It happened so fast there was no time to capture the moment on film.
Every July we make our annual trek to the hills of West Virginia, where four generations of Mike’s family have gathered annually for nearly 35 years. We start gathering supplies weeks in advance: ingredients for the evening meal when we’ll take our turn cooking for 50-75 + of our kin. Books and gifts for those we seldom see. Sports equipment and beach towels, games and photo albums.
Every year we wonder whether Gramma and Poppa, the two solely responsible for the familial mayhem, will retain their unbroken attendance record.
Every year they do.
Nearly 91, Mike’s mom no longer careens around the go-cart track as she used to do in her 70s with the grandkids. Newly 90, his dad no longer flies down the water slide at Wheeling Park with the great-grands. New memories alight in Mom’s hands like butterflies that linger a moment and are gone. Old friends whom Dad looked forward to greeting when they moved back to New York this summer are gone.
Yet they make their way back to Family Camp each summer, smiling quietly in the midst of the riotous talk and laughter of seven children, 23 grandchildren and 30 great-grands plus assorted spouses and pets.
From the Bluebird cabin in the holler where we lodge with our own adult children, Mike and I awaken early this year, aroused by the stirrings of our year-old granddaughter in the room next door. We pace outside the door until a sleepy-eyed parent surrenders Libby to our eager arms.
Cheerios and sippy-cup in hand, Libby settles happily into her umbrella stroller for a morning walk up the hill to the cabin where for sure two Special Someones will be awake in the wee hours.
And sure enough, they are. Gramma and Poppa are already sitting at the kitchen table with a daughter or two. There is no time to waste when the years are slipping away like water between the fingers.
We push open the door, plop Libby on the polished wooden surface.
“What a beautiful child!” Mom exclaims each morning. “Look at those blue eyes. Whose is she?”
“This is Elizabeth Marjorie Susek,” we say proudly. “Libby. Amber and Ben’s first child.”
And every day we have the extreme joy of introducing Mom to her newest great-grandchild.
But one day we linger too long. Libby starts to fuss and a call from her own mama beckons us back down the asphalt road.
And then we see her. A fawn, big-eyed and wobbly-legged like Libby, sprinting across the road before us minus her own mama.
She stops, turns, stares at the small one in the stroller. Considers for a moment, wariness warring with curiosity.
We wait, breath tucked into ribs, nothing stirring but the West Virginia wind.
It only takes a bound or two and the fawn is in front of us, staring at the baby who struggles to pull a greeting from her small stock of words.
“Doh!” Libby says delightedly. (“Dog”).
Fawns don’t smile, not really.
But we did. All the way home to the holler.