|A Year Of Lasts|
September 8, 2006 - Friday
This is a tough one. In the past, when writer's block prevented me from putting two words together that made any sense, I knew there was something of greater urgency that must be resolved before I was free to go forward. So it is today; facing the inevitability of a year of, "lasts." The last time to go through the routines and traditions that have begun each school year since kindergarten and will inexorably lead to separation from the security and familiarity that family has provided all of us.
The last of our five children is about to begin the process of distancing himself from home. The conflict is the same as it was when he began to prepare for his first separation from mom, at eighteen-months-old. The will to walk away verses the need to hold on to the safety of home. This early developmental step was accompanied by many battles, all with the same childish refrain, "I can do it by myself." I expect no less with this last developmental stage of childhood.
I remember when our son was about three months old; we dressed him in his cutest, going out to Saturday morning breakfast clothes. Striped railroad overalls, including the red handkerchief tied into a V around his neck and a striped engineer's hat. We lived in Chesterton, Indiana where there is a working train track about every fifty feet, so it was appropriate attire.
Everyone in Chesterton went to Leonard’s for breakfast on Saturday mornings before starting weekend chores. It was a time to visit gossip and eat huge plates of eggs-over-easy, mounds of crispy hash brown potatoes and thick slices of ham. Hot coffee was poured before you could get situated in a red plastic booth patched with strips of matching duct tape. They covered long slits in the seats, made by years of little girls wearing shiny buckled shoes scampering across them.
On this particular morning the air was warm and fragrant from the barrels full of pink roses growing outside the front door. The sun shone on the gazebo, situated across the street in the center of the Town Square. The glare sliced through the open venetian blinds at Leonard’s Cafe. Our son rocked contentedly in his convertible car seat, tucked between the wall and me.
Everyone passing our booth stopped to say good-morning and dip down to the infant seat to make a silly face or sound. The sounds most like Donald Duck were rewarded with a wide smile and a flurry of kicking feet and arms. We took our first sip of hot coffee when the café door opened and a young couple stood grinning in the doorway. As more folks noticed the couple, applause began somewhere in the back of the room followed by shouts of congratulations. Before the couple reached a seat, everyone was clapping and cheering.
Graduates of Chesterton high school, everyone in town knew them and their families. They had been married the night before at the First Methodist Church. As the couple made their way toward the back of the restaurant I watched the young man, broad shoulders, open friendly smile, blue sparkling eyes, and only slightly embarrassed by all of the attention. I looked down at our infant son and in a flash I knew there was only a moment between the sweet baby boy rocking happily next to me in the booth and the young man standing proudly with his arm around his new bride. I thought my heart would burst.
This was our fifth child; all of the others were out of high school and on their own. I watched years pass before my eyes, like a freight train running down hill. Tears crawled slowly to the side of my eyes and picked up speed as they reached my cheeks bright pink with embarrassment. I began to empty the shiny aluminum napkin holder, sitting on the end of the table, as the stream of tears picked up speed. I turned to explain how I felt to my husband, but the painful expression emanating from his eyes as he struggled to smile and applaud the young couple making their way to a booth, made it clear we saw the same road ahead.
One of the women sitting in a booth behind me patted my shoulder, reassuringly. She was sitting with a group of older women, whose children were off at college or married and living states away. They met for breakfast every Saturday morning. I tried for a smile, which turned into more of an unconvincing twitch. The woman passed the napkin holder from their table, over the seat, holding a few napkins back, tucked tightly in her grip.
I was forty-two years old when I had our son and learned one fundamental truth. The blink of an eye that it takes for the years to pass is made up of long days and short years. In a few days, I will be sixty years old, my son is driving his, environmentally friendly, Hyundai Accent off to the first day of his senior year of high school, and I am sitting in my office waiting for this very long day to end. I will treasure each of the six words I wrench out of my son, about the first day of school. In the morning, I will go to the café of our small town, and for the last time join my friends for coffee, before the beginning of another short year.
* I wrote this journal entry just over one year ago. I meant to update it this August when our son left for college. He was so excited, living in a fabulous suite with three other students in downtown Chicago. There are more people living on the floor his dorm room is on than in our whole town. But the truth is I cannot write about this yet. There is not an adequate word for the pain in my heart.
Family and friends tell us we should be happy for him, for this great opportunity. We are grateful for our blessings. But, the greatest blessing of our lives is not here in the evening to play his guitar or laugh at Family Guy or read us his latest satire on the political campaign. There is only silence.