It's Sunday afternoon again, and the time when I most feel at loose ends.
I remember Sunday afternoons in Anoka. I remember my dad taking me to Grandma and Grandpa Rainbow's house, where there were always relatives, visiting, on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes there were babies, which was my favorite. Grandma taught me to appreciate babies, laying them out on blankets and drawing my attention to the sweetness of their bare toes, teaching me how to make them smile and laugh.
My cousins Willy and Molly were not babies; they were only slightly younger than I. We had grand times playing in the basement, which was very clean for a basically basementy-basement. There was shuffle board on the floor down there, and a washer and clotheslines, and all the fodder for imagination you could possibly want. Along the side of the stairs down, shelves lined the wall, holding some cans of things, and in the autumn, decorative gourds drying. Willy and Molly and I were famous for putting on plays, which the elder Rainbows always received with gracious delight, encouraging us and praising our creativity, thrilling our little souls and assuring us that we were special.
I've had many dreams of adventures in that basement, dreams of swinging from a rope like Tarzan, wearing a cape and saving the day. As an adult, remembering, I can't separate the dreams from the reality, but it doesn't matter.
The Rainbows had a certain timbre in their voices, slightly raspy, and if I were a musician I could tell you the key, which was probably something like G sharp, a cut above the normal. I can still hear it, vaguely, in my imagination when I cock my head and listen hard.
Uncle Doug and Tip, and their babies, Luke and Ben, were often there. It seems to me that Doug and Tip and Luke and Ben, and Dad and I, were the standard fare. Others came and went with less regularity, but it was always such fun to see who would turn up. Now and then Bud and Joy came from Iowa, or Jack and Teda from California. Grandma Rainbow seemed to be able to fill me in on who everyone was, and what was special about them, and why we were lucky that they were coming. As a result, I was always excited to see them, and not nearly as shy as I would have been without her preparation and coaching.
Grandma kept a clear glass jar of jelly beans on the wooden shelf in her dining room. They were the spicy flavored ones, because that's what Grandpa liked best. White peppermint, yellow spearmint, green wintergreen, orange clove, red cinnamon and (Grandpa's favorite) black licorice. I'd often eat a number of them throughout the afternoon, and the effect would be a terrible stomach ache during evening church later on. One day I made the connection, stopped eating jelly beans, and felt much better throughout the evening.
I remember so many things about Grandma's house, not in chronological order. I remember the way the front door opened and closed, and the texture of the braided carpet under my feet. I remember the feel of the cabinet handles in the kitchen, and the smell of the refrigerator, which smelled different from our refrigerator at home, but still so very familiar, American cheese singles and jello and cranberries and (for some reason) the aroma of powdered milk. I remember Grandpa in his chair in his den, and the TV broadcasting a game, and the faint smell of pipe tobacco. I remember the blue bathroom with Browning's The Year's at the Spring framed over the bathtub.
And there was a big circle of uncles and aunts--or perhaps two circles: one in the den and one in the living room--visiting and laughing, happy. It was a happy place, a place where you were welcome and loved.
I didn't know I could lose it all; I just took it in stride, took it for granted, the way a kid does.
The New York years were lonely, especially on Sunday afternoons. I never completely got over feeling homesick on Sunday afternoons. Sunday afternoon is when you should be with your extended family. But sometimes this is not possible.
We had one baby, and then two, and by the time we had three, it was rare for our acquaintances to want any part of us anymore, so we duked it out alone, and it was rough a lot of the time. However, as the years passed, a miracle occurred: the kids became people who could dress and potty themselves, tie their own shoes, fasten their own seatbelts, and eventually even share ideas and stories from their own lives with us. We became a family of people who could support each other. Unbelievably, instead of me running to Staples to buy posterboard for a project for one of the kids, one day it was one of the kids driving up to Wegmans to get me an ingredient I was missing for a recipe I was making.
But Sunday afternoons. We had the SSYO years. SSYO was the Syracuse Symphony Youth Orchestra, and it consumed Sunday afternoons. Having kids in SSYO meant that you couldn't have gone visiting of a Sunday afternoon even if you'd wanted to. You had to rush out of church, drive to Manlius, and then figure out whether you were going to find something to do in Manlius for the duration of the rehearsal, or go all the way home to Liverpool and back out again. We spent a good deal of time driving highway 481 during the SSYO years, the busy-ness filling the void of loneliness.
Then they all started leaving, and then we moved to Illinois, and they finished leaving.
Laura and Matthew came to visit this weekend, which was a blessing and a joy. We didn't take a single picture, which is typical. They left after lunch this Sunday afternoon, which is the way it is now. Sunday afternoon seems always now to be a time of tearing apart, a time for saying good-bye. But still I am thankful to be able to see them. Good-byes stink, but not having any occasion to say good-bye stinks much worse. So we watched their little car--a new blue Elantra they recently purchased and drove out to show us--watched it drive down our street, turn, drive up to the end of the neighborhood and turn again, onto the main road that would take them to the highway and away. Blinking stinging eyes, I hiccuped as quietly as I could, giving a soft tug to little Piper on the end of his leash panting in the heavy humidity, stumbling with his age as we headed back into the house and the air-conditioning
Sometimes it feels like grief is a huge icicle pressing down on my sternum, and it's hard to suck breath. I'm so tempted to say, "Why do I have to give up my kids, when other people have their children and grandchildren right down the street, there for every birthday and holiday, and even ordinary Sunday afternoons? Why me? Why do I have to lose my family? Why do I have to lose my family twice?" More than tempted, I succumb. And I want to feed my kids. I want to wash their clothes and make their beds. Also, I want to touch their hair, but I can't do that (except sometimes I do touch Jon's because he only complains a little bit, and also he is often here on a Sunday). I want to iron for them, and I never even ironed in my life, hardly, except before a music audition or something, and even then, usually Shawn did it because he is a better ironer.
God doesn't want me to make family an idol. I realize this. I also realize that I am at risk of doing so, because I often allow myself to think that I cannot be happy if I don't have any family around.
I need to be content in the Lord. I keep a bookmark in my Bible; it has a quote on it from someone named Jeremiah Burroughs who lived in 1648. He wrote:
is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit,
which freely submits to
and delights in
God's wise and fatherly provision
in every condition.
Oh, how I wish I could attain that.
I am neither sweet nor quiet nor gracious.
I don't freely submit to what the Lord provides for me.
Certain family members have, on occasion, needed to remind me, "Think inside your head." Thus, I suspect I do not have an "inward" frame of spirit, either.
I have so far to go. Yet, I have hope. Yes, I do. I have hope. I have hope that I will learn to be content and to delight in what the Lord provides for me.
And I also have hope that when I learn to delight properly in the Lord, and to cease my grumbling and fussing and complaining, then perhaps He will allow me to live in proximity to family again.
But maybe He won't, and I have to surrender to that, too, if it is the case.