It was almost exactly nine years, to the day, that I made this trip the last time. I wasn’t alone last time I traveled north on I-29 from St Joseph to Nebraska City – but déjà vu crept eerily into the car until I couldn’t handle the weight of it any longer.
Before 2009 I had made the trip literally hundreds of times with my family, and it brought such joy. Even though it was long before I was old enough to drive, I know this route like the back of my hand. And I knew what awaited when we arrived: a big ‘smacker’ from my whiskery grandpa, a walking trip to Bob’s Super Store for treasured, and cheezy, discount toys that almost always immediately broke (if they worked at all), all the Daylight Donuts I could sneak out of the kitchen, and trips down memory lane.
The six-hour drive to Kearney, NE from Kansas City was always so long (especially as a child) and as I grew older I started to resent the trip to my parents’ hometown because I was missing out on weekend events with my friends…Looking back now, those were some of the best trips of my life. I learned so much about the family I came from – the family that quietly did amazing deeds for so many.
The trip nine years ago was completely unexpected. Grandpa Gunner had died many years before but Aunt Jane and Uncle Kent had renovated his home and lived there during Husker Football season – every season.
Two days earlier I had received an early morning call from my dad, who was away on business, frantically telling me I had to get over to their house immediately because he didn’t want my mom to be alone when she found out Kent and Jane had died in a car accident the night before. Still in shock and sleepy, I arrived to find my mom sitting on the front stoop – her cousin had already relayed the news.
I don’t remember the next 48 hours but I vividly remember taking the drive with my mother up I-29 past St. Joseph to Nebraska City. When we turned off the highway, that day 9 years ago, we had to pull over to let the emotion and shock wash over us. I couldn’t help but do the same today.
Even though nothing is the same as it was then – everything is the same. I would never see Kent and Jane again – not as the loving parents, grandparents, brother and sister, and aunt and uncle. I held a child in my heart by not in my arms (I was newly pregnant nine years ago and today Madelyn is in heaven).
Today I wept on the side of the rode as the emotions and memories rushed over my soul. I thought about the ‘what could haves’, the ‘should haves’, the ‘do they know we love and miss thems’, and the ‘what are they doing in heavens’
And then somehow, just like that, I was ready to continue my journey. So I did.