A Day for Joe

As I biked past charming beach homes, with screened-in porches bigger than my apartment and cicadas roaring in humid air, I felt like I’d put myself into a summer Hallmark film. However, I’d only be a supporting character in this movie, as our family trip to the East Coast was a homecoming event for my mother. 

My mom left Maryland when she was in her late twenties but still made a point to take my sisters and me back nearly every summer when we were kids. Sports, college, and life, in general, made it harder for us to get a substantial chunk of time off together. This summer was the first time in over ten years that I’d been back East, and we were able to swing all of us making the trip together.

We frequented the lovely beaches of Maryland and Delaware, visited family members we hadn’t seen since we were teenagers and cheered the Baltimore Orioles to a home victory.

But the trip’s primary purpose was to pay respects to my mom’s father, Papa Joe. The great man who passed away a few years ago remains a part of our conversations, memories, and for me, namesake.

As we drove past thousands of brick rowhouses and through some sketchy Baltimore neighborhoods to visit places important to him, my mom commented on parts of the city that had changed and parts that hadn’t. An old church, a smelly diner, and a family grave plot were stops along the homage route. Despite the sweaty Baltimore air and being packed in a car together all day, there were few complaints.

To end the day for Joe, we went for crabs at his favorite spot, Schultz’s Crab House, and my mom invited family that she hadn’t seen in years. Most of them, my sisters and I had never heard of, but they showed us how to crack blue crab properly, and over tasty food and beer, we got acquainted.

Wrapped up in cracking and conversation, we didn’t notice the bright sunny sky had turned dark until it was pouring outside, and a flash flood warning came on over the crab shack’s loudspeakers. My sisters and I shot each other nervous glances, but our newfound family members said this thing happened all the time. Two old guys beside us said they would wait for the flickering lights and potential driving danger to pass with another pitcher of beer.

It might be a cliche to say that a random old person reminds us of a deceased grandparent, but watching the crusty old guys in ball caps chuckle in a possibly dangerous scenario made me think that Papa Joe would have been in good company here.

It turned out we wouldn’t need to sandbag the doors of Schultz’s, though we would have been equipped with provisions had we needed to.

Sure enough, the storm ended, and we hugged our family goodbye as the dark clouds cleared and the sun emerged. Looking at the family in bright light for the first time, I noted that we shared no physical resemblance. We also had no idea the next time we would be with the family from across the country. But that wasn’t the point.

My mom drove us back to the hotel, and I had an overwhelming sense of joy that may have been exaggerated by alcohol. I felt the closest to my grandpa ever since his death and realized why she asked us all to come on this trip. Thinking back to the old guys, I could picture Papa Joe laughing and having a grand time in the janky crab shack. It made me smile thinking that we had spent the evening just as he would. Laughing with good company, drinking beer, and cracking some blue crab.

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