The first was a misrepresentation and the other a lie of omission. Since May 12 I’ve been on the East Coast, but I couldn’t tell my dad or my readers. To do so would have ruined the surprise 80th birthday party we’d planned.
When he recently asked if I’d be coming back East any time soon, I prevaricated. Since he reads my blog and follows me on Facebook, I couldn’t suggest meet-ups with Surviving & Thriving readers in Manhattan or South Jersey. What, and ruin the surprise?
And it was a surprise, especially since his 80th natal day took place back in March.
At about 3 p.m. yesterday, Dad and my stepmom, Priscilla, headed to a cookout at my brother’s place in Cumberland County. A minute or two after he arrived and was greeting grandkids and great-grandkids, my sister and I walked in: “Hi, Dad.”
This is him a little while later, laughing at the candles that spell out #You’reOld:
He had no idea that she and I were coming in from Seattle and Anchorage, respectively. In fact, he’d called both our homes the night before only to be told that my sister was on a women’s retreat and that I was out with my friends.
Not entirely lies, either one. My sister and I have had a great time chatting together and with my brother’s wife, a niece, our stepmother, an aunt and a 9-year-old neighbor girl who dropped in almost daily.
Cupcakes at top volume
Saturday, party day, was yet another in a long string of rainy-and-cool days the region has experienced lately. It was warmer in Anchorage the other day (71 degrees, a new record for the date) than it was here.
We had cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, chicken wings from BJ Roasters in Millville and pizza from Big John’s in Bridgeton. I’d made a batch of rice pudding from my great-grandmother’s recipe (Dad’s favorite dessert). It’s possible some crudités were were available but mostly I remember the wings and the amazing cupcakes. My sister-in-law baked them from scratch, filled each with homemade buttercream and topped them with fudge frosting.
Much laughter, much hilarity and a tremendous amount of noise. In my family everyone talks at the same time yet we all seem to understand what everyone else in the room is saying.
When I needed a break from the racket (I’d forgotten how loud we can be), I wound up hanging with a great-niece and great-nephew with whom I’d previously had little interaction. Ultimately we spent a couple of hours together: playing with some dollhouse furniture, making words on a Scrabble For Juniors board, and watching and re-watching a Facebook video of another couple of great-nephews jumping on a trampoline.
The great-niece, a preschooler whom I’ll call “Emily,” found this video endlessly funny. A sprinkler was running under the trampoline and one of the jumpers’ shorts were so soaked they kept sliding down. The half-glimpse of his underwear had her laughing so hard she almost fell off my lap.
In fact, all I had to do was keep repeating, “Dude, pull up your shorts. Nobody wants to see your underpants!” to have Emily gagging with amusement. No matter how many times we watched it (I lost count at 12) it was still entirely hilarious. Then again, she’s three years old. And, yeah, “underpants” is a pretty funny word.
So far away
These gatherings are great while they’re happening but leave me with a sense of wistful sadness. Even though I don’t want to live here, I do wish I could be closer to relatives.
Yes, I’m where I want to be (and with whom I want to be). Yes, we have an airport and I visit/am visited fairly regularly. Still, the chance to jump in a car and go see a parent/sibling/cousin/old friend within an hour’s drive has a strong appeal. So does walking to my childhood church in about four minutes, as I did this morning.
Due to a prior commitment, Dad and Priscilla had to leave a few hours after they arrived. Tomorrow he’ll drive back down and ferry my sister and me to where they’re living now, in the Erial/Sicklerville region. And yes, it’s about an hour away.
We’ll get a look at the remodel, have some lunch, visit a little longer and then it’s off to the airport. It will be fun, but imbued with that same sense of melancholy: I have to leave now. It’ll be a long time before I see these people again.
I wish I lived closer so that I could have that connection. As I noted in another essay, “No one understands you like the people you came up with, even if your paths diverged 40 years ago.”
Fact is, I made the choice to leave the region. With that choice came a melancholy corollary: that my time with loved ones is limited. Happy birthday, Dad, and I hope you don’t take the distance personally.