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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Happy tears, hugs for surprise visitor

On a cool rainy Friday afternoon earlier this month, there was a knock on the front door. When my husband opened the door, expecting to find a package delivery at the entryway, he stood there a bit dumbstruck for a few seconds.

It took his brain a beat or two to acknowledge the person he saw standing in front of him, the person who looked remarkably like our son Carl, was in fact that very same son.

From the other room, I heard sounds of happy greetings. I rounded the corner and saw Bruce with his arms around someone. When he stepped back, there was Carl.

I am not normally rendered speechless, but I was then. I, too, had the short, delayed recognition moment, which was followed by very happy tears and more hugs.

After we all caught our collective breaths, Carl said he had wanted to surprise us with a visit. Boy, howdy, did he succeed in that.

As I wrote in this space two weeks ago, there are things I need in order not to miss my grown sons too much – mostly knowing where they live, from personal experience, and being able to visualize them in their space when I think of them.

Carl lives a continent and an ocean away – some 5,000 miles or so – and COVID-19 has restricted visiting, as it has for so many people everywhere. It’s been two years since I’ve been able to exchange great big bear hugs with him.

Happily, neither Bruce nor I have been diagnosed with a serious heart condition, so we were both still standing after the surprise reunion at the front door.

Carl had arranged with a friend to pick him up at the airport and deposit him at our home. He had taken all the appropriate and required COVID-19 tests for travel and had brought with him sets of rapid-read home tests (results in 15 minutes), which he continued to use during his initial days back in America.

Interestingly, those test kits are plentiful and inexpensive in Portugal, where they are available everywhere, can be purchased in unlimited amounts, cost less than $2 each and are often available free. I bought a two-pack home-test kit at a local pharmacy, where I was limited to one kit, and the cost was $24.

But back to the visit. This isn’t the first time our son has surprised us this way. Mostly, when he comes home from wherever he’s living in the world at the time, it’s all pre-arranged, and sometimes little trips to another state are pre-planned with us for his time home. I cook and freeze favorite meals in advance and do just about everything in advance I can think of, short of killing a fatted calf.

But a couple of decades ago, when he was a college student studying for a year in Beijing and taking a few side trips elsewhere in Asia, his surprise arrival happened the first time. Bruce was walking by the big front window one day and saw a young man walking across the lawn toward the house. Hmm, he thought, that person walks just like Carl does. By the time Carl got to the door, Bruce knew exactly who he was, even though our son’s hair had grown long and was quite blond from lots of sun exposure.

I was out doing errands at the time. When I did get home, Bruce suggested I go right into the living room. I was kind of annoyed. No, I wanted to kick my shoes off, hang up my coat and unpack my groceries. Bruce gently but uncharacteristically firmly insisted that a stop by the living room should come first.

So I grumpily marched into the living room, where I melted in tears at what I saw: my first-born seated on the couch. Smiling that little smile he has around the corner of his mouth when he’s pleased or amused. He stood to hug me, and maybe hold me up a little.

Back then, as now and with every other visit, we’ve settled immediately into the “Carl’s home” routine, even without the advance prep. As I write these words, Bruce is off doing some work, and Carl is hiking with friends on Mount Kit Carson. I’m getting ready to take a meal to a friend recovering from surgery and ensuring I don’t miss my deadline for this column at the newspaper.

How quickly the family expands and contracts, comfortably, and we reshape our days accordingly.

Talk about something to be thankful for at this seasonal time of Thanksgiving. I am thankful, indeed.

Would that all of life’s surprises were so welcome and joyful.


Correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached at

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