Most of the time I don’t feel 3,000 miles away from my family. I probably talk to them now more than I ever did in college. Scratch that. I definitely do. In college, my parents used to call my roommates and ask if I was still alive and receiving mail at that address. Now, they just harass me to find out. And come to think of it, I may even see them more often now that I live on the West Coast. The call of wine country beckons their frequent return. (They’re actually flying out in two weeks.)
Most of the time it feels as though my family is just down the street. Most of the time I pretend this is true. Until the holidays arrive.
That’s when the phone is passed around the dining room table and I am forced to admit that my family is a five hour flight and two time zones away. In the background I hear my cousins chattering, the old people hollering, and the clanging of forks on china. I can almost smell Nana’s chicken cutlets and picture the greasy paper towels couching their fall. During this time, my family is typically wrapping up their day and packaging leftover platters while I am just settling into the meat of my day.
This was the case yesterday when I called them while waiting for my friends on the steps of Madrona Manor, a Victorian style inn nestled above Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg. The mansion was built in the 1880s and reminds me a little of east coast architecture. Maybe that’s why I chose to ring my mom when I did. I hung up feeling a little sad until I realized my transplant family had arrived.
I met Heather while working as a newspaper reporter in the South Bay. Working in the same newsroom kind of binds you for life – especially a small newsroom where you have to back each other up everyday. I worked with her now husband in a separate newsroom a year later which provides me with a nice window into their relationship.
I was in their wedding two years ago where I bonded with Heather’s parents and childhood priest. (Fine, I hit on Father Larry. I couldn’t help it. He’s amazing! Funny, charming, a sports fanatic, and on Medicare. I love that guy.) Anyhow, I consider myself bound to their family and I adore gatherings with their clan. Their family reminds me a lot of my own band of bantering wine drinkers. But with one exception – they have little kids in their family.
Yesterday there were three present – all between the ages of 2 and 5. Watching them interact was definitely the highlight of my day. They rolled down the front lawn in their Easter clothes, made wishes on pennies thrown into the fountains, wrestled on the grass, hunted for bees in the gardens, and stole kisses in the shade. Basically, they showed everyone how to live right. The only thing I taught them to do was make newsprint using silly puddy. I think they thought that was cool.
Before I left I overheard an exchange between the 5-year-old and his grandpa that almost made me cry. I just blinked a lot instead.
“When am I going to see you again?” Will asked.
His grandfather paused, unsure how to answer. How do you explain you don’t know something to a child when you are supposed to know everything? How do you convey the passage of time to a child who only knows of today?
“Tonight you will get home and close your eyes to sleep,” he said. “When you open them, you will see me soon after that,” he said.
This did not satisfy Will.
“How many times do I have to close my eyes,” he asked.
His grandpa smiled. “Thirty.”
Will nodded, excepting this answer, and walked away. Even though he doesn’t understand how long that really is, having a number was enough, having something to look forward to made it real. I’m not certain why that conversation triggered tears for me. But I do know that I only have to close my eyes 11 more times before my parents touch down in California.