Life at the Center: A Golden Afternoon, Vol. 90, December 2020

By Renée Tillotson

I feel tears welling up as I write – poignant tears of how much I love my parents and how I will eventually miss them. At ages 87 and 90, my mom and dad first came to mind once the seriousness of Covid 19 hit home. With me on the islands and them in California, would I ever see and hug them again? Surely this question had arisen in millions, perhaps billions, of heart-minds globally.

Two Sundays ago, having made the journey across the ocean, I spent a golden afternoon with my folks and my brother Todd at our dad’s home in San Francisco, windows open, masks on, distanced. What made that afternoon so magical? Something more than the quality of light coming through Dad’s sunny, third story window…

A sweetness pervaded the room. None of us could take that afternoon for granted – it was too rare. We’d spent a wonderful long weekend together with the larger family – all outdoors – and I would be flying out the next morning. All of us knew that it might be the last time, although hopefully it’s just one of many more. In addition to eating a lovely meal together (masks off briefly for that, fresh air flowing in freely), we played a rousing, old-fashioned card game called Euchre, Mom and I against Todd and Dad. 

As we played, we shared lots of laughs and reminiscences about Dad’s mom, Grandma Coleman, who had originally taught all of us the game. She was one pistol of a little lady, with a merry twinkle whenever I was around her, unless something had ticked her off, in which case she let you know about it!  We four talked about Grandma’s mother, Grandma Carpenter, who for years ran a parlor for gambling and drinks without a liquor license, and about the cops who came in regularly, along with the other folks! 

As we played, Todd kept pretending to elbow-nudge the score-keeping cards, reminding us that Grandma Colemlan used to warn us against having a “educated elbow,” even though she evidently used her own on occasion to make sure she stayed in the lead! The Super 8 home-movie footage we had watched earlier of Grandma laughing and hugging us happily lingered over our game. 

She and our mom always stayed close, even after Mom and Dad divorced. People always have reasons when they divorce. Our family feels lucky that Dad and Mom never aired any “dirty laundry” with us kids about one another. Nor did they ever openly quarrel. We’ve been able to include them both in family gatherings for decades now.

Without placing all those extra barriers, barbed wires and booby traps between the two of themselves to begin with, Dad and Mom seem to have created space for a different kind of closeness to eventually arise, probably over enjoying their children, grandchildren and recently great-grandchildren together. They also share most political and social perspectives, which they passed on to us kids. So the four of us were a cohesive little group, talking about the events of the times.

Perhaps in a way, we earned that golden afternoon. Over the many years of life as a family, we have certainly endured our moments of stress, anger, loss, miscommunication, disappointment – just as I imagine every family does. Yet we let all of that go, let it fade into insignificance, and just the love remained. We simply and thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company.

Oh – and in case you were wondering – we girls were leading most of the way through our Euchre match, even though all three of the others had to keep reminding me how to play the dang game! In the end, though, Todd pulled off the last winning hand, and we all felt satisfied at a game well-played.

Back in Hawaii now, part of me wants to clutch onto that memory as something precious. Yet my mindfulness training helps me to avoid such grasping. The essence of that golden afternoon is as present to me now – and will be whenever I call it up in years to come – as it was when we were having the experience. That’s the way timeless moments work! They’re always available to us in the now.

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