My Inheritance, My Heritage
Uncle Lowell invited me to follow him into the bathroom. He reached up high into the medicine cabinet and pulled down an old tube of toothpaste. It was rolled up from the end, bunched and compacted, and resembled a snail. Uncle Lowell unscrewed the cap and handed me the gnarled tube. “Squeeze some out,” he said. I tried, pressing my thumbs, but nothing emerged. “There’s not any left.” Uncle Lowell frowned. “Sure there is. Come on, take some.”
So I tried harder. I pressed and squeezed and worked the tube till my finger joints felt as if they would snap—but nothing came out. Uncle Lowell held out his hand, shaking his head as I returned the tube. “You can always get a little more if you try hard enough,” he said. “It’s a question of attitude.” With his big thumbs, Uncle Lowell began to massage the tube. He pushed. He kneaded. “I’ve used this one all my life. And my father used it before me. His father, too. Some things—” he paused and his face reddened as he bore down, and suddenly, a miniscule aqua squib emerged—“are eternal!”
With his fingertip he wiped off the squib, displayed it in the air as if for a larger audience, and then slowly, deliberately, brought the fruit of his efforts to the tip of his tongue. It disappeared. “Someday,” he said, “this tube will be yours, too.” Traces of blue were visible on his teeth, as if he had bitten off a piece of the sky.