Randa and I have driven for nearly ten hours along the southern edges of three states to be here for this Memorial Day weekend. It is the first time we have seen Jeremiah since he returned from Afghanistan last fall. He and Misty have driven five hours from Little Rock for this rendezvous at Dan and Christie’s home. It is our first time to meet their second daughter.
Isla let me hold her for a little while on the back porch earlier in the evening before she made her preferences more clear. Dan and Christie’s youngest, Dalton, was barely walking when we saw him almost a year ago. He has certainly mastered mobility to a far greater degree and maneuvers a three-wheeler in between a half-dozen chairs on his way from the north end of the porch to the south. He is soon happily pedaling away in the paved drive.
It is Miah about whom I am nervous. She was rather quiet and reserved on our very few visits before this and it has been over a year since the last one. I am unsure whether she will remember me and what reaction she will have regardless of memory. Memory can be a rather capricious creature at that age… or any other.
After supper, I sit for a while in an armless chair set off from one end of an antique dining table. Sons and daughters-in-law visit on other chairs or the sectional set to frame the TV viewing area. Long shadows stretch across the lawn as dishes are cleared from the Duncan Phyfe table with its few ashy-colored moisture marks in the old lacquer finish that colors the walnut veneer.
Miah comes to me and wants on my lap. Soon after, Anne Marie, who is three or four years older than her, joins. I play silly games with them and make silly noises every time Miah or Anne Marie pretends to pull my nose off my face. I pretend to bite their fingers and chew on their arms provoking even more shrieks and giggles. It’s the sort of inanely repetitious thing that thoroughly delights the involved small children and perhaps even more thoroughly annoys everyone else. Before long, Dalton decides to join his sister and cousin and comes to climb onto Papa Doc’s lap along with them.
I begin singing “Camptown Races” and bouncing the little ones up and down on my knees. It’s not the sort of song that brings throngs close to the stage at a Bluegrass festival but it’s a definite hit with these three. Mercifully for all but the knee jockeys, by the time I’ve run through the song three or eight times, it’s time for brushing teeth and putting on jammies.
Next, it’s time for hugs and kisses and for all frogs and fishes to be done for the day. The kids head to bed and the adults head back out to the back porch.
I step out from under the eave into the soft, cool darkness and see the stars as only those who live or travel away from towns and cities ever see the stars. The blinkings of lightning bugs drift across the corn field and pasture. Small voices fade away and I know that I have not entirely wasted my life.