Tuesday, September 10, 2019
putting the granfalloon to the test
Kurt Vonnegut was a master at creating words.
One of my favorites is "granfalloon."
Vonnegut debuted the word in Cat's Cradle and used it in several of his subsequent novels. His definition morphed over time, but the concepts remained constant.
My favorite is "a seeming team that is meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done." His examples included "Hoosiers" (people from the state of Indiana), "the Communist party," "the Daughters of the American Revolution" -- and any group calling itself "the class of ...".
Granfalloon is a great word. But clever though he may be, Vonnegutt could simply be wrong now and then.
My trip north was an example. On Sunday, I joined some of my fellow high school Class of 1967. We had celebrated our 50th reunion two summer ago. This gathering was to celebrate the birthday we have in common this year. We will all be (or have turned) 70.
One of my best friends from high school told me he was not going because he did not need to be reminded that he had slipped overnight from being middle age into codgerdom. Because I have a deeper strain of schadenfreude in my soul, I had to confess that might have been one of the reasons I was going to attend.
If I really had been that jejune, I would have been sorely disappointed. For a group of Americans who are now working on their eighth decade, my classmates were looking a bit frisky.
The picnic was scheduled at Risley Landing Park. It was like going home again for me. My friend Neil Hodgin and I both lived on Risley Avenue. His house was just a few lots from the Willamette River. The two of us spent quite a few of our grade schools days on or in the river.
We had something of a Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer friendship. We never did get around to rafting our way down the Willamette, but we would often swim across to Hog Island -- a name that offered far more interesting adventure prospects than we ever encountered.
But it was the perfect place to rest on the rocks in the summer, to watch the nuns from the convent running barefoot through the edge of the river, and to talk about our great plans for the future. No ennui for us. We were guys on the move
Unfortunately, Neil was not there to reminisce with us. He died before our class's 50th reunion. The last time I saw him was when a few of us gathered together for lunch at the Monarch Hotel before I moved to Mexico.
But there were plenty of other people there, who I do not see often enough, but who have had a marked effect on my life. My friend Holly is an example. She and I were voted "most-outgoing" by our classmates. (The equivalent of "Miss Congeniality" at beauty contests, I think.) That is her on the left.
Her mother, Mrs. Metz, was my senior and junior year English teacher. She taught me to love writing. It is because of her that these pages exist. She is also the person who is directly responsible for building my vocabulary. That "ennui" above comes directly from one of her vocabulary sheets.
Because the picnic was in Oregon and the calendar notified us we were to the right of Labor Day, the odds were high we would have rain. The odds won.
It was not a Barra de Navidad rain. Instead, it was that soft rain that reminded me of every Boy Scout camping trip in Oregon. Being Oregonians, we accommodated.
I needed to rent a car for the day to drive the 19 miles from my airport hotel to the picnic in Oak Grove. When I reserved the car, while I was still in Mexico, the weather in Portland was not only sunny -- it was hot. Perfect convertible weather.
I walked over to the Thrifty office to pick up a 2019 Camaro convertible. I thought I had just won the grand prize on Let's Make a Deal. It was quite snazzy -- and a great drive.
Of course, there were two problems. And you have already seen both of them.
First, was the rain. Even though it was a light and sporadic rain, taking down the top would simply have been exhibitionist.
And that is also the second problem. Exhibitionism. Thios is not an old guy car. A friend at the picnic jokingly asked me if I was having a mid-life crisis. I told him: No. Not unless I am planning to live to 140.
And I am not. But I hope to live on long enough to get together with people who have been (and are) a part of who I am.
If a "granfalloon" is "a seeming team that is meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done," my class is not a total granfalloon. At the picnic, people gathered in little groups of memory to rebuild those connections "in the way God gets things done."
That realization was enough to make this trip north well worth the effort.