There is no way to make a youngster understand how very fast this life goes, just as there is no way to make a teenager understand that she will not only survive breaking up with her boyfriend, she will actually fall in love again — probably more than once — and that she will break other hearts and have hers broken again, and that each time, she’ll believe it will never happen again, meeting someone, loving someone else, but it will because it always does.
It is just as well that no one can prepare us for the experiences we face, or I don’t suppose there would be any poetry, or movies, or country music. I thought Sundays at my grandma’s would never end, and now they are over. One of my grandmothers is gone now, the other about to move in with one of her daughters. It has been a few years now since those every-Sunday family get-togethers. Those kids have grown up and had kids, and a good many of them have moved away. I am one of them.
Neither Tammy nor I have any family close by, so we do our best to make Sunday a special family day each week, spending extra time with the kids and doing special things whenever we can. Last Sunday, we grabbed some chicken, packed a blanket and a few jackets, and headed up to the Parkway for a picnic. We figured most of the more popular overlooks would be throttled with tourists, since we are now near the peak of leaf season, so we searched for a less crowded spot to spread our blanket, and within just a few miles, we found it, not very far from Balsam Gap.
I have never seen a more beautiful day in my life. There was literally not even a wisp of a cloud to be seen anywhere in the sky. The wind was still, and the temperature warm enough that jackets weren’t necessary, crisp enough to make every detail of the landscape stretched out below and beyond absolutely precise, achingly vivid. We got out of the van and just stood there for several moments, speechless, until the kids reminded us that they were still strapped into their car seats and would we let them out, please?
We found a good flat patch for our blanket, and within a few minutes, we were all stretched out, holding Styrofoam plates filled with fried chicken, baked beans, mashed potatoes with gravy, and biscuits with honey.
“People come from all over the country to see this, and we get to LIVE here,” Tammy said. “I can’t believe we actually get to live here.”
After we finished eating, we walked for a bit, admiring the spectacular view from different perspectives along the way. There were other adventures. Kayden saw a snake and got scratched by a briar. Jack saw a helicopter flying in the valley below us, which must have been kind of confusing for a 2-year-old.
We came back and got back on the blanket, wanting to steal a little more time before the responsibilities of the day finally demanded our return home. We were on our backs, staring up into the sky, when a single hawk appeared above us, moving so slowly that he almost seemed suspended there directly above us. We watched him glide around for so long that Tammy became convinced he had come to pay us a personal visit.
I thought about all those special Sundays that are gone forever, the ones I thought would always last, and I felt the moment expanding inside me, filling my heart like a hot-air balloon, threatening to pull me off the ground. Tammy, the kids, the hawk, all this outrageous beauty below, offering us up to the sky above like a sacrifice. I’m not so foolish anymore as to think such a moment can last forever. But in a way, it does, doesn’t it?