We are moving to London in July so mid-May we trek to North Carolina to say farewell to my folks. This will entail Mister Baby’s first flights and the first time we’ve all slept away from home. I can barely remember all the things I need to go around the corner for lunch, let alone what I’ll need for five days away. I place my faith in lists as my “working memory” is still on maternity leave. We only have to redirect the cab home once.
“Nurse him on the way up and the way down,” a friend counsels. I do and Mister Baby gurgles beatifically, keeping up his reputation for being better out of the house than he is in. According to my mother-in-law, this is the first sign that he takes after me.
We find my mother pacing the baggage carousel and her face draws up like a stage curtain when she sees Mister Baby. We wrestle the baby seat into the car and load up the back with the stroller, the suitcase, baby bag, laptop, etc. When we arrive at the house within the assisted living facility, I am thrilled with the gently sloping walkways and life on one level - so much easier than hurling the massive perambulator down our steep Brooklyn stoop with one hand while clutching Mister Baby with the other.
A few weeks back my father called and asked if I wanted two cemetery plots that his Uncle Larry gave him years ago. Being a New Yorker, my mind immediately responds to real estate offers but I belatedly remember that I want to be cremated and I seriously doubt The Pater wants to be buried in the middle of Long Island.
“I’ve asked around the family and I don’t think anyone wants those plots,” he says after dinner.
“Why aren’t you guys going to use them?” I ask. Hey, he brought it up and I am known in the family for asking pointed, if a propos questions.
“I’m not going back to New York,” my mother sneers.
“The traffic’s terrible,” my father chimes in.
Mister Baby sleeps well at my parent’s house, thank god, there should be somewhere he sleeps. It’s relaxing to only be looking after him and not trying to keep up with the rest of life; I even get to bathe after Mister Baby craps down my skirt. We mostly hang around the house and Mister Baby is mesmerized by my father; they make gurgling sounds at each other and laugh like goons. They look like before and after pictures.
Mom has a recorder recital on Sunday. “It’s not an official recital,” she downplays. “It’s really just for us and another group to play for each other but you’re welcome to come.”
“Paddington wants to go; he always gets to hear you practice but he never gets to go to the concert,” my father says.
Paddington is the stuffed bear you would expect. My father bought him for my mother when I was in eighth grade. I remember the night he picked me up from my cello lesson and Paddington was in the back. I thought he might be for me and while I welcomed all presents, a teddy bear wasn’t the top of my list, Sassoon jeans yes but Paddington not so much. Paddington has accompanied my parents on every trip, become the fourth and best behaved of their ‘children’ as well as a medium of communication between them. When Dad brings back a milkshake and some fries after running an errand, he’ll say “Paddington thought you might like a treat.”
My mother leaves early for the recital. The Pater stays behind with Mister Baby who is supposed to be napping. “Paddington really wants to go,” my father says as he puts one of his battered and taped oversize briefcases by the door. “He always gets to hear her practice but he doesn’t get to go to the concerts.”
“What’s in the bag?” I ask as we head out the door.
“It’s a secret,” he says. I know from experience that my father keeps his secrets and when it’s a private joke it stays private so I don’t ask again.
We arrive at the church hall during the rehearsal. We pick our way to seats through the thin audience scattered around. There is a cacophony of sound as 25 recorders attack a tune that is discernible only after the third run through. When the recital finally begins, my father leans down and opens the briefcase. Tucked inside, arms and legs thrust up before him, is Paddington. My father carefully props open the flaps of the case and takes out Paddington’s baseball cap (the original felt number having disintegrated long ago)and puts it his own beach ball of a head.
“This way she’ll know that Paddington is here,” he explains.
“Is that his hat?” I inquire.
“No, it’s my hat but I let him wear it.”
My mother had been nervous about the pieces they were going to play. She shows me the music and says that she doesn’t know when to come in. “Do you count the rests?” “No,” she says grinning. She doesn’t seem to do any worse than anyone else.
After the concert, we meet at the car where my father has propped Paddington on Mom’s seat.
“Oh,” she exclaims, “Paddington was there?” her voice high and warm with pleasure. “He always gets to hear me practice but he never gets to go to the concert.”
“Didn’t you know he was there? Dad was wearing his hat.” I say.
“I saw the hat but I thought it was symbolic.”
Every love story is different and there’s nothing I love more than how old people show love. I’m reminded of my mother’s words at my wedding when she turned her back on the rest of the wedding party and addressed herself to me: “If you’re lucky, with time, comes an even deeper love.”