By Peggy Strait
Shortly after my husband’s death I discovered his journal.
Scanning through the pages, I came across this note: Peggy was busy today planning another one of those family trips that I hate.
I smiled when I read those lines since Roger had often acknowledged that some of our most precious family moments were on those trips.
One such trip came to mind.
It began on a warm, humid summer day in New York City. We were heading to a cabin we had rented for the weekend in the Catskill Mountains.
But, wait; you must be wondering why Roger hated certain family outings. Let me interrupt the story to explain. When Roger and I were first married, we were poor graduate students living on love and fellowships (Roger’s from Harvard, mine from MIT). Each evening we would stop at our favorite coffee shop on Brattle Street just off Harvard Square to have pie and coffee. After a few months, we discovered that we were spending more for pie and coffee than for groceries. This seemingly inexpensive habit was driving us to bankruptcy. After much thought, we decided that we had to put a stop to these evenings out for pie and coffee. In fact, we had better prohibit eating out all together. Thus began the ritual of packing food for outings. This ritual became ever more complicated when we had children. Each family trip involved packing sandwiches and drinks for the ride, then groceries, pots, pans and an electric hot plate for cooking since most places where we stayed did not have kitchens. And of course, we needed books and toys to keep the children entertained and often extra clothes and bedding. By the time we had two children, a very large dog and a very small car, Roger was not always thrilled with these family outings.
After packing all provisions into our VW Beetle, we drove north to the Catskill Mountains. The cabin we had rented was situated near a stream at the foot of Fleischman Mountain. It was our first trip into this region and we loved everything about it. We had picnics by the stream, hikes up trails in the mountain and explorations of little towns in the area. Best of all, our son Paul, who was five years old at the time, became friends with the two little boys of the landlord. They played together everyday and transformed our family trip into a true vacation for Roger and me.
The morning we were to return to New York City, Paul came back from play with something furry cradled in his arms. He was very excited and explained that his new friends’ dog had puppies. They gave this one to him.
“Can I keep this doggie?” he asked.
Without pondering for even a moment, both Roger and I gave him this message. “It’s a lot of work to take care of a doggie. Can you take her for a walk each morning before you go to school? Can you take her out again after you are home from school? Can you clean up after her if she makes a mess?”
With a sad and surprised look on his face, Paul’s immediate response was, “ No, I am just a little boy!”
Just as immediate was Roger’s and my response, “Yes, you can keep the doggie.”
It is now nearly fifty years since that event. As I write these lines I am waiting for Paul to come for a visit. I have made a list of chores for him to do for me. Could he change the light bulb in the hallway ceiling? Could he bring down the box that is on the top shelf of my closet? There is something wrong with my printer. Could he try to fix it for me? There is a terrible smell in the kitchen. Could he take a look to see if there is a dead mouse?
I can always count on Paul to do the many chores that I can no longer do. He is very caring. Fifty years ago he was, in his own words, “just a little boy.” Now, he is a man who understands that his mother is a little old lady.