Saturday, August 26, 2017


Our great grandkids weren’t the main attraction of our recent visit to Norfolk, Virginia.  Yet in a way, they were.  Knox, 3 ½, and baby sister Harper, two-ish,  were like low-flying hummingbirds, darting in and out of every scene.  

When Rob and I flew East to Norfolk, we’d come to witness a momentous event: Marine Sergeant Christian Carpenter, (husband of our granddaughter, Erica), was about to become a 2nd Lieutenant.  Erica’s parents, Melanie and our son, Ken, had invited us to stay with them and be part of the festivities.

The event was scheduled for a Monday at precisely ten a.m., to be officiated by Christian’s battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel down from Quantico.  Because Christian had just graduated from Old Dominion University, ODU allowed him to be commissioned on a central quad--in front of three stately flagpoles.

When Rob and I arrived, the spacious quad was mostly empty—except for half a dozen spectators and three lonely chairs, conspicuously facing the flagpoles. Rob and I quickly gleaned that Christian had provided the chairs . . . for the two of us, plus Melanie’s mother. Gradually, the crowd grew larger.    

As befits the military, at the appointed moment, Christian, in uniform, marched from somewhere behind us, did a precise left turn, and positioned himself smartly in front of the Colonel.  At that very moment, from the other direction, Knox came racing across the cement, and with a broad grin and loud voice, called out, “Hi, Daddy!” 

Fascinated, I saw that Christian’s expression never changed.  Somebody scooped up the little boy, and the ceremony went on.

A dramatic and unusual part of the commissioning was Christian’s father, a retired Air Force sergeant, in uniform, ceremoniously approaching now-Lieutenant Carpenter, and saluting him—to which Christian returned the salute.

The commissioning qualified as a Big Moment. Yet almost bigger for me, was a brief encounter between the two kids: Afterwards, I happened to notice Knox busily climbing up and down the few steps that led to an elevated cement area. From a distance, little Harper saw him too. Off she ran toward her brother, arms extended. At the last moment, Knox saw her coming, and turning, he drew her into an embrace. For a moment they hugged. Then Knox took Harper’s elbow and led her over to an adult. A photogenic moment.    

Later, Erica said, “Harper idolizes her brother—wants to do everything he does.” I thought, It seems to go in both directions.

During our three days there, Ken and Melanie provided no fewer than three feasts, the final—with 35 guests--to celebrate Christian’s new status. At the last minute, Melanie was dubious: in rainy Norfolk, an outdoors event seemed dicey. Though a few sprinkles accompanied the set-up, we all took a chance and settled into eating at four long tables. No rain at all. But just as the last person finished, a downpour began, slowly at first. I asked Melanie, “Did you pray about this?”  She smiled, leaving me unsure.  Then I thought, Well, it’s obvious you did.  

Whether Melanie has divine connections or not, she and Ken clearly share some kind of obscure--make that diabolical--ESP. To Rob’s disgust, and mine, they beat us soundly in Password.  But not like you’d expect, seldom with clues and answers that made sense. When Melanie began with the word “Mound” and Ken said, “Anthill,” Rob and I were flabbergasted. Later she said, “Tennis,” and Ken answered “Racquet,” which lacked all logic. And so it went.  As the points piled up against us, Ken admitted to other, similar triumphs. “One of our friends accused us of cheating. ‘You studied the cards in advance,’ they insisted. But how could we—with hundreds of words in the box?” 

Soon, as we kept playing and losing, Rob began blaming me.  Well, I’ll admit to some significant memory lapses. But I can also spot hopeless when I see it. In Password, you’re bound to lose to a pair who unfairly read each other’s minds.

Those three days were full of surprises—the most startling when I plunked down on a piece of plastic that covered their elegant living-room couch.  Suddenly my bottom was alive with pins and needles . . . as though I’d sat on Melanie’s famous “mound” -- meaning “anthill.”  I leaped up, demanding of Kenny, “What did I just sit on?” 

“Oh,” he said. “The plastic is electrified . . . to keep away the dog.” 

“Well, it certainly worked on me,” I said, and from then on I viewed that couch as Pavlov intended . . . with pre-programmed avoidance.

The nicest thing that Melanie did for me, personally, was invite her friends to a book signing—meaning we brought an extra suitcase filled with nothing but books.  She made it a 2-5 cocktail party, and her neighbors and pals graciously let me speak to them about the craft of writing, then bought some 32 books. 

As I sat autographing volumes, somebody brought me a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  Before I could eat the second one, I sensed that something had flashed by very close and continued on without pausing. I looked, and my cookie was gone. Yards away, I spotted my treasure, clutched in Knox’s hand.  Aware of her child’s thievery, Erica made him give it back.  And so I reclaimed my treat, now in two messy chunks. 

And there’s Knox for you, affectionate, supremely well-coordinated, and capable of fast and clever deception.  As we departed on the last day, Knox, who’d been up too late the night before, was so exhausted he was sobbing uncontrollably. Still, Erica made him hush long enough to hear us say, “We love you, Knox.”  Erica whispered in his ear. For a few seconds, Knox stopped his crying and said, “I love you too.”  And then he picked up where he left off, once more sobbing.  And so we departed, with a darling child waving at us through his tears.

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