Adding to our collection of family stories
Once again I am making lists. It’s that time of year again as we are just about to move into the Treehouse. The number of things to do seems overwhelming — until we are offered an unexpected respite in which to sort our priorities and to gather a whole new collection of family stories.
For those who have followed our annual peregrinations, the process of recurring moves undoubtedly has a quality of the ridiculous and no doubt inspires boredom in its seasonal retelling, as in, “Oh, no! Here she goes complaining about moving in and out of the house again.”
There are many who will never get it: for many of our off-island friends and family the rhythmic disruptions of daily living that take us out of eight rooms and into two each spring defies rational thinking. However, as islanders know, when the summer season looms on the horizon, we all simply go into fast-forward to prepare for tourist season.
The fact is that as our own team of two, we put our own spin on the yearly trek across the yard with worldly goods in tow. As you know we are a twosome comprised of a practical individual wed to something of a flake whose feet scarcely touch the ground.
One to worry, one to whistle Dixie!
Therein lies our division of responsibilities: He-who does all the worrying for us while I whistle “Dixie” as the house falls down around us. (Depends who’s telling the story, of course.)
This year, in the midst of the preliminary machinations — trimming, raking, digging and patching — He-Who shares my island corner of the world puts out most of the physical energy required by the move. He only grumbles in my direction occasionally. He knows I am busily engaged in planning — thinking hard about what needs to be done next: packing up clothing, pictures, food and determining which books to take along. (Someone’s got to do it!)
Just at a critical point in decision-making this year, we are interrupted in a way that startles us, yet lifts us out of our mundane preoccupations. Our youngest daughter Nancy announces the promotion of our son-in-law David from engineer to captain.
David is a member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Our first hint that there was something unique about him came over 20 years ago when Nan said, “I met this guy who actually stops to help people stranded by the side of the road.”
At the time I remember thinking that most of us say, “Oh, oh! Looks like that man just had a flat. Too bad.” Or if the car is in a precarious position along the highway, we may call the state police, feel virtuous and keep on traveling. David, on the other hand, is one of those rare individuals that actually rush in to help. Today society refers to him and his colleagues as first responders — and they are — those amazing beings who dash toward danger just as most of us scramble to avoid it.
Touching down amid us ordinary folk
That one of them has actually touched down in the midst of us ordinary folk — and is now part of our family — is utterly astonishing to me. The thing is, that despite the rarified air he breathes because he’s over six-foot-five, he is actually a down-to-earth and very funny guy — whom we have grown to love very much. And in a family where the median height of males is five-foot-seven, David introduces a distinct genetic variation.
Continuing the theme of rescue — the western duo comes to ours, as we decide we must be in on the celebration of David’s remarkable achievement. Nancy is making a party and we must be there. So it is from must to shall to have done: and the next thing we know we are booked on a flight to the west coast.
Leaving behind our lists and our worries and the frenetic pace of preparations, we heave a collective sigh of relief, and after three plane reshuffles, we are airborne. It doesn’t even matter that they lose our luggage for a few days. It’s amazing how we can adapt when we have to: the clothes on our backs are rinse-able; a t-shirt for a very tall firefighter quickly converts to a night shirt for a mother-in-law and tooth brushes are easily accessible at an all-night drug store in L.A. What else do we need?
After five hours of sleep, we leave the next morning for the party venue, which is a house in San Clemente that Nancy and David are preparing for rentals. (Catch the irony: we have left preparations for our home’s summer rental season and we are now immersed in theirs.)
Of course, we pitch in. First, there is sawdust everywhere: sinks and doors coming and going, workmen stationed at critical junctures everywhere, while our grand-dogs carve zig-zagging trails throughout the chaos. We also find shower stalls and closets needing doors. There are shades to be hung and an outdoor wall to be painted and the fence enclosing the patio also needs paint. We take this inventory as we walk in! We struggle to suppress disbelief — that is, all of us but David.
Ready to entertain
In less than 12 hours, we are to have the house set-perfect for entertaining 50 or 60 people. David promises that the fence paint will dry in eight minutes, which he tackles exactly two hours before the first guests arrive. He is absolutely right: the paint dries right on schedule, just as everything else falls into place: usable and clean bathrooms emerge; floors and furniture appear from under the debris and sparkle in their new coat of clean. We are ready to entertain.
By the time the first guest arrives, the wine and beer are chilled, hors d’oeuvres are out and the taco truck driver calls to say he is just leaving Los Angeles: we are two hours away. Not to worry, one flippant mother-in-law from the east quips, “We can always start with the dessert and call it a backwards party!”
In the end, there is nothing backwards about it. Friends and family gather, many of them firefighters as well. No one actually talks out loud about why we are all there — to celebrate an individual whose daily fare is danger, whose training and routines may at any time plunge him down precipices and send him clambering to the top of teetering towers.
Even now, his promotion is to a Haz-mat station. He will be in charge of catastrophes involving hazardous materials. This is the young man who, along with several friends and colleagues, voluntarily left L.A., just hours after September 11, to work with their brother firefighters at the scene of our national horror, Ground Zero.
He and his colleagues never discuss these things. There is no posturing and no crowing. The outward signs of promotion are simply a change of button colors and a new badge. They simply do what they do and a get together is simply to enjoy. What is felt is unspoken.
The party in a San Clemente backyard in the afternoon sunlight is an entirely low-key affair: no fuss, no fanfare. There is no ceremony and no speech-making, just a few collegial pats on the back, a few “way-to-gos,” many hugs and lots of laughter.