What have you done this summer?
And what do you want to do?
These questions, asked by the facilitator seated at the front of the room, were carelessly tossed out into the air sort of like balloons at a child’s birthday party, bobbing about like little floating question marks.
Being a reporter, and only here to cover the event, I retreated quickly into my safe impenetrable wall of silence, comfortable in the knowledge reporters like children are supposed to be seen and not heard.
And so when my turn came I muttered something about being just here for the free food and to scribble notes which could be only inscribed by me, because no one else could ever read my pathetic attempts at shorthand and/or speed writing.
“No,” the guy at the front said, gently but firmly, kind of like he was the boss and I was not, “you need to be part of this, too.”
I had already listened to the others, noting their answers, bouncing like so many ping-pong balls around the table, were as diverse as the people themselves.
Canning peaches for the first time ever. Going to Hawaii. Camping with the grandchildren. Decluttering. Riding a dirt bike. Teaching their child to ride a bike. Writing a book. Going on a cruise. Waiting for a new baby. Recording their mother’s history. Doing hot yoga.
I enjoyed listening to the answers. I mulled their comments over in my mind, letting the thoughts get all mixed up, sort of like clothes tumbling about in a clothes dryer, in no particular order.
I used to do lots of canning when my children were little and when the lady talked about canning the peaches, I could see all those canning jars, the fruit clearly visible inside, all neat, all carefully placed in a row on the kitchen counter. And I recalled the feeling of accomplishment that is stored invisibly beside the last jar. In my mind, I recalled tightening the last lid and finally leaving my kitchen all neat and only slightly sticky and smelling of summer. In my mind’s eye, I could see the curtains fluttering over the kitchen sink. Yellow, they were, and almost transparent.
And I could imagine the young parents teaching their child how to ride a bike. I could see the bike and the child, the wheels turning wobbly, but surely. The training wheels gone forever.
It’s fun! It’s exciting! The parents so need to enjoy that fleeting little moment, because I’m here to tell you that years later when the child is in the driver’s seat for the first time it is no longer fun and exciting.
It is just scary. I remember my daughter, aged 16 saying, “Mom, some day you are going to have to let me drive when it snows.”
Anyway, back to my turn.
I went camping with some of my grandchildren, I say, and I have this big backyard birthday/concert planned.
And that’s it. I’m done! Questions answered.
But, I want to tell them how I was surprised by joy when I went camping. I wanted to tell them how I am and will forever be amazed at how a few days away from adult type stuff gave me a chance to smell the roses – except of course there were no roses, only the sun filtering through the trees in a way that filled me with unexplained happiness. And I wanted to tell them how camping gave me a chance to walk and talk with a little girl with sunlight in her hair and eyes bluer than the bluest of blue summer skies as we looked for rocks shaped like diamonds and non-existent bird nests.
But, of course, I didn’t because they didn’t have all night, and I had to get back to work.
But, for me the questions stirred lots of summer time thoughts about what was!
And what is left to come. And it was good!
— On the Other Side