My Dad and Mom came to visit last weekend. I can’t describe how happy this made me, because, while I know our life has been in turmoil with incessant construction etc… and I know it’s been winter… and life just isn’t set up for guests yet . . . I was disturbed that they haven’t seen our cabin, land or any of the new world we’ve selected for the next chapter of our lives. I hated how, when we talked on the phone, they couldn’t picture the things I was talking about, such as the cabin we live in, the outlay of our land, our animals, or the general atmosphere of our existence. Even though I know it wasn’t true, I still felt their not visiting signified a lack of interest or something. It bugged me.
Deep down, I expected my parents would adore our new set up, for they’re the people who taught me to love nature. In fact, we first fell in love with the mountains up here while visit my parent’s cabin fifteen years ago. They’ve already done the “Georgia mountains” thing. Therefore, I knew they would “get” it. (Unlike my husbands mother who claims our lifestyle is “barbaric”. She refused to get out of the car when we took her to our land, vowing to never visit our new home because, apparently, she detests trees. Whatever….)
Anyway, my parents were going to Atlanta to visit my brother for a business reason, and decided to stop by for a two-day visit. (I know two days doesn’t sound like much of a visit, but they will be coming back when it is warmer for a longer stay.)
The construction for our bunkhouse is finally finished, which means have a private, comfortable place for them to stay. The road to our creek front property is complete, so we can drive them down to see that, and we’ve started construction on the house too so, there’s tons for them to see. And to top it all off, the weather has been perfect too. Halleluiah!
They arrived on Saturday morning. They are 77 & 79 respectively, so a big drive from Florida is no small potatoes. I was vividly aware that they might be tired, and I wanted to be understanding. The spirit might be willing, but an almost 80 year old body might balk, unable to handle some of the rugged terrain involved to show them everything. I figured we’d take it one hour at a time, and just feel out what was comfortable for them.
We began by giving them a tour of the cabin, (which they adored). It was more rustic than they expected, because their cabin was more like a rustic wooden house with fine, themed furniture. Posh. Ours has rough sawn wood molding and big tree columns holding up the porch walkway between the primary cabin and the bunkhouse – a big log for a mantel and wood everywhere. They loved it all the more for the natural details, and said our remodeling was “ingenious” considering the dilapidated, old cabin we started with. My Dad said he just didn’t think he would have gone through all the work and mess to end up with what we ended up with – nor could he have thought up such a plan. It was a nice compliment.
We had coffee and then drove them down the windy, narrow, steep rock road to our creek front property that rests alongside the cabin. I gotta admit, it was the first time I was in the car when Mark drove this road, and I was more than a little freaked out. It’s steep and narrow and the edge just drops off the mountain. I held my breath. My parent’s were unfazed. They said, “Hey, our cabin was on a road as steep as this, but we had it paved. Just pave the road and it will be perfect.”
At the bottom, my Dad got out of the car with his hobbling gait (he had a hip replacement a few years ago that went bad) and he actually lumbered down the steep dirt bank to look at the creak. He wanted to see just where we would put a house, should we build there, and hear about our plans to clear the area. He and my Mom built several spec homes in North Carolina ten years ago, so they understand the building frustrations and processes better than we ourselves do. We stood for a while, listening to the rushing water, enjoying the view, talking about the possibilities.
We went back to the cabin and took a break. Naptime. More for us than for them. (We’re the old farts in this story.) Later, we went to the land. My dad was raring to see these 50 acres of ours.
We began with a general drive through along the roads in the car. My parents marveled at how beautiful the land is. They said they had doubts about our decision to buy 50 acres – that it was too big and unnecessary and perhaps not a good investment, but actually seeing it put it all in perspective. They said they were more impressed than they would ever have guessed. They expected something plainer. Less potential, I guess. The land is remarkably beautiful with wooded areas circling a clearing and gently rolling hills. We have trees arched over the road like a natural entryway, apple and black walnut trees and a king sized blueberry bush. It’s rather like the garden of eden, without flowers. We stopped to introduce them to our animals, where my Dad spied our huge fire pit (already set up for the next bon fire – I’m no fool, I know how to entertain) surrounded by our Adirondack chairs, all ready to go. He grinned and said, “When’s the Winnie roast.”
“Up for that?” I asked. It was a dumb question. Not like I didn’t grow up with this outdoorsman.
“Tonight,” he said. “But now, take me to the four wheelers.”
I was thinking four wheelers are pretty bumpy riding. Dad is slowing down physically now-a-days, so perhaps we shouldn’t push our luck. But he insisted. He was delighted to see they were substantial machines, not little go-cart sorts of things, but big monsters four wheelers. (That is more for safety than power. I confess.) Anyway, he cranked up one and my mom hopped on the back. Mark and I got on the other.
Off we went to explore our 50 acres. We took them down all the small roads and cavities set up by the previous owner when there were plans to develop the land. We zipped through the creek and along the pasture, and every time we got to a new area, my Dad would look at me, grin and say, “So, whose land is this?” As if it was impossible to imagine it all belonging to his kid.
We rode up to the house site, where my Dad took some time to watch the construction for awhile. Men can’t resist big machines and power tools, don’t ya know. He met our builder and marveled at the “good material” we are using on the house. Dad understands all this building stuff, having built several houses of his own. He understands our impatience and excitement, and he couldn’t resist kidding us about it. He gazed around and said the setting, there in the woods by the creak on the hill, was perfection. (I think so too.) He asked about the house plans, staring at the first floor (already built) imagining what’s to come, picturing our future home in his mind. It was nice watching my husband share this exciting project with my Dad, two generations talking guy talk with enthusiasm. After a rest, we were off on the four wheelers again.
I kept asking my Dad, “Are you OK?” which clearly offended him. He still imagines he is a rough and tumble adventurer – which he is, obviously – but he is a 78-year-old adventurer, so we have to be careful. And he said, “Hell, I jumped out of an airplane two years ago. I’ve been doing this my whole life, of course I’m OK, never been better.”
And I looked at him with the wind in his hair and his cheeks glowing with excitement. There was appreciation and joy in his eyes – and I was overwhelmed with respect for him. This is a man who knows how to live, who doesn’t choose to be old before his time, who ignores his aches and pains as long as it entitles him to one more thrill. Fearless, and at home in the wild, he doesn’t forget to smile at the sun, breathe the fresh air, and appreciate all the beauty of the outdoors.
God – when I grow up, I wanna be like him.
And there was my Mom, sitting behind him, gritting her teeth, hanging on for dear life, saying, “Slow down, Honey, you’re not as young as you used to be….” But, despite her worry, she let him have fun, and better yet, chose to be a part of it. She makes a career out of sharing all the things he loves, whether it’s a day on a boat, or careening around the great outdoors on a four wheeler. Lord, she’s a perfect spouse.
Watching them, I found myself wondering if I’ll have half the vigor they do when I’m their age. Heck, I don’t have that much now. I just know I want to live fully as they do, in the same manner they do – being active as long as my health and heart allows.
Mom told me that, later, they had an argument because my Dad told her he wanted to go horseback riding “one last time before he dies.” But Mom put her foot down on that one, because she thought riding might pop his hip out, and here he would be in the wilderness without a hospital nearby. She is indulgent, but practical, and in the end, her word is law. (That is the power of being a supportive wife. If you say “yes” almost every time, your guy is honor bound to respect the rare “no”. Good lesson in that.) Horses, she explained, were off limits, like it or not, so Dad just pet them, admiring our four legged trouble makers from the ground. He recalled stories about those years when our family owned horses when we lived in Missouri years ago and we laughed at the fact that we had different renditions of the same event. Life through the eyes of a child does color history, I guess.
Frankly, not riding was a relief. I didn’t want to be responsible for the animal’s behavior. With my luck, they would pick this one day to be ornery. Beast are not something you can control the way you can control a motorized ride.
That night, we had our bonfire and we toasted marshmallows and roasted weenies. Dad couldn’t resist coaching the kids on the perfect technique required to make a sizzling bratwurst. My son just likes to burn his hot dog until it looks like a seared hockey puck, which offends Dad’s outdoor chief sensibilities. Ha. Whatcha gonna do?
Well fed, Dad sat there, looking at the stars, enjoying the fire and his grandchildren playing outdoors. He later said that that time, sitting together by a roaring fire, was the best part of the visit. Mark and I each told a story (practicing our skills learned at that storytelling class – prime material for a campfire) and that inspired fun exchanges of family memories and stories. It was all perfect. Simple, yet perfect.
The next day, we took my parents to the wood art gallery to show them what Mark wants to do in the near future. He is making inroads with galleries and shops already and will no doubt have some work featured in them before you know it. We walked along the shops of historic Blue Ridge just to show them the town and the more refined, artsy elements of our world. We ate at Sue’s (best burger in town) but alas, we were all too tired to play pool or air hockey (my favorite). Just goes to show, whether you are 79 or 40, a day in the fresh air can wear you out. They enjoyed the town, comparing it to a western vacation resort, or a fancy Gatlinburg. It’s true, Historic Blue Ridge is an upscale arts area designed to attract tourism. It’s busy, but still, its nice to have that kind of quaint area nearby when people are visiting.
All told, it was a perfect, but short, visit.
Now, when I call home and talk to my parents on the phone, they’ll have a picture in their mind of what I’m describing. That’s nice, but what’s better, is the picture I have in my mind now of them.
I’ll always remember watching my parents on that four-wheeler, their wrinkled hands cranking the gas, their gray hair blowing in the breeze. I will remember the tender way my mother wrapped her hands around the man she has loved and supported for 60 some years and the way he smiled at her and said, “Ready, babe”, each time before taking off down the graveled drive. They are a perfect couple. Still in love after all these years. Still playing together, exploring the world. Still a team, two admirable characters who, together, are stronger than they’d ever be alone.
I’m so lucky to have had parents who are an inspirational example of enduring romance and a lust for life.
I can only hope that time will reveal, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.