I spent last weekend down at Leslie and Jim's, with the main occasion being Sunday's party to celebrate Sophie's 3rd birthday. But the weekend kicked off with a "mini-reunion" of a few folks from LOMC, as a sort of final spin-off from Angie's efforts earlier in the year to put together a more formal reunion of folks who were together during the extra-ordinary summer of '89. As it turned out, a small group of us from the 1989 and 1990 staffs came together for a long dinner and drinks at a pub in Wheaton called Muldoon's, after Angie arranged to pick me up at Leslie's since she was going to be in the area also for a private weekend retreat. (This went off, despite the hitch of my bus having broken down on the interstate and making me over an hour late: as I was quickly handed off from the family to Angie, it was a bit surreal – and very apropos to the beginning of a "reunion" experience – to re-introduce Leslie and Angie with the statement, "I think you guys met ... twenty years ago.") As Angie said afterward, it was gratifying even just to see how many people also found the summer of 1989 to have been an extraordinary experience at camp. Among the others who came – Anne Cleff, Bill Phelps, and Dave Gustafson – it was interesting to hear from Dave along these lines that Jack [Swanson – the director and visionary behind the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center] had also noted that 1989 was extraordinary and his own favourite year for the staff: that something just clicked and worked within the whole group. So, old stories were swapped, augmented with one another's perspectives, and a whole lot of catching up was done on one another's lives, especially when there were twenty-year gaps to fill. As the evening went on, I found it interesting to notice how more difficult it became to perceive the years on one another: that somehow the way we looked now and the way we looked then began to blur together in my eyes, as everyone's voices, expressions and such were still so familiar.
The weekend then featured a lot of fun niece time, with Grace and Haley dazzling me on Saturday after their soccer games and an ice cream run with their unexpected bike-riding talents. They had both apparently just made their first wobbling rides without training wheels and now I was witnessing the second riding forth, with Grace starting to be able to make it the length of a block in a single run, and beginning to figure out turning. Haley was getting her balance together enough to make it for longer and longer stretches, fiercely trying to keep up with Grace, I think, although I pointed out to her that, in another sense, she had beaten Grace to bike-riding by two years.
That night, as I put Grace and Haley to bed while Jim and Leslie took advantage of my presence for a date night out, I found myself moved (in retrospect) by something Haley did. They'd gotten ready for bed – changed, teeth brushed, and all that – and I was reading the opening pair of chapters (since they were both short ones) of Laura Ingalls Wilder's On The Banks of Plum Creek to them, sitting on the floor between their two beds, when Haley reached out and lightly touched my nose. This was done without comment or any sense that I saw to it, at least for a moment, and I just wrote it off as one of the random things that little kids do. But then I recalled that a few minutes earlier, when I check in on them in the bathroom to see that they were brushing their teeth, I had exclaimed about my shock at seeing myself in the mirror, that I was rather sunburnt from the soccer game and maybe some of the bike-riding time later. They asked me if sunburns hurt, since they had never had one, I found out, as Leslie is careful with sunblock with them and since they are blessed with a shade more melanin than me, although Leslie despaired at their birth that they ended up with what she called our "Irish blotchy skin," prone to burn more than tan. I explained how they could indeed really hurt, telling them briefly of my horrific burn in 6th grade in the Florida Keys, since I was so ignorant of the extra power to the sun farther south, and of my reprise of this 1996, when I burnt the tops of my feet while sitting on the beach to the second-degree mark during the Folk Choir's tour in Florida, causing them to massively swell up. So now I realized Haley was touching my nose in order to feel my sunburn. She did this twice, very briefly and lightly, almost a caress, or the stroke a parent might give a sick child, and for all the grief that she enjoys giving me, she felt bad that I was hurt, but was also curious about it. For all that she's a tough little kid, it was just another little reminder of her affection for me, and when I understood what she was doing, I just found myself glowing inside, touched by this hint of her concern.
Sophie's party was charming, featuring its Yo Gabba Gabba! theme, to her delight, and some of Leslie's creative efforts in that direction, such as the great paper Muno that she made for a "Pin The Eyeball on Muno" game. Watching Sophie touch the wall and feel her way to correctly placing the eyeball – to cheat, as it were – was kind of hysterical. It was even more charming to see her sort of get the idea after a while that randomly placing he eyeball was even funnier, and to then watch her sort of feel her way to correctly placing the eye, and then shift and purposely mis-place it (each time on the same spot where Haley or Grace had earlier landed one) and then open her eyes and turn to me to see if I was laughing at where it ended up. Later, before I had to leave, we played in the perfect late-afternoon warmth out in the front yard, with Grace and Haley again bike-riding and Sophie now getting some kite runs out in the front yard with the steady breeze coming out of the north. I was dazzled when I got this (uncropped) rather perfect photograph of her glancing at me just as she scampered by with the kite for another flight.
I then got a great evening's visit in with Mike and Michelle for the first time in two years (since dinner during a conference visit to Milwaukee, which they had to remind me of) when I was in Columbus in the middle of the week. I got to re-meet their eldest, Thomas, who was now three and much more interactive, as well as one year-old Benedict. Thomas was a lot like my nephew Nate in being colossal tall for his age, looking like a five year-old, which made it disconcerting at first to hear him speak as a three year-old until I had adjusted. They treated me to dinner at a cool family place called the Gahanna Grill, followed by what was apparently an oft-repeated attempt to trick Thomas into liking ice cream as we then strolled around a pretty creekside park area. After going back to their place to put the boys down, we just talked until late hours, more about family than anything else, with only brief forays into theology, philosophy and literature.
Saturday saw the Lloyd and the Harris families wish me a happy birthday with Amy's signature chicken piccata and a glorious heart attack of a lemon pound cake (my favourite) from Donna. (I still have half of that in my refrigerator: if I perish this week from eating the rest of it in a rush, you know I died happy.) The kids very excitedly sang me Happy Birthday and otherwise amused themselves the whole evening, with cute interlude moments from each, like homemade cards for "Doctor Uncle Mike" from Owen and Anna, Zeke's intercession with Mike a few days earlier at a store to buy a bag of the dreaded Black Jellybeans for Uncle Mike "because he likes them," or Renée's farewell remark to me as the Harrises left for home. She asked me, after giving me a hug good-bye, if I had enjoyed the evening. "Yes," I said, "it was full of..." And as I tried to get the right word, she just raised her eyebrows and supplied, in a very un-five-year-old way, "Love?" Yeah, I said. That was it.
So I continued getting some more talk with Dan and Amy of the sort that all of us adults had been able to enjoy through the evening, talking some about the LOMC mini-reunion, Sophie's birthday party, and everything else that had happened in the week, as well as waiting on the occasional phone call to hear about the impending birth of Dan's niece-or-nephew (Samuel Mercer Lloyd coming in at 6 lbs 8 ounces on Sunday morning), and the like. I have no idea how some of the conversation flowed later on: there was even an interlude where I explained J.P. Hurt's mad arrangement skills by taking Dan's guitar, on which he'd been noodling for awhile, and showing the 5/4 bridge J.P. had put into the midst of Doug McKenna's otherwise 6/8 classic "Don't Go" – which is a clear sign of the randomness of conversation. I marveled that my father turned 70 that day (my actual birthday being today), and talked a bit about my phone conversation with him the night before, and the marveling that we all do at the passage of time.
So today was quiet by comparison, which was perfectly alright, as I'm pretty low-key about birthdays in general, and was ready for a quiet day after a busy week. I had a kick-off-the-day birthday brunch with Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen over at the Brocach Irish Pub, which I hadn't been to since just after it opened. That was packed, and very good, and apparently the place to meet large groups of cute women on Sunday noon. So lots of news-swapping with them, and a gift of a lovely round greenish stone votive candle-holder that actually fits amazingly well atop the candle stand I got from Admiral Adama's study. We made plans to go down to Grace's First Communion together next week, and afterwards we drove by the apartment I remember visiting Bill in in a trip to Milwaukee when I was in sixth grade or so, on the corner of Cass and Pleasant. It's now much-restored – for sale, even, which made Helen howl at her suggestion to Bill that they buy the place – but still features the sort of back-room, rooftop patio that I admired in Bill's book-filled apartment when I was a kid. Helen laughed even harder when I quipped that I had succeeded in emulating his low-pay, reading-rich life.
After that, I just enjoyed phone calls from family through the day: talking to Mom just before I left for brunch, actually, to Joe later in the afternoon, as well as to Leslie and the girls (with Sophie rattling off all the colours of the cars she had apparently seen throughout the day and other such things that interested her, protesting when they tried to take the phone away from her, "But I'm not done!!"), and hearing news from Grace like her moving up to Advanced Beginners gymnastics, and even wheedling a "Happy Birthday!" from the phone-hating Haley. I got a brief call and chat from Erynn after that, hearing that she had sprained her ankle again at the previous day's rainy home meet, preventing her from jumping entirely and leaving her in no small pain, but remembering that it was my birthday and making the effort to call, which was beyond cool of her. And all that was on top of a long call from Erik the other day, too, which just seemed to fit into the whole spread of good conversation.
And so that was the week, full of those signs of the love little Renée had mentioned, and reminding me I've had just about the most awesome life ever.