Hi Ellen –
We surely picked a hot part of the country to vacation in – but it’s sure fun to be with family again. Ramon came from D.C. & Patti from Boston Harbor. Joyce is here – so only Bruce missing, he was in New York for dental business so couldn’t make it. Been eating corn that is wonderful. Getting fatter than a hog ready for the market.
As I finished writing Ellen’s address on the right side of the postcard, I realized how close I was to drooling corn juice on my bright orange bathing suit cover-up and the card. I let out this giant slurping noise that I envisioned the hog in my postcard would have made.
“Goodness, Norma, how rude!” Ramon playfully exclaimed as he passed by me, snatching the juicy, half-eaten corn on the cob from my hand, and taking a giant bite out of the center of all the golden kernels. Corn juice spewed from his mouth onto me, and dripped onto his bare tan chest.
I hopped up from my chair to try to snatch my precious corn back, but Ramon had always been taller than me, despite the fact that he was the youngest out of all of our siblings, so he simply held it over his head, way out of my reach.
“Ramon!” I hopped up and down even though I knew there was no saving my corn now. “C’mon, seriously, give it back!” I slapped at his arm to maybe hurt him so badly, or at least shock him enough for him to drop it, but it was no use. Along with being extremely tall (dark and handsome, even, inheriting the genes of my father, God rest his soul), Ramon was as strong as an ox. There wasn’t really anything or anyone that could bring him to his knees easily.
“This is the third piece of corn you’ve had, Norma, I’m pretty sure you can survive not finishing this one,” he replied with a grin, and another bite to it. I stood on my tip-toes, feeling like a child again as I fought to maybe have the last bite of corn before Ramon could eat it.
My eldest sister Joyce turned her head so fast that her short, bleached blonde hair looked like it would come right off her head. “Yeah, Norma,” she chimed in, “I mean look atcha, it’s not like you need anymore food in ya than there already is!”
“Oh, Joyce, you’re just saying that because you’re jealous that Norma got Dad’s skinny genes while you were left with Mom’s wider side!” joked Patti, my younger sister, not even glancing up from the mystery novel that she held in her hands.
Ramon started laughing, which distracted him, and gave me enough time to somehow kangaroo-jump, and grab my corn back from him. I quickly ran back to my pink-and-white striped beach blanket next to Patti, and squatted next to her, hoarding the last bite of corn.
“You would think she hadn’t eaten anything since we’d arrived in Georgia!” Joyce laughed, “who were you writing to anyway?”
I ate the last bite of my corn before responding with my mouth full, “Ellen Gibson!”
“Ellen Gibson! Why, I hadn’t heard that name in years!” Patti said, this time looking away from the pages of her book, bewildered.
“Didn’t she have a crush on you waaaay back in the day, Ramon?” Joyce asked, “like, before we were in high school?”
Disgust clouded Ramon’s face. “Oh noooo, I’m pretty sure that was Ellen Gaither. No, Ellen Gibson used to tackle me on the playground when we played football! She was one tough cookie.”
I almost choked on my corn. “She tackled you to the ground? You? Why can I not believe that?”
“Look, just because you can’t slap some corn out of my hand, Norma, doesn’t mean other women aren’t strong enough to knock me off my feet,” Ramon said with a smile. Knowing my thinness was a weakness, I shrugged.
I threw the finished cob into the white plastic bucket we’d decided was our trash can for the remainder of our time at Robin Lake Beach. After wiping my hands on my blanket, I reached into my handbag for a stamp.
Even though tomorrow would be our last day staying near Robin Lake Beach, I had promised my good friend Ellen Gibson that I would send her a postcard. She collects them from all sorts of places, from European countries like Italy and Spain, to small-towns that people have never even heard of. I had almost forgotten to send one to her, but thankfully on our way to the beach, we stopped at a gift shop where I saw a small stack of them near the register. There weren’t many extraordinary choices, but I figured she’d appreciate one with a view of the beach we frequented during our stay.
“I don’t want to leave tomorrow,” Joyce groaned, “it’s been so great catching up with everyone. Like, it’s the first time we’ve all been together since we all went to college or moved away from home. Life is too busy these days.”
“Almost all of us are together,” Ramon corrected, “this trip would be completely different if Bruce were here.”
Patti had gone back to reading her novel, but piped up dryly, “Yeah, no kidding.”
I felt like I should somehow defend Bruce, but knew that it would turn our jovial mood sour, to the point in which one or two of us (probably Patti and Joyce) would leave the beach, and head back to our hotel rooms so as not to talk to one another, possibly for the rest of the afternoon.
This is what our family knew: Bruce, the oldest of the Harrison clan, had become extremely successful in the dental field, so much so that it was practically impossible to ever get a hold of him, to spend time with him, to even see him during holidays when all of our families would get together. It was clear that he prioritized his work over our family, and many of our relatives saw it as disrespectful.
This is what I knew: Bruce worked for the United States Secret Service, and couldn’t tell anyone in our family because the nature of his work was so dangerous. So in order to keep us all safe, he stayed quiet; and the only reason why I knew this was because I, furious and hurt that he was constantly gone, and finally at my wit’s end when he didn’t show up for our father’s funeral, confronted him about it. Seeing how torn up I was over it all, he privately confessed to me, and made me swear not to tell anyone, no matter how terrible he seemed in our family’s eyes.
I can remember that night as if it was last night. Bruce had randomly dropped by my house for a day, saying he had a few days off from work, and wanted to see as many of our siblings as he could. I was shocked, confused, but mostly just angry. I tried to hide my anger as we made small talk, but finally, I could contain it no longer.
“Bruce…why now? You decided that now is the time to be here for all of us? To simply drop by for just a few random days out of the year?” I had asked him. “How many Thanksgivings and Christmases have you missed? Mom’s and Dad’s birthdays? Dad’s fu-ne-ral, Bruce! You never even showed up, didn’t even call to tell us why you weren’t coming, and we never heard from you for months! MONTHS, BRUCE!”
By that point in the conversation, tears were streaming down my face, and to emphasize my hurt and the hurt of my family, I’d swung my arm at a vase of flowers that was sitting at my kitchen counter. It fell onto the hardwood floor with a CRASH!, water splashing everywhere. The freshly picked white gardenias from my own garden sprawled onto the floor.
“How could you be so selfish? So greedy and money-hungry that you couldn’t leave work for ONE DAY to bury our own father?” I yelled through my tears.
He had tried to hug me, but I refused such comfort from someone unwilling to pay respects to a well-respected and loved man in our family. He tried to explain himself, but I was on a high from all the built up hurt and anger from him being absent throughout the years.
It wasn’t until an hour or so later when I had calmed down, that he simply said to me, “I work for the Secret Service.”
I scoffed at him. “Yeah, and I’m actually Oprah Winfrey.”
“I’m serious, Norma.”
And he explained to me everything – how and when he got in, why he was absent for certain holidays and special events, and why he couldn’t tell anyone in our family. He never told me the specifics of his assignments, just that they were dangerous enough to hurt our family.
“It could put every single person in our family at risk,” he had warned.
Knowing all of this, it made so much more sense why Bruce was so absent and isolated. And despite the seriousness of the matter, I tried to make light of the situation by lifting my right palm and saying, “I solemnly do swear that I will not breathe a word about this to our kin, next of kin, and even our next of, next of kin-kin.”
“I’m serious Norma,” Bruce gravely told me again, “I really shouldn’t have told you, but goodness, I’ve kept it a secret for so long from my wife, from our entire family. And with you being so passionate about me not being around, I felt it was only right to have someone in the family know. And honestly, it’s kind of a relief for you to know…that way if anything were to happen to me…if I were to suddenly go missing…”
When he said that, any silliness I had about the whole thing dissipated.
I remember tightly wrapping my arms around Bruce as much as they would wrap around his stocky build, closing my eyes because there were more tears that were tempted to fall down my cheeks at the thought of never seeing my big brother Bruce ever again.
“I promise I won’t tell a soul,” I had whispered, “I promise.”
💙 Mishy 🦋