The tiniest joy

Feeling nostalgic. And thankful. My wife, S.B., and I celebrate our 10-year anniversary this week. It’s got me thinking of many things. How we met, our ups and downs, how well we work together, and how far we’ve come.

For this week’s column, I’m taking a step back. To our time living near Detroit, away from our hometown of Alpena with no support system. It was just US. Doing our best to make it through the day-by-day without losing sight of the beauty of our life and how much we meant to each other. We were always tired, but happy, and driven.

I was working as a Technical Editor for the American Concrete Institute and my wife was making one of the biggest sacrifices of all–being a stay-at-home-mom. In short, this is a snippet of our life then. Nothing special. No great lessons to be learned. But I like to think it’s the culmination of these experiences that move us forward to becoming better, and because of that they must be shared.

The Tiniest Joy

My daughter cut her first tooth today. It is her secret. She does not willingly show it. But it is there. A small white line through the gum. I never imagined it would be so important. So significant. That one day, I’d be at work sitting in my blue-gray cubicle editing words of people smarter than I’ll ever be, and my wife would send me a text message.

“Jovi got a tooth!”

And I would feel only pure joy. Heavy warmth deep in my gut rising up, and that it would be so strong it would nearly choke me. But that’s how it was. How it came. How it is and always will be.

My daughter’s little tooth carried me through the day.

I know it is only a tooth. That millions of kids get them and lose them, and that all of us have them. I know it is nothing. But by God, it is something. And I’m happy. Happy because she is my little girl with big blue eyes and a sunny disposition, and happy because every time I look at her I am thankful for love and direction and trial and error and the great big hands that work magic behind the scenes to help along this path. And I’m also happy because Monday was grand with light and warmth, and I got up early and exercised and wrote a little and my wife was up early and saw me off to work with pancakes and bacon, fresh coffee, and a hug.

It was a good day. A simple, good day. I worked. Came home. We ate together. Took a two-mile walk, then played basketball. We sat on the porch and fed pieces of bread to the mallards that keep coming around at 7:08 every evening. And the day stayed strong and true even as I smelled the death.

I looked to S.B.

“I smell it,” she said.

I thought maybe it was something under the porch. Or rotting sparrow eggs in the gutters. Or that a raccoon had been hit and was dead in the tall grass on the other side of the road.

“Over there,” S.B. said to me, as she handed bread to Julian and bounced Jovi on her knee. She nodded to a tuft of grass near the cedar bush only three feet away.

“Must have flown into the window,” I said.

It was a blackbird. A broken neck. Its feathers still shimmering. All black-blue-and green in the dying daylight.

Julian threw bread at the ducks. Jovi pierced the sky with her big blue eyes. S.B. looked sad but smiled anyway and encouraged Julian to keep feeding the ducks as she kissed Jovi’s cheeks.

I plucked a leaf from the Hosta plant and used it like a tissue to pick the dead bird from the grass and made the trip to the mulch pile like I’ve done all the other times.

A baby blue jay found in the driveway.

A dead mouse in the garage.

A dead sparrow by the cottonwood.

A bat in the flower bed.

A garter snake flattened on the road.

And a chipmunk that was not yet dead, but that I had to put out of its misery because the cat had cut it badly and tore off a leg.

Our mulch pile is rich with dark soil that grows worms so big that if you used them for fishing, you wouldn’t need a hook. Such a worm would surely grab the fish and wrestle it in. I imagine if we planted a garden in that soil our vegetables would be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

But I don’t want to be famous for having the biggest cucumber. Or pumpkin. Or beanstalk. I just want to write stories. Love my wife. My kids. And believe that there is nothing better than the tiniest joy.

Like my daughter’s secret. A little white line pushing its way through the gum. So important, so significant, that it lifts and carries me through the day.

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KJ Stevens – husband, daddy, writer – lives in Alpena. His Stories, Observations and Wonderings will appear the second Thursday of each month in The Alpena News. K.J. can be reached at kj.stevens@gmail.com. Read him here the second Thursday of each month.