I’ve been known to make mistakes. I’ve been known to be callous and self-centered. I messed up so solidly one time, that it became a historical moment constantly recalled as proof of how selfish I could be and selfish once, maybe selfish this time as well. It ended all rebuttal. It became the grand slam, walk-off game winner in any “discussion” my wife, Diana, and I would have. I might gain a logical advantage, gathering points, shifting justice and righteousness in my favor when, WHAM!, Remember Chattanooga? Remember what you did in Chattanooga? K-O. fight over. A 65 yard field goal in a blinding rain storm for the win. A screaming shot to the upper right corner of the goal in injury time for the cup. Diana, justice, deep Jovian justice, solidly in her corner, stares steadily straight at me, a historical victim of a horrible injustice and I am the perpetrator. Nothing more can be said.
What was my crime? Misguided self interest. My family, Diana and the kids, and my Mom, my Dad, and my siblings were in Tennessee on vacation. We were staying in Crossville at a golf resort. One outing we had planned was a trip to Chattanooga to see the Tennessee Aquarium. We were excited. The Aquarium was a local wonder perched on the banks of the Tennessee River. It had been designed to tell the River’s story from its birth in the Appalachian Mountains to its mouth. It was being heralded as a modern wonder of the world. No one was more excited to go than Diana. She loves aquariums.
On our way down from the Cumberland Plateau toward Chattanooga, Casi, still a baby though not an infant, developed some serious abdominal discomfort. She began to wail. A baby crying is one thing, a burden a collected family tolerates. The baby is soothed and settled and no one is unsettled or anxious. Life rolls on. But Casi was not crying, she was wailing and a wailing baby is a mother’s special burden and for Diana, a nurse, the search for the key to Casi’s discomfort began in earnest. Casi’s belly was hard and distended. One of her siblings, perhaps feeling remorse, thought she may have seen Casi swallow some chewing gum. Who gave the baby gum? No confessions but some downcast eyes by the siblings.
Diana tried everything. She tried patting, soothing, nursing, burping, distracting. Casi was passed around the car, but nothing helped. She has always been a lung-y child so her volume was undeniable in the enclosed space. Diana, always a nurse, had brought a traveling first aid kit and in that kit was some simethicone, a medicine that soothes gastric distress. Once the simethicone kicked in, Casi relaxed, her tummy softened and, exhausted she fell asleep as we pulled into the Aquarium parking lot.
Now for my terrible deed. We were there to see the Aquarium. We had driven a long way to get there. Surely we should go ahead and see it, right? Diana wanted to see it most of all, remember? The decision was that the family would go ahead and go, but, Diana would stay with Casi and not go. I don’t remember the logical steps that created that decision, but I bet Diana does. I remember her sitting under some trees outside of the Aquarium with the stroller, the first aid kit, and the diaper bag watching the rest of us walk through the Aquarium doors. It’s a big, interesting, entertaining aquarium. It takes a long time to view it all. We were gone quite a while. When we came out again, a chill had fallen on the evening. The chill was for me and me alone.
Well deserved, you might say. I’ll claim conflicting obligations, but that will not soften the keen edge of the dagger of my complicity in abandoning Diana to an afternoon of solitary sick-baby sitting. Diana, like Mary, treasured these moments and pondered them in her heart.
Years later, I determined to make amends. Casi, now a high schooler, would attend a week at Emory University at a medical explorers camp. She was excited to get to go and Diana and I would spend the week in the Tennessee mountains. I was struck, while studying the map for our trip, that between Atlanta, where we would drop Casi at Emory University, and the Cades Cove side of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, near where we were to stay, lay Chattanooga. It would just take us a little way off a more direct path and what’s a few hours out of the way when one can right a tremendous, festering wrong?
When Diana and I had first met, I borrowed a pack of crayons from her, one of those double-tiered Crayola boxes with the built in sharpener on the side. I wanted to finish a picture I had been coloring for her…for her! She reluctantly gave me her crayons. The box was new. The crayons, in all their new crayon glory standing sharply pointed and erect in their rows. Her caution to me was to make sure I did not break her crayons. It was a pet peeve of hers.
I took the crayons home and in my solitary devotion to the drawing I was making for her…for her!, I destroyed her crayons. Her neat, tidy box of crayon soldiers, lay in slaughtered heaps on my desk top. I was in deep trouble. I frantically searched for a way to both save the situation and endear myself to her. I woke up the next morning in the warm, satisfying light of divine inspiration. I gathered her cruelly mangled crayons together and took them to the local florist. I enlisted the florist to dye mums in each crushed crayon’s color. The florist loved the challenge and the resuling bouquet had the effect of opening a Crayola box but with each crayon a blossom. When I returned a new box of crayons to Diana later that day and explained I had broken, ham-fistedly, her crayons, she began a fuss and stopped mid wind-up when I produced the bouquet. She has said on more than one occasion that this was the act that won her over.
When I told her my plan for the Tennessee trip, I saw that old gleam in her eyes and I became hopeful of righting my old wrong. As the time for the trip came closer our spirits rose. Casi was excited to go to Emory; became more excited to go to the Varsity for chili-dogs, and Diana and I all but threw Casi out of the car at Emory so we could get to Chattanooga.
Chattanooga had magnificently transformed itself from our first trip there when Casi was a baby. The downtown was superbly developed, beautiful, walker friendly, a gorgeous city. We checked into our hotel and planned our next day.
The Aquarium had grown to two buildings with so much to see, we had to break for lunch between buildings. Diana was transformed to an eager child, spending time wondering at each exhibit, transfixed before the massive tanks and the subtle artistry of the designs. Her eagerness and excitement had that old gleam lighting her eyes. We spent the whole day in the Aquarium and then sat outside at a craft brewery reliving the day and growing contentedly tired and settling into a warm afterglow. Our waiter was a young student and his enthusiasm for the food and drink offerings was a perfect complement to how we were feeling. When a rain storm broke on the outside service area, he moved us under an awning, and, soaked to the skin, continued to wait on us, laughing through the whole experience. The rain was really coming down by the time we left and lightning was building in the distance. We tipped our waiter like we were old school millionaires, scrambled to our car and headed to our hotel where we stayed up late in our top floor room, curtains thrown back, watching a mind-numbing lightning and wind storm wash away the past and replace it with a new, magnificent memory. Chattanooga no longer is the name that recalls my self-centered, sinful nature. Now Chattanooga ranks with the crayon bouquet as a top reason Diana keeps me around.