Nora Swango Stanger: When something hurts
I have a perfect game for building understanding in new groups.
The More Than One Story card game “fosters empathy across differences through the power of exchange and storytelling.”
Today, I’m using the game for self-reflection. The card I drew had the question “Tell about a time when something hurts.”
This was the best and worst question for me today.
Yesterday, I learned that a dear friend had passed away and today I hurt.
Jim Meadows was a constant person in my childhood. Even though I have not lived on Aaron’s Creek for decades, I can’t imagine Jim not sitting on his porch watching his grandkids swim in their pool.
Though his body has been suffering for years, this didn’t dampen his spirit.
On the rare occasion that I stopped in to see him and Tonnia, Jim would always have a huge smile and a twinkle in his eye. It got so I wouldn’t even notice he was tethered to an oxygen tube.
My first memory of Jim was when I was eight years old. Tonnia and Jim were teenage loves.
I was very sick that winter and spent a week in Holzer’s Hospital. When they visited me, Jim stood over my hospital bed and promised that as soon, as I was well, he would buy me a pizza.
Pizza was my favorite and a rare treat those days.
On the day I was released from the hospital, Jim and Tonnia gave Mom and me a ride home.
I still remember Jim driving, Tonnia sitting close to him and me in shotgun. (Mom had to sit in the back seat.) I didn’t have a coat and it was very cold.
Maybe that’s why Tonnia rode with her arms around me. Before getting out of Gallipolis, Jim stopped by a restaurant and came out with a huge box.
He said the pizza was all for me. I held the warm, fragrant box on my lap the whole ride home.
I remember how crazy Tonnia was about Jim in their dating days. You could hear her singing, “Don’t say nothing bad about my baby,” on the bus ride home from school.
Her bedroom vanity mirror had written all over it in red lipstick “Tonnia loves Jim.”
Once married, they moved to Cleveland for just a short time. They couldn’t stand to be away from Aaron’s Creek and our communal family.
They settled in a modest but, ever sweet, trailer home and began having babies. I was the honored one who got to be their official babysitter.
It seems I was in their home multiple times a week, but always on Saturday nights, when they had their date-night.
They gave me a case of Pepsi and a wool poncho for my high school graduation gift. I remember the tears when I said goodbye to leave Aaron’s Creek for college.
Since then, every time I drive home to see Mom, I anticipate going by Jim and Tonnia’s home. I look for them as though I expect to see them.
Now they live in a much larger home, surrounded by the homes of their adult children and their grandchildren.
Watching their lives grow and develop over the years has brought me great joy. The Meadows family has been an unbroken link in the chain of my life, something I could always depend upon.
This family is part of my social identity. Even if I don’t visit with them often, I know that in a moment they would come to my rescue if I asked.
Today, I have to adjust to an unwelcome change. Jim Meadows will be terribly missed and not just by his devoted biological family.
His Aaron’s Creek family will grieve the void he leaves behind as well.
And yet, Jim’s fingerprints are all over his wife and children. His influence continues in my life and in the lives of all of my family. We remember. We remember.
To Tonnia, Shane, Hopie, Lora Lee, and Kyle, we remember. We share in your grief. Our broken hearts are soothed to know God allowed Jim to be a husband, father, grandfather and friend to so many.
Aaron’s Creek will not be the same.
Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.