Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Snakes & Bananas, Family Style.

Easter Sunday, 2005
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Ms. Booty, Papa Joe, Sister Dana, Autumn & Haley Jo
I'd been missing my nieces something fierce, as it'd been nearly four weeks since I'd seen them.

They live in East Tennessee, across the plateau and just outside the Secret City: Oak Ridge.

As it's a three hour drive one way to them (and my folks), I simply tire of late if making it a single day trip and couldn't forsee with my schedule a way to get to them in the next week or so.... Having mentioned this to my mother, Peggy, AKA Diggy, she woke early Sunday morning and colluded with my father to keep the girls during their mother, Dana's-- my sister-- soccer tournament and take a ride over to Nashville to see me for a few hours. And so they did.

Pulling in front of our home just as My Beloved Mister was pulling away to depart for his day's work at the radio station, he and my father shook hands and six year old Autumn hollered out the window, "There's Ms. Booty!" I was standing in the front yard saying goodbye to my Mister and giving Bert the Dog an opportunity to get a snoot full of fresh air.

We-- my folks, my nieces and I-- all crumped into my mother's big teal sedan with my father, dressed in his summer khaki shorts and shirt like an animal handler, at the wheel. We headed to Shoney's for lunch. I ate a big plate of salad and then some eggs and grits. And a couple pieces of link sausage. Odd combination, that, though I much enjoyed it. The girls picked at their food and had a much bigger time simply visiting and playing "waitress" in which Autumn asked what each diner would like to order and her little sister Haley Jo came up with wonderful combinations including Snakes & Bananas, Chicken & Frogs and Chicken & Worms.

After the Animal Handler had eaten his fill of breakfast buffet and Diggy and I took the girls to the restroom with us, we wended the highway around and across the river to see the girls' uncle at the radio station. Autumn, in particular, is very interested in the fact that she can hear him on the radio and for the last couple years will sometimes mistake a deeply soothing midwestern voice for that of her uncle. (I should also disclose that for the earliest years of her childhood, she also mistook Colin Powell for Papa each time she saw him on television, but really, how could a body disagree with the similarity?)

At the radio station, Diggy was quite anxious. Our girls are known to touch things they oughtn't, and to burst forth with excitement when a lower key attitude might be called for. Diggy had warned the girls on the way to the station that they were to speak in quiet inside voices while visiting their uncle; I think she suspected that somehow they'd flip the channels on the board and treat the Nashville Public Radio listenership to their girlish prattle. No matter. All went quite well.

Each of the children listened to the broadcast for a moment through the headphones and My Mister tucked us all in the adjoining soundproof booth next to Studio A during his top of the hour break leading into Prairie Home Companion, a show the girls and the grandparents are quite familiar with. During the time he spoke into the microphone, the girls' eyed their uncle with great wonder and literally shook with excitement-- Autumn backed into my lap and whispered conspiratorially, "That's your husband!" as if she were a girlfriend, letting me know she understands why I think my man is so cool. When the music break came on, Haley Jo busted into a booty shaking so vigorous that she continued it into the hallway and danced herself right to the floor, only to hop back up and begin again. That girl loves to dance.

My Man showed the girls and the grandparents the log sitting turtles in the creek behind the station, and how when they see humans, the turtles drop off the logs and into the water. My father was deeply impressed at seeing a great blue heron, who delighted us all by taking flight just after we'd spotted him.

There was time only left for a quick swim at the Y, and then Diggy, Papa and the girls headed back across the plateau, as Autumn's first official day of kindergarten was to be the following morning.

Speaking to my mother by phone in the days that follow, she tells me the girls pronounced seeing Uncle Eric speak into the microphone as their favorite part of the visit. She asked them if they were sure it hadn't been visiting with their aunt. "We saw turtles!" they answered.

As it should be. Of all the things mentioned and experienced, I am the most constant in their young lives and they take my presence a bit for granted, as I hope my own child will, simply knowing that some things just are.

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