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Isaac grows up

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Dear Isaac,

Mama-Jean reminded me that you had a birthday last week. I’m glad she did, since you and your sisters spread cheer for three months after Christmas.

Do you remember how we met? I think you were about 6. It was in a state park near your home, where Jean had arranged for us to meet. I don’t know how they choreographed it, but as we were pulling into the parking lot, your dad and our daughter walked toward us from stage right, holding hands, and Grandma and Grandpa Withnell from stage left.

Between them were you and your sisters, your father introducing himself as our future son-in-law.

Introductions were made, although I don’t remember much about it for the daze I was in. All I could think of were these beautiful round-eyed children whose mother had died less than a year before.

We were in love with all three of you – Abigail, Esther, and you – but I think I fell for you first. I’ve often wondered how well you remember your mother’s illness, or whether you “remember” through family stories and pictures.

You kids were brought up to be obedient to your elders, even when your “elders” are your sisters. They were in charge and evidently did a good job taking care of the house, and you. Tough duty for a couple of kids themselves, but their authority came from their dad. One misstep on your part and you were toast, or so they would have you believe.

Your mom home schooled you kids until she got too sick, and then it was off to school for the girls anyway. I don’t recall what arrangements were made for you, but between church friends or relatives, you were kept safe and well cared for.

I can only guess how lonely you must have been. Between your home in northern Virginia and ours in Georgia there are too many miles, and we really weren’t close enough to get in on birthdays or to help bring you up in any way. But again, your dad lay down the law: What Mama-Jean says, goes, even if it isn’t what your mother would have done. The rule was not applied, for the most part. Your dad would have dealt strictly if he came home from work and heard any reports of disobedience.

I can only imagine, and not very well, the mental and emotional storms that roared in your heads. Your mom dies – you’re all still in mourning in your own ways – and here comes this tall blonde stranger who is going to jam her furniture, clothes, and two big cats into your small townhouse.

The stranger married your dad Jan. 1, 1999.

Her cooking and housekeeping were not like your mother’s and she had to carry out the home schooling as closely as possible to what you had under your mom’s wing.
Abigail was well into high school when Mama-Jean took over. A really bright student, she worked fairly independently from the rest of you, and graduated college with mostly A’s. She’s married now.

Esther took a bit more patience. Still, she did well enough to land a job in a Hallmark store, was offered a managerial position there, and then in a bank, all the while taking college classes. She has her own apartment.

And then there’s little Isaac, cute as a bug, all blonde hair and blue eyes. You were not yet reading when we met, a situation Mama-Jean corrected as quickly as she could. To see you go from just looking at pictures in books, to reading them with help, to devouring books as fast as you can – I don’t know who was more proud of you, Mama-Jean, your grandma, or yourself.

Isaac stories abound. Like the one about Grandpa buying enough fishing equipment to outfit a charter boat, and you dancing down the street to a neighborhood pond, chortling, “Free fish! Free fish!”

Or the time you discovered you didn’t like boating as much as your grandpa thought you would. You ran the boat for about 10 minutes, then said to him, “Grandpa, do I look fatigued?”
“No. Why do you ask?”

“This boating safety guide says you shouldn’t run a boat when you’re fatigued, and I think I’m fatigued.”

As a wiry pre-teen, you came to Georgia for an extended visit, and I got a lesson on pruning fast-growing weeds.

I tried to instill in you some basic courtesies – including the use of the Southern honorifics, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am.” Also, to be excused before leaving the table, and telling your hostess, “Thank you, Grandma. Dinner was good.”

Scientists working on theories that position in the family is a powerful influence in the development of personalities, take note. Here we have the youngest of three, the first-born son after two girls, the doted-on baby brother.

Look at you now, a handsome, deep-voiced, good-natured giant of 6-feet, 4-inches or so, in your last year of high school. Most importantly, now the oldest child in the family, with two little brothers who adore you and whom you love and care for. What an amazing story you have to tell.

Maybe that’s why I missed your birthday last week. Maybe I can make up for it by showing the world what you’ve become. Happy 18th, Isaac.

I’m sure proud to be,

Your adoring Grandma.

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