Max sat in the porch swing of his farm house south of Nashville in the early evening hours of a hot summer day. He had just celebrated his seventy fifth birthday and decided he needed a break from the festivities of supper and opening presents and children begging to open them for him and, of course, from him letting them.
He heard the screen door around the corner of the wrap-around porch open and close with a slam. Figuring a small child was going to come running around the corner he pulled back his outstretched legs not wanting to trip the little hooligan. But instead his wife, Annie, of forty years came by and sat down next to him silently and then let out a big sigh.
“I haven’t cooked a supper like that in I can’t remember how long. You better have appreciated it, mister!” She let out a chuckle and patted his knee affectionatly.
“You know I appreciate everything you do, dear,” Max said truthfully.
“I know you do,” she said with a smile. “And you had better do the same for me when I turn seventy five!”
They both laughed and he put his arm around her, while she laid her head on his shoulder, much the same way they had done before they were even married. Things hadn’t changed much in their relationship except that they grew to love each other more each year. He knew it sounded cliche whenever someone asked him about it, but he honestly believed that each birthday and each anniversary when he reflected on his life, he found that he loved his wife more each time. Nobody asked him about his children or grandchildren, but he loved them more each year also.
He heard the screen door once again and a moment later a little girl of five years old came around the corner and beamed at the sight of grandma and grandpa.
“Well hello, Little Miss!” Emily, their only granddaughter walked up to them as Max stopped their easy, relaxing swing.
“Hi papa,” she said in her sweet angelic southern accent. “Hi, grandma.”
Max picked her up and put her on the swing between him and Annie and started rocking the swing once again. The sun made its way below the trees in front of them casting an orange glow over the horses in the field and, up close, the fireflies could be seen sending out their mating calls. Frogs and crickets could be heard croaking and chirping their songs to each other. Without realizing it, Max sighed a completly relaxed and contented sigh. Everything was perfect just as it was right in this moment. He again put his arm on the back of the swing and gently traced circles and figure eights around the back of Annie’s neck which used to send goosebumps up her arms way back when. He did it without thinking about it now.
He had had many such perfect moments in his life as he reflected on it. The moment after he proposed to Annie and she tearfully accepted. The moment he sat on this very porch swing with her after they bought this house. The moment each of his two children were born and the moment he first held each of his five grandchildren. They were all perfect moments at the time. But this one, this moment seemed to top them all.
The moment was interrupted by the sweet voice of Emiliy. “Papa,” she inquired.
“Tell me about when you and grandma were little like me.”
Max looked at Annie with a smile. “Well, cupcake, I grew up in the city in the north and Grandma grew up in the country in the South. And nobody thought we would make it!” Emily giggled with all the enthusiasm of a five year old which swelled Max and Annie’s hearts so full of joy they could hardly contain themselves.
“A Yankee and a Rebel,” she exclaimed, having heard them recall Annie’s parents declaration, and giggled once again. They all heartily laughed at that and when they eventually settled down, the frogs and crickets once again dominated the conversation as the sun fell further and further behind the trees.
“Papa,” she asked again. “Will boys ever like me?”
“Little Miss, what are you thinking about boys for at your age?”
“Well, there’s this boy, Tommy and I like him. But he picks on me and calls me names. Mamma said that’s because he likes me, but it sure don’t seem like it.”
“Well, let me tell you something about little boys, honey. When they’re young like you are, they tend do mean things to the girls they like because they think they’re not supposed to like little girls. But when you get older, they’ll like you plenty. They’ll even want to kiss you!”
“Not Tommy. He won’t want to.”
“Yes, even Tommy will want to.” He thought about the girls he had crushes on when he was young. He could remember their names, but he couldn’t picture their faces anymore. Amy, Jennifer, and Jessica. It was so long ago and yet he could remember feeling like he was strange for actually liking them. How much a young boy’s perspective changes in the few short years from adolecence to the teenage years.
“And then when you’re a little older than Bubba, boys will start to ask you out on dates. And your mamma and daddy will want to meet them to make sure they are good enough for you. And of course they won’t be good enough for you beacuse you’re a perfect little angel aren’t you?” He poked her in the belly and she scruched up and laughed till little tears came streaming out of her eyes.
“And then you’ll go to college and you’ll meet a boy there and you’ll eventually fall in love and get married.”
“Like you and Grandma?”
“Yep. Just like me and Grandma. And you’ll have kids just like me and Grandma had your mamma and your Uncle Henry.” This seemed to satisfy her curiosity for the moment as she didn’t ask any further questions. They continued to gently swing as the sun finally set below the horizon. Something in the distance set the horses running which made Emily sit up and watch them. When they finally settled down and continued their grazing, she sat back, and leaned against Annie who held her close, while Max held his arm around Annie completing the circle of protection.
Max thought of when he was a young man chasing the college girls all around. His prioties had been, girls, booze, sleep and school. In that order. When his own parents had threatened to make him pay for the school he was failing out of, he changed his priorities. School and girls shared the first priority while booze was a close third. But school won out and he graduated, moving to Nashville for a job. His focus went to money first, then girls and booze following a close second and third. And finally he met Annie. The proverbial friend of a friend. His first priority immediately switched to her. He couldn’t get her out of his mind no matter how hard he tried. Getting her was his focus, his drive.
When he finally got her he didn’t want to let her go and she didn’t want him to either. They were married and shortly thereafter they had their daughter. His perspective again shifted to providing for his new family. Protecting his daughter and wife became first priority. Then their son came. He could hardly believe that he had a family and responsibilities that five or six years previous would have seemed like a joke to him.
My how some things change and yet how some things never change. He recalled how he felt about Annie when he first met her and how that hadn’t changed in over forty years. He recalled how he felt when his children were born and how that hadn’t really changed throughout the years. And he thought of his priorities before Annie and how it changed yearly, almost monthly, sometimes.
Max heard the porch door open again and his daughter came around the corner. “There y’all are! We were wondering where the man of the hour and all his ladies went!”
Max stood up and hugged his daughter and smiled. “Now I have all my ladies.” He positioned her and motioned for her to sit in the swing with her own daughter and her mother. He leaned on the porch railing and thought for a moment as he gazed upon three generations of those whom he loved more than his own life and determined that this moment topped the one he had five minutes ago.
This moment, with so many others, would be ingrained in his memory until he took his last breath. He hoped it wouldn’t be for a long time yet to come, but if he died tonight, he would die the happiest man on earth. He had lived a storied life with all his adventures and conquests, but it was those in front of him now, and all those in his house that made his life worth living. His family was the most precious thing he could have, and from the time it began, it had provided the perspective he needed to enjoy and experience life as he knew it was meant to be experienced.
As darkness enveloped them, and the frogs and crickets grew louder, they headed back into the house for cake and ice cream. Emily was first to go back in, followed by her mother. Max held his wife Annie back and put his hands on her waist and she put her arms around his neck and his kissed her. As they looked into each other’s eyes reliving forty years in just a second, they both heard two of their younger grandsons. “Ewwwwww,” they exclaimed simultaneously. They smiled, held back a laugh, and walked in the house, hand in hand, both knowing their grandson’s priorities would change soon enough.