THOMASVILLE, N.C. (BP)–Shuffling down the hallway in the early morning, the glistening blue of Nathan’s freshly polished truck in the driveway arrested my sight through the window.
The little truck represents a promise I made to each of the kids that if they ever earned a full college scholarship, I would get them a vehicle to drive to school. Nathan did his part, and will be playing basketball for UNC Greensboro this fall.
I stood with my arms across my chest, watching the rising sun lay dappled ribbons of light across the pickup, and I pondered sadly the thin week that stood between that moment and Nathan’s departure to write a new chapter in our family’s life.
That evening my wife and I visited a young couple who were still doey-eyed and dopey over their eight-day-old baby. We toured their new house, admired the baby’s room and talked of the tremendous emotional highs and lows that lay ahead of them through their daughter’s growing years.
It’s a brief journey, I said, from the hospital to college.
“How long does it take?” they asked.
I just snapped my fingers.
I’ve heard the shortest measurable unit of time is the moment between the traffic light turning green ahead of you and the impatient driver’s horn sounding behind you.
Now I know the truth. The shortest measurable unit of time is the moment between the delivery room cry and the dorm room good-bye.
Why didn’t someone warn me about that when Nathan constantly wanted me to throw a ball, ride bikes, shoot baskets, play with Legos, and read, read, read to him? Or when he fussed with his siblings on long drives? Or when he consumed the month’s grocery allowance in a week?
I confess to lunacy, actually hoping some moments would quickly pass. I thought “how long?” when I cringed with him in the bathroom, trying to peel a gauze pad from the back of his 7-year-old thigh. He’d hit a bump, got tossed from his seat and his knobby bike tire rubbed off a four-inch diameter of skin, two layers deep.
Like a fool, I put a gauze pad over the open, oozing circle. Two days later we had to soak him in the shower to tear the gauze pad off. I still hear his screams.
“When will you have it, dad?”
“Soon,” I said.
When he entered the Optimist oratorical contest I promised to help him edit his speech. Caught up in other work, he pestered me about when I could help him.
“Soon,” I said.
As he grew, and the family grew and my job grew, but the hours of my day stayed forever stuck on 24, “soon” seemed a reasonable answer to his requests. When could I help him memorize his play lines? When could I show him how to change the oil in the car? When could I take him practice driving? When could I talk to his teacher about math? When could I show him a hook shot? When could I help him paint a 3-point line around his basket in the driveway.
I don’t worry as much as their mom when the kids are out with friends. But now I remember the interminable hours waiting for the clock to lift its heavy arms to the curfew hour. With a shudder I recall the sudden terror that grips a parent when the appointed hour arrives, but the child does not. Tingling ears measure the speed of every passing car, hoping the next one turns into my driveway.
Yawning and stretching, my wife comes out of our room, looks at the clock and asks when Nathan will be home.
Today she looks at his empty place at the table, walks past his room devoid of trophies, pictures and inspirational posters, marvels as the pantry shelves stay full like the widow’s oil lamp after Elijah’s promise, and pats the resting washing machine. She cries, and asks when I think Nathan will be home for a visit.
I put my arm around her, look out the window where his truck used to sit, and say, “Soon.”
Jameson is director of communications for the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, Inc., based in Thomasville, and editor of its periodical, Charity & Children.