My grandson graduated from high school on Friday, May 25th, and on Saturday, we had an Open House to celebrate the event. John’s brother flew in from Oakland, California on Tuesday, so that we could visit and enjoy ourselves before things got too busy. Our daughter, Robyn, and her husband, Scott, drove up from Florida (they live near Clearwater Beach) on Thursday. My daughter, Holly, and her two boys live with us, so our cozy bungalow bulged at the seams, full of people, and a magical thing happened. Kids who’d grown up in the houses behind us or across the street or around the corner showed up to join in. And I found our house filled with laughter and memories.
I love kids. Always have. My sister, Mary, is 12 years younger than I am, and I think it started with her. My parents looked shell shocked when they got the news there was an unexpected surprise on the way, but they quickly looked forward to having a baby. I was thrilled. My sister, Patty, and I are exactly ten months apart. Cohorts in crime. But Mary was someone to read stories to, to drag to the ice cream parlor, and to play with. So when it came time to choose a career, I went for elementary education.
I taught for six years before I had my daughters. I’m sort of a nerdy brain, and lots of professors tried to talk me out of “wasting my talent” on teaching reading and arithmetic. But my question to them was, “If you don’t have dedicated teachers in first and second grade, what kind of students do you think you’ll get by the time they reach you?” Teaching was a lot of hard work, but it was every bit as fulfilling as I thought it would be. I meant to go back to it once Robyn started first grade, but the rules changed while I stayed home with my girls. A Master’s Degree became a death sentence to my career. No one would hire a teacher with a Master’s because they had to pay us more money. So I stayed home, and Life had other plans for me. John’s father got sick and died. His mother didn’t do well on her own. My dad got blood cancer, and I took my turn sitting with him at the hospital in the afternoons. And I filled my house with kids.
We became the “neighborhood house.” We made our basement into a kid zone. My husband built a craft table and kids hung paintings to dry on a clothesline that stretched across a side wall. We mixed salt clay and used cookie cutters to make Christmas ornaments. John and I laid indoor/outdoor carpet, perfect for roller skating, and bought fold-out seats for kids to stretch on while watching the TV down there. One Halloween, the kids beheaded every Barbie doll in the house to hang from the basement rafters to make a haunted room. We bought a dehydrator to dry fruits. I baked after school snacks. And we enjoyed. The kids gave more to us than we ever gave to them.
If Holly’s boys needed something, growing up, one or another of those kids have been there to help. Jerod took Ty to hunting school and Jason taught him how to fish. Heidi and her husband, his godparents, faithfully contributed to sending him to St. Therese and Bishop Luers. Nicky took Ty out to supper when he needed some “guy” talk.
When I put kids in my writing, like Reece’s step-brother and sister in Wolf’s Bane, a young son in the novel Empty Altars, or Thea’s cocky niece in Fabric of Life, I hope I make them as special as I think kids should be. Because I’ve been lucky. I have wonderful daughters. Awesome grandsons. But I have more. I have wonderful neighborhood kids. And it was great to see them at Ty’s Open House, because they’ve been a part of his life. And mine.
My John was in the Vietnam War, and I usually think of soldiers when I watch the parade that marches past our house each year. But this Monday, I had so much more to think about. Floods of memories. All of them good.