Devastating moments are hard to overcome. Especially when those moments are created by oneself and all that one’s self encompasses.
Believe me. I know about this.
But I also know about joy. And about how such devastation can lead to the good stuff.
My son believes that I am one of the most positive human beings he has ever known. Actually, I kind of get the impression that he thinks I am the most positive. Well, if that’s the case, he’s wrong. Sorry to be so negative here, but he knows the same positive folks that I do. I will never hold a candle next to those folks.
I proved that last week. And it devastated me. For a while.
My mother was the second oldest child in her family. She had four other sisters. All of the sisters lived mostly in Alamance County, North Carolina from the time they were born until the days they each left us. Mama left her home in the Alamance County town of Burlington to be with my dad. First in Vincennes, Indiana where my oldest sibling was conceived during my dad’s World War Two training days. After the war, they lived in Victory Village, a college housing community for veterans and their families at The University of North Carolina. Then after a short stint back in Burlington, Mama went to Roanoke, Virginia and eventually to Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and three children. Her sisters all stayed home. In Alamance County.
Just like her sisters, my mom loved being at the family home in Burlington. Whenever she could do that, she did. And just like Mama, her kids – the grandchildren of those family home folks – cherished their young days there as well. After we moved to Jacksonville, we would spend weeks during the summer at the old and warm Maple Avenue home of my grandparents, living for a while among the aroma of gardenias wafting in from the side yard.
We were always welcomed at that place. Always as my feelings recall. On every morning that we left my grandparents’ house to return to our home in Florida, my grandmother would sit next to me while I ate Frosted or Corn Flakes at her kitchen table. She would place her left hand on my right knee, move her face and eyes and concerned and loving and disappointed look toward my face and simply say in her elongated southern tone, “Don’t go!”
At the end of one visit there, something kind of devastating happened. I have never been clear on what it was. I was a kid at the time. But something did. And I believe to this day that, before it happened, my grandmother once again said to me, “Don’t go.” But as we drove out of the Maple Avenue driveway to head south, my mom was in tears. Something happened that made her not feel so welcomed at her mom and dad’s house on that final day. To this day, I hate that Mama felt so badly about leaving her home and the flowers there after being where she was once so loved. And I really hate the feeling I had as we drove away.
Look, growing up in my life at our Florida home was difficult. My mom had emotional problems. My dad had some problems as well. But my siblings and I always felt acceptance and our presence there was always a requisite. And after I left to pursue my own life in another state, I was always welcomed back into their home – my old home place. So was my son and his friends. Neither of my parents could have lived with themselves if they ever turned me, their grandson or his buddies away from wherever the hell the two parents of mine were at the time. That was simply an impossible notion for the grandparents of my child.
A couple of weeks ago, I blew a big-time opportunity. Just as my grandmother did so many years ago. I have a list of excuses for doing such a thing. I learned listing from my mom. But I won’t do that here. Whatever happened all those years ago, and what happened earlier this week deserve no excuses. Both were just blown opportunities.
On that Monday of that week, I spent the day with my son, his daughter, her cousin, two of my son’s young sons and a few other folks at a Charlotte area amusement park. The day at the park began early. And early on and throughout the day, I kind of reconnected in some very special ways with my three grandchildren and their cousin. (“Cousin!” Listen to me. That cousin is my grandchild, too!) He and my granddaughter are older, though. Young teens. The two of them and the other older kids there went to the big rides.
But I was charged with taking my two young grandsons to do rides they would enjoy. And so I did. And this old man rode with them. Being with those two at those moments and during every moment I encountered that day, well… The entire day was a blessing. A real and very true blessing.
The youngest of those two pulled a Burlington-grandma-thing on me many times that day. “Don’t go,” he said to me in his own words. His real words were, “Paw-Paw, sit with me!” “Paw-Paw, I’m a little afraid. Do you mind holding my hand on this ride?” “Paw-Paw, are you coming to our house?” The last thing, I think that kid said to me that day was, “Paw-Paw, can we eat pizza at your place?” or something like that.
I am called “Paw-Paw.” My grandmother was called “Nanny.” Maybe my grandson heard me pull a “Nanny” on his dad that night. After we left the amusement park, his dad, my son, asked me if they could get pizza and eat it at my house before their thirty-minute drive to their home. The question was a beautiful one. The answer became the devastation that night. To me, anyway.
It was almost eight o’clock, and I was very tired. It had been a wonderful day with those guys, but at the same time, the day was brutal on my body. Honestly, I reached a point where I thought my day just needed to end. So, when my son asked me, “Dad, is it okay if we get a pizza and eat it at your place?” I chose to turn a beautiful, selfless and loving day into a self-serving and devastating ending. I answered, “Man, I’m sorry, but, no. I gotta get some rest.”
I don’t know. Maybe I was justified in giving that answer. My son understood. That’s the way he is. But I somehow lost the understanding of that question. And the answer I gave confused me. More likely, I was so self-consumed at that point that the feelings of others didn’t matter at all to me at the time.
After telling my son what I did and on the ride back to my place, I thought of my grandmother and my mother. And the dominant vision kept coming back to me. The one of my mom crying because she no longer felt welcomed at her mother’s house. My son didn’t cry. Neither did my young grandson. But, damn it, I made it clear that they were not welcomed at my house that night.
I hope my response didn’t devastate those guys as much as it did me that night and as much as my grandmother’s response, or something, devastated my mother all those years ago. But, right now, I am grateful for what happened.
I hate myself for my selfish reactions to my son and his dear child. But I hate myself more for missing the perfect opportunity to make my son and his guys feel nothing but welcomed in my home. At any time. And in any circumstance. The way my mom and dad always welcomed me.
The good stuff from this devastating moment? The recognition that this shit will never happen again. Not at my home. Not on my watch. Not as long as I am a living dad and granddad!
The folks I love most deserve better.
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