Last week I watched my granddaughter lounging on the swing in our back yard. It was a bright morning, but still cool in the shade under the maples. Her little dog—a malti-poo—sat by her side, eyeing her buttered toast. Periodically she would tear off a small piece of crust and hold it out for the puppy, who gladly accepted the tiny offering. Renoir could have done this portrait justice on canvas, had he been alive to see it.
Today we are up early, long before the sun, sitting on the front porch steps, waiting. It is still night, and the air is cool and damp. The yellow porch light burns like a beacon in the darkness. Overhead, beneath the sliver of a waning crescent moon, a bat leafs its way through the night air. All else is still.
My wife cradles a small urn in her hands, delicately decorated with tiny flowers and birds. The inside she has lined with leaves of lemon verbena, her favorite herb. “I put our telephone numbers inside on little pieces of paper,” she tells me.
Morning light appears on the horizon. Mist blankets the distant hills. The call of a lone mourning dove breaks through the stillness at first light.
Across the street a door opens. A man emerges with bundles in his arms. He carries them to the rental truck and stows them in the back. I lift a hand in greeting.
A woman comes out with a small dog. “She needs to go out before the long drive,” the woman tells me. “It’s thirteen hundred miles to Florida. We’re hoping to make Richmond by this evening.”
Suddenly, the little girl is out, dancing across the street to our front porch, where she sits on my wife’s lap and fingers the small urn in her hands. “Open it,” my wife says. “Smell.”
“It’s a music box,” my wife says. The little girl pushes the button on the bottom and listens to the notes of the childhood song.
Once more my wife and the little girl descend from the porch and make the rounds through the gardens. The frog is sitting by the fish pond in the back yard. The day lilies are blooming; the irises have faded. The yellow primroses are just opening up.
Now that the clothing and linens and dishes and utensils are packed, now that the beds have been taken apart and stowed in the rental truck along with the sofa and kitchen table and chairs; now that the appliances have been unplugged and wheeled out strapped to the hand-truck and securely fastened by ropes passed through the steel rings embedded in the interior wall; now that the metal paneled door is pulled down and locked with the heavy safety latch and the apartment door is shut for the last time—now the time has come to say goodbye.
Goodbyes have always been awkward for my granddaughter, this little girl who barely tips the scales at 46 pounds. In her eight years she has moved nine times (this will be the tenth), she has had to say goodbye to two fathers (failed relationships of her mother), and now she is put in the position of having to say goodbye to us, her grandparents, for what will undoubtedly be the last time for a long time. She has learned to keep the goodbyes short.
When the final moment comes, the men shake hands, the women hug each other. The little girl climbs into the back seat of the car where her mother and the dog are waiting, and waves through the window.
Goodbye—just another moment in time. Goodbye, from the Old English “God be with ye.” Not aufwiedersehen, until we see each other again; not au revoir or arrevidercci, but vaya con Dios—the Spanish is closest—go with God.