The first time I had the feeling was one fall evening after Emily graduated from high school. We lived close enough to the football stadium that sometimes when the wind was blowing just right we could hear the half-time show from our back porch. As I was going outside for something the sound hit me and stopped me cold. I sat down on the steps and cried. They weren’t sad tears to have lost something valuable. They were bittersweet tears of nostalgia mixed in with a feeling of utter satisfaction. It wasn’t that I missed going to the football games and hearing the band again, it was the pure satisfaction at the memory of what we had for a time. The satisfaction that we got to raise our kids exactly the way we wanted.
We did Girl Scouts. We did Sunday school and youth group. We did orthodontia. We did marching band. We got to be the kind of parents that we thought were the right kind. We got to do it our way.
More importantly, our little family became good friends. We love each other. We enjoy each other. We have our own inside jokes. We aren’t perfect parents and they aren’t perfect kids. But in the important things we’re OK. We’re proud of our girls. They pay their taxes. They have good values. They go to work on time and every day. They respect every individual they encounter.
A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the grands from school the instant summer break started and came straight to our house. A place with unlimited ice cream and very few rules. Our tradition for Grand Camp was set back in kindergarten days. We would make a list of everything they wanted to do and we would mark each thing off as we did it. I think “bowling” was about the only thing we seldom got around to and eventually we stopped putting it on the list. But Chuck E Cheese is still popular even though you would think they have outgrown it by now.
But on our second day together, their dad called and announced a last minute trip to Ohio to see his family. They needed to be back in Garland by the next morning. Steve has never been big on planning things in advance. We’ve always known that so it didn’t come as a surprise. But they didn’t really like having their plans changed. Plus, Essie didn’t feel good. She was on Day One of what we would eventually find out was Bronchitis but we didn’t know that at the time. We just knew she had a slight fever and didn’t feel good.
We gave them some time to digest this change of plans. We still had plenty of time for Grand Camp part two when they got home.
They spent most of Saturday in the back guest room with mindless TV. Once in a while Sarah would go outside and sit in the sun. The first few days of summer vacation are spent just letting your mind rest from the previous nine months.
That evening, they both emerged from the back room to plop down on the living room couch. An intangible mood filled the living room like an uninvited but not unwanted guest.
It became clear that they just wanted to hang out with us. I suggested a movie and they found Winnie the Poo on Netflix. All four of us watched it and occasionally told stories of when they were little. Sometimes we even sang along with the songs.
I had a sense that we were living on borrowed time. Sarah will be driving herself soon. With driving comes responsibilities. Our time together will soon be limited in a way it never has been before. Essie will join Sarah in high school next year. She has already changed her name to Elisabeth at school and we are the only ones who call her Essie anymore. Adulthood looms on the horizon.
Last week I went to the funeral for Terry, my step-father for almost 40 years. He had been a part of my life for more years than my own father and was, in some ways, a better one. Terry was a class act all the way. He insisted on a few old-school gentilities, sending Christmas cards with such fervor that last year they were not only a month in advance of Christmas, as usual-- they arrived before Thanksgiving. He rented a house from us for a few years; and usually paid the rent early, apologizing once when he was merely on time.
He was a quiet guy, content to let others talk.
I knew he had been in the army during World War II. I knew he had been training to be a paratrooper, scheduled to land on the beaches on D Day. But he crushed his ankle in a training jump and spent D Day in the hospital instead. But he never said more than that. He was never one to embroider the story.
I found out the day before his funeral why he never talked about it. Betty told me that in the last year he began to open up with more memories. And I found out why he never talked about the war. His whole platoon was killed on D Day, either in the air while their parachute floated down or when they landed. Terry alone survived because he was in the hospital. I guess he preferred to carry that survivor guilt in silence.
I am losing the golden moments with my granddaughters and will have to be content with their memory. Terry had 71 years that no one else in his Army platoon got and preferred to not think about it. Either way, all time is borrowed. We don’t own time. God does. I’m coming to realize that it’s not the length of time that matters, it’s what you do with the time you have.