The grandchildren walked in as if they lived there. First came Kumar, the boy from Calcutta, followed by Tomas, the boy from Rio, and last came Marshmallow, the girl Thalassa conceived during her final year of med school.
With the uncanny sense that children possess for finding the play things, the three young ones descended the basement stairs into the spare rooms which Cinnamon had filled with the doll houses, toy chests, and picture books from her children’s childhood. She and Jacques lugged them all the way down from the attic and set them up in the basement during the days of preparation for the family’s visit.
Jacques had directed the placement of the toys. “Don’t put the doll house in the corner!” he said. “It is too dark. The dolls will grow sad. Put the toy box there, beside the desk. Under the desk is the soldiers’ fortress, you know.”
On the morning of Thalassa and her children’s arrival, Jacques and the rest of the light-stringing team stopped by to welcome them. It had been years since they’d seen Thalassa and Marshmallow, and they had never even met the two boys.
“The world traveler returns!” said Bjorn.
“The doctor who cures the world!” said Joaquin.
“My high school crush,” said Sergio, under his breath.
When the neighbors left, Cinnamon gave her daughter the welcome that had been growing in her heart for years.
“Such a miracle,” she whispered. Thalassa felt so tiny in her arms, but she was strong with the resilience that comes from seeing the worst life can bring and still showing up the next day, for whatever might follow. Cinnamon didn’t know how she did it.
When Stellar came in from his rambles along the beach, he pulled his sister into the tightest embrace.
Cinnamon replayed scenes of her two children–making forts on the beach, building driftwood rafts to launch into the bay, rescuing storm-fallen nestlings, sharing secrets, and hatching plans. It had been years since they’d been together, not since Steve’s funeral. But now it seemed like they’d never been apart.
While her children caught up with each other, Cinnamon headed to the basement to become acquainted with her grandchildren.
Jacques was there already, playing with Tomas.
“Are you my grannie?” Tomas asked. “I’ve been waiting to meet your for five years!”
“For five years?” Cinnamon replied. “That long?”
“That long!” he said. “That’s how long I’ve known about you, since I was just a little guy and Ma came to fetch me. She said, her ma was a funny lady with big stories who lived on an island, and I knew you were really a fairy godmother grandmother, and so of course I wanted to meet you! But of course we had to wait because we were in Rio, and then we were in Calcutta, and then we went to Cairo, and then we went to Belgium, and we thought you might come to see us in Belgium, but you never did, so now we had to come here!”
It hadn’t been that long, of course. It had only been three. But for a young child who’d seen so much and traveled so far, Cinnamon suspected that time took on a different sense. Her heart ached that she was only now meeting this small boy, and her heart ached more that he had suffered so much when he was a tiny thing, and her heart ached more–with happiness and gratitude–that her daughter had found him in the orphanage in Rio and had adopted him. She couldn’t speak for a moment, with the fullness that clutched her chest. So she closed her eyes and breathed.
She had three young persons to get to know, each with their own histories, dreams, wishes, sorrows. It might take more than a holiday to get to know each one. But she loved them all, fiercely, already.
Kumar had ventured upstairs in search of cookies and discovered his uncle instead. He’d heard that his grandmother was called Cinnamon because she made the best oatmeal cinnamon cookies, and Kumar loved cinnamon. But before he found the cookies, he found a man that smelled like salt spray and pine who called his name, knelt down on his knees, and wrapped him into the biggest hug.
“You must be Uncle Stellar!” said Kumar. “I know all about you! You’re the one who saves the birds that fall out of the nests! And you sail on logs across the bay!”
Before Stellar could answer that yes, he was that one, Marshmallow bounded up the stairs, calling out “Uncle Stellar!” at the top of her lungs.
She remembered her uncle from when she was a teeny girl, and her mother had kept the memories alive through stories.
“Why, I’d recognize you anywhere!” Stellar said.
“Really?” Marshmallow asked.
“Of course!” replied her uncle. “Once a Marshmallow, always a Marshmallow!”