Hours texting on phones and scribbling in calendar books, planning. Two days of bathroom breaks, pushed gas pedals, weary eyes and throbbing back pain. All of this for two weeks, heavy with precious seconds and minutes. We cherish these—around dinner tables and in taverns—holding babies and kissing cheeks, watching our little ones, cousins and friends, giggle and play.
Last year there were more aged trees in my brother’s backyard. Five of those centenarians were missing this summer, having been felled twice. First Oklahoma winds buffeted them until they were mortally wounded, torn from the earth, shredded at their core. Then came lumberjacks to hew and carry away their corpses. Their loss was natural and tragic; no less than two lifetimes of comforting shade is gone. The sun is suffocating, and autumn will bring less color.
We celebrated our mother in that yard. She turned seventy, but in my mind’s eye, she remains thirty-five. Her mother, our MaMa, was there too. She is ninety-eight, which was the age when her mother Maudie, my great-grandmother, who we called Ma, died. MaMa is losing short term memory, but not her vigor. She will likely exceed the century mark. I hope I take after those mothers, and not the precedent on my father’s side. Both he and his parents were gone by sixty, heart attacks, all.
My firstborn, who is twelve, sat beside MaMa, and they chatted delightedly, as if they were playmates, unhindered by nearly nine decades that separate them. This gives me great joy, for both are treasures, as is their reciprocated love. When MaMa finally lies down for the last time, her memory will live for the rest of his days, which I pray will be long.
There was a marriage of eighteen years that came to a horrific end during that time. It is shocking how so much hard work and sacrifice and commitment can be obliterated by the hard-charging selfish actions of a few months. Like the removal of the gigantic trees in my brother’s yard, a harbor has been marred, something precious lost. New years will be required for healing, and some things will not return.
A quarter century before our visit, I’d lived with a wonderful family who opened their home to foster children. You might say I was their oldest foster child. They had three sons, and I had a particular connection with their middle child, an eccentric wild man like me. When we met again on this trip, there was still some inkling of that comradery, but it was thin, and I wondered and worried for his faith, which seemed strained. I pondered whether I could have helped him during the intervening years, if I’d tried harder to stay connected. Those were gone now, and I could not go back.
This is the year of reading glasses. I carry a pair in my bag, my car, at my desks at home and school. Legally blind since I was twenty, now only my distance vision can be corrected by contact lenses. I hope it is a slow decline. I love to read, and to observe the beauty of the world.
My baby, the youngest of my four sons, will begin preschool this fall. He still jumbles his grammar adorably, as all toddlers do, but not for long. One of his favorite little buddies is Cookie Monster, who was around all those years ago, when I was a child. I toss Cookie, Big Bird, Grover, Elmo and Grouch in the crib after I change him and put him down each night. I’ll change the last diaper soon.
In September I’ll become the parent of a teenager, and that will last for sixteen years. They’ll be hard, but they’ll go too fast, and I’ll wonder at the brevity. I can still see my eldest, hours old, lying in the NICU, big puffy eyes like his daddy. We’ve got six more summers with him.
I often wish I had more time to write. The minutes of my days are too short, and I cannot produce either the quantity or quality I desire, and there is an ultimate end to my time. It needs to be spent well, and that is the quandary for us all. Seneca wrote on the Shortness of Life, warning “the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over”, among many other things. His essay nags me, almost every day.
My dad died at fifty-nine, which is thirteen years away for me. I hope I get more.
In two weeks we’ll make the summer road trip again. Everything and everyone is still moving, still changing, still growing, and still dying. Later, we’ll return home again, and the seconds will keep ticking, the sun will rise and fall. It is frightful when one examines it closely, calculates the sum. And it compels me to chant with desperation–Give us this day our daily bread!
Blake Kilgore grew up in Tornado Alley, spending most of his first three decades in Texas and Oklahoma. Now, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and four sons, where he’s just commenced his twentieth year teaching history to junior high students. That’s how his love for story began - recounting the (mostly) true stories from olden times. Eventually, he wanted to tell stories of his own, and you can find some of these in Blue Fifth Review, The Remembered Arts Journal, Midway Journal, Ginosko, The Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature, and other fine journals. To learn more, go to blakekilgore.com
Next up, The Art of Living Well.
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