There are days in our lives that we remember forever. Not just wedding days or the birth of children -- or even days marked by catastrophic events. Just days that would otherwise be considered "normal" but by circumstance become extraordinary. Days to be treasured. Today was such a day.
We rose early and made a two hour drive from our home to the home of two of our sons' younger cousins (14 & 15) whom they have not seen since the death of the cousins' father -- my older brother -- four years ago. Until recently, we have lived across the country and, as a result, and because my brother did not have custody of these children, these four cousins have not seen each other more than four times in their lives -- although for the better part of the last three years they have spoken almost weekly. It was important to our youngest son and to my niece -- who are very close -- that they see each other before our son deployed. It was a short two hour visit, but to observe these four laughing and joking and sharing stories and their lives, the older ones giving advice to the younger (stay away from the older boys, take school seriously), I could feel my dear brother smiling in our midst. It pulled at my heart to see my niece and nephew fight back the tears as they hugged and promised to write as they said goodbye to their soldier cousin and told him how proud they were of him!
Then it was on to visit the boys' paternal grandfather -- a diminutive, exceptionally active 77 year old who still plays every woodwind instrument professionally. It was a good visit -- nothing exceptional but every minute cherished. These, his two oldest grandchildren, are especially dear to him and the worry for the first soldier in his family crept behind his eyes as his grandson described for him his plans and the mission. Although their grandfather had never been particularly demonstrative over the years, he could not hide his tears as he bid his grandsons goodbye and hugged them both so hard that the boys -- towering over him -- could not help but smile. In parting, he told his soldier, "You are already a hero, so no hero stuff. Be safe. Come home to us." And he stood in the driveway of his home and waved until we were around the far corner.
Finally, it was on to the home of my older brother -- an especiallly cherished uncle for my sons as he seems to always be the same age as them -- more common ground at every age than should be possible between adult and child. He is wise and brilliantly intelligent and funny and hugely compassionate... Today it was the two nephews and their uncle crawling through the engine compartment of his garaged Corvette, then talking motorcycles, exchanging their favorite Orange County Choppers stories and taking turns riding the uncle's classic Harley up and down his street while I stood there shaking my head. This, too, would, on any other day, be considered an ordinary visit. But his uncle's big handshake and ensuing bear hug, followed by, "Bring your bike and we'll go ride Oak Creek Canyon when you get back" almost robbed me of my knees and his "Keep your head and ass down," made me turn away for composure.
I know as I look back later in life, today will be one of those days I will recall fondly as "the good old days". My sons, too. I hope that the remembrance of this day will carry my youngest son through his deployment in Iraq. It was just one of those extraordinary days.