Carmen and Jodie were our very first neighbors. Our Fred and Ethel. We were the fabulous four, living the carefree lives of newlyweds, long before the days of the mortgage, the diaper bag, the limited vacation days.
Jodie came to visit last week, and she brought with her stories of Robb. She brought stories from a life stage many don't know - the man I married, back when I married him. He laughed more in those days.
"Let me tell you a story about your daddy," Jodie told the boys at bedtime. We sat across from each other on the bedroom floor, each with a boy in our laps.
"I was in trouble --"
"What kind of trouble were you in?" (Stories are perpetual interruptions at our house. You have to forge ahead and stick with the outline in your head.)
"Well, I guess I was more afraid than I was in trouble. My husband was gone for a few days, and I was home alone, and all of a sudden, someone started banging on the door. They were pounding and banging - and I was so afraid! So I picked up the phone, and I called your mom and dad."
It's true. She did. I remember it well. I answered the phone next to the bed, and I heard her panicked voice. "Please send Robb. There's someone... there's someone pounding... please send Robb."
"Okay, Jode. He's on his way." And it's true. He was. With a baseball bat in hand.
The part that doesn't usually make the final cut in this story is that I tried to go with him. I just wanted to watch, is all. We argued as he threw on his clothes and headed for the door; I placed before him a distraction at a most unnecessary time.
"Tricia, stay here." He raised his finger in emphasis, which he almost never, ever did. "I don't know what's happening out there, and I can't take care of her if I don't know you're safe. Please. Just stay here."
He raced to Jodie's place, ready to raise hell for anyone who dared jeopardize the safety of his friend. Or worse, his friend's wife.
"Your daddy came rushing to my house, and he found a bunch of teenagers pounding on my door. They were looking for a different apartment - they were looking for a party. So he yelled at them and scared them away, and he made sure I was safe before he went home."
(The baseball bat was largely for effect.)
The boys eyes lit up. They are so hungry for stories of Robb, stories they haven't heard, stories from before they were born.
"Boys," I said, "Doesn't that just sound like something daddy would do?"
They nodded with that proud smile that says, "That's my dad."
Jodie said, "Your dad always made sure everything was okay. Always."
Enamored with Jodie, her gifts, her storytelling, and her patience, the boys drew pictures for her. Tyler colored a heart and draped it under a rainbow. Tucker, rarely my artist, drew an elaborate mural.
"Jodie, this is you, and this is me, and this is Tyler. And we are playing tag. And this is my daddy - see? He's holding up that tree that's about to fall on us. He is making sure we are all safe."
There are four leggy sketches, one with red hair and his arms spread wide. True to Tucker's caption, he is holding up a tree that towers and threatens everyone else in the picture. He's keeping them safe, while they play unaware.
That's right, Tuck. That's your dad.