November sunset, northern California
My little grandniece is dancing around the living room to Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” on my wife’s iPhone. Her mother is dancing next to her, but to a completely different song on her own phone over her ear buds. As she sings along, I am introduced to Andy Mineo’s “In My City.” Then she asks me about “Black Velvet” and “The Wanderer” and I explain that the currently popular versions are remakes from back in my era.
What a wonderful evening after a full day.
Our homeless friend came by this morning and Pastor Mom served him toast, sausage and coffee for breakfast. His timing was good: We were all just sitting around waiting for the exterminator to get here. Ants, spiders, centipedes — we’ve got ‘em all. The critters just love visiting us.
We hadn’t eaten yet, as our plan was for all of us to go out to breakfast with my niece and her baby when the bug man arrived. We were told that we had to be out of the house for three hours after he sprayed. Denny’s, here we come. (We appreciate the 20% off coupons they email us periodically.)
Our friend has connected with an organization that helps hire ex-cons, so he’s trying to clear up a parole violation and scrape up enough money for a cell phone and a bicycle to allow him to apply for a job and, once hired, to get there. We are hoping that perhaps we will be able to help him in his quest to get back on his feet, even if only by providing encouragement (and the occasional bag of snacks).
“Let’s see what I can find to do today,” he remarked to himself as he left.
I noticed a big black trash bag sitting on one of the old pews outside the church door. It turns out that our friend had left his sleeping bag, some clothes and his wet socks in the church bathroom (he had probably washed them out in the sink). As the exterminators would be spraying in there as well, Pastor Mom put everything in the trash bag and removed them to the pew. If it rains, at least his sleeping bag won’t get wet.
At breakfast, I was so pleased that my niece was willing to talk a bit about her experience as a first-semester college student. She is having a very hard time in math and, despite my efforts to assist, believes she is unlikely to pass. I reminded her that she can always take it again.
Goodness, it seems that all of us need a shot of encouragement, from a struggling homeless guy to a struggling college student with a baby. All of us are struggling with something. Remember, a kind word costs nothing and goes a long way.
My niece decided she doesn’t want to go into nursing after all. She doesn’t know what direction she wants her career to take. Take your time, I recommended. That’s what college is all about, an opportunity to try out all different subjects and find out what you fancy.
But she’s worried about her financial aid situation and how many years it will take her to earn a degree at this rate. Take your time and do it at your own pace, I recommended. I am so proud of her for giving it a go.
We couldn’t return to the parsonage with the baby due to the insect spraying. My grandniece, age one, was wearing a heart monitor today. She has been dealing with heart problems since the day she was born, but they are improving and she has been able to get off her meds. The cardiologist has to keep checking, though. Later, we’ll remove the electrodes from her little chest and bring the monitor back to the cardio place to be read.
But for now, we are killing time. My wife’s sinuses are really bothering her, so we head over to my sister-in-law’s house so that she and my grandniece can take a nap. While the house is quiet and my niece is off at classes, I take the opportunity to tell Pastor Mom all about my recent experiences with WordPress, the wonderful people whose acquaintances I have made in this medium, and my hopes to improve my writing.
Pastor Mom’s cell phone rings periodically. A parishioner calls to report that her daughter is doing worse; her heart problems have put her in intensive care. An elderly friend living out of the country calls to say that she is being abused by her son. Then it’s a guy who will come over to look at the roof of the church social hall. It’s not in good shape and may need to be replaced. If the funds to pay for it can be found, that is.
Done with school for the day, my niece returns and we all head over to the parsonage to begin preparing dinner. My niece wants to use her nana’s computer to work on a term paper. The rest of us will take care of the baby for a bit. While the others are eating steak tacos, the little one is sharing my veggie burgers, potato and broccoli, cut up in tiny pieces. She seems to like my veggie food well enough.
In the kitchen, my niece moves on to another Andy Mineo tune, “Death Has Died.” She belts it out with passion, laughing when she forgets some of the song’s many rap lyrics. “Breakin’ down, breakin’ down, everything here is breaking down…” References to the Sandy Hook massacre. 26 dead, 20 of them kids. “You used to make me cry, but one day He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes.” My talented niece raps away as the lyrics claw at my heart.
In the background, Steve Miller continues wailing “I wanna reach out and grab ya” from the living room. My wife’s now abandoned phone has been repeating the song over and over.
Another niece calls on Face Time so that she can interact with my grandniece for a while. The little one grabs the phone and dances over the kitchen tiles, grooving to the music and more or less ignoring my niece’s face. The little one’s mother gets on the phone and I catch snatches of references to SnapChat and Instagram. This is a foreign language to Uncle Guac, so I ask for an explanation. Before I know it, both apps are loaded onto my phone. Selfies, here I come! My nieces, the one in the kitchen and the one whose face is on the phone, laugh at my use of the word “selfies.” Thank you for keeping me current, Le Clown. I owe you, dude!
We move into the living room, where the music and dancing makes me smile. My sister-in-law comes by for a few minutes after her long commute from work. She grabs hold of her daughter and they waltz around the room to the music. Then my nephew comes by, grabs some of our leftovers, and spends time playing with the baby. You can see how much she misses him. He had been her day care provider for months until he got a new job and my wife took over those duties.
The little one has discovered a new game. These are the rules: Baby pulls the headphones out of Uncle’s laptop audio jack and begins sucking on it. Uncle removes it from baby’s mouth and replaces it in the computer. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat 20 more times.
My grandniece has pulled out all of her toys and has them spread out on the carpet. But she throws all her cars, dolls and musical toys aside. What she really wants to play with is a lavender plastic colander from the kitchen.
The little bug is up and down off the couch, receiving attention from each of us. She is an equal opportunity cuddler. And she has a boundless supply of energy. My niece and nephew begin duetting on a popular song that I have never heard of.
My nephew tells us that he’d really like to get out of California. I tell him that I fully sympathize. How I’d love to return to New England. “But you know what?” I add. “My family is in California, so I am, too.”
And it’s true. For just at this moment, I know I wouldn’t trade being here for anything in the world.
It’s late in the evening. My niece and grandniece have zonked out. My nephew has gone home. As I prepare to lock the doors, I step out into the cool night air.
And I see that our homeless friend’s black, stuffed-full trash bag is still sitting out on the pew. I check the church bathroom, but he is nowhere to be found.