James couldn’t rush enough to finish the contract he had on his desk. Ryan had secured a “big wig” client for them at the last minute that wanted them to build and construct a hotel in the rapidly growing area of Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis. Since this was a holiday weekend, with the work crew and customer service having Monday off, he wanted to make sure he completed and processed the forms to finalize their contract personally. It wasn’t so much that they needed the business, but he didn’t want their name to become tarnished for not sticking to their word so he didn’t mind taking the extra time to make sure the contract was in order.
As usual, it had already been a long day, and he was more than looking forward to the weekend. He hated to admit it, but he could be a workaholic. Now, his best friend and business partner, Ryan, was the complete opposite. That was pretty much why they had decided on the front-end when they started the business that James would be present in the day-to-day operations while Ryan was most useful behind the scenes hiring, firing, building business relationships, securing the bag, etc., and, believe it or not, this had been working for them. No complaints filed. You know what they say. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s why they had never thought about changing a thing. Not only was James looking forward to going home, after about an hour and a half of driving southwest, he would be at “home.” His parents home, and he wanted badly to see them and spend the holiday in their midst. His father was a veteran, and his father’s father had been one too, God rest his soul, so Memorial Day was a very special holiday in their family. James still remembers his grandfather’s flag sitting on the mantle, even to this day. When he was younger, he asked his father why the flag was there, and his father said it was to remember. That’s all he said. Over the years, James filled in the blanks for himself, and he never forgot the flag. Like his father said, it was there to remember, and he would never forget.
Though he lived in Memphis, he was actually from the low country in AL and had just moved further north to go to school. He had never really wanted to leave, but his parents encouraged him to get out so he did. Now, it was like pulling teeth for him to find time to get-away, but, when he did, he couldn’t wait to partake. It was so different from the hustle and bustle of the city, and he couldn’t help himself from loving every minute of it. The peacefulness of seeing the forest before the trees and the one long country road that dissected with another one to come together. What? That wasn’t there before, he thought. Somebody had probably protested to have a stop light placed there. Great! Now, more traffic was going to come through. But, James was okay with it actually. Anything that helped people stay safe, he was all for.
After the long drive, though he couldn’t believe he attempted it after work, James had finally reached the one-story home that was built by his great-great grandfather, his parents’ home now. Where he grew up. The yard of every other green blade of grass stood welcoming as he trudged down the front walkway. As was before, the steps were still rickety, and the board on the second rung was still loose where you had to skip over that one to stay steady. I told dad about that the last time. James made a mental note to get that fixed; he didn’t plan on tripping the next time around.
As soon as he got to the front door, he was hesitant to knock at first. He wanted to take in every ounce of sight from his childhood from the swinging porch swing hanging on the far right-side of the porch to the mosquito zapper hanging from a chain right under the porch threshold. He missed his old life; he missed his family even more.
Before he could turn around and knock, his mom spotted him through the worn screen door. “James?,” she cried in disbelief. “James, baby, I didn’t know you was coming. Get in here!” His mom practically ran to the front door and opened it to let him in. He didn’t tell his parents he was coming and wanted to surprise them. Memorial day was their favorite holiday with James’ father being a veteran and his father’s father too so being able to be with family, especially James, since he was the only one of his siblings that lived close, meant a lot to them. He had three siblings: one sister and two brothers. His sister, Stephanie Jordan, was a nurse in Arizona. She wasn’t married, but had two cats and was just as much a workaholic as he was. No wonder she didn’t just go ahead and go to medical school to become a doctor. She had the ambition and drive to do it anyway. His twin brothers, Mario and Marvin, lived in Chicago. They were both financial consultants and couldn’t get enough of that city life. In fact, the last James had heard, they were thinking about making a move to New York. They always did everything together. That “twin bond” they always talk about is very real.
“Well, get in here,” his mom cried, opening the screen door so he could walk through. She grabbed him and hugged him so tight he didn’t think he could breathe good for about fifteen seconds. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said, not really wanting to let him go. She did though.
“It’s good to see you too, mom,” James said. He was trying to seem cool, calm and relaxed, but the truth was he really missed his mom. He really missed being near her, smelling the Chanel # 5 perfume she always wore, couldn’t get enough of the way she gushed over him just because he was her son. He didn’t have to be anything else for her. Just him. “Where’s dad?”
“He’s out fishing,” she said walking to the kitchen and throwing on her apron. “That’s his favorite thing to do these days, and, today, it’s especially high on his list.”
“He misses grandpa?,” James said, meaning it more like a statement than a question.
“You know he does,” his mom said, making her way back over to the kitchen sink to finish peeling and deveining the shrimp for the Shrimp Boil Packets. She had found the recipe on Pinterest and thought it would be great to make for today. James had planned on grilling out today anyway so he could just throw these on the grill along with whatever else he was going to 'que. If they didn’t eat all of them, they could always put them in the ‘fridge and save ‘em for later.
“I know,” James said, sitting down and leaning his head on his right palm. “I wish there was something I could do.”
“Just you being here is enough,” his mom responded, then she looked at him seriously. “James, your dad doesn’t always say, but he misses you. He misses you a lot, and just the fact that you thought enough to drive all this way will make him feel a whole lot better.”
His mom finished up on the shrimp, washed them off and placed them in a bowl. Then, she got ready to slice the Andouille sausage. His mother loved to cook. Thankfully, she had passed that love on to him because his wife, Lisa, couldn’t cook worth a damn, and wasn’t trying to learn anytime soon.
“You need any help?” he asked, trying to make himself useful. He was sure that the kitchen was where his mom stayed most of the time. If his father wasn’t hunting or fishing, he was mostly planted in front of the tv. He had even hired a handyman to come around every once in a while to check on repairs. He knew, beforehand, that he wasn’t up to handle much, and somebody had to do it.
“I’m fine, baby. You just relax. I know you tired after that long drive,” she said, still slicing the sausage.
“I am,” he said, standing up to stretch and, unbeknownst to him, a yawn escaped. The drowsiness had really just hit him.
“Well, your room is still back there. Just ‘gon and take your things in there and stretch out on your bed. The sheets are still fresh. Nobody’s slept in there since you were here last.” His mom was a Godsend. She still kept his room up. Not so much with his brothers’ and sister’s room, but, since he was close, she made sure to keep his room intact, figuring that he would be the one to come back more often. And, she was right.
He gathered up his weekend bag and jacket (he always packed light) and headed down the hallway. He opened the door to his room, and walked through. God, he thought and exhaled. Being here was like nostalgia. He practically collapsed on the bed when he caught sight of the pillow and was fast asleep in less than two minutes. The next thing he remembered was slightly hearing the door creak as his mom (he was sure it was her) looked in and checked in on him. Obviously satisfied that he was still asleep, she shut the door.
She did come in about a couple hours later and couldn't resist waking him. His dad was back and ready to grill. She figured James could help him. He stood up and stretched toward the sky (or the ceiling, rather) and headed to the living room where he knew his dad was camped out, and sho’ nuff, he was. Sitting in his favorite chair in his denim overalls. Thousands of pins lined the front pocket of the overalls. Those were his trademark, plus he believed that you could use them for other things too so it was better to have them than to not.
“Hey dad,” James said as he made a beeline to his dad. His dad stood up, grinning. In fact, James could have sworn he saw water puddling in his dad’s eyes when they separated, but he didn’t want to bring attention to it.
“How are you, James?” his dad asked. “I’m glad you could come home this weekend, and you’re just in time too. We’re going out the gravesite after dinner, after the sun sets and it cools a lil’ bit. I need to see my dad today.”
“I want to go to grandpa’s grave too, to pay my respects. I knew it would mean a lot to you this weekend,” James said.
“You’re right,” his dad said, actually grabbing his handkerchief and dabbing at his eyes when he didn’t think James was watching.
“Mom, said you wanted to start grilling,” James asked, hating seeing his dad cry.
“Yeah, I do,” he said, shoving his handkerchief back in his pocket.
“Well, let’s get started.”
After grilling, they took everything in and placed it all on the stove. His mom had made some Homemade Southern Sweet Tea and Garlic Artisan Bread to go with the Ribeye steaks and shrimp foil packets that James and his dad cooked on the grill. Everything looked really good. They did a good job. Of course, James knew that it would have looked just as good if he wasn’t there, but he was glad that he was.
“Next time, I’m going to make the Surf ‘n’ Turf foil packs,” then his mom turned and said to his dad, “that way, you won’t have to grill the steaks. It’ll just be included in the pack.”
“Oh Melania,” his dad said, reaching out for her hand. “Everything looks good, and I didn’t mind making the steaks. Plus,” he turned his head toward James, “it gave me some quality time with my son.”
“Thx dad,” James said.
“You’re welcome, son,” replied James, Sr.
“James,” said his mom, “Will you please say grace?”
“Yes,” responded James. “Let’s bow our heads. Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this day. Thank you for waking us up and putting us in our right minds. Thank you for giving me traveling grace as I made the trip from Memphis. Thank you for getting me here safely. Thank you for this meal that you have set before us, and please let it nourish our bodies. And, Lord, please bless all the families celebrating today, and let us remember the reason that we celebrate. We celebrate the memories of the veterans that we’ve lost and are no longer with us. We also celebrate the ones that are still here and the ones that are fighting for us everyday. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.”
“Amen,” his mom and dad said in unison as they both lifted their heads.
“Well, come on,” his dad said. “Let’s eat.”
They got out of the car and walked through the cemetery where James’ granddad was buried. They had an arrangement of flowers to place on his headstone. Once they reached his site, they stood and stared, remembering. It read “In Loving Memory of James Ely Jordan, Sr., Beloved Husband and Father, 1932-2001.”
James looked over and saw his father crying. He didn’t try and hide it this time. His mom reached over and grabbed his dad’s hand and moved over a little closer to provide him some comfort.
Sometimes, it was good to remember.
Thank you for reading “Caught Up - Memorial Day Episode.”
To read more about these characters and their lives, get caught up with my “Caught Up” Series. You won’t be disappointed.