Back in our Navy days, it was always a bit of a challenge to keep the kids from getting too upset when Eric would go out to sea. Having Daddy leave was tough, especially when they were so little that you couldn’t explain why there was no gruff voice, no gentle wrestling matches, no baby naps against a daddy chest.
Once, when Maggie was about 2 years old, we drove Daddy to the ship one evening. He was leaving for a week or so — not long at all, but try to explain that to a toddler. All she knew is that when she woke up the next morning, Daddy wasn’t there and Mommy was trying hard to be cheerful.
To keep her occupied, she and I put in a busy day doing her favorite things. We lived in Norfolk, Va. at the time, so we went to feed bread crusts to the gulls on Willoughby Spit, a little bay by our apartments building. We matched up socks (she loved picking out the colors, I have no idea why) and we went to Chick-Fil-A for supper. By the time we got home, she was a bit overtired and ready to go to bed. But she wanted a pickle first.
Maggie loved pickles when she was little. I used to give them to her to gnaw of when she was teething. The cold felt good on her gums and she loved the flavor. As she hit toddler stage, she loved the great big ones. I always kept a jar of pickles in the house to ward off tantrums. Not that she was a tantrumy kid. As a matter of fact, she had her little tantrum on the very night I’m talking about.
She was a bit sleepy and mumbled a bit about wanting Daddy, which made me miss him just as much.
“Sorry, baby. Daddy’s gone. How about a pickle?” I murmured, snuggling her close.
“Pico,” she agreed.
There was a new jar, as yet unopened, in the fridge. I pulled it out and gave the cover a twist. Nothing. I worked a bit harder at it. Nothing. Under the censuring eye of my 2-year-old daughter, I ran the top of the jar under hot water, then twisted. Nothing.
I tried every jar opening trick I could think of, with no results. Maggie was sniffling on the floor, mumbling, “pico” and waiting for results. Pretty soon the sniffling became those great big alligator tears.
We lived in a building with four apartments, so I opened the door and walked across the hall to knock on the neighbor’s door, holding my jar of pickles and trailed by the kid.
Joyce opened the door. I explained. She twisted. Nothing. She banged. Nothing.
And her husband was out to sea also. Ah, Navy towns.
Joyce picked up Maggie, I carried the jar and we all headed downstairs to Lori’s apartment.
Joyce explained while I tried to hush Maggie, who was crying quietly by this time.
Lori twisted. She tugged. She held the jar while Joyce twisted the top. Nothing.
And her husband was out to sea also. Crap.
The four of us trailed across the hall downstairs to Pat’s apartment. By now, Maggie was wailing, “pico, pico” and could not be comforted.
Guess whose husband was out to sea? Yep, Pat’s husband.
Here we were, four very determined women ranging in ages from 20 to 40 and we could not for the life of us open that darn jar. We tried every jar opening technique in the book.
I had laid a sobbing Maggie down on Pat’s couch while us four grown-ups conferred and made pickle jar opening attempts. The whispered swearing between the women was impressive, and at one point a particularly impressive string of words made me glance over at the baby to see if I was scarring her for life.
She was sleeping like a little log.
We all stopped and stared at her, then without a word, Lori grabbed the pickle jar, I scooped up Maggie and we headed upstairs to put her to bed. As Lori left, she set the pickle jar down on the kitchen counter.
The next morning, I was up early. I never slept well when Eric was gone. Still don’t.
I wandered into the kitchen to make coffee and noticed the jar of pickles sitting on the counter. Barely awake, I picked it up and gave the top a gentle twist.
And the darned thing popped right off.