This time it was easy.
I’ve been present at a number of dramatic family moments, many of which entailed a significant loss of sleep. But not yesterday.
This Sunday, after spending nearly a month in California, our granddaughter, Jamie, was headed back to Amsterdam. Officially, Rob and I said goodbye to her Saturday night over a turkey dinner at Tracy’s house. Unofficially, I wanted to be there when she actually departed. So Sunday morning I showed up at our daughter’s home at ten a.m.
As expected, in that last half hour some serious packing remained to be done. But though her room was full of still-open suitcases, neither Tracy nor Jamie seemed the slightest bit rushed. In spite of her six-month pregnancy and rather magnificent girth, Jamie moved around easier than I did. How nimbly she darted up the stairs, how simply she bent over to stuff more stuff in a suitcase. (The “stuff” being a plethora of gifts resulting from two baby showers.)
“Ever seen these vacuum-sealed packages?” she asked, handing me a square, see-through plastic container. At first glance it appeared to hold dried fruit.
“Never,” I said, noting that the small package was seriously heavy. Only with a close examination could I tell the packet actually contained lots of severely-compressed clothes. Moments later she used a pipe from the vacuum cleaner to suck air out of another such container. Whoosh, whoosh, and the package flattened out, mashing the clothes until it became half its size.
Next I witnessed an astonishing moment for a bulging suitcase that defied all odds of ever achieving closure. Somehow Tracy’s partner, Paul, managed to muscle together the two sides and actually zip the zipper . .. which, on the other continent, would doubtless result in an explosion. (I almost said to Jamie: “If you want to know what your father was like, watch Paul.” )
“Jamie,” I asked, as she continued to push and shove and over pack yet another suitcase, “how will you get the airline to take three cases? With one of them weighing 70 pounds?”
“They’ll take two because I’m business class.” She gave me a sweet, knowing smile. “The third one--well, I think they’ll take that, too.” With such a smile, I thought, they probably will.
Which, of course, is what happened. (If that over-compressed suitcase didn’t actually explode, it must have come close.)
While my impromptu “showing up” yesterday did not include a loss of sleep, other such events have.
Years ago, on Maui, after Rob declared “Don’t wake ME for this crazy project,” I nevertheless rose at four a.m. to join Chris’ new wife, Betty-Jo, Chris himself, and brother Bobby . . . so I could be there when the two boys flew their hang gliders from the top of Haleakala. In awe, Betty-Jo and I watched in the dawn light as the two walked to the edge of a cliff and one-by-one, in silent drama, stepped off the mountain and suddenly disappeared—only to appear again as their wings caught the rising air. Ultimately, Chris and Bobby set a 10,000-foot world altitude-drop record—soon reported in newspapers everywhere. (That was the year we started a family tradition—joining our kids on their honeymoons.)
On a sadder note: The phone was on my side of the bed when Tustin Community Hospital called at 3:00 a.m. to advise that a family member needed to come immediately because Art Wills was critical. Letting Rob sleep, I drove into the night, arriving in time to tell Rob’s Dad, “We love you, Art.” With that, he lifted his arm to his chest, as though saying goodbye. Seconds later, he was gone.
A few years later, somebody called after midnight . . . whereupon I jumped out of bed and hurried to a Santa Ana Hospital at one a.m. to see my first grandchild, Brandon, moments after he was born. It happens I was standing just outside the delivery room when I heard his first cry.
Over the years I’ve learned it pays to be there for your family’s vital moments—even if it means a reluctant departure from a warm bed. Long since I’ve learned that the sleep-deprived night is temporary . . . but the resulting memories are permanent.