Bailey’s Big Adventure

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Written by Leslie Criss

When my niece was 7, I took her on a planned and promised trip to New York City. We extended an invitation to Bailey’s mother and godmother, and they accepted.

Our to-do list for our week in the city was long, and we set out our first day there to turn the to-dos into dones. During our week, we had tickets to a Broadway musical; we ate family-style Italian at Carmine’s, and, at Carnegie Deli, we had pickles and cheesecake — but not at the same time.

There was a carriage ride in Central Park, a Ferris wheel ride in the Times Square Toys ‘R’ Us and a long walk to FAO Schwarz. Bailey ice skated at Rockefeller Center while her old people watched from nearby. Later, I joined my niece as we each created a plush pal at a Build-A-Bear workshop.

Like most tourists, we boarded a bus and buzzed around the city to get our bearings. And we reserved two days for exploring a couple of New York’s treasures: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.

In her Montessori preschool years, Bailey proudly proclaimed possibilities for her future profession. She wanted to be a paleontologist or an artist. So, imagine her excitement at seeing the original work of some of the world’s greatest artists.

Somewhere there’s a photograph I snapped that long-ago day of my backpack-burdened niece standing and gazing up at a painting gigantic in size — compared to her 7-year-old self. I doubt the photo would garner praise for its technical execution — I saw it and snapped it while the opportunity existed. But among the thousands of Bailey photos taken so far during her time on the planet, it remains one of my favorites.

Our art appreciation hours were quietly exciting as I recall, but time spent among the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History? Not so much. A fascinated Bailey bounced about up on the fourth floor, hollering for her adults to keep up and pay attention to the hundreds of dinosaur fossils.

There’s another photo we can’t locate, my sister nor I, from that day. We were walking through an exhibit of all things Egyptian when Bailey’s excitement peaked. She’d spotted a sarcophagus and just as her mama snapped a photo, two things happened. My sister mumbled, “I can’t believe I am taking a picture of my 7-year-old child in front of a sarcophagus,” and a museum employee reminded us no flash photography was allowed in the exhibit.

For anyone who might be about to Google, as I too would have done if not for Bailey, a sarcophagus is a stone coffin associated with the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome and Greece.

That long-ago trip to New York City remains quite vivid in our collective memories as time glides on, often at a much-too-speedy pace.

Bailey graduated from Rhodes College in late spring and two weeks ago, she boarded a plane bound for Europe where she’ll spend the next year working on a graduate degree in classical art and archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. She’ll spend her 23rd birthday in a few weeks abroad, as well as the upcoming holidays. And, thanks to an unwanted, lingering visitor called COVID-19, we can’t jet over to see her.

I miss her. That’s a given. But it’s a missing mixed with wonder at the amazing young woman she has and will become.

As you might imagine, my Bailey stories from birth to now are uncountable and it would be hard to choose a favorite. But this one comes close:

Bailey was toddling and talking, probably around 3. I was spending some time at her house in Corinth, not long before my sister and her family moved to Huntsville.

I was in the hall bathroom, door closed, when I heard the door knob clicking. Then from the kitchen I heard my sister’s voice, “Bailey, give your Aunt Lee Lee some privacy, please.”

The next thing I heard? Silence. Then the small body of Bailey brushing against the wooden door as she slid into a seated position on the carpet outside the bathroom. On her way down, in a sad, sing-songy tone, she responded to her mama: “But I love Lee Lee too much.”

That feeling is fiercely mutual. And no matter the distance between us, it always will be.

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