To my son Tommy,
Yesterday was your Grandpa Leo's 67th birthday. I had plans of doing something grandiose for him, especially with the uncertainty that brain cancer holds for the future. The grandiose party plans were nixed and we just had dinner with just the basic crew of you, me, your mom, your Nana Jeanne, your Great Uncle Kevin, your Grandma Roro, and, of course, your Grandpa Leo. Your Great Aunt Cathy came down with our cousin Christina for dessert which was a gluten free, celiac approved, tapioca cake with some candles. By the way, in case you end up with celiac disease which I think is genetic, here is a hint; you have to add lots of ice cream to gluten free cake otherwise your tongue turns to dust. The first ingredient in this case might be tapioca, but the pretty sure the second is shredded cardboard.
As we summoned saliva and talenti ice cream to get down the cake, we talked about birthdays of yore. Your grandpa and great aunt share a birthday month (she has hers on the 24th so only three days apart) and consequently they always did something together, usually just the two of them. They would both take off from work and go an adventure. Remember, the word "adventure" is very subjective. They talked about cooking classes and trips around the state and all sorts of events.
One of their stories was about a trip to Annapolis. On your grandpa's suggestion, they ended up on a bus tour of the city. This is your grandpa's idea of a wild and crazy adventure. To hear them tell it was quite comical. The tour guide was going through and asking stuff like, "Is there anyone from California?" and hands being raised here and there on all the out of state locations. Only two people on the tour were from Maryland, and that includes your grandpa and great aunt.
That story flowed into the time, long ago and far away, that they were travelling in Wyoming and your Grandpa Leo made everyone take a detour so he could give them a tour of Cheyenne where he lived from toddler days till about age of ten. Not sure of everyone on the trip but I know it was your Great Uncle Chuck Kennedy driving and your Great Aunt Cathy was on the trip and of course your Grandpa Leo and Grandma Roro, and I assume your Great Grandparents Deezy and Charlie and your Great Aunt Patti Kennedy and your Great Uncle Tim, etc. Evidently, they double backed, when they were close to Laremy which was their destination for the night, because of the insistence of your grandpa. The tour consisted of such grand sites as "That is the bush I hid under when Sister Marie Gregory was trying to hit me with a ruler" and other such gems. I just pictured the entire family sitting there staring at a bush in wonder and awe,
Then it struck me, as we all sat there laughing at these tours and what your Grandpa Leo considers interesting, that even though your Grandpa Leo has lived through some pretty wild and crazy events in his life, that isn't what we were recalling. I mean your Grandpa Leo has narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions throughout his life and especially his military career. We weren't sitting there talking about the time a grenade was lobbed into a courtyard in Turkey that he had just left, or the time in Norway where an avalanche wiped out a bunch of Nato troops on exercise, or the time in Germany where a guy put down a briefcase machine gun (yes they do or did exist) without the safety on, or the multiple times on the Russian border where he could pick up binoculars and look at the Soviet soldier staring back at him through binoculars. Nope, we sat there reminiscing about much simpler, much more regular, and evidently from the bush staring story, often more boring times.
Every story, every memory, every moment recalled from a life well lived that was worthy of a birthday conversation, had one thing in common...love. We weren't talking about some grand adventure or harrowing advent, it was stories about family and togetherness. We weren't telling "big fish" stories to impress or brag, but rather small unremarkable stories that brought us closer together with our shared moments. The tales weren't filled with the times that your grandpa made great suggestion and perfect decisions, but rather celebrated what some might see as a quirk or imperfection or even (quite wrongly) a fault in his adventure choices.
After this realization, I feel for his 67th birthday your Grandpa Leo got the birthday he wanted, and the one he deserved. My wish for you, and me, is ... may all our birthday adventures ahead of us be just as boring and memorable and filled with love and family.
Sincerely with love from your dad,