I waved goodbye to my parents after a week-long spring visit and watched their rain-wet, silver Rav-4 pull away from the driveway. It curved left with the southward, bloom-strewn arc of our suburban street, and flashed its red brake lights twice before disappearing around the corner in front of the pink and white azaleas at little Baptist church.
My inner voice whispered, “Your father is eighty.”
We celebrated his milestone birthday at one of our favorite restaurants. The waitress brought dessert—a square, stacked, strawberry shortcake heavy with spirals of cream and fat berries and buttery wedges of yellow cake, the words Happy 80th Birthday written across the edge of the plate in cursive chocolate icing letters—graced with a single lit candle.
I remembered my mother’s forty-second birthday, when she was younger than I am now, but seemed so very, dodderingly old to my tweenily egocentric mind. Though I possessed enough forethought to hide her cake in my upstairs bedroom before dinner, my inadequate savvy did not prepare me for the consequences of lighting all three and a half dozen of its candles there. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs I held in my outstretched hands a two-layer, chocolate ball of raging wildfire. I screamed for my father. He knocked back his chair, barreled to my side in no more than five dad-bolting-to-rescue-his-shrieking-daughter steps, and blew out my marbled-wax inferno with the force of the Big Bad Wolf devastating a little piggy’s house.
I can’t remember if any of that cake could be salvaged to eat.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll have my parents in my life. While we did dishes together one evening during their visit my mother said, “I wish I could see your children grow up, and find out what they’ll do with their lives.” They’re young—eight, ten, and twelve—so it’s possible Mom won’t.
Twenty years ago or so my grandmother said to me, with a crackly timbre to her voice that only Grandma could produce, “Oh, Maria. I just hope I live long enough to see you get married.”
She did. At our December wedding reception the videographer recorded her laughter, and the tears streaming down her be-rouged cheeks, as my dear friend entertained us on his guitar with a dedicated-to-Grandma-from-Maria rendition of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. All the guests joined in on every chorus.
Grandma even lived to meet my first two children.
The cast of characters in my kids’ lives is completely different from those who peopled my childhood. My all-male cousins alternately tormented me and inspired me to be a tomboy (when I wanted to play with them) or an uppity princess (when I didn’t). My son, however, is the oldest and only boy drowning in a sisterly-cousinly sea of estrogen. He’s been given an honorary Uncle Society membership card, and serves as the surrogate son for a clutch of men who in their own homes trip over tea sets and jeweled tiaras and Elsa dolls rather than Legos and Nerf rifles and light sabers.
A number of my elder relatives could’ve been colorfully described as Holidays on the Rocks with a Twist. (Or two.) I might not write the way I do today if not for some of the stories I heard, behavior I witnessed, and questionably-ethical card games in which I participated. I’ve forgotten more insults and dirty jokes and swear words than I suspect my dear husband has ever heard, even if he was in the Navy for the better part of a decade.
The aunts and uncles in my children’s lives are all—every single one of them—godly people who reinforce what we’re teaching our kids with the tacit testimony of how they speak and parent and live their own lives.
A few of them don’t drink alcohol at all, though. And I’ll be honest, that bums me out sometimes. Vestiges of my own checkered youth, apparently.
My father is eighty. I have no grandparents left in this world. Some of my aunts and uncles have passed on as well. Everything and everyone I’ve ever loved has gone or will go. As will I, when it’s time for my children to carry on into their future without me, toward lives filled with people I may never even meet.
It’s sweet, this little slice of time we get.