My brother left VanDyke Road for the US Airforce. Barely leaving the ground, he swooped back into town, just as he promised he would, and built his high school girlfriend a house on Van Dyke Road. Right next to Vaseks. Tom became TomandRenae. I helped them stain the cupboards. They had a two car garage and two cars. Renae wore a fuzzy peach bathrobe. Tom mowed the lawn. They called each other terms of endearment. They got a big yellow lab. Everything we had lost as a family just up the gravel road, was coming to life again. And it was all as Big Ole had promised — the statue that guarded the near entrance to Van Dyke Road — this was indeed “The Birthplace of America.”
As they drove past Big Ole, on the way to the hospital to have their first child, he told her, “When we drive past Big Ole again, our lives will never be the same.” They brought Joshua Thomas home two days later, and all of lives changed. For the better. They were parents. I was an aunt. My mother was a grandma, and somehow we belonged to something again.
Three years later, when Rachel was knocking on life’s door, my brother was on a hunting trip. Freshly licensed, I was the one to drive with Renae past Big Ole. My mom stayed with Josh and I stood inside the miracle. I breathed in time and watched them pull Rachel out of Renae with forceps. Sometimes life has to be encouraged.
I am in another country now, and a world away from being able to lift either one of them, but I do still carry them with me. I always will. In so many ways, we were all born together. I suppose that’s what Big Ole meant, we would all be asked to change and grow, to star over, to let go, to begin, again and again.
I can still hear the gravel popping fresh beneath the tires. It’s the birth of a brand new day. And so it begins.
Happy Birthday, Josh Hills.