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Patterson Family Letters

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Mike's Letter, February 2006

I saw my old friend Martha again. She's cut her hair short and put on a little weight, but she's still pretty and active, loud and gregarious. We work in the same general area and often wave as we run for the subway but we rarely do more than shout hello. Yesterday she stopped and asked me to have lunch with her and I agreed. It was nice to dine with someone outside the labyrinth of Portrait magazine and talk about something other than work.

Martha is about to get married again to a man who has two children; one is the same age as her twins and is also a girl. Martha's main concern is for the children. It seems that both sets of grandparents figure into all their lives, which both relieves and complicates her relationship with the fiancée. I listened to her for the entire lunch hour and later she thanked me. All I did was listen - but, maybe that's all she needed from a friend.

As I listened, I watched her face and hands. Expressions and gestures I remembered from high school, laughter, phrases I'd forgotten all came to the fore and suddenly, we were both 14 again, sitting on the back of her dad's boat, talking. She still has the freckles and the wide white smile that make her look like a country girl. I always imagined her outside, on horseback or riding a bicycle down a country road. But here she is, (a few blocks from where I spend my days) working for a sign shop. She seems happy enough, despite some current personal angst and I wondered where we'd both be if we'd followed the paths we'd planned for ourselves back then, before real life took over.

Martha had always wanted to travel out west, live on a beach, work on a cruise ship, go to Europe, climb mountains and learn how to ride. My dream was to write, which, without traveling, took me wherever I wanted to go. I read a great deal about the Romans, ancient Britons, and life as it was when castles were common and commoners were expendable. I longed to see Stonehenge and the underground caverns in Bath. I researched the clothing and lifestyles and while others in school hated Shakespeare, I loved the colourful discourse and the clever turns of phrase. I tried to write like the Bard. I irritated my companions with Chaucerian commentary and when I was alone with my thoughts, I traveled back in time to the days of knights, nobles, kings, countrymen and wasp-waisted maidens with long, plaited hair.

I don't know what kept me from traveling to England after high school. Like everyone else, I had financial concerns- but so did the kids who took off for Australia and New Zealand and back packed halfway round the world! Had I truly wished to go, my parents would have helped me, but I stayed on familiar territory and life unfolded as it did.

Martha and I shared a few "what ifs". What if she had gone out west? What if I had gone to England? Where would our journeys have taken us - and would we ultimately have been brought to where we are today? Likely not.

We both agreed that we were happy. Our children especially have filled our lives with challenges and laughter and through them, we see ourselves as children again.

I watch my daughter Meredith and I remember what it was like to be cold and wet, to have a pair of icy snowpants chafing on my legs. I remember being put into a hot bath, clean pajamas and snuggling by the fireplace with my sister. I'm remembering more and more good things about my sister these days. We don't fight any more. There's no resentment or competition or jealousy - (and I miss it in a way - we used to have some great fights!)

I remember being a kid because of my children. With each new discovery, new experience - I see myself at that age and I feel their hurt or exhilaration almost as keenly as they do. I love it when they learn a new skill or a new way to use the language. (Four letter words are not allowed in our household.) I enjoy their expanding knowledge but am charmed by their childishness and watching them both is like watching a miracle.

Martha was equally enthusiastic as she talked about her girls. They're 5 years old, now and in school full days. She misses her "little ones" but enjoys the freedom their age affords.

I asked if they had freckles like she does and she brought a package of photographs out of her purse. The twins look like Martha, curly hair, blue eyes, freckles and all. They were exquisite and identical. Amazing.

If we had followed our dreams and gone away after high school, perhaps these precious people would not be here. It was a possibility we thought about as we sipped our tea and shared a sandwich.

What if. What if. "What if I had married Martha?", I wondered. Perhaps she was wondering, too. We were kids when we ran along the beach together, outcasts at summer camp, rebels at school. Would we have stayed married? Would her twins have been mine?

I looked at her photographs and I shared mine with her. The love we have for our children overwhelmed any other thoughts. How could these beautiful people not have happened - exactly the way they happened. How could they not be who they are? Although it was Martha who did most of the talking at lunch, I had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking.

As I rode home that evening, I realized that I was happy with everything. I'm happy with my wife, my children and even my job. Most of all, I'm content being me. I haven't said that before - not in a journal and not out loud. Perhaps this is one of those maturing times. I've turned another corner... and it took a conversation with someone from my past to help me re-evaluate my present. This present! Oh, what a gift it is.

All the best to everyone out there. Give some love on Valentine's Day. It won't cost you a thing!