Tuesday, July 29, 2014

‘In ways we cannot be … even in memory'

Anyone that knows me knows that I had a very special relationship with my grandparents. Though they passed on many years ago, I still speak of them often, and there is not one day that goes by that I don’t think of them. When I was a young boy, their home was my home.  I was there five days a week after school, from about 3 to 5 p.m., when my Mom would pick me up after work. And in the summers, she’d drop me off at about 8:30 every morning and I’d be there all day. I probably spent just as much time there, if not more, than my own house. I even had my own room there.

And I loved it.

I always felt complete love there. My grandparents didn't seem at all burdened with the fact they were essentially babysitting a young boy everyday during their golden years. They seemed to love having me there. My friends from the neighborhood were all welcome there. We’d play in their yard and all throughout their house all day. Lemonade was always there for everyone. Lunch, too. They even put a pool in their yard, just for me and my friends, which came with only one rule: nobody goes swimming unless grandpa is in the yard supervising.

It was good rule.

And they were good people.

I could probably write a mini-novel about my memories of that house. And though I haven’t been in it in more than 30 years, I can still remember everything about every room in it. From the pattern of the linoleum on the kitchen floor to the sound the back screen door made when it closed, it is all as clear to me today as when I was eight years old.

And the nice thing is, sometimes, I go back.

Not literally. But in dreams. They don’t come as often as I’d like, but when they do, I always wake up feeling like something special has happened. Sometimes, I’m a young boy again, and it’s summer, and everything is as it once was. Sometimes, I’m the age I am now, and I go inside, and my grandparents are still there, and we chat. I call these dreams “visits,” because that’s really what I like to believe they are.

I can still recall the first time I had such a dream. It was around 1986, which was eight years after my grandpa had passed and only two years after my grandmother had passed. I was about 18, and I must have not been feeling well, because I had never been one to nap, especially at such a young and vibrant age, but for some reason, on a beautiful summer afternoon, I fell asleep. And, for the first time in about five years, I found myself back at my favorite place: my grandparents’ home.

I still remember the feeling I had when I woke. It was wonderful.

Sometimes, the visits are in full color. Sometimes, they have a sepia tone to them. Regardless, they always feel remarkably real.

Some years ago, one of my favorite bands, The Badlees, recorded a song called “A Fever.” The first time I heard it, it resonated with me. It reminded me of my visits.

Some of the lyrics:

“I dream of you
In light as blue as neon when it's blue
Past visions of rolling hills
In movie stills
A panoramic stew ….

A fever's brought me close to you
In ways we cannot be
A fever's brought me close to you
In ways we cannot be
Even in memory”

I have made a little slideshow here of some photos of my grandparents, set to the song:

I share this today with some family and friends because it was 30 years ago today that my grandmother passed. It is hard for me to comprehend that it has now been three decades since I have talked with her, and even longer since I've seen my grandpa.

I hope to see them again someday.

But for now - in ways we cannot be - I'll take the visits. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Blessed to have two ...

Those that know me best would probably note that I have always been a very reflective person. I often tend to look back on things from the past, but with today’s perspective. It is actually something that I enjoy. When I'm not doing that, I'm usually looking ahead and preparing for what’s next. That’s fine, too, but by doing both of those things too much, you can sometimes lose sight of the present. And you might not appreciate it. And though I recognize that living in the moment has never been something that I've been particularly good at, I can honestly say that such is not the case when it comes to my two children. When I am with them, I am very much right here, right now.

And I consider this a gift that they have given me.

Driving home from an amusement park last night, just the three of us, I realized that these days - right now - are some of the best days of my life. Putting my arms around them and holding them tight as we went on some of the park’s more adventurous rides is something that, well … I know these are things that will not last. My five year-old son telling me he would like to ride the mini roller-coaster, but only if I rode with him, are moments that, even while they are happening, are very special to me. And, thankfully, I was well aware of this as I held him close as we rode. The joy on my seven year-old daughter’s face as we emerged - completely saturated - from one of the water rides is something I will never forget. Her eyes - like the Irish girl that she is - seem to gleam even more when she smiles.

Taking them both to Yankee Stadium last weekend to their first MLB game provided for another moment, or series of moments, that I will never forget. The thrill in my daughter’s voice as we pulled into the Bronx and she spotted the stadium for the first time will stay with me forever. As will her funny but astute observation about the place, which she made from her seat in about the sixth inning:

“This is big.”

Every time I go back there, for the rest of my life, I will also always think of my son’s favorite part of the ballpark: the escalators, which he pronounces “excavators.”  He seemed happy to see Derek Jeter play baseball, but I also think he would have been happy to simply ride the stadium “excavators” all day. I suppose I could have saved a few hundred bucks and just taken him to Boscov’s. The boy always makes me smile.

Parents with older children often tell me to “cherish these days.”

Trust me. I am.

Though life often twists and turns in many directions, and though change is always in the air, I am – when it comes to my precious Mary Ann and A.J. – well aware that these are some of the best days of my life, and that these are days that I will someday look back upon and perhaps long to revisit. I am also well aware that being their father is the most important thing I will ever do, and that I am blessed beyond words to have them in my life.

Some people wish they had but just one thing to live for.

I have two.