Saturday
Aug162014

Family Matters - Chapter 1

They are FAMILY MATTERS---the way we cope with the realities of family, home, and career. And when our coping is no longer effective---what then?

Take, for instance, our Golden Years. Dan Padgett had nursed his retirement dreams for decades. So why couldn’t Nell accept the logic of his elaborate plans?

And what of daughter Kathy, returning to Tanner just in time to hear her parents loud and angry debate about home---what it means and where it is.

 


   CHAPTER 1

 

Even when we consider our intentions noble and caring it’s best to remember that happy endings are never a sure thing. I know something about that. After all, for forty-three years Nell and I had been a team---raising our daughter, supporting each other through all the usual family trials. In my mind we had always been working toward the same goals. Sadly, it was rather late in the game when I learned how wrong I was.

There we were, on the verge of my eagerly-awaited retirement, finally ready to live out the promise of our “golden years.” Why shouldn’t we have been looking forward to the happiest of happy endings? More to the point, why had our longed-for golden sunset suddenly become obscured by dark, foreboding clouds?

No matter how often I look back on that evening, as the two of us set at the dining room table nursing our after-dinner burgundy, I still grow tense when I recall the shocking firmness of Nell’s response. Just that afternoon I had been told it was official. The mayor had accepted my letter of resignation, effective the end of the month. That part of the process was not news to Nell. We had been discussing it for a few weeks---the paperwork the city would require, the hoops I must jump through. But now the deed was done.

“So it’s time for us to start making some plans,” I explained, ever the methodical and organized one. “Can you believe it? For forty-three years we’ve been tied down to wherever I was working. It’s always felt like we were chained to that place, wherever it was. Finally we can break loose. We don’t have to drag that anchor around anymore.”

“Dan Padgett, will you stop being so dramatic,” Nell had said. “What does that mean, ‘We don’t have to drag an anchor?’ I don’t understand.”

“It means we can finally get away from all this. We can hit the road. You know, in a trailer or a motor home. We can be footloose, with no need to worry about a schedule or timetable, and no mayor or city council to answer to. There’ll be no house tying us down to one place. We’ll finally be absolutely free. 

“Kathy’s in California, doing her own thing. There’s no reason in the world for us to be stuck here in Tanner---not when there’s a whole world waiting for us out there. We can go where we want, do what we want, and see the places we’ve always wanted to see.”

“You mean for good? Leave our home, leave Tanner, to live in a trailer?”

“Of course. Why not? We’ve sure as heck earned it, haven’t we?”

The suddenness of Nell’s response startled me so much I nearly dropped my wine glass. In a split second she was on her feet, hands on her hips, glaring across the table at me. “You’d better be kidding, mister. Because I’m not going anywhere for more than a week or two at a time. This is our home and it will be our home. I’m sure as heck not going to live in some dinky trailer.”

“Come on, honey. It wouldn’t have to be ‘dinky’ at all. It could be as big as we wanted.”

“You’re not listening. I am not going anywhere.” She gathered some plates and started toward the kitchen, before turning to finish her thought. “Will you just listen to what you’re saying?

“I’ve followed you and that job of yours all over this state, from one town to another. And for all that time the one thing that kept me going was thinking about the time when we could finally settle down for good, where we could put down some roots. 

“Well, it turns out that ‘home’ is right here in Tanner. And after all those years of bouncing around, you can bet this is exactly where I’m staying.” The next sounds I heard were dishes clanking in the sink.

 

  ~~~

 

For most of the next week I had carefully tiptoed around any further talk of retirement plans. In truth, I was unsure how to proceed---and unwilling to trigger another of her tirades. So I was a bit surprised when, over our Thursday evening dessert, she offered what sounded like an obvious attempt to steer us toward a common ground.

“You know, dear,” she began, interrupting our after-meal quiet. “I’ve always assumed that our retirement would include some trips---that we’d go off and see places. I like to travel, you know that. We’ve talked before about a cruise, maybe even seeing Europe. ”

I was not interested in another shouting match, not without time revisit my arguments, to find a better way to make my points. So instead, I sat there cataloging the flaws in her approach. Or so they seemed to me. Then, before I had a chance to say anything, Nell was stepping forward to take potshots at my logic.

“But that certainly doesn’t mean we have to sell the house, and go off and live like nomads in some tinny little motorhome, driving all over the country. It certainly doesn’t have to mean leaving our ‘real’ home behind.” 

By then my normally calm and occasionally-submissive wife was working herself into a full-blown command mode. “We moved all over the place for your work. Never once did I say I wouldn’t go somewhere, even when I wanted to. 

“But there’s no reason for us to be playing that silly game now that you’re retired. After going hither and yon for so long we were lucky enough to end up where we started---back home in Tanner, with our church, and friends, and clubs. I’ve waited a long time to get here and I can’t think of one good reason to be leaving.”

 

  ~~~

 

And there our “retirement” standoff remained, at least until the next Sunday afternoon when, before I realized what was happening, I managed to set off another round of hostilities. It began innocently enough, with nothing more than an item in the Sunday paper---a colorful half-page advertisement for the Mid-Valley RV Show being held that weekend at the fairgrounds.

We were passing in the front hallway. I was on my way to the family room and Nell was returning to the kitchen when I asked, in a quiet, condescending tone, “Wouldn’t you like to come to the RV show with me, to see what I’m talking about? I’ll bet you’d see that they’re a lot nicer than you think. You might even find one you liked.” It was a simple, absolutely unthreatening invitation. How could I have known Nell would accept it as a challenge?

In a matter of seconds her apron was off and wadded into a ball. I thought at first she was going to throw it at me. Instead, in tones that were not at all “quiet or condescending” she was asking her own questions, yelling at the top of her lungs. “Why do you keep going on about that? Don’t you listen to anything I say?”

“Honey. Won’t you even let me explain?”

She cut me off with the wave of her hand. “There is nothing to explain. Not a damn thing. This is our home. It’s the only one we need. The only one I want.”

About then I heard the doorbell buzzing. Nell would have heard it too if she hadn’t been carrying on like that. Stepping across the entry hall I pulled the door open as she started off toward the bedroom, leaving me with a parting, sharp-edged piece of her mind.

“Besides,” she screamed over her shoulder. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before you catch me living in one of those tin cans. So you can just get that stupid idea out of your head, because I’m staying right here. If you go, you’ll go alone. Do you hear me?” A second later the bedroom door slammed shut behind her.

Though she was probably out of hearing range by then, I was determined to have the last word---something that usually worked best when she was not around to hear it. “Damn it, woman,” I yelled down the empty hallway. “It’s just a house. That’s all. No one ever said it was supposed to be a prison. Why the hell can’t you see that?”

My angry outburst seemed to echo through the hallway as I turned back to the now-open door. An instant later my jaw dropped at the sight of them standing there on the porch. It was daughter Kathy, and granddaughter Delaney, along with a fellow I assumed was Kathy’s friend, Gary. With matching wide-eyed expressions---half-shock and half-question, they stood staring at me until Kathy finally put her wondering into words.

“Did we come at a bad time, Daddy?”

My own harsh words were still ringing in my ears as I stood there taking in our daughter’s startled frown, watching as she processed the sound of her parents at war. At Kathy’s side was her daughter Delaney---sixteen, going on twenty-five---who at that moment was just as unsettled as her mother by the sound of Grandma and Grandpa’s discordant exchange.

The third member of their party was a scruffy looking fellow standing directly behind Kathy. That would be Gary, I reminded myself. Kathy had never said much about the one she called her “friend.” Perhaps that was just as well. How would she have described the slender denim-clad forty-something, whose straggly hair and ill-trimmed beard would have certainly earned him the label of “hippy” in our day.

“We came to see you,” Kathy continued in a timid, tentative voice. “Is that okay?”

I will admit it took me a few seconds to shift gears, turning from my agitated standoff with Nell to the unexpected sight of our daughter, our only child, standing there before me. Almost before I knew what I was doing I reached out to pull her into a close hug.

“It’s perfect, sweetheart. Just perfect.” I pulled Delaney into our impromptu embrace. A moment later I was shaking my head in disbelief as I leaned back to study the two of them. “You kept saying you’d come see us, but we weren’t sure that would ever happen. It’s the best surprise ever.” 

Over Kathy’s shoulder I grinned at her bemused companion. “You must be Gary. Welcome to Tanner.”

“Daddy, I told you before. Gary grew up here in Tanner. He’s coming home too, just like me. Except there’s no family here any more for him to visit.”

“In that case, welcome to our family.” I motioned them inside, then called down the hall, “Nell. Come see. We have company.”

Minutes later the five of us had gathered in the family room, renewing family connections that for the last two decades had survived, sometimes marginally, on infrequent phone calls and Kathy’s occasional request for the parental comfort of a Western Union money order. For far too long those sparse contacts, along with the few times Nell and I saw them when we were in Los Angeles for a convention or workshop, had been the extent of our “family life.”

“I can’t believe it,” Nell declared once more. “After all the times you said you’d come visit and never did. What made it happen this time? What’s the occasion?”

“Do we need an ‘occasion’ to come home? It was time to see you guys. Actually it was past time. Besides, I wanted you to meet Gary.” She edged closer to her friend, holding on to his arm. 

Then, leaning forward, Kathy lowered her voice to produce her most surprising surprise. “In fact, if things work out right, I’m hoping we’ve come back for good.”

“You mean here in Tanner? You’d actually live here? Are you serious?”

Both Nell and I were struggling to digest that unexpected bit of news. Our only child, the rebellious prodigal-daughter, might be coming home. After all those years lived on the laissez-faire fringes of Southern California counter culture, could our free-spirited offspring possibly be at home in small town Tanner?