BACHELOR OFFICER'S QUARTERS
I should be exhausted, but I'm not.
Or maybe it's just that I'm still on the high
from the adrenaline rush I get whenever I'm up in the
just after seven in the morning and I feel like I'm on
top of the world despite having been awake for nearly
thirty-six hours. Gram
says that it's because, like my grandfather, father and
brother before me, I have flying in my blood, in my
heart and soul.
The first time she told me that, the day the United States
Marine Corps pinned my gold wings on my uniform, she had
this wistful, faraway look in her eyes.
I knew what she was thinking about.
As much as flying is a part of us, the men in my
family, flying is what took two of those men away and
nearly claimed a third.
In 1942, a twenty-two year old woman was left
with a farm in Pennsylvania to tend to and a
two-year-old to raise.
Twenty-seven years later, that fatherless child,
then a man grown, left behind a young wife and a
six-year-old son of his own.
Another twenty-one years passed and the
six-year-old had grown into a man of twenty-seven and
nearly lost his own life because of flying.
Some people might think that this family is
Sometimes, I wonder if it bothers Gram, the gold wings and
the love of flying that is as much a part of this family
as our tradition of military service.
It crossed my mind to ask her, but I couldn't
risk hurting her by bringing up painful memories.
Nor could I ask my stepmother Trish for the same
still gets teary-eyed when my father's name is
mentioned, even after all these years.
I thought about asking my brother, but some
feeling that I cannot name stopped me.
Maybe it was that I wasn't sure he would truly be
able to understand and put it into words.
Or maybe I didn't want to remind him of that
Christmas day when his childhood was turned upside down.
Finally, I did ask Mac, but even that took courage.
After all, if my brother was still flying
full-time, it would take only a cruel twist of fate to
put her in the same position as Gram and Trish, mourning
her beloved husband while struggling to raise young,
So it was with great reluctance that I voiced
these thoughts to her.
After I had asked the question, Mac was silent for a long
moment, so quiet that I immediately regretted asking. I stumbled over an apology as I started to back out of the
room, stopping when she finally replied, her voice
quiet, steady and sure.
"Flying is a part of the Rabb family makeup," she
said, a faraway look in her eyes.
I could see the love that she has for my brother
and I hope that someday I will be as lucky as he is.
"Your grandfather, your father, your brother
– none of them would have been the men that Gram, Mom
and I feel in love with if not for their love of
She paused for a moment and I could almost see the memories
replaying in her mind.
Eventually, she continued, "When Harm had
surgery and got his eyes fixed, I wanted him to stay so
was a part of me that wanted to take him in my arms and
beg him to stay. But
I couldn't make the words come out, because as much as I
wanted and needed him to stay, I loved him enough to let
him go. No
matter how much it hurt, I knew deep down that if he
didn't go back, he wouldn't be the same man that I had
fallen in love with."
When she finished, she looked at me and smiled and I could
see in her eyes that she thought it was worth it, the
risk of loving someone who could very easily be taken
wonder if, as much courage as it took for Gram, Trish
and Mac to love an aviator, it took just as much courage
for Grandfather, Father and Harm to love them, knowing
that they might break their hearts by going away and
never coming back.
I smile as I start going through my mail, while my friend and
squadron mate, 1st Lieutenant James Paul,
throws himself on my couch.
This has kind of become a tradition with us,
sitting down after a mission, training or otherwise, and
discussing our mission and other assorted topics. Eventually, we'll wind down and James will head back to his
own apartment and we'll finally collapse into sleep.
"I'd forgotten how much I hate night training
flights," he declares, looking over at me. "I don't suppose they bother you, do they?
You've probably flown many missions at
I just shrug. My
time with the Russian Army seems like almost another
lifetime ago. I
do miss Russia at times and I miss my mother even more,
but I have built a good life for myself here in America.
A life that I have no regrets about.
"A few," I say with disinterest as I
pull one particular envelope out of the stack. I tear open the envelope and barely glance at the outside of
the card before opening it and reading the lengthy
message on the inside.
"What have you got there?" James asks, glancing at
the card in my hand with interest.
"Christmas card from my grandmother," I reply,
holding up the card.
I frown a little as I add, "This will be the
first Christmas since I have been in America that I will
not get to see her."
"Bah humbug to the genius who scheduled training
missions all Christmas week," James says with
does your grandmother live?"
"In a small town called Bealsville in
Pennsylvania," I answer as I carefully stand the
card up on the coffee table with the rest of the cards I
have already received from friends and family.
Gram always picks out beautiful Christmas cards
and her card seems to stand out just a little bit from
the rest. "It
is not far from Pittsburgh.
She lives on a farm just outside of town."
"So your family always gathers at the farm for
Christmas?" James asks, curious.
I remember him once telling me that his family
isn't very close, his parents divorced and his
grandparents all dead.
In spite of my somewhat unusual family situation,
I can't imagine life like that.
In my extended family, you don't have to even be
related by blood to be made to feel like you belong.
"Not always," I say, remembering the first year I
was in America. I
was so nervous that first Christmas, finally meeting the
rest of the family that I'd only spoken to on the phone
prior to that. Fortunately,
everyone made me feel so welcome that I could easily
forget that we were practically strangers.
It didn't take long for me to feel like I'd known
them my entire life.
"The first Christmas I was in America,
everyone came to Washington.
My brother had just gotten married and his wife
was expecting twins so it wasn't a good idea for her to
travel that late in her pregnancy. The following year we began the tradition of going to the
was the twins' first Christmas and Gram didn't want to
miss it, but she came down with the flu and couldn't
"So everyone went up to the farm to be with her,"
James concludes. "Sounds
like you have a great family."
"We're all very close," I say, picking up a framed
photo off the coffee table.
It is a snapshot of the extended
Rabb-Burnett-Mackenzie family taken last Christmas.
"My father was her only child and. . . .she
says that having my brother and I around is like having
my father back, we remind her so much of him."
"So who is everyone in the picture?"
"This, of course, is my grandmother," I say,
pointing out everyone in the photo as I name them. "Next to her is my stepmother Trish and her husband
my brother Harm and he's holding his son Matt.
His wife, Mac, is holding their daughter Sarah.
Next to Mac is her mother, Deanne.
Behind her is Mac's Uncle Matt and sitting in
front is Mac's sister Chloe."
In the photo, I'm standing next to Gram, my hand
holding hers just out of view behind Harm's back.
At the same time, the phone rings and there is a knock at the
door. As I
pick up the phone, I ask James, "Can you get the
door for me? It's
probably Lisa. She
said she would stop by this morning."
As James goes to answer the door, I take his place on the
couch and say into the phone, "Hello, Lieutenant
Out of the corner of my eye, I see James pull open the door
and motion in the redheaded woman dressed in the uniform
of a Marine 2nd Lieutenant.
"Hey, Lisa," I hear him say while I'm
trying to pay attention to the woman on the other end of
the phone line. "Your
boyfriend's on the phone."
I smile and wave at Lisa and my heart flutters just a little
bit in my chest. I
met her just after being stationed at Quantico when I
finished flight training school and we hit it off
bright and bubbly and fun to be with.
Is she the one I want to spend the rest of my
life with? I'm
not sure and that's nothing against Lisa. She's going to make someone a great wife someday, maybe even
that I'm out of college and my Marine training is over,
various members of my family – mostly Gram and Trish,
of course - have been dropping subtle hints about my
settling down. Harm
likes to joke that since he is finally married with
children, Trish and Gram need a new project and that
they don't want to wait until I'm thirty-six, the age
Harm was when he married, before I settle down.
Since I'm only twenty-three, I figure that I can
easily give them what they want sometime within the next
I manage to bring my attention back to my phone conversation
with June Randall, a neighbor of Gram's.
I remember her fondly from my times on the farm.
Like Gram, she is a widow, but her children are
scattered across the country and rarely visit. Sometimes, the attitude of Americans amazes me.
In Russia and most of Europe, elder family
members are revered and taken care of.
In America, they seem to often be ignored by
children who seem to have forgotten where they came
from. I am
so glad that my family is not like that.
Anyway, Mrs. Randall – as Harm and I still
insist on calling her, no matter how many times she says
we should call her June – loves to bake and often
brings over to the farm lots of goodies when we visit
for all of us to take home.
In an instant, as what she is saying registers in my mind, I
feel like my world has gone spinning out of control and
my mouth falls open.
No, this can't be happening.
Just a few days ago. . . .no, this can't be.
I just got the card in the mail.
It's the last thing I ever expected to hear.
But it is happening.
She wouldn't be calling me otherwise.
"I understand," I say dully, my mind
can't believe this.
"No, I'll talk to them.
Thank you for calling."
My voice is almost a whisper as I say goodbye and
let the handset slip from my numb hand. I barely notice when Lisa sits down next to me, putting her
hand on my shoulder.
"Sergei," she says, her warm voice full of concern.
"What is it?"
My mouth opens and closes, but I can't seem to form the
pick up the card that I had just set a few minutes ago
on the table and stare at the words inside, not really
seeing them. "It's
my grandmother," I finally manage to say, closing
my eyes against the pain that is settling over my soul.
Lisa seems to understand what I cannot put into words and she
leans her head against my shoulder, running a hand
through my hair. "Oh,
Serge," she says softly.
"I'm so sorry."
Taking a deep breath, I say, "That was June Randall, a
neighbor of Gram's.
She tried to call my brother, but no one was home
and she doesn't have his work number.
I need to call him – no, I should go up to DC
and see him. I
need to see him. And
Trish and Frank. I
need to call them.
They'll want to get the first flight out from
. . ." I
have to keep talking.
If I keep talking, then I won't have to think
about it. And
if I don't have to think about it, then I won't feel.
"Sergei," Lisa says, closing her hand over one of
hand feels so cold.
Or is that just me?
"Slow down for a minute and take another
two or three. You
need to take a moment to digest this.
I know you and your grandmother were close."
I pull away and jump up from the couch, going over to the
desk on the other side of the room, searching for the
unit phone roster.
I need to call Major Sampson and let him know
that I need to take leave.
I need to go to Washington and then I assume to
Pennsylvania for the funeral.
I'm not sure what Gram's arrangements were.
Harm would probably know.
I sense Lisa coming up behind me and she puts her arms around
my waist, trying to offer some measure of comfort.
"I'll drive you to Washington," she
offers as I finally find the phone roster.
"You've been up all night and most of
I'm about to protest, but I stop myself from saying anything.
I don't really want to be alone right now.
I don't want to be alone with my thoughts.
TWO HOURS LATER
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
I'm smiling, humming 'Deck the Halls' as I walk through the
bullpen with a stack of files for the case the Admiral
just handed me. I
smile at Gunny as I stop by his desk, handing him the
top folder on my stack.
"I have some research I need done," I
say as he opens the folder.
"The details are all on top.
No rush on this.
I'm going on leave in a couple of days and this
case doesn't go to trial until after the New Year."
"I'll get on it as soon as possible," he replies,
closing the folder and placing it in his inbox. "The research will be waiting on your desk when you get
back from Pennsylvania."
"Thanks, Gunny," I reply, turning for my office as
I see a familiar figure walking towards me in Marine
greens, accompanied by a young woman also dressed in a
Marine uniform. She
must be the mysterious Lisa that Sergei has hinted about
in his last few phone calls.
I wave them over.
"Sergei, what a nice surprise.
What brings you. . . ." My voice trails off
as I get a good look at his face and I know that
whatever has brought him to DC, it is not good news.
About a thousand possibilities race through my
mind and I steel myself for whatever it is that he is
about to tell me.
"Mac, can we go in your office?" he asks.
More than the tone of his voice, so dull and
lifeless, his words frighten me.
I may be his sister-in-law, but military protocol
is as much a part of him as it is the rest of us.
I can't recall him ever calling me by my name
while we have been in uniform. I am, after all, a superior officer, despite being family.
Mutely, I nod as I lead them into my office.
His friend sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk, but
Sergei remains standing, staring at me with an
I can't begin to count the number of times I've
seen a similar expression on Harm's face, usually when
he's trying to mask his emotions.
I sit down, forcing myself not to fidget as I
wait for him to tell me what has brought him here.
Finally, after a lengthy silence that seems to
stretch on into eternity, he asks, "Is Harm
I shake my head, replying, "He's stuck up on the Hill
today, some last minute business before Congress
adjourns for the holidays."
It puzzles me that Sergei almost looks relieved
that Harm isn't around, as if he doesn't want to tell
Harm what is on his mind.
What could possibly be that bad. . . .
"I got a call from June Randall," he says quietly.
I recognize the name and a feeling of dread
settles over me, stronger than ever. Please God, don't let him say what I think he is about to.
Please God, anything but that.
But my silent prayers are in vain.
"Gram died in her sleep last night."
I cover my mouth with my hand in shock as tears spring to my
eyes, my other hand going to my stomach in an automatic
gesture, as if to reassure myself that life goes on in
the form of the child growing safely inside me, a child
who will never know first hand what a wonderful woman
his or her great-grandmother was.
And what of Sarah and Matt?
They're not quite five.
Will there come a day when they won't even
remember the gentle woman who would hug them and tell
them stories? Oh,
God, what about Harm?
He loves his grandmother so much.
We all do. In
so many ways, I think she is the glue that has held this
family together through everything.
"Mac, are you okay?" Sergei asks, kneeling beside
my chair, a hand on my arm.
His grandmother just died and he's asking how I'm
doing? Biting my lower lip, I nod, fighting to control the tears as
I remember the first time I met Gram.
There was no hesitation, no concern over my past
mistakes, only a welcoming acceptance.
She is. . . .or was an amazing woman.
It never surprised me that Harm wanted to name
our daughter after her.
I couldn't ask for a better role model for my
daughter to live up to.
"What about you?" I ask, turning to look at him.
I can see, just beneath the surface, how much he
is struggling for control. I know that look. He
is so much like his brother sometimes it's almost scary. Harm has been a major influence on him the last five years.
"I am fine," he says, sounding almost as if he's
trying to assure himself of that as much as me. "I just. . . .there are things that need to be
I nod in agreement, thankful for something to focus on other
than the pain. "Do
Mom and Dad know yet?" I ask, calculating the time
in California. It's
still early there, probably too early for them to be up
and what news to wake up to.
Sergei shakes his head.
"I told Mrs. Randall that I would. . . .take
care of it," he replies.
His voice sounds so distant.
"I wanted to wait a little bit.
I didn't want to wake them up with this."
"I should call Harm," I say, my voice sounding
foreign to my ears.
"I'll call him and ask him to go home.
And I'll pick up the kids from school on my way
really need to see my kids right now. You'll come, won't you?
I know Harm will want to see you."
Sergei nods as I reach for the phone, trying to
concentrate as I dial the number for the small office
Harm keeps in the Capitol.
Why can't I remember the number?
I can feel Sergei's eyes on me, watching me, as I finally
manage to dial the right number.
I listen to the ringing sound and a part of me
hopes that he isn't there, that I can let him go on just
a little bit longer believing everything is all right
with the world. But
my hopes are dashed when he picks up on the third ring.
"Captain Rabb," he says, his voice
hate to be the one to shatter his good spirits.
"Harm, it's me," I somehow manage to say, fighting
a losing battle to control my voice.
"Sarah?" he says, his voice concerned.
"Baby, what is it?"
"Can you go home?" I ask, blinking back tears.
I try to brush them away with my hand, but they
won't stop falling.
"I'm on my way there and. . . ."
"Sarah, is something wrong? Is it the baby?" he asks, the words tumbling from his
shake my head, forgetting for a moment that he's not in
the room with me.
"No," I reply, my voice trembling.
"Please, just go home and I'll explain
I can tell that he's about to protest, wanting to
know more, but I stop him with a single word.
"Okay," he concedes reluctantly, hanging up the
phone on his end. I
can almost see him in my mind, rushing from his desk and
grabbing his coat as he races out the door.
I know that I probably scared him, but I didn't
know what to say. How
do I tell him this?
Almost as if I'm in a trance, I stand and grab my coat from
the rack behind the door.
I blink several times as I pull the coat on,
trying to clear my cloudy eyes.
I cover my mouth again as a sob escapes me.
Sergei puts his arm around me and leads me back
to my chair. "Why
don't you sit down for a minute?" he suggests. "I'll go talk to the Admiral, let him know what's going
I look up at him, my eyes wide. I'd forgotten completely.
I would have just walked out of here without
saying a word to anyone.
I just hurt so much right now.
I can't imagine hurting more if Gram were
actually my own flesh and blood.
Then again, she was more like family to me than
some of my own blood relatives.
I nod shakily.
As Sergei leaves, I try to smile at his friend, who is trying
hard not to look at me.
I guess not many 2nd Lieutenants get
stuck in an office with a tearful Colonel.
"You must be Lisa," I say, grabbing a
handful of tissues out of the box on the corner of my
desk. I dab
at my eyes, wishing that the tears would stop falling.
"Sergei has talked about you.
I'm Sarah Rabb."
"Lieutenant Lisa Stafford, Ma'am," she says, her
voice a little nervous.
"I drove Sergei here.
He just got in from a training flight and hasn't
been to bed yet and he was so upset when he got that
"I understand," I say. She seems to really care for Sergei. I'm glad that he has someone to be there for him at a time
like this. "Harm
and Sergei, they're both very close to Gram.
She's an amazing woman."
It occurs to me that I'm talking about Gram in
the present tense, but I can't stop thinking about her
that way. I
just can't believe that she's gone yet.
"Sergei talks a lot about her," Lisa says, smiling
a little. "He
was really upset that he wasn't going to be able to go
to the farm for Christmas."
She stops and looks down at her hands.
In just a few minutes, I'd managed to almost
forget about Christmas.
Since Harm and I got married, it has been a new
family tradition for all of us to gather together at
this time, to celebrate a holiday which used to be about
sadness and loss. I
thought Christmas was supposed to be about hope and life
or it has been since I got married and had my children.
It shouldn't be about death.
Not back in 1969 and not now.
I look down at my lap myself, not sure what to say.
I look up when I hear my door open to see Sergei
standing there with the Admiral.
Lisa and I automatically stand, but he waves us
you need anything, Mac?" he asks, his voice full of
"Not right now, Sir," I reply weakly, shrugging.
"I just want to be with my family right
"I understand," he says. "Take all the time you need. You'll call if you need anything?"
I nod, promising, "I will, Sir.
I'm just. . . .I need to leave now.
I called Harm and he's supposed to meet me at
home and I want to pick the kids up from school on the
The Admiral nods, satisfied for now with my response.
"Tell Harm that Sydney and I will be
thinking of all of you," he says and I manage a
small smile. In
many ways, the people here at JAG are as much like
family to me and Harm as our own relatives.
I take a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for what is to
is going to devastate you.
I wish there was something I could do to make
this better for you.
I just wish there was something I could do.
FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER
THE RABBS' RESIDENCE
I think I broke every speed limit across the river from DC.
Sarah scared me on the phone and I spent the
entire drive home racking my brain, trying to figure out
what the emergency is.
I run through a list of everyone close to us in
my head, trying to figure out what's going on.
About the only reassuring thing about her phone
call was her insistence that nothing is wrong with the
baby, which makes sense.
If something was wrong, wouldn't she want me to
go to the hospital and not come home? I just wish I knew what was going on.
I pull into the garage to find I'm the first one home.
Exhaling a deep breath, I enter my silent house,
waiting impatiently for Sarah to come home and explain
try to keep myself busy as I wait, moving from room to
room, picking up the odd piece of paper here, the stray
toy there. As
I enter the study, I see the red light blinking on the
answering machine as I hear the garage door open,
followed shortly by two familiar voices that I shouldn't
be hearing, not at this time of the morning.
What is going on here?
two voices call out as I hear running footsteps in the
step out of the study just in time to be ambushed by our
twin tornadoes. I
kneel down, my arms around my children as words tumble
out of their mouths, overlapping so that I can barely
understand a word they're saying.
I think I make out something about Mommy and
school and car, but I'm not sure.
"Slow down," I insist with a small laugh.
"I can't understand a word you're saying.
One at a time."
They look at each other for a moment and, as if by unspoken
agreement, Sarah starts speaking again, "Daddy,
what's happened? Mommy
was crying in the car.
Why is Uncle Sergei here?"
My breath catches in my throat as I look up to see my wife
and brother standing a few feet away with a woman I
don't recognize. I
recall Sergei saying something about a girlfriend he met
at Quantico. But
it's the look on my wife's face that especially has my
eyes are red, overflowing with tears.
My arms tighten just a little around the twins.
I don't want to hear what she has to say.
I know I don't.
She walks over and puts a hand on a shoulder of each twin as
she nervously chews on her lower lip.
I look up at her, afraid to ask what is going on. "Why don't we go into the living room?" she
"Sarah?" I ask softly, standing as I take each twin
by the hand. They
both look up at me expectantly.
They're young, but they both realize that
something is very wrong.
But they have that trust inborn in the young and
innocent that Mommy and Daddy will make everything okay.
They haven't had to learn that lesson yet that
there are some things that Mommy and Daddy can't fix, no
matter how much they may want to.
She shakes her head and turns away from me.
"Let's just go into the living room,"
she says, motioning in that direction. I look towards Sergei, but he refuses to look me in the eye,
instead focusing on his hand by his side, clasping the
hand of the woman with him.
Silently, I follow Sarah to the living room, Sergei and his
friend trailing behind me.
Sarah and Matt both tighten their little hands
around mine, as if seeking reassurance.
I remember when they were babies and their tiny
hands would curl around a single finger, holding tight.
Then they would smile just a little, seemingly
content to know that Mommy or Daddy was there and all
was right with their world.
Then another memory replays in my mind and something tightens
in the pit of my stomach.
I remember standing beside Mom on a long ago
Christmas, clinging to her hand as the big men in the
blue Navy uniforms told us that Dad was missing.
I looked up at my mother, hoping to see some
reassurance in her face that my six-year-old mind was
misunderstanding what these men were telling us.
That was the day that the cold, hard reality of
life intruded on my childhood and I fear that today is
that day for my children.
Numbly, I sit down on the couch, pulling Matt and Sarah into
my lap, my arms wrapped tight around their waists. They both look up at me with wide eyes and I give them a
small smile, trying to offer them a comfort I don't
really feel. Sergei
and his friend sit on the loveseat, still holding hands
while my wife stands behind me, taking a few deep
she sits down beside me, one hand on my shoulder while
the other plays with our daughter's ponytail.
She looks over at Sergei and then after a moment
she looks back at me.
"Sergei came to see me this morning," she begins
softly, her sad brown eyes holding my gaze.
I need to look away, unable to stand the pain I
see in her eyes, but I can't bring myself to tear my
gaze from hers. "He
got a call earlier from June Randall."
I immediately recognize the name and know what this is about.
"Gram?" I ask, my voice almost a
she nods and I swallow, trying to get a handle on the
sudden pain in my heart.
I need to be strong.
I have to be.
Sarah can't continue, leaning her head against my shoulder as
the tears fall from her eyes.
She loved Gram just as much as if she were her
own grandmother. I
kiss the top of her head as Sergei continues, his voice
quiet, the slightest hint of a tremor evident, "She
said that Gram died in her sleep sometime during the
were supposed to get together this morning to do some
Christmas baking and that's when Mrs. Randall found her.
She. . . .looked very peaceful, Mrs. Randall
I nod, not sure what to say as unshed tears sting my eyes.
I look down at Matt and Sarah, both of whom are
looking up at me, unable to understand why everyone is
so sad. I'm
not sure how to explain this to them.
At just four years old, death has never touched
their lives. Even
Jingo, already old when they were born, is still with
us, completely blind now and usually content to spend
his days lying in his favorite spot in front of the
haven't even learned enough to question yet why they
have two grandmothers and only one man to call
don't understand yet why Daddy sometimes goes and talks
to the black wall with all the names they can't read
Focused on my children, I barely notice when Sergei and his
friend get up and leave the room, understanding that
Sarah and I need to be alone to try and explain this to
our children. Sarah
lifts her head from my shoulder as she pulls our
daughter from my lap onto hers.
"Are you okay?" she asks, smiling
through her tears.
I nod, not trusting myself to speak just yet.
I'm trying so hard to hold it together right now
so that I can explain this to those too young to really
"Daddy?" Matt asks hesitantly, leaning against my
chest. As I
look into his eyes so like mine, I imagine myself, just
a little older than he is now, looking to my mother for
answers to questions that I didn't quite understand
enough to ask. I
try to remember what she said, how she explained to me
that my father wasn't coming home. But I can't remember the words.
All I remember is the smell of her perfume and
the feel of her tears against my cheek as she held me to
"Something has happened," I say, struggling to put
this into words. This
doesn't sound quite right, but this isn't exactly
something you can rehearse.
Even though I logical knew it wasn't possible, I
think a tiny part of me expected Gram to live forever,
to always be here watching over this family.
"You know how we always go up to Gram's for
Gram is not going to be there. . . ."
My voice trails off as two pairs of eyes stare up
at me, uncomprehending.
I'm failing miserably at this.
I'm looking up at the ceiling, as if I can find
some kind of guidance there, when Sarah steps in.
Her voice is quiet as she continues what I was trying to say,
"God puts people on Earth to do something and when
he feels they have done what is needed, he calls them
back up to Heaven, to be angels to watch over the rest
of us. Well,
God has decided that he wanted Gram back with him, to
watch over this family from Heaven."
"Gram went to Heaven?" This comes from our
daughter, whose head is tucked under her mother's chin,
her eyes closed. I
see tears glistening on her cheeks, but I think her
crying is a reaction to the sadness of the adults around
four-year-olds, Heaven is probably just another place,
like Bealsville or La Jolla or McLean are places.
She confirms this when she asks optimistically,
"Can we see Gram when she gets back?"
"Baby," I say sadly, brushing the tears from her
opens her eyes and looks up at me and I wish I could
take away the sadness I see in her eyes, in her
brother's eyes, in their mother's eyes.
"When people go to Heaven, they don't come
stay there forever."
"Forever," Matt says softly, struggling to
a really long time, isn't it, Daddy?"
"Yes," I reply quietly, "a really long
"If Gram won't be coming back," Matt continues,
"can we go see her?"
I wish it were that simple.
For all of us, I wish to God it could be that
someday," I say hesitantly, not really willing to
think about the possibility of my children someday
way too young for that.
"When God decides it's your time to go to
then, we just have to remember Gram in our hearts and
remember all the fun we've had with her."
"But I want to see Gram," Sarah says insistently, a
little pout on her face.
"I made her a picture for Christmas that I
have to give her."
"I'm sorry." This
comes from her mother as she rocks Sarah gently in her
arms, her own tears falling freely.
"I wish we could all see Gram, but we can't
anymore, not until we go to Heaven.
But we can take your picture to the funeral and
it can go to Heaven with her."
I have to smile a little at that idea.
"What's a funeral?" Matt asks.
"Can she take my present to Heaven with her,
"Um, a funeral is like church," Sarah tries to
children nod at this, familiar with church.
At least there is something that makes sense to
them in all of this. "Everyone who loves Gram gathers to say goodbye to her.
And yes, Matt, your present can go, too."
"Good," he says.
He looks up at us, from one to the other, then
asks, "Can we go play?"
I nod as I give him a quick squeeze and kiss on the forehead
before he can slide off my lap.
I lean over as my daughter holds her arms out to
me, wanting her own kiss.
I oblige her and she slides off her mother's lap,
taking off upstairs after her brother.
I look over at Sarah as she takes my hands in
"I wish it could be that easy," I say quietly,
referring to the twins as I look down at our entwined
She nods. "I
know what you mean," she agrees.
I can feel her eyes on me for a long moment and
she finally asks, "How are you doing?"
"I'm okay," I insist. I need to focus on something besides the pain I'm feeling.
"Do Mom and Dad know yet?"
"No," she replies, tightening her fingers around
look up at her as she explains, "Sergei told Mrs.
Randall that he would call, but he hasn't yet.
He wanted to let them sleep a little longer
before. . . ."
"I understand," I say as her voice trails off.
I look up at the clock on the wall and calculate
the time in California.
It's just after seven there and Dad should be up.
He's usually an early riser, even in retirement.
I reach for the phone as I go on, "What
about your mother and Uncle Matt? And we should probably call Martha so that she can let Chloe
Sergei will probably want to call his mother in Russia.
And Keeter, I should see if I can get him. . .
"Harm, slow down a minute," Sarah says insistently,
taking the phone from my hand and setting it down on the
coffee table. Her
fingers massage my hands gently.
"It's not going to hurt anything to take a
few moments to breathe.
We'll call your parents and my mother and Uncle
Matt and Martha in a few minutes.
I talked to Carolyn before I left JAG and she's
going to take care of talking to Keeter.
But please, just take a moment and let me hold
wraps her arms around my neck, pulling my head down to
rest against her chest.
I breathe deeply as I close my eyes and allow
myself to forget for just a moment everything but her
"I'm okay," I insist after a moment, but I don't
pull away. I'm
not ready to yet.
"I know you are," she says, not quite convincingly.
I know her too well, just as well as she knows
nearly a decade, we usually know when the other is
hurting without a word being said.
"But just let me hold you for a few minutes.
I need to hold you."
I nod as a single tear falls from my closed eyes.
I do need to be held.
I also need someone to tell me that it will be
okay, but I know that is something I won't hear right
DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Frank squeezes my hand tightly as we stand in the aisle,
waiting for the plane door to open so we can disembark.
He has been my rock for so long, never more so
than today as he told me of the death of the woman I
loved like my own mother.
When I first woke up this morning to find him
sitting up on the bed beside me fully dressed, looking
down at me, I knew immediately something was wrong.
My first thought was of Harm, that something had
happened to him, a fear I've always lived with since the
day he first told me that he was following his father to
Annapolis and into the Navy.
For some reason, I never thought that he would
tell me that my beloved mother-in-law had died.
She had always been there for me, from the day I was a young
bride marrying a brash Naval aviator who would be away
more than he was home, to the day I first found out I
was expecting and needed someone to tell before I burst,
to the day I first held my beautiful baby boy in my arms
uncertain of what kind of mother I was going to be, to
that awful Christmas day when I found out my husband
wouldn't be coming home.
She was even there for me as I remarried, warmly welcoming
Frank into the family even when my own son wouldn't. She was the one that I confided all my fears in when
Harm announced he was following the family tradition of
Naval service and who held my hand and prayed with me
when the Navy nearly cost him his life.
She celebrated with me the day I found I was to
finally become a grandmother.
She listened as I expressed my confusion over my
feelings about finding out that my beloved first husband
had a son with another woman.
I can feel Frank's eyes on me and I glance over at him with a
okay," I insist.
"I am just anxious to see the boys.
I'm sure they need me.
They love their grandmother dearly.
And Mac, she just adores Mom.
And those poor children, they probably don't
really understand what's going on."
"You need them just as much, Trish," he reminds me
as we finally make our way off the plane and down the
jet way. "Please
don't forget that.
You need to grieve, too."
I'm silent for a long moment and before I can think of a
reply, we're walking through the door to the gate and we
hear two young voices proclaiming loudly, "Grandma,
Grandpa!" Small bodies bundled in coats launch themselves at us,
wrapping their arms around our legs.
They must have just gotten to the airport because
I can't imagine my grandchildren sitting bundled up in
the gate area waiting for us. I bend down to find that it's Matt with his arms wrapped
around me and I give him a quick kiss. I look over to
see Frank easily lifting Sarah up into his arms as she
squeals with delight.
Oh, to be that young and carefree again. I can't help but smile at the resilience of the young and
proof that life really does go on.
I lean over and give Sarah a kiss in greeting as I guide Matt
to his grandfather.
I take a few steps towards Harm and Sergei, my
arms outstretched. They both walk easily into my embrace, the three of us
holding each other tight.
After a moment, I step back, giving both of them
a kiss on the cheek in turn.
"How are you doing?" I ask, looking
into two sets of eyes so like their father's.
They both give me identical wan smiles and I resist the urge
to sigh. I
know they're hurting, but for them to admit that. . .
.They'd sooner fall all over themselves trying to be
strong for everyone else around them.
"We're fine, Mom," Harm answers for
both of them as Sergei nods his agreement.
That's probably the most I'm going to get out of either of
them right now, so I turn my attention to Mac, who is
watching Harm carefully, concerned about his reactions
even through her own pain.
I hug her tight, sensing that there is something
else on her mind besides her concern for her husband and
her grief. "And
you, Mac?" I ask, brushing a tear from her cheek.
She smiles a little at the motherly gesture.
"I'm managing," she replies, shrugging.
"It's just. . . .it's hard.
Gram meant a lot to all of us."
At least someone can give me an honest answer.
There's still something else there, but that can
wait for later. There
will be plenty of time to talk and to share our memories
after we get out of here.
I feel a tugging on my hand and look down to find
Sarah looking up at me, her blue-green eyes so brilliant
against her olive skin.
"Mommy and Daddy said Gram went to
Heaven," she says solemnly.
I bend down and carefully lift her up into my arms, settling
her on my hip. "That's
right," I agree, resting my head against hers. "She's gone to be an angel to watch over us."
Sarah smiles at me. "That's
what Mommy said," she tells me.
"Gram's an angel now."
"Mommy's a very smart lady," I say, smiling myself.
Life does go on.
"What do you say we go get Grandma and
Grandpa's luggage and go home?
What about you guys?"
Matt, now being carried by Frank as we head for baggage
claim, pipes in, "Grandma Deanne is home making
going to have spaghetti."
"That sounds good after a long flight," I proclaim.
I look over at Mac who is walking with her arm
around Harm's waist.
"Have you spoken to your Uncle Matt?"
She nods, looking down at the floor for a moment before
replying, "I called him this morning.
Unfortunately, with the holidays, he couldn't
switch his flight to an earlier one so he won't be
arriving in Bealsville until the night before the
I'd almost forgotten with everything that's going on.
We were all supposed to be flying to Pennsylvania
in three days to meet for Christmas and New Year's on
the farm. Christmas
hardly seems important anymore, not for the first time
in my life.
"So the funeral's on Sunday?" Frank asks.
When I had called Harm after Frank told me the
news, he had said that he wasn't sure yet what the exact
"I spoke to Gram's lawyer this afternoon," Harm
left pretty clear instructions with her will and her
lawyer had already, per her instructions, spoken to the
pastor at her church.
She's going to be buried on the farm next to
the weather's permitting, she wants the funeral to be a
"That sounds like her," I say.
Mom lived on farms for all of her eighty-six
years, first on her parents' farm then on the one she
shared with her husband.
She loved the outdoors so much.
More often than not, when I would call her, the
conversation would start off with 'I just came in from
the family burial plot is in such a beautiful spot, on a
bluff overlooking a lush, green valley.
Generations of Rabbs going back two centuries are
buried there with the exception of my husband, buried in
secret halfway around the world, only a marker over an
empty grave on the farm to remind people here.
For Mom, I hope the weather is decent.
I'm surprised when, instead of the familiar SUV, Harm and Mac
lead us to a dark blue minivan.
I see the slight smile on Frank's face out of the
corner of my eye when he sees the make on the rear
other circumstances, he'd probably make some kind of
teasing comment about Harm finally buying a Chrysler.
"So what happened to your SUV,
darling?" I ask.
Mac answers instead of Harm. "With the kids getting older," she explains,
"we thought we needed something just a little
is a nervousness to her voice, so slight that I almost
don't catch it and a suspicion takes root in my mind.
If I'm right, it would explain the feeling
earlier when I first saw Mac at the gate.
I hope I'm right.
We could all use some good news.
But I won't say anything, not until they do.
But I can hope, can't I?
As we drive home, Harm, Mac and Sergei are mostly quiet,
wrapped up in their own thoughts.
Occasionally, one of them jumps in with a comment
as Matt and Sarah regal me and Frank with tales of
school and their friends.
At one point, Mac turns and hands me an envelope
of pictures taken from her purse.
"We just got these developed," she says
as I pull out the pictures and look through them before
handing them one at a time to Frank.
From the table decorations in a few of them, they
were taken around Thanksgiving.
Some are of the twins, both by themselves and
are a few of them with Harm, Mac and Sergei.
There are a couple more of the kids with Deanne.
My favorite is a shot of Matt and Sarah with all their
friends, the group of seven that Bud Roberts, with his
love of Star Trek, jokingly dubbed JAG: The Next
are the children of various JAG officers and only two
and half years separates AJ Roberts, the oldest of them
at six and a half, from the youngest, AJ and Sydney's
daughter Mary, who just turned four last month.
All the kids are dressed as pilgrims and Indians, perhaps for
some school function.
Matt and AJ, as the only boys in the group, look
just a little bit uncomfortable surrounded by all the
girls, all of whom are giggling about something.
Sarah leans over as I'm looking at the picture
and tells me, "Daddy was making silly faces at
"It's a cute picture," I reply.
"I'll have to ask Mommy for a copy of this
feel as if I know the rest of these kids almost as well
as I know my own grandchildren.
Usually, news relayed of my grandchildren often
includes a lot of talk of AJ and Sarah Roberts, Michele
Mattoni, Amanda Keeter and Mary Chegwidden as well.
Especially since AJ, Sarah, Amanda and Mary are
all Harm and Mac's godchildren.
Then when I talk to Jack, whom I often joke that
I speak to more than my own son, his news is often full
of not only his daughter Amanda, but also Michele, who
is his and Carolyn's godchild.
I once joked to a friend at the gallery that at
times it feels like I have seven grandchildren and not
just two. But
I don't mind. I
adore all the children and enjoy spending time with them
whenever I'm in Washington.
"Matt and AJ didn't want to be in the picture, but Daddy
said they had to," Sarah confides in me. Matt overhears and shoots her a dirty look.
"We had to be in the picture with the girls," Matt
says, rolling his eyes.
I almost laugh, remembering Harm having a similar
attitude at that age.
There's just a certain age where boys and girls
think the opposite sex is the yuckiest thing on Earth.
That feeling will change in a few years.
"But Mommy's a girl and so am I," I protest with a
feels so good to think about something else besides Mom
and what has happened.
"But that's different," Matt counters, sounding so
matter-of-fact about it.
Then Sarah jumps in with something that has me smiling even
wider and Sergei flushing with embarrassment.
"Uncle Sergei brought home a girl," she
I look across the aisle at Sergei, who is avoiding my gaze,
looking out the window instead.
"So tell me about her, Sergei," I
must be serious. In
the reflection of the window, I see the same look the I
often saw on Harm's face when I would ask him about Mac.
Hopefully this boy has more sense than his
brother did for four years.
"Her name is Lisa and she's a 2nd
Lieutenant," he replies.
"I met her when I moved to Quantico after
"So what's she like?" I persist.
"Mom," Harm protests from the driver's seat.
"Give him a break.
He's still young."
"He's older than your father was when he and I
married," I point out.
Okay, only by a year, but he's still older.
When Harmon was Sergei's age, we were welcoming
our son into the world.
It's not my fault I want to see my boys happy.
I'm a mother.
It's part of the job description.
"Lisa drove me to DC," Sergei adds, finally turning
to look at me, the flush gone from his cheeks.
"I had a training exercise last night and
she thought I shouldn't drive."
That sets off my mother's radar. "When was the last time you got any sleep?" I
demand as Frank tries to smother a grin.
I can't see his face, but I imagine Harm up front
rolling his eyes.
"Sometime yesterday," he replies vaguely.
Too vaguely for me.
Which means he's probably been up since at least
They won't admit they're dead tired until they're
falling down unconscious at your feet.
"I don't want to have to tell your mother you're not
taking care of yourself," I tease as Sergei shakes
his head. "I
expect you in bed after dinner and don't want to see you
up until well into tomorrow morning."
I know the chances of that happening are slim to
none, but Sergei just nods agreement.
Probably anything to get me off his back for now.
I know all the tricks.
Harm has used them often enough.
"Yes, Mother," he teases as Harm pulls into the
are two cars lined up on one side of the driveway, both
of which I recognize.
One belongs to Deanne, whom I already knew would
be here. The
other is Jack and Carolyn's, which is hardly surprising.
I'd be more surprised if Jack wasn't here
lot of people loved Mom.
As we walk into the house, Mac falls into step beside me and
I put my arm around her.
"Just be patient with him," I advise,
nodding towards Harm who is a few feet in front of us
talking to Frank. I
keep my voice low so that he won't overhear.
"He'll talk about it when he's ready."
"I know," she responds quietly.
"I've seen this before, in Russia."
She pauses for a moment, then adds, "Thanks,
"For what?" I ask, just a little puzzled.
"In the car," she explains, "the way you were
with everyone. . . .that's just the kind of thing Gram
would have done, keeping everyone's spirits up."
I'm touched at the compliment. I can't think of higher praise than being compared to my
just wish. . . .I don't know.
Mom was so good at that, holding everyone
together during the bad times as well as the good. I wish she was here now and that it wasn't left to me to try
to step into her shoes.
I don't think anyone can do that.
The mood is somber as we all sit down to eat.
With all the adults present filling the main
table – aside from Harm, Mac, Sergei, Lisa, Deanne,
Jack, Carolyn, Trish and myself, AJ and Sydney are also
here – Mac set up a card table in a corner of the
dining room for Matt, Sarah, Amanda and Mary. This brings a protest from Matt about being relegated to the
smaller table with the girls.
His protest is on the verge of becoming quite
vocal and loud when Mac shoots him a stern look and
begins in a low voice, "Harmon Matthew. . . ."
Matt stands there for a moment, his mouth open, as if trying
to decide whether or not to argue with his mother. Mac, in the meantime, is taking a deep breath to calm
herself, probably worried that she's about to blow up at
her son and Harm is leaning towards her, whispering
something and rubbing her arm.
Being closest to Matt, I motion to him.
Reluctantly, he walks up beside my chair, eyeing
his mother warily.
He knows that his mother has to be quite upset
with him to call him Harmon.
I lean down to talk man-to-man with my grandson.
"Matt, do you think you can help Grandpa out
with something?" I ask quietly, keeping our
He nods silently and I smile to set him at ease.
"You know Mommy and Daddy are upset because Gram went to
Heaven, right?" I continue and again he nods, his
demeanor solemn. Even
if they don't quite understand what's going on, Matt and
Sarah both realize that something isn't right.
"Well, Grandpa wants Mommy and Daddy to feel
better and it would make them feel a lot better to know
that the girls are being taken care of.
So do you think you can look after the girls
while Grandpa looks after Mommy and Daddy?"
Matt manages a smile and finally speaks, his voice quiet like
mine, "Yes, Grandpa."
"That's my big boy," I proclaim, pulling him into a
wraps his little arms around my neck while I notice Mac
breathing a sigh of relief out of the corner of my eye.
Patting him on the back, I release him and
suggest softly that he go give his mother a hug to make
her feel better before sitting down to eat.
Matt runs around the table and throws his arms around Mac,
delighting her. She
returns the hug enthusiastically as he exclaims with
childish glee, "Love you, Mommy."
Mac hugs him just a little tighter as she looks
up at me and flashes a grateful smile.
"I love you, too, baby," she replies as tears
Matt goes to sit with his sister and friends at the
smaller table, Mac reaches across the table and squeezes
my hand. "Thanks,
I shrug. "Not
a problem," I say, returning the squeeze.
"I just suggested that he would be doing a
big favor if he would sit with the girls and look after
She laughs a little. "Good
thing Sarah didn't hear you say that," she points
a matter of pride for her that she's older than her
I wink at her. "I
think it will be Matt's and my secret," I reply,
thankful that the mood is lightening just a little.
If she were here now, I think my wife's
mother-in-law would be the first trying to lift
Not to mention being the first to make the newest person
among us feel welcome.
That was just her way.
I know I felt it the first time I met her.
I was so nervous about meeting her, even though I
wasn't about to admit it to anyone, even Trish.
Things were already tense between me and Harm and
I was worried about more of the same from Sarah,
although now it seems irrational.
But I didn't know her well enough back then to
know that she would never be that petty.
But the very first words out of her mouth immediately set me
at ease. "Thank
you for making Trish happy again," she had said and
I knew I had a friend in her.
I firmly believe that if it hadn't been for her
open acceptance of my presence in their lives, Harm
would have been a lot more hostile towards me.
I even suspect that Sarah had a talk or two with
her grandson over the years about me.
But I wasn't going to ask about that.
I was just grateful for her support in trying to
get through to my son.
She also paid me the second-highest compliment anyone has
ever paid me, after Harm's finally calling me 'Dad'
after twenty-four years.
Once, shortly before Harm left for the Academy,
we were all planning a trip to the farm.
I had been away on business and was going to meet
Trish and Harm there.
Due to flight delays on their end, I managed to
make it to Pennsylvania before they did.
It gave Sarah and I the opportunity to talk,
mostly about how it felt to be sending a child off to
the Academy, a topic she was very familiar with.
The talk eventually trailed off and we sat in silence on the
porch for a few moments.
Then she said something that surprised me, even
as it touched me more than I can ever express.
"You know, my first wish would have been
that my son could have been here to watch his son grown
up," she said, staring off towards the sunset. "But that wasn't possible.
But I think my son would have agreed that we
couldn't have asked for a better father for Harm than
you, even if my grandson won't admit it.
And if God had seen fit to grant me another son,
I would have wanted him to be just like you."
I'm not a man given to tears, but I was almost moved to them
that day. I
couldn't love that woman more if she had been my own
I would have been proud to call her 'Mom' as she had
suggested more than once.
But out of respect for Harm, I always held back
on that point. As
resentful as he was back then, seeing me as trying to
replace his father, my calling his beloved grandmother
'Mom' would not have helped my cause.
Smiling at the memories, I decide to take a page from Sarah's
book and make sure Lisa feels welcome here. This has got to be awkward for her. Meeting a significant other's family can be daunting at any
at a time like this, it is probably hard for her not to
feel like she's intruding on our grief.
"So Lisa," I start, smiling at her
while Sergei tries not to groan, afraid he's about to be
embarrassed, "Sergei tells us that you two met just
after he transferred to Quantico."
She nods as she replies, "I'm a communications hardware
specialist and he was having trouble with the comm gear
in his helo. I
thought he had a nice smile, so it was hard to say no
when he suggested lunch while we were waiting for a part
to be delivered for the repairs."
"Well, Sarah once said that smile was a Rabb family
characteristic, as I'm sure my wife and Mac will
agree," I say with a grin.
Mac takes Harm's hand as he gives her one of
those smiles and Trish is smiling softly at her own
memories of falling for the same smile.
"But after meeting Jack here, I decided it's
something they teach the guys in pilot's school."
I see Trish, Mac and Carolyn all nodding
knowingly around the table.
Too bad Sergei's not in the Navy, Lisa," Carolyn adds,
smiling at her husband as she says it.
"You get the dress whites, gold wings and
that smile working together – talk about an
irresistible combination. Wouldn’t you agree, Mac?"
Mac acts indifferent, but I think everyone can see it's just
that – an act. "Highly
overrated," she says with an affected yawn as Harm
elbows her and laughs a little.
"If there weren't children present," he threatens,
"I'd point out exactly how overrated you find
laughs at that and Mac flushes a little in
notice the children looking over in our direction.
Matt and Sarah seem more relaxed to see their
parents in better spirits.
Trish takes my hand and leans over to whisper, "Thank
think we all need this.
And making Lisa feel welcome is exactly what Mom
would have done."
"Of course it is," I reply, "and I can't think
of a better way to honor her memory."
Our attention returns to the conversation around the table as
Sydney interjects, "I have a thing about bald
AJ tries to give his wife a stern look, but it
doesn't quite come off.
If Sergei wants a good example to follow for
relationships, he couldn't do better than the couples at
this table. Well,
except for those four years when Harm and Mac were
seemingly blind, deaf and mute, anyway.
Sounds like something Sarah would have said about
them – probably did say about them, come to think of
I think Sarah would approve of Sergei's choice in women.
She's polite, pleasant and doesn't seem fazed to
be sharing casual dinner conversation with not only her
boyfriend's family, but an Admiral, Captain, Colonel and
two Commanders. Sarah
once said – referring specifically to Mac at the time
– that Rabb men don't need any of those silly women
who can't seem to think for themselves and look to men
to take care of them.
They need strong independent women who can
challenge them and not put up with the occasional
That could just as easily be applied to Trish and
Sarah herself. Lisa
strikes me as that kind of woman.
Sarah definitely would be pleased.
Conversation continues relaxed and easy through the rest of
when it seemed the talk was slowing, Trish or I would
jump in with something new to talk about.
Sarah's name is even mentioned several times.
Everyone even manages to laugh out loud –
except Harm and Mac, who look a little embarrassed –
when Trish relates how nonchalant Sarah was the day we
showed up at the farm to meet Mac just as she and Harm
were finding out the results of a home pregnancy test.
The rest of us were all about to die of shock and
Sarah acted like it was an everyday occurrence.
After dinner ends and the dishes are cleared from the tables,
AJ, Sydney, Jack and Carolyn all say their goodbyes,
needing to get their daughters home and in bed so they
can get up for school tomorrow.
Sergei and Lisa offer to take Jingo outside.
Yes, at his age, he does need to be accompanied
outside, but I think they want a few minutes alone.
Nothing wrong with that.
Maybe alone, Sergei will talk to Lisa about how
he's feeling. Then
again, maybe not. After
all, he is a Rabb.
Deanne, Trish and Mac take the twins upstairs for their
baths, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit
down with Harm. He
worries me. He learned at a young age how to be strong for everyone
around him, essentially becoming the man of the house at
the age of six. Add
to that his devotion to Sarah and his normal reticence
about expressing his feelings and I know that he's
hurting terribly inside.
Something tells me he probably hasn't even truly
opened up to Mac about what he's going through right
We sit down in the living room, Harm showing me the plans for
the playhouse he wants to build out back for the twins.
Intended as a present for their birthday in
February, he wants to have it finished in the spring
when the weather warms enough for the twins to really
use it. We
toss back and forth ideas for additions and improvements
for a few minutes before I ask, "How are you doing,
He looks down at the plans, unwilling to meet my eyes as he
Of course he is. That's
why he won't look at me.
But I don't say that.
If nothing else, I've learned that it often takes
large doses of patience to deal with Harm and some of
his moods. "You
know, your grandmother would encourage you to talk about
it," I point out.
"I know," he admits reluctantly.
"But there's a lot to deal with.
Sarah's really upset – she and Gram were very
pauses, acting as if he's about to say something else
before stopping himself.
I wonder about that, but he continues before I
can ask what's on his mind, "And the twins are
don't really understand what's going on, why everyone's
so upset. They
even asked this morning if they could see Gram when she
got back from Heaven."
I smile sadly at that. You
wish you could shelter children from things like this,
that childhood could truly be the idyllic fantasy that
people try to make it out to be.
I can understand about him wanting to spare his
children this pain.
Right now, I'd give anything to ease the pain my
child is feeling. "You
know, Mac's probably just as worried about you as you
are about her," I remind him and he finally looks
over at me. "Talk
to her, talk to each other and share your
Harm seems to consider this for a moment, then he asks me a
"What about you, Dad?
How are you doing?"
Then again, maybe not so surprising.
I'm sure his being strong for everyone includes
Sergei, his mom and me.
It's on the tip of my tongue to say that I'm fine, but I
figure that if I'm trying to get him to open up, I could
open up a little myself.
"It doesn't seem real yet that she's
gone," I admit.
"She's been such a large part of my life
almost as long as you and your mother have."
"She loved you like a son," Harm says, smiling a
must have come from one of those talks that I suspect
Sarah had with him about me.
"She once said that loving you didn't mean
we loved my father any less."
"Well, I loved her like a mother," I reply, smiling
was a very wise and special woman.
She has this strength about her, the same
strength I see in your mother and Mac.
You Rabb men seem to have a real knack for
picking the good women."
"I guess," he says with a look in his eyes and a
smile on his face that tells me he's thinking of Mac
right now. "But
you have that knack too.
After all, you picked Mom."
"Best decision I ever made," I say.
"After all, I got you and your grandmother
in the bargain as well."
Before Harm can reply, Matt and Sarah come running into the
room, dressed in pajamas, launching themselves at us. They're in high spirits.
Bath time must have been fun tonight.
Then again, time with the grandparents is usually
be the first to admit that Deanne, Trish and I spoil
these kids rotten with love and affection.
"Not to mention these two little guys,"
I add with a laugh as I pull Sarah into my lap while
Harm does the same with Matt.
"Mommy said it's bedtime," Matt says, not sounding
pleased with the prospect.
"Can you come tuck us in with Mommy and
Grandma Trish and Grandma Deanne?"
"Of course we can," I reply.
I stand and swing Sarah in my arms as she giggles
with delight. Everyone
tucking in the twins when we're all together is kind of
a family tradition.
Sometimes it makes for a somewhat chaotic
bedtime, with up to eight adults
- Harm, Mac, Sergei, Deanne, Matt, Trish, myself
and Sarah when she was still with us - trying to put two
whirlwinds to bed and making sure everyone says
hugs, kisses and the inevitable 'I forgot something'
delaying tactics from one of the twins, it can take a
while sometimes to accomplish the task.
"Uncle Sergei, bedtime," Sarah calls out, earning
her a mock glare from Harm.
"Sarah, don't shout," he says, standing as Matt
squirms to get out of his arms.
He sets Matt down as Sergei and Lisa enter the
room with Jingo, who lays down in his place in front of
the fireplace. Lisa
looks at Sergei with a question in her eyes.
"Bedtime tradition," he explains with a grin.
"Everyone puts the twins to bed."
"You're welcome to join us if you don't mind a lot of
chaos," I say.
"Yes, please," both twins chime in, bringing laughs
from all of the adults.
"Of course, these two are hardly going to turn down even
more attention," I tease, tickling Sarah in my arms
as her laughter fills the room.
And I imagine for a brief moment that her
great-grandmother is looking down, laughing with her
It took forty-five minutes to get the twins into bed
and for everyone to say goodnight.
That's got to be a new record for all of us.
But it's perfectly understandable tonight.
I think everyone's hugs lasted just a little bit
longer than usual, the goodnights just a little more
drawn out. At
times like this you really understand just how precious
daughter has really got to be the luckiest woman on
Earth to have married into this family.
This is the kind of family I had always wished I
could provide for her.
I think if the Rabbs hadn't made me feel so
welcome into their circle, I might have been jealous of
all the love and attention they have showered on Sarah,
the kind of love and attention that I was unable and
unwilling to show my own child for most of her life.
It's sad to say that the Rabbs for the last five
years have been more of a family to her than the
Mackenzies ever were her entire life.
with this wonderful family that she was marrying into, I
used to wonder, when I came back into Sarah's life as
she was getting married, what I could offer her that
they couldn't. She
had slipped into calling Trish 'Mom' so easily.
Trish and Frank treated her as if she'd always
been a member of their family.
During the two weeks I spent house sitting while
Harm and Sarah were on their honeymoon, I thought about
that a lot and I can't even begin to count the number of
times I thought about bolting, despite my desire to
start over with my daughter.
I was scared to death of not measuring up now
that Sarah had found out what being part of a real
family felt like.
you know what stopped me?
Or rather who?
After the wedding, she claimed fatigue from all
the excitement and decided not to travel back to
So I had company at the house the entire time
Harm and Sarah were gone and the experience truly
changed my life. My
grandchildren told me earlier today that Sarah had told
them their great-grandmother is now an angel.
They're a little young to understand that she
didn't need to go to Heaven to earn her wings. For me, she was an angel right here on Earth.
first day after the wedding, I woke up to a home cooked
breakfast and I'm talking about the works.
Bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausage, hash browns –
you name it, I think she made it that morning.
As we sat down over that wonderful meal, she
filled me in even more than Trish had a couple days
earlier on the Rabb family history.
And without my even realizing it until it was too
late, she drew me out and got me talking about my life,
my marriage and my relationship – or lack thereof –
with Sarah. Soon,
I had poured out my entire life story to her and was a
she handed me a box of tissues, I was surprised to
discover that she was crying as well.
As we dried our eyes, she informed me firmly that
all of that was in the past and I was now a part of
*her* family, where everyone was accepted and loved,
regardless of any past mistakes.
I was about to protest that I didn't think I
deserved it, but she stopped me with a wave of her hand
and a stern look that dared me to argue with her.
She said that over the years, as Harm had told
her details of Sarah's past – I quickly learned that
Harm often confided in his grandmother before his mother
– she often said that all Sarah needed was to be shown
that she was loved and cared for.
admit that part stung, because I was one of the main
perpetrators when it came to not showing my daughter
enough love and affection.
Sarah Rabb must have been a mind reader as well
because she looked me straight in the eye and said that
it wasn't my fault. I hadn't gotten love and affection in my marriage, so that
served to prevent me from showing love and affection to
my daughter – or so she told me.
she looked me firmly in the eye and said, "Like
mother, like daughter. Mac told me once that she had truly blossomed as a person
once she started working at JAG, found a wealth of
friends there, met Harm.
For the first time in her life, she said she
truly felt loved and accepted.
That's what you need, Deanne Mackenzie.
All you need is lots of love and affection and
you'll blossom, too.
And that's what you're going to get."
Which of course left me even more of a blubbering
mess and we eventually went through the entire box of
tissues that morning.
spent the next two weeks getting to know each other
spent the rest of that day going through photo albums,
swapping stories of Sarah's and Harm's childhoods.
I had managed to take a few photo albums with me
when I had left Joe and had packed them when I went to
Leavenworth and DC for some reason I hadn't been able to
name at the time. But
I quickly figured it out.
we went shopping for the babies.
And after Sarah discovered that I could knit,
crochet and sew, I think we hit every craft store in DC,
Virginia and Maryland so that we could make things for
the babies. I
think between the two of us, we came up with about a
thousand projects we wanted to do. We actually managed to make quite a dent in the list before
the honeymooners returned – both of them happily
declaring that we had managed to cut down by about half
the stuff they needed to buy for the babies – and we
had plenty more to keep us busy until the babies were
born and beyond.
course, by about the third or fourth day, I had figured
out that any woman who had all that energy was certainly
no where near being too fatigued to make a three hour
drive home to Pennsylvania.
Heck, if she had been that tired, she could have
flown back and someone could have brought her car back
to her later. Or
I'm sure one of the officers at JAG would have been
happy to escort her home.
I actually pointed that out one day and she had
looked at me as if I'd just stated the obvious. "I've got plenty of friends who can look after the
farm," she had told me.
"The farm doesn't need me right now.
That, as far as she was concerned, was the end of
that – except for more tears from me anyway.
never had many friends during my marriage, being too
afraid to face questions about the bruises I would often
in the space of a few days, I'd managed to make friends
for life in both Trish and Sarah.
In fact, if I hadn't known better, I would have
sworn they were mother and daughter and not in-laws.
They both have that same kind of take charge
attitude and generous spirit.
weren't the only friends I'd managed to find during
those two weeks. Sydney had stopped by one afternoon after work to see if we
needed anything and expressed an interest in our craft
out she had taken up crafts while in medical school as a
way of relaxing when she was stressed, but she hadn't
really done any in years.
So our duet had become a trio and Sydney told us
towards the end of the two weeks that AJ had taken to
grumbling, good-naturedly of course, that she was hardly
ever home she was spending so much time with us.
was Sydney who led me to my next new friend.
She had wanted to make some things for Harriet,
who was eight months pregnant at the time.
We all decided to make a few things for her and
took them over one day.
When she had seen what we had done, Harriet asked
if we could teach her some crafts.
So not only did she join our little craft circle,
we got to spend a lot of time spoiling her son.
the time Harm and Sarah were back, I'd managed to forget
that I'd ever wanted to leave.
There was a tense half-second when my daughter
first saw me on her return.
I think she had half expected to return to find
me gone. I'd
like to think the fact that I had stayed scored me a few
points with her. And
I have a sneaking suspicion that her new
grandmother-in-law had a few words with her about giving
me a chance, although I never asked. But having real friends for the first time in a long time
gave me the confidence to build a friendship and
mother-daughter relationship with my child.
Not long ago, she told me that more and more, she
was finding it easy to forget that we had ever been
I ultimately have Sarah Rabb to thank for all of that.
is getting all the guests settled in their rooms for the
night, so I decide to take the opportunity for a few
private words with Sarah before I leave for my
suggested that she get ready for bed while he was taking
care of everyone else, so I head for their bedroom.
I stick my head through the open door, calling
out her name before entering, wanting to respect her
no answer, so I think for a second that she might have
gone downstairs for something, then I hear retching
sounds coming from the master bath.
I forget all about privacy concerns and go into the
bathroom, finding Sarah in her robe and kneeling in
front of the toilet, emptying her stomach.
I grab a washcloth and wet it then sit down on
the floor next to her.
When she's finished, I wipe her face as I used to
when she was a child and she was sick.
crying as I pull her into my arms, gently rocking her.
"Thanks, Mom," she whispers.
I have tears in my eyes as well, both for my dear
friend Sarah and my heartbroken daughter.
okay, baby," I assure her, smoothing her hair,
something else I used to do for her.
"I know you're upset over Sarah's passing.
She was very dear to you and you to her."
bad I can't blame this on morning sickness," she
says, almost to herself, "but I don't get morning
baby," I cry, holding her tighter as I realize what
she seems to realize herself what she just said, because
she quickly explains tearfully, "We just found out
a few weeks ago and wanted to surprise everyone for
now. . . ."
baby is still a blessing," I insist, "and
Sarah would be the first to say so – a ray of light in
never thought anything would hurt this much," she
continues, holding on tight to me.
"I've never lost someone that I cared this
know, baby, I know," I say, still rocking her.
I look up at the sound of a voice from the
you want something to settle your stomach?" Trish
asks, stepping into the bathroom as Sarah turns in my
arms to look at her.
"Maybe some ginger ale?"
heard?" she asks softly.
Trish smiles reassuringly at her.
you just confirmed what I already suspected," Trish
says, kneeling beside us to pat Sarah's shoulder.
"I had my suspicions something was up when I
saw you at the airport.
Something seemed different about you.
And when I saw the minivan. . . ."
should have picked up on that one myself," I say
with a small smile.
"You did just buy it a few weeks ago, maybe
right after you found out?"
nods, managing to smile a little, and explains,
"With the twins getting older and another baby on
the way, we thought we needed a little more space than
the SUV provided us."
going to go get that ginger ale for you," Trish
says, brushing Sarah's hair back behind her ear.
"But I want you to listen to me about
something first. I
know you're trying to be strong for Harm and for the
children, but you need to let yourself grieve.
Don't bottle it up inside.
Internalizing like that is very stressful and
that isn't good for you or for the baby."
Mom," she says obediently.
After Trish leaves, she looks up at me, smiling
as tears continue to stream down her cheeks.
"Remind you of anyone?"
I have to laugh as I rock Sarah again.
"Exactly the kind of thing *she* would have
said," I say, kissing her forehead.
"Just exactly the thing."
I continue rocking her as I start singing softly
in Farsi a song I remember my mother singing when Matt
and I were children.
My Farsi has definitely gotten rusty from lack of
use over the years, but I've always remembered this song
for some reason.
Khosh be hale un kasan ke
faghre roohe khod be-danand
Khosh be hale mardomi ke malekane un jahanand
Khosh be hale mardomi ke malekane un jahanand
Khosh be hale frutanan
Khosh be hale rahiman
Khosh be hale meskinan
Khosh be hale shoma
Khosh be hale pakdelan ke
Khosh be hale salehan ke
U ra binand chonke aanan farzandane khoda hastand
U ra binand chonke aanan farzandane khoda hastand
Khosh be hale frutanan
Khosh be hale rahiman
Khosh be hale meskinan
Khosh be hale shoma
Khosh be hale gham-gosaran
Khosh be hale maatam-daran
Khosh be hale ma ke dadim ghalbe khod ra be massiha
Khosh be hale ma ke dadim ghalbe khod ra be massiha
Khosh be hale frutanan
Khosh be hale rahiman
Khosh be hale meskinan
Khosh be hale shoma
Sarah smiles softly and joins in
on the second chorus.
As our voices trail off, she says quietly,
"I remember you singing that when I was little.
I couldn't remember all the words, but I often
hum it for Matt and Sarah."
smile at the rare happy reminder of her youth.
After another moment, we both get up and I help
Sarah into the bedroom, taking comfort from tucking my
thirty-seven year old daughter into bed. She seems to be comforted by the action, too, thanking me
this time, Trish returns not only with the ginger ale
but with Harm in tow.
Harm takes one look at Sarah and sits on the edge
of the bed next to her, taking her into his arms as she
clings to him desperately.
Trish sets the glass on the nightstand and by
unspoken agreement, we leave the room, closing the door
think she'll be okay now," I say, not sure who I'm
trying to reassure more, Trish or myself.
think so, too," she agrees.
"Now, if I could just get my son to open up
and express his grief. . . .I suppose I could always
point out that *his* internalizing is stressing out Mac
and isn't good for her or the baby."
both manage a laugh at that.
"You do remind me of her," I say and
Trish knows immediately to whom I'm referring.
said something similar earlier," she replies as we
hug each other standing in the hallway.
"I can't think of a finer example to live up
can I," I agree as we start towards the stairs.
"Aren't you heading to bed yet?"
thought I'd walk you out," she says with a grin,
"then I'm going to stand at the top of the basement
steps – I won't go down since you never know what is
going on down there since Lisa is staying over as well
– and remind another fine specimen of Rabb
stubbornness that he's been up for over thirty-six hours
straight and that he was supposed to go to bed
immediately after dinner.
Then I'm going to bed and let my husband hold
laugh even louder at that.
Yes, I think Sarah Rabb will always be alive in
this family in the example she has set for everyone
and I get out of our rental car and walk through the
ankle-deep snow up to the front porch, memories replay
in my mind of my first trip here.
Gram had watched for our arrival from the window
and stepped out onto the porch as soon as the car
stopped in front of the house.
She had hugged first Harm, of course, and then
Mac, immediately telling her that she was 'Gram' around
here and wasn't to be called Mrs. Rabb.
By the time I had stepped into Gram's embrace,
she didn't have to tell me not to call her Mrs. Rabb.
It had never even occurred to me to call her
anything but Gram.
And every other time I came to visit after that,
Gram was always standing on the front porch to greet us.
time, there's no Gram and my heart breaks.
I remember the Christmas card that we received
just two days ago – the day after we were informed of
Gram's death – telling Grandma and me that she was
looking forward to seeing us at the farm for Christmas
as usual. Tears
spring to my eyes at the thought that this year, instead
of coming to the farm for Christmas, we're coming for
her arm around my shoulder and pulls me against her.
"It'll be alright, Chloe," she says and
I try to smile for her.
But it's so hard.
it would be, Grandma," I say, blinking back the
tears. "It's just. . . ."
place doesn't seem the same without her," Grandma
finishes for me. Grandma
and Gram became very friendly during the wedding and
have kept up their contact every since.
Both being farm women, they have a lot in common.
I nod as the
front door opens and a familiar figure steps out onto
the porch, rubbing her arms against the cold. "Martha,
Chloe," Trish says, smiling sadly as we climb the
steps, "it was good of you to come."
wouldn't be anywhere else," Grandma says as she and
Trish hug. "How
are you doing, Trish?"
thought I was surviving until we arrived here last
night," she replies.
"Every time I turn around, I expect to see
her standing behind me with a smile and a warm
they pull apart, Trish turns to me and pulls me into her
sorry, Trish," I say as she holds me tight.
"We all loved Gram and miss her."
brushing tears from our cheeks as we pull away.
"Gram would be the first to tell us that
everything will be better eventually," Trish points
out as she opens the door.
She and Grandma step into the house.
I hesitate, closing my eyes for a brief moment,
before following them into the house.
our coats and we step into the living room.
I'm immediately struck by how. . . .I don't know.
The only word I can think of to describe it is
house has never been this quiet in all the times I've
But it's not
quiet for long. I
hear footsteps on the stairs that can only belong to two
people and I'm shortly ambushed by two of my favorite
people in the world.
"Aunt Chloe! Aunt Chloe!" Matt and
Sarah both cry excitedly as they jostle each other, both
trying to wrap their arms around my waist.
They’re both wearing coats and mittens and look
like they’re headed outside.
would laugh at their antics, but right now all I can
manage is a weak smile.
I kneel down and pull them both into my arms.
"Hi, Sarah, Matt," I say.
I really can't think of what else to say.
Sarah pull back and they both look at me seriously, a
little more seriously than most four-year-olds would.
Sarah finally asks me after a long moment,
"Are you sad because Gram went to Heaven, Aunt
Chloe?" she asks.
I nod as I
reply to the innocent question, "Yes, I'm sad.
I miss Gram."
says Gram's an angel watching over us," Matt chimes
is Mommy?" I ask.
I'd expected Mac, if not to meet us at the door,
then to come greet us after we came into the house.
not feeling well," Sarah says and I look up at
taking a nap," she explains, but I sense there's
something more there.
"Mom's death hit her hard and she's just
worn out from everything that's been going on."
surprise me that Gram's death would hit Mac hard.
I know what kind of childhood Mac had and how
starved for love she was before she met first Harm and
then the rest of his family.
I know because that was me before I met Mac.
I gained a family not only in her and eventually
the rest of her extended family, but she helped me find
my real family, too.
As I stand, taking Matt and Sarah by the hand, I
ask, "What about Harm?
Where is he?
How is he doing?"
which really tells me all I need to know about how Harm
is doing. "He's.
. . .well, he's keeping a lot inside," she replies
sadly, clearly concerned about his reaction.
Grandma reaches out and squeezes her hand
then shakes her head and asks, "Would you two like
anything to eat? I
can't imagine you had much to eat on the flight."
the way," I say with forced enthusiasm as Grandma
laughs, also a bit forced.
granddaughter, turn down food?" she teases. "But you're right, Trish.
Airlines don't provide enough food to satisfy a
small animal, let alone humans."
come on then," she says as we head towards the
kitchen in the back of the house.
"Deanne's fixing lunch with Lisa in the
Lisa?" I ask.
Beallsville is a tiny town – population just
over 500 - and I don't recall meeting anyone named Lisa
in all the times I've been here.
And I think I’ve met just about everyone in
towns are like that, especially when one of your
favorite people is the unofficial grandmother of the
think Gram has at least a decade on the next oldest
person in town.
Sergei's girl," Sarah says excitedly.
Trish shoots her one of those looks, like the
ones Mac used to shoot me when I would tease her about
What can you expect from them?
Then again, as I said, that used to be me.
Mac would probably tell you that still is me.
intrigued as Trish explains further, "Lisa is a
Marine at Quantico that Sergei has been seeing.
She drove him to Washington after he got the call
about Mom and managed to get leave so she could stay
with him during this time."
sounds exactly like something Harm and Mac would have
done for each other – actually, have done if you count
their first trip to Russia.
This would normally be the kind of thing that I
would be teasing Sergei about until he was ready to
strangle me – just like I used to tease Mac about her
feelings for Harm.
I can't wait to meet her.
thing is that Sergei Rabb was my first crush.
I used to joke with Mac on the phone, before any
of us knew about Sergei, that too bad Harm didn't have a
thought it would be so cool, two sisters and two
brothers. Not to mention the fact that any brother of Harmon Rabb just
*had* to be something special.
Then I met Sergei for the first time, that first
Christmas after Harm and Mac were married, and I was in
seventh heaven! He
had the killer Rabb eyes, the killer Rabb smile and best
of all he was only five years older than me.
I figured I could wait a few years, grow up and
then I could have the man of my dreams.
however, treated me like a kid sister and it frustrated
me to no end. Couldn't
this guy see how much he meant to me?
Of course, I was forgetting at the time that I
was talking about the kid brother of Mr. Clueless.
That first Christmas, I followed him around
again, everyone stuck pretty close to Sergei, making
sure he felt welcome in the US and in the family.
But I admit that I had ulterior motives.
I wanted Sergei to notice me as a woman – well,
as much of a woman as a thirteen-year-old could be.
Gram and Mac
both noticed, but Gram was the first to say anything. One day, everyone was going somewhere – I don’t remember
where anymore – but Gram was staying behind to work on
Christmas baking and she invited me to stay with her.
I had really wanted to go with everyone else
since Sergei was going, but she talked me into staying.
I guess at thirteen, there were just some things
that came out on top over first loves and food was one
As we had
rolled dough, Gram told me about her first crush.
He was the oldest son of Beallsville’s doctor
and the older brother of a classmate of hers.
She had followed him around one summer and had
been devastated that fall when he got married.
But eventually she got over it and found a new
classmate – whose older brother had so devastated her
– had a best friend who was a year older than Gram
whom she knew slightly from school.
Most people around town thought this boy was a
little strange. He
wanted to follow his father, who had served during World
War I, into the military.
But that wasn’t the strange part.
The part people thought was strange was that
after Charles Lindbergh’s flight in ’27, he wanted
nothing more than to become a pilot.
Boys from Beallsville, Pennsylvania just didn’t
become the next Charles Lindbergh, not back in the 1930s
But fly is
exactly what this boy did.
He joined the Navy, earned his wings in a
Stearman bi-plane, and flew over Europe during World War
II, eventually being shot down in 1942, leaving behind a
wife and two-year-old son.
As Gram told me, first crushes are nice, but they
seldom develop into anything more and there’s usually
something better waiting just around the corner.
Then I teased her, asking how she hadn’t
managed to notice David Rabb before, especially if he
looked anything like his grandsons do, which I know from
pictures I’ve seen that he does.
Gram said sometimes people just fail to notice
what’s right in front of them, but that if she
hadn’t developed a crush on the doctor’s son and
been following him around, she might have missed
noticing the younger brother and his best friend.
Of course, I
haven’t found anything waiting for me around the
corner yet, but I did get over my crush and Sergei is
now one of my best friends. Both he and Harm are the brothers I never had.
I talked him into trying to teach me Russian –
impressing his mother the first time she came to the US
to visit when I greeted her in halfway decent Russian
– lessons that I kept up with the help of a teacher at
my school who had spent a year over there during
to keep up, Sergei often makes me write or talk to him
in Russian and I have to admit it’s been cool.
Don’t know if I’ll ever really get to use it
besides with Sergei or Mac, but I enjoy knowing another
language – especially if I want to say something and
don’t want others to know what I just said.
course, being like a big brother, Sergei tends to be
skeptical of boys that I show an interest in.
And he’s not the only one.
The summer I was fifteen Grandma invited everyone
up to Vermont for a week at the Fourth of July.
My grandfather had died a few months earlier and
she was lonely. There
was this boy that I was seeing that summer and one day
we got home about fifteen minutes later than we were
supposed to for perfectly innocent reasons.
And we ran right smack into Sergei and Harm
waiting up for us.
After they both managed to thoroughly intimidate
Kevin and scare him off with their version of twenty
questions, which ran to more like fifty, I was so mad at
was this boy I liked a lot and I’d be lucky if he ever
spoke to me again after that reception.
spent about fifteen minutes railing at both of them,
Gram came to see what all the commotion was about, her
room being just down the hall from the living room.
She let me speak first and I poured out the
entire story, practically stomping my foot on the
hardwood floor I was so angry.
And she didn’t even give Harm and Sergei the
chance to defend themselves. She just looked at Harm – sucks being the oldest, doesn’t
it? – and proceeded to mention just about every time
she or his parents had caught him sneaking around with
some girl when he was a teenager and in quite vivid
didn’t have any similar stories about Sergei since he
was an adult when they met, although she looked up at
the clock, calculated the time in Svischevo and
threatened to call his mother for any stories she could
use against him.
identical expressions of horror on their face and I was
practically rolling on the floor laughing, it was so
forgot that I was even mad at them.
Then Mac came downstairs, wanting to know why her
husband wasn’t in bed with her and Gram proceeded to
tell her exactly why.
Right before she dragged Harm upstairs, she told
Gram that any time she wanted to tell any more of those
stories of Harm’s teenage years, she would have a
captive audience in Mac.
Harm shot both Mac and Gram the dirtiest look and
Sergei spent the rest of the week afraid that he was
going to find Gram on the phone with his mother in
Gram like that, I’ve got a smile on my face by the
time we enter the kitchen, the twins having lost
interest in me and run outside where Amanda Keeter and
some of the local kids are building snow forts under the
supervision of Amanda’s parents.
Deanne turns when she hears us enter and
immediately envelopes me in a warm hug, but I’m paying
attention to the petite redhead with her.
She doesn’t look like much, but if she’s a
Marine, she could probably kick just about any man’s
butt around the block before they even realize what’s
this is Lisa Stafford, Sergei’s girlfriend,” Deanne
introduces us. “Lisa, this is Chloe Anderson and her grandmother
I’m about to step towards Lisa to shake her hand,
Trish leans forward and whispers so only I can hear her,
turn around and give her my best ‘Who, me?’ look
before turning back to Lisa.
nice to meet you, Chloe,” she says.
“Sergei talks a lot about you.
After your last e-mail, he was wondering if you
broke up with your boyfriend after that fight.”
God, tell a guy you had a little fight with your
boyfriend and he thinks he isn’t good enough for you
and should be dropped like a hot potato.
“Not that it’s any of Sergei’s business,”
I begin, just as Harm and Sergei come in the back door
wearing snow-covered boots.
Trish shoots them a look and they sigh, but take
their boots off and leave them by the door before coming
all the way in. I
continue, “but I happen to like my boyfriend.”
that would be the kind of remark that would bring some
kind of retort from Sergei, but his attention is
entirely focused on Lisa.
Boy, has he got it bad.
Being the perverse person that I am, I start
singing just loud enough for everyone to hear, “Sergei
and Lisa, sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G. . . .”
Deanne and Grandma are all shaking their heads and Harm
looks so amused, probably remembering past experiences
with me. Sergei
looks exasperated while Lisa is trying not to laugh.
“Sergei said you were a handful,” she says,
not sounding upset.
Lisa might be okay after all.
needs to keep herself amused and this family provides
plenty of amusement,” I proclaim.
Deciding I will be nice and let Sergei off the
hook for now, I change tactics.
“Actually, I’ve got this very funny story
about the first time I met Harm.”
Harm is smiling, probably because this story
isn’t anywhere near as embarrassing to him as it is to
since Mac isn’t here to stop me. . . .
“I went by
JAG right before Christmas,” I begin, finding a
captive audience. I
was sure I had told this story before, but I guess not
judging from the reactions I’m getting. “I was eleven at the time.
Mac introduced me to Bud and Harriet, then Harm
stepped out of his office.
Mac was about to introduce us, but I stopped her
and said to Harm, ‘Mac’s told me all about you.
In fact you’re all she talks about. . .
.although sometimes it’s hard to tell what parts are
true and what parts are just, well, you know, her
starts laughing just as a potholder goes flying by my
head. I don’t even have to turn around to know who threw it.
“Nice of you to join us, sleepyhead,” I say
without turning around as Mac wraps her arms around me
from behind and squeezes.
Actually, the flying potholder reminds me of
was trying to remember if I’d ever told that story
before and I just remembered that I have told that story
– to Gram. You
threw a potholder at me that time, too.”
got such a big kick out of telling her,” Mac accuses.
I just grin at everyone.
I did,” I reply, as if it were obvious.
“But I got an even bigger kick out of Gram
threatening to knock some sense into both of you – you
for telling me and not Harm about your fantasies and
Harm for not saying anything when I made that little
announcement. Of course, you two got back in Gram’s good graces the next
day with the baby announcement.”
where you all walked in while they were reading the
results of a pregnancy test?” Lisa asks, intrigued.
I’d be intrigued too if I were hearing some of
the stories about this family for the first time.
you already heard that story,” I say with a grin.
“I know lots more good stories about this
family, including a few about Sergei. . . .”
Sergei’s looking up at the ceiling rolling his
eyes at this.
Before I can
say more, Mac interrupts, “You’ll have to forgive my
sister, Lisa. We’d
love to ship her off to a hospital somewhere. . . .”
hospital would have her,” Harm finishes.
I see Trish and Deanne both smiling, but
something tells me, given Trish’s concern about
Harm’s emotional state earlier and her comments about
how Gram’s death hit Mac so hard, that it is more
about the fact that Harm and Mac seem to be relaxed and
less what they just said.
way of coping, keeping my spirits up by cracking jokes
and teasing everyone.
And if I close my eyes, I can imagine Gram
standing here with us, having the time of her life
listening to me do it.
study my reflection in the full length mirror hanging on the
closet door as I smooth the black mourning band on my dress blues.
Gram had left very specific instructions for how she wanted
her funeral to be conducted and one of the things she had wanted
was all present and retired military personnel in attendance to
appear in uniform. As
much as Gram loved the military and was proud of our family's
service, it makes sense to me.
But I probably would have worn the uniform anyway.
After four years of ROTC and eight months as a commissioned
officer, not to mention the time spent in the Russian Army before
that, I don't think I'd know how to wear a civilian suit and tie.
I'd felt so uncomfortable in them at my court-martial.
think this is the first time I've seen you in your dress
uniform," Lisa comments, trying to keep her tone light.
"You look very nice."
you," I reply without feeling. I give her a once over.
She's also dressed in her dress blues which we'd gone back
to Quantico to retrieve before driving up to the farm.
"So do you."
she replies with the touch of a smile playing at her lips.
She takes a deep breath and asks, "Do you know what
you're going to say?"
at Gram's funeral?" I ask, even though I know that's what
she's talking about. "I
don't know. There's
so much going through my mind."
sits down on the edge of the bed and pats the space next to her.
I sit down next to her as she comments, "I noticed.
You didn't get a lot of sleep last night."
didn't mean to keep you up," I apologize.
Idly, I wonder how many sleepless nights Harm has caused
Mac the last few days. "I
just. . . .I'm not entirely comfortable with getting up in front
of everyone and. . . .I don't really know." I just sounded so articulate.
I'm probably going to make a *really*
good impression at the funeral later.
why not just pass on speaking?" she asks.
"I'm sure everyone would understand if you don't feel
not that," I protest. "I
do want to honor Gram by speaking and not just because she
requested it." That
was also a part of her very specific instructions.
Gram's wish was that Harm and I be the ones to deliver her
love Gram and want to show that. . . .I'm just not sure. . . .I'm
not sure." I
jump up off the bed and nervously pace beside it.
The bright light of day has not resolved any of this in my
are you not sure about, Sergei?" Lisa asks gently, her
stop my pacing and lean back against the dresser, my arms folded
across my chest. "I
don't know. Maybe
there's a part of me. . . .that wonders why I'm going to be up
there speaking. After
all, compared to most of the people who are going to be there, I
barely knew her. I'm
her grandson, yet ninety-nine percent of Beallsville has known
Gram longer than I have."
that what's bothering you?" she asks, getting up from the bed
to join me. She pulls
my arms apart and takes my hands in hers.
I look down at our joined hands as she continues,
"Sergei, I'm sure that your grandmother didn't love you any
less because she didn't get to know you your entire life."
don't think that," I protest softly. "I
can't explain it. I
just met her five years ago.
I'd never even heard the name Sarah Rabb prior to seven
years ago. But it’s
like there's this big hole in my heart. . . .as if something
that's been there my entire life has suddenly been ripped away.
It's as if she's always been a part of my life.
I spent the first eighteen years of my life without her as
part of it and now, I can't figure out how I'm going to live
ties of family are strong in your family," Lisa points out,
"whether you've known each other all your lives or only a few
years. Anyway, I think that even if you haven't known her your
entire life, she's always been a part of you. . . .in here."
She released one of my hands to tap the ribbons over my
heart for emphasis. "You
want to hear something I've observed the last few days –
actually, it's something I've thought about since we met and you
told me about your family. But
it's really crystallized in my mind watching all of you together
the last four days."
finally look up at her, nodding for her to continue.
"As you know, I come from a military family myself and
we spent most of my childhood moving around from place to place
both here and overseas. I
had a perfectly normal family – two parents, two brothers and a
sister. I had four
grandparents and assorted aunts and uncles. When I was fifteen, my dad's father died.
You know what occurred to me when we went to his funeral?
He was my grandfather, but I barely knew him.
I could count on both hands the number of times I'd seen
him in my life. Sure,
we got the requisite Christmas and birthday cards and presents and
I know my grandparents love me, but my family didn't get together
to celebrate the holidays, even when we were stationed someplace
close to one of my relatives.
Being stationed close to a relative just meant we might see
someone once every few months rather than once every few
sounds like a lonely childhood in its own way," I comment,
but Lisa shakes her head.
had a pretty happy childhood," she responds.
"My parents were married and even if they weren't
obviously madly in love, there was a deep love and commitment
there nonetheless. They
loved us and provided well for us.
As for not really knowing the rest of my family, being a
military brat, most of my friends weren't particularly close to
their extended families either so I guess I kind of grew up
thinking that's the way things were.
At least, that's what I thought until I heard about your
you first told me about your family, I'd never really heard of
anything like that and I'm not talking about the slightly
convoluted ties between all of you," she continues, smiling a
little at that last part. "Sergei,
you may have only known your grandmother five years, but you've
probably seen her more times in those five years than I have seen
all four of my grandparents combined in my entire life.
Your entire family gets together at least twice a year from
what you've told me, for Christmas and Fourth of July.
Hell, I know just from getting to know you the last few
months that you spoke to her on the phone at least once a week and
those calls were not the obligatory 'grandson calls to check up on
his elderly grandmother' calls.
You called her because you *wanted* to talk to her.
You're even close to those members of your extended family
who aren't related by blood. I know you speak to your stepmother on the phone often –
I've heard you on the phone with her a few times.
Your sister-in-law said that her uncle became a mentor to
you when you decided to join the Corps.
Chloe says you're like a big brother to her.
Even your brother's mother-in-law speaks of you and your
brother as the sons she never had.
I even heard your stepmother speak highly of your mother in
a conversation yesterday. In a way, I'm jealous of you and your family."
never thought of anyone being jealous of me and my family
situation. "I'd never thought about it like that," I admit.
"But why would you be jealous?
My family situation, despite how close we all are, is
you all know how much you mean to each other," she points
out. "You all
might have convoluted histories, but you've all managed to
overcome that and build a strong family unit.
You sometimes don't see that in families where everyone is
related by blood and where they have known each other all their
lives, like my family. And
you know what – or rather who – played a large part of making
your family the way it is?"
I state. It isn't a
question. I can't
remember who, but someone once described Gram as the glue that
holds this family together. I
can't think of a more accurate description of Gram than that.
it's not that she forced you all to get along or anything,"
she continues. "She
just set the example and as much as you all look up to her and
love her, none of you could help but follow her example.
Sergei, I guess what I'm trying to say is that you
shouldn't feel out of place because you only knew your grandmother
for a few short years. I've
known my grandparents my entire life and I would love to have the
kind of relationship with them that you had with your grandmother.
Anybody would be jealous of how close you two were."
manage a small smile as I say, "Thank you.
You've helped so much.
Thanks to you, I think I know what I want to say."
think you always knew deep down," she returns.
"You just needed a little help realizing what was
already in your heart."
wish Gram could have met you," I tell her, pulling her into
my arms and holding her tight.
"She would have loved you."
pulls back slightly and smiles at me.
"As far as compliments go, Lieutenant Sergei
Rabb," she says, "that's got to be one of the best I've
I can reply, there's a soft knock on the slightly open door and we
turn towards the door as Harm sticks his head in the room.
"Sorry to interrupt," he apologizes, "but I
need to see you about something, Sergei."
okay, Captain," Lisa says, pulling out of my arms and picking
up her cover from the dresser as Harm pushes the door the rest of
the way open and comes into the room.
He's also in his dress blues and is carrying two envelopes
in his hand. "I'll
just wait for you downstairs, Sergei."
right," he says after she has left.
"Gram would have liked her."
she probably would have been subtly trying to find out when I was
planning to get married," I point out.
you?" he asks. "Thinking
about marrying Lisa?"
term, I don't think we're quite there yet," I reply, raising
an eyebrow at Harm's questioning.
I'd never thought he'd be one to jump on the 'let's get
Sergei settled down with a family' bandwagon.
Especially not after his history with Mac.
That kind of stuff is more Gram's and Trish's department.
"Long range, I. . . .I do want to marry and have kids
and I can easily see Lisa in the role of wife and mother. So what's with the questions?"
trying to make conversation," he replies quietly, looking
down at the two envelopes in his hand.
lean forward slightly and see his name on the front of one in
Gram's handwriting. I
nod towards the envelopes. "Those
he replies, holding one out to me.
"There's one for each of us.
After she wrote them, she gave them to June Randall with
instructions that they were to be given to us before the funeral. She just handed them to me downstairs."
had this whole thing planned down to the last detail, didn't
she?" I comment as I turn the envelope over in my hands.
has this funeral better planned than a military exercise,"
Harm replies. "In
a way, I'm glad. . . ."
am I," I agree. I
don't know if either of us could have handled having to plan
Gram's funeral ourselves. I
glance over and notice that he hasn't opened his letter yet.
"So I take it we're supposed to open and read these
before the funeral? So
why haven't you read yours yet?"
thought we could do it together," he replies and my head
jerks up in surprise. I
would have thought this would be the kind of thing he would want
to do alone, or with Mac if he didn't really want to be alone.
He continues, "We haven't really had a chance to sit
down, just the two of us, since Gram. . . .Sergei, we both lost
right. With the whole
family about and with Lisa and Mac both sticking pretty close to
us out of concern, there hasn't been a chance to the two of us to
talk by ourselves. And
as much of a comfort as Lisa has been to me and I'm sure Mac has
been to Harm, we both lost our grandmother and there are probably
things we are feeling that probably no one else can completely
if by some silent signal, we both open our letters at the same
time and begin reading them.
I can hear Gram's voice in my head as I read her words and
tears threaten as I realize that the letter was written recently
from some of the things that she mentions.
I know she was eighty-six, but I don't want to think of
Gram knowing that perhaps she didn't have much time left and
setting her affairs in order so to speak.
Gram always lived life to the fullest and I can't imagine
her dwelling on her death. But
it's obvious from the letters and the well thought out funeral
arrangements that she thought about it more than any of the rest
of us ever did. I
think the rest of us just kind of expected her to always be
I finish, I can't help smiling a little.
Gram must have been precognitive.
One of the things she talks about is the kind of woman
she'd like me to find and settle down with.
From what she said, she could have been describing Lisa.
I wonder if this letter is recent enough that it even
postdates the beginning of my relationship with Lisa.
It's nice to know that I am right – Gram would have loved
look up just as Harm is finishing his own letter and I'm sure that
I see the glistening of unshed tears in his own eyes.
Then he surprises me by holding out his letter to me.
After a moment, I take the letter, holding out my own,
which he takes and begins reading.
I begin reading what she wrote to Harm, I can't help smiling even
Harm asking me about any marriage plans I might have, I ask in a
teasing tone as I continue reading his letter, "So, are you
and Mac thinking of expanding the family as Gram suggests?"
When Harm doesn't answer my question immediately, I look up
from the letter. His
expression is carefully neutral, but I think I caught a flash of
something just as I looked up, as if he noticed me looking and was
trying to not let anything show. My mouth falls open as an idea occurs to me.
"You already are, aren't you?
is still silent, as if he doesn't want to answer the question, but
finally he nods. "We
just found out a few weeks ago," he explains sadly.
"We wanted to keep it quiet and announce it on
Christmas, kind of as a present for everyone."
could still be," I point out quietly.
"I think everyone could use the good news.
God knows Christmas isn't going to be very joyful this
rate we're going, everyone may figure it out first," he
mothers already know. Wednesday
night, when everyone was getting ready for bed, Sarah was getting
sick in the bathroom. Gram's
death really upset her and the stress was getting to her.
Her mother found her and Sarah kind of let it slip without
realizing it. Mom
happened to overhear them talking, although she said she already
had her suspicions."
still leaves Frank, Matt, Chloe and the twins," I remind him.
"It can still be a surprise.
I won't say anything.
I'd like to see everyone else's faces Christmas morning
when you announce it." It'll
probably be the one bright spot of the day.
would I. I just wish.
. . ." Harm begins, trailing off.
Gram could have been here to learn the good news," I finish.
I can't help smiling as something occurs to me.
"You know how you and Mac told the twins that Gram
went to Heaven to be an angel? If we all do have guardian angels, can you think of a better
one for your baby than Gram?"
ONE WEEK LATER
THE RABB FARM
eyes snap open as I realize that there is just a cold, empty space
in the bed next to me. Rubbing
my eyes, I glance around the darkened room, finally seeing Harm in
a chair next to the window, reading a letter in the pale moonlight
streaming in through the window.
"Harm, come back to bed," I request in a sleepy
doesn't even look up from the letter in his hand as he replies,
"It's almost time to get up.
The twins will be up soon."
quickly calculate the time in my head and realize he's right.
Any time now, Matt and Sarah will come running in here,
jumping up on the bed and trying to drag us out of it so we can
all go see what Santa brought.
"What are you reading?" I ask, pushing the covers
back as I stretch lazily.
silent for a long moment and when he does finally speak, it isn't
to answer my question. "Remember
their first Christmas?" he asks, a faraway look in his eyes
as he looks up from the letter.
"They were just ten months old and really had no idea
what was going on. I
think all of the adults were more excited about it than they were.
I don't think I'd gotten up that early on Christmas morning
since I was a kid. Even
Gram, who was sick with the flu, was up before dawn, excited about
watching them open their presents."
grin a little as I remember that Christmas morning that seems
almost like it was another lifetime ago.
"As I recall, it was Mommy and Daddy opening
presents," I point out.
"I think Matt and Sarah were more interested in trying
to put the bows in their mouths and playing with the wrapping
the moonlight, I see a small smile on Harm's face, but there's no
warmth or humor behind it. "Yeah,
I guess," he replies. His
eyes return to the letter.
that he's not going to answer my earlier question, I slide out of
bed and cross the room to him.
He pulls me into his lap and I snuggle against his chest,
resting my head on his shoulder as he drapes his free arm around
my waist, his hand resting against the barely noticeable mound
signaling my advancing pregnancy.
snuggle together in silence for a long moment, then he holds out
to me the letter he has been reading.
As I sat down, I could tell that it was Gram's handwriting,
but whatever is in that letter is obviously weighing on his mind
and I don't want to press too hard about it.
I knew Harm would open up about it eventually.
I take the letter and begin reading it, my eyes struggling
to focus on the words in the pale moonlight.
a word, I read the entire letter, carefully folding it once I'm
brushes my falling tears away as I muse quietly, "It's almost
like she knew, isn't it, that she didn't have much time
he replies just as quietly. "Sergei and I commented on that when we first read the
letters." At my
questioning glance, he adds, "She wrote one to Sergei, too. June Randall gave them to me the morning of the
Harm. "I'm not
criticizing, but I wish you would have shared this with me
earlier," I remark gently.
"I would have liked to have helped you deal with
wraps his other arm around me and pulls me tighter against him,
raining kisses on the top of my head.
"You have helped, Sarah," he insists.
"You always have.
You've always been there for me.
Even when I've needed space, I've always known that you
were quietly supporting me. Even
that one difficult year we had, I still knew deep down that I
could always count on you first and foremost.
Never doubt that you have been helping me through this,
just by being here and loving me."
love you, too, Harm," I reply, tilting my head up to give him
a brief kiss. "After
reading this letter, this gives me the perfect opportunity to
mention something that I've been thinking about since Gram
the baby?" he asks.
nod. "Well, you
know when we first found out I was pregnant that I said I really
wanted Rose as part of the name if we have another girl," I
explain. He nods, remembering that conversation and the reason behind
that particular request of mine.
"Well, what do you think of Elizabeth Rose as a girl's
wouldn't mind naming another child after Gram?" he asks.
course not," I reply. I
smile as I remember a previous conversation. "During one of the bridal party get-togethers before the
wedding, we were talking about names for the babies. You know, initially I was a little skeptical of our
daughter's first name being Sarah since that's my name as well,
but having spent the last five years as part of Gram's family, I
can't think of anyone I would have rather named our daughter after
– and no offense to your mom, by the way.
I know we weren't related by blood, but I couldn't have
loved Gram more if she had been my own grandmother and given
everything that's happened, I would love to use her middle name
for our child."
Rose Rabb," Harm muses, testing the sound of the name.
"I like it and I know Gram would, too.
But what if it's a boy – unless you're planning to have
another set of twins?"
your tongue!" I exclaim with a laugh.
I adore Matt and Sarah and wouldn't trade them for anything
in the world, but after nine months carrying them and the next
year spent praying that they would eventually get their internal
clocks in sync and manage to sleep at the same time, not to
mention trying to handle two hungry babies at the same time, I
don't know if I could do it again.
"Actually, I do have an idea about a boy's name.
What do you think of David Francis after your grandfather
and Frank? My
maternal grandfather's name was David also, so we get both sides
of the family with that name."
Francis Rabb or Elizabeth Rose Rabb?
I like those names," he replies, finally managing a
real smile. "I
think Gram would like that, too.
You know, after I let Sergei read my letter, he figured out
from something in my expression I guess that we are expecting a
baby and he said he couldn't think of a better guardian angel for
our baby than Gram."
like that idea," I whisper, tears starting to fall again.
"I just wish this baby could have had the chance to
meet his or her wonderful great-grandmother in person."
know. . . ." Harm begins before being interrupted by the
bedroom door being thrown open, Matt and Sarah running into the
room. They start for
the bed, turning sharply when they realize that we're not there.
on!" they insist, their voices overlapping in their
came! Time to open
both try to climb into our laps, a little difficult since I'm
already sitting in Harm's lap, but we manage somehow to fit all
four of us in the armchair, Harm and I each with an arm around one
of the kids.
sit here quietly for a few minutes, just holding each other, but
soon both Matt and Sarah are restlessly squirming in our arms.
"Mommy, Daddy, presents!," Sarah insists, sliding
off our laps, shortly joined by her brother.
we're coming," I reply, giving Harm a kiss before pulling out
of his lap. Matt and
Sarah are looking at us with mock looks of disgust on their faces.
Matt says as Sarah giggles.
me, the time will come when you won't think kissing is
yucky," I joke as I grab mine and Harm's robes from the
closet, tossing Harm's to him.
"Come on, let's go see what Santa brought for you
hour later, the living room is a sea of wrapping paper and piles
of presents. There's
a sad undercurrent among all the adults, but everyone has smiles
on their faces. It's
hard not to get caught up in the excitement generated by Matt and
you don't have take *all*
your presents out of the package right this minute," Harm
says as Matt tosses aside another toy that he has pulled out of
it's packaging and picks up another one.
"You'll have plenty of time to play with all of them
later. Why don't we
clean up a little bit and get rid of all this wrapping paper and
ribbons? Then you can
take all your presents upstairs while Grandmas Trish and Deanne
Matt and Sarah both complain, identical pouts on their faces.
on," I encourage them as I slide off the couch onto the floor
as Mom hands me a trash
bag. All the adults
except Harm begin picking up the paper off the floor, Matt and
Sarah grudgingly helping after a moment of indecision followed by
a stern glance from me. Harm
gets up from the couch and leans over to whisper, "Before we
tell everyone about the baby, I want to go upstairs and get
I whisper back.
letter," he replies, kissing my cheek before heading
why doesn't Daddy have to help clean up?" Sarah asks.
I can't help laughing a little.
has something more important to do," I reply.
I grin and decide to drop a little hint. "Something about another Christmas present." Mom,
Trish and Sergei all try to hide smiles, already knowing about
this particular present.
Matt exclaims. "Can
we play with it?"
can't help laughing again. "Eventually,"
I reply mysteriously. I
can feel several sets of eyes on me as I continue cleaning up, but
I don't say anything more. They'll
all find out soon enough.
the time Harm returns letter in hand, we've all just finished the
clean up of the living room.
From the expression on his face as he sits back down, I can
tell that he reread the letter before he came downstairs.
I sit next to him and he puts an arm around my shoulder,
pulling me close to him.
we put all the presents away and go eat breakfast," he
begins, studying the folded letter in his hands, "there's a
few things I want to say. As
most of you are aware, Christmas was hardly my favorite holiday
when I was growing up. There was just too much sadness associated with it.
But Gram always believed in looking for the silver lining
and she tried to point out that there was still joy to be found in
the holiday, despite what happened to my father."
he unfolds the letter and smoothes the creases in the paper as I
smile encouragingly. "Not
long ago," he continues as he shuffles the pages of the
letter, looking for something in particular, "Gram sat down
and wrote a couple of letters to me and Sergei.
This one's mine. I'm not going to read the entire thing, but there's one part
in particular I want to share with everyone." I squeeze his hand, holding it tightly as he reads in a
strong, clear voice –
. . . .When I first sat
down to write this letter, I wasn't quite sure what to say.
My letter to your brother was full of my hopes and dreams
for him. But you've
already accomplished and gained so much in your life.
You already have everything that I could have ever wanted
for you. You have a beautiful wife who is everything and more that I
could have wanted in a life partner for you.
You have two of the greatest children – although if you
and Mac hadn't wasted four years, maybe I'd be surrounded by a few
more great-grandchildren. And
although it may not initially be what you envisioned for yourself,
you have a wonderful career that you love.
When I look back on my
life, I know I've had a good one, despite the tragedies I've had
to endure – not many people outlive both their husband and their
only child. If I have
any regrets about my life, it's that I didn't get to grow old with
my David and that God didn't see fit to grant me more than one
child, but both of those were beyond my control.
Maybe that's why I always looked for the joy in everything,
knowing how easily it can all be taken away.
So if there's any wish that I still have for you, it's that
you not take life for granted and find the joy in it.
Enjoy growing old with your Sarah by your side and watching
your children grow up around you.
Maybe you can even have another child or two – you and
Mac have a lot of love to share and can give so much not just to
Matt and Sarah, but to any future children.
Try to set a good example for your children to follow and
they'll be your greatest joy.
I speak from personal experience.
I may have only been granted one child, but I couldn't have
asked for a better son, nor for better grandchildren and
great-grandchildren. . . .
carefully folds the letter again as he looks up at everyone.
"There's more here, but that's the part that I wanted
everyone to hear," he says, taking a steadying breath. I don't think there's a dry eye in the room, even my
children's, although they don't really understand what Harm just
read. "As Gram
said in this letter, she always tried to find the joy in
everything. And today
seems to be a good day to try and do that, even though we're all
still hurting so much because Gram is no longer with us.
Sarah and I have another present for all of you, but after
everything that's happened, we debated whether or not to share it
with all of you right now. But
after hearing Gram's words, I think we can all agree that she
would have wanted us to find some happiness. . . ."
voice trails off as he fights back tears and I tighten my fingers
around his as I continue for him, "Gram was a little
precognitive in the letter, because a few weeks ago Harm and I
found out that we will be welcoming a new baby around the third
week of June."
tears are flowing freely now as Chloe shrieks, pulling Sarah into
her arms, "This is so wonderful, isn't it?
You're going to have a new brother or sister to play
June, Mommy?" she asks, looking over at me with a puzzled
expression. Matt has
the same look on his face.
this is December, right?" I ask and they nod.
"Next comes New Year's and January. Then comes February and your birthday."
There are more nods at that.
If there's any day that a child enjoys more than Christmas,
it's their birthday. "Then
comes spring and Easter in March and April.
Then there's May when you guys get out of school.
Then comes June and that's when the baby will be
school is over, the baby will come?" Matt asks, sounding a
bit disappointed. I
think he was anticipating something he could play with now.
baby now?" Sarah asks. Harm
and I look at each other and I smile, patting my stomach.
here," I reply. "The
baby sleeps inside Mommy until it's time to be born."
walks over and I take his hand, placing it flat against my stomach
so he can feel the small, firm mound that will grow bigger in the
coming months. Chloe
grabs a photo album and manages to find a picture taken when I was
pregnant with Matt and Sarah, displaying it for all of us as she
explains to Sarah, "See here? This is when you and Matt were sleeping inside Mommy."
I was huge. From the
Christmas tree barely visible at the edge of the photo I can tell
it was taken that Christmas when I was in my eighth month and I
was very much into the 'beached whale' stage.
Sarah studies me and then the picture as if trying to
figure out why I look so different.
does baby get inside Mommy?" she asks in all innocence.
I'm sure my face is flushing bright red as I bury my head
in Harm's shoulder and laughter floats around the room among all
the adults. Fortunately,
I'm rescued by my mother-in-law's quick thinking.
Sarah, do you want to help me and Grandma Deanne with
breakfast?" she suggests and their eyes light up as they are
distracted at the thought of food.
They've definitely inherited my appetite.
Mom," I say gratefully.
"Nice save. And
hurry up with that breakfast."
and your stomach," Harm teases.
I swat him playfully in response.
I'm eating for two now," I retort.
three," Chloe interjects with a grin.
your tongue!" I shoot back.
right, Mom would have happy that we did manage to find some joy at
this time," Trish comments, smiling at our playful banter.
that reminds me," I say, looking at Harm.
"Do you want to tell them or do you want me to do
do it since you were the one to actually tell them about the
baby," he replies. He
looks around the room as he continues, "This was actually
Sarah's idea, but I agree with her.
We've already come up with both a boy's and a girl's name.
Sarah has her heart set on Rose as part of a girl's name
and she suggested we add Elizabeth to that, which was Gram's
middle name. So if we
have a daughter, her name will be Elizabeth Rose Rabb."
a beautiful name," Mom says.
"And your grandmother would be proud to have another
child named after her. What
about a boy's name?"
gaze settles on Frank as he continues, "David as the first
name in honor of my grandfather and Sarah's.
For his middle name, we decided on Francis.
Gram would definitely like that, since she's the one who
always tried to encourage me to give Frank a chance.
I'm just sorry that I didn't listen to her sooner."
doesn't matter anymore," Frank insists, his eyes shining. "But I'm honored."
it's either Elizabeth Rose or David Francis Rabb," Chloe
would definitely like that."
she would," I reply quietly, looking at Harm, but his
attention is elsewhere. I
follow his gaze to the angel on top of the Christmas tree, where
the electric candle in the angel's hand seems to be burning just a
little bit brighter than usual.
Intellectually, I know it's probably just a trick of the
light, but my heart wants to believe otherwise.
"I guess our child's guardian angel is already busy
looking out for him or her."
is silent as he holds me tight and I continue looking up at the
angel, imagining that the bright light is Gram expressing her
happiness at our good news.
4 JULY 2006
HE RABB FARM
a beautiful summer day, not too hot, fortunately.
I look down at the baby carrier in my arms to make sure
Elizabeth is comfortable and properly shaded from the bright sun.
She's sleeping peacefully, her mouth making little
movements and her fingers curling as she apparently dreams, good
dreams I hope.
to me, my older daughter jumps up so she can look into the
sleeping," she says, careful to keep her voice quiet.
It's been funny the last few weeks, watching Matt and Sarah
trying to be quiet while their sister is sleeping.
Being only five, sometimes they forget, usually followed by
them covering their mouths with their hands and an 'Ooops, I
forgot.' But they're
trying to be considerate of Elizabeth – and of their mother who
is always tired these days.
both fascinated by their sister, Sarah more so than Matt, I think,
since she's also a girl, although Sarah did have to point out to
our daughter that playing with her sister isn't *quite* like
playing with her dolls. Matt,
on the other hand, was disappointed at first that he didn't get
the brother that he was hoping for, especially after the way AJ
Roberts raved about his brother Michael when he was born a little
over a year ago, declaring brothers to be far better than sisters
– much to the chagrin of Sarah Roberts, who didn't speak to her
brother for a week after that statement.
Matt came around when more than one person explained to him,
myself included, that being a big brother was important and that
it was up to him to protect his little sister since she was too
young to take care of herself.
He liked that idea and when Sarah and I took the kids to
have some pictures taken last week, the twins even argued briefly
over who was going to get to hold Elizabeth.
We settled that argument by having some taken with Matt
holding her and some with Sarah holding her.
We picked up the pictures yesterday before we left to come
to Beallsville and they turned out really good.
of my son. . . ."Matt, I thought I told you not to run
off," I call out, careful not to do it too loudly.
"I want you to stay close to Daddy."
Daddy," he calls back, slowing down just a little.
"Where are we going?"
see when we get there," I reply, thinking that it's probably
easier to show them than tell them.
"We're almost there."
didn't Mommy come?" Sarah asks, skipping ahead of me
sleeping," I reply. "Elizabeth
keeps her awake at night."
She keeps me awake as well, but I wasn't the one who
carried her for nine months and gave birth just eleven days ago.
Even though she insisted on still coming to the farm for
the Fourth of July, I know she is tired from the trip yesterday.
Actually, in a way I was glad she insisted on making the
trip. It gives me the
chance to do what I'm about to do.
is the first time we've been back to the farm since Christmas.
I wasn't quite ready to come back and being busy with work
and preparing for the baby gave me excuses to stay away.
But now that Elizabeth is here, I wanted to come back.
the farm hasn't sat empty all these months. Sergei comes up every free weekend he has, usually with Lisa
if she's not working. They've
gotten even more serious over the last six months and I think
we're all expecting to hear an engagement announcement sooner
rather than later. Mom and Dad were here a few months ago for a week and Uncle
Matt has been here a couple of times while visiting friends at the
local VFW post that he's made during previous trips to
Beallsville. Even Chloe, rather than spending spring break in Florida like
most college students, spent the week here.
When Gram's will was read, passing the farm jointly to
Sergei and me, the first thing we insisted was that the open door
policy that had been in effect when Gram was alive remain.
Any member of the family is free to come here anytime they
wish and nobody has to ask permission since there's plenty of room
if more than one have the idea at the same time.
reach our destination and I shift the carrier to one hand as I
release the latch on the gate of the fence that surrounds the
family cemetery. The
latch releases easily and I usher Matt and Sarah through the gate.
"Follow me," I tell them, leading them through
the tombstones of two centuries of their ancestors to the newest
tombstone of pink granite. I
sit down on the grass next to the grave, setting Elizabeth down in
front of me and motioning for Matt and Sarah to sit on either side
this, Daddy?" Sarah asks, touching the smooth stone almost
a marker," I explain, trying to keep it simple, "that
lets people know that Gram once lived here."
it say?" This comes from Matt.
says 'Sarah'," Sarah says proudly, pointing to Gram's first
name on the tombstone, recognizing the letters of her own name.
She points again. "And that says 'Rabb'."
right," I tell her. "Can
you tell me what the middle word is?"
both study it for a moment before Matt tries to sound out the
word. "E, L, I,
Z, A, E – liz – a. . . ."
He trails off, an excited look on his face as he figures it
Like the baby!"
smile, tousling his hair. "Very
good," I praise him. "It
says 'Sarah Elizabeth Rabb'.
That was Gram's name, just like yours is Harmon Matthew
Rabb and your sisters are Sarah Patricia Rabb and Elizabeth Rose
this, Daddy?" Sarah asks again, pointing to the dates below
the name. "That's
a seven, I don't know that word, then a one, nine, one, nine. Then a one, four, another big word, two, zero, zero,
first word is August," I reply. "It says 7 August 1919.
That was Gram's birthday.
When's your birthday?"
answers that question. "14
February 2001," he says.
"What's the other thing?"
December 2005," I tell them quietly.
"That's the day that Gram died and became an
both smile at me. They
associate death with angels now.
Two months ago, when Sarah and I had to make the decision
to put Jingo to sleep, their first question when told that he had
died was if he is now an angel, too.
what's this, Daddy?" Matt continues, pointing to two lines at
the bottom of the marker.
decide to let them off the hook and tell them rather than
encouraging them to figure it out.
We could be here the rest of the day waiting for them to
sound out all the words. It hasn't been all that long since we
started teaching them how to read.
"'To everything there is a season, and a time to every
purpose under the heaven'," I say.
"It's from the Bible, you know, like they read in
church? It was one of
Gram's favorite verses. Do
you guys want to talk to Gram?"
mean, like you talk to that wall?" Matt asks, referring to
the Vietnam Memorial. His
question brings back memories of the first time I took Matt and
Sarah to the Wall. They
were about three weeks old and we were having unseasonably mild
weather for the beginning of March, so I thought it would be okay
to take them outside to visit the Wall. I stood in front of the Wall in my dress blues, a baby tucked
in the crook of each arm – again it was just me and my children
– and introduced my father to his grandchildren.
just like that," I reply.
I tell her how Uncle Sergei teached me how to swim?" Matt
asks. I nod, cocking
my head towards the tombstone.
Uncle Sergei teached me and AJ how to swim," he says and for
some reason my mind flashes on Gram's final letter and about
finding joy in things. Having
children can really give you an appreciation for the little things
in life – like learning to swim.
"Daddy said we can get a pool."
Matt, I said maybe we could get a pool," I correct him.
I ought to make Sergei buy the thing since it was his
bright idea to teach the kids how to swim.
Then again, any sailor worth his salt should know how to
swim. I'd just better
not mention that last part to my wife.
She'd never let me hear the end of it.
Sergei teached me how to swim, too," Sarah chimes in.
"And Grandma Deanne said she will teach me to cro. . .
." She pauses,
getting hung up on the word.
I supply helpfully.
crochet," Sarah finishes. "What about you, Daddy?
Are you going to talk to Gram?"
I am," I reply as Elizabeth wakes up and immediately starts
fussing, her tiny hands flailing in the air. I unfasten her and lift her out of the carrier, settling her
into my arms after checking her diaper, glad that she doesn't need
to be changed right now. "Sarah,
can you get Daddy a bottle out of the bag?"
digs into the diaper bag and hands me a bottle.
Elizabeth fusses for another moment, trying to turn her
head away, but finally her hunger wins out and her mouth latches
onto the bottle. "I
know," I coo softly. "It's
not the same as Mommy, is it?"
looks up at me with her big brown eyes.
If Matt is the spitting image of me and Sarah looks like
her mother except for having the Rabb eyes, Elizabeth is a
combination of both of us. She's
got her mother's eyes and my skin tone.
Sarah insists she has my nose and I definitely think she
has Sarah's mouth. The
only thing that didn't come directly from either one of us is her
hair. Maybe it will
get darker when she gets older, but right now it’s a light
blonde. Only time
will tell if it will be the same shade blonde as Mom or the
strawberry blonde that Gram sported before her hair turned gray.
Given her name, I'm kind of hoping for the strawberry
that Elizabeth is eating heartily, I turn my attention back to the
I'd like you to meet someone," I say as Matt and Sarah watch
me intently from either side of me.
"This is your newest great-granddaughter, Elizabeth
Rose Rabb. She was
born eleven days ago on the twenty-third of June.
That was the day Sarah was actually due and she was so
thrilled, declaring that at least one of her children has her
sense of timing. It
was a pretty quick delivery, but we did make it to the hospital
this time. Of course,
everyone's fussing over her like we all fussed over the twins.
Matt and Sarah adore her.
Matt is getting into playing the role of big brother and
Sarah likes to try to help her mother take care of
check the bottle and see that she's taken more than her two
ounces. Pulling the
bottle out of her mouth and handing it to Sarah, I pull a burping
cloth out of the bag and lay it on my shoulder.
I move Elizabeth and pat her back gently as I go on.
"Work is the same as usual," I continue, moving
on to other subjects. "The
Admiral is talking about finally retiring.
I think, after missing out on his first daughter's
childhood, that he wants to spend more time with Mary, although he
joked that he's not sure he wants to subject another JAG to my
stunts. Everyone else
is good. Keeter and
Carolyn are expecting a baby in the fall. I
think Carolyn was a little apprehensive about another pregnancy
after her miscarriage a couple years ago, but she seems to be more
relaxed since she made it past the three-month mark with no
just got promoted to Lieutenant Commander. You
remember she had gone back on active duty just before she found
out that she was expecting Michael.
She stayed on active duty after he was born and found that
it wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be leaving him in
daycare. I think she
felt more comfortable with the idea after watching Sarah and
Carolyn continue to work after having babies and still be good
and Dad are doing good," I continue as I settle Elizabeth
back into my arms, rocking her gently.
"They're talking about packing up and moving to the DC
area so they can spend more time with their grandchildren,
although nothing's definite yet.
They've just been looking at houses while they've been here
for Elizabeth's birth. Deanne and Uncle Matt are both doing well and Chloe – well,
she's still Chloe and you know what that means."
hear the gate open and turn to see Sergei walking towards us,
dressed in denim shorts, a Marine Corps t-shirt and sneakers. He hesitates a moment when he notices that we're here, but I
wave him over. "I
was just introducing Gram and Elizabeth," I explain as he
sits down next to us, Sarah climbing into his lap, "and
catching her up on what's been going with everyone.
I was just about to get to you."
I came to share some news with Gram myself," he reveals.
"I'm going to give Lisa the necklace tonight."
The necklace is a single strand of pearls that Gram left to
skimped and saved to buy it for her twenty-first birthday, the
last birthday present he would buy her.
Exactly four months after her birthday, Pearl Harbor was
bombed and three months after that, Granddad was shot down.
Since, as the oldest, I had gotten her engagement ring,
Gram had wanted Sergei to have the necklace so that he could give
something to the woman he was going to marry that had belong to
there an engagement ring to go along with the necklace?" I
ask even as it occurs to me that I'm starting to sound like Gram
and my parents, taking such an interest in my brother's love life
the way they always were interested in mine before I got married.
I chuckle a little at that thought.
he replies, even as he raises his eyebrows at the question.
He knows all the stories about how everyone used to drop
subtle and not-so-subtle hints about when I was going to settle
down and how it used to drive me crazy.
"But somehow, the necklace seems more important."
it belonged to her," I conclude, tilting my head towards the
be happy that you found someone to settle down with."
know," he says sadly. "I
wish she could be here. I'm
thinking about asking Lisa how she'd feel about getting married up
here. I think I'd
like to be close to Gram when I get married."
a good place," I reply.
"As I'm sure Gram told you, she and Granddad got
married on this farm, in the meadow behind the house.
That would be the perfect spot, unless you're looking at a
nods his agreement as he stares silently at Gram's stone.
After a moment, he says softly, "You know, there are
still days when something will happen and I'll have to stop myself
from picking up the phone to tell her all about it.
But it doesn't happen as often as it used to.
I guess I'm getting accustomed to not having her
find myself doing the same thing," I agree.
"When Elizabeth was born and everyone was crowding
into Sarah's hospital room to see her, I noticed Gram wasn't there
and was about to go to a phone to call her with the news when I
know, people say that life goes on," Sergei muses, looking
over at me, "and that eventually it will be better.
But I hope the day never comes when I won't think about
Gram at least once a day and remember what a wonderful and loving
person she was."
don't think that day will ever come," I say confidently.
"Gram was so important to all of us, but I think the
day will come when we don't think as much about how much it hurts
that she is gone and we'll instead remember how much she love she
brought into all our lives."
nod towards the tombstone again.
"You know that Bible verse?
There's another line that I think applies. 'A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a
time to dance.' Our
time to mourn is passing and it's time for us to live life fully
and completely the way Gram would have wanted us to.
It's time for us to laugh again."