I couldn't contain myself any longer (big surprise for those of you who know me) and ended up flying Charity out here. She told me that she was so excited that she was making arrangements to come for two weeks. Two weeks? I mean, I love her to pieces, but I hadn't seen her in more than a decade, and here she was, all grown up at 26. Who knows what could have changed in all those years? Look how much already had! Charity was so very excited that she put her own Christmas tree up, celebrated Christmas with her family and on the 26th the tree was down, decorations put away, and her suitcase packed for her departure from Denver on the 27th. Holy crap, talk about efficient.
What was to be a few short hours to get here, turned out to be an all day event with plane delay after plane delay, and our novice traveler knew not of her rights to book on another plane immediately because the delays were due to actual airplane malfunction and not an "Act of God," (which by the way, don't you just love that whole concept. I could go off on that right now with the Octuplet Mom's bullshit, but I'll spare you for the sake of this story). Anyway, by the time I arrived at LAX that evening, the airlines had of course lost her bag. Remember I said she was a novice traveler? Yeah. All of her meds and important belongings were in the big luggage and the carry on piece held junky incidentals. Let's just say that her first big lesson was learned through actual hands-on or hands-off experience.
I found her in the baggage claim area, wrestling with her jacket and carry on piece, whilst trying to fill out information should her bag be found. There she was! A woman now, with the same shock of blonde hair that she had as a girl. Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, it's not an Act of God anymore, but having said that, she looked pretty angelic to me. We flew into each other's arms and it was apparent that we needed each other to fill that long-emptied void. Family. Connectivity. Assuredness. Security. Safety. Unconditional love unlimited. We could hardly wait to get out to the car and get on the road.
The mind is a funny thing, you'd agree, right? And this is the good part. Somehow, in Charity's mind, I was still Grandma, but because of her own coming of age and now having four kids of her own, she had imagined for herself that I was, shall we say, no doubt a little more dowdily and age-appropriate for a "grandma." Read that, granny-ish. In her mind's eye, I was on a pedastle, the all-loving and all-knowing mother she never really had growing up and the only thing that could have changed was no doubt a dowager's hump, orthopedic shoes and tightly curled grey hair. Buzz. Wrong answer. Ah, not gonna happen as long as I can draw a breath and have my Amex card handy with a decent line of credit on it. As I told her, "Honey, I'm not going down without a fight.
Like tweens on a sleep-over, we stayed up, talking and laughing. There were memories of her high-tech lemonade stand built from fruit crates replete with wheels on casters, silver dollar sized pancakes just for her, and her favorite childhood memory of what we used to call "Hot Cocoa Baths." Basically, this was my attempt to drug an overly amped up kid with tryptophan to help them sleep. I would bring homemade hot cocoa to the bathtub and offer it butler-style to the non-suspecting child. See, ya gotta love that grandma wisdom stuff. Anyway, all the conversations began with, "Oh my God, do you remember..." and ended with tears, some from laughter and some from remembering her grandpa and missing him with all our hearts. She could not imagine that I have moved on, and coming home without him here to welcome her was incredibly hard. "Charity, we'll never get over losing him, but we just manage to get through it, and when you look up, eventualy enough time will have passed that you can breathe without choking on the memories and the dreams unfullfilled." I've found that when we dream for ourselves, we never interrupt it with the great "what if'" of life. What if that person I love so much becomes incapcitated, or what if something happens that I never realize just how much they mean to me and I never get to tell them. What if this photograph I'm snapping is the last one of them I'll ever have? Damn those what ifs.
In all of the times we had with Charity as a little girl, we had not taken her up the coast. The thing about California is, once you live here, it lives in you forever. It does. Where else can you sit on your patio with a cup of coffee, orange trees and birds of paradise in bloom all around you and a dusting of snow on the local mountains within your eyesight? Charity was jones-ing for California big time, so I made reservations at my favorite dog-fiendly hotel in Cambria, The Fog Catcher Inn. We rented a mini-van that could be accessed by Stallone, my aging golden retriever who had some serious mobility issues going on, and made our journey, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at Half Moon Bay, the vineyards and clean gas stations along the way. Gas stations can be a God send, and those with convenience store attached - even better. There, Charity was suddenly opting for water instead of her announced addiction to soda, but could not and would not give up the salty snacks of Flaming Hot, Limon Flavored, CHEETOHS. No. Orange fingered, I drove up the coast and our homemade sandwiches and cut veggies supplemented the "This has got to be made with crap" snack. Yum.
Cambria lived up to my expectations, as it always does. Garbo and Stallone loved the comfort of laying next to the fireplace at the foot of our king-sized beds, and seemed absolutely in bliss when Chari-boo (my nickname for the kid) would return from the dining room with left over chunks of fresh waffles, sausage and eggs. You have to admit, your eyes grow big with full expectations of being able to consume all you have managed to put on your plate, seeing as how someone else has made it for you. But that's another story. I digress.
For two nights we made Cambria our home, walked beach side, cozy in our jackets and mufflers and the new Uggs I gave her as a Christmas present. It was hard to believe, but we never even made it into town. Books lay with pages unturned and unlimited miles on the rental car were used instead to see everything on the way to Big Sur. Redwood needles crunched beneath our boots, rain washed away the miles of crust on the windshield and everywhere we went, we nested. It was sheer heaven- all of it - the way she gently helped Stallone in and out of the car, stopped to make sure both dogs were properly watered and of course, helped them find their perfect square of grass when necessary. I watched with the eyes of a proud parent, satisfied that if I died that same day, I would know that the world was a better place for having this woman in it. She is remarkable.
Back home, we moved through the house as we always had, but now grown up. It was a dance in the kitchen, the choreography in place of washing and drying dishes, preparing our next meals, feeding the dogs, and reaching for pots and pans to make new meals of homemade ablondigas and the favorties she remembered. I gave her my last copy of the cookbook I wrote and dedicated to her, so that she could continue making things like Firecracker Corn and her great grandma's Award Winning Chili. The recipes for life, she had apprently commited to memory. Charity knows that love isn't conditional upon ones gender or love for each other no matter if it is same sexed, that the meaning of Carpe Diem has greater weight now than before, and that old dogs need a little more love and time to get around. Yeah, she's cooking with gas, as my mother would say.
Come New Year's Eve and she accompanied me to Colombo's for my New Year's Eve show, helping the entire time, savoring the magic of it all. We are two old souls and the rhythm of our souls expression is like dessert - sweet, unexpected and satisfying. She seemed to love the standards we all sang, the people in my life who have become so important to me in the recent years and, of course, the scampi, calamari, steaks, eggplant, salmon and chocolate-chocolate desserts didn't hurt either.
To her husband back home, Charity couldn't get back soon enough - for several reasons, a few of them - well, I love Charity too much to talk about here - but for Charity and me, the time was evaporating quickly. Tears splashed against sunglasses, rolled down our cheeks and fell to our necklines. A cardboard box or two had to be sent home ahead of her because we knew her luggage would now be over by at least 30 pounds. There were clothes for the kids, souvenirs from our trip, new sweaters for Charity from my sister and Mom and a new 16 hour red lipstick in her carry on. Thankfully, we didn't have to pack the memory of procuring it. That went something like this:
"Red lipstick. Oh my God, I'm so embarrassed."
"What? Over what?" I asked incredulously.
"Grandma, I feel so stupid. I don't even know how to wear blush. Here I am, going to be 27 in a couple of days and no one ever showed me how to wear it, so I don't."
Proudly, yes proudly, like a long ago programmed tribal dance between women, I showed her the apples of her cheeks, and also found the perfect orange-red, not blue-red color for her lips and helped her apply both.
"How do I look?" she asked, so jubilant in her reflection.
"Like you, all grown up. Beautiful, honey, just beautiful."
And I thought to myself, on the outside she is a flaming hot Cheeto, and inside, pure, sweet and yummy hot cocoa. She had learned everything she needed to from that Lemonade Stand - that when you smile at people and offer them a cup of love, they'll even pay for it when it tastes like a cup of lemonade.
Can you tell, how much I love that kid. And in the words of my late husband, "Did I tell you today how much I love you?" Well, I just did.