By the time we got to the high school to help clean up, almost all of it had already been packed away. There were no extra chairs, no screen, no tables full of photo boards. All that was left was a row of flowers and memorial gifts near the front. My Aunt Sue introduced us to Pam, Jodi’s mother. We said we thought cleanup wasn’t supposed to start until 10AM, and Pam said, “Well, we couldn’t really sleep, so…” One of the other helpers told me both sets of parents had been there since 8:30AM.
We loaded the dozens of vases, baskets, wind chimes, blankets, and memorial stone benches into the cars. Sue and Pam went up to each arrangement or gift to look at the card and determine who should take it home. A gift from Jim’s work would go with Sue, flowers from a student Jodi worked with would go to Pam. Pam said something about having read these cards a million times already. It must be exhausting to make so many decisions that feel significant but are ultimately trivial.
Sue wanted to drop a few of the arrangements over at their church, where the casket had been buried the day before. We went out to place the eternal flame stand near the spot and see the freshly dug dirt. The family was buried in the back corner of the cemetery, overlooking a big open farm field. One of the students Jodi drove stopped by to pay his respects. He is mentally disabled and said he hadn’t been able to attend the service because he gets nightmares easily. His mother said it would have been too much to be there. But he wanted to see the grave and honor Jodi in his own way.
We went back to Sue and Bob’s house and began unloading three cars full of gifts. We filled the dining room table with flowers. Sue decided she wanted to give some to the nearby nursing homes, and we loaded them back in the car. As I was walking back into the house they were discussing who should help deliver, and I heard Sue say, “And Katrina! Katrina will go with us!” She was very excited to bring me along. I got the feeling she was very excited to have anyone around, and anything to do.
Mike, Sue, and I stopped at two different nursing homes to deliver the flowers. We had to drive by Jim and Jodi’s burned down house twice. Both times there were people stopped outside. Sue didn’t like this. She couldn’t help but feel they were all just look-i-loos.
At the second nursing home the manager was on the phone when we arrived. She appeared to be having a difficult conversation. “Well no, you’re not nothing,” she said, “He raised you, but you’re still not his biological son, so…” We waited patiently and she apologized for taking so long.
“I’m Sue Rainey,” my aunt said. There was a pause. “I…”
The manager nodded. “I know.”
“Well,” Sue continued, “We have all these flowers and I thought I could leave some of them here with you.”
The manager smiled, clearly touched by the gesture. “Of course,” she said, “Our residents love fresh flowers. We can put one in every common room.” She came out to get them from the car herself.
Mike and Erin had to leave to attend a wedding, and the rest of us sat around chatting for a while. Bob made fun of Sue for being too afraid to get eggs out of the chicken coop. I walked around outside the house and recreated my favorite photo of young Cody from my visit eight years ago. The trees have grown so much since then.
Sue and Bob took us down into the basement to show mom and dad the old photos they had of my great grandparents. The partially finished basement is full of stuff, from boxes of VHS tapes to antique furniture my cousin Erin would like but Bob swears they’re “still using it.” There were piles of stuff that belonged to Sue and Bob’s three boys, left from the broken rule that they would take all their stuff out once they each had their own home. We came across some old boxes of farm toys that Cody, Austin, and Jessica used to play with.
“They never came by to pick those up,” Bob said. “And now I guess they never will.”
We had sandwiches at the house and got in the van for a little drive. As we were leaving one of the chickens wandered into the garage, and Bob asked me to get it out. I ran after it, making noises and flapping my arms. My mom thought my tactics were pretty entertaining. I told her everything I know about chasing chickens I learned from Austin and Cody.
To start our drive we went to see my cousin Andrew’s new property, then through Fostoria to see the flour mill where Jim worked. They’d put up a memorial cross by the sign surrounded by four small crosses, and dressed it up with Jim’s safety vest and hat.
Next was the Chestnut Grove Cemetery, where my great-grandfather Howard Rainey is buried with his second wife, Helen. My family line is through his first wife, Nina, who is buried somewhere in Fostoria. Sue couldn’t remember where exactly, and with both my grandfather and my Great Aunt Jean gone, I’m not sure anyone knows anymore.
At this point we’d been driving around for over two hours, and Sue told us it was so nice to have a reason to get out of the house. We still had time before dinner so we stopped by Bob and Sue’s old farm in Republic, the one I visited back when I was nine. I’ve kept a memory of that farm in my head for over 20 years, and it looked exactly the same. Smaller, I suppose, but otherwise just the same.
We arrived at the Tackle Box 2 (so named because the original Tackle Box burned down), and my dad and I split a pound of fried perch. My parents were hoping to pay for dinner, but Sue insisted she and Bob would. Her voice started to crack.
“It’s just meant so much to us to have you here,” she said. Both her and my mom started crying.
I’m so glad I came back to Ohio.