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Column: The daughterless summer

I found some old notes on a column I should have written many years ago, when The Young Girls were 16, 14, and 12. The notes are about a time - that summer - when all three were gone at once.

Two cars sat idle in the yard, an abrupt change from having to invent new algebraic algorithms to plot out which cars went: to the dentist for braces; shopping to any town at least a hundred miles away (anything closer wasn't cool); to school activities (three girls, nine activities); to piano lessons (just exactly why they couldn't all be at once still frustrates me mathematically); and underwear shopping (nope, don't know anything about this, except not to raise any objections).

Conversation between The Old Girl and I had to be reinvented, without three daughter-things who always wanted our attention and got it, from the time they were born, by either hollering or throwing up.

The washing machine in the basement, General Electric, ceased complaining for the first time in 16 years, and considered this, he said, to be just like a vacation.

"Did you pay someone to take them away?" he asked me, although his tone said quite clearly that he knew we didn't have enough money to make that happen.

We found that the quart of milk in the refrigerator seemed to rival the loaves of plenty on the shores of Galilee in that it never went empty. It was a miracle. A quart of milk, once brought into this house, never makes it past breakfast.

It was a minor miracle: The cap on the toothpaste was on the toothpaste each evening and morning.

Another minor miracle: No one finished their art project for school with my toothbrush while I was at work.

We had several phone calls from people who seemed dumbstruck when their call actually went through to us on the first try. They stuttered and stumbled and obviously weren't ready to talk quite then. They often had to hang up and call back, after having gotten more prepared.

All the while The Young Girls were gone, The Old Girl and I never had to wave at one another when we met on the highways and byways of these two counties as we made our many ferry trips with The Young Girls, schlepping them hither and yon to band, track, shopping, to school, back from school, back to school, to babysitting, and so forth.

Nothing in the house changes. It looks the same when we come home in the evening as it does when we leave in the morning. There are no multiple-room Monopoly game enduros; no major art projects that became permanent art fixtures; no dirty floors (about which I felt pretty bad; I'd been blaming the dog all this time); and finally, there is a bathroom we can get into.

Finally, we understood why 14, who was more acutely tuned in to relationships, being she was the middle child, was reluctant to leave. We thought it was fear of homesickness, when in fact, she knew what might happen when we rediscovered lives of our own. She knew we might enjoy their absence just a little too much, become addicted to it, like a new drug, maybe even forget to go get them and instead do something crazy, like rent out their rooms.

The poor thing. When she comes home, I'm going to reassure her that we would never do such a thing.

Probably. No. Really. Is your room clean?