I never sleep much before a trip. That’s what the plane ride is for. The night before a trip is usually spent doing the packing and cleaning I’d put off all week. It’s Easter Sunday and I’ve only gotten about two hours of sleep and the Supershuttle driver is outside waiting. I threw on my flat black combat boots that I’d worn all winter and literally dragged my bag out to the curb to meet the driver. I couldn’t roll the dang thing because Delta airlines had broken the handle on a previous trip and it was far too heavy to carry. I wouldn’t be returning to DC until May 10th and I’m pretty sure I packed half my closet, plus a couple dresser drawers.
Despite the shuttle driver getting lost on the way to the airport (with the GPS sitting pretty on the dash) and questioning me as to why I was traveling on this holy day, I made it on my Sun Country flight with no trouble. I sat in my aisle seat, closed my eyes and prepared myself for the pre-takeoff slumber I’d experienced numerous times before. It didn’t come. I just KNEW I’d be sleeping on the second leg of the flight from Lansing, MI to Minneapolis. Nope. Not a single wink for the entire flight. It was almost as if my spirit was on edge. Something inside me just refused to let me rest.
After an uneventful, and sleepless, flight, we landed safely at the Humphrey terminal of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. When I got up from my seat to disembark the plane, I felt a pain in my left big toe. It felt like I’d stubbed it. As I made my way to the baggage claim, I found myself limping. I didn’t remember hitting my foot on anything so, I was mildly alarmed but blamed it on the shoes. I thought maybe I’d worn them out over the winter and needed to retire them.
I forced myself to stop limping and met my dad and big brother out at the passenger pickup area. Hugs, kisses and much laughter were shared on the short ride to the Northside of Minneapolis to my childhood home. We ordered take out from Red Lobster (Yes. On Easter.), watched some basketball and prepared for our trip the next morning. But even that night, as I lay in my room surrounded by Allen Iverson posters and stuffed animals, my body refused to rest.
When I woke up in the morning, I found my dad’s youngest brother, my Uncle Grozzel, sleeping on the couch. My 88-year-old grandfather had a stroke the previous week and was in the VA in Little Rock, AR. My dad and I didn’t have to be in Atlanta until the 27th, so, we had plenty of time to stop in Arkansas to visit with my recovering grandfather and my uncle decided to hitch a ride. Despite the chill in the Minnesota spring air, I put on a pair of open toe sandals and left my traitorous boots in the house.
We were met with rain almost as soon as we crossed the Minnesota state line. By the time we reached Arkansas it was a full out storm. On the 14 plus hour trip, I slept for about two hours. My father drove the entire way, with me keeping close watch from the backseat. The rain wasn’t the reason I didn’t sleep much, I just couldn’t. I tried to force it because, honestly, what else is there to do when it’s too dark to read and you’re tired of listening to your dad’s eclectic mix of Luther Vandross, Lyfe Jennings and random Kappa Alpha Psi songs?
We made it to my grandfather’s house in Newport, AR at about 9:30 PM. The three of us run from the rain into my grandpa’s garage and into the house. As soon as I crossed the threshold, I’m met by my 10-year-old cousin, J.T., whose arms are outstretched to hug me. He’s an adorable, well-mannered little brown boy with the mannerisms of a senior citizen. When he’s not at school, he spends most of his time at my grandfather’s house. J.T.’s grandfather is my dad’s brother and my Uncle Jerome, who lives in my grandfather’s house and has taken care of him in his elderly years. All this time around his elders shows up in J.T.’s gait and even in his conversation.
My Uncle Jerome had a stroke of his own over 10 years ago and hasn’t been able to work since. He is fully capable physically but his speech is mildly delayed and it takes him a little while to understand some things. He mixes up words and numbers sometimes, saying things like, “What your dad?” rather than “Where’s your dad?”, but we all understand him just fine. Because of this slight impairment he’s a bit shy in front of non-family members.
As soon as I loosen my embrace on J.T., Uncle Jerome hastily requests his grandson to put his coat on and get his homework. I give my favorite uncle, Uncle Robert, a hug as Uncle Jerome rushes past me out the door, muttering something that sounded like “Old man gone.” I didn’t quite hear him but I notice a frenzied confusion on my uncles faces. My dad, the eldest son of 10 children, had gone upstairs where my Aunt Lois and Uncle Kenny were. When I got upstairs to the room, I saw my dad on the phone and my aunt kneeling on the floor in a prayer position. I froze. My Uncle Kenny just sat there, staring at the wall.
I walked back downstairs to the kitchen where my Uncle Grozzel and Uncle Robert are assembled, sitting in silence. “Ok... what’s going on?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” my Uncle Robert said. “All I know is Jerome said something about the Old Man being gone.” The “Old Man” is what they call my grandfather.