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Sharon Randall: Another family gathering

By Sharon Randall

The grass is mowed, the porch is swept. The trees and shrubs are green with spring. All is exactly as I remember it.
I have climbed these steps countless times, but it’s been a long time, some 30 years, since I climbed them with a baby.
Today I am carrying Henry, my daughter’s beautiful, dark-haired 7-month-old, who slept (thanks be to God) for most of the nearly three hours it took us to get here. He will probably be awake all night.
His mama is on our heels, dragging a diaper bag and other baby paraphernalia, plus two desserts (fruit tart and Boston Cream Pie, my favorite) to contribute to lunch, and a potted Easter lily to brighten the day for the woman she calls “Grandma Elsie.”
Within minutes, a second car will arrive, bearing my younger son, his sweet wife and Randy, their beautiful red-haired 20-month-old, who also slept most of the way, and will probably be awake all night, too.
This is Randy’s second visit to see Grandma Elsie. His mom and dad brought him to meet her soon after he was born. But for Henry, it’s a first. It’s been quite a while for me, too — too long — since I’ve taken the time, made the trip to see her.
Elsie was my first husband’s stepmother, and “Grandma” to my children. She married my father-in-law the year before I married his son. They died, father and son, a year apart. Elsie and I were brides about the same time, and 30 years later, we were widows. Suffice it to say we’ve shared some good talks and a lot of knowing looks.
This day will be something of a family reunion, a gathering of “in-laws,” people who spent years celebrating holidays and weddings and graduations together until life — and death — took us in different directions. We are connected, not by blood, but by history and affection.
Henry and I are greeted at the door by my sister-in-law, Cindy, who not only has prepared lunch for all of us, but cannot wait to get her hands on Henry. I hand him over and start hugging my way through the house to find Elsie.
She is seated in the family room like a queen on a throne, wearing a crown of freshly coiffed snow-white hair. At 98, she looks much the same as she did 40 years ago, when she was still teaching third grade.
When she sees me, she smiles and her eyes well up. “Oh!” she says, “it’s so good to see you!” Then she adds, “You’ve cut your hair! You always wore it long!”
I am quickly upstaged by Henry’s appearance. Followed by Randy’s. She forgets me entirely to devote full attention to them. Not that I blame her.
For the next few hours, we will talk and laugh and eat the way families always do, reminiscing and telling stories, catching up on each other’s lives.
Then Elsie and the babies will begin to tire, and we will start packing up to go. Before I leave, I will take Elsie’s hands in mine and smile into her eyes and try to say what’s in my heart: That I’m glad for the years we were a family. That I’m grateful for her being “Grandma” to my children. That I think of her every time I stuff a turkey (just the way she taught me) and wish that I could visit her more often.
We say goodbye, knowing full well that it could be the last time we’ll see each other in this world. But we learned that lesson, Elsie and I, a long time ago. Life makes no guarantees. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.
All we have is this day, this hour, this moment, this one precious, irreplaceable time.
We shared it as a family.
And it was good.
• • •
Contact Sharon Randall at www.sharonrandall.com.

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