Some of you have read my earlier stories about my aunt and uncle and the debacle that last year’s white Christmas created. Long story short, my elderly uncle thought I uninvited him and my aunt to dinner last year for better plans, when truth was the snow made dangerous driving conditions. I didn’t think it would be a good idea for them to be on the Atlanta highways in icy conditions. What followed was a year-long game of hide and seek starring me in the role of the bad guy. Never giving up, each month I continued phoning them to refused calls or ignored messages until finally in early December my uncle began to soften. Or maybe forget. Whatever you call it, he was changing.
I had one of those days last week when God plunged them down on my heart with a jackhammer. I called and had a conversation with my aunt. Though somewhat scattered, she told me Uncle W was going to have a root canal. Now with Alzheimer’s affecting her, it was likely she was remembering an event from a long time ago, but I wanted to believe that she was indeed about to ride with him to the dentist for the procedure.
The jackhammer began pounding again. I knew I had to go see them in person. The night before I had cooked a huge pot of vegetable soup, and before breakfast I found myself baking an unexplained fresh pone of cornbread. Through my kids’ odd glances at my unusual morning choice, I packaged up whatever leftovers I could scrounge and reported that I was headed off to my aunt and uncle’s house. I didn’t call ahead. I wanted to deliver my olive branch in person at best or leave it by their door if they weren’t home. The soup would be easy for him to eat, I thought.
I’m one of those drivers who would rather take a country road than the fast-paced multi-lane expressways in Atlanta, but theirs is one of those “you can’t get there from here” kind of destinations otherwise. As luck would have it, the gray day turned to liquid sunshine while I was on the expressway. It poured down so hard I could barely see. As I exited the ramp, the deep, fast-fallen water splashed up on the windshield and sprayed out like a motorboat on a lake. I just prayed that no one was near me and that my car would drive forward rather than hydroplaning off the bank. Of all days for me to decide to make the trek. I knew it was God pushing me there. At his age, my uncle did not need to be driving in this mess to go get food for themselves. “Yes, Lord, I feel your speaking to me.” I paddled onward.
The rain had come down so fast the roads could barely handle all the water as it covered the curbs. An old man used a golf-size orange and white umbrella as a shield as he moved down the sidewalk, when a too-fast-moving car sped down the street and barely missed drenching him with a huge spray. I finally reached their house and saw they were arriving from the opposite direction at the same time. “Here goes,” I said, not knowing what kind of reception would follow. The last time I’d been in this driveway, I’d been snubbed. It had to be different this time.
I went first to my aunt’s car door and wondered if Alzheimer’s would allow her to recognize me. She did. I helped her out of the car. My uncle got out of the car, and the moment was about to happen. Would he be cold and flippant? Would he be callous or snide? My arms full of food, I walked around the front of the car to greet him with a big smile on my face. “What are you doing out in this mess?” he asked me. “I brought you some dinner so you wouldn’t have to be out in this mess, sir. I figured you’d be able to eat it with a sore mouth.” Somehow I maneuvered the food out of the way so that I could be ready if a hug ensued. “You brought us some food? Well, you didn’t have to get out in this mess, Squirt.” Squirt! I was Squirt again. Next came the hug. A big, wrap-your-arms-around-me great big uncle bear hug kind of hug. Rejoice! I’d waited all year for this moment. “Let’s get in out of this rain.”
We went inside and put the food in the refrigerator. They had gone to the pharmacy to get Epsom salts at his dentist’s recommendations. Ah, my aunt had been right. I visited with them for about an hour, hearing the same stories I’d heard a hundred times before but with the interest as if it were the first. Again, I invited them to our house for Christmas Day. Uncle W’s 88th birthday. “Well, I don’t know”, he told me. “We may want to go visit my sister and brother-in-law. They’re 95 and 92, and they’re getting on up there.” I’ll say. I reiterated the invitation was open, and I’d set the table for them if they’d like to come to our house.
I didn’t hear from them the rest of the week. Family members asked if they were coming for dinner, but I didn’t know the answer. Finally, Christmas morning my family of four gathered around the phone to call Uncle W to sing a glorious rendition of Happy Birthday to him. Not half bad, really, and it brought a chuckle and the question, “Do you still want us to come up for dinner?”
They arrived. A rainy Christmas Day this time, my uncle declared, “You wouldn’t believe those drivers on the expressway. Horrible. They were driving 70 mph in this rain. I almost turned around three times to go back home.” My husband and I looked at each other and choked back our “SEE?”
We visited, laughed, ate, talked, heard the same stories again for the hundred and first time as if it were the first. It was as if this last year had never happened—the proverbial hatchet buried and forgotten. That statement is probably truer than I realize at this moment. And as they raced daylight, my uncle resumed his tried and true words as he gave me that giant uncle-bear-hug that only he can do, “You’re my baby. You’re my little baby. I love you, kid.” I felt safe, loved, always his child on Christmas Day. “I’m not going to let you go,” I answered back.
“You have to; This old man has to get home before it gets dark.” He kissed me and looked right in my eyes. His were glistening. My precious aunt hugged me and said, “I love you more than anything.” My heart almost exploded.
“I appreciate your invitation up here,” my uncle said as they walked towards their car.
“Happy Birthday!” we shouted to him.
We watched from the front door as they backed down the driveway. And up the driveway. And down the driveway. My husband said, “I’m not sure he didn’t just tear up the yard.” We shrugged our shoulders and knew if any damage were done to the yard, it would be worth every inch of it.