If you have been drawn to this post in search of a steamy tale of sexual escapades or advice on shoveling with a back injury, I'm afraid you've been misled by its title. The "Brace" in question is my friend Greg and he's about to roll with life's punches in an unexpected and dangerous adventure. Still looking for sex or medical advice? You may leave the classroom now if you'd like. The rest of you, please take your seats.
While most people consider themselves lucky to have one loving family, I have been blessed with two. Many years ago, I gained honorary entry into the clan of my best friend, Jenny Booth. (see "Calamity Jen", posted 11/24/09) Holiday gatherings were celebrations of warmth and laughter and I cherished my inclusion in this extended troupe of characters. The sumptuous scent of spiced "Family Recipe" filled the air as we raised our glasses at Christmas. Memorial Day and Labor Day brought the tribe together on the side of a hill in Mansfield, Pennsylvania that was, and is, the remaining parcel of the once-sprawling Booth farm. Tents were pitched and thus began the cycles of food, drink, laughter and conversation that would culminate in a late night game of high-low jack. The faint of heart or overly sensitive needn't have applied to this family; the sound of busting balls could be heard for miles. I loved that sound.
Fun was the order of the weekend and Jenny's cousin Greg Brace was no slouch at bringing it to the table. His wit was sharp and he had inherited his mother Myra's gift of storytelling. He could be found rocking out on a guitar or taking off on his bicycle and was never far from a good time. Having relocated to Beaufort, South Carolina, his presence wasn't always a given, so we made sure to rack up the laughs when we got together. Goodbyes brought with them an open invitation to continue the party in Beaufort, but I have yet to redeem that offer.
Although I remain close with Jenny, I'm afraid my contact with the rest of the family has been limited to Christmas cards and Facebook postings. Caring for my elderly parents took precedence over holiday celebrations, so it's been some time since I've made the annual Mansfield pilgrimage. News does travel my way on occasion, and this week I received an e-mail update about Greg. A life altered by divorce and the loss of his job in construction management had led him to accept an out of state offer - in Afghanistan.
Building had come to a screeching halt. His search for work lasted nearly a year and a half and came up dry. A former associate suggested he join him overseas, as there was a great need for construction professionals. Faced with crippled finances and little hope for industry recovery, he applied for a position, put his life in some form of order and is now in the middle of intensive training in Florida. He ships out to Bagram Airforce Base at the end of the week.
Life is unpredictable at best, but few of us could imagine ourselves up to our 52 year old asses in the sand of a country at war. "They told me to expect 30 meetings a week traveling between the FOB's and the main bases... It is also my understanding that the traveling is the sketchiest part of the job, so I am thinking there will be a fair amount of "sketchy". Some of the travel will be by convoy, some by Blackhawk helicopter, all with a military escort."
An excerpt from an e-mail Greg sent out to family and friends is proof that his strength and humor are in tact and will serve him well on his journey.
"By no means do I have a sense of doom about this; but... Should fate induce me with the "big dirt nap", you guys are in for it. Giving free reign to eccentricity I have requested the largest wake possible. There should be a New Orleans style "Second Line" procession to the wake. If you've never seen one, "YouTube" it. A Dixieland band leads a procession of mourners/celebrants dressed to the teeth carrying outlandish parasols. The music switches between dirges, where the procession solemnly walks heads down, then suddenly kicks into Dixieland jazz, the parasols pop up and wild dancing ensues..."
I believe there will be a parade, but it won't end with a wake. Instead, it will lead to the wildest of blowouts, where Greg's son Nash, his stepson Shay, his parents Myra and Fred, and the rest of the Brace/Booth circus will welcome him home.
Originally from Pennsylvania, I graduated from Penn State University with a degree in printmaking. And so I waitressed-first in my hometown and then at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. I now live in upstate New York with my husband and dog, play bluegrass music and work on my photography skills. I also spend inordinate amounts of time in the gym to ward off middle age as it nips me in the behind.