Friday, June 1, 2012

My Friend, James

We've been friends for a long time. I think he is a genius.

As we were leaving the rehearsal dinner for my niece Lena's wedding this week--in which the celebration is long and Biblical in nature--I said to my sister: "That James. He and I chatted all through dinner. He is such an intelligent boy." James, by the way, is just about to turn eleven.

My sister, who has three children and five grandchildren, is a canny observer of the human condition. "You know, Robin," she said without turning around from her seat in the front of the car. "I think you have a special feeling about James." Well, yes I do. I just happen to know he is perfect!

Of course, I have known James since he was born. (He is my niece Devon's son--so he is really my great-nephew, but don't spread it around.) His family was living in Pensacola during the years I was living in Winter Park, so I did get to see him a little more than some of my other nephews and nieces.

But the year we bonded, is one I will never forget.  It was 2004: the Year of the Hurricanes in Florida. We had three hit us in Winter Park. The fourth one slammed Pensacola where James and his family were living.

They ended up with what is known in hurricane zones as a "blue roof." That's a tarp they put on your roof until the roofers can get there and give you a new one to replace the one the hurricane took away.

The whole family decided to descend on them that Thanksgiving to celebrate their survival as we all approached the end of a trying year.

James' father, happened to be in the Army Reserves. And the Army happened to pick that particular twelve-month period to deploy him. To Iraq. Now, Iraq may have been exciting, but that year it had nothing on Florida.

The morning after I arrived that November, I staggered out of bed and into the kitchen to make some coffee. I thought no one else was awake, but as I looked over into the living room, I saw a very excited tow-headed three-year-old, James, sitting in a chair, barely able to contain himself. He knew the rest of the house was sleeping and--on his mother's instructions--he was being very quiet. Still in his jammies, he tiptoed over to me.

"Aunt Robin?" he whispered. "Can I watch you make the coffee?" Who could deny him?

He pulled over a chair and I helped him up onto it, and with great seriousness he watched the coffee-making ritual.  Once it was completed and I was supplied with hot java, he took my hand and led me back to the room where I had bunked down. It was his room and I had displaced him, though he didn't seem to mind.

He walked me over to a bookcase and looked through the books and pulled one out.

"Now," he said. "You can read me a story."

When his mother awoke she found the two of us snuggled in one single bed, Aunt Robin reading James a story. James in his bunny jammies with the feet attached. Robin in her favorite Chinese dressing gown. I think at this point we were on our third book.

This is how our love began.

Niece Lena and fiancee Mike. Rehearsing before the final match-up. It was their rehearsal dinner, after all!

Last night, as James and I chatted like old friends, I told him the story of how he helped me make the coffee when he was three. He listened with great fascination.

"I wonder what the book was?" he asked, pondering which story he would have chosen from his bookshelf for our introductory reading.  I had to admit, I didn't remember.

But then, I only had eyes for James.

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