So many of my memories of you are wrapped up in family events. I’m thinking about an amusing moment embodying the playful love that defined so much of our time together: your and Katie’s 1999 birthday gift to me.
It’s really a generation-to-generation sort of thing, and it started back in perhaps 1989 (as best Mom and I can figure). Katie, Mom and I were in Lenox, Massachusetts, visiting our dear friends Fran and Gerry Weingast as we had done many times through the years. Mom’s birthday arrived while we there and I got her a present from all of us. It wasn’t one that she’d asked for nor would she ever have asked for – the original Nintendo Entertainment System (1st released in 1983). Mom would have been happy to never see one of these in our home, but Katie had wanted it and Mom kept saying no. I’ve always been enough of a tech geek to aid and abet your, Katie’s and Aiden’s childhood wishes of this sort. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to get some play time too.
I dubbed this “The Nintendo Gambit,” congratulating myself on how clever I was in finding such a high-spirited way to bring electronic gaming into our home. If it didn’t exactly have Mom’s endorsement, it still couldn’t have happened without her, right?
She took it well (or so it seemed) but I could tell there were wheels turning inside her head, so I shouldn’t have been surprised (although I was) when my birthday arrived and she presented me with a twinkle in her eye and a very lovely dress. It was a style she adored and, surprise, it was just her size!
Installment number two of “The Nintendo Gambit” had been implemented.
Now children don’t miss a thing, and that has a way of coming home to roost. So when my birthday arrived some years later in 1999, I shouldn’t have been surprised (but I was – I seem to get surprised a lot) to learn that you and your siblings had inherited and fully embraced your parents’ sense of humor. The three of you were overflowing with glee as I opened your gift. It was a game cartridge for our (now) Nintendo 64 system – Mario Party! I’d had no idea! Nor had I any idea that I wanted it. And it was just your size!
Installment number three of “The Nintendo Gambit” had been implemented. Thanks for giving me a turn when y’all were done playing.
In the years that followed, the “Gambit” surfaced in conversation many times. There were threats to implement installment number four but no actual additional crimes have ever taken place.
There were a few moments when it looked like the Nintendo’s days were numbered. A friend of yours once came by for a visit bringing with him his favorite game, James Bond 007, a particularly violent shoot-’em-up the likes of which were unknown in our house. When your friend went home, he forgot to take the game with him, so you and Aiden had some time to play it together. Well, when your Mom walked into the room just in time to see you kill your brother, we thought that might be it. This time, we were all surprised when the Nintendo was allowed to stay. But James Bond 007 left the premises forever, and there soon followed a proliferation of Sesame Street Nintendo games, along with a promise to never, ever shoot your brother again.
It was a long time before violent video games reappeared in our home. Brute Force and Halo (where the enemies were evil, extraterrestrial, non-human things) represented a maternal thawing that would eventually allow the more graphic stuff to be tolerated behind closed doors. So long as Mom only heard about them and didn’t have to witness any creature – extraterrestrial or otherwise – dying in person, there would be no more expulsions.
In July 2005, when you were fifteen, I don’t think we gave this to Mom as a birthday present but a quirky little game called Destroy All Humans! arrived to our home. With it, you moved from killing evil, extraterrestrial, non-human things to becoming an evil, extraterrestrial, non-human thing with the objective of harvesting DNA from people, chickens and cows (yep, by killing them).
Gift-giving in our family has always been a little bit silly. It’s never really about any specific gift, but the opportunity to express our affection for one another through the conduit of a gifted object. Whether it was a can of air from Israel, a toy gun that made little pigs fly, or a roll of masking tape that looked like measuring tape, we loved sitting with each other to see wrapping paper removed and witness that moment when a present’s identity is revealed.
Many of those gifts, if not most of them, are long gone. There are photographs that document some of them, preserving the memory of sweet, cherished times, serving as a reminder of lives shared, and eliciting gratitude for life’s most significant gifts, the ones that never require any wrapping paper. We received nineteen years of them from you, Jonah, and I’ll never cease being thankful, even amidst my unending sense of loss, for the wonder of your being in our family.
The Nintendo Gambit is family life at its best – full of love, humor, and a reminder to enjoy the people you care about, while never forgetting to care about the people you enjoy.
Nine years gone, kid. But you’re never far away.
Love you forever,