I am YA author B. A. Binns. For this November post I am writing a little memoir piece about Thanksgiving and my family.
Good food, family and football, not necessarily in that order, that’s what Thanksgiving means to most Americans. We bemoan the way the Christmas shopping season begins earlier every year and celebrate new births and family accomplishments. And we solemnly swear that the day’s calories don’t really count.
Things are different in our house.
Long ago someone taught me to preserve flowers by hanging them upside down to dry. That way the petals stay connected, unlike the members of my family. I can’t be happy about Thanksgiving Day. But I never want to forget my nephew, Craig Houston Jr.
He would have been thirty-three this year and I have to wonder what he would be like. Craig was a parent’s dream. We called him Little Man because, at 6 foot 6 inches, he was only two inches shorter, and a few pounds lighter than his father, Craig Sr. Little Man was a big bear of a man, just as he had been a big cub of a boy. Too big for anyone to pick on and too jolly for anyone to fear. He was the guy people called on when they needed help with their car or a kid’s broken toy. He always grinned and waved you away when you tried to pay him. After graduating high school he decided against college and struck out on his own. Then in 2001 he returned to school and became a twenty-one-year-old college freshman. We were all so proud of his decision. He would have made a powerful hero in anyone's book.
Until Thanksgiving Day, 2002. Family gathered close. Little Man wanted his girlfriend close, too.
That’s how the argument began. Craig Sr. didn’t want some stranger his son had only known a few weeks at his table. An old-fashioned issue that should have been nothing. Would have been nothing, except for the passion of youth that sent Little Man tearing over to her house and the anger that probably left both their blood-pressures soaring, that possibly left Craig Jr. short of breath. Anger that had also made him forget to bring the medicine he usually kept close at hand. Little Man had asthma, an unlikely condition for such a robust figure so full of life. Family and close friends knew what to do if he suffered an attack. But this girl and her family were unfamiliar with his issues, and unprepared when he collapsed. Worse still, they lived in an unincorporated area, without enhanced 911 service.
That probably made no difference, according to the EMT who brought Craig to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The massive attack completely closed Craig’s airway and he died quickly. The news did not help his mother, my sister. She literally aged twenty years in as many minutes, until she looked more like my grandmother than my sister.
She recovered outwardly, became my little sister again, and dedicated her life to her daughter. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds, but pain does fade over the years. Last year her daughter has presented her with the second of two lovely granddaughters. Still, my sister cannot spend Thanksgiving week anywhere near home. We all know and understand and wait for her return.
When she does, we have our own celebration. We pull out pictures and remember all the people Little Man touched and everything he accomplished in his life. We handle the flowers from his memorial service, flowers so carefully preserved they may last longer than we do. And I remember to thank her for the you love them, because you just never know…
These days our family has something special to add to our private celebration. I write, and my first book is about a young man’s struggles on his road to adulthood. I dedicated that book to the young man our family lost too soon. If Craig Jr. were alive I think he would see himself in the pages of PULL, and see himself in the story of a young man who has to make difficult choices about his future for the sake of his family.
I like to believe he would appreciate what he would see on those pages.