My only uncle died last Monday. He’d been suffering from a long and horrible death caused by being in a formaldehyde fire 50-plus years ago. Smoking didn’t help but it wasn’t until he began having severe issues breathing that they realized it was related to that fire all those years ago.
He was one of the first people I met. As a newborn, I remember it with perfect clarity. He held me even before my own father did, as Daddy was still stationed in Hawaii when Mom returned to her family to give birth. Mind you, Hawaii wouldn’t become a state for another 14 months so, in those days, it was a very long journey get back to the mainland.
Home, or the Mothership, is South Texas. Several generations have called South Texas home. When a member of the family dies, many of us who have gone off to colonize the rest of the world and can return, do. Mom, my son (more on that in a bit) and I climbed aboard an Alaska Airlines non-stop to San Antonio last Wednesday.
Travel eating is always a challenge for anyone. My son has nut allergies. I can’t eat dairy or wheat products. We always manage to find sustenance but that’s not the same as food. Still, our objective was to get to Texas and do what needed to be done.
Mid-flight, my engagement ring caught and snagged my slacks. That had never happened. I looked and realized the diamond was gone. The heroic flight attendant, my mother and several passengers helped me search, to no avail. Several people offered advice. There are good people in this world. At baggage claim, as my son was taking care of Mom, who was in a wheelchair, and we were trying to get to rental car claim in time to make it to the visitation, it became clear that my bag was not going to be coming off that carousel. Any time soon. I talked to the two Alaska employees still left at work at San Antonio International at 7 p.m., and they took a report. Rental car finally procured.
There was no way we could make the visitation so we decided to head for my uncle’s family home, where many of the family would gather. Their family home is in rural Texas. Smiley, to be exact. Pop. 550 humans. Several hundred cows and several thousand chickens. Home to The Worst Tasting Water in These 50 States, but still home to their family.
The three of us were beyond famished and began looking for something, other than fast food. There ain’t much between San Antonio and Smiley, except for Seguin. We spotted a Mexican restaurant, pulled in and sighed. Food.
Remember the distinction I made between sustenance and food, earlier? Mexican food in Texas is either fantastic or it comes from a can. I will admit the canned stuff was served very earnestly by a kid of barely 16, but it was just sustenance. That would be a theme. There was a lot of really terrific food given to the family, and we will forever be grateful for all of those wonderful people who did so much for us. But, in a situation like this, all you are doing is putting some sustenance in so you don’t collapse from hunger instead of exhaustion. Exhaustion comes after the funeral.
About why my son accompanied my mother and me. As a graduated high school senior, he was all set to go to WSU. His father, sister and I are Huskies. You see the problem, here? On July 1 of that year, some Divine Being intervened. I’ve always suspected the Smiley aunt who has spent years praying for us all to return to the Mothership. Out of the blue, we got a call from the baseball coach of St. Edward’s University, in Austin, offering him a very generous scholarship because they needed a catcher.
I called my aunt in Smiley, a retired teacher, to ask what she knew. She knew the school, but called every college counselor she’d ever known for more info. A day or two later, she was back to report it was a very good school and wanted to know what the boy’s favorite cookies were. She’s that kind of aunt. Over his four years in Austin she and my uncle made countless trips to watch baseball and feed the Boy, whom my uncle called “Slick” on account of the fact that he grew up in the city. Slick spent many happy days in the country blowing things up, burning things down, killing wild hogs, helping feed cows and doing anything else that needed doing. When it was apparent that my uncle was dying, my aunt made it known that she wanted Boy there as a pall bearer and to help. He was only too happy to be there for her.
Funeral over, and everyone could relax some. I think the first really decent meal any of us had eaten in days was lunch, the day after the funeral, prepared by my cousin, of the Smiley branch of the family. Burgers. Food. For me, it was also, one of those “it’s okay to eat the chips and guac, you haven’t eaten anything decent in days” moments. Still stress eating. Dinner that night was at another aunt’s home: take-out, yummy, smoky barbecue. Food. By that time, Boy and I were beyond famished and just ate. I find I’m usually ravenous for a couple of days after some stress-filled event. Here’s the thing about food: you eat it with the ones you love and have the time to savor the experience. Sustenance is what you put in your mouth when you need to sustain.
Today, Mom and I spent much of the day at San Antonio International. Outside of the sterile area, where we spent most of our time, there is a sandwich shop and a vending machine. Lunch was Baked Lays and trail mix. Sustenance.
Oh, and my bag finally arrived. Last night. From Fairbanks.
Update: Last night, Boy, who had stayed in Smiley for a few days, made food for the Aunt and she was, reportedly, “Over the Moon.” I’ve heard it tell that you know you’ve done well as a parent if your child is a better person than you are. I think we must have done something right.
— By Cheryl Wolotira
This is the latest in a series of fitness columns by Cheryl Wolotira, a retired educational technologist and middle school teacher. She is married, the mother of two adult children and three Labs. Cheryl loves to read, is a keen traveler, an enthusiastic consumer of technology, and is passionate about food and wine, which is why she has to exercise.
Cheryl is working with Pritam Potts, owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, to reach her fitness goals.