it happened, i swear, with just a few notes criss-crossing the country. a what-if turned into a plan. a maybe turned into a yes. just like that, propelled by the heart.
date was picked, for no real reason, other than it was two fridays after the baby turned one. good enough reason in all of our books.
erasers were pulled, whatever had been inked onto calendars was swiftly rubbed off. just like that. propelled by the heart.
for one sweet weekend, according to improvised, multi-pronged plan, all of us, 16 of us, would be in one place, sit down at one table (okay, so that turned into two), come back to the roost where our mama is hen.
one by one, planes took off all around the country. one in maine, another in california, a third in arizona.
the people i love were on those planes.
on one, the one from california, sat a woman i’d never met. but already love. seems she’s found a soulmate in one of my brothers, my oldest brother, the one who’s been searching a very long time.
the plane in arizona was filled with the happy-go-luckiest clan that maybe ever there was. kids hauled their schoolbooks, ma grabbed a few days off work. pa, the brother of mine who leads with his heart wherever he goes, he pointed northeast, started flappin’ his wings.
up nor’east, in south portland maine, the baby was packed. and with her the ma and the pa, the car seat, the stroller. packin’ a baby is no simple task. thus, this was her first trip to chicago. my brother never had been back home as a father. never lulled to sleep his little girl in the room where he grew up.
while they all headed this way, still one more brother packed up the wagon, made room for his wife. left max, the beautiful dog, home in the kennel. drove in from ohio.
one by one, my mama’s house got more and more crowded. crowded in a way it’s never been before. each one of us glowed.
we were uniting for no particular reason. no funeral. no wedding. just the realest reason that ever there was: we all just happen to miss all the noise, all the laughter, the sharing of stories that thread through our lives. the ones the kids know forward and backward, even though not a one of them was around when all of it happened.
off and on for 30-some hours, we ebbed and we flowed. we were an amoeba with multiple parts, coming and going and swirling. soaking up all there was to soak up. every last drop. every last morsel.
without notice, the whole darn crew, or most of ‘em anyway, appeared at the sidelines of soccer. my little one, on the field with his head full of curls, he just beamed. especially when uncle piano, the arizona uncle, let out a cheer, spelled out the little one’s name in a cheerleader way. loudly. from the side of the field. the whole crowd roared at uncle piano’s inimitable bursting with joy.
at dinner saturday night–after scotch on the rocks for a few, and precision grilling for others–we all ended up packed in the dining room where, over the years, we’d all always taken our places, as if seat assignments don’t change, not from birth till that last christmas dinner.
never mind that this time there weren’t enough seats at the table. there were plenty of chairs. and plenty of stories. one after the other, till our bellies all ached.
that night when i tucked the little one in bed, he sighed. wanted me to tell him more tales. had been utterly swept by the magic, the power of story to tell who we are over time. when i told him just one hurried tale, he sighed again, worried.
“darn,” he whispered, “now there are no stories left for tomorrow.”
oh, i assured him, there were stories aplenty.
“make a list,” he called out, as i turned out the light, turned down the stairs.
and indeed the next night, the last night before bags were packed once again, there were stories. and birthday candles and cupcakes for the girl i call my delicious cupcake.
that’s when the tears flowed.
a few us, certainly me, ached for the knowledge of what we were missing. the depth and the breadth of the everyday. the growing up without intersecting in the dew of the dawn or the twinkling of night stars.
there is no substitute–not the most wizardlike phone or screen of computer–for living our lives just down the block. i cannot run and take that little girl’s hand. can’t show her the bird’s nest. can’t bury her nose in the rose’s perfume.
we are left to hold onto threads, snatches of story. the echo of laughter.
all week i found myself wandering through my house, knowing that was the book nook where the cupcake sat on my lap, played with the puppet.
there was the keyboard where music did flow.
there was the bench where my big beautiful brother wrapped his arm ‘round the girl of his dreams.
late sunday night, as i cleaned up the kitchen, i found in the corner the pink number one candle i’d tucked in the strainer of berries (the cupcake of choice for a girl who gets hives from eggs, milk or icing).
i held onto that candle for a minute or two. contemplated mailing it off, but then set it down in a basket of seeds by the window. i’ll send it some day, surely i will. but for now, i’ll keep it nearby.
it’s all i’ve got left of that short, sweet, magical weekend.
when for no practical reason–simply the mere fact of love–we all squeezed up to the table. and told tales till the clock struck good night.
a week ago today i was down on my hands and knees, crawling behind that sweet baby girl. my heart is wrapped up in hers, and in all of my brothers and the loves of their lives. here we all are, back in lives at full speed.
i’m not sad so much as washed over with the tenderest sweetness for a gift that came and went, in the blink of an eye.
how is it that so many of us live lives far from the ones we love the most, have loved the longest? who else longs for the village?