thirty years ago this morning

Early in the morning, not much before ten, if I’m remembering right. I was sitting in band class – individual because we were rehearsing for fall competition – when the school secretary came to tell me to get my things and come to the office because I was going home. No explanations. I had to put my clarinet away and go back to my six grade classroom to pick up my book bag and homework. I thought perhaps the secretary had told Mrs Craig that I was leaving and didn’t think of telling her myself; I just gathered up my things and went to the office like I was told. Expecting Mommy there, I was shocked when I went around the corner and saw Carolyn Peace; my next thought was that something had happened to Mommy, and nobody was telling me.

October 1, 1980, was such a gorgeous day. I remember that about it. Always. Much like today. A perfect, beautiful Fall day.

And Mommy rode shotgun in Carolyn’s car, so something told me right even more that something, somewhere was wrong. Carolyn drove a brown Chevy Citation. Two door. Mommy didn’t get out of the car; she let me sit on her lap. I crammed my book bag and clarinet case in the foot well with her purse and our feet. She put her arms around me, her head on my shoulder, and started crying. She said, “Tommy’s dead.”

And that’s when I learned what a punch in the gut felt like.

I don’t remember crying. I do remember the two mile drive from South Ward Elementary School in Corbin to Granny’s house on Mitchell Hill taking forever. Like we were driving through mud. I remember being confused that we didn’t go home – our house was at the foot of the hill – but Carolyn said everyone had agreed to meet at Granny’s.

It’s funny when things like this happen, the little things that you remember years later. Someone laughing in the kitchen. Soft coughs at the funeral home. Everyone talking in quiet, hushed voices. The members of your National Guard troop coming to Vankirk’s to see all of us. All of the flowers. There were so many flowers. I remember they were all over the funeral home. I got several bunches, myself – from the school, from my class, from both the band and the choir directors. I thought I could keep them, but of course flowers don’t last.

Just like people.

But I can’t forget how hard the rain poured the day of your funeral and standing outside at the cemetery in the deluge – everyone wondering if they’d be able to get back off the hill in all the mud. I’ve hated that cemetery since. Not that I cared for it before, but this just fueled my fire. I haven’t been able to stand Taps or twenty-one gun salutes since; they tear me all to hell.

And I can’t forget Sandhi standing at your casket crying and screaming because you didn’t look like you. Whomever had done your make-up had gotten your coloring all wrong and hadn’t done your hair right. She was standing there trying her best to fix your hair. And she refused to budge until you were fixed properly.

Everything was so empty after you died. A big gaping hole in all of our lives.

I still laugh when I remember being eighteen months old and you teaching me to “shoot peas” with my little fingers from my high chair tray. I think Sandhi still has that high chair; it belonged to you. And although it wasn’t fun back then, I remember being three and you getting us both in trouble because you told me that one of the kittens Mommy had brought home was called ‘Penis’. We were sitting on the step off the back porch, and you had both kittens laying in your hands. You said, “This one is Nosy, and this one is Penis.” And repeated it until I caught on and knew their names. Then Mommy overheard us. I got in trouble for repeating such a thing, and you got in trouble for telling me in the first place.

I remember being alone with your casket at one point. And I stood there peering in, and I made up my mind right then and there that if I ever had a child, and if it was a boy, I was going to name him Thomas. Everyone told me after he was born nine years later that I had done the right thing, that you’d be proud of me. He looks so much like you sometimes that it breaks my heart.

My baby boy is the same age you were when you died. You’d be proud of him. He’s a Marine now. He’s been in Okinawa since the first of August.

I was eleven when you died. And every year, I still expect it to get easier, but it never does. It’s like, since Mommy died ten years ago this Summer, it’s just been that much harder. And then my boys growing up and reaching and passing that nineteen year mark …

I think I’ve cried harder this year than I have in a long time.

I was grown with children of my own before I found out exactly how you died. The mantrip you were riding into the mine jumped the track and pinned you to the roof. You basically were crushed to death.

I wonder sometimes who takes care of the graves in Hart Cemetery – and Mommy’s out in Worley, come to that – since Mommy died. I know Kathy can’t get down there like she used to, and the location of your grave (with Granny’s and Papaw’s) isn’t where she can get to it easy. And I can’t just get up and go to Corbin when I want to. Not that I ever want to go to Corbin …

You’re missed. Very much. And you always will be. We love you. Very much.

By the way. Eddie bought your truck from Bobby Hendrickson. Prior to that, I didn’t know where it had gone to after Daddy died. I just knew that Billie had gotten rid of Daddy’s cars. And the things of his she hadn’t gotten rid of she had destroyed. Your truck is a mess. Eddie is determined to restore it. I can’t wait to see what he’s able to do with it. Sandhi told me last year that Eddie has trouble remembering you. He was only seven when you died, so I suppose that’s reasonable. It’s just a little heartbreaking.