I got a new purse for an anniversary years ago, and I often think about the events of that year when fall comes again, and we add another year.
We lived in Virginia that year. We were going to be there for a year because of Bob's work. We were off on a year's adventure, going to live in a new place, see all the sights, and experience new schools, new cultures, and then move back home. Home -- where nothing would have changed. Not much.
We spent our weekends visiting anything we found might be of interest. On that first weekend in October, we found an arts festival to go to. It was great. I love art festivals..all the artists and craftsmen were new to us. We had the best crab cake sandwich in the world that day. I bought it right from a vendor in the park. No restaurant sandwich has ever come close to matching up to my memory of that sandwich. I don't recall what town or county the festival was in. It may have been in Maryland. They claim home to the infamous Blue Crab you know. But I remember what I bought at that fair. One item was a plush, handmade Bald Eagle. This was to put away and give to Jonathan for Christmas. The other purchase was my purse. A handmade, leather, compartmentalized, multicolor, perfect length shoulder strapped purse. I spent more than I ever thought I would for a purse. But I said it would be my anniversary present since it would be our 15Th coming up the next week. Fifteen years should be a milestone worth a little extra.
On Monday we were back to the routine of school, work, etc. That evening Bob had taken the kids on an errand, and I took the call from Donna, his mother. Bob's folks had just completed an auction at their place in Wisconsin and were to be moving back to Nebraska to be closer to family. I thought the call was just going to be to let us know they were on their way and all was sold and packed and ready to go. It wasn't. Bob's father died. Harley wouldn't be moving back. He was to be buried in his home state of Wisconsin.
We hesitated only a bit, before deciding we would all go to Wisconsin, and the most economical way to get all five of us there was to drive. So we packed up and off we went. Just as we were going out the door, I grabbed my new purse which was still in the shopping bag, as I hadn't put it to use, yet.
The drive to Wisconsin was rushed, but without any problems. The landscape was beautiful in the country. It was an October when the trees were at their best all along our trip. I had never seen such great fall colors. We were all pretty quiet that trip, the kids keeping themselves busy with Walkmans or books, and whatever they had brought in their backpacks. I remember watching the trees go by and the sun shining so bright, and being on the verge of tears nearly every moment. I was thinking that back in May of that same year when we had said goodbye to Harley it was the last time.
On the day we were to arrive in the little Wisconsin town, it would be our 15Th wedding anniversary. I don't think we even mentioned it to each other that morning or even during the day. We just both knew it, but had to keep on the tasks at hand. I did get my new purse out of the bag, and as we drove along, I put it to use, cleaning out the old one and arranging the new one. It was just between me and the purse that this was my present. No need for other celebratory remarks or actions, there were other things to attend to.
We arrived to find all the family and more relatives gathered having eats and drinks at the lodge on the lake. There was to be a visitation and prayer service later that evening at the mortuary. We hugged and sat and visited for a while. Then Bob told me to come with him and Candy, his sister. I just followed them out, and we went into a cousin's apartment next door. Candy said she had other bad news. I could never have imagined what I was about to hear. She said my brother, Bob, had died.
When one is on the verge of tears for a couple of days, another shock can really send it pouring out. I don't know how I got myself composed enough to deal with the rest of the day. I suppose because I had a husband and three kids to look after, and they to look after me, falling apart could just wait. We would just have to find a way to get to Nebraska for another funeral.
We attended the short service for Harley that evening. It was a gathering of friends and relatives to say goodbye and offer condolences and fond memories. Afterwards many relatives and friends gathered at one of the pubs on the lake near where Donna & Harley had lived. Our kids were allowed to play pool on the bar's pool table, and a lot of people gathered around visiting in small groups. The atmosphere had a nice small town feel to it, and anyone who happened in the place knew it was Harley's family there and offered a word of sympathy to one or two family members.
Bob & I were sitting with his brothers and some cousins and their spouses. At some point talk turned to weddings and how long ago some had married. Then some talk about upcoming anniversaries started to come up. As people started to compare years and dates, I looked at Bob, and he didn't say anything, just a bit of smile to me. I wondered about saying it was our anniversary, but thought of why we were there and where we had to go, and I knew if anyone would even ask about our anniversary date, I would certainly burst into tears. I thought how wrong this was for us. Now the events of this year would always be there between the anniversary and the wedding.
I guess a breakdown would have been totally understandable by all those present, but it just didn't need to happen.
The following day was the funeral mass and burial for Harley, complete with Veteran's honors. We had lunch at the church and it was mid afternoon when the family again gathered at the lodge where we had spent the night before. We spent a couple hours talking and took a walk in the woods to enjoy the fall foliage, and to honor Harley as he did love the woods. By late afternoon Bob and I and the kids had repacked our minivan and were ready to go to Nebraska. We have never been fast travelers, and we were going to be driving at night for the whole 500 miles.
We did make that trip in record time for us, with only a few stops for necessities. It was really the middle of the night as we were driving through Sioux City and decided to make a stop. We just needed a break, get some coffee and something to eat at a truck stop. It is just weird how people can react to what is going on within them at a given time. Something triggered a giggle from one of the kids, and they started laughing nearly uncontrollably as the waitress tried to take our order. They really could not stop. The waitress obviously thought it was something about her that they were laughing about, and looked puzzled and a bit hurt. I could hardly tell her to just ignore them, that we were just coming from their grandfather's funeral and going to an uncle's funeral the next day. That would not explain this behavior and make her feel better. I think I said we were all a bit sleep deprived. That made them laugh even more. I never knew what was so funny, maybe it was the waitress. I do think she was glad to see us go.
An hour later and we arrive at Mother's house. She is obviously relieved to see us and is ready to give us food and a resting spot. Our family gathers a couple of times in the next two days. Most of us in shock and trying to figure out how we could get our heads around losing a sibling just like that. A sister and daughter made a trip much like ours from the West coast. We are together and it matters. Our bright spot and welcome distraction is the baby, Seth. Seth is our brother Bob's first grandchild and the only one he would meet on this earth. Seth was just a few months old, and we admire him and try our best to make him laugh and smile.
The funeral procession to the cemetery is led by the truck Bob drove at his work. The big yellow-orange state truck shines in that October sun. It seems too bright for the sad day it is. But it is so fitting. Bob's coworkers and friends liked him a lot. They want us all to know he'll be missed. Then for the second time that week, my family hears the 21-Gun Salute and Taps.
Now again after a funeral our family needs to pack up and head on our way. It is hard to leave everyone so soon after, but we have far to go. We spent the night at our home in Omaha, and as we got up the next day, the neighbors were up getting ready to deliver the Sunday papers. We were glad to see them and the kids were happy to touch base with some happy faces at home.
Our trip back to Virginia was tiresome, but went smoothly. Traveling through Iowa, I remember stopping to eat, or for gas and thinking I could not get out of the Midwest too soon. It seemed every stop I would see my brother. There was always a guy with a seed-corn ball cap and a dusty orange sweatshirt getting his coffee or lunch, or gassing up his truck as the harvest season was in full swing. I would get a glimpse of the guy, turn and look again and then know it couldn't be brother Bob.
Again the drive was a mix of fall colors along the way. The trees in the East were peaking now, and it was a great year for fall foliage.
After arriving back to the apartment and getting kids into their own beds, it almost seemed unreal. The week must have been a dream. But we woke up the next day and went to work and school knowing it had not been a dream and things were different. We had been changed by some important life experiences and it happened very fast.
We have had 14 more anniversaries since the October of 1993. Mostly good ones. I carried that purse for 10 years, it was so right. I haven't found a just right replacement. Probably never will, because the purse came from a time just before some big things happened. To remember buying the purse and the best crab cake sandwich ever is a revisit to that time when we were not missing a parent and a brother. It's a visit to a previous chapter, and it's good to go there sometimes.