BY SARA PALMER
Story inspired by the suggestion of “slide.”
The phone rang and it was my mother. This was one of many calls from her I had received that month confirming my travel plans. My grandmother had decided she wanted a family reunion over the Fourth of July and her four daughters were busying themselves with this effort.
My uncle, the middle child and only boy, had suddenly passed away two months earlier. I remember the day I found out. It was my day off from work and my cousin called me at 6 am. I answered the phone armed with playful sarcasm regarding the early hour, because to this day, she still can’t figure out my days off. She asked if I had talked to my mom, I let her know I hadn’t and asked why. She then said three words that took me forever to understand: “Uncle Gregg died.”
I think I made her repeat herself three more times before she finally told me that I needed to call my mom. By now, I was sitting up at the edge of my bed, my toes touching the ground. I stared forward with the phone hanging from my hand between my legs. I still didn’t believe it. I just thought he must be hurt and in the hospital. I snapped back to and brought the phone up to call my mother.
Two rings went through before she answered with an inaudible sadness. My anxiety rose and I asked, “Mom, what happened?”
His heart had failed him in a sense that it could no longer keep him alive, but I remember it for the amount of love and kindness that poured from it. He was a great father who tried to instill the importance of culture and finding your own path in his children. Even if that meant listening to Britney Spears and N’Sync with his daughters for the 10-hour drive from Colorado to South Dakota. He was a talented musician who inspired his son, Patrick Dethlefs to learn guitar and become a musician himself. He loved us all so much, that was never a question.
July 4th had come quickly and I was up early and out the door, headed for the airport. I was filled with anxiety about being with everyone again, like we were two months prior. The whole trip, I thought about that day at the funeral. How unbelievable it seemed. Being in a hotel with my cousins trying to slow down my spin and write a poem on behalf of all the nieces and nephews depicting his impact on our lives. I remembered not being able to get through it without crying and eventually just handing it over to my aunt, his wife. She took it, hugged me and said, “He loved you all so much, he always said so.”
The plane landed and my mother was there to receive me from the airport. We were excited to see each other; she hugged me tight and asked how my flight was. As we drove to the reunion, I felt my emotions welling inside of me, like at any moment I might just burst into tears. Those emotions sat tight in my throat the entire drive. How was I going to get through today?
We arrived at the house, my anxiety heightening as I walked through the front door. Everyone had gathered out on the back patio and I noticed my stepfather wielding kids down the slide of a wooden jungle gym a perfect distraction. I quickly said hello to my grandmother, hugged her and told her I loved her before heading out into the yard and up the ladder of the jungle gym.
Once I reached the top, my five-year-old nephew, Evan greeted me saying, “Hey aunt Sara! Welcome to the Fourth of July!” It was perfect. I had never in my life been welcomed into a specific day. This broke the ice and sent my anxiety packing. To this day, I think this is the way alarm clocks should work.
Sara Palmer is a an improviser/writer/storyteller based in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Share your ideas for her next blog in the comments below.