Sometime around mid-May, I mapped out a trip on my computer. Things were starting to open back up again, restrictions were being lifted due to the increasing availability of the vaccine, and I wanted to get the HECK out of town.
At first, it started as a crazy idea. A whirlwind. Practically a tour—if we were a small indie band just starting out. But when I laid out the plan for my mom and sister, they were in, without hesitation.
So, we booked it. Five flights (which would turn into eight by the end due to connections and layovers), four states, and almost two full weeks’ worth of vacation. We booked it for October, which, at the time, felt like it was forever away.
But then, on Tuesday October 20th, as I clocked out of work and drove home, I realized that we’d finally made it. Our flight to Texas was at 9:30 the next morning.
I also realized I should probably finish packing.
Packing, to me, is like chess. I try to make everything fit perfectly, in the most neat and organized fashion, and I aim to wear every single thing that I pack. I pack as if you could “win” packing. As if someone will be waiting for me when I return home and hand me an award. But then, while I’m actually on the vacation, I tend to inexplicably hate most everything I pack, and so I impulsively buy an emotional support sweatshirt, which makes my suitcase bulky and unorganized, thus I have to unpack it immediately upon arriving home or I will spontaneously combust.
Other than that, I’m a pretty chill traveler.
I know the lay of the land. I’m the one who has the flight number on hand and will check our bags and print our boarding passes. I’m the one who has a miscellaneous assortment of snacks and drugs (i.e., Benadryl, Dramamine and Advil) in my purse. I am a mom traveler—alert, prepared and with no time to take any shit, and I thrive in that environment.
The purpose of this trip was mostly to visit family. Since we hadn’t seen hardly anyone throughout the whole of 2020, this was practically a revenge vacation. It was our chance to see everyone and everything that we missed—plus a few fun bonuses along the way.
Our first stop was Dallas Fort Worth, where we were set to visit our surrogate grandparents, Jim and June—who I wrote about in this post.
If I’m being honest, it was the stop I was most nervous about.
In years past, my mom, sister and I had taken multiple trips a year to Arkansas to visit my great aunt Evelyn and Jim and June, as well as my cousin Brittney and her family. Arkansas was (and is) our happy place. It was where we found we could truly relax. It was a home away from home—the “home” sometimes being interchangeable in a way that we were at times unsure where we belonged more. A few years ago however, aunt Evelyn passed away. She hadn’t been doing well for a little while, and we’d been visiting as often as we could, staying with Jim and June whenever we were in town. The last time we were there, it had been for Aunt Evelyn’s funeral and June worried that we wouldn’t come back.
“You’ll come back and visit me, won’t you?” she asked us.
Us four girls always had the best time together. Sometimes I felt like we were a little bit too much for Jim, but he was always a good sport, going about his routine while we sat around talking and giggling for hours.
“Of course, we will,” we said. But no matter how many times we said it, I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t believe us. She had no idea how much we loved her. How fondly we spoke about her back home. How quickly we wanted to come back every time we left.
Since we’d last seen them, Jim and June had moved to Texas to live with their daughter Shannon, since it was no longer safe for them to live on their own. And while we were excited to finally see them, we couldn’t help but wonder what toll the move and the past two years had had on them. Selfishly, we wanted them to be exactly the same, to be everything we remembered so this visit wouldn’t be hard or sad. But no matter what we were walking into, we wanted June to know that we’d kept our promise, for her to know that we’d made it back to her as quick as we could, and to tell her that we loved her.
On Thursday morning, after spending the night at our hotel, we drove over to Shannon’s house to spend the day with them. Upon walking in, it was clear that June had lost a lot of weight and was struggling with her vision, and if Jim recognized us, it was only in short, silent waves. But that didn’t stop us from finding those moments of laughter, of reminiscing, and talking about everything we could think of, just the way we used to in their little house in Arkansas.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, I was so excited to see y’all,” June said as we sat on the couch beside her. My heart swelled.
It had been my Grammie, my mom’s mom, that first met June all the way back in first grade, and they’d always kept in touch, even when Grammie moved to California with her family. As a result, for a long time, for me, June was just a character I occasionally heard about in stories. But then, when we started visiting Aunt Evelyn more frequently, June became a real live person. And after Aunt Evelyn moved into a care facility and we started staying with Jim and June, June became our person. She became like a third grandma to me and my sister, and a connection to my Grammie for my mom.
So as we sat in Shannon’s living room, talking to June, I couldn’t help but think about that moment in first grade, when June and Grammie walked to school together, not knowing how far this friendship would take them. Thinking about it, I felt like Grammie was in the room with us, along with Aunt Evelyn, each of them sitting in an empty seat on the couch. I ached at the thought that one day June would be sitting with them rather than us; when they will all just be characters in stories I tell my kids one day. But as we got ready to leave and June hugged us each twice, I knew that she’d always be real to us—always be close by, and always be a piece of home that I’d hold on to, no matter where I ended up.
“I love you,” she said as we headed out the door.
“We love you too,” we said.
“You’ll come back and see me, won’t you?”