Grace always has mixed feelings when traveling back to the States. It’s the kiosk that bothers her, and the old photo of her on her passport that no longer matches reality. This time, though, she selected the film Me Before You and cried for a few hours on the plane, so when she got to the custom’s line, she had none left.
Tired, asymmetrical eyes starred at the camera of the kiosk as it snapped a shot. The photo printed on a black-and-one ticket. She sighed, unable to feel anything more than disappointment. The custom’s officer asked her a few questions, took her ticket and made a comment about how everyone looks bad in their photos.
She picked up her luggage and rolled out, sighting her parents with two-and-a-half-year-old Oliver, her brother’s son. Beautifully blonde and too tall for his age, Oliver is often misunderstood. After a tight squeeze to each one, Grace walked with them to the car and headed home — home, to her, meant family.
“Airplane,” Oliver said, pointing out the window to the sky.
The plane was so small, but his young, fresh eyes spotted every single plane crossing the gray sky. Grace, in the front passenger’s seat, turned around and smiled.
“You know what Oliver?” she asked. “You can pinch those airplanes right out of the sky.”
He looked puzzled, but interested.
“You just do this,” her index and thumb, half an inch apart, floated in the air towards the window until she had the airplane in between the two, and she snatched it up. Oliver’s mouth dropped, then he laughed. She did it again, then handed him the miniaturized, invisible airplane.
He accepted the game, except it wasn’t a game. They really pulled the plane from the sky and there he held it in his hands, then put it in his train. Two more planes crossed the sky, so he reached up and pinched them out of the gray and shoved them into his mouth. Munch, munch, munch. After chewing them up, he spat them out onto the car floor.
“They don’t taste good,” he said with a sour face. “Pick them up!”
“Eww, gross. I’m not taking those nasty chewed up planes.” She gave him a crunched up face. He laughed.
When they reached the house, six-month-old Jory waited graciously to be snuggled. Oliver ran up to him, excited, “Hey, cousin Jowy!” Then he grabbed his toy truck and began running it around the house. His blonde hair dipped in sweat and cheeks as rosy as a cherry lollipop, he started hollering for Popop. When he got no answer, he ran into the kitchen, put the stool in front of the counter and got up into the top cabinet.
“What are you doing?” his dad asked.
“I want a lollipop.”
“You have to ask Popop. You can’t just get into the cabinet. That’s a you-and-Popop thing.”
“POPOP, POPOP, LOLLIPOP,” Oliver screamed as he ran down the hall to the bottom of the stairs.
Popop came downstairs and they went into the kitchen to select their lollipops. One chose cherry, the other blue raspberry. Oliver licked his down a ways, then asked Popop to trade. They traded. Then Oliver cracked into his lollipop and chewed it up, all the while eyeing Popop’s lollipop.
“Hey, Popop, you want to finish that?”
“Well, could I finish it?”
“But it’s mine,” Popop was saying softly, but Oliver’s little hands had already reached up and took hold of Popop’s, who let the lollipop slide from his hands.
The whole family stayed for dinner. Grace watched as her mom prepared plates for everyone: her father, brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and the babies. They’d put Jory in some kind of table top seater for real little ones, and Oliver kept getting yelled at to sit down.
His blonde hair swooshed in the air and under the table he went. Jory’s eyes followed Oliver as he disappeared. Then Oliver popped back up from under the table and, darting his eyes quickly into Jory’s, said: “BOO.” Jory burst into hysterics, laughing so hard that everyone followed suite. Oliver repeated his magic several times, then looked at his dad, Grace’s brother, who wasn’t laughing and very seriously said, in case his father hadn’t figured it out: “That’s funny.”
In the evening, Oliver and his parents went home, and Jory sat in between Grace and his mom. They had a stack of books in front of them, but began with the book Grandpa Bear. The pages, to him, looked tasty so he tried a few. He’d look at the pictures and the words, then up at his mom and aunt or across to his Momom. When that book came to an end, they selected the next book and began reading. Jory got a serious case of the two-second red face, pissed in a matter of seconds, and started screaming angrily. They changed the book several times with no luck of calming Jory, until Momom suggested they give him back the book Grandpa Bear. There the red faded into a peachy white, and Jory happily began biting the pages.
Jory went to sleep, and they put on a show. Grace would always find the softest blanket in the house to curl up under, and they would all sit close enough to share a bag of Salt & Vinegar chips. This time, though, they didn’t finish the bag. The movie came to an end and they all headed to bed. Grace got in the shower, the water heated her soul as she recalled the day. Not a moment was wasted, not a smile or fit missed. The smooth skin of the babies, the adulthood of her brother and sister, the aging of her parents; and somehow she felt time stood still. Everyone and everything was getting older, yet nothing seemed to really change.
She wiggled under the fluffy comforter her mom always put on the bed and sunk her head into a pile of six pillows. Eyes closed, she could see Oliver pop up from under the table and hear Jory laugh. She drifted off to a place she always wondered about, a blank canvas that could either shed light or darkness, a canvas of opportunity and possibility, of peace and gratitude, of fun and danger, of all or nothing. On this night, a canvas of love.
Based on a true story – and here’s a fun photo: