Beach Adventures – 2010

jp_sw_beach10_surf1The kids had a blast at Nags Head last week with Grandma and Grandpa, despite a lack of cooperation on the part of Mother Nature for the first three and a half days.  Overcast skies, cold winds and even colder water couldn’t keep the boys from wading waist-deep in the surf, though it did make for some whining on the way back to the beach house.

It continues to amaze me just how much energy those guys have.  Once the weather cleared up, we visited Jockey’s Ridge State Park (“largest natural dune on the East Coast”) and they ran the entire time…up the dunes, across the dunes, down the dunes.  Then we visited the Wright Brothers Memorial and they did it all over again…run, run, run.  I don’t know if it’s that they’re so full of energy or that I’m just getting old, but honestly I don’t see how they do it.

I thought the kids would get a kick out of the Wright Memorial, given their fascination with planes and history, and Jason’s had a very nice picture book on the Wright brothers for years.  Now I’m not so sure Jason even read it.  The first time I brought up a visit to the park, he asked, “Will we see where they crashed and what’s left of the plane?”  Then when we climbed up to the monument itself, and found a vault-like door at the base, he wanted to know, “Is this where they’re buried?”  When exactly did this kid get such a morbid streak?

jp_sw_ge_wrightflyerWe also made a trip to Roanoke Island Festival Park, where we toured a recreation of a Native American village and an early pioneer settlement.  Reenactors showed us around a replica of the sailing ship Elizabeth II and Jason even got to help turn the capstan on a “work detail” as everyone sang a shanty.  For her part, Grace got to push all kinds of buttons in the museum — always a favorite passtime — and modeled a new wardrobe of sun dresses hand-sewn by Grandma.  She wasn’t too into the beach, though; not really a “sand between your toes” fan, that girl.

We had to come back a bit early so I could help out with the recording/streaming of VCU’s commencement ceremonies, so Laura spent a big chunk of her birthday in the car, which was kind of a drag, but all in all it was nice getting out of town for a while and relaxing in a new environment.  The next planned trip will take us all the way to Minnesota by car, which promises to be not nearly so restful.

Fire Station Field Trip

firestation1-blogI’m way behind on this one, but what else is new?

On April 24, we took the kids on a homeschooling field trip down to Fort Eustis to visit the fire station, and it turned out to be really cool.  The kids were excited to meet real firefighters, and I got the distinct impression the feeling was mutual.

The fun started with a demonstration of the ladder truck in action.  They raised the ladder to its full 150-ft height and had one of the firefighters climb to the top to wave down to the kids.  Then the ladder was rotated 90 degrees and lowered to form a  “bridge” from the truck to the firehouse, for a firefighter to walk across.

Next came a rundown of the various firefighting tools and a 30-minute video on fire safety.  Jason was excited to acquire new facts for his trivia-drenched mind (at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, everything in your house that can burn will burn).

The highlight of the day was, no doubt, the rides the kids were given in a firetruck.  Since we were on an Army base, which is more or less its own little self-contained world, it was possible to make several runs so everyone got a turn, and Laura even got to run the siren and blow the air horn to her hearts’ content.  One can only imagine what chaos would be caused by 7 or 8 runs like that in the city.

firetruck4-blogAfter that came a pizza lunch with the firefighters, and a chance to practice evacuation procedures from a “burning” trailer.  Also available for exploration were an ambulance and police car.

As an added bonus, the boys and I got to ride in an electric car, one of two provided for the fire station as part of the government’s efforts to “go green.”  This one was used by the fire chief to make his rounds and conduct inspections on base.  It was amazingly quiet, practically silent, and not too bad a ride despite having suspension as rudimentary as that of the average go-kart.

For her part, Grace enjoyed flirting with the firemen, with Mommy’s friend Miss Heather and her boy, Liam, and especially with “Patches,” a robot dalmation in a remote-control firetruck, operated by a fireman hidden away in an office, with a microphone that let him talk to Grace.  (“Hey, Grace…touch my nose!  Ah-Choo!”).

In all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday and certainly an outing the kids will remember for a long time.  So, a belated thanks to the guys at Ft Eustis Fire and Emergency Services.  We had a blast!

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Au Revoir, Daddy Bill

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I lost my grandfather on November 21st.  Actually, I lost a lot more than that.  I lost a friend, a mentor, a debate partner, an inspiration and one of the pillars of my world.

When my arrival made him a grandfather in 1965, William Allen Dayberry was only 44 years old, the same age I am now.  Understandably, he thought he was too young to be addressed as “Grandpa” or “Grandad,” so he asked to be called “Daddy Bill.”  I tried, but the best I could manage was “Dadda Bull.”  He didn’t complain, so that’s what I — and later my little brother — called him until at some point in our teen years it became “Granddaddy.”

Looking back, we were unusually blessed to have such a young grandfather, not only because we got to hold onto him so long but also because when we were small he was still fit enough to horse around with us, take us camping or take us along with him on his jobs, which were always fascinating.  He worked for many years as a painting contractor, honest physical labor often in the outdoors in all seasons.  It was hard work, really, but to a little boy it was almost glamorous, heading off to work in a noisy panel truck filled with paint cans, tarps and extension ladders, wearing a white “uniform” and getting to paint and climb.  The scraping wasn’t so much fun, though.  I’m still not sure what he got out of my “help” besides the company; to find an “assistant” less mechanically inclined than myself, he’d have had to recruit from a species lacking opposable thumbs.  But again, he didn’t complain.

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Granddaddy didn’t have a lot of formal schooling — he quit school at 14 to help support his family — but all his life he was in love with learning.  Over the years, he taught himself a lot about electronics, aviation and other subjects.  I remember how much he enjoyed The Towering Inferno, not because of the special effects or any of the A-list stars but because the whole conflagration came down to an entirely plausible wiring snafu.  Similarly, he liked John Frankenheimer’s film, The Train because freedom fighter Burt Lancaster kept thwarting Nazi Paul Scofield’s efforts to abscond with a train full of stolen French artworks through acts of sabotage that were not only ingenious but also totally credible.

But then, he loved just about anything to do with trains, poring over written histories of the great passenger and freight lines, reciting songs and poems about famous routes and wrecks, building model engines and cars and collecting vintage lanterns and spikes and other memorabilia.  From an old train station he once salvaged a telegraph device, rigging it up to send messages from his workshop in the basement to a receiver upstairs in the den, to the consternation of my grandmother.  I can still hear him singing “The Wreck of the Old ’97″…I guess it made impression because of the local references (“It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville and a line on a three mile grade…”) or maybe the grisly ending (“He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle, scalded to death by the steam”).

Music was another of his passions; he had a phenomenal collection of swing-era jazz recordings and an encyclopedic knowledge of the songs and the men who wrote and performed them.  Growing up I couldn’t have named the Rolling Stones for you, but brother I knew who Fletcher Henderson was, and Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Bunny Berigan and Jack Teagarden.  His enthusiasm was infectious; to this day, I put Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” right up there with McCartney’s “Yesterday” as one of the most perfect feats of songwriting ever.

Granddaddy’s laughter was also infectious.  I remember how much fun it was to watch Laurel and Hardy, Pink Panther movies, Benny Hill or cartoons with him, because he’d laugh so hard it made me laugh, too.  He was the “life of the party” type, not only funny himself but genuinely appreciative of, even delighted with other people’s sense of humor, and possessing a general positivity that made people want to spend time around him.

He was also a fantastic whistler, and no matter how hard he was working I remember him whistling away like he didn’t have a care in the world.  That and the laughter convinced me as a kid that he must have been the happiest guy on Earth.

I’ll also remember our camping trips.  You could always tell our campsite because he’d hang a plastic dropcloth over the picnic table to protect our food and camp stove from, well, nature. I remember him driving his van up the winding roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway with my brother Tim in the back on a lawn chair as it slid to and fro (“Turning to the right! Lean to the left!”).  Once I asked about a sign on the side of the road that read, “Beware of Fallen Rock” and he was only too happy to “explain” it to me.  “Fallen Rock was an Indian brave,” he told us, “in love with the chief’s daughter.  To win her hand, the chief sent him on a dangerous mission to capture a bear.  The bear tore his head off and now his angry ghost wanders this mountain, looking for his head.”  I don’t think I slept much that night, convinced every sound I heard was old Fallen Rock skulking around our campsite.

This deadpan joshing is one of the few traits I know I inherited from Granddaddy.  Laura is forever calling me out for telling the kids some ridiculous tall tale or other, I guess just to amuse myself (“Don’t tell them that, David, they might believe you!”).  The week before Granddaddy died, we took the kids down for a visit and he was still at it.  Told that Jason had earned his Bobcat badge and was on his way to being a Tiger Scout, he said, “You’re a lucky boy.  When I was  young they didn’t have Tigers, so I had to be a Muskrat.  I was trying to work my way up to Possum, but I messed it up so bad they demoted me to Skunk.”  Jason looked at me with a “he’s kidding, right?” expression and I knew exactly how he felt.

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The kids knew him as “Big Daddy,” taking their cue from my nieces, who got here first.  Fair enough, as he was always a father figure and “Big Daddy” had a distinctly Southern quality to it, as he himself did.  I’m grateful they got to know him; he always had a way with kids, probably because they could always see the kid in him, no matter how old he got.

Granddaddy was 88 years old when he passed away, though you’d hardly have guessed it if you met him.  He was one of those larger-than-life people who’s just so full of life, so engaged that it’s hard to accept it when they’re gone, no matter how old they are.    I was going to write that it’s hard to let go, but then I realized there’s no real reason I should.  He may not be around physically for me to visit or talk to, and I’ll surely miss calling his number and hearing him answer, “Mmmmyyyellow?”, but in a very real sense he’ll always be with me; in my thoughts and memories, in the mannerisms, interests, values and sense of humor he passed down to me, in my genes and those of my children.  He’ll be there when I hear those old songs, or when I see a train or hear its whistle.  And as one of those old songs said, they can’t take that away from me.

So it’s au revoir, Grandaddy, but not goodbye.  Until we meet again, I promise to try — though it’s never been as easy for me as it seemed to be for you — to keep looking on the bright side, to make the most of every day and to always find something to be grateful for. Today it’s that you were my grandfather.

Back from Minnesota

jp_sw_mn_tireswing09Last Thursday we flew up to Minnesota for an extended weekend visiting relatives.  The boys had lots of fun riding the tire swing at Uncle Nick and Aunt Bernie’s, and visiting with cousins Ben, Sarah and Katie in St. Cloud.  Then it was on to Mazeppa to introduce Grace to Great-Grandma Marie, then back to the cities to see Cousin Linda at a really cool play area in Woodbury’s “Central Park” facility.  Upstairs is a library, indoor amphitheater and “nature trail” with shrubs, trees and waterfalls, and downstairs is a play area with slides and climbing walls.  Neat.

The weather was unseasonably cool, and we even got snow…twice!  The boys were excited to swim in the hotel pool while watching the snow falling just outside the windows.

We flew United for the first time and it went pretty well, even if I wasn’t too impressed with either landing on the way back.  I figure the pilots were ex-military and used to having all their passengers jump out before bringing the plane home.  On the plus side, the flight attendants gave the boys pilot’s wings, which I thought only happened in the movies.  They went over almost as well as the new harmonicas Great Grandma gave them.  In fact, they asked if they could play them on the flight home, but I figured we’d get enough dirty looks just for having a baby along.

Speaking of which, Grace did great on the trip, charming everyone as usual and showing tremendous patience with the many disruptions to her usual routine.  She’s glad to be back home, as we all are.

My, How Time Does Fly

Wow, Laura and I were married sixteen years ago today. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but the rest of the time I can’t even remember what life was like before marriage. And yes, that’s a good thing; saying “I do” was probably the best move I ever made.

We went longer than some couples before having kids — a full ten years — and I think that was a good thing for us. It gave us time to get to know each other, to travel and do a lot of the things we wanted to before letting kids take over our lives. But honestly, now that we’ve got them — and as time- and energy-consuming as they have indeed turned out to be — I often wonder why we put off the fun for so long.

Laura’s been getting together the kids’ old clothes and toys for a consignment sale coming up this weekend, and it was a weird experience going backwards through time as we unpacked the bins. Here is Jason’s old sleeper, here is Scott’s old shirt, here is Grace’s “Daddy’s Little Girl” pajamas…it’s bizarre how foreign and ancient those artifacts can seem when none of them go back more than six years. And sobering to think those little people were here for so fleeting a moment, replaced by their older selves, who in turn will vanish on us soon enough.

Grace is flirting with walking now; she likes to toddle around the house with us holding her hands for support. Yesterday Jason let her go and she stood unaided for a couple of minutes, beaming. Later in the day she took one or two steps at a time between Laura and me, but by then she was pretty tired and had trouble staying on her feet.

Last week we took the kids to Toys-R-Us to shop for Grace’s birthday. She’d never been, so it was a real treat for her; every time we turned an aisle in her stroller, she’d let out “oohs” and “aahs”. The boys of course wanted everything in the store. Later Jason told me if we go back again he’s taking his notebook so he can make a list for Christmas. “And the last thing on the list will be a new notebook,” he said, “because I’m going to fill this one up.”

I think it was last Saturday I was watching one of those numbingly stupid Leslie Nielson movies on the local Fox affiliate. “Wrongfully Accused,” it was called. I’d never heard of it, but if you’ve ever seen a Leslie Nielson movie you already know what happens. Anyway I was soon laughing in spite of myself and Jason and Scott came in to watch with me. At one point, Nielson is trying to make a stealthy escape from the police and hot-wires a car. Unfortunately for him it turns out to be a “low rider” that bounces around playing “La Cucaracha” on the car horn, which considerably complicated his escape but sent the boys into hysterics. That gag got us through the rest of the weekend as we worked it into everything we did. For example, Jason’s Flash action figure and Scott’s Atom action figure are under attack from Lex Luthor, so I bring Batman to the rescue in the batmobile…bouncing along to the tune of “La Cucaracha.”

What can I say, I’m a comedy genius with the 6-and-under crowd. But alas, soon enough they grow up, and then Daddy’s more embarrassing than funny…just another clueless geezer pulling faces and spouting corny punchlines for cheap laughs.

Suddenly I have a new appreciation for Leslie Nielson.