Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: RELATIVES (02/15/18)
- TITLE: Always the Same People
By Ann Grover
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“Ready to go?” he asked as he wiped grease from his hands.
“Just about. Mom wants to know which jacket you want.”
“Jean jacket. And slicker, in case it rains. Now there’s torture. Rain at the family reunion.” He pulled the tire gauge from his pocket and squatted by the trailer tire.
“You still grouchy?” I asked, stuffing Pop-Tarts, marshmallows, and graham crackers into a cabinet.
“You know how I feel about forty-eight hours in captivity with family. And besides, it’s always the same people.”
Really? Go figure.
“Well, Dad, if you see a sign that says “MacPherson-Wilson Reunion,” you could go to that one instead. There’ll be different people,” I suggested.
“Don’t be a smart aleck,” he growled.
We pulled out an hour later. Mom prattled on about how lovely it’ll be to see everyone again; Dad grunted and turned up the radio.
We always had the reunion at the provincial park at the lake. There was plenty of room and the lake for swimming and fishing. We were backing into our usual spot when Dad’s cousin Benny stepped in front of our truck, waving excitedly.
“Get outta the way,” Dad yelled out his window.
“Howdy to you, too,” Benny yelled back, grinning.
By the time Dad got the trailer leveled, Uncle Harold and Auntie Joyce had parked beside us with their behemoth RV, and a circle of tents had mushroomed beyond them. Mom heated up stew and opened a bag of Oreos, and within minutes, there was coleslaw, chips, pickles, rolls, and baked beans heaped on our picnic table and fifteen people yakking up a storm. Or fourteen, because Dad was sulking, scowling at Benny’s jokes and Gerry and Marlene’s seven kids and their slobbering St. Bernard.
Pretty soon, Brad, leathered-up and bearded, roared in on his Harley. And then Uncle Albert, who sang Willie Nelson tunes by the campfire every night, honked as he drove up with his homemade, camo-sprayed camper. By dusk, the whole gang was there. Dad shut himself in the trailer.
On Saturday, Benny made chili, which Dad said not to eat because it likely contained beer. Great Aunt Sheila shared (several times) the tribulations of ingrown toenails, and Randy and Sarah presented their marital woes in hourly installments. Tony, who had a shaved head and a snake tattoo, taught us kids to play “Smoke on the Water” by cupping our hands over our armpits.
I returned home smoky, dirty, and happy. Even Dad was jubilant, whistling as he stowed away the camping gear.
Soon, there’d be another family gathering. Unplanned, unexpected.
On his way home from work one spring afternoon, Dad slid off the rain-slicked road, rolling his truck down a steep ravine. The truck was crushed, and so was Dad. Compound fracture of his femur, broken ribs, collapsed lung, ruptured spleen, lacerated kidney. I was terrified, seeing Dad like that, in a coma, with tubes and wires running in and out of his broken body.
Mom called the family.
Benny arrived first, and he headed to the hospital, along with Tony, Sarah, and Randy, who’d come soon after. Brad rumbled into the driveway with Auntie Joyce and Uncle Harold close behind in their RV.
Anyone who could, gave blood, all the pints Dad needed, and they took turns sitting with him, so Mom could rest. Auntie Joyce and Great Aunt Sheila cooked and cleaned and drove me to school.
All spring and summer, Brad mowed the lawn, his leathers gleaming in the broiling sun, even siphoning gas from his Harley. Gerry and Marlene’s tribe weeded the garden, painted the fence. And when he wasn’t tinkering in the garage, Uncle Albert taught me to play the guitar.
Finally, Dad came home, weak, but alive and mending. Proud of my new skill, I sat beside him, and played “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” It’s a love song, but easy for a beginner.
Suddenly tears slid down Dad’s cheeks, and I stopped, panicked. “What’s wrong? Do you need Mom?”
“No. Just thinking how close I came to saying good-bye to your Mom and you ... and not seeing the family till “up yonder.” They’re a motley bunch, and they’re all annoying and irritating. But when times are hard, they’re always there.
Yes, Dad, they’re always there. Always the same people.
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