Story idea: Setting
There were so many family lies. Stan didn't remember an event when he hadn't heard a lie about who they were and where they were from. The fourth John Dowd, his father, claimed to be Scot Presbyterian, and definitely not Irish. That made it hard to explain the German, bacon-cider vinegar dishes on Nanna Dowd's table. And, Stan's mother claimed her family was Dutch-English Unitarians; he recalled vividly spartan dinners on Grandma Gaylord's table, a thin slice of well-done roast beef beside a small scoop of mashed potatoes, a quarter-sized spoon of gravy gracing its peak, and the canned peas, pale and unnaturally round.
Neither family talked much. Public conversation was routine salutation and Philly baseball.
"How are you, my good man?"
"Fine and dowdy, and you?"
"Much the same, obliged."
"Spring training is round the corner."
Or, it might be "young man," "young lady," "father," "cousin" or "kin," sometimes with the prefix of "my," as in "my dear nephew."
Sunday dinner gatherings, post-church service of course, were always quiet affairs. Describing the living room noise level as a low murmur would be exaggerating. Parallel conversations were impolite at best, nerve-racking at the very least, and most often avoided. Stan had sound worms of his sister or cousins, Gwyneth and Meghan, apologizing again and again for interrupting. JB (the Third Dowd) held the room's attention, gave turns to those he knew had shareable news.
Family news was never about what really happened, had happened, ever happened. Any acknowledgement of legacies, true or false, were special moments shared privately and only outside on the way to the car, going in and coming out, saying goodbye with a caution, for instance. Stan sensed even as a young child that there was a message, maybe many, in every greeting and parting. "You don't want to end up like . . . " -- Gordon or Cecil or Margaret, notable reprobates among family and friends, naturally shunned of course.
What really happened was a mythology of Dowd heritage--Irish Catholics who became Quakers and joined the first settlements of what eventually became Delaware. Sounded unlikely, Catholics to Quakers? Reportedly the first Dowd to step on the new continent was in service to King James II and later knighted. Sounds even more unlikely and very much like the mythology of early Quaker settlements, Irish pioneers, and ecumenical councils of the New World, all warmly embraced and blessed by royal charter, barter, and garter. "And with this sword, I proclaim . . .."
Among the family, events were reported with as little detail as possible. Jack and Dot's wedding was reported as "a fine church affair" routinely when the topic was breached. In fact, Jack and Dot were wed by a notary public and a license procured for the benefit of student housing at East Stroudsburg. Married housing was plus nouveau and hard to come by, especially at a small public rural college, in a polite middle-class rural community yet not acclimated to the notion of young folk having sex out of wedlock. The thought of co-eds doing it in dorm rooms alarmed den mothers and church elders alike.
You can imagine then the murmur when Stan showed up for services at First Presbyterian on a motorcycle, in a leather jacket and adorned with dyed red hair. A slow undulating wave of low notes moving back and forth across the nave, all heads bowed in prayer. It was a moment the family had been waiting for, for some time and for some time to come.