We spent a joyous and festive weekend with family a couple days ago, celebrating the graduation from college of my niece.  It was sunny and hot- just what you might expect from an August day in North Carolina -but with a cool, stiff breeze that reminded us it was, in fact, early May.  We found a shady spot in the field from which to watch commencement and relished in her achievement and imagined the possibilities that lay before her, all the while recalling the times in our own lives that held such promise.

But the breeze blew such heady thoughts away, thankfully, and other distractions appeared, primarily in the form of my niece’s nearly two year old daughter, Maddie.  (Yes, that is correct:  I am a GREAT uncle.)  She is a joyful, curious little creature, seemingly intent on squeezing all the happiness she can out of each moment, and dragging we ‘dults along with her.  Her happiness was unwavering, even when her balloon took to the sky.  All the while, I welcomed the opportunity to lay in the grass making faces at her and chasing her ’round with my camera.

©Jeff S. Saxman

At the close of the ceremony, Maddie was allowed to run to her mom’s arms and accompany her on her walk out.  They filed down to the bell tower where it is tradition for the graduates to ring the bell, and Maddie did a wonderful job assisting her mother.  I hope to remember that moment a number of years from now when she is wearing her own graduation gown.

©Jeff S. Saxman

The balance of the weekend was filled with good food (lots of cake!), games, and time spent with family and friends around a campfire, and the following day, we made our way home.

Upon our return, we learned that a dear friend, the most kind and generous man I have ever known, had passed away over the weekend.  He and his wife were our neighbors after the purchase of our first home.  Betty and I never could have imagined the luck we had, moving next to the Graham’s (“spelled like the cracker”), young and naive with a nine month old baby.  For the next 15 years, we enjoyed the comfort of knowing that right next door was a couple that would have done anything for our boys and us at any time of day.  They quickly became wonderful friends and like grandparents to our boys.

No matter how prepared you may be, it is a shock, and I am deeply saddened by his passing.  But, I will always carry with me his kindness and generosity;  and I will think of the impact he has had on my life, particularly when experiencing moments of joy and promise as I did with my family this weekend.  My tribute to you, Skip, is to try to carry on your ways and impact the lives of others a small portion of the amount you have impacted my family and me.  You will be missed, Skip!

And, Maddie, you go, girl!

Off and running! ©Jeff S. Saxman