In the darkness of Room 318, my husband’s gravely snore could be heard over the rattle of the air conditioner. Normally unable to sleep with any kind of racket, I was out like the proverbial light, my mouth agape from the utter exhaustion that comes with moving.
Middle-age didn’t help either.
Our son, draped over the makeshift bed we created for him out of hotel chair cushions and extra blankets, tinkered on his laptop, chatting with Facebook friends about the new school he will enter in the fall.
In an identical room one floor above, silently laid my mother — who had come to help us move in to our assigned base house — nestled tightly between our two daughters.
“Grammy?” our youngest whispered in the darkness.
“Hu, wha?” my mother came to, her tired eyes at half-mast.
“I don’t wanna move here.”
“Oh, Sweetie,” my mother tried to regain lucidity, “I know you’re going to miss your sunny house in Florida, but you’ll love all the seasons in Rhode Island. Now, try to get some slee . . .”
“Well, I’m OK with that. It’s just that . . .”
“I totally understand, Lilly — snow gets me down sometimes too, especially during February and March. And when it snows on Easter – I have half a mind to catch the next Greyhound bus to the Bahamas. And another thing . . . “
“No, Grammy, I . . .”
“But think of all the sled riding you’re going to do!” my mother offered, attempting to recover from her self-absorbed rant.
“I’m not talking about that, I . . .”
“Oh, I get it now, you’re worried about your new school being too hard.”
“Well, no, I’m kind of afraid of . . .”
“The dress code?”
“Not . . .”
“No . . .”
“GRAMMY! Listen to me!” Lilly blurted in a hybrid whisper-scream so as to not wake her older sister.
“I’m sorry, Sweetie, what are you afraid of? Grammy’s all ears.”
In the silence, Lilly tried to pinpoint her feelings about going to private school for the first time, living in a New England resort community, and going from flip-flops and hush puppies to Topsiders and lobster.
“I’m scared, because all the people here are rich,” she finally admitted, “and we’re not.”
Surprised by Lilly’s admission and exaggerated perception of reality, my mother scanned the recesses of her half-conscious mind for an appropriate response.
“Don’t be so materialistic, Lilly,” her older sister, Anna, suddenly blurted from the opposite side of the bed.
Grammy chuckled at the irony that Anna, who had been obsessed with making money for shopping since she went door to door selling her old baby dolls in the first grade, would admonish her sister for concerning herself with money.
“It’s not funny, Grammy,” Lilly pouted, feeling embarrassed and ganged-up on.
“Oh, Lilly,” Grammy pulled her closer, stroked the soft butterscotch hair away from her face, and allowed the words to flow without aforethought.
“You’re right. Your Dad doesn’t make tons of money — he chose to serve his country even if it meant taking a lower salary than he could make outside of the military. And your mom put aside her career as an attorney to follow him and raise you kids. No, your family doesn’t have a lot of money like some of the folks in this town.”
“But you know what?” she waited for replies from the pillows flanking her own head.
“What?” the sisters said in hushed unison.
“’Rich’ people might have big bank accounts and vacation homes in the Caymans, but those possessions aren’t really worth much in the whole grand scheme of things. What matters more is the value of your life experiences. Living all over the world, courage, patriotism, sacrifice, honor, camaraderie, respect, service – that’s the stuff that money can’t buy.”
Before Mr. Sandman lulled them all back to Lala Land, Grammy kissed her granddaughters on the head and eked out one final edict: “Lilly, you’re a military kid – hold your head up high, because you’re the richest girl in town.”