Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Before there was the first, there was the second

Note: this post is not [directly] about science, but about the family I grew up in. Sister and I are thinking of writing out some of our family stories. It might make a good children's book.


Many years ago, while we were a little bit younger, but already scattered to our adult lives, I got the call. “Sister—The second-worse fate that could befall Father has now come to pass.” I was flooded with visions of amputated limbs, or fathers at the bottom of the well, or the lake—but surely these are examples of the first-worse-fate, right? And if so… what could be the second?  “”Wha…wha… happened?” I think I might have said. “Mushrooms,” said Sister. “Bad mushrooms.”

This I understood immediately. During our childhood, Father led mushrooming trips any chance he could get with Sister and me dutifully tromping behind in the woods. Father would hunch down next to a specimen, the glossy, heavy-paged Audubon Society identification book in hand, muttering: “‘choice, edible?’ Or ‘toxic, poisonous’?” Then Sister and I would cringe together as Father took a small test nibble.

Mushrooms also appeared later*, after they had taken on additional meanings. During these post-college days, one or the other of us would get a chance to visit Father, and share the north country adventures over the phone with the other sister, stuck back in her normal life. Once, in the midst of an intense series of synchrotron experiments, I got a call from the ADKs, and there was no small talk:  “Burr [childhood nickname]--We have just eaten a pile of mushrooms we collected earlier. We are over 90% sure they are ‘choice, edible’ but there is a small chance they are ‘dangerous, hallucinogenic’. We sautéed them in butter, garlic and ‘herbs’ and they are delicious. If we don’t call you back in 30 minutes, then call Nick and Tammy up the hill. Bye.” Click. Yikes.

Sister and Father called after 30 minutes to report no physical or perceptional incident. And Father also survived the second-worse-fate-to-come-to-pass, which probably happened when a bad lookalike was collected along with the shaggy manes. It only caused about two days spent more dependent on indoor plumbing than Father is accustomed to. 

And the first-worse-fate? Well, I don’t yet know how it ends, and I might not be the one to best recount it. And in the end, the scenario ordering is subject to re-arrangement. Only Father can say which was actually the worst, during the living of it.

* Am I allowed to write: “Mushrooms appeared sporadically.”?