Friday, April 19, 2013
Drama at Great Falls
It was a soft warm day in mid-April coming after a series of cool rainy ones. It was the kind of day that makes Washington springtime such a joy.
I was literally lured away from the kitchen. All the windows had been thrown open -- as my Texas-born husband would say: "to blow the stink out." Dishes and beds were done hurriedly. Stephen and David, my two older children, were at school and Margaret and Billy, the younger two, were already outdoors.
I went out in the front yard glorying in the last blooms of the Korean flowering cherry. Then I admired all the azaleas and listened to the melting pot of bird songs in this early nesting season.
As I turned the corner of the house, I saw my neighbor, Betty, being hailed by Val whose backyard abutted both of ours. I joined them and we all seemed to agree that it was too good a day to waste at home. A ride to Great Falls and a quick picnic lunch was agreed upon.
We rounded up our respective children and put together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sundry other things. Everyone was sent to the bathroom and then, ignoring unscrubbed kitchen floor and uncleaned closets, we all trooped over to Betty's.
We would take her station wagon, the largest amongst our cars. We three mothers got into the front seat and seven assorted kids exploded into the back. There were Betty's Dennis, a week from his fifth birthday quite composed and self sufficient for his age; my Margaret and Betty's Scott, almost four and bosom buddies; my Bill, two, Val's Kim, three and a half, Karen, two, and finally, Betty's Cynthia, ten months old.
After leaving Rockville proper, it was a pretty ride on a winding two-lane road through countryside dotted with homes and farmland. Mostly we listened to children squabbling in the back -- Mom, he has my window, Kim stop hitting me, Mom, can I have a cookie, she has my teddy bear. It was a familiar litany which we mostly tuned out and instead enjoyed the spring scenery.
We passed Normandy Farm, famous now after being mentioned in the novel Advise and Consent. Then through the village of Potomac -- a few houses, gas stations, a grocery, a bait store and small post office. Then more gracious farm houses and country homes with horses enjoying early grass.
Finally, we reached Great Falls and the children escaped from the car. Mothers removed supplies and, after throwing lunch things on a table, I grabbed Margaret and Bill intending to explore the canal and see the ducks all on our own.
It was not to be. As we started off, I heard Val's strong voice saying: "Kim, Karen, go with Mrs. Scott." There wasn't much use arguing with Val. She was an attractive, athletically-built blonde with a lot of energy and the friendly aggressiveness of a field hockey coach. Daughter of a Unitarian minister, she played touch football with her husband, George, and children. Her girls seemed to be cut from the same cloth--busy bees, curious, noisy, into everything. Betty and I privately agreed that they were raised with much too much leniency.
At any rate, I had them while Val helped Betty set up the table and Cynthia's baby seat. It was a less than bucolic walk toward the canal: "Margaret, take Billy's hand," "Kim, Karen, stay with me," "No, don't pick that," Kim, you can't go in the water," "Karen, don't chase the ducks."
At one point, desperate for a diversion, I pointed out a Daddy-long-legs to the children. There was silence. Then Kim asked in an anxious voice "But where's the Mommy-long-legs?" I invented an appropriate reply and we continued down the canal for awhile, finally, I decided I had done my good deed and we returned to the picnic table.
Children scampered around some. Val's girls still had to be watched carefully. Lunch was finally brought out and for awhile there was relative quiet while peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, chips and cookies were eaten. Games and diversions were wearing thin as were Kim and Karen. Betty and I, almost as one, decided it was time to pack up and go home for naptime.
Again it was assembling leftovers, diaper bags, toys and then herding the kids to the his and her bathrooms. The car was just up the way and, a little impatient now, we got noisy children and equipment in and mothers collapsed in the front seat silencing any back seat noise by singing old camp songs all the way home.
We piled out in Betty's carport and, as Val disappeared down the backyard and over the fence to her house, she shouted: "When the kids are down, come on over. We'll have a drink." Betty and I rolled our eyes silently at one another and went in to put the kids to bed.
Thankfully, Margaret and Bill went to sleep with little fussing and I collapsed gratefully on the couch with a book and a cigarette. A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Betty squeaking in a shaky voice: "We forgot Dennis!" I was shocked: "What! You're kidding."
"No, a woman just called and asked who I was and if I had a son named Dennis. She found him standing near the men's toilets. He was waiting for his mother. He knew his name and phone number. She was pretty angry. Can you check on the kids while I go back?"
"Oh, Betty, of course," I said. So I did double duty between the houses wondering all the time how this could have happened. Why didn't any of the mothers miss him?
Betty, of course, was consumed with guilt and took all the blame. But what about Val and me? What about the kids? Why didn't Scotty say something? They were like the kids in "High Wind in Jamaica" who, after their adventures with pirates, completely forgot about their little brother who had died during the voyage. We had no pirates but we did have Kim and Karen.
All this rattled through my mind. Then Betty returned teary and shaky with calm, non-judgmental Dennis in tow. He had been last into the bathroom and lingered the longest. We had simply gone off without him. That's all there was!