When the phone rings very early in the morning, it’s rarely a good thing. I picked it up, and I could barely make out the words my little sister was speaking to me through her tears. My cousin Wesley Gaddy had died. He had been taken from us that morning, in those early hours while the rest of us were sleeping.
That familiar road home to Georgia seemed to stretch out longer somehow. The only thing that I wanted to do was to pull into that driveway on Corinth Road and wrap my arms around my family. When I finally got there, it took a minute to get out of the car. I allowed myself to be pulled back to a different time. A time where days were spent on those red clay hills in front of my grandmother’s house with my cousins. With Wesley.
We have a really big family. My grandparents had eleven children between them, and so I always had a lot of playmates at my grandmother’s house. We would rake out elaborate dirt houses in the pine thickets. Our imaginary homes didn’t have any furniture, but inside of those made up walls, lots of magical memories were made. It was a season of innocence that I will treasure forever. Inside of those walls, we were protected from the knowledge of how hard the world would be for us. Inside of those walls, we were children who were beginning to dream of what our lives would be like. I am grateful that we had that those moments.
My cousins Wesley and (little) John would sometimes lead our adventures outside of the pine thickets. We weren’t allowed to go play down at the branch behind Wesley’s house, because it was too dangerous. Of course, that made the place that much more appealing to us, and so we would slip behind the old metal barn (long gone now) and navigate the overgrown path down there. It was exciting until our grandmother would get wind of it. The excitement tends to become a little muted when a hickory switch comes into the picture.
There were so many of us, that we all had this wonderful sense of being a part of something far bigger than ourselves. We had nicknames for each other, and if you were lucky enough to get gifted one of those, chances are good that your cousins still call you that. Not out of some sense that we need to embarrass each other. It’s more of an acknowledgment of the history that we share. It’s a nod to that kid that played in the red clay and pine thickets. It’s a precious reminder of those days that we can’t get back to, but still live on in our hearts.
As the years went by and we grew up, life kind of took us away from each other. We used to have family reunions and Christmas Eve at my Aunt Hazels house in the springtime. But Breast Cancer took her from us far too soon. My cousin Tami worked hard to keep that tradition going. She understands how important it is for us all to remain connected. To once-in-a-while fight our way out of the “busy” and back to a place where we can come together and honor the love we have for one another. Nothing has driven that home to me quite as much as losing Wesley.
I sat beside my cousin Sandy who was always more like a sister to me, and I wondered why we haven’t seen each other in so long. Yes, life get’s busy. But how have I allowed my life to get so busy that I haven’t gone back to see her? I want to rejoice in the goodness of her life. I want to be there for her when things are hard. Her children have grown up and I wasn’t there to see it. It saddens me.
One thing that losing him has shown many of us is this: tomorrow is never promised to us. If it arrives, it is nothing short of a gift. We can’t go back and say the things we want to say to someone who leaves this place before we do. We need to make sure that nothing remains unsaid. We need to be sure that no kindness remains undone. I know that Wesley knew that I loved him. I just wished I had said it more. He may not live here with us on this earth anymore, but he will always..always live inside of my heart.