September 10, 2012

A Canuck in Kantuck: A toast to you, my brother

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — On Sunday, I will recite a wedding toast for my little brother Matthew and his fiancée Jennie. My major goal of the speech is to remain dry-eyed. But the very thought of standing in front of a crowd and seeing my brother looking, for once, serious and grown up makes me teary. So, if you’ll be patient with me, I thought I’d share the speech with you as a way to practice it — or at least get it out there so it becomes less intimate. OK, here goes:

Anyone who knows me knows that my little brother Matthew is my favorite person in the world. William and Gabrielle are up there, my mom and Peter and Kristin too, but when it comes to the person who I reserve the softest spot for it’s Matthew. I would wager to say that he’s pretty high up there on a lot of people’s lists.

A few weeks ago, we were all out sitting on the back deck in Edmonton. Matthew and Jennie’s new neighbor Lee, whom I’d just met, started talking about how he’d been helping pull weeds in Matthew and Jennie’s backyard a few weeks ago. After rounding the corner, he ran into his friend Jared, who was likewise busy doing whatever task Matthew had assigned him. Lee looked at Jared, Jared looked at Lee and, at the same time, they wondered aloud:

“What are we doing here?”

“I had a ton of work to do in my own backyard and yet here I was helping out Matt,” Lee said. “And the thing is: I was completely happy to do it.”

That, in an anecdote, is the magic of Matthew’s charm. That’s how he got five guys to get matching, tailor-made suits for this wedding. That’s how he got me to watch “Ghost Writer” everyday after school even though I wanted to watch “Facts of Life.” That’s how he never got into trouble for sleeping in and being late for work. And that’s how he got me to write all those papers for him in high school and university.

It just took him saying, “No, Tara, seriously, no, seriously, write it for me. I love you so much. Really, you’re the best. OK, now start typing.”

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. For a long time, Matthew was just my little, annoying brother who always wanted to play with my best friend Kristin and I. Even back then, he was very insistent so we knew we couldn’t shed him entirely. We learned this hard lesson after singing“100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to him all 100 times in the hopes he would go away.

The kid didn’t budge.

All we could do is give him the most demeaning roles in our games in the hopes he would get bored and go away. That’s how he became the taxi driver when we played Barbies, a role that, you can only imagine, was pretty auxiliary. But Matthew would sit outside my bedroom door with his 16-wheeler truck waiting for us to go somewhere. After about an hour, we’d decide the Barbies needed to go to work, so we’d open the door and Matthew would spring into action. He’d load up the Barbies on the truck and drive them to the bathroom, a jaunt that took about 30 seconds. Then we’d slam the door in his face, and he’d be left to wait until we needed a ride back to our house. Thirty minutes later, he was still there.

The same was true when we played house. I was the librarian, Kristin was the banker and Matthew was our perpetual customer. Our favorite thing to do was feed him in our restaurant, whose menu unfortunately only consisted of corn kernels that sat beside Kristin’s popcorn maker in the basement. We’d pour them into a Tupperware bowl and add a little water to soften them up ever so slightly.

“Voila,” we’d say to our hungry customer and he’d dutifully eat them up, one evening swallowing so many he actually got sick.

But Matthew’s persistence, coupled with his charm, is probably the secret to his success, which, since he’s graduated to adulthood, is already considerable.

There is another big side to him too and this one has to do with his kindness. Matthew is always willing to help out a friend and he’s always there for his family. I remember after my dad died, I found a piece of scrap wood that my dad had kept. On it, Matthew had written, “I love you, dad” using a carpenter’s pencil. I knew right then he’d probably left the surprise in a place for my dad to find days, weeks, months later.

It was actually when my dad was very sick that I feel like I truly got to know Jennie. I won’t dwell on that time, but I can say that this girl is exactly who you want in your corner. For hours, she sat uncomplaining in the hospital. She was there for Matthew unconditionally. She got angry at the same things we got angry over. She listened to our stories. She was just there how we needed her to be.

One night in the midst of it all, she made us the most amazing wonton soup. None of us had much of an appetite, but she went into the kitchen and got to work, mixing up the shrimp and pork filling, boiling the broth, spiking it with fish sauce, and then delicately pinching the wontons closed. The soup was one of the most restorative things I’ve ever tasted and for a while we just basked in the peaceful meal, and the reprieve, that Jennie had gifted us.

Gift-giving is another of Jennie’s trademarks and you can be sure that whatever you get for Christmas and your birthday, it will be beautiful and unique, with a lot of thought put into the choosing. Secretly, I always hope the gift will involve an original Jennie creation, whether a gorgeous scarf or slippers, which she is somehow able to whip together at incredible speeds.

Her creativity also pours into the kitchen, and I look forward to cooking many dinners with my new sister and finishing up the evening with an impromptu dance party.

And so we have two very special people before us who have put together an incredible evening. Here is to your life together. Like this evening, fill it with delicious food, great wine, loving friends and family and, most importantly, each other.

We drink to you.


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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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