My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Six Decades Plus.

First, proof (of a sort) that this just-past winter was "better" than last winter:

That's a 4:54am shot out the front window of my house of what turned out to be the last snowfall of the 2014-2015 winter... on March 20th. You may be thinking that March 20th is a little late in the year for it to be snowing as far south as Maryland, but I have a photo of a dusting of snow on AJ's minivan from April 15th of last year, so this year's winter was "better" than last year's. (I put quotes there because, unlike last winter, I ended up staying overnight at work twice this year, something so far down my list of favorite things to do that it tends to fall clean off the page.) You may also notice the double image of the streetlamp -- that's because it's one of the spiffy new superduper-bright LED lamps they've begun installing in my neighborhood. In fact, they're so doggone spiffy, my neighbor a couple of doors down who's on the HOA board decided he wanted one of them directly in front of his house... so, unlike any other street in the neighborhood, my block has two of these spiffy suckers only 60 feet apart.

And now that I've gotten that off my chest... on to The Important Stuff.

It's easy to forget, in this day and age, that some folks still hew to the old "...for better or worse, etc." vows of marriage so strongly that it gets them through all stages of life. That group includes the Pipsqueak's grandparents, who on April 11th celebrated their 61st anniversary. Yep, that's sixty-one years, six decades "plus," of being married to the same person, through three overseas deployments in two hemispheres, family joys and family tragedies scattered across much of North America, multiple careers and multiple 25-hour-a-day jobs, multiple medical adventures, and the the joint raising of two headstrong, volatile, opinionated, independent, and occasionally clumsy kids (one of each gender).

Are we proud of Mom & Dad for sticking through the bad and sharing the good for so long? You bet our sweet bippy we are -- and we're all praying (more literally than in past decades) for more anniversaries to share.

Both our folks are really homebodies at heart, and even though they thoroughly enjoyed the theater tickets we got them as a gift, what they both really looked forward to as a celebration of their 61st anniversary was to just spend the day together without all that Other Stuff that tends to muddy the waters in daily life. The weather report was good, so we decided to revisit what had been the first stop on their honeymoon: the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park.  (Dude, doesn't everybody visit a battlefield for their honeymoon...?)

Mom enjoyed pointing out that we were actually a day early, since she & Dad didn't get to Gettysburg until April 12th -- they were, in her words, "busy getting married" on the 11th, but we all decided that was an incidental detail and set off in high spirits.  Of course, the original plan was to hit the road around 10:30 in the morning, but that turned out to be the only time AJ could get someone to come out & give her an estimate for repairing & pressure-washing her deck so we pushed it back to 11:00... and then Mom remembered something that had to be taken care of in the morning so we pushed it back to 11:30... and then I had one of those nights at work and got home at 4:00 in the morning (that makes twice in one week, ugh) so we pushed it back some more... Needless to say, by the time we all got together and the Pipsqueak decided to try on her uncle's UM hat, it was well past noon and AJ's minivan didn't actually clear the end of the driveway until 12:30 had come and gone. (And somewhere in the background I can hear any & all friends and relatives who might be reading this wondering aloud why any of us might have expected things to work out any differently.)

Quick aside: that's the same UM cap that I wore in China. I remember it nearly covering all of the Pipsqueak's torso the first time niece & cap encountered each other, so it blows my mind a little bit every time I look at this photo.

We started off with a late lunch at the Dobbin House Tavern in Gettysburg proper, since we've eaten there a couple of times in the past and have enjoyed it. (Note: We haven't eaten in the main restaurant; we prefer the Spring House Tavern in the basement, where neither reservations nor nicer clothes are necessary.) We had a nice, leisurely lunch, and our waitress was so impressed when we mentioned we were celebrating our folks' 61st anniversary that she delivered their dessert with a celebratory sparkler on top. We spent some time and a little bit of cash in the gift shop -- where a very nice saleslady gifted the Pipsqueak with a cute ring that pops open to show a small container of scented lip balm -- and then spent a few minutes enjoying the sight of a wedding party trying to organize themselves before heading off to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center.

At least, that's where we went -- the place closes a bit earlier than we thought, so (just like last year!) actually getting in was limited to encountering several people telling us, "They're about to close!" and about five minutes in the gift shop. At least we managed to get some good shots of the family with the life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln seated near the entrance... Maybe next year we'll actually make it inside long enough to do more than just grab a map...?

Our next stop was Devil's Den, a spot that holds special significance for our folks (for several reasons I won't go into here). Miri loved loved loved climbing on the rocks, all carefully selected for flatness & ease of access by her cautious uncle under the even more cautious watchful eyes of Mommy & Grandma, and we all managed to clamber around to the limits of our various capabilities. (Hard as it is to admit, our folks are now both in their 80s, so their "clambering" was a bit more restricted than in the past... but they still clambered a bit, so we're all thankful.) Most of my photos break AJ's privacy rules, but I found a few that are OK...

Top of the world, Ma!
AJ laughing at her brother, knowing how hard he'd have to work to climb back outta there...
Miri said, "This is pretty -- take a picture, Uncle Brian!" so I did. :-)
We finished with a visit to the National Cemetery where Lincoln gave his famous address all those years ago.  Miri -- who is unfortunately not a stranger to funerals or deaths in classmates' families -- had actually asked AJ if we could visit the cemetery the night before, so we weren't sure what her reaction would be but decided it would be a good teaching experience. The teaching opportunities sprang up early, since we were only there a few minutes before the Pipsqueak began happily singing one of her nonsense songs and tapping her foot on one of the low, curved gravestones. Explaining the need to be quiet and respectful was made all the more difficult by all of us struggling to not laugh out loud when, after being told she should not behave that way, her immediate response was, "Why? They're dead, so they can't hear me!" To my niece's credit, she caught on very quickly and set a good example for some of the other kids visiting.

There was a short break when one of the other tourists passing by asked us if we knew where the actual site of Lincoln's address was (ironically only about 50 feet from the spot), and somewhere in the conversation he made a comment about "also looking for a malted or egg cream" -- and thus we discovered that he shared some childhood stompin' grounds in New York with our folks.  After a few happy minutes exchanging horror stories of what it was like trying to find a good egg cream[1] outside of the New York metropolitan area, the man thanked Dad for his military service[2] and headed off to read the memorial plaques at the site where Lincoln had stood.

Dusk was falling, so we decided it was time to head back home. We spent a few more minutes just looking around (it was actually scary to see how many gravestones are simply marked "Unknown") while Miri very seriously explained to us that it was very sad there were so many dead people buried there and that she would be very sad if any of us died or how it would be a very sad thing if she died and had to be buried too. We had a short debate over getting something to eat locally or back home (final decision: local would be better, otherwise we'd be eating dinner near 11:00pm) and headed for the exit. AJ and I fell back a little so Mom & Dad could have a few quiet moments (Miri's happy-serious soliloquy showed no signs of abating). I suspect my sister's thoughts were much like my own as I watched my 80-something folks slowly walking hand-in-hand along the same path they had first walked together just one day into their marriage more than six decades earlier, followed by the adored and loving granddaughter they had never imagined would come into their lives from the other side of the world so many years later.

We had dinner at a Friendly's we could see from the cemetery gates. They were having a $5 special on bacon cheeseburgers, so all the grownups ordered the special. When our food arrived (the Pipsqueak got the kids' pizza and fries, which she decimated), only two of the bacon cheeseburgers actually had bacon on them -- so our embarrassed waitress had to bring over a plate of bacon, about half of which the Pipsqueak quickly inhaled to her uncle's shock. We had another round of thoroughly decadent desserts and then headed home.

It was nearly midnight when AJ pulled back into her driveway, but we all agreed it had been a lovely way to celebrate sixty-one years of our folks being Mr. and Mrs. for each other.

[1] It's a delicious drink, and there's no egg involved whatsoever. It's a Noo Yawk thing, and they're still damnably hard to find anywhere else.

[2] Dad almost always wears his USS Coral Sea cap when he's out, and it's been wonderful to see how many people make a point of stopping him and thanking him for his service to the country.

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