The weather changed this week. Last Saturday was probably our last mild evening for eating out on the deck. Tim and Sarah, friends of mine for more than twenty years, arrived early with their three small boys.
“Give me something to do,” Sarah said as she followed me into the kitchen. Together we shaped the meat into patties, and Sarah told me how she and Tim had finally gotten together. I knew them both back in college, and Tim studied Arabic with Todd and me in Jordan.
“I didn’t even like Tim when we were in college,” Sarah said, laughing. A tiny version of Tim pulled at Sarah’s leg and asked for a drink of water. I half-filled a plastic tumbler, and little Tim carried his water with him as he pushed open the back door and went out to find the other children.
Bill and Amy arrived next, with their younger daughter and a huge fruit salad. Of all the friends who came Saturday night, Bill is the one I’ve known longest—since I was a sophomore in college and he was a freshman. My old friend grinned at me.
“Look at you, Bill, all middle aged!” I teased.
I think it was on Bill’s twentieth birthday that petite, spunky Amy planned and hosted a party, baked a cake. Did she know then what was so clear to the rest of us? I remember as vividly as if I had photographed it: the long moment Amy held the cake out before Bill, candles blazing.
Jeff and Deanna came with chips and fresh salsa. Jason and Holly brought potato salad and extra deck chairs. Todd slapped burgers on the grill. We set up long tables on the deck for the adults, a picnic mat and an extra table down on the grass for the children. My seven-year-old taught miniature Tim and his brothers how to roll down a grassy hill. They couldn’t roll straight but kept veering diagonally down the hill over dry leaves fallen from the aspen tree.
Our children played together like cousins, staying out in the half-light after the adults became chilled and retreated indoors. I looked around the room at these old friends who’ve welcomed us back after twenty years away, yet there wasn’t time for my heart to feel full. Not then. I was too busy, serving and cleaning and wiping down tables and saying goodnight.
The next morning is when I felt it, alone in the kitchen thinking of all the children who look like we once looked, when we were very young. I felt it as I stood with steaming coffee and saw the autumn leaves that had fallen on the deck overnight. I felt it as I watched the sun rising over the cedar trees, and I felt it especially when the light shone against the back door at just the right angle to backlight the small handprints left behind.