As I sat signing my Christmas cards this evening, I came across a card I'd received from Joyce McGowan, a dear neighbor from another time, another place. Another me.
I noted she had moved from Vernon Avenue in Huntington Woods, Michigan, where we had lived as neighbors for so many years. Her husband, Mickey, died a few years ago but I never imagined she would move, and I wrote a note to say, "Take care, dear old friend". Unexpectedly, my eyes filled with tears. They splattered on the words that I had written as images of her house, that beautiful old house across the street from ours, blocked out the present.
The images continued, the years fell away, and I was back there once again.
It seemed to be summer and the sun was shining. Everything looked so bright. The huge old trees that lined the street were laden with foliage, the well-cared-for lawns were lush with deep green grass, and the sky was startlingly blue. The picture in my mind was of our street as though I was looking out from my house to hers.
I didn't actually see her but she was there. In her house full of kids. And I was there. In my house full of kids. We were friendly, borrowing neighbors and our kids played together and got into trouble together.
And I wondered why it had seemed so often hard at the time to be there in that house full of kids. Then it seemed that the cares of the day often overwhelmed me. So many little hands and feet and mouths to wash, to dress, to feed. Too many dishes and clothes to wash, too many dinners to cook, too much dust to sweep, too many trips to Krogers, to the doctors, to the school, too many . . . not enough me.
Funny how time puts such a different perspective on things. If I could be there right now, today, somehow I would find the patience to do it better this time. This time I would know to just hold those little kids and hug them tight and tell them how precious they were to me. Every day. Several times a day.
Today it would be such fun to gather them in the tub and wash their sturdy little bodies. I would relish the feel of their wonderfully tender skin as I rinsed and dried them with a big fluffy towel. And once again I would kiss them in that delightful, most vulnerable spot right where their neck and shoulders meet.
Today it would be such a joy to help them get ready for bed. Each one a different age, a different size. Each one needing a little more or less of mommy's helping hand. And then I would set them on the couch, my four little stairstep cherubs. And we would read some bedtime stories. Then, as I tucked each one into bed with one special song, I would give them one last kiss and hug as I listened to them say their prayers.
I did those things back then, of course. But not always so joyfully, I think.
* * * * *
As I sit here at my dining room table signing Christmas cards in 1995 remembering my dear old friend and the lives we lived back then, it seems like it must have been the loveliest, most wonderful thing I can think of . . .
To have lived at . . . .
10075 Vernon Avenue in Huntington Woods, Michigan . . .
in a house full of kids.