December 15, 2009 2:15:00 PM
Jay Lacklen - [email protected]
OUT OF THE BLUE
A house is the ship your family sails through life.
Crewed by a mother and father
Daughters and sons, brothers and sisters
Husband and wife
Recently I stood in the empty, torn-apart-for-renovation, "ship" my family sailed for over twenty years. I felt both melancholy and pride as I walked among the torn up carpet, barren, patched walls, and scattered debris from an incomplete move. This old girl was up in dry dock for repairs before her next family crew would launch on their life mission aboard her. She will soon be back at sea, but we will no longer be with her.
Ghosts roamed before me in the empty rooms. A long ago baby''s cry, a toddler''s babble, a teenager''s angst and excitement at approaching adulthood. There were ghosts seated at the departed dining room table from over many holidays, many meals, and many life conversations. These included fathers, mothers, and relatives no longer with us.
There were also echoes of arguments, angry words, shouted epithets and tears floating in the air. For this was a family launched on an uneven keel, to keep up the nautical theme, that fought hard to succeed, but, in the end, fell apart and divided into two camps even as the children left to find their own future ship to sail.
I stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor bedrooms and called to my oldest daughter, who is now in the other camp: "Jess, your date is here." My voice cracked as I did so. I remembered her appearing at the top of the stairs those 10 years ago, a high school sophomore headed to her first prom, all smiles and promise and lace.
I walked to the front bedroom at the end of the upstairs hallway, reliving having to turn off my youngest daughter''s alarm clock that had awakened everyone in the house but her.
I walked into the empty, silent, family room, paused, and whistled for our departed pets. "Molly! Buttons! Kango!"
Kango, the cat, from almost two decades ago, is buried in the side yard. I had strung my military dog tags around the poor cat''s neck so the metal disks clanged behind him no matter how fast he ran around the room trying to escape them. I could hardly catch him to release him from the monster relentlessly chasing him.
Buttons, the English King Charles spaniel, would eye me closely as I would walk into the family room. With near clairvoyance, she would read my mind. I would give no word, movement, or indication that I intended to take her for a walk, even though that was my intent. Yet she would suddenly bolt to fetch me the leash, reading me perfectly despite my attempts to deceive and test her.
Shortly before I left the ship and the crew five years ago, I summoned the two youngest daughters to watch Molly, the cocker spaniel, pass away.
Molly did not tolerate the summer heat well as I walked her around the neighborhood with the twins in their double stroller in the early 1990s. Often I would have to have one of the daughters walk so Molly could ride in the stroller for the final stretch to the house, exhausted and breathing heavily from chasing rabbits and squirrels among the houses.
She had been fading the previous day, and it became obvious the end was near. We huddled around. The twins, now teenagers, stroked her as her eyes became glassy and her upper lip slowly curled up as if in a warning growl, and then she was gone. It provided a poignant scene to confirm the adage: The dog dies and the kids leave home and it is over.
The woods behind the house showed the waning brilliance of fall colors and the slightly cool nip of autumn in the air. I recalled my 5-to-10 year old daughters running back into the woods with their cousins to climb on a recently downed tree of immense proportions just deep enough into the forest to be out of sight of the house. A picture of them, youthful and smiling atop the downed trunk, is somewhere around here in one of the moving boxes. That tree is now a rotted, ill-defined mound on the forest floor.
I spoke with the contractor about what remained of the renovation: paint, carpet, and smaller incidentals before the job would be finished and our journey with our ship complete.
I suddenly remember an incident from my young adulthood aboard the family ship I had sailed as a child. My father had returned to briefly reunite my similarly separated family for Thanksgiving dinner. He asked to say the prayer, my mother nodded in acquiescence.
As my father spoke, he began to cry, something I had seldom seen him do. He repeated a statement his mother had made in similar circumstances some fifty years before: "Thank you, Lord, for those at this table, because the day will come when we will dearly wish we could sit with them again."
So, good-bye old ship, bon voyage, but I doubt I can bear to visit you again.
Jay Lacklen is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot, who flew missions in Vietnam and Iraq. Presently he is simulator instructor at CAFB and is writing a book about his experiences in the Air Force.