Authors: Steven Manchester
Tags: #Adult, #Contemporary, #FICTION/Family Life
They say â whoever
are â that every story has to start at its beginning. I'm not sure that's true. Maybe the best place to start with any story is the here and now. And that's exactly where we'll begin.
Let me paint a picture for you: My name's Don DiMarco and I live at 55 Summerfield Avenue on the outskirts of Pilgrim Hill. It's a small, residential neighborhood that sits beside a giant field of white and yellow daisies. And it's become the perfect place to enjoy my once-dreaded retirement.
In the mornings, even though I swore I'd never own another dog, Foxhound â named after my childhood companion â and I go for our daily walk and take it all in. It's like living in the middle of a Thomas Kinkade original.
Colonial, Cape Cod, and ranch style homes line both sides of the street, each one betraying the unique character befitting its owner. Brick driveways, laid out in a herringbone design, are guarded by statues of grinning lions or laughing cherubs. Faded cedar shingles are offset with cranberry or forest green shutters. Striped awnings hang above each window, while multi-colored petunias fill each box beneath. Open porches with rocking chairs lead to inviting front doors, their flowered wreaths matching the hanging potted plants that drip with warmth. Red brick and black wrought iron complement the sparkle of glass and richness of mahogany. In the rear, Connecticut stone patios host sturdy picnic benches and swinging hammocks.
Most of the yards are meticulously landscaped. Rhododendrons and azaleas burst with color, while apple and cherry blossom trees weave a carpet of pink and white petals beneath their twisted branches.
While Foxhound pulls at his leash, I prefer to maintain a leisurely pace. It's amazing the details you can pick up if you just stop long enough to pay attention.
To the harmony of singing birds, a tiny peeper calls out from a moss-covered stonewall. I like to stop for a moment and feel the tingle of a gentle breeze and the sun's warm hands on my skin. Suddenly, the powerful aroma of fresh-cut grass grabs my senses and I breathe it all in.
As we travel on, red maples and giant sycamores dance with the white birches and mighty oaks. If you follow their branches to the top, you'll find melted marshmallow clouds traveling a slow and easy pace against a sky of blue that's indescribable.
Though Foxhound and I enjoy our time alone, I also like the occasional exchange of a warm smile or friendly wave. When we're lucky, we'll catch Sarah pushing her newborn in an open antique carriage. When we're not so lucky, we'll come across another dog walker and his four-legged friend. Though I've tried to teach him better manners, Foxhound suffers terribly from an only child syndrome.
When you put all the pieces together, I guess Summerfield Avenue is my true refuge. For me, everything is at peace here. That, coupled with the fact I've finally managed a perfect lawn, how could I ever complain?
As I think I've mentioned, I retired early â at fifty-seven years old â which allows me lots of time to spend with those I love and to think about the paths I've traveled. Family, of course, comes first.
Isabella â my beautiful Bella â is my true partner and wife. She's a great cook and from what I can tell, while I'm out cutting the grass or changing the car's oil, she's always loved playing the traditional role of homemaker. Through the years, she's insisted on very few things, but the one thing she's asked for is that the family eat together at the dinner table each night. Bella and I have been together so long it's tough to tell the differences between us. I guess you could say we more than complement each other. She laughs when I say it, but I believe we're two halves that make up a whole. A firm but compassionate soul, Bella has worked with mentally disabled children for the better part of four decades. We're holiday Catholics and for years, she took care of her ailing mother â her cross to bear â and had a difficult time letting go when the old woman finally passed. Bella can't sit still. She's constantly cleaning. And my wife, I've learned, has never been wrong â which might honestly be her only true flaw.
At thirty-six, our only child, Riley, is still Daddy's little girl. On the morning we were blessed with her company, I remember thinking,
In my daughter's face, I have seen my grandmother's smile.
With my brown hair and her mother's hazel eyes, she turned out as pretty as she is kind â which is most important, if you ask me. To the applause of thunder and torrential downpours, Riley came into the world without wanting to cause anyone any trouble. I sensed she was an old soul and we clicked right away. I suppose she had a normal upbringing; from tomboy to boy crushes to college, where she eventually followed in her mother's footsteps and became an advocate for disabled children. Through the years, she became a gifted softball player â which I think was equally considerate of me, as I had no son â and an avid cyclist; a passion that has carried on through her adulthood. Riley and I have also shared an undying love for the Boston Red Sox. However, she did go through a rebellious stage I tried to ignore as much as humanly possible. With a back tattoo, belly button ring and a few nights where she had too much to drink and needed to call me for a ride (I never made a big deal about it at the time, preferring that she call me rather than drive home intoxicated), trust me when I say we've had our moments.
I thought I was lucky to have had two loves of my life
that is, until the grandkids came along.
After testing a string of potential suitors, Riley finally settled down with Michael. Even if I'd wanted to dislike him like some of the others, there's no way I could have. He was respectful to me and Bella, but more importantly he was good to Riley. Before long, our daughter became Riley DiMarco-Resonina, a name I've never stopped kidding her about. “Wanna buy a vowel?” I'd ask, but she's always been a good sport about it. Riley and Michael waited quite a while, but they eventually gave me and Bella two beautiful grandbabies. The first was Madison Ruth, named after Michael's mother. Then came Michael Donald, which honored me beyond words. And with these children, I've been completely blessed. Grandkids are the perfect payoff for any life.
Ms. Madison, the oldest, was tough stuff from the start. With rosebud lips, a potato nose and her grandma's eyes, the gap between her two front teeth makes her smile contagious. The word determined can't even begin to describe this child. Of course, she looks like a living doll in her flowered dresses and fancy bows, but in reality she's all tomboy like her mom. Her relationship with her baby brother is reflective of the tough love my brother Joseph and I shared when we were coming up. “No one's going to mess with this kid,” I've boasted time and again.
Michael Donald, the baby, was the chubbiest newborn I'd ever laid eyes on, so I nicknamed him Pudge and have never called him anything else since. With his dad's dimpled smile, he's a mix of mama's boy and the kind of rough and tumble lad that any man would love to have for a son. Before he could walk, this inquisitive little grubber was throwing baseballs and testing out different wrestling moves.
Madison and Pudge have always called me Poppa and I could not be any more grateful to their dad for allowing me to share in their love and adoration. As if it were possible, I've spoiled both of them even more than I did Riley. And the truth is â I've never once felt guilty for it.
Forgive me for going on like this. Though I always swore I wouldn't, it seems I've become the stereotypical grandfather.
Let's see, we were talking about the joys of retirement. Well, I still work â or volunteer, I should say. After years spent in a woodworking shop, I now volunteer in a children's hospital, transporting kids. I love it. I do. There's no pressure, better hours and I'm not killing myself any more because I've learned everything I need to know about money. The way I see it is â when you don't place so much value on something, it's not as important as it once was. Believe me, there's great freedom in that.
Before turning in each night, I like to sit on my deck in my Adirondack chair with my musty-smelling stray lying by my side. Prayer, meditation â whatever you'd like to call it â I now enjoy getting in touch with my spiritual side. At first, going within felt very strange, but the more time I've spent in the stillness â not thinking or doing anything, just being â the closer I've felt to myself; to the essence of who I truly am. To me, sitting on that deck at the start of a silver-lined dusk is like hosting a family reunion with my soul.
Like some unfinished masterpiece still in the process of creation, on most nights the light is bent to create the most magnificent colors, unnamed and infinite. Midnight blue poured onto black velvet; the ordinary is turned mysterious. Like a snow-covered mountain range, billowy clouds crawl by. The dark silhouetted tree line against a steel gray sky leaves me with the illusion of solitude and I am grateful for the opportunity to appreciate the light. Then, a giant curtain is drawn and the light announces its final surrender. As promising as the dreams of a child, though, it will be back. The world closes in all around me, allowing me the time I need to recharge my batteries. By now, the eye can only pick up movement. Sounds and smells become much crisper. The scent of moisture settles in and then burnt hardwood from a distant fireplace. Twinkling specks of light, of pure energy, are gradually scattered across the firmament, and I stare until I can see depth. All sounds are heightened beyond a whisper; the steady beat of a whippoorwill, the rustling of a skunk foraging for a late dinner, the patter of a moth's wings on glass. Even in the moon's halo, the clouds are no more than wisps of smoke drifting by. Like tiny magicians, the fireflies disappear and reappear until the cool air ushers them off to some hollowed-out log. Before long, all things are tucked away into their rightful place.
And though I must do so through the innocent eyes of a child, I can witness this most nights. If Foxhound and I are real lucky, on special nights we'll catch a lightning storm on the deck. Hearing the echo of rolling thunder and seeing the flash of lightning only reminds me that God never sleeps. “The angels are bowling,” my mother used to say. Grandpa, however, preferred to capitalize on fear whenever he could. “God is angry with us!” he'd swear. Either way, it was a childhood fear that I'd never internalized or had to overcome. Like a mosquito to a bug zapper, I was drawn to these dangerous storms. To me, it's like being stuck in a car wash that comes with a very cool light show.
Stormy or clear, any night is ideal for thinking about those paths I mentioned. I'll spend hours just sitting there, searching my memory. It's funny the things you pick up along the way; the things you can share with your grandkids if you're smart.
I've learned that anyone can change the world; you just have to start with one person at a time. I've also learned that not caring what other people think of me has allowed me the energy to focus on what I think of myself. For me, life is like looking through a kaleidoscope. With every turn, a different view will be brought to light.
I've taught my grandkids that good things come to those who wait, but great things come to those who go after it; that a gift within is meant to be shared or else it wouldn't be a gift; and no matter how large or small, everybody's problems are enormous to themselves. Though the list goes on, the most important thing I've passed on is that life can be a beautiful dream, or a living nightmare. It's all about your attitude â your perspective.
But I didn't always see things this wayâ¦