My family and I headed up to The Berkshire’s this past week for vacation. It’s our yearly tradition when we gather together in a little house on a lake. The ages range from 18 to 89 and the interests are as varied as the ages. Colleen and I ended up in a Zumba class to appease the 18-year-olds and Lisa went to a baseball game in Pittsfield to amuse the 89-year-old. My father is the 89-year-old and he wanted to do everything that we had suggested as entertainment. He would have gone to that Zumba class if we hadn’t proposed the baseball game instead. That’s how we accidentally had him hiking on the Appalachian trail. We wanted to go on a hike and he chimed in he wanted to go too. We must have read the signs wrong for what was supposed to be a heart healthy easy to medium 1/2 mile trail. It started out with roots sticking up in the path and grew increasingly difficult as me moved forward. Eventually, he was balancing on planks over dry riverbeds and we found ourselves guiding him down boulders. The hike was closer to 2 miles of medium terrain – really not suitable for an 89-year-old. We had thought about turning back when we saw the sign for the Appalachian trail but we couldn’t imagine guiding him up the boulders we had just brought him down. We thought we were merely sharing a bend in the road with that famous trail. Just as we were beginning to panic a gravel path appeared and we believed what lay ahead would be easier and that we had been through the worst of it. We were wrong though as the road led back into the woods and the challenges returned having us finger and paw my father to get him through each turn safely.
He took it all in stride taking each plank or tricky pass as it appeared slowly and steadily and at one point he said, “It’s OK Mae, I know I’ll never be back this way again.” I laughed and said, “Damn right, I won’t make this mistake twice!” He laughed just as hard knowing he was out of his element. We stopped to admire the pine trees growing out of rocks and then the loon that flew overhead when we walked past the swamp and I noted a serene reverence in him. He was enjoying our error. The pine trees reminded him of his childhood home and we estimated they were about his age. He took in the moment fully aware that this was the last time he would ever be deep in the woods again.
We got him through the trail and back to the little house on the lake. He ate his lunch and took his nap falling into a deep sleep for a few hours. Meanwhile Madeleine and Julia, our 18-year-olds, received their roommate assignments. There was a flurry of excitement as they found them on Facebook. They are leaving for college in two weeks and that has been the only topic that has held their attention. The promise of the future and the fear of the changes it will bring played like notes in a song that was their conversation. Our two little birds are ready to fledge, they can only look to the horizon and plan their flight path away from us. They are not bogged down with sentiment that this might be the last of this or that and I breathed in their freshness.
This was truly the first vacation where I felt sandwiched between the two age groups and I took home something from both of them. Julia and Madeleine look to the future as nothing but possibilities waiting to happen. They can recite their dreams and desires with unbridled enthusiasm. My father takes any opportunity to explore the world around him and will not let his age be an excuse not to. He knows his years are limited along with the strength of his legs and mind. Each day is a gift he will not squander.
As for me, it is time to start thinking again of my dreams and desires knowing full well the gift each day is as well as the people in it.