The summer I turned 8 years old was one filled change. Change was nothing new in my life and that summer was to be no exception. We were in the process of moving into a new house. I didn’t know it yet, but this was going to be a positive change for me. I would meet the family that would help me survive my childhood.
I had been introduced to my Uncle Joe and his family earlier that year and I had visited them a couple of times that summer. My grandmother took me for a ride and parked by a small lake in downtown Charleston. She tried to break the news to me that my Uncle Joe was really my father. She was shocked to find that I remembered him and already knew he was my father.
My grandmother sent me to a girl scout camp for a week towards the end of summer. It wasn’t one of her better ideas. I had serious abandonment, anxiety, and fear issues. They had to call her twice that week, because I had an upset stomach every day and experienced night terrors. I was already something of a misfit and that didn’t do much to help.
When Saturday morning came I was packed and ready to leave. Grandmother put everything in the car, shut the door, and sat for a minute before telling me that we were going on a trip. I wasn’t sure what to think as she explained that we were going to West Virginia to visit my other grandparents. She asked if I remembered them. I told her I didn’t. Another moment passed and she asked if I remembered my little brother. She went on to explain that when my parents left my brother was sent to West Virginia to live with my father’s parents. It was a bit much for my 7 year old mind to take in.
It was a long drive. Interstates were beginning to be built, but at that time it was all 2 lane and 4 lane highways. Road signs were the most interesting thing along the way. The were Smokey the Bear signs were my favorite. Along the way we also encountered the famous Burma Shave signs. The signs were placed in groups of 5 or 6, spread apart by short distances in between. Each sign would add another line to a somewhat silly set of rhymes with the last one reading, “Burma Shave.” As we moved into the Blue Ridge mountains we saw signs advising drivers of falling rocks and curves in the road ahead. We arrived in the small farm community where my grandparents lived in time for supper. I wasn’t sure what to think of the 6 year old boy with several teeth missing, but we bonded quickly .
Over the next ten years my Grandmother and I would repeat this trip every summer. We would wake at 5am to be sure we arrived before dark. I sat at the small Formica top table in the kitchen and ate breakfast. Grandmother pulled out her Bible and read verses someone had designated as ones to read before travel. She said a prayer for our safety and off we went. We watched for the same landmarks and signs each year. We always ate at the same small cafeteria for lunch. My excitement would build when we arrived in the mountains because I knew we were getting closer.
I cherished those two weeks I spent with my brother each summer . We spent that time getting to know each other and sharing our secret thoughts about life, family, and the future. We haven’t been able to spend as much time together as I would like since we became adults. We talk on the phone, text, and email. We share family pictures on facebook. We may not have had the typical brother-sister relationship growing up, but he is my baby brother just the same. My brother and I have talked about taking a road trip back to Flat Top, West Virginia together one day. Maybe I should call him and start making plans for next summer.