Cold air burned my skin as I stepped out of the car. I was not used to the chill; South Texas averaged eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit annually. Obviously, the fifty-five degrees the weatherman announced bothered me. I was strangely out of my element, in more ways than one on Thanksgiving of 2009.
Honorable Mention 2010 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
My father died of a surprise heart attack that October. We were shocked to say the least. I felt shaken to the core. No one could exempt me from this test of faith and strength. Mom decided we needed to go somewhere, get away from our town to not feel hurt with the empty chair at our annual Thanksgiving dinner. We decided not to travel alone because we were lonely and had never driven to Dallas before.
That was an interesting experience. It felt odd. Usually, we rode in our silver Trail Blazer, Mom, Dad, my brother and I. That day, my mom, brother, grandmother, aunt, two cousins and I were stuffed inside a red van. I was squished with my mom and brother on the backseat. Memories of other trips swarmed my vision: of my dad laughing and telling us about his student travels, of his and my mom’s “discussions” of directions, of sleeping while he diligently drove, always taking care of us. We were still being taken care of, but not by our usual knight. Now, we were the mourning family, fragile and as delicate as a snowflake. Everyone wanted to help anyway they could.
When we got to the checkpoint, my mom began to panic. She dug through her purse, searching for our passports. I could never remember her forgetting them before. Something told me Dad would usually remind her to get them. The look of terror on her face shocked me. “What if we were sent back,” her face asked. “What would we say to our hosts?” We’d never had to answer to hosts before. Had we lost our independence with my dad, I wondered. Eventually, she found them, after checking another bag. The rest of the car ride was uneventful, other than a near crash by my cousin. After that, we all agreed that his mother would drive.
After twelve hours, we finally arrived. The little house looked like it could barely hold all of us. Inside, warm smells swirled around and loud voices clamored in happy chaos. Greetings were exchanged with cousins we had not seen in years. My little cousin Bethany chased me wherever I went, never leaving me alone or forgetting her blissful, happy smile. She was the only one who did not understand the concept of death and mourning and, therefore, paid sadness no mind. For that, I was very grateful: she did not give me sympathy, silence, or a moment to feel sorry for myself. Never again will I underestimate a four-year-old’s power or wisdom or purity of spirit.
There was life in winter. A feast shared inside the warmth of family and friends contrasted with the windy chills of the outdoors. For the first time in a long time, my brother and I played and laughed at a ridiculous monkey game, with Bethany cheering us on. My mom reconnected with her sisters, laughing, crying, and praying. We slept together as a family in the same room, and began the healing process. This trip was about remembering the good times, the sunny days, and slowly, making our way back. We came back to our sunny town a little warmer ourselves. Eventually, this winter would end. We were more than ready.
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