A few days ago, I placed a photo order online and the prints have now arrived. Two of them I had made specially for my mom. One is a picture of Tigger, her cat. He has lived with me for two years now, but he’ll always be hers. I had emailed her a close-up that I had taken of Tigger lying on my bed and she had mentioned she would like a print. The other photo is one of all eleven of her grandkids. I took the picture on Thanksgiving Day last year when the whole family was celebrating at my house. My sister and I managed to gather all of the kids at once. It was an unusually warm day for November and we led the whole group outside to the deck. We got the little ones to sit still long enough to pose for a picture with their bigger cousins on the back steps. This picture, she already has an 8 x10 framed copy, which I mailed to Arizona last year as part of my parents’ Christmas gift. She left that copy in Arizona and hinted she’d like another print for at home. It’s a warm Friday evening and I’ve got little motivation to do anything productive after a long day at work, so I decide to walk the pictures over to my parents’ house on the next block.
There’s a cool breeze blowing as I stroll through the neighborhood, my sandals flip-flopping against my heels. Rounding the corner onto their street, their house becomes visible. It’s the second one from the corner and I see my brother’s white pick-up truck parked in front. I wonder if it’s just him stopping by for a quick minute, or if the whole family is there. When I approach the house, before I can even open the front door, my eleven year-old nephew, Zach bursts through it and wraps an arm around me. Soon eight year old Hannah and five year old Josh are bouncing and chattering in front of me, waiting on hugs too. I ask where their brother, Alec is, but I’m not sure anyone hears me and an answer never comes. Seeing my brother, Craig standing by himself in the kitchen, it’s clear to me that Alec and his mom are not here.
While I try to disengage the tangle of little arms and legs from around me, my mom’s face lights up and she welcomes me inside. I’m still wearing the casual skirt and short-sleeved v-neck t-shirt that I wore to work and she comments on how nice I look. After all of my tom-boy years, it’s probably still a pleasant surprise for her to see me in a skirt.
My dad and Craig greet me, somewhat absently as they are wrapped up in conversation. They continue as I hand my mom the shipping envelope in which the pictures were packaged.
“What’s this,” she asks? She’s obviously forgotten her requests and in all honesty, it’s been a while since she made them and she most likely thought I forgot all about them.
Before I can answer her, she pulls them from the envelope and a pleased, “Oh!” escapes her lips. “You didn’t have to do that,” she scolds, but I tell her I was ordering a bunch of other prints anyway and it was no big deal. The pictures make her happy, and that makes me happy. She’s busy offering them to my dad and Craig so they can see too.
“Oh, yes! Very nice,” my dad is saying and Craig nods in approval. Before long, though, they wander outside to do who-knows-what. Maybe look at the garden or tinker with the lawn mower. My dad loves to be outside, especially now that he’s got his strength back and I’m glad Craig is there to keep him company.
The kitchen is quieter now and it gives my mom and me a chance to talk. Josh has settled in the living room. He’s laying on the couch, absorbed in some t.v. show. When I glance over my shoulder, I can see the arm of the couch, but not his head. All I can see is his little leg swinging outward in time to some rhythm only he can hear.
My mom is telling me about what’s going on with her neighbors and Zach is standing near the table where we sit. He is listening quietly and I notice there is writing on his arm. There’s a heart next to the name, “Emily.”
I ask him, “Zach, why is there writing on your arm?”
He smiles, embarrassed and just shrugs. But Hannah is quick to answer. “He has a girlfriend,” she says, dragging out the word girl and looking at him with a taunting smile.
“So what,” he says, trying to look cool. “You have a boyfriend.”
“I do have a boyfriend,” she admits proudly. “I have a boyfriend and Zach has a girlfriend.”
“You can’t have a boyfriend yet,” my mom teases her.
“Yeah. You’re too young for a boyfriend,” I add.
“That’s what Mom and Dad say too,” Zach throws in for good measure.
Hannah smiles, shrugs and bounces back to the living room where she flops herself into the over-sized recliner to join Josh in front of the t.v. Zach decides he’s had enough of the adult conversation and he too goes to join his siblings.
“I’m so glad you stopped by tonight,” my mom tells me. Why does that make me feel guilty? It’s probably because even though I stop by fairly regularly, it’s not often for more than a few minutes. My visits tend to get squeezed in between other obligations.
Before long, Dad and Craig come back in the house and Dad joins Mom and me at the kitchen table. Craig chooses to stand, leaning against the kitchen counter and finishing the bottle of beer he started earlier. He’s telling us stories about his neighbors who “don’t take care of their stuff.” They don’t fix things, they just replace them when they quit working. Everything that’s fallen into disrepair ends up underneath the neighbors’ deck to rot away.
As I listen to Craig talk, I realize it’s still quiet in the living room and glance in there to see Josh’s leg still swinging and the other two kids still absorbed in the program. Craig talks on, telling us that the neighbor’s most recent replacement was a new lawn mower. Craig tried to convince his neighbor that he could probably just repair the old one and he’d be willing to help, but the neighbor wasn’t interested. He gave Craig the old mower and told him to have at it. We laugh as Craig describes how he replaced one part of the mower and found another one that didn’t work. Then he’d replace that part and would find something else that needed repair. After two days of tinkering with the mower, the last straw came when he pulled on the starter cord and gas sprayed out across his garage. We all laugh when he says that after that episode, he pushed the mower back to the neighbors’ yard and parked it under the deck to rot with the rest of the junk.
Craig’s phone rings and he answers it, wandering into the living room to talk briefly with his wife. When he hangs up, he tells the kids to get ready to go and tells Mom and Dad that they need to head home. The kids are protesting. They don’t want to leave. Craig continues chatting to all of us while trying in vain to round up the kids. They seem to keep slipping away from the door and back into the living room. Finally in frustration, he shouts, “Let’s GO!” They know he means business and they all scramble for hugs goodbye. I get two from Josh because he’s making the rounds and forgets who he’s already hugged. I don’t complain.
Craig and the kids finally make their exit and my mom goes to stir something on the stove. I hadn’t noticed the pot sitting there before and didn’t realize that she and Dad hadn’t had their dinner yet. I take this as my cue to get going too, and say so.
“Don’t go yet,” my mom says. “You don’t have to leave just because we’re eating. Do you want to join us? We’re having stew.”
I tell my mom I’m not hungry and have already eaten, but I’ll help myself to a bottle of water from the fridge and agree to stay a while longer, sitting myself back down in the chair I had just left. I bow my head as Mom and Dad make the sign of the cross before their food and recite the prayer I grew up saying before meals.
The conversation continues as they eat their dinner and they listen as I talk about what’s going on in my life. I talk about the kids – how old they are getting; how much they’ve grown. I mention that in a recent picture, I realize Jake is now every bit as tall as Brad. I talk about the fact that the boys have jobs and how we’ve had to juggle cars to get everyone where they need to be since there are more drivers than cars. I talk about how Kacey is ready to be done with school for the summer and is eternally busy with her sports.
We talk on and on, I’m not even sure about what, but I feel this appreciation for simply being there with them and having them to myself. I find myself thinking, “This is good. This has been really nice.” I think how this is probably one of those moments in time that I will look back on and be glad that I set aside other obligations just to be here. I think about the fact that there aren’t enough times like this and I remind myself that the time we are given to enjoy moments like this isn’t unlimited.
I look at the Norman Rockwell clock on the wall, the one that has adorned the kitchen wall for as long as I can remember, and realize that a couple of hours have passed. It is nearly nine o’clock and with reluctance, I tell them that I need to go home.
“I’m so glad you came tonight,” my mom tells me again.
“Me too,” I tell her in reply.