The Ages and Stages of Life – Part III

Despite the fact that I said I would keep you updated as the week went on with my sister Susan and her family in Texas, there were too many fun and important things to do, plus trying and failing to get online was infuriating. I had to go to the Starbucks in Wiley a few times, which intruded upon our plans to drive through the countryside for the 90 minute drive to Mabanks, the town where my oldest nephew Michael lives with Hiromi, his wife of five years. They met in Okinawa while Mike, long divorced, was working for a couple of years as a civilian for the military. Hiromi, also long divorced, was not much interested in meeting a man, but finally agreed to go on this one blind date at the urging of her friend.  Neither Mike nor Hiromi could even speak each other’s language in the very beginning, but in time, against all odds, as fate would have it, and as a country-western song might tell it, love conquered all.

Mark, my other nephew, took a day off to come with us. He is also hilarious with multiple funny walks, voices, foreign accents, and impersonations. Over the years, he’s rarely called me on the phone in his normal voice.  One time he might be a very old hard-of-hearing man with a thick accent, another a young girl (he can sound exactly like a girl), another an FBI agent who informs me I am under investigation . . . As soon as he knows I’m hooked, he breaks the spell, and I realize he’s done it again! He, like his older brother Mike, is handsome, muscular, and fit at fifty; he is a career police officer with a big heart who in younger days was not only on the SWAT team, but trained SWAT teams around the U.S. and South America. With his buff body and buzzed blond hair, he could still play the lead in a cop-comedy somewhere.

We pretty much laughed our way through the early June countryside to Mike and Hiromi’s house on a long, narrow canal at the end of a dusty road. They had our mid-afternoon lunch all ready for us: Mike’s smoky homemade barbeque and all the trimmings. But what makes this lunch especially remarkable is how after it’s over, Mike sits right there at the table, picks up his well-worn guitar nearby, and begins singing the cowboy blues. He’s lived the blues, so when he sings the well-worn lyrics, they ring true. When he eventually sings the love song he’s written for Hiromi and says it’s also for Grandma (my mom who’s been gone for 15 years), I’m pretty much a basket case.

Ultimately, there is Cody’s high school graduation on Saturday. There we all are, about 20 of us, clustered together in folding chairs on the main floor, left side, as told, surrounded by hundreds of strangers anxiously awaiting the moment their special someone will briefly pass by, all grown up in cap and gown. We await Cody – darling Cody, baseball star, pride of all, and spitting image of my own young dad before I knew him. We wait and wait, and wait, and wait for him to come into view. We are smiling just thinking of it.

And then, after much too long, the last grad passes, our expectant smiles fade. Well where the hell is he?  We have to sit down with the crowd, but we are crest-fallen. We start craning our necks, looking all around. Is this some cruel kind of joke?  Has the faculty changed their mind? He can’t graduate after all?  Mark calls Cody’s cell phone. All is well; he’s seated up there in the front, on the right side of the auditorium where he was supposed to be. Where were YOU all, Dad??

As we get the good/bad news, we whisper it around. Oh, no! How could we be so stupid? How could this happen??

And then in a minute or two we burst out laughing, because that’s just how we are.  Soon we find him in the celebratory crush amid the mass of royal blue. We are congratulating, hugging, kissing, patting, holding the new baby, and exchanging gifts. Ages and stages acknowledged, celebrated, savored, revisited, and renewed. The mourning will come in due time.

This is my family. This is the family of man.

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