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Missing Persons

by Julia Sneden

Each day as I walk, I like to look into the windows of the houses I pass. Im no Peeping Tom, but theres a hint of the voyeur in me that makes me want to see how others have decorated their living rooms, or what kind of art they hang on their walls. One doesnt see much in a casual glance from the sidewalk, but its amazing what a quick glimpse can tell you.
      New neighbors on our street keep all their shades drawn even when theyre home. Its no surprise that they havent responded to the friendly overtures of various people on our block. The message of those closed blinds is very clear. 
      Two houses up is a house owned by a couple who sit on their screened porch every warm evening. Their porch light welcomes the company of all their neighbors. They were beloved by my youngest son, who spent long hours visiting them, an extraordinary friendship between a five-year-old and two middle-aged adults.
      Theres an older, brick house a few blocks away that was bought by a young couple a few years back. The first thing they did was to glass in a screened porch to make a playroom for their children. Its on a corner, so that when I walk by, I can see in from two sides, even though reflections make the view quite limited. The room is usually dark in the mornings, but on Saturdays, a large-screen TV lights up one wall. I catch a glimpse of one childs bare feet hanging over the end of a sofa, and perhaps the arm of another protruding from the depths of an overstuffed chair.
      Last year, in early December, I glanced casually at the glassed-in porch as I took my early morning walk. The television was on as usual on a Saturday, but this time the children werent lolling around to look at it. Standing against the adjacent wall was a large Christmas tree, lights aglow, and sitting on the floor in front of it were two pajama-clad little boys, about seven and nine years old. They werent paying attention to the television. They werent doing anything, in fact, but looking up at the tree. And suddenly I was hit by a wave of emotion as I remembered my own children, sitting just so. Oh, I thought, I miss them!
      It wasnt a matter of wanting them back. As they would say, been there, done that. And it surely wasnt a question of   Where did they go? I know very well where they went. They are three fine, intelligent young men (I must confess there have been times when I looked at one or another of them, and wondered to myself how all that bone and muscle and sinew and hair grew out of those sweet, smooth little bodies, but thats another matter.) 
      I miss the distinctive personalities that kept our household in lively chaos. I miss the sounds of their voices (truly gone, except for an old tape recording that I cannot bear listening to). I miss the fire of their enthusiasms. They were willing to drop everything at the merest whisper of Christmas. Sitting in front of the tree, they, like those children up the street, had no thought for anything else, not even for the presents they would receive or give. The tree itself, like a great bejeweled matriarch, pulled them into its magic. That kind of concentration and contentment is, I think, childhoods special gift.
     As our boys grew up, we tried to set them free with no regrets. Weve managed to do so without self-pity, I think. After all, as my mother once said, Mother Nature does make you ready to let go. She turns your sweet babies into great, hulking creatures who need new shoes every other month, and new jeans every three weeks, and good old Mom is no longer allowed to choose what kind. They suddenly have loud voices and loud friends and loud music, and not only that, they develop the nerve to ask you for your car keys.
     Every now and then I catch a glimpse of my children even though they are now grownup, tax-paying citizens. These days, whenever they get together, they manage to say a polite hello to their parents, grandmother, and assorted family members. Shortly thereafter, we realize they have disappeared. There is a grunting and thumping from down the hall. The rest of us just smile at each other: Without even looking, we know that two of the boys are flat on the floor, arm wrestling, while the third hovers over them playing referee and waiting for his turn to take on the winner.
     Its a given that when theyre in the room, anything that can be juggled will be juggled, one-two-three-toss, pass to the fellow next to you. Apples, rolled-up socks, tennis balls the air is full of flying objects. One juggling son would have been plenty. Three is chaos.
     They know how to play, these tall young men, and they never have more fun than when they are playing off each other. I look at them and see that those little boys are never really very far away. They are more confident, now, and more articulate. They no longer need our advice, and even though they continue to ask us for it, they dont always follow it. They seem to love us anyway.
    So I miss them, those children we reared, but all things considered, Ill settle for the way things are now.
     Besides, when I feel a deep need I can look into the face of my youngest granddaughter and see my sons merry brown eyes looking back at me. And thats no small thing for which to be thankful.



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