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Val Preston’s Memorial Dinner – rememberances
Read by Jon Preston, June 19th, Gibbet Hill Restaurant, Groton MA, .
Hi Everybody. If you’ll permit me, I’d like to say a few words while you continue to eat, drink and reminisce.
First, thank you for coming tonight. I know some of you traveled quite a way to be here and it is really good to see you. I know Mom would be so incredibly happy to see your faces. This dinner was exactly what she wanted. I know, because she told me! Although if she’d planned it herself, there may have been 5 foot ice sculptures, gift bags, and party favors. Mom loved a good theme party.
Speaking of this dinner, Dexter and I would also like to thank my beautiful wife Sarah for all the work that went into making tonight possible. For some of you, the invitation to this evening may have been your first introduction to Sarah. She’s worked for months to bring you all together and we could never adequately express our appreciation for her effort, her compassion and her support over this difficult period. Thank you sweetheart. You are my rock and I love you very much.
So, hopefully you’ve all had a chance to share a few stories and memories about your friend, neighbor, co-conspirator, or cousin Val. And I bet one or two of your stories would dovetail with one or two of mine. But if you’ll permit me, I’d like to share a couple favorite anecodotes that help ME remember my mom, and the way she shaped me into the man, husband and father I am today.
I’ll start with a car. Specifically a 1966 Mustang Convertible, British racing green, dented front fender, straight six with automatic transmission. To me, it was this thing I rode in once or twice but mostly filled the garage and served as backstop for errant basketball shots in my youth. For others it was a symbol of my mom in her youth (and of a dotting father, also known as Big Dexter). It was just last year that my mom sold the car to be restored, on the condition she could ride in it again once it was back on the road. I have a feeling wherever mom is now, she’s got a Mustang parked nearby.
Earlier I joked about theme parties. That reminds me of all the handmade Halloween costumes I sported growing up on Snow Drive. The shark. The lion. Robin Hood. They were always original, lovingly made, and sufficiently warm enough for cold October nights. I’d come back with bags full of candy to find friends and neighbors sitting by the fire drinking, laughing, and generally enjoying the holiday as much as the candy stuffed kids at the door.
Then there was the word processer in the early late 80’s. Cutting edge at the time, this thing had a tiny lcd screen where you could see maybe 50 characters. She’d spend hours with me inputting my handwritten chicken scratch line by line, eventually resulting in a properly formatted (and properly spelled) essay on…. American history or the chemical properties of table salt. Mom always wanted me to put my best foot forward. Mom put in the time to help me succeed.
For my 6th grade graduation, my last day before big, scary jr. sr. high, she surprised me and a few friends with a stretch limo. This light gray Lincoln pulls up to the front door of the school just as everyone is heading out to the busses. It’s stocked with potato chips and cans of coke, and it took us to Kimball’s ice cream for a celebratory sundae. She rode in the car behind us and as we pulled away from the idling busses I felt like I was the coolest kid in school. (Footnote here, I was NOT the coolest kid in school).
When I was growing really fast I needed more than 3 squares a day, so she taught me how to boil water and make my own hot dogs and pasta. That empowerment was absolutely the foundation of my love for cooking, and it stays with me today. Mom was a great cook…always a protein, veggie and starch on the dinner plate. And we sat around the table each night eating whatever she’d put together. Her one rule, passed on to her by my grammie and observed by me in my house today…if you cook, you get to put your back to the kitchen when you sit to eat. “Hot in the kitchen!” she would yell as Dexter and I tore around the house. Thanksgiving? 6 of us? That’ll be a 26lb Turkey and at least 3 jars of creamed onions. No one really ate the creamed onions, but we had LOTs of left overs.
When skiing became my favorite way to spend her money, she hooked me up with a bunch of her friends from Garden club during summer. When we weren’t at the lake, I was mowing lawns and tidying yards for $10 an hour. It destroyed her 1990 Honda Accord with sunroof and leather seats. And my dad had to help me out a few times, but it taught me the value of manual labor and how hard it was to earn the money I so casually requested.
Did you know that McDonalds hamburgers have a pickle slice in them? I didn’t! At least, not until I was old enough to drive myself. See, when mom would order the burgers for me, she’d get first bite. Somehow, the first bite ALWAYS included the pickle.
Then there was the time during high school I came home late to a quiet house. I may have been after curfew, I don’t remember. But I DO remember heading straight for the fridge for a quick gulp of something before heading up to bed. There was a carafe of water in the fridge, never seen it before. I grabbed it, pulled out the glass stopper and took 3 giant swigs…only to discover it was vodka. Classic mom. Crystal carafes full of chilled vodka.
Sarah and I have big plastic tubs full of holiday decorations in our basement, because in the Preston house, every holiday came with thematic pillows, flags, wreaths, figurines and other mantle toppers.
The end of my junior year of college, I was living in London and found out I’d not been accepted for a head resident job in one of Skidmore’s dorms. Typical ME, I didn’t have a plan B. Suddenly I needed a place to live. In the span of 2 weeks my mom found and brokered a lease on, what is to this day, the coolest apartment I’ve ever seen.
My mom did all these things because….that’s what Val did! Sure, she was a mom. And a wife. And a friend. But she certainly added her own bit of flair to each role she played. She looked out of her boys. She was always sent a card. She threw great parties. She made a great martini. And she cherished all of you so dearly.
I’ll wrap up with one last story. This one is from my mom’s childhood friend Linda Wye, who was mom’s maid of honor. Linda couldn’t come tonight, but she told me how she and my mom would get into “harmless mischief” and share secrets while cruising in the mustang. And she shared this little memory.
“One night your mom invited 6 of us to quite the proper dinner with your grandparents. Trying to do everything exactly right, Dick Thomas stuck his fork into a potato and while cutting it, he sent it sailing across the exquisitely set dining room table. His first thought was to slide under the table….certainly he had failed to impress “Dexter and Jeanette!” Your mother doubled over laughing hysterically and your grandparents followed suit. Thank goodness, they had a sense of humor. We were horrified and Dick was so embarrassed!”. I have so many more stories to tell. I hope you, Dexter and all the others enjoy hearing them and celebrating your wonderful mother’s life. I loved her so.
So with that, I would raise a glass to my mom, and I’ll echo what all of you have expressed to me these last few months. Mom, you were loved and you will be sorely missed. To Val!
I have no idea where the last 3 months have gone. It’s like trying to remember the details of your prom (nearly 20 years later). it’s all kinda fuzzy. But the emotions are there, clear as a bell.
There was drama. And there were people. Family, friends, a partner who was going through all the same motions. Nervous energy, ‘time of your life’ energy, ‘better get it right, no do-overs’ energy….typical for something like a prom (or the birth of your son). You don’t have to remember that kind of stuff. You just know it happened. And you are certain it was awesome.
“If you can’t really remember it, how can you say it was awesome?”
Again, it’s just the feeling. Like the exhaustion you get after a long day of grinning and laughing and hugging and frenzy and caffeine and ‘life will never be the same’. You remember that. Also, there are the photos. So many photos! Who needs to remember it all? It’s right there in glossy 4×6 for all eternity. You could put them back to back, flipbook style, and watch the whole thing unfold!
Looking back on the first three months of being a dad I feel nothing but joy and bewilderment. How did we manage to function on so little rest? And how did we emerge without a broken bone, criminal record or markings from a straight jacket?
The only answer I can conjure is…Emmitt. He expects better. We need to ‘set an example’ and all that jazz. We can’t let him down. He’s brand new! We have to make it at least to his teens before he realizes we’re making this all up as we go.
Meanwhile, I’m going to spend more of my energy looking forward. And squeezing those giant cheeks. Folks say these days fly by. At least, I think that’s what they say. I can’t remember, it all happened too fast.
…everything changed. His name? Emmitt Joseph Preston. And unlike his father, who’s five minutes late to everything, Emmitt arrived six days early, and he was booking! Five hours of labor from start to finish. S was amazing. A rock star. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
“And how did it all go?”
First, let me just say…neither S nor I know if the ‘doc’ who delivered the baby was an OB…he just showed up half way through pushing (all 15 minutes of it), did some crazy stuff I’ll spend months trying to forget, and BOOM! “Congratualtions, it’s a boy.” 15 minutes later he’s gone, never to be seen again. Yes, Emmitt came out fine. Yes, S is healing really well. But was he an OB? Who knows! Maybe he just slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night. Did it phase S? Nope. How about when she passed out a half hour later? Did she spook then? Nope. And Emmitt…how’s he dealing with this whole “being born” thing? Very well in fact! Two weeks in and he’s back to his birth weight, times his pees for maximum devastation, amazes his parents and delights friends and family alike. All’s well and as it should be.
“Are you getting any sleep?”
Next person who asks is getting a No-Doze where the sun don’t shine.
“How are you adjusting?”
Weirdest part? A week after my life changed forever, I was back at my desk like it was any other Tuesday. Very surreal. But my co-workers, partners, vendors, and enemies have been amazing. Humans, every one of them. Now if only I could avoid the caffeine withdrawal shakes, all would be well with the world.