Which is useful in a house that you can tell serves as a gathering place, for the teenagers and their pals, for his wife's dance troupe, for family and for friends. "He built a big home," his old friend tells me. "And he's generous with it. He extends himself, to his siblings and their kids, to friends, to charities. He's providing for his children what he didn't have when he was a kid." And you can feel Dubus's welcoming presence manifested in this building, a quality that goes beyond skylights and beams and a big fireplace.
A photograph in a hallway halts me. A black-and-white picture of Dubus and his dad, both men in profile. The son stands behind his father, his arms around him. The glimpse is quick — Dubus is moving fast down the hall — I want to look longer on it. The image lingers in my head — blood, the ties that bind.
In one of the most memorable scenes in Townie, an episode where violence is almost inevitable, Dubus puts fighting behind him. He retires his fists. He was on a train when it happened. In "Giving Up the Gun," his father writes of the moment he decided to get rid of his weapons. He, too, was on a train. Both these train rides, one in England, one from Oregon to Illinois, took place in 1990. One wonders if the two men ever spoke about it, these train-ride transformations, knew it took place for each other, or if these moments were linked silently, a familial echo that transcended conversation, joined by "something far deeper, into blood and bone and spirit and what comes after we all leave this earth," as Andre the son writes in Townie.
"I was lucky I didn't kill someone," Dubus says to me.
"With my luck, I'll kill someone," Dubus senior writes of his decision to put away his weapons.
In "Giving Up the Gun," Dubus senior gave himself over to the "frighteningly invisible palm of God." Dubus III gave himself to words. "It was the daily act of using words that gave me the courage to start talking instead of throwing a punch," he says. It's dark and even colder now, and we're back in the truck, driving to the train station. Dubus doesn't go to church the way his father did, attending daily Mass. "If I have a theology," he says, "it's a line from a Tom Waits song: 'There is no devil, there's just God when he's drunk.' "
Dubus still isn't all the way comfortable with the abundance in his life. "If you're a fish," he says, "it's hard to know how to fly." He'd shown me where he'd grown up. Tough and poor. The town next door was worlds away. The life he lived was worlds away. "I drive around sometimes," he says as we turn off his road, "and I just say 'Thank you.' "
Nina MacLaughlin blogs at carpentrix.tumblr.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.