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Commentary: I miss those Fountain Valley mornings with the grandkids

Jim Carnett addresses friends and family as he is inducted into Orange Coast College’s Alumni Hall of Fame.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

“I’ll be waiting by the mailbox.”

That teasing riposte was conveyed to me recently by a young lady who I love deeply and admire. Her words were tinged with humor and wistfulness.

The statement summoned up for me golden mornings, long past. Those memories are preserved in my cerebellum as priceless pearls. What so touched me? It wasn’t a scented missive from a girl I’d danced with at an overseas USO Club many decades ago, nor was it a tender message scrawled across a yellowed page of Mr. Shelley’s finest poetry.

Rather, it was a cell phone call from my 18-year-old granddaughter, Emma, a freshman at Harvard College. Emma’s message triggered in me a hurried awareness of a different time and place.


The “mailbox” citation embodies episodes early in our relationship. The power of her six-word utterance overwhelmed this sentimental old grump. I laughed, then cried.

As Emma and I conducted our telephone chat, she was in Cambridge, Mass., I in Costa Mesa. Her visits to California have been intermittent in recent years — though she was here this summer — and my wife, Hedy, and I have missed her dearly.

Emma’s postal box reference brought to mind the following: Many Saturday mornings in 2003-04, a 2-year-old Emma and her 4-year-old brother, Ethan, would wait patiently at the mailbox at the end of their Fountain Valley driveway. They awaited the arrival of “Oma” and “Opa” — Hedy and I — toting a sack of Saturday morning specials from a nearby doughnut shop.

Emma’s favorite was a dark chocolate gut-buster slathered with semisweet chocolate icing and a blizzard of sprinkles on top. (We once forgot the sprinkles. We never made that mistake again!)


It didn’t take Emma long to ingest her weekly treat. With front teeth locked into “scrape and rake” mode, she’d denude a doughnut of its icing and sprinkles in less than two minutes, leaving a stodgy ring of congealed flour.

Ethan, on the other hand, preferred glazed doughnuts shining with the polish of a drill sergeant’s boots. Oh yeah, and with red jelly plopped into its center — lots of jelly!

One year later, Emma, Ethan and their baby sister moved from Fountain Valley to North Carolina — and acquired Southern accents.

Hedy and I have long treasured those Fountain Valley memories. Over the years we attempted to reproduce them during our North Carolina visits, but were never able to do so. Something was missing!

I’ll cut to the chase: Emma grew up in a rural North Carolina community; became an outstanding student-athlete (soccer, cross-country and swimming); was high school student body vice president her junior year and president her senior year; was class salutatorian (never earning anything below an A grade); and was recipient of numerous scholarships and academic honors.

She applied for and was accepted by Harvard, which accepts only 4.5% of its freshman applicants.

“So, what do you think of Harvard?” I asked her the other day on the phone.

Remember, though born at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach along with most of her relations, Emma was raised in a small, conservative North Carolina community. She’s a woman of faith. How’s she handling the progressive atmosphere that is New England?


“Oh, it’s so fascinating,” she told me.

Her foundation is secure. Emma knows who she is and what she believes. She was, after all, accepted into Harvard as a biochemistry major. Her eye is on the prize. Her dream is to become a physician.

Emma takes after her mother (our daughter, Jade) — they’re both devoted to a higher calling and are magnificently organized. Jade, too, loved being a student and earned the best grades in the family — until Emma came along. Jade is a public-school teacher and registered nurse.

In addition to being mother and daughter, Jade and Emma are also best friends.

“Oh, Opa, Harvard is beyond description,” she told me. “My professors are wonderful, my classes fantastic, I’ve made lots of friends, and the campus is, well, breathtaking!”

Emma’s living her dream.

But, selfishly, I miss Saturday mornings with our sweet girl — by the postbox.

Jim Carnett is a former Daily Pilot columnist.