In a series of essays called The Distance, Thomas Lake is telling the stories of Americans living through the pandemic. Email [email protected] if you have a story to share. (CNN)You’ve been daydreaming lately, if you’re anything like me, imagining a glorious celebration with all the people you know and love. Now picture this one: a party in the summertime, a hall packed with brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and enough barbecue ribs for everyone. Face-painting and balloon animals for the kids. Whiskey and beer for the grownups. Careful, though. Keep it together. Uncle Dave is watching, so you’d best not misbehave. Uncle Dave Parnell is a former Marine and legendary firefighter here in Detroit. He calls this the August Party, in honor of his family’s many August birthdays. If you are fortunate enough to be at the August Party, you are either a Parnell or an honorary Parnell, someone worthy of the family name. There is a DJ, and a dance floor, and perhaps the ladies are moving fast to ” Watch My Feet ,” or slowing it down with the Dramatics . Maybe Dave’s nephew Jonathan Parnell is cracking open another Modelo, letting the music wash over him, telling another story. Jonathan turns 50 this month, in August 2019, and no one knows this will be his last August Party. Jonathan was 11 when his mother died of a heart attack. His grandmother took him in. Thelma Parnell, woman of steel, had 13 children, ten of whom survived. When young Jonathan told her, a little too confidently, “I’m the man of the house,” she said, “Pass me my stick.” A lightweight pine baton for the persuasion of anyone who stumbled off the straight and narrow. And if that were not enough to guide young Jonathan, there were five uncles willing to enforce Thelma’s law. “Bring me some good grades, Jonathan, or I’m calling Uncle Dave.” Thomas Lake He stumbled a few times, as a boy and as a man, but he made it through high school, married a woman named Renee, had three sons and became a Detroit police officer. He loved his city, and he made it his mission to keep people safe. Another officer told me he noticed something else about Jonathan: he was always talking about his Uncle Dave, always hoping to make Uncle Dave proud. And so, when an officer called him at 2 a.m. with some information on an auto theft case, he jumped out of bed and chased down the lead. When he took college classes or studied for promotional exams, he rounded up other cops and made them do it too, as if they would all rise or fall together. Sometimes he took his teenage son, Jonathan II, in the patrol car. Taught him how to spot a stolen vehicle, how to follow someone without being seen. Jonathan rose through the ranks, from sergeant to lieutenant to captain, but he seemed to stay the same. He wasn’t […]

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