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April 27, 2021

Janie’s Journal (3)

A Touch of Spirituality

In my big Reavis family, we occasionally get together for what my nephew Luke dubbed “laughing parties” when he was little. Our family just laughs. We get together and tell big stories and say, “Remember when. . .” and “How about that time. . .” Every story is funny. Everybody laughs. My daddy was the tenth of eleven children, and I had around 40 first cousins on that side of the family. My three brothers and I grew up in Stigler, Oklahoma where we were kin to what felt like half the town, and when I entered high school, I was there with two brothers and five cousins.

Holly was one year older, beautiful, elegant, feminine, and wonderful at a time when I was boyishly skinny and painfully shy. She counseled me and loved me and laughed at me. I could never get enough of her time or attention but she never seemed to mind. I lived to make her laugh.

Johnny Joe was two grades ahead of Holly and the oldest of three brothers in his family. I was as close to a little sister as he had, and he would give me his undivided attention whenever I needed it, and he may well have been the grand champion laugher in all our family. His laugh was loud and explosive and infectious. Years later, in a bar where he worked, Tuesday nights were “J. J. Laugh Night” and everyone had to laugh like Johnny Joe, so everyone laughed all night. I laugh just thinking about it.

We all had that great childhood together, safe in a small town with aunts and uncles loving us and watching over us and we thought it would never end until on Feb. 10, 1972, my senior year, Holly was killed in a car wreck coming home from OU for the weekend. She was just 19 years old and I lost the best friend I’d ever had.

Years passed, and we all learned to laugh again, and we loved each other and helped each other, or tried to. Then on Aug. 5, 1989, my oldest brother Mike was also killed in a car wreck. It absolutely shattered our family. Even though he was 40 years old, he still seemed like a kid to us. He was so much the big brother and so much a part of us and so adored that it didn’t seem possible that he could be gone.

I had not even stopped crying myself to sleep every night when, in November, I found out that Johnny Joe was sick and didn’t have long to live. It helped snap me out of my depression over Mike’s death and I was all ready to rally around and make the most of the time he had left. I thought we had a lot of time left to laugh. He lived three hours away in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and I went to spend a day with him in January when he was feeling up to having company. When I walked in he said, “What a joy it is to see you!”

We had the funniest day. We laughed about everything and drove all around that beautiful countryside, just Johnny Joe, his roommate Eric, and me. It was one of those winter days when the sky is so blue you think you can touch it, the sunlight is golden and the air is crisp but not too cold. The day was magical.

Before I left that day I made a date to come back March 2, and I did, but it was the day of Johnny Joe’s funeral. I couldn’t believe I had lost my number one laughing partner. After the funeral, I promised Eric I would come back the next weekend to help go through Johnny’s things. Poor Eric didn’t even have any family that lived this side of the Mississippi River.

During that week I had the dream that has given me peace of mind and closure for all three deaths. In the dream I was standing on a hill looking over a body of water where a couple stood on the far shore. Below me I could see Johnny Joe get into a boat that propelled itself across the water. He got out of the boat and was lovingly greeted by the the two figures. And then I could hear, very distinctly, the laughter of all three. It was Mike and Holly and Johnny Joe having a “laughing party” of their own. I told the dream to Eric that weekend, and it helped to heal both our broken hearts. And I’d like to think that when my time comes, there will be three figures to greet me, and we’ll all just laugh and laugh and laugh.

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