This past week, my eight brothers and sisters and I have been sharing memories of our father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. We’ve told stories most of us have heard a million times, but that carry new meaning now. As proud as we are of his legacy as a jurist, of course it’s his presence in our personal lives that we’ll miss the most.
My own most vivid memories of Dad are set at the kitchen table. Someone once said to my brother, “You must have the most fascinating dinner conversations.” We always get a good laugh out of that one. It’s true that we’d often discuss law, history and politics. But Dad’s running gags ensured our kitchen would never be mistaken for a salon. Poor conversationalists got it worse than an unprepared lawyer during oral arguments: If anyone said “um,” Dad would lead a chorus of “ummmmmmms” to spotlight this oratorical shortcoming. Sometimes the umming would spiral into a rendition of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” (After his confirmation hearings, we were more than happy to point out that he had often said “uh” to the senators.)
Even when dinner conversation proceeded “um”-free, it could still descend into another of Dad’s favorite pastimes: crumpling his napkin into a ball and throwing it into one of our glasses. Counterattacks were futile, equipped as he was with a narrow wine glass.