My daughter finally came home last weekend. She's a college freshman and she's been gone since August.
It was Thursday night and I was at Kinnett Stadium watching a football game. Actually, it was halftime and I'd just watched the Hawk mixing it up with the Blue Devil. Police were questioning the mascots, and the crowd was buzzing.
That's when I turned around and saw Cary standing at the ticket gate, where her ride, a UGA student from Columbus, had just dropped her off.
I knew she was coming home, of course, but I was still surprised to see her. She looked different but she also looked the same. It was like she'd been gone forever but also like she'd never left.
Maybe that doesn't make sense. It was a little confusing.
Inside the gate, Cary was swarmed by students a grade or two below her. They wanted to ask her about college life, but she told them she hadn't even talked to her dad yet.
I'd never heard that one before.
She ran over and gave me a big hug. Even then I didn't feel old enough to have a child in college.
Surely it was not so long ago when I was a college freshman coming home after three months in Nashville. I was happy, even though I was still finding my way, about being in a new place with new friends and something of a new life.
But I wanted to go back for a few days where things were just as I remembered them. The same solid folks, the same good food and the same warm bed. My dog and my backyard and even my siblings.
I don't know if Cary felt these things, but she seemed glad to be home.
The next day, she met me downtown for lunch and we ate fried chicken at Minnie's.
That night was Halloween and we passed out candy to little kids and then watched a Wes Anderson movie. This time it was "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," which she declared a classic but fell asleep before it was over.
On Saturday morning, she walked the dog with her mother and me, and then the whole family sat down to a big breakfast. I cooked eggs to order: two over easy, one over hard, one sunny side up and two omelets with cheese.
In the early afternoon, Cary visited friends, and then went shopping with her mom. Later the boys and I moved the TV out to the screened porch so we could enjoy the cool November weather and watch the Bulldogs lose a stunner to the Gators.
Cary didn't really seem to mind. Cheering on the Dawgs is more of a social event to her, and losing doesn't bother her much. She was, after all, raised a Vanderbilt fan.
That night I grilled bratwurst outdoors and Bess fried schnitzel inside, and we had a late Oktoberfest out on the porch. It was now downright cold, but we got blankets and stayed out there watching games.
We got an extra hour of sleep with daylight-saving time. We went to church and came home and ate Sunday dinner.
And then Cary's ride appeared and she was gone.
I watched her leave, and I thought that nothing in this world beats having all of your children under one roof.
My mother used to say that.
Now I know what she meant.