The Family Liar

Liar, liar, pants on fire.As one might expect, I hail from a family of storytellers (read: entertaining fibbers). Both sides of my lineage (the Greco and Anglo, in this case) each make a claim to some order of narrative provenance (the Greek side claims to have invented the form, though I’m sure a few early homo sapiens huddled around ye olde campfire might have first filed that copyright). The Anglo side, or more specifically the Irish side, split their namesake county at the tail of the Irish Diaspora, only to start another Howell County, rather improbably, in Missouri. After later burying half their brood in the Dripping Springs Cemetery, a splinter faction made for warmer climes and finally came to wine country, turned Napanese, and laid claim to Howell Mountain.

Our family lore is rife with tales of chicanery, fierce love, bald criminality and cruel capitalism, awash in an undercurrent of booze and madness. Or so I’m told. Separating the sense from the sensational is as much a family sport as telling the tales themselves. In this regard, our sister Dasha is the true storyteller.

An academic by trade, Dasha has filled her head with profound and trivial knowledge in equal measure. She can spin endless Chaucerian yarns about bed-hopping medieval milliners, but, it’s the tales from her own life that I find the most fascinating. Though she is only two years older than Dart and I, she has amassed enough biographical material to make our shared memoirs look as thin as a travel brochure. The hazard with Dasha, however, and I say this with all due fraternal love, is that one never knows where the story ends and the embellishments begin. That’s not to say Dasha is a liar – she’s a storyteller and takes the liberties requisite to interpreting and translating a narrative (a nip here, a tuck there, an occasional shipwreck and abduction by drug smugglers there – “Why not?” she’d shrug, exhaling a plume of her Gallic cig).

One story Dasha tells that continues to live in my imagination takes place in a diner in Montana where she waitressed during an unseasonably cold ski season. A thug blustered in brandishing a revolver, pistol-whipped a busboy and rifled the cash register. That is, until Dasha slammed him upside the head with a coffee pot (in her telling, the coffee was decaffeinated). She became a folk hero to the locals, got her picture in the paper and met the mayor. During the hullabaloo, officials neglected to inform Dasha that the assailant was permanently blinded by her heroics. When she learned this months later, she was devastated. By the following summer she had made the man’s acquaintance and regularly read to him in prison where he was serving a couple of decades for attempted murder (the bus boy’s contusion developed into a life-threatening hematoma). What she read to the prisoner was typical Dasha: Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” After that, she asked the prisoner what he would next like her to read. “The auto ads in the newspaper’s classifieds,” she reported, deadpan. “Why not? They’re kind of like haiku. ‘1978 Chevy 2WD Pickup. Runs great, good tires. $700.’ Can you believe it?”

No, I’m not sure I can entirely believe it, but leave it to you to find redemption in the absurd. It’s rather like your brother searching for forgiveness in the folds of a newspaper because he missed your birthday while thwarting an art theft from the orphaned scion of a sugar plantation, whose Belgian nanny attempted to seduce me and, failing, poisoned my tea and left me for dead, rolled in a blanket aboard the dining car of the Starlight Express. Can you believe it? I don’t. Happy Birthday, Sis.