Company of Five

© Jay Harden


They styled themselves the Collins Five, a loyal yet spirited family, a family that offered me auxiliary membership as the wise, sometimes wacky, always wonderfully loved grandfather.

The eldest young one had a tousle of sandy blonde hair proudly uncombed that shown in the evening sun on certain days, the mark of an independent boy, truly American in his ways of gentle rebellion. And matched to that was a smile that broke suddenly without warning, especially when he observed or thought something uniquely funny to his ten-year-old mind, like grandfather with his T-shirt on backwards. He could positively double over with giggles, and was as full of life as any authentic human could be, yet his spirited energy balanced a deep kindness, flowing from his limber lankiness as easily as he breathed. It was unsurprising to the intuitive observer that his parents named him River.

But River was not the only spark in the house. He was surrounded by three lively women generating almost enough human electricity, I think, to do him and his patient father in.

Though born apart three years, the girls were inseparable, They were connivers of their own feminine adventures, ones that often waylaid their single-minded brother from one of his countless projects just hatched from a considered idea, like his homemade lightning rod in the front yard made from a broomstick, branches, scraps of rope, and a completely destroyed roll of aluminum foil yet to be missed by his mother.

The oldest girl was Maia, all of seven. She moved as freely as the air, her straight blond hair never still. Never was her flexible grace so apparent as when she played in the ocean’s edge. She became a part of the sea and romped in it untouched by time, only faintly aware of the humans around her. She and the sea knew each other. Maia came to her mother in a dream during pregnancy and simply announced her name. There was no negotiation about that, although she left her middle name open and available. This budding beauty neglected to mention in the dream – how could she know?– that Maia was also the name of Buddha’s mother, and one of the Seven Sisters in the Pleiades. Clearly, Maia had a mind of her own even then and it turned out to be an artistic one at that, perhaps with cosmic intentions.

Then there was the little one of four, the fireball of the family, so full of love and happiness as to be irresistible. Like all in the family, she had a trademark smile that simply changed the energy of life around her. Each tooth was another illumination. Her pretty and pliable face could demonstrate every known emotion, plus some original ones. Everyone else felt four when she was scurrying about and it was the most welcome of incurable infections. They named her Journey and, so far, it seemed her life was one continuous great adventure instigated by an irrepressible brightness of excessive endurance and astounding appetite, both fuels of her happiness. Her specialties were leaping hugs and kissing “fur,” both cherished rituals with me, her bearded grandfather.

When you consider such lively children, their mother, Melly, was ordinary. That is to say, she was just more of the same, only taller and wiser in a calmer, more experienced way. It was clear that much of those little apples came from this tree, and the tree itself still had its own growing to do. This made the house a regular frenzy of enthusiasm, living proof of the old adage that “dull people have immaculate homes.” It would be overly optimistic and downright dishonest to say that cleaning such a house was systematic and organized. That’s just too hopeful. Rather it was done with one-at-a-time clearings that made room for the next imminent happening.

Ruling over all the cheerful chaos was Jason, the father, the most patient and tolerate hero any family could deserve. He wisely worked hard away from home to release his own considerable energies, but when he returned, he was ready to be the ringleader of his irrepressible, talented crew. He played games with a single-minded mastery, teaching without speaking the values of persistence and common sense. He could fix anything and admit any mistake. He genuinely liked people, and knew how to make strangers comfortable. He was the calm at home when the water got too turbulent, when the action got too dramatic. And he knew how to juggle.

The meaning of my musings about a family not even my own is just this. They seem to me to be a rarity in these fast, superficial times. They enjoy each other’s company more than escaping to be alone, more than playing with sophisticated diversions, more than scheduled activities at some other location.  They nurture the solid seeds of sanity and security that make living a great satisfaction. And I appreciate that reminder every time I am with them. I learn again that money and success are misguided goals, that when you understand and live the process of human connection, all that really matters is already yours.

15 Jan 2007

O’Fallon, Missouri