By NANCY PATRICK
My husband Mike and I made a rather spontaneous plan to visit our granddaughter Hannah in Denver this summer. We decided to make a road trip of it so we could visit several places along the way.
Our itinerary required that we spend three nights in hotels as we made our way to Denver. All our accommodations provided breakfast buffets for guests which, in turn, gave me several opportunities to practice one of my favorite hobbies: people watching. I’m not nosy or creepy about it; I simply find people’s behaviors and interactions fascinating.
We drove to Dalhart the first day, arriving early enough for rest and relaxation before the next day’s travel. A noise in the parking lot caught my attention, so I opened our curtain and took a peek out the window. I saw a large van opening the side doors as people began spilling out. One child after another climbed down, and by the time the last one exited, I had counted seven in all. The oldest looked about seventeen while the youngest was a babe in arms. In addition, two adults and a large dog joined the group of children. Everyone carried something—bags, pillows, toys, and coolers among them.
The next morning at breakfast Mike and I enjoyed watching the children rush into the dining area as their eyes took in all the features on the buffet. What can be more fun for children who typically have a bowl of cereal or toast and jelly than to have a full array of breakfast foods from which to choose!
Some of the kids had trouble deciding what to get and what to leave. Most of them were old enough to serve themselves, so they went through the line filling their plates with bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, fruits, pastries, yogurt, and best of all—waffles! Most of the hotels now have the waffle irons that make beautiful waffles magically. Dalhart even had an iron that made Texas-shaped waffles.
I was near the coffee dispenser when one of the younger children with a bowl of cereal came near me and was about to pick up the milk carafe. Just as I asked him if he would like me to pour his milk, one of the older boys came over and took the container and poured milk for his little brother.
I found this particular family fascinating because of the differences among the children. They were white, black, brown, Asian, male, female, handicapped, and “normal,” whatever that means. I assumed this might be one of those amazing families that comprise the foster family. Whenever I hear of couples who open their homes and families to children in need of them, I say a prayer of thanks that those people live among us.
I loved watching the children, one of whom was a little boy with no hands, who ran happily about the room, so excited with all the choices and freedom of the morning. I watched brothers and sisters taking care of each other, the older ones looking out for the needs and behaviors of the younger ones. Some of the older children corralled the younger ones who became a little over excited with the change in routine. This family interaction not only amused me but also inspired me with its simple charm.
The family finished their meal and left the dining room while I leisurely ate my breakfast. Soon, I saw the parents, followed by a line of children and the family dog, come to the check-out desk. Each child carried his or her own pillow. The scene reminded me of a motto of one of my friends: “I can make order out of chaos.” Truly, this family had found the key to making order out of chaos.
Watching this family made me nostalgic. I remembered the days when my own family had children and pets and all the commotion that flavors life. That family had no idea how they had impressed me with their openness, inclusiveness, and generosity in creating such an eclectic collection of humanity.
The next day provided a completely different kind of entertainment for my breakfast time. That morning I observed a married couple, probably in their early 80s.
As the wife walked down the hotel hall a few feet ahead of her husband, he recited his checklist of tasks for the day: “Did you pack my razor?” “Do you have the car keys?” I watched as his wife patiently answered “yes” to each question as she rolled her eyes as if asking, “Don’t I always?”
As they came to the breakfast bar, the husband decided on a waffle but did not know how to operate this newfangled waffle iron. Of course, his Mrs. made the waffle while he found coffee and seats for them. Strangely (I thought), he selected a corner of a bar-height counter. That placed him facing one way and his wife facing the other, so they sat back to back! I watched their interactions and discovered that, no, they had not had a spat. When they wanted to talk, each did a half turn to face the other.
It’s true that my vacation observations included two ends of the family spectrum, one right in the middle of family growth and the other toward the end. Although some might think the older couple sad in comparison to the youthful family, I didn’t find that so. I couldn’t help but think how two people who have been life partners for decades finally reach a point where they sort of meld into an “us.”
My own marriage began almost fifty-one years ago. I find it hard to even think of us separately anymore. Everything is together—plans, finances, family, food, health—whatever comes down the pike, we face it together. In the final analysis, we morsels of humanity differ in sizes, shapes, races, personalities, belief systems, backgrounds, goals, and intellects, yet we seem to yearn for one thing in common—we want to belong to someone else and have someone else belong to us.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.