Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hearts Returned And Full...by Ryan Terry

The trek to join the official third Terry Family Reunion started in Meridian Idaho at nearly 80 degrees and just a little after 1 pm in the afternoon. Natalie, my wife, and I had loaded the car full of games of all kinds, canned goods, 4 pans of freshly baked french toast casserole, snacks, soda, luggage, bedding, and of course an iPod playlist to entertain us on our 5 hour drive to south eastern Idaho. The drive went famously until we had just reached the outskirts of Twin Falls when the heavens decided to drench us the rest of our journey. Hail and raindrops the size of small water balloons pummeled our Toyota Camry as the window wipers furiously worked to keep the never ending sheets of water and ice out of our view. To relieve the tension of bad driving conditions, we played a game I now call Alpha-Topic. The game is played by choosing a letter of the alphabet and then a topic where you have to name something under that topic that starts with the letter of the alphabet you chose. For example you could say the letter is “P” and the topic is “birds”. Peacock, penguin, and parrot are all correct answers and the game ends when after, going back and forth, someone can’t think of another answer. It was incredibly entertaining and elicited tons of laughter…and a few arguments that Siri had to settle.
Nearing Fort Hall and under heavy black clouds, we could see that traffic was at a standstill on the freeway. Ahead of us the line of cars and their burning red brake lights seemed to stretch on forever. Curious people were getting out of their cars hoping to catch a glimpse of what was causing the backup but the rainy mist and diminishing light kept any clues out of sight . For nearly an hour we inched our way toward Blackfoot and finally found that all traffic was being diverted off to the old highway that connected Blackfoot to Idaho Falls.
After another 40 minute drive, we reached Idaho Falls and decided that we wouldn’t make it for dinnertime so we stopped at the Wendy’s on Broadway. As we pulled in to park, we both were shocked to see sleet mixed with rain falling heavily on our windshield. I was still wearing shorts and a t-shirt and quickly glanced at the temperature reading on our dashboard. 40 degrees…REALLY…we had left Boise near 80 degrees? I was born in Idaho Falls so this weather shouldn’t have surprised me. It was after all…September. Steeling ourselves against the cold, Natalie and I darted into the Wendy’s to get some warm food before hitting the road again.
Soon the city lights that illuminated the roads and clouds above faded and we were driving down dark twisting roads that led up to the cabin we were staying in at West Piney.
Around 9:30 pm we pulled up next to the familiar cars my siblings drove parked outside the cabin. Warm yellow light poured out of the windows, illuminating the rain drops that were still falling, and we quickly unloaded our car with the help of our family. Relief washed over me as I walked into the cabin to see my family, gathered in the large room that served as a movie room, game room, and dining room. A few were playing corn hole (made by Dad and our step mother Kathi-and painted a bright BSU blue and orange) while others were seated and talking near the fireplace. Lora and Glenn arrived a few hours after we did but I still had this nagging feeling that someone wasn't there. Jim, Mary, Ben and kids, and Savahnna weren’t going to make it this year but even knowing that, it still felt like someone was missing that should have been there.
On the fireplace mantle, set by a candle, was the last picture that was taken of my mom Marlene while at the Idaho Press Tribune. In the photo she is smiling magnificently, her head tilted a little to one side, with light and warmth beaming from her. In my mind I could hear her say, “Hi Fred” as she always did when I saw her. I immediately got choked up seeing her there, looking over all of us, and I realized then that the nagging feeling I was having was because I had not yet accounted for my mom. Now mentally noting her attendance, I was able to fully relax and enjoy myself.
The few days we had together seemed to hurtle by at the speed of light (my Mom would have noted that it is still much slower that the max speed of the Star Trek Enterprise) and it was filled with hours of playing Guesstures, Rollick, Uno, & Rummikub. If you ever need a good laugh, ask Richard to act out the word “figure” or Dad to act out “square dancing”. Angie set up a championship Farkle tournament where the winning player got their very own Farkle game (congratulations to my wife Natalie, who made a come back and scored 8000 points on one turn to win).
There is a giant slide that drops a couple stories down the mountainside and beckons everyone to take at least one ride on it. At the top of the slide, fear nearly keeps you from taking the plunge as you peer down the long slide to the bottom below. Warnings to keep your hands off the sides of the slide only increased the fear. When you finally go for it, there is a temporary feeling of weightlessness as your body begins to pick up speed past the initial drop and is best expressed as a guttural groan like my brother Mike did as he whizzed by, “Grrunnnungh….” only to be sharply reminded of your weight when you hit the near 90 degree bend at the bottom of the slide. Luckily you have to climb up two stories worth of stairs to work out the pain in your rump before doing it all over again. Hearing and seeing Mike’s experience recalled why Gina had to sign a release form for all of us to use the slide.
Everyone had an assigned meal to provide for the entire family. It worked well until we fired up the huge grill that we found out quickly has only two heat settings…off and BURNING FLAMES OF HELL. The pancake batter barely touched the heated surface
before it had to be turned, and the fat in the bacon evaporated almost instantly in an angry sizzle leaving shrunken strips of charcoal. It took some getting used to but we soon were able to wrestle the demon grill into submission long enough to provide some really good food. In the midst of sweating over the grill while helping Lora and Glenn cook breakfast, my nephew Andrew came up and tapped my arm. With a large smile on his face he said, “Uncle Fred…Reeeeeellllllaaaaaxxxxx!” as his hand, much like a gesture Vanna White would make when a puzzle was solved, revealed in large block letters the word “RELAX” printed on his t-shirt. Andrew has a way of making everyone forget about their troubles and just laugh out loud. I heard him deliver his wise words to a few others who needed it, laughing every time I heard it.
Gina had arranged for family pictures and while our photographer was very good, there is always some discomfort in the ritual. You spend a good part of an hour pressed together like Pringle chips all while trying to put a pleasing and natural smile on your face. Cajoling good behavior out of our clan is fruitless and it took many takes to get one where we were all smiling, open eyed, and looking at the camera. Years form now I know I’ll be looking at this picture and long to be back in that meadow, shoved close together with my family. Angie pulled out her phone and played an old voice mail Mom had left while on a church history tour. Her voice rang out as if she was there in our midst, thanking us for the gift of sending her there, the importance of family, and her love for all of us.
Soon the last night together was upon us. A few of the family had to leave for work and school demands but the majority of us still were there. We gathered together by the fireplace, under the picture of Mom, and I brought out a surprise for my family. It was a book I gave my mom several years ago that prompted her to answer questions about herself and then, once she has answered them, give the book back to me. I had nearly forgotten about it when several years ago on my birthday she and Dad had gifted the filled out books back to me. Looking up at my Mom, I then began to read in her handwriting the precious memories she had written down for me in the book. We laughed as she recounted her youth when she attempted to be a trapeze artist from a rope that hung from the apple tree in the backyard, built a raft too big for the canal it was set to sail in, got pulled into the ditch by the “Water Woman”, and cried when her “older, skinnier, and more popular sister” Kaye Dawn told her she was adopted. We learned how she was a combination of her parents: her dad a poet and an amazing story teller, and her mom a skilled seamstress, a diligent supporter of her children, and a candid advice giver. She related an experience of how as she was just about to head out the door to a church activity in a dress without a slip when her mom Hattie said, “If you don’t wear a petty coat under that dress, everybody is going to see your ass.”
She told us about her aspirations to be a mountain climber and an airline stewardess. We were all surprised to learn she had had a black leather jacket switchblade phase in which she called herself “Frankie”, was “tough”, and loved hoodies. Thankfully she grew out of it, became a real dish, and decided to try out for a school marching team called the Sparta Pep which she made. She rocked out to The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, Neil Diamond, and Gary Puckett. We were all warmed by her retelling of her first date with Dad that included a burger, a cherry coke, and a kiss at the local drive in. We marveled at my mother’s wit when the question “What are some of the things you would still like to accomplish?” was answered by “Look like Raquel Welch in the movie 10000 BC (That won’t happen…but it’s a great dream!)” We all dreaded the inevitable turning of the last page and reaching the end of the book. Her last words, “I love you very much!”, while intended for me, touched every one of us similarly.
We all hung on to every word, laughing and crying, fully immersed in this beautiful gift my mother had prepared for us years earlier. It was an amazing experience to see my mother through her own eyes and to refresh our memories of her as if she was there telling the stories herself. Since my mom’s passing, there has always seemed to be an uncomfortable hole in my heart that never seemed to fill, even with the family all around. In reflection I’ve realized that it isn’t a hole exactly. A hole is something that can be filled by something else. What happened with my heart is that my mother took a part of it with her when she passed away. It is hers. This doesn’t mean my capacity to love others has changed or became less, it just means there is a part of my heart that belongs solely to my mom. This moment I had with my family was a sacred memorial for her and her words seemed to pull us all closer together, almost as though her arms had us all in a huge hug.
Driving to the cemetery the next day the sky was full of brilliant sunshine and cool autumn air. We gathered together around the beautiful headstone my father had created for her. Mike and Gina work hard to keep it clean and beautiful throughout the year. The grass surrounding the gravesite was green, weed free, and trimmed and a comfortable place to sit and think. I sat down, directly over where I knew my mother was buried, imagining I was sitting down next to her. I looked up and carved into the back of the headstone is the simple phrase, “Families are Forever” and to the right of that all of the kids names are listed together. I was struck by that message deeply and it nestled down inside my heart. 
I am so grateful to know that our family is forever and I am so grateful for the memories we have that bind us together. My family and every member of it, with all of its flaws and strengths, its miseries and joys are completely irreplaceable. Those that surround us as family are truly our greatest and most valuable possessions in this life. I look forward to the family reunion where we can all be together again, with the pieces of our hearts returned and full.

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