This was a writing exercise called “I remember…” – I had to start a paragraph with, “I remember…” and let my memories guide me. I chose the first time I cried really hard, outside getting spanked:)
I remember by first deep sadness shortly after my great grandfather Willis Cottom, or “Umpa” (pronounced Oom-puh), as we knew him, died. In May of ’89 I had just gotten home from baseball practice and heard mom crying on the phone in the kitchen with what seemed to have been my grandmother. I walked upstairs to see my older brother sitting on the edge of his bed staring at the floor.
It hit like the line drive I caught in my gut that afternoon in practice. Having the wind knocked out of you once in one day was enough, but this was a different kind of vacuum. I didn’t immediately cry, but I did indeed cry. Sitting in the back left third row of Mrs. House’s sixth grade class that next morning the dam broke without warning. I couldn’t help the heave in my chest, nor the tears streaming down my face. My buddy Tommy Link was sitting catty corner to me and said he was “sorry” and Mrs. House hugged me.
Later that week we drove up to Lansing for the funeral. My mom’s family was pretty big and funeral were the only way to see the other, older, cooler cousins that didn’t make it up for Christmas or Thanksgiving. My cousin Jon Cottom was one of those cousins. He was from Kentucky, had a boom box, and Petra tapes. I only saw Jon at funerals but it was always fun seeing him. The next time I saw him was at Grandma Alice’s funeral four years later, almost to date.
I loved Umpa. He was old when I was born, and I didn’t have quite the relationship that the older grand kids had, but I hadn’t lost anyone like that yet. I haven’t cried many times in my life but I remember those 11 year old tears like they were yesterday.