Chapter 8 – Joe’s Gramma Tells a Story

Chapter Eight ~ Joe’s Gramma Tells a Story

Twenty Years Earlier
“I was thirty-five years old when Patrice finally landed a plane in the hanger, you know what I mean?”

Joe looked puzzled and said, “I didn’t know Gramps knew how to fly.”

“I not talking about flying. One of his boys finally meet one of my girls, and next thing I know, I’m pregnant with Estelle.”

Joe understood. He nodded. He had no idea where his gramma was going with this story.

Teresa continued, “I wanted a boy, so as soon as Estelle gets off my nipple, we start trying for a boy. I’m gonna tell you. His sperm got no power. Finally, four years later, we get lucky and he knocks me up. This is Annette. I telling you now, Joe, you want to raise kids, do it when you’re younger. It takes too much energy when you’re older.”

Joe looked at his iWatch. Teresa caught his glance. She said, “Okay, I’ll skip the first few chapters, but I got some good stuff to tell you, especially about Estelle, you wanna hear it.”

“Next time, you can give me all the dirt on Estelle,” said Joe hoping his gramma and Estelle patched things up before then.

Teresa yawned, then said, “The beer tastes good, but not as good as my Budweiser. Maybe I’ll have another bottle when I finish telling you about Annette.”

Joe had no idea his gramma enjoyed beer. He filed it away, making a mental note to surprise her with a six-pack every now and then.

Teresa said, “Annette, almost from the second she was born, was head strong. She was going to do things her way or she wasn’t going to do them. I don’t mean to say she was a bad girl. Just the opposite. Annette was a good girl. But we fought all the time. I tell her to go to bed. She’d say why. I tell her to clean her room, she say, later. She always do what I ask, but she’s always pushing me, you know what I mean?”

Joe nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“When she was in high school, she wants to start dating when she is fifteen. Patrice and I say, no. You’re too young to date. Oh my God, you think we put her in prison. Before we could say another word, she said she is going to her room and never coming out. She stomped to her room, slammed the door loud enough to wake up the dead. Patrice looks at me and says, ‘I hope she means it.’

Joe laughed. He knew his mom could be headstrong when she wanted her way. She usually got it with his dad.

Teresa continued, “Annette got better as she got older. I give her credit, but she still got this problem if she makes up her mind even God is not going to change it. That’s what happened when she goes off to college. We got this rule, you want to date a boy, you bring him home to meet Patrice and me. This work just fine during her freshman year because she’s living at home. Then she announces she is going to live at the college in the dormitory. Why? We feed her. We give her a roof over her head. I do her clothes. She wants to move out, it makes no sense. The college is only five miles from where we live. You agree with me?”

Joe thought his mom made the right decision to get out on her own, but he didn’t want to argue with his gramma. He said, “You were giving her everything.”

“You got a good brain, Joe. We argue with her. Her mind is made up. She got a head harder than rock. She’s going to work part-time at the college to pay the extra. I thought Patrice was going to have a heart attack.

“The next thing we know she shows up for Sunday dinner with her boyfriend. Right away, I don’t like him. I don’t like his looks. He looks too smooth. He hands me and Patrice a line I don’t believe for a minute. I see he got Annette wrapped around his little finger. She’s in love with him she don’t know from nothing, you hear what I’m saying.”

Joe nodded then said, “Was this Joe Wright?”

“Who’s Joe Wright. I don’t know no Joe Wright from nowhere. This was Joe Ritchie. He was the no good son of bitch that knocked her up. When he finds out she’s pregnant, he takes off.”

“He joined the army?” Joe asked.

“What army. He never was in the army, air force, or the marines.”

Joe reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out the folded letter he found in the metal box. He said, “Gramma. I found this letter. Look at the address, it’s Lieutenant Joe Wright and the return address says he’s in the army.”

Teresa took hold of the envelope and opened it. She pulled out the letter bringing it up within a foot of her eyes, and read it. While she was reading the letter, she flooded the atmosphere with one curse word after another. When she finished reading the letter, she handed the it back to Joe, “If I get my hands on him, I gonna snap his neck like I snap a chicken’s neck when I was younger. That’s what I’m gonna do. That’s no Joe Wright. That’s Joe Ritchie. I remember the letter. I picked it up from the mailbox. Annette is home with you and I get the mail and I say who’s this Joe Wright in the army who’s sending you a letter. And, Annette says, ‘He’s a friend from college.’ She thinks I don’t know nothing. But I know she was lying to me. But the truth finally comes out.”

Joe said, “What can you tell me about Joe Ritchie?”

“I’m going to need another beer before I get started. I got a story to tell you.”


Searching for Dad ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Starting Place

Chapter Five ~ A Starting Place

Tony was waiting on the porch steps, a mug of coffee in his hand, when Joe pulled into the driveway. Joe waved and reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed his backpack.

He got out of his car, closed the door and looked over at Tony. He said, “I hope you made enough coffee. I didn’t fall asleep until four. I only got three hours of shuteye. I’m blaming you for making talk last night.” He tossed Tony a big grin.

“Don’t blame me. If Marie was in bed with you, you wouldn’t have had a sleep problem,” Tony laughed.

“Sleeping single in a double bed is no fun, I agree. I’m going to get used to it until I find this guy. Let’s get started,” said Joe as he and Tony hugged. Joe followed Tony into the house.

While Joe was getting set his laptop up on the table, Tony went to the coffee pot and poured a fresh cup of coffee for both of them. He turned his head toward Joe and said, “I got a head start on our search this morning.”

“You find anything?” asked Joe half expecting Tony to have all the answers he needed.

Tony picked up two mugs of coffee and carried them over to the table. He set one down in front on Joe and the other to right side of his laptop. He went back to the counter and brought over a bag. He set the bag down, “There are bagels and cream cheese in the bag. Help yourself.”

Tony opened the bag, peered in and pulled out a pumpernickel bagel, a container of plain cream cheese and a plastic knife. He looked up at Tony, and said, “Well? What did you find?”

Tony reached for the bagel bag and said, “I figure your mom was about twenty, maybe twenty-one when you were born.”
Joe nodded.

Tony continued, “She was in college at St. Clare University. It was all women at the time. So we know Joe Wright wasn’t a student at St. Clare’s unless he was a cross-dresser.”
Joe rolled his eyes, and said, “I hope you got more than this.”

“Bear with me, Joe. I’m laying this out so a guy with your low level intellect can understand.”

They both laughed. Tony continued, “Just because he was in the army when he wrote the letter to your mom, doesn’t mean he was in the army when they met and started sleeping together.”

“Man, that hurts,Tony. Mom was such a saint in my mind. Then I see her in a skimpy bikini and now you toss in sleeping with guy who walked out on her. What next?”

“Give your mom a break, Tony. She was no different from you and me. What were you doing when you were 20? I remember a girl named Nina in high school. So, your mom got caught up with the wrong guy and got pregnant. You think she was the only woman on the planet that this ever happened to?”

Joe shook his head. He said, “You’re right, Tony.” Joe raised his head toward the ceiling, “Forgive me, Mom. My bad.”

Tony continued, “At the same time St. Clare’s was an all women university, across town was St. Bernard University. It was all male. A little Internet checking and the two universities held mixers throughout the year. You know, they wanted to make sure Catholics were marrying Catholics. Now, St. Bernard, like St. Clare’s is male and female. What if, Joe Wright was a student at St. Bernard’s? Think about it. St. Bernard’s had and still has an ROTC program. Students who joined the ROTC got their education paid for by the government in exchange for four years of military service and they were commissioned as officers when they graduated.”

Joe waited for moment. Then he said, “What you said is all true, but it’s pure speculation. You’re just guessing. The only thing I agree with is that he went to college. His being an officer in the army means he most likely went to college. It doesn’t mean he went to either Catholic college. If he’s local, it’s more likely he went OSU. They have a big ROTC program. Here’s another thought, what if he was in the army and home on leave and they got together. He could be six years older than mom.”

“You’re not making it easy, Joe.”

“I just did a quick search for the surname Wright and it is one of the most common in the US. There are nearly a half million people with that last name. All I need is a starting place and I think the rest will unfold. I’ll find a trail I can follow right to its end. If this guy is living or dead I want to know so I can close this chapter. It’s something I need to do or it’s going to eat at me for the rest of my life.”

“The logical first step is to ask your grandmother or your aunt Estelle. They both would know your mom was pregnant and not married,” said Tony.

A look of pain crossed Joe’s face. He said, “Gramma just went to a nursing home about two weeks ago. I hate to bring up a bad memory. She’s all alone. After mom was killed, all she has is Estelle. Estelle was four years younger than mom. I don’t think they were close when they were growing up.”

Tony said, “Why don’t you want to talk to them? I’ve never know you to be afraid of anything, now you’re afraid of talking to your gramma and aunt? If you really want to find Joe Wright, you’ve got to suck up and do what you don’t want to do. Your gramma is probably going to be happy to see you. When was the last time you visited her?”

Joe turned away from his friend. A flash of anger crossed his face. He knew if said what he wanted to say, he’d regret it and maybe lose a friend. He felt his jaw tighten. He looked down at his hands, they were balled into big fists, his fingernails were digging into his palms. After an eternal moment, he turned back toward Tony and said, “Anybody but you who said that to me, we would have taken it out into the street. You’re right, Tony. I haven’t been a good grandson. I haven’t stopped by to see her in six months.”

Tony said, “Your gramma is the first step. See what she can tell you.”

“Good idea, Tony. We have some time, let’s see what we can find. I’ll hit People Finder.

You try some other location services, maybe obituaries, that sort of thing. I’ll head to gramma’s this afternoon.

Joe nodded and fist bumped Tony.

Chapter 4, “Searching for Dad,” A Dark Secret Revealed

Chapter Four ~ A Dark Secret Revealed
Present Day

Joe picked up his beer and swirled the bottle. He stared in the dark gold liquid searching for answers. After a moment, he set the bottle down, looked over to Tony and said, “I never again set foot again in the attic until the other day. That part of the house was taken away from me in an instant. For a long while, I believed I did something terribly wrong. I didn’t understand what I did, but I I knew I crossed a line I should have never crossed. Mom never mentioned it. It is as if that moment never happened.

Tony couldn’t help himself, “I think I remember your mom being angry with you. At the time, I felt bad because I told her we looked all over for you. She called for you and you didn’t answer. Then, all of a sudden, she heard a thump in the attic and got this look on her face and took off. The next thing Anna and I knew was we had to go home. Were you ever curious as to what was in the metal box?”

“I thought about it every now and then. I wasn’t sure if it was what was inside the metal box or the fact that I was in the footlocker and messed things up. I hadn’t thought about it in years. I wasn’t sure until I cut the duct tape on the metal box and opened the box. The old hook latch I had so much trouble with when we were playing hide and seek was broken. I wondered for a moment if I broke it. For an instant, I felt guilty.”

Tony looked at his friend. He wanted to prod him. He could see the struggle in Joe’s face. Tony wondered what was in the box that was eating at his best friend. Joe was always the toughest of the two. He protected Tony, stood up to bullies. He’d just as soon fight on the playground as to backdown.

Joe said, “Look at me, Tony. Who do I favor, my mom or my dad?”

Tony thought the question was coming in from an aircraft not on his radar. He said,

“Don’t take it the wrong way, you’ve got a big nose. Neither your mom or dad have a big nose.”

Joe cracked a half smile, “I know. Who do I favor? Maybe my eyes, cheeks, mouth. I know neither mom or dad have a nose this big.”

“Your nose is big but it’s in proportion to your face. You don’t favor your dad. Your mom had dark brown eyes and your eyes are dark brown. That’s a similarity. You’re taller than both. You have any tall aunts or uncles?”

“No, both sides of the family were on the shorter side. I’m six one. I don’t think there is anyone over five feet eleven inches. I’m making a point, let me go on without interrupting me.”

Tony knew enough to back off. He waited.

Joe said, “When I opened the box, I found cards, letters, documents, and some photos.”

He paused and took a sip of his beer. Then he continued, “I’m a bastard.”

Tony looked surprised, “Everyone knows that.” Tony failed in his attempt to add humor.

“Seriously, Tony. Dad is not my dad.” Joe held up his hand to stop Tony from speaking. He continued. I picked up an old photo. It was of mom. It was weird looking at photo of my mom in a bikini on the beach. In the photo she was being carried by a tall guy, about her age, with a nose like mine. Her arm was around his neck, and he was holding her off the ground. They were both smiling. You could tell they were in love.”

“This doesn’t mean anything,” said Tony instantly realizing he should be quiet.

Joe ignored Tony’s comment and said, “There were a couple of other photos. There was one with them kissing. There was another with mom and the guy, this time he was in an army uniform. My heart was racing when I saw the photos. I didn’t know or suspect anything. But, I had this feeling, you know the kind of feeling you get when you know something is not going to turn out the way you want it to turn out if you keep on going?”
Tony nodded and stayed silent.

“I set the photos on the table. I began digging through what else was in the box. Mom saved letters and things like that. All this was before the Internet and email. I don’t even know if people write letters anymore, do you?”

Tony was unsure if he should speak. He shook his head no indicating he didn’t know anyone who wrote letters. He shrugged his shoulders.

Joe continued, “I read some letters between mom and aunt Estelle. That was mom’s older sister.”

Joe looked over a Tony, “You know my birthday, right?”

Tony said, “Yah, November 29 …”

Joe cut him off, “That’s right. “I’ll be twenty-nine this year. I asked because the postage stamp date on the envelope was dated twenty-eight years ago. It actually came December 27th, nearly a month after I was born. Mom and dad married eight months later. I never thought much about me being born before mom and dad were married. Mom told me things like that happen when people are in love and not to think anything of it. When your five or six you believe everything your parents tell you. I opened the envelope and read the letter. The letter wasn’t long, maybe a couple of paragraphs.”

Joe stopped, put his right elbow on the table and cupped his chin in his right hand. He drifted away from Tony for a minute, and gathered his thoughts. Joe took a deep breath and sat back in the booth, then leaned forward as if he were telling Tony a state secret. He said, “The letter starts, ‘Dear Annette. I met someone else. Whatever we had between us is over. I hope you won’t be mad at me.'”

“Is that all he said?” asked Tony.

“No, he said he loved her for a little while, but being away in the army caused things to happen he didn’t expect to happen. Then he added the killer sentence, he said, ‘Give little Joe a hug and kiss for me each night.'” When I read that line,Tony, I wanted to punch the son of a bitch in face and break his nose. That’s how I felt.”

“But you have the same last name as your dad. How do you explain that,” asked Tony.

“That’s easy. I did some digging. In this state you can change the name on the birth certificate up to one year without going to court. All you have to do is fill out some forms. The letter was signed, yours affectionately, Joe. He didn’t even have the guts to say I love you to her. I picked up the envelope and looked at the return address. His name was Joe Wright. He was a Lieutenant at the time and stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. I’m going to find him. I don’t know what I’m going to say to him, but I’m going to find him.”

“You don’t want to do that, Joe. Let it go. For all you know, he’s dead.”

“If he’s dead, I’ll spit on his grave. I’m going to find him, Tony. I’ll find him even I have to

spend every cent I have.”

“Think about it first, Joe. Don’t let your emotions run away with you. What do you know about this guy other than a name, Joe Wright? In this city, Columbus, Ohio, there have to be hundreds of people with the last name, Wright. You thinking about hiring an investigator?” said Tony.

“I’m going to find him by myself. While I’m looking for him, maybe I’ll learn something about me. I’ve always felt there was a missing piece in my life, this could be it,” said Joe.

Tony leaned closer, “Besides an envelope, letter, and a few photos, what else do you have?”

“I have the bastard’s DNA and a no quit attitude. I’ll find him. Oh, yes. I’ll find him.

“Look, Joe. If your mind is set. I’ll take tomorrow off. Come over to my house. We’ll both work online and see if we can dig something up about him. Maybe we’ll find an obituary, you never know.”

Joe nodded. They clinked bottles. Tony took the leftover pizza home. Joe went back to his apartment. It was empty since Marie left. Even though it was ten at night, he changed clothes and put on his workout gear and headed out for a five mile run.

Chapter 3 “Searching for Dad” Be Careful For What You Find

Chapter Three ~ Be Careful for What you Might Find

Twenty Years Earlier

It was a lazy summer’s day in the middle of July. The sky was nearly perfectly blue with the exception of a few cotton ball clouds. The outdoor temperature was pushing 98 degrees and the heat index was close to 107 degrees. Air conditioners hummed. In homes without air conditioning, portable fans worked overtime to give residents relief. The Astore household had the air conditioner running on 78 degrees. Eight year old Joe and his two friends, Tony and Tony’s older sister Anna sat in the living room watching TV. Tony was a year younger than Anna.

“Turn off the TV. You kids need to play. Go outside and get some fresh air,” Joe’s mom called from the kitchen.

“It’s too hot, Mom. Can we have some ice cream?” asked Joe.

“No, you may not have some ice cream. It’s for dinner. And, how many times have I asked you to say please?” said his mother, making more of a statement than asking a question.

Joe picked up the remote and turned the TV off. The four kids looked at each other as if life support tubes were disconnected from their bodies.

Joe said, “We can go outside and ride our bikes over to the school parking lot and race around the light poles.”

Anna said, “Are you serious? It’s too hot to do anything.”

“We can go to the playground and see who can go the highest on the swings,” said Tony.

From the kitchen, his mother hollered, “That’s too dangerous.”

“Does your mom hear everything?” asked Anna.

“Sometimes, I think she has a hearing super power,” said Joe.

Anna whispered, “Let’s play hide and seek inside. We’ll be cool and the TV will be off. Since I thought of it, one of you two will be it.”

Tony and Joe looked at each other and nodded. Tony said, “Can we hide outside?”

Joe said, “Mom is in the kitchen. We can hide in the garage, the basement, the bedrooms, or the attic. We’ll stay out of the kitchen. If you’re found, you’re out. We can’t run, mom will send us outside for sure. Since I came up with this, you’re it, Tony.”

“Why do I have to be it first all the time?” asked Tony.

“You won’t be it in the next round. Come on, let’s have some fun. Tony, lie face down on the sofa and count to one-hundred by 5’s,” said Anna.

Tony lied down on the sofa. Joe gave him a throw pillow to hold on top of his head. Tony said, “Ready, set, go. Then he started counting, “Five, ten, fifteen …”

Joe and Anna scattered. Anna headed into the garage. Joe quietly opened the door to the attic and stealthily climbed the stairs. When he reached the attic door, he twisted the knob slowly and gently pushed the door open, closing it behind him. He looked around the attic for the perfect hiding place.

“Here I come, ready or not,” hollered Tony.

Joe could hear Tony scurrying around below him. He had to think fast. The attic was nearly barren with the exception of his dad’s old footlocker from the days he was in the army. Joe walked over to it. He unclipped the hinges, and opened it. He thought he could fit inside if he curled his knees up to his chest. The only items he saw were his dad’s army uniforms, that was all. He lifted the top two uniforms out and saw a small metal box at the bottom. He was about to take it out and set it on the attic floor, when he heard Tony say. “I got you Anna. I think Joe’s in the attic.”

Joe stepped into the footlocker. He picked up his dad’s two uniforms and placed them on top of himself. He carefully stuck an arm out on the side of the uniforms and lowered the cover. He then pulled his arms under the uniforms and curled up in a ball. His head rested on the small metal box.

Joe heard the door to attic open. He heard Tony say, “I gotcha. You might as well give up. I know you’re in here.”

Joe held his breath while he lied in the box. He heard the attic floor creaking. At first the sounds moved away from him; then they came toward him and stopped next to the footlocker. Tony gave the footlocker a kick and said, “You can get out, Joe. I found you.”
Joe stifled a laugh and squeezed his eyes shut thinking if he couldn’t see Tony, Tony couldn’t see him. Joe heard the locker open. He heard Anna say, “I told you, he’s not in there. There are only old army clothes. He’s not in the attic. Did you look under his bed?”
Tony said, “No. Let’s go.”

Joe heard Tony and Anna close the door to the attic. He heard their footsteps walking down the stairs. Each step growing further away. He waited another minute. Then he pushed the footlocker open and sat up. Joe climbed out of the footlocker, turned and began to rearrange the clothes. He spotted the small metal box. He picked it up. He shook it. Something was inside. He could feel it sliding back and forth as he shook the box. He sat down with his back against the footlocker and put the metal box on his lap.
The metal box had a small, hook clasp with the hook under a protruding metal ball holding the top secure to the box. Joe tried to slide the hook to the right, it didn’t move. He tried to wedge the fingernail of his right forefinger under the hook, that didn’t work. Joe stood up and carried the metal box around the attic looking for something to push the hook. He spotted a wire coat hanger lying on the attic floor by the heating unit. Joe was hurried to get the coat hanger, in his haste he tripped over his untied shoestring. The metal box fell out of his hands. He picked it up, and remained still, hoping no one heard him. He didn’t hear any sounds. He retrieved the coat hanger, walked back to the footlocker and sat on the floor, resting his back against the footlocker. The metal box sat on his lap. His right hand held the coat hanger.

Joe straightened out the hook part of the coat hanger and jammed it against the hook on the box. The hook moved. He hit it again, the hook slid to the side. Joe put the coat hanger down on the attic floor, and turned the metal box so that it would open facing him.

“What are you doing?”

Joe turned and saw his mother standing in the attic doorway, her arms akimbo. He said, “Nothing, Mom. Just looking through things.”

In a flash his mom was standing next to him and grabbed the box out of his hands. She held the box close to her chest and gestured toward Joe with her right forefinger extended, “Don’t you dare go snooping up here again. Tell your friends to go home and you go to your room.”

Chapter 2 – Searching for Day, “A Secret Discovered”

Chapter Two ~ A Secret Discovered
Joe and Tony watched the waiter set a sixteen inch pepperoni pizza on the metal stand in the center of the table. The waiter put a slice on each of their plates.

When the waiter left, Joe raised his bottle toward Tony and said, “Salute.”

Tony clinked his beer bottle to Joe’s and responded, “Salute.”

They each took a short drink from their bottles, set them down, and began eating their pizza. The pizza was New York style, thin crust, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and pepperoni imported from Italy. Joe folded his slice and took a healthy bite. He closed his eyes for a moment as he slowly chewed it. He said nothing. When he finished his slice, he used the small spatula to take another piece and set it on his plate. He took a sip of his beer, put the bottle down and said, “Tony, how long have you know me?”

Tony was surprised at the comment. He said, “Hey, we grew up together. You’re six months older than me that makes you 29 in two more months. So?”

“You knew my mom and dad, right?” asked Joe.

Tony looked confused, “Your mom and dad were like second parents to me. I loved them almost as much as my own. I still have a hard time with the way they got killed in the car accident last month. It wasn’t right. Your dad was what, 55 years old? And, your mom a couple years younger.”

Joe took a deep breath, and began, “I know, Tony. I’m still grieving. Some days, it hurts like hell.”

“Maybe you need to go to counseling,” said Tony.

“Maybe you don’t need to interrupt me, just listen, okay?” said Joe.

Tony held up both hands in surrender, he said, “Not another word.”

Joe took a bite of his slice, put it down and then took a sip of beer. He took a deep breath and began. “You ever hear the old saying, things are never as seem.”

Tony nodded, being careful not to say anything.

Joe continued as if he were talking to a tree, “I’m their only child. They are the only parents I’ve ever known. Everything I’ve accomplished I owe to them. They were so good to me. They wouldn’t let me take out college loans. Instead, they took a second mortgage on their house to put me through to make sure I was debt free when I graduated. I can never repay them for what they did for me.”

Joe stopped talking and he looked away staring out the window into the parking lot. He felt a surge of emotions beginning to flood through him. He felt regret he never told them as much as he wanted that he loved them. He felt regret he couldn’t prevent a DWI from running a stop sign and careening broadside into them. He felt regret he was always too busy with work and his social life during the past ten years to make much room for them.

Tony sat across from his brooding friend, a thousand questions ran through his mind. Every question slamming it brakes on at a stop sign he mentally placed in front of them.
Joe turned back to Tony, “I’m the sole beneficiary to their estate. It’s no big deal. They were still paying off the second mortgage they took out for me. Dad had a 401K account, it’s worth three hundred thousand dollars. They didn’t live long enough to collect their retirement. There is a money market, savings account, and checking account all together they’re under a hundred thousand. They didn’t believe in life insurance. The driver who hit them didn’t have insurance and was unemployed. I’m going through all this stuff now. You don’t think about this stuff and them boom, it’s hits you all at once and you’re not prepared.”

Joe stopped, took a sip of his beer, then a bite of his slice. When he finished, he continued, This past weekend, I went over to the house. I want to get it ready to call a realtor to put it on the market. I don’t want to live in it. It’s painful just opening the door. As soon as I walked in, I expected to see dad sitting on the sofa watching the Sox play. I expected mom to rush out of the kitchen and hug me and give me a kiss. I can’t shake the feeling they’re still alive and will suddenly show up. You know, it’s like they went away for a few days and suddenly come back home.”

Tony wanted to tell Joe, ‘It’s going to take time.’ But, he knew better. He took hold of his bottle and took a sip, not because he was thirsty, but because he wanted to let his best friend talk without him asking a question.

Joe gave a slight, wistful shake of his head and said, “They were packrats, they must have kept everything they ever bought from the day they were married. I started to go through a large box of photos and had to stop. It was too painful. I closed it up. I don’t know what I’ll do with them. Then there’s the Christmas boxes. Mom loved Christmas. There was box after box of Christmas lights and ornaments.”

Joe stopped for a moment. He finished his slice and put another slice on his plate. He took a bite, then looked at Tony and said, “If I keep going down memory lane, we’ll be here until they close.”

Tony waved him off with a swipe of his hand.

“I appreciate it, Tony. You’re a good friend. I’ll get straight to the point. I climbed the stairs into the attic. I wanted to make sure they were no boxes hiding up there. I found two boxes. One box was filled with tax returns going back twenty years. Why they kept them, I have no clue. I need to have them shredded. I opened the other box and it was filled with dad’s old army clothes. They’re more than thirty years old. He must have thought he’d get called back in.” Joe stopped for a moment and laughed at his joke. Then he continued, “I closed both boxes and moved them toward the attic opening. The box of taxes was the heaviest. They must have kept every tax return and documenting papers going back through every year of the marriage. It must have weighed a hundred pounds. I made sure I carefully picked it up. I didn’t want to hurt my back.”

Tony nodded.

Joe continued, “I picked up the box of clothes. It was light compared to the tax documents. When I set it down, I felt something shift inside, like a box within in a box. I didn’t see another box in there, but I didn’t poke around. I assumed it was all clothes. I opened the box and dug in and moved dad’s army clothes around. I found a metal box wrapped tight with duct tape. I shook the metal box, and I head something sliding around. I didn’t think much of it at the moment. I thought there might be some important papers I need to read regarding Mom and Dad’s estate. I carried the metal box out of the attic and took it home. I spent enough time trying to deal with memories.
“When I got home, I set the metal box on the table. I fetched a pair of scissors, and sat down at the table. Before I began cutting the duct tape, I carefully scanned the box to see if there was anything printed on it. I didn’t find anything. When I opened it, I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head.”

Joe closed his eyes and he began the journey to a time when he was eight years old.