- Ted & Debbie (Photographers)
Dinner is over. There’s confusion about clearing the table, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, covering the fish so the raccoons don’t eat them, doing the counters and sweeping the floors. The arguing takes more time then the actual chores. Simon asks Debbie, “when you die can I have your jewelry?” He wants to keep them in a box to remember her by. There’s was something so sweet, honest but brutal in his question.
Silently, Sam walks in the front door. He’s been playing tennis and he smells. His spring break from Grinnell is almost over. His visits have been almost ghostlike, appearing and disappearing at times in Jacob Marley fashion as he jingles my Volvo keys and puts them on top of the green cabinet. I’m envious of his recent hauntings of coffee shops, record stores and restaurants. I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to miss Sam when he went off to college and having him back for this break sometimes makes me stop and think to myself “are you really here?” There’s a sense of dread as the day he has to go back to college approaches.
On the way to the airport, we talk about surfing baseball and coffee. I ask him if the front breaks were squeaking when he drove the car yesterday. He says, “no, not really.” It’s small talk but really part of the bigger picture. His leaving creates an imbalance and emptiness inside of me that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s like losing a limb but seeing that limb hanging out of the window of a car going by in the opposite direction on the freeway.
The alarm clock goes off at 5:30. That’s an hour earlier than usual. Sam is catching a flight back east to visit colleges in Massachusetts then he’s off to Iowa for more of the same. The other night Sam was showing Debbie and I photos of the small commuter planes he’d be taking on the computer. He’s travelling alone. Debbie goes upstairs to wake Sam up as I make my way to the kitchen to start the coffee. When I hear some signs of life (floorboards creaking and the shower going on) coming from upstairs I yell, ” Sam, do you want coffee?” He yells back, “Yeah.”
As I grind the coffee beans I start to think about Sam doing this trip alone and how he will be away at school next year. A strange fear seeps in as I pour hot water over the ground coffee. He’s almost 18 years old, all packed and Debbie has made sure all of his flights, transportation from airports to colleges and all his arrangements once he leaves the house are all in order.
The coffee is done. Sam is running late. He yells down to me, “Daddy, do you know where my belt is?” I tell him to just wear one of mine. I pour a cup of coffee for Debbie, Sam and myself as I think about him still calling me daddy instead of dad like Henry does. My mom pulls up in front of our house to take Sam to LAX. I walk outside and sit down next to her in the passenger seat my coffee almost spilling as the automatic seatbelt engages when I close the door. I tell her that Sam is running late because he can’t find his belt.
We talk for a few minutes about colleges, the weather back east, her allergies and I ask her why Easter is always on a different Sunday every year. I find it strange how it can be early or late depending on the year. She says something but I’m not even listening. I go back inside to see what’s taking Sam so long. He’s standing in the sunporch all ready to go. I give him an awkward hug and tell him to have fun and be safe.
I walk back into the kitchen to help with the lunches for the rest of the boys. Macaroni and cheese is always a big hit. I start to feel that fear creeping around me again as I tear open the powered cheese packets and mix them with milk and butter. As I’m pouring boiling water into their lunch thermoses I spill the cheese mixture all over the counter and in between the side of the stove. It’s a mess and somehow I manage salvage some of the mixture. I try to extend it with grated cheddar,Â parmesan and some more milk. The macaroni is ready and I take it off the heat but when I start to drain it into a colander in the sink I burn myself on the pot and dump everything on the floor. What a mess. Debbie kicks me out of the kitchen and takes over the lunches. I sit down at the head of the table with my coffee. Ollie and Simon are making their own mess with Cheerios. Sam’s coffee cup is left untouched in front of his seat. I scoot over and sit in his seat and decide to have a second cup of coffee this morning.
This happens every time I work our website. I spend hours in front of the computer digging deep through hard drives and boxes of Polaroids, saving jpegs to my desktop in an attempt to make sense and order of all these images. Finally, after placing them in a category called “Lifestyle” on our website, I’m done. Afterwords, my computer desktop a sea of jpegs and tiff files, I walk away from this mess feeling satisfied that a tiny bit of my world Â (our Lifestyle category) is in order.
I take this notion of ordering with me as open up my wallet and pay for an espresso. When I was younger I used to put all the dollar bills in my wallet in an orderly manner, faces going the same way, heads up in monetary order starting with George Washington and working my way up. My wallet is now a mess. There’s no order, bills not folded but shoved between credit cards, business cards and rapidly fading soy based ink receipts. The term “paperless” comes to me. I pay for the coffee with a five dollar bill. Abe Lincoln’s face staring blankly off into space- anywhere except directly into the eyes of it’s beholder.
Back home I’m spreading Blue Castello cheese onto a baguette. Lately, I’ve been making baguettes instead of round loaves of bread. The perfect circle replaced by my “grotesquely shaped” (as Sam described them in his food blog) logs. While admittedly a bit misshapen they have a crispy texture, taste great and are extremely popular with the boys.
Blue cheese has got to be one of the only things we eat with mold on it. Think about it, anything else that has acquired this fungus and decay in the refrigerator or pantry we label gross or gone bad and gets thrown out immediately.
We have these small white hand towels from Ikea that we use in the downstairs bathroom. We keep the clean ones hanging from a Shaker peg next to the sink. The dirty ones are thrown into a canvas clothes pin bag hanging next to the clean ones. It’s a system that usually ends up with an empty peg alongside an overflowing basket of dirty towels. There’s usually a stack of clean towels piled up on top of the dryer across from the sink. Lately what I’ve been doing is with every towel I use to dry my hands I replace it with three clean ones back on the peg.
It’s in the morning. I’m having a cup of coffee and reading 100 Years of Solitude out loud to Ollie who is sitting with me in an outdoor chaise lounge. We are sitting facing each other feet to feet. I’m reading about a player piano which was just taken apart and put back together when something hits the window right above our heads. At first I think there another food fight. It’s not food but a bird which falls off of Ollie’s head and lands on the cushion right in between us. I tell Ollie it’s okay the bird just flew into the window and is stunned. I get up slowly to get my camera and another bird falls off my head. Apparently they hit the window together. I take a few photos and then we let them be. After a few minutes they regain their senses and their ability to fly away.