I hadn’t realized quite how flesh-famished I was until I opened the door of my son and daughter-in-law’s house after my 7 +hour drive from Los Angeles on Thanksgiving eve, and saw the beaming face of my 4 1/2 year old grand daughter on the stairs, felt the emotions rush directly to my tear ducts as she bounded down the stairs and we enfolded each other in our arms. “Nana!”
I hauled my two suitcases up the stairs, and within minutes, she had cajoled me into letting her unpack for me. Beyond wanting to please Nana, I’m sure she hoped there were gifts tucked into the suitcases, but those I’d left in the car to bring in after she went to sleep; her efforts were more enthusiastic than professional, but later when I got into the beautiful guest room, I certainly knew where everything was. My drawers were showing.
She and her little sister enjoyed my tokens of whale hat and ridiculous reindeer with bulbous eyes and light up antlers. As I carried them in the house, I instructed Skylar that she could have one and the other would be for her little sister, Birdie.
Okay, please forgive me – my continuity is off. The first picture was taken the second day when Skylar’s true love of the reindeer emerged. These two little munchkins are more entertaining for this grandma than many things I can think of. Birdie mimics Skylar with an intensity that is ferocious and fearless, comical and breathtaking.
It’d been a year since I’d seen them and both have grown so much, both physically and emotionally. A year ago, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the Emley family cabin in the Northern Sierras, with my brother and his wife, Chris and his family and their good friend Beth. This summer’s rapacious fires took the cabin from them and from us as a midway gathering spot. In the past several months, Chris and Whit have moved within Tahoe, and their new home has a hot tub which we enjoyed on Thanksgiving day. While the turkey roasted in the oven, we pruned in the hot tub, then crafted the gingerbread house which took shape on the big white table. Whitney can claim most of the credit, for her steady hand with the construction allowed dilettantes like me to ice around a few windows before Beth, master icer, stepped in to provide the magical elixir to make the edifice shimmer with sugar.
It’s been that kind of week. Magical icings happening every time we step outside, from the simple walk around the block, to the trip to Red Lake. I’ve watched The Lorax fifteen times this week, which is astonishing because Chris and Whitney are very conservative about the time that the television is on. The three adults’ cell phones provided instances of clarity about the intrusion of social media on a child nearly 5. Once she got the phone, she took bursts of photos, then at one point, grabbed the camera and began recording a video. As she walked away I heard her say:
Welcome to my channel….Skylar in a video recording- Nana eye roll
We are isolated enough that while we have masks with us, we haven’t used them because we are outside and physically distanced from everyone. Fortunately, we had three days together before they returned to work. In those three days, I understood and appreciated the beauty of a strong two parent family. On Friday, we went to pick out a Christmas tree, an outing which was the only reminder so far this week of COVID. Down by the edge of the lake, there were many families gathering to do the same thing, all (I’m happy to say) wearing masks.
It was great fun to watch Skylar select the tree. I was completely unaware of the dynamic going on during the taking of the three family photos – but the nascent sibling rivalry is ridiculously clear if you look closely.
I think my favorite outings were on Saturday when in the morning we hiked for an hour in the woods adjacent to their neighborhood, without encountering another human being, but spotted some bear tracks in the crusty snow. Saturday afternoon we cleared out of the house so Whitney could prepare for the return to her virtual classroom on Monday. Chris, Birdie, Skylar and I jumped into the roomy Suburban I’d rented to navigate through the snow I thought would be in Tahoe. Happily the roads have been clear, since I have a heavy vehicle but “city tires.” Good thing I brought the Suburban because it allowed us to transport the Christmas tree on Friday, and the hockey gear and children, picnic on Saturday. Off we went to Red Lake, which Chris had heard was skateable. Indeed, when we arrived and Chris and Skylar did a recce while I sat with the napping Birdie, the lake was frozen solid and there was a spirited hockey game going on in the middle of the deep freeze. Chris and his former player got suited up and off Chris and Skylar went into the middle of the lake. When they came back, they reported that it was disconcerting to be out there in the middle of the lake. For me, it brought back memories of skating on black ice on Turkey Pond in Concord, New Hampshire.
Throughout the week, my hosts graciously navigated the shoals of having an additional person in the house and we finally reached December 1st, which meant we could open the Harry and David chocolate advent calendar, which had been perched on the window sill behind the new dining room curtains, and which was emptied by eager hands reaching for it this morning, candies cascading onto the floor. The once well-ordered candies have been re-stocked into their numbered boxes. Four for each day.
This afternoon, Chris and I took one final hike, then Whitney and I made turkey and sweet potato enchiladas for dinner. We gathered for one final movie after dinner, and watched Hamilton, which held Skylar’s attention primarily due to the promise of a duel. She loved the “Skylar” sisters, too. At least we made it to Intermission by bedtime.
What a great week it’s been here in paradise. I’ll be back in the Suburban tomorrow to head home to the big city, replete with turkey and lots of hugs and smiles. Lucky Nana.