The first time my uncle went to a doctor’s office was for his toe tag fitting. Every night after milking the cows, he rang up to the house for an icy glass of Alka-Seltzer. After he
drank it down, clink-slurp-clink, he declared it “good medicine” and started passing out
the creamy cow feed, rich with molasses and corn bits.
As for my cousin, it really came down to all those casino runs. She was a member of the
Poker Army, blitzing through many a floor in Vegas and even those silly midwest “ships”
that are floating in three feet of water, and therefore aren’t violating any statewide
gambling laws. When her bunker was finally blown at 58, she owed a cool $1.2 mil to
the state. I see she’s drinking an iced tea over there. Yes, your self-generated blacklist
And then there’s Sheryl, who is actually not related to any of us represented on the 7pm
Family Reunion Game. (I do love theme nights!) She’s just one of those neighbors who,
after spending so many hours sitting around our picnic tables and attending our kids’
graduation parties, had sprouted her own branch onto our family tree. The Lord just
assumed she belonged to us. And that’s fine: Sheryl adds needed normalcy to my side.
I take my place behind the microphone, dreaming up different voices to use to call out
the numbers, thinking up some cutesy Bingo lingo to toss out. The little ball machine
whirs to life, and my family picks up their daubers with a “Hurrah!” People back home
assume that the perks of growing up in Heaven must include growing angel wings, but I’m here to tell you that it’s all more earthly than that. Yes, of course, there are fluffy
clouds to ride, or really whatever you’d like. I swear to God, my grandmother has taken
up zebra riding; “Always had to be different,” my pappy announced. But there’s also
forgetting that it’s trash pick-up night and missing your chance for another week, and
discovering that the bakery is already out of donuts by 8am, and the general
annoyances of year-round construction and road work. Darn near stepped in hot tar
yesterday with my favorite slippers on. “Gotta keep expanding,” God said cheerily.
“Lots more believers on the way!” Then he patted me on the head and skipped off
to Bible study.
And so it is, another Sunday spent in the Bingo hall with my ragtag family, our reunion
taking place under a pink sunset due north of Iceland. I can’t help but notice my uncle’s
distraction today. Even as others bump his shoulder to cover up “Ain’t love fine,
Mrs. I-9!” he still remains distant, aloof. When the group breaks for punch refills,
I approach him quickly. “What’s going on?” I ask.
He gives a half-smile and I can nearly picture him in overalls, opening up the gates to
the cow pasture. I’ve heard so many tender stories about the farm — the ever-present
litters of kittens in the hayloft, the duck pond down the tractor lane, the sweet corn stand along the roadside — but I was too young to ever visit. I just have other people’s
memories. “Oh, I’m just lonely for the wife, that’s all,” my uncle says, looking at me with
happiness and pain. “Would have been our 40th tomorrow. Having fun up here, though.
Thanks for calling the numbers.”
The room starts to reassemble for the specialty games — four corners, blackout,
postage stamp, you know the rest. As my uncle takes his seat again, I feel a new
self-importance about my Sunday gig.
“This one’s for the famers,” I announce. “Winner gets to cut in line for the creamery this
week. I hear the ice cream flavor is Pearly Praline!”
My uncle smiles at me, his eyes crinkly and his dauber ready.
I love my job.
“Why I’m a Bingo Caller in Heaven” showcases two common themes in Kimberly’s writing: unusual family dynamics, and characters with incurable pasts.