I have no idea what the three animals in the title have in common, and I have no idea why someone would string them together. The librarian in me (don’t all English majors have a librarian alter-ego stashed somewhere, deep inside?) is happy they’re alphabetical order, but after that I’ve got nothing.
However, we all knew what we were. Sarah and I preferred to be beluga whales. It sounded more elegant than the other options. My mom’s younger brother’s kids, who now are five in number, loud as heck, and all under the age of twelve, were and still are beasts. My brother was an ape, clearly. Jana and Beth Ann were never really classified, and their sister Sarah and I worshipped them in their preteen glory. They stood above the rest of the menagerie.
Though some days, we weren’t a hoard of wild animals. We were pu-unks—two syllables there. But most often we were known by our individual nicknames. My brother and I were known respectively as Keiten Delaney and Ibby-ibby-abba-abba-do (say it like you’re saying Scooby-dooby-doo!). The grandchildren weren’t the only ones with aliases; my mom was Sweet Dena Beerbread. Her little brother was simply Tuff. My dad, once he married into the family, was only ever called Rand, which I’m sure he didn’t mind because he always kept a bit of distance from his wife’s crazy clan.
My grandma had nothing to do with the wild monikers. She bustled around us, offering us love in the form of pancakes, hot chocolate, cookies, and hugs, and she continues to do the same whenever I visit her. It was my grandpa, Allan Vis, who was the ringleader of the circus I call my extended family, although he didn’t call himself that. He called himself Alvin Visser. He was the life of the party, the grandmaster of the exuberance that I remember from nearly every Christmas I had as a child.
Grandkids were not the only beneficiaries of his love. He was a friend to all children—in a Mad Men era when men came home from work and drank a scotch while reading the paper, he was out playing ball with his kids and their friends. My grandma would call her four children and her husband in for dinner. She even remembers neighborhood rugrats coming to her door and asking if Al could come out and play.
Nearly every memory I have of him is of a man larger than life (it helped that he definitely had to shop in the Big and Tall section of the store), full of laughter and joy.
Perhaps my favorite times with him, though, were spent waltzing. I would step on his slippered feet, my head only reaching his stomach and my arms around his waist, and we’d rock back in forth to music he softly sang.
I have to waltz on my own now.
Libby Stille (’13) lives in St. Paul and works in the marketing department of a children’s publishing company in downtown Minneapolis. She recommends that everyone visit the Twin Cities, but only between June and October, unless you enjoy subzero windchills and slipping on ice.