Friday night’s storm knocked out power to several hundred thousand homes in Virginia. I was fortunate; mine was not one of them. I woke on Saturday, June 30th, at the same time the sun rose and thought, It’s going to be a beautiful day for a drive to The Porches. I had to admit I was excited. I stumbled over the suitcases open on the floor waiting to receive the last minute items and headed out of the bedroom to find the coffee I could smell already. My husband wakes the roosters at Oh- Dark-Thirty and makes the first pot of coffee everyday – I usually join him for the second pot.
“You’re up early,” he said as he poured a cup of coffee for me, sweetened it, and handed me a spoon to stir.
“Thank you,” I replied. “And, good morning.” The writer’s retreat at the Porches was the first time since my husband and I retired and returned to Virginia that we would be parted for more than a day or two. In the seven years since, I have often suggested that he return to work so he would have someone else to supervise and that morning, handing me that spoon irritated me beyond reason. I know I’m being unreasonable, I thought. So, I wrapped my lips on the edge of the cup and sipped without a sound.
“Did you remember to charge your cell phone?” he asked.
“Did you pack bug spray? Nelson County’s still country; you’re sure to need it.”
This sort of questioning went on as we ate breakfast. I am an intelligent, responsible woman. I have a list. I do not need this micromanagement. I dressed and finished packing my clothes. That’s when the phone rang.
My daughter had no electricity and it was already over eighty degrees in her house and headed for triple digits. It was barely eight o’clock in the morning. What could I say? Of course, she and my son-in-law must come and bring their two preschoolers to my house. I said, “Bring milk for the kids. I’ve gotten everything ready here for while I’m gone, but didn’t stock extra milk.”
I did not check with my husband. I knew he would move the moon and sun for the grandchildren. He might complain about his stepdaughter and her husband as if they caused the storm making the lights go out, but neither grandson nor granddaughter could do wrong. I did ask if he wanted me to postpone my departure for The Porches until power was restored. He said, “No. It could be late tonight. I don’t want you driving in the dark.”
I gritted my teeth.
Perhaps I should explain that I had been re-singled and a head of household — an independent career woman —for ten years when I met my second husband. I made good money as a contract negotiator and problem-solver for major corporations. I drove over a hundred thousand miles each year keeping appointments with clients. I definitely knew how to drive a car.
The grandchildren tumbled into the house seeking breakfast followed by their parents, hauling all the paraphernalia needed for an extended stay, seeking coffee. They drained the second pot of the day.
As I threw the frozen food and fresh vegetables into the cooler and my husband pulled it out again to re-arrange everything to suit him, the phone rang again. It was Mel, who organized the writer’s retreat I now yearned to reach. She informed me that The Porches had no power.
No electricity, I thought. No Spiderman on the TV, no jingles or tweets from the i-phones and laptops brought into the house by the thirty-something parents, no insistent rings from the landline …
“Are you sure you want to come?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” I said, “I can sweat with the best of them.”
Finally, everything loaded in the car, a round of hugs and kisses ensued.
“If we get another bad storm while you’re on the road you will pull over in a safe place won’t you?” my husband asked. “You won’t have any trouble finding the place, will you? Do you have your cell phone with you? Do you have your directions where you can reach them? Oh and here’s some extra cash. You never carry enough cash?”
I started the car; and through the open window said, “I know I’ll miss you sweetheart. But, it may take a few days …”
My husband laughed. “Will you please get out of here, just go. You’re driving me crazy,” he said and I laughed in return as we exchanged the pecks of a long married couple.
For a nanosecond, I felt guilty leaving him that way. I got over it before exiting the driveway. I knew he could handle it. Maybe this is an opportunity for him to bond with my daughter and her husband, I thought but mostly hoped.
Unlike me, my daughter grew up spending chunks of time with her father. His favorite response to anyone was, “I don’t care; do what you want. Figure it out.” To her the operative phrase was not I don’t care. I suspect she thinks her stepfather is domineering.
Several days later while sharing a meal, one of the writers attending the retreat presented the question, “How do you stay married to the same person for so long?”
My answer was quite simple. “You must have a sense of humor.” Yes, each partner must laugh at the proverbial cap left off the toothpaste. Yet, there is more. My husband — cares. That means more to me than anything else, even when it drives me almost insane and I want to escape.
Pat Ladlee is a life-long lover of words. She writes essays, short stories, science fiction and historical fiction (American). She’s an active member of The Midlothian Writers’ Workshop and currently working on two novels.