really just masticated, that means chewed, undigested tobacco. Then they take a tobacco leaf and roll it up. Then they cut the ends and that’s how the Parodi cigars are made.”
And the kids are like “Slurp, Slurp, Oh, okay Dad smokes these stinky goose shit cigars like twice a year. “
Fast forward, the kids are now like 21 and 22 years old. We are going to close up my mother’s house. She is leaving her home for the last time. My dad had passed away and it is the last hurrah before the house is sold and mom leaves. We are reminiscing about things and my brothers bring up the memory of Parodi cigars since Grandpa used to smoke them. At the mention of Parodi cigars Abie blurts out, “I know how Parodi cigars are made, they are made from goose shit!” My brothers start looking at him like, “What the f*** are you talking about?” Startled, Abie turns to me and gives me this look like I betrayed him.
It is total betrayal and I humiliated him and I got all red in the face because this was like the blue mashed potatoes time bomb but it happened there in my mother’s kitchen. And only this wasn’t a construct, rather, it was an out and out fiction that only I knew not to be true. Abie was so angry at me and anytime I tried to explain it to him, he got so frustrated. We never talked about it until about two weeks later.
We were together and I said, “Abie, have you ever heard of Kopi Luwak coffee? He said no,” Well,” I said “Kopi Luwak coffee is a very special coffee because of certain kind of cats that lives in Madagascar. The people grow coffee there and the cats will eat the coffee berry and then they shit out the beans and then people pick up the beans and the beans have been transformed by the acids in the cat’s stomach…….” and before I can finish Abie is like, “F*** you dad, “F*** You F*** You F*** You. You are not doing this again to me.”
“No!” I am like, “Google it! It is true, honest, God’s truth.”
“F*** you!” says Avie.
But it is true, ………coffee is made by these cats, they eat the berries, they shit out the beans, the beans are collected off the ground and the coffee is very expensive.
I never fully understood how profound an act of betrayal my Parodi cigar story was until most recently. It always felt to me like a harmless fiction. I have come to realize that this cigar story breached a kind of trust, a bond broken, between my sons and I.
I had always been honest and forthcoming with my sons yet this one fiction may have placed doubt on the whole history of my interactions with them.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.