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  • Departure Day

    February 22, 2007

    Nothing has been more healing to me this past week than to see Sean interact with my parents. He simply adores them. And the feeling, of course, is mutual. Whereas I shaved about 20 years off their lives back in the 70s, he has added that many years and more back, just in the past week. He makes them laugh, and to hear the three of them giggling together, all caught up in some private joke, is a joyful noise.

    I did not grow up with grandparents. Regrettably. And I guess we all want for our children that which we did not have ourselves. To see his eyes light up when my dad walks into the room or to watch him maneuver to sit next to my mother or hold her hand has blessed me and filled me beyond what I could describe here.

    Yesterday morning at breakfast, my mother mentioned something about when they would be leaving, and no kidding, in mid-bite Sean dropped his fork to his plate. He could not believe his ears. He was incredulous. “You can’t leave!” he gasped in disbelief. “You can’t go!” He searched all the faces at the table for someone who would tell him it wasn’t so. It had not occurred to him that they would ever leave.

    Last night after Antique Daddy had bathed and dressed him for bed, he scampered up the stairs to jump into bed between them to tell them goodnight. Papa Ed tells it that Wivian suggested to him that she might just take him home in her suitcase. “Okay!” he exclaimed. And then he sprang out of bed, dumped all of Papa Ed’s clothes out of his suitcase and onto the floor, tucked himself inside and pulled the lid shut. Then he popped open the lid like a jack-in-the-box and announced victoriously, “See!? I fit!” As if that sealed the deal.

    Then, in the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of teeny tiny jingle bells – the familiar sound of Mr. Monkey accompanied by Sean, both stealing up the stairs to the room where my parents sleep.

    “Sean!” I whispered in my stern mommy voice from the bottom of the stairs, “Get down here! What are you doing? It’s 4am.” He whispered back in a little boy way that is not really a whisper, “Oh, I was just going upstairs to look at Wivian.”

    The image of him kneeling beside the bed, gazing upon the form of my sleeping mother made my heart stop. And in that split second of frozen eternity I allowed myself to wonder what he will remember of her. Maybe nothing more than looking upon the shadow and line of her face in the transparent moonlight as she slept. Maybe only that she adored him. And that would be enough.

    Departure day is upon us and it is going to be a sad, sad day all around.

    And let me tell you, there’s going to be an airport-style baggage check too.

    What You Get For 52 Years

    February 20, 2007

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    It is earlier in the week. We are sitting around the breakfast table. I am not actually sitting, I’m kind of slouched over in my chair with my head on the table because I’m still feeling like last night’s piñata from my adventures in organ removal. But I’m pretending. I’m trying real hard. My parents are reading the newspaper. Sean is being Sean.

    My dad looks up from the newspaper and over his eggs and toast, he says, “Hmmph!” as though he’s just discovered something. And he has. He just noticed the day’s date and that today is their 52nd wedding anniversary. In the chaos and the crazy of the past week, everyone had forgotten.

    Dad scans the heartwarming Norman Rockwell scene around the table: his doped up middle-aged daughter with her face in her plate, his grandson spooning yogurt down his pajamas and his bride of 52 years obliviously working a Sudoku puzzle.

    From the look on my dad’s face, I was guessing that maybe he was imagining himself as a young man standing at the altar of St. Al’s 52-years ago, full of youth and hope, kissing my pretty mom with his hands around her tiny waist. Or maybe he was thinking he just didn’t see this coming.

    Nonetheless.

    Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad. We’ll celebrate next year, except without the morphine.

    Photo: Wivian and Papa Ed, 1955

    Because My Dad Is All That And A Gourmet Cook Too

    December 20, 2006

    In 1965, I was in Mrs. Kelly’s afternoon kindergarten class at Wanless Elementary School. Because my parents were young and poor, my dad worked nights and my mom worked at a bank during the day. That meant that my dad had to look after me in the morning and get me to school.

    My dad has never changed a diaper or gotten involved in the care and feeding of his kids. Most men of his generation just didn’t interact with their kids like they do today and that’s a shame. But that’s just the way it was. In spite of his nearly queasy discomfort with childcare, he took care of me every school day for an entire year. He fixed my lunch, made sure I had on some kind of clothes and then took me to school in our beloved car that we called Clunker #2 (which was later replaced with Clunker #3).

    Every day before school, my dad boiled a hot dog, put it on a fork and served it up on a Correlle dinner plate garnished with a splotch of ketchup for dipping. I remember sitting at the kitchen table eating my hot dog in silence and watching my dad read the newspaper. He didn’t pay much attention to me, but I didn’t mind. Our relationship has always been about just hanging out.

    After lunch, he would stand me up on the bathroom sink and awkwardly try to wipe ketchup off my face as I flitted and twitched and fidgeted. 41 years later, I now understand the difficulty of this feat. Then in an exercise of futility, he would clumsily try to convince a comb through my unruly hair before we headed out the door for school.

    Looking back, my dad was a pretty sorry mom. He would be the first one to admit that. But I don’t remember it that way. I remember thinking he was a gourmet cook, even after hot dog #83. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and being fascinated with how his soft brown arm hair laid around his wrist watch. I remember sitting beside him on the front seat of Clunker #2 unable to see anything but the dashboard and bumping down North Grand on the way to school. But mostly, I just remember it as being a special time when it was just me and my dad.

    And that gives me hope. It gives me hope that Sean won’t remember my many failings and shortcomings and ineptitude as a parent. But that maybe 41 years from now, he will just remember these days as a special time in his life.

    Always

    October 9, 2006

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    My parents left yesterday morning after a week-long visit.

    When you start your family as late in life as I did, thoughts of time and how precious little there is of it, are never far away. When I look at my parents, I have to remind myself that they are not in their mid-40s, but in their mid-70s. I still think of my dad as a lean and wiry young man able to hurdle a 4-ft. fence. And I suppose that when they look at me they have to remind themselves that I’m in my mid-40s and not seven. No matter how many years go by, they’ll always be my mommy and daddy and I’ll always be their baby. After a week like this past one – one that went entirely too fast — I’d drain my bank account in exchange for the promise that I could get more time for Sean, for me, for all of us, before it all comes to pass.

    The day after his Bivian and Papa Ed leave are always hard for Sean. He misses them and it takes some time for him to get over the fact that he is stuck with just me. So this afternoon as I was putting Sean down for his nap, I took some extra time to read to him and for a time, he let me just cradle him. His head rested in the crook of my arm and his long legs draped over the edge of the arm of the rocker. For a long time, we just sat there in silence listening to the sounds of the day – the creaking of the rocker, a lawn mower in the distance, an airplane, a passing car. As I looked long into his face, without realizing it, I wondered out loud “Where did my baby go?” He reached up and touched my face and whispered, “Here I am.”

    When I’m 89 and he’s 46, I’ll still be his mommy and he’ll still be my baby.

    PHOTO: Sean with Bivian who showed him how to decorate a stick wasting using an entire bolt of Christmas ribbon. Liberal usage of ribbon, sissors and tape is just one reason why Bivian is way more fun than Mommy.

    Papa Ed

    June 17, 2006

    I like my dad. Oh sure, I love him too. That’s a given. But I really like him. I always have.

    My dad and I like to hang out together. My parents have a gazebo in their back yard that is enrobed in purple clematis and hanging baskets of pink petunias in the summer. The gazebo rests in the shade of towering trees that were not much more than seedlings when I lived there. Dad and I like to sit out there in the breeze that swirls through and drink iced tea and talk. Or not. Sometimes we just sit.

    Sometimes we venture into the garage and make something. That’s how we got the gazebo. One time we ended up with a grape arbor. And then grapes. Another time we painted a mural of a seascape on the side of the garage. I tell him I want to make something. He tells me why it can’t be done. We go back and forth until he is convinced it is his idea. And then we set to work, the two of us, a team. The only team I’ve ever been on that never kicked me off.

    My dad has a lot of qualities I admire, but the one I’d like to have that I didn’t get (especially now that I’m a parent) is patience. The man is unflappable. I remember one time when I was about nine, my brothers and I were in the living room throwing pillows and agitating one another and just generally being the rowdy obnoxious kids that we were.

    Dad was in the kitchen quietly working on an oil painting. Somehow, one of the sofa pillows went sailing into the kitchen and landed squarely on dad’s painting. He just stopped what he was doing and took the pillow and the painting and deposited them both into the trash. He didn’t even grimace or make a face or even heave a sigh. There was no yelling or well-deserved discipline or even a lecture. If he had only beaten the pudding out of us, it would have been less painful than the silent expression of disappointment. There are many other times when I deserved a measure of his wrath, but it was never forthcoming.

    When my dad comes to my house to visit, we get up early and meet in the kitchen for a cup of coffee and the New York Times crossword puzzle. After I fix him two eggs over easy, two pieces of bacon and a piece of toast, we sit down and work the puzzle together. He doesn’t know who Bon Jovi is. I don’t know what an ogee is. We make a good team, each one making up for the deficiencies of the other.

    I’m a lucky girl. I have a daddy that I love. But I really like him too.

    Happy Father’s Day Papa Ed.

    Unfortunately, It’s Probably Genetic

    May 3, 2006

    The other day as I was passing through the living room, I noticed an arrangement of canned olives artfully displayed on the console table by the front door. Ripe. Large. Spanish. On the window sill, was a tower of fruit cocktail. The sight of canned goods in my living room struck terror in my heart. It was already starting to happen. It’s only a matter of time before I find my dresser lodged in the staircase.

    Since we have taken the baby gates down and Sean has had free reign of the house, I am finding all kinds of unusual things in unexpected places. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the whimsy a can of olives can bring to good home design, because I do. Not to mention what they can do for a martini. But at the same time it scares me because I know from experience that it starts out innocently enough accessorizing with a few canned goods here and there, rearranging a few pictures, sorting books large to small, but it won’t be long before he’s moving furniture. Ask my dad.

    My parents didn’t go out a lot when I was growing up — partly because they didn’t have a lot of extra money for that kind of thing, but mainly because they were afraid of what they might come home to. Anytime my parents went out for an extended period of time, I would get all Laurie Smith and do a Trading Spaces on my house.

    In just a few hours and with no money or a carpenter, I could make over our entire house. I would switch everyone’s bedrooms, taking the largest room for myself of course, and assigning my brothers to my small room. I rearranged and organized everyone’s closets and dresser drawers. I re-hung pictures. I made curtains. Sometimes I even painted.

    My parents never seemed to mind or at least they put up with it. Or maybe they were just too tired to move the furniture back. And they never asked how a 60-pound 9-year-old girl could move a bedroom suite by herself. Or maybe they were just afraid to know. I have always been a remarkably resourceful being with a very strong back and an even stronger will. Although, one time I did get a chest of drawers stuck sideways in the staircase. You might expect that when my dad came home to find his dresser stuck betwixt and between the two floors that he might say something like, “What the hell???…” But no. The only question he asked was “Where were you planning to put this anyway?”

    And that is why finding olives in my living room is so frightening. Because I know it’s just a matter of time before I come home to find my dresser lodged in the staircase.

    The Fine Art of Goofing Off

    February 19, 2006

    Here in the northern reaches of the great state of Texas, it was 85 degrees on Thursday – a wonderfully warm winter day perfect for doing nothing in particular. Sean and I took the opportunity to get out and about in the neighborhood where I hoped to instruct him in the fine art of goofing off.

    Goofing off is best done in pairs. My dad and I, who are similarly wired, have always liked to goof off together. Whenever I’m home, Dad and I still head out to the garage and make something with whatever we find out there. And then we paint it. We won’t know what it is when we’re done. We won’t even know when we’re done, unless someone hollers “Dinner’s ready!” Then we’re done.

    The memories I have of just hanging out with my dad and doing nothing mean nothing and everything at the same time. Nothing in that nothing extraordinarily memorable happened, everything in that we spent a lot of time together over the years (doing nothing) and that means everything. Today they call that quality time, a term I cannot bring myself to use, in the same way I cannot substitute the term dialogue for talk. You may dialogue. I talk. You may have quality time. I goof off.

    Now that Sean is two, it’s time he claimed his heritage and learned how to properly goof off. And Thursday was an excellent day for that. Since Sean is still too little for power tools and paint, we set off together out the front door, hand in hand, with no plan and no purpose, just to see what we could see.

    It wasn’t long before we found a very nice big stick. People skilled in the fine art of goofing off recognize the treasure in such an item. It was perfect for poking into gofer holes, perfect for swatting against the trunk of a tree and perfect for carrying like the staff of Moses. Sean was thrilled with the find. “I gotta cane! I gotta cane!” he exclaimed. “Papa George have a cane!” he reminded me, brandishing it like a saber as he kangaroo-jumped over the sidewalk cracks.

    As we continued towards the pond on our unplanned adventure, we saw a man and his son fishing. Sean held up his stick and a light bulb lit up over his head. “I do go fishin! I do go fishin!” So off we went to the pond to see what we could catch with this fabulous stick. He cast his imaginary line over and over, long and deep, imitating the man and his son. He reeled in a bounty of invisible fish that we pretended to eat. We both agreed that they were the most delicious fish either of us had ever eaten.

    As the sun began to set and the wind turned from the north, I hoisted him onto my back like a mother Koala and we headed back down the path towards home. He wrapped his arms around my neck and as he pressed his face into mine and I felt his eyelashes flutter against my cheek. It reminded me of the first time I felt him move in my womb. It had been a good day.

    When we reached the end of the driveway, I set him down and stole a hug. Instead of pulling away and running off like he usually does, he leaned into me and looked into my face, in a manner beyond his two years, as though he was searching for something. I wondered what he was thinking. Could it be that someday he will remember how his mother looked on this warm winter day? Probably not. Perhaps like me, he will remember nothing in particular, only that we never missed an opportunity to do nothing together. And that will mean everything.