Al Kracht was all ears on the 4th of July

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I watched a man eat a dozen ears of corn on the cob in one sitting. How long ago was this? It was a summer when I was seven years old. How far away was this galaxy? It was at a cottage on Candlewood Lake, a massive, manmade lake just outside of Danbury, Connecticut.

It was the Fourth of July weekend, which is perhaps a part of the reason I still recall this moment. The other reason — other than the sheer bacchanalian, super-size-me idea of consuming 12 ears of corn — is that the man with the rivers of butter on his chin was my godfather, Al Kracht.

Mr. Kracht (I never called him Al) was my dad’s best friend since they were boys, and his wife and my mother were the closest of pals as adults. When I was growing up, our families spent a few weekends together every summer at the Krachts’ house on the lake. My godfather appeared in this column years ago because of the way he passed his time and made a little money in retirement: He would ghost-write personalized, filthy limericks for people to read at birthday, bachelor and anniversary bashes. I don’t know how big a business this was, but it was successful enough that he advertised periodically in The New Yorker. That suggests he did indeed write a lot of limericks about women and men from Nantucket.

Mr. Kracht passed away last month at the age of 83. In hindsight, he had the three things a boy wants most from his godfather: A deep and unwavering loyalty to my family. That cottage on the lake. And a willingness to play pingpong with me when he could have been getting hammered with the grownups.

His appetite for life was large, as evidenced by his appetite for corn. He was a tall, broad-shouldered guy whose eyeglass lenses had to have been thicker than the ice on Lake Champlain in February. He was a hulking presence — he lumbered rather than walked — but his laugh was contagious and in all my memories he is smiling. He was a Princeton graduate and volunteered as the class secretary for easily a third of a century, savoring the way the class notes allowed him to reconnect with people he might not have seen in decades.

He was also a “Mad Man:” A Madison Avenue advertising executive and agency president. Imagine Jon Hamm with Mr. Magoo spectacles and more rumpled suits. Mr. Kracht shopped at Brooks Brothers, but sometimes his jackets and slacks looked like he had slept in them on an overnight flight from Los Angeles. He loved advertising the way some people love baseball.

But most importantly, he was the sort of godfather who was first in line at the first book-signing I ever had, and the kind who would write me long, thoughtful letters when I graduated from high school and college. I still have them. As my older brother reminded me, he also took us seriously when we were teenagers, respecting — often soliciting — our opinions.

It is one of those quirks of memory that when I think of him, I think right away of that summer evening long ago when he devoured all that corn. Why did he do it — other than the fact, apparently, that he really liked corn? Because his three children and my brother and I didn’t believe that he could. Or he would. And so he did.

Now he’s gone, joining my mother-in-law and my friend John Vautier and so many others who have passed away already this year. (I would say this is shaping up to be an exceptionally dark year, but I have a feeling when you reach middle age, this is actually a pretty typical one.) Consequently, tomorrow I will raise my glass and toast my godfather and have an ear of corn in his honor. Perhaps even two.

Happy Fourth of July.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on July 3rd, 2011. Chris’s new novel, HOUR OF THE WITCH, was published in May.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.