Outside, I filled the tire before loading my bike into the trunk. Once at Joe's I unloaded my bike, and the tire was semi-flat again. WTF! I inflated it back up to 100PSI, and then Joe said, "Listen. You can hear the air coming out!"
And sure enough. There was a hole in my tire, which evidently had punctured the tube beneath it. I re-loaded my bike and headed back to Raleigh telling Joe to enjoy his ride, and to call me if he got stuck.
Back home, I wrote out Joey's graduation card and a check, and wrapped The Wealthy Barber for him. I was feeling just slightly anxious about attending the gathering. It's been almost 10 years since I've seen several of the people who would be there.
I wrote out three thank-you cards to some late supporters of my Tour De Friends ride, and left the house at about 12:55. I didn't want to be there right at 1:00.
I walked up to the house and was peeking along the side of the house to see if I could walk to the back that way, where I could see all the folks through the garage door windows. Donna opened the front door, and called me over that way saying she had been watching for me.
Then the "reunion" started. I saw mom and dad C., the Knuebels, Joey, then Ed, Sue, Greg, Allison, Suzanne, Steve, Uncle Steve, Aunt Jean, Carolyn, her new beau, Jeff, met several of their kids, and then saw Ann and Brian.
Brian seemed genuinely happy to see me, and we had some good talks. He got me tearing up at one point, actually apologizing to me, saying, "me and Nick were just kids; we didn't know what was going on. We never meant to abandon you or shun you. We always talk about you. Now I wish he would have come up here with us, so he could have seen you. We have so many good memories of being at yours and Donna's house, playing Nintendo, and games, and just having fun."
He really warmed my heart. We sat and talked for a while out on the front porch. He told me a little bit about his time in Germany, and San Francisco, and told me he was applying to an art design school next week. I asked him if he had a portfolio or anything that he had to show, and he showed me an intricate drawing he had done of an engine, totally by hand. It was quite good, I thought -- very detailed. He said several times, "I've just got to get my life together."
He talked a little about how hard it is with him mom, since her accident, how people can really treat her badly, and how painful that is to witness. At one point, I said, "Yeah. I know how it feels to be 'different.'"
Dad and I challenged Alex (Ed's youngest son) and Brian to a round of ping-pong. Dad and I won two games out of 3. It was quite fun. I remember Ann's bright face watching us and her keen mind keeping the score for us. She may sound retarded, but she has her faculties. How very difficult and frustrating that must be for her.
When I was leaving Brian gave me the biggest hug. And when I was hugging Ann good-bye, she squeezed me and said, "John, the family's just not the same since you're not in it." That really touched me.
I left there with a very full heart.