It wasn’t until we sat in the living room of our little retreat in Paihia, NZ, at about 4:00PM on the afternoon of Sunday, May 16, 2010, that I had the time to think about the previous week and its events with any sense of order. It had been six days since we shut the door and drove away from home on the first step of our journey to that place on the hillside in New Zealand.
Funny as it seemed to me then thinking about it, the first step wasn’t at all that big. As with most journeys, I suppose it’s the first step that gets lost in all the rest of them. But, this was a big deal for me, this trip, for both of us as a matter of fact, and I wanted to remember all of it. So, all of the steps were important.
Sister Teresa had come up from Connecticut to spend the night with us before we took her to Logan Airport in Boston on Tuesday afternoon for her own flight to Poland and a visit with her parents and family. Sister had been a guest in our home long enough to lose the guest label, and that was gone quickly. She has become, quite frankly, a member of the family, dearly loved as if she was a blood relative.
We had already been busy getting ready, or rather Mariellen had been busy, and I had been her “ready reserve” when Sister arrived sometime in the afternoon of May 10, with her heavy suitcase and her carry-on bag.
After seeing her settled once more in her basement digs, we enjoyed a light supper and a short catch-up visit before calling it a night. The next day would be busy, I figured, since Mariellen’s “list” still had about a thousand items not crossed off.
Well, the final moments came. Loading the car with a half ton of baggage and waving goodbye to the crowds lining the street, the band and the mayor in her best dress we drove off. God had cleared the road ahead, and we took our Sister to the airport with no problem at all, arriving in good time for her to become properly bored with the wait.
We hugged and said a cheerful goodbye and Godspeed to each other, all under the eagle eye of the State Troopers patrolling the airport; one trooper for every two travelers it seemed. Then, for such a little time, we were on our own, alone. Our next stop was Needham, MA. Mariellen’s brother Bill and his wife, the lovely and gracious Mary Lynch Supple, had opened their home for the night to us. Bill was to take us to the airport at 6:30 in the morning.
Mary and Bill are the parents of four busy teenagers, so as we came through the door, Mary greeted us with a kiss and left almost immediately on what has always seemed to me as a last minute dash for the very last train or a Perils of Pauline rescue of a stranded child. She is never too distracted, though, to stop and welcome the visiting guest as if the day was spent preparing for that very thing, and the new arrival awaited as royalty might have been at some country cottage years ago.
I confess that it was I who was distracted. Three days or so before I had received a camera from a friend. She had upgraded to a Nikon D-90 and sold me her old (less than a year) D-40. I’d used the weekend to get familiar with it, even to the point of reading the phone book sized manual; only a slight exaggeration. I’d packed it away with its charger and an extra 4gig in the top of my carry on knapsack. Don’t ask me why, but at the last minute I also threw my little Lumix into the thing, too. But, I forgot the battery charger. Well, I didn’t forget it, actually. I figured I wouldn’t need it what with the other camera.
I did not figure on my knapsack zipper failing me and the D-40 tumbling to the ground as I walked across the driveway at Bill and Mary’s house. Mary, looking at it, said that there was probably nothing at all wrong with it since the case was very well padded. I called Joanna, who had sold me the camera, at her home in New York and she generously offered to take it to Nikon for repairs. It was still under warranty! That was fine, I thought, since while I could get it to turn on, it would not snap a photo. All I heard when I pressed the shutter release button was a high pitched sad whine.
Poor camera! And, the knapsack was one of those fancy jobs with the manufacturer’s name sewn onto it. I grumbled, and got on with the evening. There were other things than cameras to think of.
Bill came through the door soon after Mary left carrying several bags of groceries filled with the ingredients for a delicious surf ‘n turf supper of grilled London Broil and the thickest cut of swordfish steak I’d seen this side of Sweet’s Restaurant down by the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. He fired up his nuclear powered grill just outside the back door to the kitchen. It looks large enough to cook a meal for the crew of an aircraft carrier and powerful enough to rival a Bessemer furnace.
I joined him outside, he in his shiny asbestos suit, and we talked “sweaty men talk” for a while about such things as searing steaks of the beef and swordfish variety and what we intended to do in New Zealand when we got there. He showed me his secret, mayonnaise, and I lied since I hadn’t the slightest idea beyond getting off the plane after a twelve hour flight I wasn’t sure I would survive and still be able to walk.
Bill was finishing the meal as Mary arrived back home with someone of the children, I can’t remember which. Youngsters began to filter in, grazing on this or that morsel. Did I say this was a busy family? Madeline, (Mads, Maddy), the only girl, came in from crew practice, lamented the work she needed to do in packing for her school camping trip which required her to leave the next morning at an un-Godly hour, and left almost immediately with Jack and Ned, her two older brothers for a staff meeting at the Needham Swim and Tennis Club where they all have summer jobs.
Of course, this being a busy place, they had their own last minute problems. Jack was over a half hour late for a piano lesson and Ned, the oldest, needed to return to Holy Cross that same night for finals week.
As we sat at the table only Will, the youngest, was with us, being temporarily un-busy. I remember wondering aloud just why that was, but I cannot remember the answer. It may have been lost in the several dozen bursts of conversation that all seemed to be taking place at once. Mary said she’d drive Ned back after the meeting and Bill suggested that he thought it would be better if he did so; concerned that she would be making the return trip near midnight.
Did I say she was graceful and charming? Well, underneath all of that is a steel core. She dug in, saying that she was especially looking forward to the drive home when she would use the time to relax at the end of a long day.
I saw the wisdom in Bill’s ready acceptance of Mary’s decision. The meal was delicious, and I will remember the mayonnaise tip; though I do like using Goya Adobo on my steaks, hamburgers and chicken and pork when grilling.
We had both been up early on Monday, the 10th of May, packing and cleaning, setting the house in order for our absence. I’d cooked my last supper for a while for Father Kelley, our pastor, down at the rectory, and then come home to finish…a few last minute wardrobe changes, take out a shirt, add a pair of socks… the visit with Sister Teresa. Mariellen had been about the same business, planning the music for three weeks for the Masses at St. John’s where she is the organist on Sunday, doing her own re-mix on the clothing and sitting, finally, at the table for a short visit and a deep breath before setting off.
I had that all in mind as, shortly after we finished our excellent meal with Bill and such of his family as flew by, and I considered moving in with them, we both went upstairs to sleep in Will’s room in the “Rob and Laura Petrie” twin beds. Sleep, I knew, would be a fickle friend.