An American flag strains against its moorings outside our second floor window facing the Atlantic. We made our way here down Ocean Boulevard past beach clubs landscaped in cypress and roses, silent miniature golf creatures, gaudy life-sized plastic Arabian horses, and cartoonish restaurant signs with names like Awful Arthur’s, Tortuga’s Lie, and Hurricane Mo’s, all bright against a grey sky. I bought blueberries and cherries at one of the farm stands, knowing full well they weren’t locally grown. Our vacation ends here at Cypress House in Kill Devil Hills, a pit stop before pressing inland to our little corner of the world.
Four hours of driving gave us time to replay the vignettes from our visit. The reunion had gone well, thirty of us representing four generations ranging in age from infant to ninety. We managed to get a photo of the nuclear family, all eight of us in one room for the first time in since the eighties. John set up his tripod to frame the shot while Joe went to fetch Dad from Mom’s room down the hall.
We were all crossing our fingers that he would come. Mom stressed the importance of everyone being in place when Dad arrived, to keep him from balking and/or bolting. It felt a lot like dealing with a wild animal or a skittish colt. We arranged ourselves and waited, hoping he’d forgotten he’d said he wasn’t coming to the reunion. Johnny stood behind the couch with Bob, and Mike, leaving a space for Joe. Jim sat next to Mom with a space for Dad. Brandon stood behind the camera.
In came the lone wolf with a bad case of bed head, his handler close behind and took his seat. I reached over and tried to smooth down his hair but it was stiff with natural oils. Dad gave his head an ineffective swipe. He likes to tell us he has a full head of hair because he only washes it once a week. Brandon snapped the shutter.
After a delicious potluck lunch we took turns sharing thoughts from our year. Joe invented the round robin a few years ago and it has become the highlight of our gathering, at least for me. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about themselves but that’s never been a problem for me and Bob. I read an excerpt from my mother’s memoirs and briefly explained that I looked older now because a) I am and b) I’ve been touched by death and makeup seems disingenuous. When it was Bob’s turn he told the story of how we were drawn to Pittsboro by Lyle and Tami, came to collaborate with them, about Zafer’s tragic death About how our community sprang into action to plan a monster service and build the Farewell Trail for a home burial in the woods. And that’s where we’ll be buried too.
There were many other wonderful moments from our short week away such as the discovery that Mom and I wear the same exact watch, Deb’s apple cobbler, Darla walking in with a three-pound tub of chocolate ice cream, standing behind the counter with Michael, packing dozens of ice cream cones. A casual meal at the hotel Friday night with John, Joe and Jim, riding shotgun with Bobby up highway 81, blowing up balloons with Penny, Jim and Lou in the church hall before a reception to honor Joe’s twenty-five years in the priesthood, and a nice chat with Maggie and Brian during the reception.
On Sunday Joe, Jim and I picked up Chinese food and drove to Charity’s. Levi invited us to see the bike trail he made and off we scampered, running through honeysuckle-scented woods, crossing streams over pallets and planks, steering clear of poison ivy. John and Darla arrived with Mom and she started giving rides to the smaller children on her walker. I got the feeling this is routine when Mom visits her great grands. Darla and I tackled the weeds in the front yard while John cleaned up. Joe and Jim played out back with the kids. Golden moments, all.
On Tuesday we found ourselves outside Washington DC at Ned’s, enjoying his inimitable banter. He and I took a long, wet walk to the Great Falls of the Potomac chewing on every aspect of our lives along the way. That evening we met Frankie and Jessica for an elaborate Thai dinner in the city, heard all about their year in France and test drove their latest creation, a super relaxing and fun card game.
It was smart of Bob to spend one night at the shore before diving back into our other tribe. We lay on the bed and laughed at a TV movie, the Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto with a dead crow flopping on his head. I ate cherries until my stomach began to churn, flipping stems and pits into the waste basket. We slept, fitful but well enough.
After breakfast we walked across the street and down the beach. The sun had come out. Pelicans floated passed in groups of five, six or eight. I took off my shoes, shrieking when the cold, white foam shot up my legs. Then I cried. I was home!