It was going on day seven, travelling back from jungles in Papua New Guinea in answer to the urgent message he had received from his brother Niel, who was living in Harbor Springs in northern Michigan in North America. As urgent as the message was, he thought about modern day communication as it had still taken the post a good week to locate him. Oh, it had been a hard decision to make, to stick to his guns and remain where he was until he was finished with his research. He was pretty sure that he had some important revelations to make but he knew his report had to be 100 percent backed up with absolute detailed evidence. His research could easily involve another 6 months. His backers and the university wouldn’t appreciate a delay.
Then again, this message must be related to his family somehow. It could be his mother who had a problem, who lived alone, but near enough to his sister and brother Niel. After all, Mom was nearly 88 now, his father had been deceased for 8 or 9 years, he mused. His sister, Meredith, was happily married with Wils and three teenaged sons, he wondered what kind of problem she could have. You never know how kids, especially spoiled rotten teenaged sons, could make your life turn upside down in only a matter of minutes. Or are she and Wils having a marital crisis? Today anything is possible. And not to forget Niel and his family. The message came from Niel, the eldest of us. He and Nance are distant grandparents as their children live downstate. The eldest and the most sensible one of us, surely no problem to foresee there.
I wonder what awaits me. I’m so, exhausted but my next flight to homebase is in an hour. I had best call Niel and hope he’ll pick me up in Traverse City. I could have flown into Pellston but that meant another day of travelling, or should I say wandering through the streets, laying in wait at the airport until there was a flight available.
"Now boarding Flight 604 to Traverse City at gate 21E" was announced. Nate slowly rose from his seat, gathered his onboard bag and his laptop, and finished his cup of take-away coffee. He threw the cup in the bin, then he stood in the queue to board the plane.
The flight from Detroit was a direct one, "thank god," thought Nate. He found his seat, put his onboard bag in the overhead bin, then he sat down and put his laptop under the seat in front of him. The airline host asked him to put the safety belt on. Then he listened to the usual safety regulations. He felt too tired to do more than put on his earbuds and switch on classical music. It was a city chopper and not at all full. He was thankful for that too. In slightly more than an hour he’d be hugging his brother. He didn’t dare to think any further. Soon he was nodding off.
"What in the world?," a rough landing woke Nate up. The passengers were requested to remain seated until the plane arrived at its gate. Finally, Nate undid his safety belt and arose from his seat. He collected his onboard bag and nearly forgot to pick up his laptop from under the front seat. Once off the plane, he sprinted to bag collections, grabbing a trolley on the way. Luckily, there were not many passengers, so he quickly found his luggage. No more control and there was Niel!
"Hey Bro, long time no see," said Niel, who was a tall, well-built 60-year-old man with grey hair, as he wrapped his arms around Nate, who also was tall and of similar build but fifteen years younger. "You’re looking undernourished and quite tired! I suggest we spend the night here and talk in the morning - I’ve also had a long day, not mentioning the drive here. Do you agree with me? I’m glad you’re nodding your head. I’ve already booked a room for each of us. Let’s move!"
Nate and Niel checked into the hotel, went to their rooms. Niel said he’d come by in a bit with a night cap so they’d both sleep better. And how true that was. Nate was overjoyed at Niel’s taking charge, typical brother. He had forgotten how his family were, actually he had never much thought about them. He sure was glad to turn off the light and sink into that bed drifting off with his mind on his family.
Niel had decided to let Nate sleep, being awake early, he went down for breakfast alone. He took his time and read the daily newspaper. It was now nearly ten o’clock. He went up and knocked on Nate’s door. Surprise! Nate stood in the door, dressed and ready to go. "Whoa," said Niel. "I had my breakfast but I’ll have my second coffee, maybe it’s my third with you now. Put the 'do not disturb' sign back on the door, we’ve got til 11 o’clock for checking out."
Nate answered Niel, "I slept like a new-born babe, thanks to you. I’m literally famished too. Yesterday I only had a quick burger for lunch. I forgot dinner. My body just couldn’t cope any more. Didn’t I ever say how much I hated travelling?" Niel just laughed and pointed the way to the dining room.
Niel had debated what he had to say and how he wanted to say it, as well as when he would say it. After Nate’s first cup of coffee, he asked Niel what the urgent message was about. Niel only said "Mom."
Nate had to pull the rest out of him. Apparently, their mother could no longer live on her own. She also was teetering on her deathbed, which they had only just heard from the family physician. This was the main reason that they decided to call Nate home. At the moment, their mother was in the hospital in Petoskey, waiting for a room at the local nursing home in Harbor Springs. Nate, feeling shocked, then again not as his first assumption was that the problem would be dealing with his Mom. Nate had another cup of coffee. He felt like he needed a whiskey. Both brothers were silent. They finished their coffees and left for their rooms. They met downstairs at the reception desk, checked out and walked out into the fresh breezes of Northern Michigan. The journey home would take about two hours.
Once on their way, Niel said "Mom is waiting to see you. We closed her house, we were not sure where you would want to stay. Meredith has room and Nan and I have room for you. The question is right now: Shall I drive into Petoskey first, or do you want to wait a bit to see Mom?"
Nate’s answer was "See Mom first."
Off they drove, at first in silence, but then Nate had asked Niel for family news. Niel obliged him and gave full reports on each member of the family. Nate was grateful for that as it had been some twenty months since he had last been home.
They arrived at the hospital just as lunch was being served. Nate could not believe his eyes, his Mom had shrunk into a very old little lady. The last time he had seen her, she was sprite and jolly well fun, fit as a fiddle, we’d say. She was so delighted to see Nate but his visit was tiring her. She ate barely nothing, even with Nate’s TLC. They said their goodbyes. The next hurdle for Nate was seeing the other members of the family. That went off pretty well. He decided to spend the night with Niel where he’d find more peace and quiet much as he loved his sister’s kids. The following morning he took the key to the family home. Niel lived within walking distance to the old homestead.
Nate entered the home and opened it all up. As it is in life when you see the end of a large part of it, you begin your walk down memory lane. Nate’s memory dated back to when he was about four. He remembered being tossed about, bossed about and being literally carried by Dad and Niel, sometimes Meredith was in charge. When the tears flew, he suddenly saw himself flinging the backdoor open and running. He saw himself climbing steps up a tree. "Oh wow, I’d completely forgot about our treehouse," he thwacked his head. He then ran outdoors to see whether it still stood or not.
Soon Nate was up there in the treetops, marvelling at the beauty of the land around him. Niel and his father had built the house, big enough for his Dad and Niel to sit inside. And, surprisingly, it was still in very good condition, he thought. Then again, all of the grandkids spent their holidays with Grandma and Grandpa. Nate opened the door and went inside. "OMG," he moaned, he remembered his secret hiding place. He found an old diary, a bit ragged to look at. Opening it, it fell open automatically. He read 'Sandy,' his old, very old sweetheart all through grade school and high school. How he wished he could turn back the clock. Sandy grew into a beautiful woman. He laid himself down on the mattress, closed his eyes. They were the best of buddies. They held each other, helped each other to grow. Of course, they had their times of childish disputes too. He remembered telling her that she couldn’t run around with him and Joey and Ted. She should go and play with her dolls. But Sandy wouldn’t listen, she’d slinked behind them. Once she had followed them to the lake, while they were swimming, she stole their clothes and had a good laugh as we cussed and ran around nude. You couldn’t seperate us. He flipped a few more pages. Oh here’s our prom picture! There was the dance she wanted to go to in the ninth grade and she had accepted the invite from a junior since I said I wouldn’t go. The feathers flew between us there. By the time we were seniors I had learned to dance under her tutelage. Nate tried to recall what had happened then. We had spent many a summer night in that tree house, it was the time of a budding romance eventually. Our first and only love. Sweet and innocent, then the time of curiosity, the discovery of ourself in the eyes of the other. How it began and how it ended was bittersweet. A car accident. Nate’s eyes clouded over. He thought to himself, "I’ve come home to say goodbye." It had been decided that the old family home and property would be sold. He’d take his time to select his belongings. He prayed that his Mom would be around for another Christmas. This reminded him of the time when he and Sandy decorated the treehouse for Christmas once and how Niel had put up tree lights for them. Mom and Meredith had baked Christmas cookies for them. He decided that his final act before returning to his research would be to visit the cemetery and to lay flowers at Sandy’s grave and that of his Dad’s. He looked out of the window of the treehouse and thought how life flows on just as the clouds in the sky, softly and silently.