Donna told me to eat a hearty breakfast. The previous party had not involved food. Ellis was celebrating the fact that he was two. Donna was moving from the house which had been home to her for almost sixty years. One accumulates a lot in that time, and one adheres to such a house not with memories of velcro, easily unsnapped, but with those labels that one can scrub at for hours and never entirely remove.
I played at being navigator, watching the route on my phone and telling her when a turn was near, and whether to go left or right. This went on for at least an hour and a half, but rides with Donna never seem long. I’ve known her longer than anyone still alive. There is always much to communicate, even in our silences.
The house in Plainfield (curious choice of name – boastful modesty on the part of city founders?) is all on one level, but large enough that Donna, her daughter, and son-in-law will not be tripping over each other. The back vista, beyond the stone patio and a dark barked birch, is a rolling, green expanse, and I envy her the ample bath and roomy walk-in closet. My college dorm room was not so spacious.
From Plainfield, we drove to Casa Ellis in Naperville. The yard was festooned with balloons and streamers. On the back fence hung, oh, about 100 pictures of Ellis. Such historical documentation cries out for a biographer. At the very least, Ellis needs a ghost writer for his memoir.
The honoree was much in evidence. Disdaining the door to his playhouse, he entered, repeatedly, by dumping himself head first through the window. Blonde, blue eyed and gleeful, if he were any cuter, they’d have to shoot him.
Supporting players milled about on the lawn, friends, relatives, and acquaintances, most of whom I hadn’t seen in almost two years. I said, “Hello,” to Uncle Al who was engrossed in trying to untangle a long string of silver stars. I greeted many others but kept my eyes on Ellis. After so long apart, I’d be a stranger but didn’t want to remain so. Why else would I have worn my dinosaur t-shirt?
I might as well have worn camouflage for all the good that was doing. Ellis was rolling around on the grass with Grandpa Dan, Who was also hoisting him in the air, holding him upside down, whirling him around, and giving him horsey rides. A tough act to follow, especially for someone with a bad back.
I settled on a strategy. My snack plate was full of fruit. I waggled a blueberry at Ellis and caught his attention. He approached, and we commenced to barter. I gave him berries and he repaid me with pieces of pink chalk. This was going well until I glimpsed a furtive figure creeping toward us, extending a plate overflowing with blueberries to lure Ellis away. Grandpa Dan again. Ye gods! Oh well, every boy should have a doting grampa.
Later, when the scores of presents were torn open, I did win major points with one of my gifts, a box of doughnuts. Ellis eagerly proceeded to consume (and wear) a large strawberry pastry. To my surprise, many of the other gifts were related to kitchen chores and housecleaning. Ellis took a particular shine to a toy mop with which he went around dusting our chairs.
When it was time to leave, I said “Goodbye,” to Uncle Al, still struggling to undo the gordian knot of silver stars. I’m sure it beats making small talk.
Back at Plainfield, Dan whipped up a savory mixed grill, while I basked in the charms of my godchild, Kay, and my “faux nieces,” Ariana, Malaya, and Deanna. A rare treat of which distance too often deprives me.It was a lovely, restorative day. I felt loved, welcomed, and – if not needed, certainly useful.
One memory of the day lingers with me – the sight of Deanna in a sleeveless, canary yellow dress, splashed with small red buds and larger green, tulip-like flowers. It was festive and fresh and chic. Her long, dark hair was down and dancing in the breeze. She was youth and spring, and rather French, bringing to mind Leslie Caron in Fanny.
Whatever awaits me, even a wretched nursing home with a cantankerous roommate, I’ll be cheered by the memory of Deanna in that yellow dress.