As the trip to Mankato progressed, we all regressed until we ranged in age from seven to 14 years old. The car was full of giggling, familiar and well-worn jokes (What is the definition of "expert?" An unknown drip under pressure!), hysterical observations about each other, remember that time when . . . . ?, a discussion about brother Stephe's collection of LP sound tracks from musicals, which explains why we all know the words to every song from South Pacific, including the part in Bali Hai where a scratch causes the lyric to go "stray in the stray in the stray in the" indefinitely, when it's supposed to say (just once) "shine in the streams," and why I can recognize an awful performance of the score to Oklahoma as rendered by Silver City, NM musicians, and how come Stephe never bought a copy of Brigadoon? And how Stephe, whose name in a former life was "Stephen," didn't want to be called Step-Hen and once held me upside-down by the ankles for that infraction, and also because I applied floor wax to his glasses, which actually made them really clean and shiny when he made me clean them off.
Our hilarity continued at Appleby's in Mankato, where the staff wisely put us in a back room so we wouldn't offend the dignified Minnesotans dining there.
At the hotel, Becky and Robert had a comped room on the first floor--Becky got it with frequent-flyer miles. The thing about a complimentary room is that they don't give you the best one in the property. Their room was next to the recreation complex, where a bank of pinball machines erupted with automatic jangly electronic utterances all night, attempting to attract passersby to come on in and give up their quarters. Speaking of quarters, Bill related why he doesn't gamble. He was in Las Vegas once (nobody can remember why) and tried to make a phone call, but the pay phone ate his quarter without putting the call through. That was all the proof he needs that he should stay away from the slots.
Next morning we drove on south to Joyce's farm. She ushered us to the cemetery, where Gen's 12"x12" grave (next to her grandmother, Lydia) was covered by a piece of weathered plywood sitting behind her marker on which somebody thoughtfully placed the modest flowers we ordered:
The marker was supposed to say (per Gen's instructions) . . .
Genevieve Fern Etta
Mother of Susan Lydia, Lucinda Jane, and Rebecca Jo McKinney
. . . but the marker people explained it would require a stone the size of the state of Delaware to carve all that in, so we settled for the relationship we believed was most important to Gen. I hope she doesn't mind. She was concerned that she might not be laid to rest next to her grandmother and we got that one right.