Comings and goings

April 12,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

My parents came to visit this weekend. They nearly didn't come--for various reasons--a series of unfortunate events, involving a power outage, and non-working alarm system, and other odds and ends, and I felt really sorry for myself Friday night that they weren't here. But they got up super early Saturday morning and were in North Carolina by lunchtime. My kids who moped around a little on Saturday morning when they found out Grandma and Dadad weren't coming until hours later, lit up like firecrackers when they saw them pull into our driveway. Even though my parents live a five hour drive away, my heart is always so full that they live only a five hour drive away. When I was growing up, I saw my grandparents once a year, if we were lucky. A whole long year of school and routines and everyday life all built up to that one moment in June, it seemed--the moment we tumbled out of the customs line at the airport and saw, through the tall glass partitions, my grandfather's face, and his one hand waving at us, over the sea of people who rushed the gates. My Greek grandparents were important to me in many ways. They were more than just people I loved--in flesh and blood once, now in memory. They represent another life and time. They are about the long summers of childhood; they are the sour crunch of the crabapples from the tree outside my grandparents' veranda; they are 4:00 tea and the crumbly-sweet taste of the biscuits we ate, or the spongy bread, or the sticky buttery rice castles my grandmother made for us, using a cleaned-out yogurt container. My grandparents are the lilacs and the cicadas in the afternoon. They are the purple-blue of the Mediterranean sea and the blaze of sand under my feet; the silver olive trees, and the white, white stones. They are about the tears of reunion and the tears of parting; the annual comings and goings and the bitterness of leaving behind. I see all these things--the things they still are to me--like a faraway picture; it might be something my artist grandfather once painted, his brush strokes careful and even. These things are as familiar to me as my grandparents' faces from long ago--rounded dots in a crowd of faces at the airport gate, on arrival day. I know for my own kids my parents' comings and goings will come to mean many things to them--some simple, some complex and layered. My parents will anchor them to moments in their childhoods that are irreplaceable, intertwined with so much, just as my own childhood is anchored to my grandparents, now gone from this world. **************** On Sunday T. got up before I did, and wandered downstairs to find my dad reading the paper in the family room. I lay in bed and listened to the sounds from downstairs--her chatter and my dad's low, even voice. When I went downstairs they were on the couch, side-by-side, reading the paper together. Later that morning, while T. read a book to my mom, my dad loaded L. up in his car for their ritual fishing expedition. I don't know what they talk about when they're out there together, on the dock, but I know their outing gives them both time and space that's precious, and the time and attention L. especially needs; the quality of time and attention only a grandfather can offer a grandson, on a cool, clean spring morning, when the fish are biting just right.