That summer started out like every summer that came before it – swim lessons and bible school, followed by the obligatory three-week long August road-trip to visit our relatives in the mid-west.
Those summer vacations always involved lots of sleepover parties with cousins, playing with new litters of kittens or piglets, helping with cows at milking time, riding tire swings, ping-pong matches, having ice cream sundaes for dinner and going to the movies. Our aunts, uncles and cousins were infinitely more interesting to me and my siblings than our boring nuclear family.
So, every summer we endured those long, hot car rides, with sweat dripping down our backs and our thighs sticking together as my brother, sister and I kept shoving each other and yelling, “Get away from me, it’s TOO hot!” And my father yelling, “Air-conditioning the car wastes gas,” every time we begged him to turn it on. And we endured soggy baloney sandwiches and the now bruised fruit that was packed into the back of the station wagon at 5:00 a.m. by our clearly overtaxed mother, who made it clear we weren’t going to waste time AND money doing something so frivolous as stopping at McDonalds.
But once we finally arrived in the mid-west to receive our annual great big bear hugs from our grandparents, it was all pretty fun from there on out, until we had to turn around and do the hot, sticky car and baloney sandwich trip in reverse to get back home just in time for another school year to start.
That was our summer routine. We were used to it. It never changed much. Until one summer.
Early that summer my parents were getting a lot of late-night phone calls. And there were a lot of closed-door conversations between our mom and dad. I asked my sister what she thought was going on, but her response was super vague and flippant, “Whatever. They’re weird. Who cares?”
With that, I carried on as if everything was normal. If my big sister didn’t know, then it couldn’t possibly be that important. She always seemed to know everything that was going on. But apparently, on that occasion, I had overestimated her inclusion in the inner circle.
So, as per usual, we took off on the drive to our grandparents’ house. Then just a day or two after we arrived, out of the blue, my father said, “Ok, you and your brother need to pack up your stuff. You’re going to go stay at your friend Jane’s house for a few days.”
My head snapped around, “Wait, whut Dad? We’re doing what???”
“Go pack your stuff up. You’re going to stay at Jane’s house for a few days.”
I was in shock. Jane had been my best friend in the entire world from first grade through third grade until her family moved far away to…you guessed it…the mid-west. And now I was going to get to see her again? I could not possibly have packed any faster.
My Dad got me, my brother and sister in the car and started heading to the next state over, where Jane’s family lived. It took us a few hours to get to her house and I couldn’t figure out why my dad was willing to drive me and my brother that far just to visit for a few days. But I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut. This was a dreamt-about moment that I never thought would actually come to fruition.
“Don’t mess it up, DON’T mess it up,” was my mantra.
Dad dropped me and my brother off, then took off with my sister to take her to some other destination where she’d be spending a few days. And while the scenario wasn’t entirely unfamiliar, it was still a little bit off. We were staying with entirely different people than we usually stayed with, who were much more inconvenient to get to, and we were staying with them for a longer period of time than we normally would. That was the part that kept nagging at my brain. But again…when you get what you’ve been dying for, you don’t question it.
My brother and I hung out for a few days, waiting for when my dad would come back to pick us up. Then a phone call came with the news that we would need to hang out there for a few more days. Well that never happened before. Our parents always picked us up on exactly the day they said they would, and we’d better be ready at the agreed upon time, with our bags packed. But, eventually, we did get picked up. And that was that. We never really heard anything more about it. We went on with the rest of our vacation as we did every summer. And I forgot about it, until something recently triggered my memory of that summer when I was chatting with my sister on the phone.
“What was that whole weird dumping us off at random people’s houses about that one summer exactly?” I asked her.
“OMG, you don’t know?”
“No, of course I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking,” I snapped.
“You’re going to have to sit down for this story,” my sister said.
I followed her advice and backed closer to the nearest chair and plopped down.
“So, we were unceremoniously dumped on anyone who would take us that week because Grandpa had to go to court.”
“Wait, whut? Grandpa? For what exactly?” I asked quizzically.
“You cannot say anything to mom and dad about this. And you cannot tell them I told you,” she practically whispered, even though our parents were nowhere near either of us. I knew whatever was coming next was going to be juicy.
“So…Grandpa got in a car accident,” she started.
I sighed loudly. “Seriously? That’s the big secret? Well, that’s dumb. Who has to go to court for a car accident?”
“Uh, someone who’s hurt or killed someone else has to go to court for a car accident, duh,” she responded sarcastically.
“Oooo Kay,” I replied, making a circling motion with my hand for her to go on, which she couldn’t possibly see since we were on the phone, but at that point it was beyond my control.
“So…Grandpa killed someone.”
“Yes, Grandpa was driving at night on a dark country road and didn’t see a pedestrian on the side of the road.”
“So, you’re saying Grandpa is a murderer?”
“No, dummy, I’m saying Grandpa accidentally killed someone that he didn’t see.”
“So, we have a murderer in our family, WOW,” I responded.
“Oh, my god, dramatic much? He’s not a murderer.”
“Well, um, killing someone is pretty dramatic.”
“It was a drunk transient. Other people on the road had noticed the man weaving around all over the place alongside the road. In the end, it was declared a tragic accident, and Grandpa was free of all charges, though he did have his driver’s license taken away.”
“So, we have a murderer in our family,” I stated quietly again.
“Oh, my God. You’re unbelievable. I’m never telling you a family secret ever again,” she responded with extreme irritation.
“Wait…there are MORE family secrets?” I inquired.
She hung up the phone.