Standing with the large cardboard sign at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport with “Welcome Home Dave” and a drawn helicopter and ladder flying next to the colored letters, Dave’s ten-year old sister, Nikki, waited for her big brother, Lt. Keith David Howard to come up the escalator from the plane from San Diego. We got the idea of the box top from two places: you always see chauffeurs with names of the person they are going to pick up at airports, and then the teenage pizza sign spinners outside of Wal-Mart. I almost suggested that Nikki try to spin the sign. But then, figured it might spin off into some of the group next to us waiting for their loved ones. We might not be looked upon very kindly should that happen.
Finally, my oldest son emerged. Nikki and I bent under the ropes and hugged this good-looking young man sporting a John Lennon and Yoko Ono T-shirt. He got thumbs up from a middle-age man that I thought would have, at one time, been a part of that culture. It was a neat T-shirt, though. It was great to see Dave. He flew out on this Presidents Day weekend to see all of us before he is shortly deployed by the U. S. Navy. So, this was to be the last time we see him for a year. How do you spend time with a family member who will shortly be headed out on a carrier to the Middle East?
Starting off our weekend, Dave treated us to “The Greatest Show on Earth.” As a surprise, he had bought tickets to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We braved the cutting cold wind to head up to the Philips Arena, amongst a bevy of pretty young cheerleaders who must have been freezing. Not only was the circus in town, but the national cheerleading championship. The radio that morning had warned Georgians not to go to Atlanta if they could help it because of the more than usual crowds. There were a lot of people.
I drove up to Atlanta, but who best to get us out of this city than my son the pilot. I sat up front with him. Husband Bill and Nikki were in the back. Maybe I should have sat in the back. There is a reason that I didn’t teach Dave how to drive as a teenager. This time I didn’t hold onto the door handle, or press my foot on the imaginary brake on the passenger’s side. I was proud of me; only once did I shakily point at the fast approaching bumper of the car in front of us while telling myself, “He’s a pilot; he’s a pilot; he’s a really good pilot.” Then I figured that it was best to just look out of the window.
Dave wanted to be with family before he left, but it wasn’t until he picked up a game called Catan at Wal-Mart that the idea for our time together finally took shape. My kids all grew up playing games. It’s the most typical “family” activity we have. And, Dave needed family. So, on this cold weekend we had the first ever Family Game Marathon. Saturday, Sunday and early Monday before he flew back, the four of us battled it out. We kept points in the games: 3 points for the winner, 2 points for second place, 1 for third and 0 for last. And, Dave and Nikki decided, the winner would not get a prize, but the loser would be covered in shaving cream. We played Yahtzee, Balderdash, Clue, Ruckers, Spot it, Catan, Apples to Apples, Wii games (which I think my son and daughter had an unfair advantage in), and ended with bowling in Griffin. Luckily, Bill was last. I was close at third. Beaten by my son and our ten-year-old! And the good sport Bill was, ended up with a shaving cream hat. But then, my son went after his poor defenseless mother and sister, and we chased each other with shaving cream fingers. I think the dogs and cat hid. It was best for them.
And the games were best for us: A time to be competitive and laugh in a safe family place, in an unsafe world where, in the roll of the dice, everything can change.