I'm off work today. Been thinking about this story for awhile. I write quite a bit, but almost never share, but I thought the board might like it.
I was in an upper bunk at my uncle's hunting cabin when he woke me that Saturday. I was a year out of Ann Arbor, starting life, brutally hung over, and Uncle Jim's face was several inches from mine trying to get something through to me too early after the previous night's rolling West Michigan trout camp party.
The cabin didn't have a phone and there were no cells in September of 1989. Turns out my Mother had also had had a long Friday night. A night spent in the hospital as my father unexpectedly died at the age of 50. Uncle Jim's wife drove north to communicate the news. And Uncle Jim told me. I don't remember my immediate reaction, but I remember his face and his breath. He was and is a strong man, but there was only stale beer and softness.
We quietly loaded up and drove for two hours. Somehow it had been translated that my sister, then a freshman at Western, was in East Lansing visiting a high school friend at State. I have no idea how anyone knew where to go or how to get in touch with her, but in hindsight it is clear that many calls had been made and accurate instructions had been transmitted because when we pulled next to a giant non-descript MSU dormitory my sister was there with her friend. I told her the terrible thing through the open window. I just blurted it out without thinking to get out of the minivan to catch her. I just blurted it out because I was out of my head and had no balance, no ability to outline my moment-to-moment actions.
Mrs. Jones was the first person I saw upon our return to our childhood home. Mom was in another room with the door shut. Mrs. Jones caught me the way I should have caught my sister.
We spent the next several days feeling our way through visitations, kind offers of help, casseroles the neighbors brought over, the wake and the funeral. I don't remember much of it very well except being physically uncomfortable during the funeral, having chose a stiff dress shirt that must have been a shade too small. During the wake one of Dad's college buddies noticed and told me to put on a sweatshirt while we drank beer and laughed a little.
About two months later Mom and I went to the stadium for the Purdue game. She resisted a little, but I thought it would be alright. I've said that 90% of my formation occurred during camping trips to the western edge of the UP and in Section 10, Row 70, Seats 21 and 22. We had a nice tailgate at Ann Arbor Golf and Outing where the same crew - our crew - showed up early enough to maintain the same four near-entrance spaces for 20 years. By the time I was eight or nine I could make my way alone from the parking space on the course, across Stadium Boulevard, to our seats without anyone worrying at all.
Mom and I held hands between the tailgate and the stadium entrance. I felt her tension and she told me she was thirsty and was going to buy a Coke and that I should go ahead and sit down. As I walked those last few steps to our seats I realized we were going to have to communicate Dad's passing to our stadium friends. Mom knew. Like the calls that had happened to get me and my sister home that horrible Saturday morning earlier in the Fall, I was being helped along here, by a real adult who kept her shit together. I told our friends in the seats adjacent to ours and after their expressions of sadness, Mom arrived with two Cokes and gracefully received condolences. I've attended most home games between then and now, but she never went back.
Mom passed away in 2003 after an inexplicably courageous battle with the bitch breast cancer. But before she died she watched many Michigan games with my daughter - her new best friend.
I still have the unused tickets Mom and Dad were going to use that Saturday in September of 1989. We beat Maryland that day.