In Spite of Everything

In Spite of Everything by Susan Gregory Thomas Read Free Book Online

Book: In Spite of Everything by Susan Gregory Thomas Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Gregory Thomas
invention of a bedtime story he called “The Adventures of Beverly Noodle.” A charming and agile strand of pasta, Beverly Noodle was forever finding herself in tough spots—an icy crevasse, a den of criminals—and, with the help of her kind-hearted, well-adjusted friend and assistant, Sebastian the Donkey, she was always able to rally her singular combination of wit and grit to figure her way out.
    To the extent that Dad would countenance metaphor, there was no question whom he intended these characters to represent. Dad, who extended the Beverly allegory by referring to himself in our workaday lives as the “noodler-in-chief,” was always figuring things out, and I, often tapped in the “noodling” process—Sebastian the Donkey—was henceforth dubbed “the deputy noodler.” I loved being the deputy noodler. The job involved everything from figuring out how to pack a hiking backpack for maximum efficiency to determining which annuals to plant where in the garden based on color and height to more esoteric conundrums like figuring out what quarks were. Although Dad spent his career as the marketing director for various high-level investment funds, his métiers, other than ice climbing, were photography, painting, gardening, astronomy, and geology, and those passions often converged on expeditions, even everyday ones.
    “Now, think about
this
, if you would,” he once posited to me on a run to the local plant nursery when I was around ten. “They’ve just discovered a new particle, and the scientists describe it as ‘the absence of nothing’—now, what in hell does
that
mean?” I considered this and then said that the absence of nothing seemed like it had to be everything. My Dad slammed his hand on the steering wheel. “That’s
exactly
it!” he hooted. “I’ve been thinking about it all week, and
you got it
!” He laughed and shook his head. “Tell you what, there, little darlin’,” he said, grinning at me in the rearview mirror.“What we got us here is not just one drop-dead beautiful
and
one funny-as-hell cookie—we got us one
smart
cookie.”
    Noodler-in-chief and deputy noodler. As I approached school age, I evinced a more demonstrable sense of grit, the trait my dad most admired. In part because one of his heroes was the explorer John Wesley Powell, who famously navigated and mapped the Grand Canyon for the geographical survey of the U.S. government
without an arm
(it had been blown off during action in the Civil War), my dad relentlessly marketed the idea that grit is more important than talent. He would take my brother and me on camping trips in the Sierras, sometimes compelling us to hike—as seven- and five-year-olds—upward of ten miles a day. Ian would flop poutily on a rock and refuse to budge. I’d keep my head down and press on. You always felt incredibly nauseated in the mornings because of the altitude, and while my brother would, understandably, complain, I made it a point to suck it up. “Tough as nails, Suze,” he’d declare with gruff pride.
    But the ultimate honor was the Arctic Trip. As reward for my proven determination to tough it out, Dad made me a special promise when I was around eight: When I turned twelve, he and I would take a trip up to Ellesmere Island. The northernmost island in the Canadian Archipelago, Ellesmere Island appealed to my dad as an ice climber; the place is virtually all icy mountains, and practically nothing grows there. But he was also drawn to what he imagined would be the singularity of the void. “There’s just
nothing
up there,” he’d marvel. The plan was that it would be a “troopers only” expedition, just the two of us: hard-core camping, climbing, and canoeing. We would not bathe; we would eat nothing but Ding-Dongs and Kool-Aid. “I bet you and I will be the only two crazy honkies up there, Suze-o.”
    Did I really have a well of native grit, or did my love for my dad—and fear of losing my deputy noodler status—compel me

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