My Long Lost Aunt

A long lost family member suddenly surfacing out of nowhere to leave you a million dollars, or alternately to scam you into losing a million dollars, is a bit of a trope these days. However, I have a literal long lost aunt, Betsy, who I’ve recently gotten back in touch with. I hadn’t seen her and my uncle Donny since I was 8 or 9, during the last trip to Florida my parents and I made together to visit family in Tampa. My mom had mentioned to her that I wasn’t hurt in the fire, so at least she knew I was still alive. She’s tried to find me on Facebook before, but there are a lot of people with my name out there. When she searched “Justin Hughes fire,” though, it took her straight to my profile. She’s been following our adventures ever since, and invited us park in their driveway anytime we wanted.

After our business in Bushnell was complete, we decided to take up her invitation for Memorial Day weekend. Lakeland is only about an hour south of Bushnell, so it was a short and easy drive. We’d catch up on the past 30 years, and I’d get to meet my cousins on that side of the family for the first time. I’ve never been too close to any of my family, so it was both strange and pleasant for these strangers who are related by blood to take me in like… well, family.

What’s even stranger is how well we all got along. We have shared family history, sure (and I learned a great deal about my mom’s father and his parents that I didn’t know before), but it was more than that. We all felt immediately comfortable with each other despite the time lag between visits. We all like motorcycles and fast cars. My cousin who I didn’t even know about until last month has a “My other ride is a TARDIS” sticker on her car. Even being a Doctor Who fan runs in the family, and that’s how I connected with this cousin in my generation but half my age. I’ve had this easy connection that picks up where it left off years ago with friends on occasion, but never with family. They took in Trisha as one of their own, too. Betsy even got her a birthday cake, which was the first time Trisha had ever had a cake with her name on it. It was genuinely fun to spend the week with them.

After the long weekend, we temporarily moved into the house (including Lister) and left the van at their trusted local mechanic for a full once-over before our Big Lap of the US begins. I was concerned about noisy universal joints, but they said they were actually just fine. A less reputable shop would’ve replaced them regardless and charged me for them. The check engine light is just a bad oxygen sensor, nothing serious (especially in Florida where there’s no car inspection). The van would benefit from a front end alignment to address some uneven tire wear.

However, they didn’t want to work on it, because it’s too rusty. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I’m from the north. Up there, every car rusts, and we simply have to deal with it, especially when inspections force us to replace an oxygen sensor or get an alignment. Down here they can pick and choose, and this place chooses not to work on rusty vehicles. On the plus side, they didn’t charge me a cent to take a look at it. I would’ve gladly paid their $100 diagnostic fee for the peace of mind that comes from knowing there are no hidden gotchas that could strike during our drive back to New England. But they didn’t want my money, feeling it was only fair for turning away the work. Decent people.

We got the van back earlier than expected, and were left waiting for our mail to arrive at my aunt’s house. This included our latest Escapees mail (we still hadn’t received the first shipment, mailed incorrectly to Bushnell after we’d left), a USB outlet from Amazon for a small shelf next to my side of the bed, and Trisha’s welcome package from her new job. One by one, all of these came in. Trisha built the shelf in no time, and I installed and wired up the new outlet for charging my phone overnight. Her talents and mine overlap somewhat, but this was a case of each of us sticking with what we’re good at and tag-teaming this project in no time. Considering what we accomplished during the panic van build, this project was nothing for us.

My uncle Donny loves playing with his Cricut, making custom stickers. They loved the story about us chasing chickens out of the van while panic building it at the farm in Indiana. With a little input from Trisha, Donny made us a decal of Haihai, the stupid chicken from Moana. We already have Moana herself on the dashboard (a gift from one of the kids in Indiana), guiding our journey, so it was completely appropriate for Haihai to stow away for the ride. Both are even more appropriate characters considering that Trisha is Hawaiian.

One of Trisha’s old friends was moving from Pennsylvania back to Gainesville at about the same time we were ready to leave my aunt’s place, so that’ll be our next destination. It’s going to feel weird driving north, for once. But we’ve done what we came here to do. Now we have nowhere else we have to be until Maine at the end of July for the New England Forest Rally. It’s time to start our slow roll north, and the first lap of our Big Lap of the US.

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