Twelve years ago, our dad died of a heart attack after eating a pizza. The pizza part is important because some days it ruined pizza for us and some days we pray to the God of Pizza. There are four of us and in this photo, taken 45 years ago, you can see who we were, but you can also see clues as to who we became, all of it spent in a life without our dad, whose death by pizza happened long after he was dead to us.
It's hard to find a photo of the four of us together as children when one of us was not going through an awkward phase, but the awkward phases look cute now (mostly). So, instead of telling you about our dad, I am going to tell you some random things about his four amazing and resilient children.
Lee is the oldest. He is the only one who got blue eyes. He is the grill master in the family. The only time the four of us kids stop talking is when we are eating whatever Lee has smoked or grilled, and there is always a quiz about which sauce or style we like better. When one of us got a new car or a new place to live, Lee was always the first one there to check the tires or bring food to the new house. When I moved to Los Angeles at 16, Lee made sure I knew the name (not the number) of every damn freeway in the city and would quiz me, as if I might be asked one day to name the exits on the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway to win a million dollars.
Lee also has a knack for finding the best doughnut shops. Lee and I are most similar in temperament. He is very upbeat and has a positive attitude most of the time, and the three of us kids like to imitate his chipper way of speaking when he is not around. Lee taught me the most serious baking lesson: The cook always gets the biggest cookie. In typical older brother fashion, Lee got us all hooked on whatever music he was listening to at the time. We all know every James Bond theme song, thanks to Lee. "Live and Let Die" was the favorite. Lee walked me down the aisle when I got married. His favorite pizza is sausage and cheese.
Karen is the second oldest and the smartest. She is actually the funniest of us four, even though most people think that's Tod, but he's just the loudest. She absolutely cannot say anything bad about anything. She can find something good to say about any situation. When Karen was born, doctors told our parents not to expect Karen to live. Lucky for us, she proved the doctors wrong (and proving people wrong became her career choice). She could read by age two; our mother tells us she could drive by age five, but that's not something that's ever been proven. When we were kids, Karen's specialty was cheese toast. Wonder Bread, with margarine and parmesan cheese, grilled in the oven. There were some days this was all we ate or had to eat.
Karen was—and still is—the Queen of Flash cards. So if you have to take a test, Karen is your girl. Karen and Tod are most similar in temperament. Karen made us all read "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" followed by" Illusions." She was obsessed with Richard Bach. She also made us read "The Little Prince" and books about astral projection, which for a little while, she seemed to be able to do. Karen is the one of us who got beautiful bone structure and the Goldberg Gut gene skipped right over her. The other three of us carry every meal we ever enjoyed in the same spot. She is a cancer survivor (thank you, God of Pizza). Her favorite pizza is vegetarian.
Tod is the baby of the family. He got the beautiful brown-skin gene. For much of our childhood, we shared a bedroom. We used to dream of a better place in the future where you could have a machine on your wall that dispensed cold Cokes whenever you wanted. We did everything together. When he played magician, I was his faithful assistant. We spent hours practicing how to be as quiet as possible when we opened a cookie jar to sneak cookies. We called our "team" The Creepy Crawlers. We made up our own language so nobody else knew what we were saying. Tod is dyslexic and used to sign his name as Dot. At nine years old, he loved to read the newspaper and you could always tell where he had been by the newsprint thumbprints on everything. He made handwritten spreadsheets of his favorite sports teams statistics. He LOVES the Oakland A's.
We would spend hours listening to the radio and recording our favorite songs. He would always call the radio station and request the songs we wanted to hear. He also loved very messy peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches but hated using a napkin. He would just wipe his face, little-boy style, on the shoulder of his shirt, which would prompt Karen to tell him, "USE A NAPKIN." His favorite pizza is mushroom and pineapple.
I am the third oldest. The archivist. I am the one who remembers all the details. Lee likes to point out that I tell everyone what I am doing with photo proof. My life has been devoted to making art, mixing media, expressing emotion with paint and photos. I don't need to wear happy faces on my clothes anymore. My favorite pizza is plain cheese with extra parmesan.