I was so exhausted from the last two days' events I crashed early. Apparently, there were some great football games on so John was up at 11 pm when the first phone call came. It was my dad. My 21 year old cousin, James, was in a horrible car accident.
My first question, obviously, "Is he alive?" My dad could only answer with an "I don't know, we're driving to Zephyrhills Hospital right now." Now my heart starts racing and a million questions make their way to the functioning parts of my brain.
About an hour later, I call my dad back and here's what my exhausted brain hears: "Nell, he's pretty mangled. I'm sitting with him now because Linda doesn't want him to be left alone."
Me: "Oh, ok. Well, call me if you need to."
By now I'm finally in touch with my sister, who is hysterical. "If anything happens to him, I will really collapse. He's my boy, Nellie." My sister and James are close in age and have really hung out through their teenage years. Stacie has just experienced way too many deaths in her short lifetime, including the suicide of her childhood friend Nicole just a month ago.
I do my best to calm her down and tell her to just text me with an update. At this point, I think she's on her way to the hospital to visit. At 1am the house and cell phones start ringing. I told her to text, but she's calling. Weird. I drift back off to sleep.
I call my mom as soon as my eyes open. She's delirious and I can't understand her. I call my dad's cell and reach him. "No, Nell, he's not ok. He's dead. Babe, I thought I was clear last night."
"Uh, no, Dad. You weren't." I'm crying now. Turner is asking what's wrong. How do I explain my tears to him? Oh, my God. The day got worse and spilled in the next...
My family has camped during the week/end of Thanksgiving at the Hillsborough River State Park for 50 years. Immediate and extended family sleep in tents and campers all parked in a row. The kids and adults play all day and I know everyone looked forward to it throughout the year. It was our time to touch base with second and third cousins, great aunts and that lady who is related to your dad's uncle and twice removed (Katie Ogden may respond with an actual answer!). Thanksgiving day we'd scurry around and cook on the fire and tiny electric stoves. Football was broadcast on teeny tiny TVs with rabbit ears and everyone just enjoyed a slower week. The turkeys were usually cooked in someone's home -Mammer (my grandmother) would stay home to make hers and then come out to the park. There were odd pies, sweetpotatoe casseroles, dips, and sauces galore. Any and all Southerners' favorite foods were piled on mis-matched tables in the pavillion by the Hillsborough River. The staff at the park would even ask if so-and-so was coming because they've not yet reserved a spot.
The first time I ever missed a Thanksgiving at the park was college. I was devistated. The first time my family missed the park was when they travelled to Charleston, SC for my wedding. After that, John and I never got to go back. We toyed with the idea this year, but decided a quite weekend at home was needed. I regret the decision and probably will for ever. I know you can't change the past but to see James' smiling face or get one of his signature hugs would have lasted me a lifetime.