The temperature in the hotel room was seventy degrees – a little cool for me, but I had on my most lovely flannel pajamas and winter hat to match, plus, I may have turned up the thermometer a notch or two when my husband, Andy, and my two boys, Danny and Mark, left for the pool.
I hugged my pillow tightly and prayed for sleep to sink in swiftly and before everyone returned from the pool smelling like chlorine.
It had been a long drive caravanning in cars with kids from the Midwest to Virginia, but my in-laws know how to make anything an adventure.
Our arrival in Virginia after thirteen hours of driving though, was bittersweet, and tomorrow would be an emotional day.
So I curled up and snuggled into sleep on my perfectly semi-firm mattress and my softly-suppled sheets, until I heard the “clickety-clack” of the card-key and the jiggle of the door handle.
“Clickety-clack, the card slid back and forth and back and forth.
“Are they fighting over who gets to use the card-key or is it not working?” I wondered.
“Are they all trying to do it at the same time, hand-over-hand, or are the Three Stooges breaking into my hotel room?”
Then it happened.
They burst through the door and fell over the threshold as if they had been racing each other to the finish line.
Then it was on with the show.
In a hushed tone, Danny said: “Dad, I’m hungry.”
“Have an apple,” Andy whispered.
Then more emphatically: “Daaaad, I’m really hungry.”
“Have an apple or a banana,” Andy whispered.
Then, as if it was life and death: “Dad, I’m reallllly, REALLLLLY hung…”
But before Danny could finish his hunger cry or Andy had another chance to show off his saint-like patience, I had a chance to imagine what an exorcism might look like – mine, yet I still decided to pipe in where I shouldn’t have!
I whipped my head around and in a not so saint-like-tone, howled into the dark of the night:
“It’s 11:30! If you’re hungry, eat an apple. If you’re reallllly, REALLLLLY hungry, we got a whole bowl of ’em, so eat an apple – eat the bowl if ya want too, but GO TO BED!”
And be careful what you wish for.
Because that’s what my number one son did.
He ate an apple.
And then he ate a second apple.
And then, he started in on a third apple!
And I thought: “I’ll be damned; he’s gonna eat the whole bowl and I’ll have to change the name of this story to The Boy Who Swallowed A Bowl.”
And with every bite of every apple, the crunching in my head grew louder.
It was so loud, I thought I was eating the apples, but I was just grinding my teeth.
And do you know what Danny did with each apple when he was done?
He shot it through the air in our dark hotel room and like Michael-Air-Jordan, he sank every apple into the trash basket.
Every one of them! “Clunk, Clunk, Clunk!”
But it didn’t end there.
There was a third act, and a fourth apple!
I could barely contain myself.
With clenched teeth, a locked-jaw, and my eye-balls popping out of my head, I gripped my pillow, gritted my teeth, and growled:
“Dannnnnn, you are NOT eating a fourth apple, are you?!
“Noooo, he whimpered.” That’s Mark eating the apple!
The Forbidden Fruit
We laid there, all of us – in the dark; in the deafening silence, breathing, not knowing what to say or do.
I knew I needed to apologize for my rotten behavior and for not putting more emphasis on the quiet, underrated goodness of bananas.
I wanted to laugh at the absurdity, but I felt more like crying.
I was tired.
We all were.
We had caravanned to Virginia with Andy’s siblings and their families to attend a memorial service for Andy’s step-dad, Duncan.
Part of Andy’s family for thirty years, he’s been the only Grandpa my boys have ever really known.
And with four beautiful children and two grandsons of his own, Duncan inherited my mother-in-law’s eight children, their significant others, twenty-two grandchildren, and twenty-one great, grandchildren with another one on the way.
He’s a man who deserves all of our best selves because that is who he showed us how to be.
So I prayed a little prayer to Duncan and promised to give him that.
My best self.
“Atta girl,” he whispered to my heart; a phrase he whispered often.
“Thanks, Dunc,” I smiled and whispered back to his. “Thanks for everything.”
How Lucky We Are
In addition to one of Duncan’s daughters, my brother-in-law Bob represented the Vear clan in Duncan’s eulogy the next day.
Not only did Bob’s eloquent remarks and sublime delivery capture Duncan’s kind and generous spirit, they reminded us of who he was as a dad, a step-dad, a husband, grandpa, and friend.
He was a gentleman and a gentle-man.
But the most poignant moment for me came when Bob, who shares with Duncan the distinction of being a Master Gardener, talked about Duncan’s legacy.
In the musical, Hamilton Bob recalled, Lin-Manuel Miranda answers his own question about legacy.
“Legacy is planting seeds in a garden that you never get to see.”
“Duncan, who had immeasurable talents and even more admirable virtues has graduated to become an Ascended Master Gardener,” Bob said, “but the garden he leaves behind for all of us to see is his greatest work of art.”
The Garden of Us
Here’s to being inspired by the fabulous men in our lives.
Men like Duncan.
Men who are sturdy and strong; gentle, respectful, and kind.
Men who believe that character, values, hard work, and reputation still matter.
Men who lead and listen and follow and fail, but continue showing up because giving up is never an option.
Men who learn how to right their wrongs and forgive with their hearts.
Men who love – and men who are even more lovable because they know it’s okay to be vulnerable.
Here’s to planting and growing and living and giving, and toiling and tilling and turning our lives over to the care of something greater than ourselves.
We are all connected.
To the Garden of Us.
And to the caring and cherishing of it.
To Duncan, who grew our hearts bigger in his Garden of Goodness.
And to my mother-in-law, Barb, whose unconditional love, which is deeply rooted in the soil of Mother Earth and connected to a world beyond my imagination, continues to connect, protect, and sustain us all.
A Final Act
Barb was able to snuggle with Duncan during the last few hours of his life and then she said:
“I left for a cup of coffee and when I came back, he was gone.”
“Just at the moment when someone says, ‘He is gone,’ other voices take up the glad shout, ‘Here he comes!”
Barb left for a cup of coffee; Duncan heard the voices of angels and left for the Garden of God; a Masterpiece of staggering proportions.
Until we meet again,
* “Love is love is love is love is love.”
* Quote by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Photo Credit: Humor Me With Mo