by Hugh Gilmore
Years ago my mother-in-law kindly agreed to take our 6-year-old son Andrew for the weekend, so Janet and I could go on retreat for the first time. Not the kind you’re thinking, but the kind where the hotel has heart-shaped beds and bathtubs.
Going to one of those corny Poconos places seemed like a fun idea, so we booked a room. We decided to pack scented candles and a Luther Vandross tape (and a big jar of Metamucil).
We started picturing ourselves driving along those small, winding upstate highways, climbing ever higher and farther from the worries and cares of home. Boy, were we going to have fun, singing together, holding hands, renewing our vows. What a great time of year to take a drive too. Late June, sunny, but not too warm. Get me out on the highways of America – I’ve been tied down by parenthood long enough. Drive, she said!
Drive. Hmmmm. Drive. In a car. A car. Car maybe go boom against another car? Car not go anymore. Car is crashed. No more mommy. No more daddy. What ever shall happen to baby?
Oh my gosh. I had to tell myself: “Don’t think about such things. We’re just going away to the Poconos. It’s not Afghanistan, for goodness sake. It’s the Poconos!”
What could be safer than the Poconos?
Such clear-headedness bought me about five worry-free minutes. Then the evil thoughts would return. And return again. Until, together, Jan and I agreed, we could not go away with clear consciences knowing the possibility we might … here’s the euphemistic cliché: “if anything ever happened to us.” Meaning: if we both got killed and our disabled son was orphaned. What would happen? We had left no instructions.
Of course, we knew that whatever assets we had would be inherited by him, but who would put him to bed at night and get him up in the morning? Dress him? Feed him? Just as important: guide him. Educate him.
What a burden we’d be imposing on our families. And suppose Janet’s family and my family didn’t agree on certain key things. What then? There was only one way we could get in our hot little gray Toyota Tercel and blast through those romantic Poconovian hills: we needed to draw up a will.
You’re probably thinking, “How dumb are these Gilmore people?” Everyone has a will. But that’s not true. Everyone wants a will. Everyone intends to make a will. But very few people actually do make themselves take time out and draw one up. Even people with young children. People with young children don’t have time to Q-tip one ear, let alone sit down with a lawyer and draw up a will.
So, in the days before leaving for the heart-shaped bed, instead of shopping for new plaid boxer shorts for the lad, or a new peignoir for milady, we spent our time getting our facts and figures together and writing out the special provisions of our will. And then, on the day before we left, we sat in the lawyer’s office and finalized the deal.
I mean that literally, the day before. And Janet was crying at the thought of poor little Boo-Boo wandering the earth without his mother. And Hugh was tight-lipped and narrow-eyed at the same prospect, and also wondering if he’d thought of everything. (Even after signing the will, one has the feeling he’s left the water running somewhere back home.)
It’s not easy to talk about your own death and accept that it’s not a hypothetical. With most of us (I do hope I mean “us.”), this major inconvenience will happen later, much later. If it should happen tomorrow, so be it. “That’s just a chance I’ll have to take.” But what about the kiddos? Are they set?
Unpleasant as the process was, we signed the papers, shook hands all around, and left the lawyer’s office with lighter spirits. The weeks after my mother-in-law had offered us this little vacation had been heavy with worries about our child’s vulnerability. Now, at least, there was a plan for his care. We were free. There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee and a croissant to help get you over the after-the-lawyer-visit-blues.
Now you’re wondering, after all that build-up, if we’ve arrived at the spicy part.
Yes, we have. We went off to the Poconos lovers retreat. The room was musty. We asked for another room, That too was musty. What the heck. We looked at the heart-shaped bed. We were tired after a week of running around. Mommy and Daddy take nap? Look, Mommy, look: Mirrors on ceilings. Daddy see Mommy. Mommy see Daddy. Yoo hoo.
Later: Mommy bump into swinging chair at night, hurt head. Daddy pick two heart-shaped roaches from heart-shaped tub. Mommy prefer shower. Morning comes: Daddy call desk, tell procurer M & D must leave for emergency.
Which we did, driving all the heck over the Poconos and stopping where we wanted to stop and eating when we wanted to eat. And we lived happily ever after and got home by 5 p.m.Sunday night so we could eat dinner at grandmom’s house with baby Boo-Boo, new owner of a lifetime contract.
P.S. We’ve updated the will, of course. Our recent troubles in Florida (see “A trip through the surreal to see the Salvador Dali Museum,” CHL, April 17), have prompted us to update again. We saw our lawyer last week and are in the process of rewriting again. The former Baby Boo-Boo is now 26-year-old Andrew. His skills, capacities and needs have changed considerably.
Hugh Gilmore is the author of “Scenes from a Bookshop,” a series of stories from his bookshop days in Chestnut Hill. It’s available on Amazon.com in paperback and eBook formats. And also available through retail bookstores everywhere.