Standing outside the modest brick building, a distant rumble gives warning of an approaching storm. Gathering the courage to face what she’ll find within, Grace’s mind flashes to her favorite childhood memory.
Windows barely cracked open to keep out the whipping rain despite the summer heat, she huddles on the stairs, peaking down through the space between steps at the laughing group circling the faded Formica table. Mismatched chairs hold her parents, aunts and uncles as they ante up for the next hand. The radio crackles and lights flicker as the storm rages around this tiny wooden sanctuary.
Auntie Penny lights a few kerosene lamps, in advance of the inevitable power outage, and her dad folds, mockingly accusing his brother of being a card shark. He winks at her as he grabs his battered guitar from beside the staircase. Quietly strummed folksongs replace the static laced rock’n’roll, Uncle Chaz leaning back in his chair to flick off the ancient radio. The slowly dying light of the radio face made it look like it was going to sleep, a thought that had her yawning. Her mother absently murmurs song lyrics, the sweating beer bottle pressed against her forehead, and contemplates the cards in her hand.
In spite of the bitter storm, and her precarious perch on the stairs, 8 year old Grace feels completely safe and content. Down below are the titans of her world. The day had been spent reroofing the cozy wooden shack, racing the storm clouds that had brought dusk early. Worry had made the grownups tense, barking orders at each other and snapping at Grace when she got underfoot. Feeling the tension ease as their work stood against the tempest outside, everyone was merry in spite of their fatigue.
Sighing, Grace squared her shoulders and opened the door. Somber and serious, her Aunt Caren greeted her in the foyer, and pointed the way to the viewing room. It was agonizing to see how much her aunt had changed over the years. Time made the thin woman frail and quiet, so different from the vibrant woman who fought to work on the roof rather than in the kitchen. Slowly making the rounds to visit her siblings and cousins, Grace noted that the once tight group of adults she admired now sat in different corners of the room. There was no more huddling over a table together, commiserating with family also considered the best of friends. Time had changed more than physical appearances.
Harsh words spoken without thought had pulled them apart. To the point that now even the loss of one couldn’t pull them together. Grace mourned that as much as she mourned her father. She wished she could pinpoint the single instance that had caused such a catastrophic breakdown, even though it was too late to fix it. Her family had been destroyed by a pervasive cancer, just as her father had. One small, unnoticed hurt unaddressed spread to bigger hurts. Maybe if it had been found earlier, if they’d have found the right words, the right medicines, to combat it...
Numbly finding her way to the casket, Grace hears the pounding deluge begin, and thinks of better days.