In January, 1980, while enjoying some music in my room, I heard the phone ring. Momma answered. She kept repeating, “it can’t be true, it just can’t!” After a little more discussion with the caller, she hung up the phone and began to cry. I ran to her side and at that moment I realized I had never seen her cry. I felt very nervous and a little scared. Momma was upbeat and even tempered, but authoritative when it is was necessary. She wasn’t supposed to cry.
Momma wouldn’t tell me why she was upset. She hugged me and asked me to go back to my room and continue to listen to my music. Momma hid herself away in her bedroom. A little while later, Daddy arrived home from work early and met her there. Their room was at the opposite end of the hall from my bedroom. I listened intently to see if I could figure out what was wrong. Tried as I might, I could only make out the sounds of Momma sobbing. I imagined Daddy holding her.
When and how I was told about my cousin’s death, I do not remember. My Aunt Brenda’s son, Danny, just 18 years old, was killed in a plane crash. Danny was taking flying lessons with his best friend. During one of their final lessons, the plane’s engine malfunctioned and it crashed, killing Danny.
Danny had a wonderful and loving personality. I liked it when he paid attention to me. I thought he was so cute with his blonde hair and blue eyes. Danny was the second oldest of my Aunt’s 5 children.
Daddy was very close to Danny. They had a lot of things in common and had a great Uncle-Nephew bond. Although I did not see Daddy cry, he was somber and looked vacant and absent from his body.
Our family was so incredibly sad during this time. I remember the long faces. I remember so many tears. I remember it so well because seeing the tears from all of the faces that were always smiling and kissing me was so hard to comprehend especially, Papaw. Papaw cried openly and hard. This, his oldest grandson was gone in an instant.
In the coming days there was a funeral. I was not allowed to attend and neither were my brothers. We were told that we were too little and that a funeral was not a place for children. In that moment, I became afraid of funerals. I wasn’t quite sure what they were, but dead people were there and it was no place for children.
With so much sadness, I began to wonder if those faces would ever be the same. During this family gathering there are sporadic smiles, spurts of laughter here and there but demeanors were mostly subdued and calm. The adults would often look at me endearingly and then just pat my head or my back while ushering me back to play with my siblings.
Within a few days, we fell back into our typical routines returning to school and work. Momma seemed to be back to her normal self, but I knew she was still sad about Danny. I made sure that my brothers and I did not ask her any questions about him, although we were still so curious.
Getting back into our routine and going to school was easy for Lee and me. We both loved being there and we were good students. We attended Grace E. Hardeman Elementary and it was located just one block from our house. I was in the 6th grade and had just started in the band.
Being in the band was the coolest thing ever. I played the clarinet. My Aunt Catherine, Daddy’s sister, lent me the one she used to play when she was in band. I was so embarrassed to carry that thing around. It had the most hideous, old-time brown, hard case. What used to be plush and green interior was now a putrid shade of greenish-yellow and rough in patches. The clarinet itself was beautiful and shiny without a scratch on it. I, of course hated it because my fellow classmate’s had clarinets that were matte finished.
Many times, I was scolded not to complain about what I didn’t have. Momma told me that I should be thankful that I was able to play in the band. I truly was grateful. Band practice took place in the Junior High band hall. We practiced everyday after school with the 7th graders.
Each day I looked forward to going to school just so I could go to band practice at the end of the day. You may think I was drawn to music, but I wasn’t. I did pick it up quickly and I was pretty good, but the boys….oh the boys! They were older and cuter and they were in Junior High! There was one that flirted with me every day. Well, maybe he was just being nice, but my 11, almost 12 year old, self chose to think he was flirting. His name was Chad. I couldn’t wait to see him each day just to hear what he would say to me.
Chad had gotten really friendly and spent a lot of time talking to me after practice one day. I just knew that he was working up the nerve to ask for my phone number. I couldn’t wait to go to school the next day. I ran home and told Momma all about it.
Poor Momma, I don’t know how she did it. She would sit and listen to me for an hour at least. I would tell her all about who did what to who, who said what and what for. She listened intently as if it really mattered. I could tell her anything and did. She never judged, just offered simple advice. When I told her all about Chad, she cautioned that it was inappropriate for a young lady to offer her number without being asked and it was highly inappropriate for a young lady to call a boy. She also warned that I should be guarded with my feelings just in case he didn’t ask.
That night, I slept very little. As soon as my alarm went off, I jumped out of bed and put on my cutest outfit. I snuck on a little makeup and curled my hair up real nice. I was just about to run out of the house when I came around the corner and saw Momma on the phone. She was crying….