An Angel's Trip, by Samantha Stinchcomb
Ever since my father passed away, certain things have started to take on a new meaning. Songs such as “Faithfully” by Journey and “Rappers Delight” by Sugerhill Gang are now our personal family anthems. Movies such as “Hoosiers” and “Caddy Shack” can make us cry just because we miss his laughter and repetition of those legendary lines. One of the strangest transformations, however, has been the color orange. Bright orange shorts are what my dad became known for; first on the golf course, then at parties, then almost anywhere. What started out as an inside joke among friends, became one of the biggest roles in our lives: The Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation.
Although I wouldn’t exactly call what my father and my family suffered and still suffer through “lucky”, I do consider myself lucky for those 13 years I got to spend with him. Those thirteen years were packed with a lifetime of memories that are still in the front row of my mind, even seven years later. Now that my father has passed and is no longer here to make new memories, I find that the existing ones manifest themselves in my every day life. A trip down Harford road takes me back to those early morning drives to St. Ursula, where my dad was the best DJ I’ve ever known. The beginning notes of Rapper’s Delight get my feet moving, not really with the rhythm, just like my dad’s. The St. Ursula gym takes me back to the nights he would make me stay later than the rest of the team, just to run suicides or work on my free-throws. I find myself finding comfort in familiarity—in the things I was able to do, the places I was able to go, and the people I was able to meet with my dad by my side.
When I stepped on a plane to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark this past January, I was leaving behind all of those familiar things. I was leaving behind my mom, whose loving hugs and stories about my dad had never been more than an hour away from me. I was leaving behind Parkville and my beloved 21234 zip code, which had become a part of me because it was a part of him. I was leaving behind my dog Spooner, who was my dad’s favorite birthday present and had been with the family through it all. Yes, in my decision to study abroad, I knew I would have to leave all of these things; yet nothing can prepare you for that final goodbye, not even the promise of return. My flight there was 7 hours full of Jimmy Buffett songs, a few movies, and quite a few tears. “Is it too late for me to turn around”, I remember thinking as I squeezed my stuffed pug just a little tighter.
While I was not prepared for the pain I felt saying goodbye to everything and everyone I knew and loved that day, I was also not at all prepared for what was waiting for me on the other side. A sense of belonging in a place that had only known me for a few hours, an understanding of direction even though I had never walked the streets of Nørrebro before, and a group of students who, although from all walks of life and all areas of the world, would become some of my nearest and dearest friends after a few late-night Shwarma runs and lots of Carlsberg beers. The most prominent thing waiting for me over there, however, was my dad.
He was there, in every orange bicycle that passed me on the streets of Copenhagen, the bicycle capital of the world, while I walked to class. He was there, in two of the closest friends I made, who both just so happened to attend Indiana University, my dad’s dream college. He was there, at Nyhavn, Copenhagen’s famous “colorful houses”, where different shades of orange were speckled about some of the houses, making it the place I’d find myself crying on the second day of my trip because, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen an orange house. He was there, in the little orange candles that burned in every restaurant and every home in Copenhagen; his spirit dancing along side the flame with the wind. He was there in my favorite bottle of wine, which was called “Smile” with a bright orange label. He was there, in the beautiful orange and purple flowers that covered Copenhagen’s amusement park, Tivoli, while my mom and I spent our Easter strolling through it.
But it wasn’t just in Copenhagen that I felt my dad. It was every new city I visited on my trip, no matter how small or how large of a sign I was given. It was in the coffee shop we stumbled into in Sweden to escape the biting cold being named “Wayne’s Coffee”. It was in the bright orange sunset that was always visible from my seat, no matter which country I was flying above. It was in Russia, where they must’ve just recently learned the song “Get Low”, because it came in on every club or bar. It was in Barcelona, when I had my mom by my side and our tour was led by a Barcelona-native holding a bright orange umbrella to keep the group together—just like the old days, when my dad’s bright orange shorts led us through Disney World.
For 4 months, I was given sign after sign that my dad was there with me. However, on this April 27th, the day he passed away 7 years ago, I felt my father’s embrace more than any drive down Harford Road has given me since 2010. April 27th is a national holiday in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is King’s Day, which is a nation-wide celebration of the King’s birthday; it is somewhat comparable to our 4th of July—block parties everywhere and just an overall celebration of life. The catch? Amsterdam’s national color is orange. Yes, bright orange. The entire city was covered in orange from balloons to confetti to costumes to boats. My childhood best friend, Julia, and I stood on a bridge overlooking the main canal, just crying, the same way we did on that dreadful night 7 years prior. But this cry was different. These tears were full of happiness and love for life. I stood looking out over the water and pulled out my father’s famous American Flag bandanna. As I ignored the strange looks and waved it proudly, a burst of wind came rushing through the canal, wrapping me in warmth although it brought harshly cool air. He was there. 3,809 miles, 7 time zones, and 7 years apart…my father was there on that bridge with me.
When it was finally time for me to return to the States, although I was sad to be leaving my new home, I was so excited to get back to my Big Orange Family—to the hundreds of plastic cups with pictures of shorts on them that turn orange when met with a cold liquid, to the meetings that turn into happy hours, and to the people who love me and, more importantly, love my dad. I can no longer call what happened to my family a tragedy, because Big Orange has made it not one. With each year, each event, each Facebook post shared and donation received, my father’s name lives on in the form of Melanoma awareness.
Because of this foundation, some girl is traveling the world with her dad by her side.