Staying In Touch

My Aunt Naomi from the piedmont of South Carolina was visiting my mother in Southern Georgia. I wanted to see her, too, so I invited my parents and Aunt Naomi over for a cookout at my house. Aunt Naomi had been the victim of a stroke some years earlier and had some problems from time to time with speech, but hadn’t aged much, except for long gray hair that resembled Emmylou Harris.

The steaks grilled, corn on the cob boiled, field peas cooked just right in chicken broth, and the crescent rolls ready, my wife and I sat down with them for dinner while our kids devoured peanut butter and jelly sandwiches washed down by lemon-aid. We drank Splenda-sweetened tea.

Conversations seem awkward and random to me at first, but they evolve into something and that something is always interesting.

Naomi asked, “Is that a new picture?”

“No, that’s been there a while.”

After a while, Naomi asks my mother: “Have you heard from Cousin Angie?”

“No, I used to hear from her when she was drinking, but I haven’t heard a word.”

“Why don’t you call her?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Mom replies, and my aunt shrugs her shoulders. Neither one of them will call her either. They came from a time when phones were necessary for important information–births, sicknesses, deaths. In fact, my heart always skips a beat when caller ID reveals my mother is calling. It’s either sickness or death.

“It’s been at least a year since I heard from her,” Aunt Naomi responds.

“Well, why don’t you Google her, get her number, and call her from here?” I thought it would be great if they connected with their cousin.

“I guess we could,” Mom says and my aunt nods.

After dinner, we all step into my bedroom where the computer is. Mom sits in the recovered Ethan Allen chair, and Aunt Anne sits on the edge of the poster bed. It takes under a minute to type in Angie and her lengthy Polish last name, a name she kept from an ex-husband I never met or knew. In fact, I had never met their cousin Angie who lived in Texas, and they hadn’t seen her in thirty when they had traveled by train to be bride’s maids in her wedding.

The first Google hit was the only one that mattered, and there were less than a full page of hits. It was a brief link to a legal document that suggested Angie had died two years ago. Appropriate or not, I said, “Well, I think we know why you haven’t heard from her. Looks like she died two years ago.”

Mom stood and walked to the computer. “Let me see that.”

Aunt Naomi lay across the bed and repeated, “Can’t be.”

I could sense their emotions were running high, just about to bubble over, and I said “Why don’t you call Doris and find out if this is accurate.” Doris was Angie’s sister, and while they were never close to her, they agreed. After another quick search, I found Doris’ number in San Antonio and dialed the number, handing the phone to Mom. They made small talk for a few minutes before Mom got straight to the point. “Where’s Angie?” Of course, my wife, Dad, and the kids were in the living room watching TV and oblivious to the drama unfolding.

Aunt Naomi and I could not hear what cousin Doris was saying to Mom, but her responses seem to give it away: “Is that right?” “Bless her heart.” “Did she suffer?”

Then, as if realizing you were heading in a wrong direction, and suddenly needed to make a U-turn without looking, Mom said, “Well, it’s been nice talking to you. We’ll stay in touch. I’m on my son’s phone and don’t want to run up his bill. See you later, sweetie. Bye-Bye.”

I whispered to Mom she didn’t have to hang up, that I had free long distance, but I knew she was ready to get off the phone anyway.

“What happened?”

“She had a heart attack and didn’t make it.”

Aunt Naomi started crying and the emotional stress of it all affected her speech. “I…I…not coming…your house no more….Only bad news….”

I knew Aunt Naomi was kidding, but I also knew she was upset, and they didn’t want to talk about it in front of me, my wife, kids, or even in front of my dad. They would spend time together the next day and reflect on their experiences as only sisters can do. Everyone hugged and said goodbye all the way to the car, and they were gone in five minutes.

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Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick’s newest novel Drifting too far from the Shore has been nominated for a Pulitzer. Previously, his collection Road Kill Art and Other OdditiNiles Reddick’s newest novel Drifting too far from the Shore has been nominated for a Pulitzer. Previously, his collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities was a finalist for an Eppie award and his first novella Lead Me Home was a national finalist for a ForeWord award. His work has appeared in anthologies Southern Voices in Every Direction, Unusual Circumstances, Getting Old, and Happy Holidays and has been featured in many journals including The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, Southern Reader, Like the Dew, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Pomanok Review, Corner Club Press, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, and many others. Niles works for the University of Memphis. His website is www.nilesreddick.comes was a finalist for an Eppie award and his first novella Lead Me Home was a national finalist for a ForeWord award. His work has appeared in anthologies Southern Voices in Every Direction, Unusual Circumstances, Getting Old, and Happy Holidays and has been featured in many journals including The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, Southern Reader, Like the Dew, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Pomanok Review, Corner Club Press, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, and many others. Niles works for the University of Memphis. His website is www.nilesreddick.com