15 Years Later

The doorbell rang some nondescript February afternoon. We weren’t expecting anyone, and when I peeked outside through the blinds, I saw an elderly couple I didn’t recognize.

Crap. I knew I should have put up that “No solicitors” sign.

But still, my gut and my manners told me to open the door. My husband was home; they were old; what was there to lose in a worst-case scenario, right?

I opened the door a crack and poked my head around the opening. “Can I help you?” I asked hesitantly.

One of them — the wife, the husband, I can’t recall, it’s foggy now — cleared their throat gently. “Yes,” they said. “Does Duane Bernhardt’s family live here?”

Whoa. That was a name — and a phrasing — I hadn’t heard in years. And as if they’d said “open sesame” to the entry of Ali Baba’s treasure den, so did my door swing wide open.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m Duane’s oldest granddaughter. I live here now.” My husband and I had purchased my childhood home the summer prior to this engagement.

“Oh! Kathy’s daughter!”

Boom. I was hooked — only old friends and family knew my mom by that name. “Right, that’s me. What can I do for you today?” I asked stepping onto the porch, more eager to help this perhaps long-time family friend. Being a fourth-generation Tri-Citian, I have a lot of these extended family members in the community.

“We’re looking for Duane’s sister,” the wife said. Wilma, her name was. “Bill’s sister, Donna, was best friends with her growing up. She’s very sick, in the hospital now, and we thought we might let Sandy know…” she trailed off.

“Ah. I see…” I said, enlightened a little to the situation. I cleared my throat a little awkwardly and ran through the TL;DR version of my recent family history: Grandpa died (at that time) 9 years prior, and his sister didn’t like how some things were handled, and broke all contact with the remaining family.

“I have no idea where to find her,” I summed up. I briefly detailed any last-known information I had about her, and they confirmed they had followed similar trails already. They looked a little crestfallen. “But! My mom might! Let me track her down and see what we can do for you. Wait here please.”

Marcus at this point had joined us on the porch, so he continued talking to them while I ducked back inside and called my mom. I described the couple as “Aunt Sandy’s childhood friend’s brother and his wife” and she interrupted with “Bill and Wilma?” I confirmed and continued with the conundrum.

I could hear her thinking on the other end. She gave more information to pass along — married last name, last known city of residence — as well as her wishes to give her best regards. Apparently they were all a frequent part of her childhood, as their mom was also friends with her dad’s mother. “There are some years going on with this door bell ringing,” she would recall later. I thanked her and ran back outside to deliver what I’d been told.

Bill and Wilma were very thankful for the help we’d given and were ready to set off on the next leg of their mission.

But before I sent them off on their continued search, I had to know one thing. “How did you know to find us here?”

“Oh, well, about 15 years ago, the three of us drove past here on some errand,” Wilma said. “Donna pointed to your house and said, ‘Duane’s daughter lives there.’ We just came here hoping it was still true.”

I still don’t know if they actually tracked down Aunt Sandy so she could see her best friend one last time. I haven’t seen them since.

But since then, and even before their serendipitous visit, it only serves as a reminder that no matter how big our community gets, and no matter how old I get, there will always be extended family around me everywhere I go.

Fifteen years after a chance drive-by, nine years after our patriarch’s passing, seven years after graduating from high school, one year after purchasing my childhood home, and I still have these regular reminders to stay on the straight-and-narrow.

It served me well, this unknown network of support and protection — and, admittedly, provided enough paranoia to keep me out of trouble.

I hope my children are one day lucky enough to also have their own network of extended family. May they too be blessed with just enough paranoia to keep them from harm’s way.

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Kristin De La Rosa

Kristin De La Rosa

A so-far life-time resident, born and raised in the Tri-Cities. I dabble in many things -- art, graphic design, writing, homesteading, learning languages and traveling. I speak and understand just enough Spanish and Japanese to get into (or out of) trouble. Formally educated in journalism; graphic and web design pay the bills. I have a huge crush on how small our big community is.

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