CONCORD — Finally, the grandchildren would be here any minute. For more than a year, Jackie Jones and Jeffrey Abramson had ached for this moment.
When was the last time they held Henry and Amelia? It had to have been January of 2020, but neither of them could remember it exactly — the smell of the kids’ hair, whether their little hands were hot or cold. It hadn’t seemed momentous then. Just another goodbye, just for a little while. And then the virus came.
Now, fourteen months later, it was the night of the Passover seder. Jackie and Jeffrey and their daughter and her husband were fully vaccinated. The kids had tested negative for COVID that morning. They were on their way. Jackie and Jeffrey were scrambling to get the last special items on the table — the parsley, to be dipped in salt water representing tears; the matzoh, to symbolize the hardship of slavery and the flight to freedom.
They heard the car pull in. Could they pick up where they left off? A year is a long time in the life of a child. It’s a long time in the life of a grandparent, too. What if they were expecting too much of this moment? Jackie and Jeffrey opened the front door and stepped outside.
Two summers ago, when Henry was three years old, Jeffrey decided to teach him to play wiffle ball. They’d gone down in the basement together so Henry could practice his swing, the yellow plastic bat whooshing through the air. He kept missing, and he was getting upset. “Everybody misses sometimes,” Jeffrey told him gently, over and over. Henry swung and missed again. “Everybody misses sometimes,” he said in his little voice.
It was a small sweet memory, and in the heat of the pandemic summer that followed, Jeffrey mourned the lost afternoons.
Jeffrey and Jackie were in their 70′s. They had moved from Texas to Massachusetts in May of 2020 to be closer to Amelia and Henry, then 8 and 4 years old. They had planned it for years. But once they arrived, they found themselves — like grandparents all over the world — stuck at a terrible distance.
When they saw Amelia and Henry, they all wore masks and stayed outside, at least 6 feet apart. When it got cold, they took freezing walks in the woods, thankful that the little ones didn’t mind trudging around all bundled up. They bought a fire pit, and watched their grandchildren growing up across the flames.
Before they moved north, they had imagined the pleasure of bedtimes. The bath, the pajamas, the calm. Climbing into bed and reading the same books they read to their own daughters: Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, Charlotte’s Web. Traveling together into that other world between waking and sleep.
When their own daughters were little and they couldn’t fall asleep, Jeffrey used to lay on their floor and tell them a story he made up. There was a tree with golden leaves outside their window, the story went, and in the winter when all the leaves fell off, the tree got cold. So they would reach out the window and hang scarves over its branches to keep it warm. The tree was so thankful that in the spring, it would drop its golden leaves right into their bedroom.
He planned to switch out his daughters’ names and tell it to Amelia and Henry. Jeffrey and Jackie had set up two bedrooms in their new house in Concord, but the kids had never stayed the night.
Time marched on. Henry turned 5 and Amelia turned 9. Their beds waited, neatly made.
Amelia burst from her family’s car at a run and catapulted herself into her grandfather’s arms. Henry followed, a brand new monster truck in his backpack, waiting to hurtle across his grandparents’ floor. Jackie grabbed him so tight she nearly lifted him right out of his red Crocs. How big he’d grown. She was crying.
A long, lovely evening awaited. Passover: a celebration of freedom. They would reflect on the story of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, and the passing over of the forces of destruction. The quiet house in Concord would fill with the racket of the children exploring a new home. The table was set with the family china, blooming with tiny pink flowers. Jeffrey would lead the seder, just like his father before him. Amelia was learning Hebrew now, she was so grown up, and she would ask the four ritual questions, starting with: “How is this night different from all other nights?”
But for now, Jackie and Jeffrey stood outside their house in the evening breeze and there was only this: a little boy and a little girl, taller now than before, who were desperate to hug them, too.