"What are you doing right now?"
My friend's question over the phone came from 500 miles away, in Missouri. Matt wasn't supposed to be in Missouri...
Matt and I have gone on plenty of adventures around the world, including a two-day from San Antonio where we grew up, to Canada, to visit his Grandpa Hank. I know the man - Matt is serious about his time off. To him, like most kids at heart, play is the highest business.
"Well, nothing - just house-sitting Junebug's place." (Junebug Clark - yes, that's his name, is a mentor and student assistant at the University of North Texas, where I graduated only a week earlier. Junebug worked for Life magazine from the young age of 5.)
"Come to the Ozarks, right now. It's only seven hours away from Denton . (Missouri is really 9 hours away)."
Matt's parents were looking into buying this lake house at the massive, serpentine-shaped lake in Missouri, and it seemed they finally got the deal.
Turns out, I couldn't leave - not yet. But Matt called me again, a week later, with more news.
"Grandpa Hank passed away today. My parents are in Canada."
Matt's grand-daddy, Hank. I'll never forget how we met, the night that Matt, our travel-mate Nathan and I drove into Ontario from Texas, to the house he built with his own two hands, which we always said looked more like a mansion. We walked into the dimly lit place, its walls halfway done, a skeleton of two-by-fours and insulation, and there was Hank, sleeping. We surprised him with a bundle of raw steaks and beer. He taught us how to play Vanish, a family card game he made up. Hank showed us his boat dock and how, from that one port in small-town Carleton Place, by traveling up the Ottawa river into the Atlantic ocean, you could see the rest of the world.
"I'm coming to Missouri," I told him. Matt offered to pay me double the cost of putting together a photo collage with pictures of Hank. I figured it would be enough to cover travel expenses.
There wasn't enough time to finish the collage, but Junebug helped me print out a few photos to take with me. The small touch of folding frames/picture holders made a big impression. "It'll bring tears," said Junebug, and it did.