Category Archives: About Family

#TBT: Verbal Brutality: Still Life in Words

Standard

Friend of mine has started restoring his high school ride. It’s a ’68 GTO. I started thinking about this post from November 21, 2011.

You ever get something on your mind and you cannot move on to something else because you can’t concentrate with THAT thought rolling around in your head? You know, kind of like getting “It’s a Small World After All” stuck in your head on an endless loop? I’ve run into such a syndrome this fine Monday morning.

I was balancing out the checkbook from the weekend, pretty much the way I do every Monday, and I uncovered a couple of bills had slid or slipped or — knowing me — been placed under a stack of other papers. One was the water bill and of course it was overdue so I went online and paid it immediately since Budge doesn’t ask for much, but running water IS one of her requirements.

Anyway, after settling up those couple of bills and scheduling out the taxes (which were ALSO resting comfortably under the aforementioned pile) I realized we had about a third of the money I’d hoped we’d have for Christmas. Now, please understand, that’s nothing unusual. Since I got fired, money is always tight around here.

It was just a little disheartening to get socked this early on a Monday morning AFTER my awesome new-to-me laptop decided to lose it’s mind (and LCD screen) AND after spilling a heaping cup of Domino’s Extra Fine Granulated Sugar all over the counter and floor as I was making tea. I just wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of this particular incident, but . . . what’re you gonna do? Thanks to a story I saw on the internet, it was rolling around in my head and I’m hoping telling this story publicly will help exorcise this foul mental demon. After all, I need the room up there.

So without further fanfare, I want to tell about the most brutal, most condescending, most intentionally hurtful thing ANYONE has ever said to me. Names have been changed to show how even with BPD, Dysthymic Disorder, anger management problems, and all my other issues I’m just telling a story; I’m not out for revenge or trying to hurt anyone.

My Papa John had a 1965 Pontiac GTO he was insanely proud of. He loved that car. When I was small, he would put me on his lap and let me steer it down the highway. The GTO died when I was in middle school, but instead of getting rid of it, Papa took it down to our little white church and put it up on jack stands (not blocks) and threw a nice cover over it. Our plan was for me to “fix it up” and drive it once I got to high school and got my own job. Apparently, at some point, the antagonist of this story — a filthy rich Pontiac aficionado, found out about the GTO and offered to buy it from Papa John. Now, folks, Israel will give up the West Bank of Jordan and leave Jerusalem before my Papa John would have sold the GTO. So he said, “No thank you.” Undeterred, the guy would make papa the same offer several times over the years.

Then in my senior year of high school, Papa John had his first major debilitating stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, but it was the first one to take him out of action for an extended period of time. Papa John gave me the title to the GTO and said, in his newly slurred speech, to go ahead with our plans and as soon as he got well, we’d work on the car together.

Unfortunately, I found out restoring cars is a rich man’s hobby. Even repairing the GTO enough to return it to the road proved to be beyond my means with my high school jobs. By then, I’d had it towed from the church to a friend of mine’s house who had a full on shop where I planned to do the work. Fortunately, the GTO wasn’t eating anything, didn’t cost much in taxes, and was more or less safe from the elements. I figured circumstances would change eventually and I could complete the restoration.

Once the Pontiac guy found out about Papa’s stroke, he started turning up the heat on ME to sell him the car. Please bear in mind I had all the same issues back then I do now, BUT I didn’t know anything was wrong with me, I just thought I was a raging asshole with a hair trigger temper. So I said, “No.” When he kept asking, I upped my response to “Hell no.”

Then, one night after I’d had a pretty disastrous day, the phone rang. This was in the pre-caller id days or I’d never have answered it. It was, of course, the Pontiac guy. We started going through the usual preliminary small talk expected of Southern men even if they DO hate each other but this time, he had a different tactic. He went straight for the guts. He said, “Shannon, I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to buy that piece of $#@! GTO from your grandfather and now you for too long and I’m just going to be straight with you, John’s never going to drive again and you’ll never get that car running on what you make at a grocery store– you need to sell me that car tonight if for no other reason than

(here it comes)

(the ugliest thing anyone’s ever said to me even to this day)

I know you are dirt poor and could desperately use the money.”

I didn’t have anything to say. The saddest part was how right he was. At that particular moment, all the fight went out of me. With tears in my eyes, but not my voice (pride is a dangerous thing) I told him I’d leave the title and the key with Bobby (the guy who owned the shop where I had the car) after school the next day and he could pick them and the car up and drop off a check whenever. What he gave for our beloved GTO wouldn’t buy a set of tires today.

Now here is one of my life’s greatest ironies, I went to high school with the Pontiac guy’s son. Later on, I would be roommates in college with his son and dude became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I could always count on him and still can.

I never mentioned the conversation with his father to my buddy. He knew where the car came from but not the circumstances. He also knew I loved old cars so he’d update me on his dad’s latest restoration projects. To this day, thirty years later, the GTO sits in a warehouse in Laurens County, protected from the elements, but still far from my planned glorious outcome for it. I doubt it’ll ever see the road again.

I don’t think St. Peter allows driving where Papa’s gone to now. It’s most likely hard to get tire marks off golden pavement, so I doubt Papa could care less.

As for me, whenever I see a 1965 GTO on the road, on TV or in a magazine, to this day, I taste bile and — more than that — dirt in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and be careful what you say to each other.

Papa and the Braves Redux

Standard

Papa Wham’s Atlanta Braves cap hangs right where he left it, 15 18 over 20 baseball seasons ago.

Today would have been my beloved Papa Wham’s birthday, so I’m re-running this post from a few years ago in his honor.

I take my love of baseball in general and the Atlanta Braves in particular from my Papa Wham. In 1978, Granny surprised Papa with a special present when she signed their house up to be the first “Cablevision Equipped” residence on Weathers Circle. Now Papa could watch the Braves on the new Turner Broadcasting Channel out of Atlanta right from the comfort of his favorite couch instead of having to go sit in the car and listen to the games on the car radio.

From that first season until I was old enough to stay by myself several years later, Papa and I didn’t miss a game through the week and I’d often make Mama take me to Granny and Papa’s on Saturday or Sunday or both so he and I could watch the weekend games together.

If you call yourself a Braves fan, I have one question for you? Who are Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, and Bruce Benedict? If you don’t know those names, you are not a Braves fan, you are a BANDWAGON jumper who attached yourself to Papa’s beloved team AFTER their meteoric rise from worst to first and the subsequent instant classic that was the 1991 World Series. Those names are the starting infielders from the 1981 Braves team that finished a miserable 15 games back of the NL WEST leaders and eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Papa and I watched them all. I lay on the floor next to his couch and listened as Papa told Bobby Cox how to manage a game through the television.

Papa and I claimed we would pay any price for tickets if Atlanta ever went to the World Series. For all the years we watched WTBS, however; the Braves making the post-season, much less the Fall Classic, seemed about as likely as country ham and cheese grits as the breakfast special of a kosher diner. Still, we watched faithfully. Dale Murphy was a bright spot and when he won the MVP in 1982, we two were deliriously happy. I got my license a couple of years later and stayed by myself at night while Mama worked, but come summer, at least twice a week and one weekend day I’d pull in to the driveway and run in just in time to watch some new hotshot throw the first pitch of the game.

I went off to Clemson in the fall of 1990. The Braves were on their way to a fantastic finish a mere 26 games out of first. Papa and I groused about that season all winter. Then came 1991. All summer, I’d cut grass, wash cars, and ride up to Granny and Papa’s to see the Braves play. It LOOKED like they’d finally put an awesome team together, but 15 years of utter futility had taught us not to be optimistic. Still, they kept winning and by the time I went back to school, the woe-begotten Braves were making a run at the NL West pennant.

I can remember this next part just as easily as if it were yesterday. I was standing in front of a big screen TV in The Tiger Town Tavern. It was after midnight; the Braves were playing the Pirates in the National League Championship Series. The winner of THIS ONE GAME, unbelievably, would go to the WORLD FREAKING SERIES. A new kid named John Smoltz pitched a complete game and shut out the vaunted Pirate batting line up — including a young (and much smaller pre-steroid Barry Bonds). The Braves were going to the Series!

I almost got in a fist fight pushing my way to the front of the pay phone line (this was way before everyone had a cell phone) and called Papa. Granny answered the phone and just as I asked her if Papa was up to see the game winning run, I heard him call from the den, “World Series, Shannon; we’re going to the World Series!” Granny just laughed and took him the phone where we replayed every crucial at bat during the entire game.

Unfortunately, Papa took sick later that week. I’d scraped up enough to get us tickets to at least one game, but he was under the weather and Granny said “NO.” So that was that. I ended up watching three of the seven games of the Series against the Twins with him and we were on the phone talking as we watched Gene Larkin break our hearts with the winning hit in that unbelievable game seven.

Papa and I never did get to see the Braves play in any of the World Series of that awesome 15 year run when it seemed the Braves couldn’t be beaten anymore. He was on oxygen by the time little Francisco Cabrera’s pinch hit and Sid Bream’s slide sent us to the 1992 World Series, but I sat with him and together we watched Joe “Touch ‘Em All” Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat us. A baseball team from CANADA. The shame was too great to bear.

Papa was gone by the time the Braves made the series again in 1995. He died of a heart attack in Daddy’s arms right after the All-Star break. His beloved Atlanta baseball cap hung on the top peg of the hat rack in the kitchen right where he’d put it the week before . . . the last time he’d worn it before he became bed-ridden. I wanted to bury it with him, but Aunt Cathy couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it, so we didn’t. I’m glad now. It’s still right where he hung it. In two decades, it’s never been moved. Cathy will gently dust it off every now and again, but it’s waiting for him.

I sat alone in tears and watched the Braves beat the Indians in game 6 of the 1995 World Series to win the only World Series they would win during their streak. The next day, I cut the box score out of the local paper, had it laminated, wrapped it in a plastic bag and buried it under the gravel in the corner of Papa’s plot. The Braves haven’t won another series since. I guess all the magic of their greatest fan just petered out once he was gone. I miss him terribly and to this day, fifteen eighteen over twenty years on, I can’t watch a Braves game without thinking of him.

So to all you fathers and grandfathers out there, take in a game and make some time for each other. I love you, Papa; and happy birthday.

And I love y’all!

Keep your feet clean now!

#TBT: Daddy’s not the Cadillac Kind

Standard
These boys sang my life story.

These boys sang my life story.

I wrote this for Fathers’ Day five years ago. With Fathers’ Day coming up Sunday, I thought I would rerun it and maybe Daddy will see it. Hope you like it.

Driving home from supper last night, Budge and I heard Confederate Railroad singing their hit song, “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Now the boys in Confederate Railroad wrote the two songs that perfectly sum up my relationships with my parents. Mama’s ringtone from the day I was able to get mp3 ringtones was “Jesus and Mama” by Confederate Railroad; they wrote that song for me and her, they just didn’t know it. Then Daddy fits just perfectly with “Cadillac Kind.”  In the second verse of the song, the narrator is describing how he told his Daddy about buying a nice big new car. In his words, “Daddy asked how I bought it; I told him on credit, and Daddy just smiled, I’ll never forget it.” That brings to mind one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with Daddy and, this being Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell it as an interlude in my beach recollection.

So here’s what happened. I was eighteen and fresh out of high school in fall of 1989. I’d already abandoned my plan to go to Clemson University with some friends of mine and instead was working at Advance Auto Parts and planned to start classes at Greenville Tech later in the year. Each of those items is worth a story in its own right, and maybe I’ll tell them one day, but for now, suffice it to say I was in the grip of new car fever. For the last few months, I’d parked Marilyn — my ’69 Chevelle SS that would pass everything on the road but a gas station — and started driving a little Ford Fiesta, which is another story worth vignette. In any event, I was through with used cars and wanted to buy something new, so one Friday afternoon, I picked up my check from Advance and went with Mama to what was then Crossroads Chevrolet between Mauldin and Simpsonville.

What I went to get!

What I went to get!

I knew exactly what I wanted and it was sitting in the showroom when we walked in. It was a 1990 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z-28, smoke grey with factory tinted windows, t-tops, and high pro v-8 engine. Sticker price was $22,999.00, which was a ton of money in 1989.

I pointed to the car when the salesman walked up and told him that’s what I intended to buy. He opened the driver side door, got me seated, went around and got in the passenger’s seat, handed me the keys, and I was off on my first test drive ever. Five miles of curvy roads and one carsick and extremely pale salesman later, we were back on the lot and then in his little cubicle. I filled out a mile of paperwork and signed my name to hundreds of forms. Mama didn’t have to sign anything. I was so proud. He said it would be about two hours before he could give us “a decision.” So we went to eat lunch.

Right here, I need to explain something to y’all I’m not really proud of, but it is a fact of my existence. I suck at all things financial. Growing up, I never learned to save because we never had enough money around to have anything left over to save. I didn’t get an allowance, if I was with Mama, she bought what I needed or wanted if she had the money and if she didn’t, I did without. It’s where I picked up a phrase I use to this day to answer someone saying, “I want X or Y.” My answer is “People in Hell want ice water too.” If I was with Daddy, it was the same way. So I just never learned how to handle money well. I knew people got paid on Thursday and it was their job to spend it all because I figured if anything was left the next Wednesday, they’d come back and get it. I’m serious about this. To this day, if I’m not constantly vigilant, I can go through a pile of money of any size like poop through a goose and have a ball doing it. I lived with Mama and Mama’s budget was the same as what I use today. It’s called the Pile Method. You get paid, put the money in the bank, and sit down with a checkbook and a pile of bills and write out payments until the money or the pile is gone. Some weeks the money won, most weeks the pile won. To this day, I do that with only a little variation. So again, I suck at all things financial.

After lunch, we went back to the showroom where the very somber faced salesman sadly gave me the news that GMAC Financial had refused my loan application on the Camaro. I was heartbroken and he almost got to see a big boy bawl. I wanted that car so bad I could taste it. He saved the day, however, by telling me he HAD gotten me approved for another vehicle. He took the lead and showed me, at the very back of the lot, the vehicle I would drive off the lot with that day. It was a 1989 Chevy S-10 Cameo EL pickup truck — base model, sticker price $7999. Now when I say “base model” I don’t mean “no power windows” or something like that; I mean it didn’t have a RADIO — just a hole in the dash covered by a blockoff plate. No power steering, no power brakes, no NOTHING. It was a 4 cylinder 5 speed manual drivetrain and it DID have A/C, but only because GM wouldn’t ship a car below the Mason-Dixon Line without A/C and expect to sell it.

And what I got.

And what I got.

I paid $200 down and signed my name to a loan agreement of $184 per month. The salesman handed me the keys, I kissed Mama on the cheek, and took off in my new ride to show Daddy what a big boy I was. Daddy had just gotten home from eight hours at Laurens Glass Plant. He was sitting in the shade of his workshop shed and stood up when I pulled into the yard. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was 18, which made Daddy 38 years old. I walked up the hill and asked him how he liked “my new truck!” He looked at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned and the conversation progressed like this:

Daddy asked me, “How much was it?” I told him, “$7999.00.” He nodded.

Then he asked, “What’d you put down on it?” I told him, “$200.00.” He nodded again.

Then he wanted to know if Mama had co-signed with me and I proudly told him she had not; I was grown and making my own way in the world. I thought I was doing well and was smiling like a bloodhound pooping peach pits. Then Daddy asked his next question.

“What’s your payment?”  “$184 per month, sir!” That brought a wince, but the next few questions almost got me killed.

“How many months?” “Um, I don’t know?” Frown.

“What’s your interest rate?” Again, I had to say “Um, I don’t know?” That wasn’t the right answer.

“So, you just bought a truck? No idea how many payments? Don’t know the interest rate? Do you have the paperwork you signed?” I just nodded. “Go get it.” I went and got it and when I brought it back to Daddy, he sat down in the door of his workshop and read over everything, which was the first time anyone but the salesman read those papers. Apparently, he found the payment schedule AND the interest rate because he looked up at me.

He didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look upset. The best way I can describe his face was the way Jackie Gleason’s face looked during this scene in Smokey and the Bandit. He said, “You are paying $184.00 for SIXTY months. That’s FIVE years, son.” I didn’t know what to say. He continued, “You are paying 16% interest! You are basically buying that truck on a credit card!” Once again, I didn’t have any idea what to say. He finished up, “You just saw a truck you wanted and the man got you in it however he could. I wish you had come to me, son, and we could have gone together.” You may notice a pattern here, but I still didn’t know what to say. Finally, Daddy just smiled the same exasperated smile Budge says I use with her sometimes and said, “C’mon. Take me for a ride in your new truck.”

Twenty-five years later, I know the interest rate of every loan, credit card, and savings account I have and it’s all because of one conversation. I also know why Daddy was so aggravated about the interest rate. See, he bought his and Teresa’s house they live in now during the height of the Jimmy Carter administration. Daddy paid 17% interest on that house and it made him hate interest in all its forms; think about that the next time you hear a commercial for refinancing at 4%!

That’s my Daddy.

Happy Fathers Day to all the daddies out there and y’all be sure to keep your feet clean!

Love y’all.

#TBT: Speak Softly and Carry a Frying Pan

Standard

I just passed my 5th Mother’s Day without Mama. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately so I decided to repost this from not long after she first passed away. It’s still one of my favorite stories about her and me. Ironically, my grass needs cutting right now and I don’t want to do it anymore than I did then. It’s originally from May 10, 2013. Hope you like it.

As I face my first Mother’s Day without Mama, I thought I’d tell y’all one of my favorite stories ever about me and Mama. I have been known to embellish my tales, but this one is the absolute truth.

I was sixteen and as a byproduct of such a sage and wizened age, I knew everything about everything and if you didn’t believe me, all you had to do was ask. Mama was 34 — a year younger than my Budge is right now. We were living in “The Little Barn,” which was our name for the 1960-something vintage trailer we called home for several years. It pretty much was a barn, no central heat . . . no heat at all in the back of the house where my room was . . . and no central air, just a window unit mounted in the wall in the living room. The carpet was hand-me-down from my aunt after she’d changed rugs at her place. It was a sight for sore eyes and it rocked like a sailboat in a hurricane when the wind blew, but it was home.

This is what I cut grass with .  .  .  no lie.

This is what I cut grass with . . . no lie.

Anyway, this particular day was a Thursday right around this time of year. I remember it well because the grass needed to be cut and that was my job. I never particularly looked forward to cutting our grass because my instrument for mowing our 3/4 acre lot was a 19 inch bladed push mower and it was decidedly not self-propelled. This was also in the days before wonder drugs like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra had been invented. I’ve chronicled my battle with hay fever before in these pages so I won’t go into great detail now, but suffice it to say by the time I finished cutting all that volunteer fescue with my Fisher-Price toy lawnmower, I could either endure the rest of the day sneezing and itching or take two Benadryl capsules and slip into a coma. But I digress.

It was a Thursday and I had three things propelling me towards my doom: my new ’79 Mustang, a newly upgraded drivers license, and daylight. A few years later at Clemson University, weekends always started on Thursdays, but a young man tearing out the door after supper on what was still a school night then was severely frowned upon in Mama’s household.

I had one hand on the doorknob with visions of picking up Robby and just wandering around the countryside telling lies, going a little too fast around curves, listening to loud music, and hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive creature — the beautiful teenage girl. Mama was washing the dishes from supper and at that moment, she was cleaning out the 12″ cast iron frying pan (or skillet to you yankees among my limited readership) she’d used to fry my favorite breaded okra with earlier in the evening. She had just placed that hunk of pig iron on the stove eye where it lived when she noticed me still in “school clothes” and fixing to walk out the door. She turned back to the sink and as she did, she asked me a question — a simple question really — that would change my estimation of Mama for the rest of my life. She said, “Son, where are you going?”

I could have answered with any number of phrases, the absolute truth being best, that I was going to get Robby, put a few hard Community Cash earned dollars worth of gas in the car and drive around wasting time and daylight. That’s all I had to say and the evening would have simply progressed on. Unfortunately, I was sixteen and a boy. I also possessed one of the smartest mouths in three counties and I had a delightful talent for opening it at the wrong time and letting it say the wrong thing. Tonight, my smart mouth shoved my much less bulky good sense out of the way and blurted one word, “OUT!”

Mama paused in her dishwashing and visibly tensed, but she almost immediately went back to the suds in the sink and her back asked me a second innocuous question, “Okay, and when do you plan on being back?” Once I let my mouth off its rather long chain, it had a tendency to overdo things so I missed the chance to have a pleasant evening when I replied with yet another one word answer, “LATER!”

Again, Mama tensed up. I learned later on that weekend that I had just used the same intonation, phrasing, and even voice patterns my Daddy used when he and Mama were dating and later on when they were still married and he was off to do some mischief. Mama HATED that “Out; Later” nonsense coming from Daddy. She didn’t like it any better coming from me, but what happened next is what sealed my fate. She had again started washing the dishes and softly, without turning around, she said, “That’s funny, son. Now really, where are you going and when do you plan on being back? It’s a school night.”

Gentle reader, have you ever had an out of body experience where you have seemed to stand beside yourself as you did something unbelievably stupid and your astral self is screaming at your physical self “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!” But your physical self just plowed right on through that big red mental STOP sign up ahead? Well, that’s how I felt when I spoke next.

I was sixteen and basically grown — in my own eyes — and I had a car Daddy had bought me so Mama had no business telling ME — A MAN — where to go, do, and be back. As Daddy had famously told her himself on more than one occasion “No damn woman is going to tell me what to do.” So, I spoke again and very nearly paid for my words with my life when I said, loudly with all the confidence of a teenage boy who feels ten feet tall and bulletproof, “IT’S NONE OF YOUR (horrible expletive I’d never used in front of Mama deleted) BUSINESS WHERE I’M GOING OR WHEN (second horrible never used in Mama’s presence expletive deleted) I PLAN TO BE BACK! I’M A GROWN MAN!”

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

As God whom I serve is my witness, I didn’t know that little woman could move that fast. In one smooth, swift motion, she pivoted on her left foot, snatched up that cast iron frying pan in her right hand, and stepped and threw a sidearm cookware fastball that would have made Kent Tekulve blush with shame it was so perfect. I never saw it coming until it was too late to do anything about it. That heavy hunk of iron spun a few times between me and Mama and — mercifully — struck me right in the solar plexus with the lip instead of the handle. If the pan had rotated another half turn, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because I’d have been skewered by an iron handle.

The force of the blow staggered me backwards and I caught my knees on the arm of the sofa, lost my balance, and sprawled backwards, arms flailing, to land flat on my back after cracking my skull on the coffee table on the way down. As I lay there in a dazed stupor with my head and chest throbbing while my feet still twitched in the air on the sofa cushion like a mosquito on a date with DDT, I heard the refrigerator door open, something get removed, and footsteps coming towards me. Before I could clear my head at all, Mama slung the contents of the ice water pitcher all over my face and upper body, causing me to sit up and split my forehead on the bottom of the coffee table as I rose.

As I sat spluttering and breathless, Mama put her face millimeters away from mine, which was good because my eyes were having trouble focusing, and said very quietly and carefully, “You will never speak to me in that manner again; do you understand?” I could only nod my most vehement, impassioned assent. Then she said, “When you get your breath back, you get up, change clothes, and go cut the grass, yes?”

My pride was soaked and my head and chest were pained but that skinny bundle of good sense had whipped and hog-tied my smart mouth for a change so all I could croak was, “Yes, ma’am,” as Mama nodded and walked off.

I love her still and God knows I miss her.

Love y’all as well, keep those feet clean, and as you honor or remember your own mothers this Sunday, if you’d say a prayer for me, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Two Years

Standard

Just ignore the fat kid with the stupid grinny smile, but see what I mean about Mama's hair? Why would you cover that up?

It’s nine months until Christmas and two years since my little Mama left me in this foreign country by myself (inside joke).

I’ve learned a few things.

First, the second year is harder than the first. All during the first year, people are rooting for you. Everyone realizes its the “first” Christmas, “first” Mother’s Day, etc. so you get lots of support at those times. What’s more, YOU are more prepared. You see the date on the calendar and start mentally psyching yourself up to face the impending sadness.

In the second year, the sadness enters stealth mode. The initial shock has worn off and, whether you want it to or not, life keeps going so you have to start trying to adjust; you take your mind off the calendar for just a bit and when you turn back around, it’s some important date and the grief hits you in the gut like a serious sucker punch.

I’ve learned Nietzsche was wrong. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger; it just doesn’t kill you and keeps on hurting like Hell, but the world HAS to go on. I still wake up some days wondering how in a universe ruled by a benevolent God does the Sun have the audacity to shine on an Earth that my Mama no longer walks upon? But it does. It has to; we just don’t have to like it and it can somehow seem diminished.

I don’t think I’ve cried enough for her and that bothers me because I’m one of those strange people who equates the violence of my emotions with the depth of love I have for a person. The fact I can still function like a normal human (with a very liberal definition of “normal”) instead of being reduced to a jibbering heap huddled in a corner has surprised several people closest to me . . . myself not least of all. That worries me because if I’m not actively mourning her, does it mean I didn’t love her and don’t miss her as much as I thought I did? Intellectually, I can see the falsity of the statement, but grief and emotion are seldom intellectual.

I know one reason I can keep moving is I have no regrets where Mama is concerned. I know that sounds completely unbelievable, but it’s true. Mama and I kept very short accounts where the other was concerned. If we had a fight . . . and we often did, especially in my teenage years . . . we never parted ways angry. The last words I said to her each night before bed and the first words I said to her every morning were the same, “Mama, I love you.” When the time came to preach her funeral, I didn’t have to apologize for anything. We’d cleared those accounts up long ago.

It makes it bearable, but it’s far from easy. I had too much love as a child and a young person. Mama doted on me. I had all four grandparents and four of eight great-grandparents. That’s a tremendous amount of warmth and love to pour over one person and I don’t think I took it for granted, but I never imagined what life would be without it.

Now I don’t have to imagine. All I have left is Granny Ima and I have to look after her — like I promised Mama I would — rather than she looking after me. I wasn’t prepared for the loss of so much love in such a relatively small amount of time, but I am thankful I had it while I did.

I miss Mama as much today as I did when I stood by her closed casket two years ago; I just manage most days to hide it a little better. I don’t know how I’ll spend today. I know I’ll remember her, but I do that every day. I just don’t know.

And so it goes.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean, and hug your mothers; they get gone too soon.

Metamorphosis of Matronly Mean Girls

Standard

As I’ve told here before,https://i1.wp.com/static01.nyt.com/images/2008/09/29/timestopics/topics_nursinghomes_395.jpg on Tuesdays I ride down to Clinton to visit my sole remaining grandparent, Mama’s mama, my Granny Ima. When I arrive, the residents of Granny’s wing are in a rough circle overlooking the activity room. One or more non-vocal clients, like Granny, will often be over to the side, which I admit annoys me sometimes, but I’ll save that for later. I’ll make my rounds and speak to the ladies and dispense pats and hugs where they are welcomed and try to avoid some of the more “exuberant” ones before I sit down to give Granny the weekly update. It’s during these interludes I made my observations on how mobility, lucidity, and family may replace popularity, desirability, and money, but mean girls are still mean girls even in a nursing home and the hierarchy among these elderly ladies is every bit as rigid as any pecking order one would find in a high school or middle school cafeteria.

First, I’m sure you’ve noticed I mention “ladies” exclusively. That is not without purpose. The only creature less common in a nursing home than any gender of Hispanic is a male. At Granny’s, the ratio of men to women is – from my rough and unscientific observations – about fifteen women to each man. In the five years of Granny’s residence, I’ve also only seen one male nurse. It’s a safe bet the wings of NHC are fairly awash with estrogen, or would be if most of these ladies were not past the days of estrogen production.

What few men are around circulate in an entirely different manner than the women. The three I know the best — Mr. Joe, Mr. Jack, and Mr. Ralph — generally keep to themselves off to one side. During activities, they will line up wheel to wheel together on one side of the room looking for all the world like junior high boys at a sock hop earnestly hoping to not be asked to dance. Mostly, the women leave the men alone. I can’t say with certainty exactly why, but I suspect, given the lengths of the marriages I’ve heard bandied about among the ladies, they’ve just had enough to do with men to last a lifetime.

The ladies do have a pretty clear caste system among themselves, however, and the first criteria is mobility. Only two of them are able to walk unassisted for any distance and it’s obvious they are objects of envy. I can only imagine how sweet it would be to those who are Depends clad and wheelchair bound to be able to rise at any moment and tend to nature’s call alone and removed from the tyranny and interference of some whippersnapper CNA. Unfortunately, just because only two ladies are ABLE to walk unassisted, it does not mean others ATTEMPT to walk unassisted, often having forgotten the atrophy of their legs or — in some cases — the complete lack thereof. I don’t pass a day with Granny without hearing a “personal chair alarm” go off at least once as someone — usually Mother Gault — forgets she is no longer able to stand unaided but still wishes to give walking the old college try.

That brings up a second criteria in the nursing home pecking order because sound legs do not always undergird a sound mine. For instance, one precious lady — Ms. Stoddard I think she’s called — is one of the “easy walkers” and can stroll anywhere she wishes; unfortunately, she usually sits silent and pensive and a casual observer would wonder why until he or she heard her ask — often for the tenth or twelfth time that hour — “Where am I?” She, like almost all of the ladies lucid enough to realize their situation, usually wants to know the same thing when a nurse tells her, “Honey, you’re at NHC in Clinton,” and that is, inevitably, “Well, when do I go home?” Whenever I hear her or any other lady ask that plaintive question, my composure always suffers and once again I feel shot through with guilt that I have to drive to visit Granny instead of simply walking down the hall to her room.

Still, I do go to see her every Tuesday and my beloved Aunt Pearl goes every Wednesday. Having two regular family visitors assures Granny’s place in the hierarchy of the home and keeps her safe from drifting to the bottom. I can’t tell you how many of the ladies I have come to cherish as if they were aunts or elderly cousins sit day by day waiting for a family member who never comes. In some cases, I realize a family is unable to provide for the care needs some of the ladies present and some, like 102 year old Grandma Cleo — Granny’s roommate — have, by process of attrition, outlived any family who could come to visit. Still, in too many cases, these loved ones are more “inconvenient” than “invalid” and as sad as it is to say, our society doesn’t place a very high priority on its elders anymore.

Lest my brush seem too broad, though, not all of the ladies could be called mean girls.  Each week, I receive a fairly detailed report from two of the brightest ladies about Granny’s activity each week and they keep me up to date on how she is being treated by the staff and the other ladies and for that, I am grateful beyond description. For every former cheerleader who sneers at a fellow patient’s inability to move a wheelchair unaided is another kind heart who will wheel over to tuck a blanket around a sleeping comrade. The criteria may change, but just as high school was its on special kind of Hell and winnowing ground, so to is the nursing home a crucible of sorts where under the heat those whose spirits are most golden shine through.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

My July 4th Memory – “The Rick Camp” Game

Standard
My Rick Camp 1978 Topps baseball card.

My Rick Camp 1978 Topps baseball card.

Independence Day isn’t grilling burgers or franks, shooting off loads of fireworks, or fun in the Sun on the water; it’s baseball. One game in particular recalls everything which makes baseball the greatest of games — a game where anything can happen on any given pitch and any player from any position can change the history of the game. I watched my game of all Independence Day games with my beloved Papa Wham on Thursday to Friday, July 4 – 5, 1985.

That night, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets sent their aces — Dwight Gooden for the Mets, Rick Mahler for the Braves — to the mound. Instead of the advertised pitcher’s duel, they were both chased by the fourth inning. Fifteen MORE innings, THREE long rain delays, and a BUNCH of pitchers later, the game would become known in baseball lore as “The Rick Camp” Game.

By the time the final rain delay was over, the game was in the bottom of the 8th with the Braves losing 7-4, which was pretty typical for the 1980s Braves. Finally, however, the Braves’ bats came alive; they scored four times to take an 8-7 lead.

Then things started to get weird.

The Mets tied the game up in the top of the ninth by rocking famous Braves closer Gene Garber for a run. The home team failed to push anyone across in the bottom half of the frame and the free baseball began. It looked like things would be decided in “typical” extra innings when the Mets scored twice in the top of the 13th, but the Braves managed to knot the game up again when Terry Harper jacked a two run homer. Harper came to the plate TEN times in the game and managed five hits. That’s something not many baseball players can boast about.

The game went back to deadlock for the next five innings and then the Braves ran out of position players as pinch hitters. With nobody left on the bench to hit for him, and behind by a run, the Braves sent right-handed PITCHER Rick Camp, a lifetime .060 hitter, to the plate. With Camp behind in the count 0-2 — just as pitchers are supposed to be — Mets reliever Tom Gorman grooved a fastball “right down Peachtree Street” and Rick Camp sent it over the left field fence and into baseball history, tying the game.

What most people, including me, tend to forget after such a huge event is the Braves ended up LOSING the game in the next inning when the Mets got five runs in the top of the 19th. The Braves would get two back in the bottom of the inning, but Rick Camp couldn’t make the lightning strike twice and struck out to — finally, mercifully — end the game. It was 3:55 AM, July 5, six hours and ten minutes after it began.

The box score from the game took almost an entire column in the paper. Both teams used seven pitchers and combined for 46 hits. In a terrible bit of irony, Rick Camp proved a worse pitcher than hitter that fateful night, working three innings giving up 5 earned runs and going down as the losing pitcher.

The handful of remaining fans got to see the July 4th Fireworks Show start at 4:01am. Papa and I watched the entire thing; we both slept late the next morning.

Hope y’all had a great July 4th!

Love y’all; Keep those feet clean.

 

 

 

Papa’s Day plus 70 years

Standard
Papa wham

Frank B. Wham, Sr. circa 1944

Today more than any day of the year, I think of Papa Wham. More than his birthday (July 7), more than Christmas or Thanksgiving, more than Father’s Day, more than the anniversary of his passing (July 17), the anniversary of the D-Day invasion is my memory of Papa. This year is the 70th anniversary of the Operation Overlord invasion that finally opened up the second front in Europe the Soviet Union had been so adamantly insisting upon for years. Seventy years since the beginning of the end for Hitler and his 1000 year Reich. For Papa Wham and thousands of young men like him, it was another day away from home and the people they loved. I’ve seen the news coverage of the ceremonies in the Normandy cemeteries and I’ve marveled at the large number of veterans of that day who made the trip back to those stormy cliffs to remember. None of them are younger than their late 80s, but every single one of them stands as straight as age and appliances will allow as the colors troop past and the national anthems play. These are not young men and for many of them, this will be their last tour of the battlefields of their youth. It’s nearly a cliché now, but this is the flower of America’s Greatest Generation and those flowers are quickly fading.

If Papa were still with us, he’d be 97. This year will mark twenty years since his passing. It’s been two decades since I’ve seen his gentle smile and heard his sweet voice. To have known my papa when I did and as I did — as my beloved grandfather and one of the two greatest men I’ve ever known — was not to picture a warrior primed for battle. Papa ran a service station then an auto parts store. He vacuumed the house for Granny Wham on Saturday mornings and dozed off sometimes in church on Sunday mornings when Preacher Jeff wasn’t holding his attention. He loved baseball — especially his Atlanta Braves. He loved me and each of his three other grandsons (though I’m pretty sure I was the favorite.) I just never viewed my precious Papa Wham as anything other than my papa.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve often wondered what Papa thought about “his” war. I never asked him for any details. I was too young to know how to gently and politely ask an older man about his service and Papa never volunteered his thoughts on anything but the most innocuous incidents, the funniest stories. I wonder about things now though. Papa was in his middle 20s when he went to fight the Nazis. He was a small town South Carolina boy riding to war on the Queen Mary ocean liner. What was he thinking 70 years ago today as his LCI splashed towards the narrow strip of sand? If I’ve heard correctly, Papa was in the third wave of the invasion, which meant the beach was still “hot” in terms of enemy action. Was he scared? I can’t imagine Papa Wham being scared any more than I can imagine Daddy being scared, but having watched the invasion scene of Saving Private Ryan time after time, I can’t see anyone in one of those boats not being terrified.

I know from his service record that D-Day wasn’t Papa’s first rodeo. He’d landed in North Africa during Operation Torch. He had been at Anzio and had taken part in the Sicily campaign. Still, this was attacking Hitler’s Atlantic Wall of Fortress Europe. I wonder how many friends he’d made in the two years of serving with the First Infantry Division, “The Big Red One.” I wonder how many he had seen maimed or killed in terrible ways. Had he ever killed anyone? I simply can’t see Papa as a killer, but it was a war and a terrible, bloody war at that. I know he could shoot because I’d seen him do it, but did he ever shoot a man? If he did, I never knew and I was brought up to well to ask.

What did he do in England during the build up for the invasion? What about during the days on the road in France when every American soldier was a liberator and a hero? Papa was dashingly handsome; especially in his uniform. Did he turn the head and catch the eye of a pretty English shop girl? Did he spend a quiet hour with some lovely French maid? To me, it’ll always be “Papa and Granny” but Papa wasn’t married to Granny yet and he was a long way from home with the possibility of being killed dogging his every step. I know it would seem scandalous to some — especially my Aunt Cathy — but I would hardly think less of my precious Papa Wham if he’d spent an evening with a European girl. He was kind and sweet and if Granny Wham loved him, why couldn’t a red-headed Scottish lass have been taken with him as well? I think entirely too much of Papa and his steadfast integrity to even entertain the idea I may have some kin on the other side of the Pond I don’t know about. That’s just not the kind of man Papa was . . . but if it did turn out I had a Belgian relative or two, I certainly wouldn’t think any less of Papa. It was a war.

A war he fought 70 years ago thousands of miles from home. Oh the questions I wish I had asked.

Rest in Peace, Papa, and Rest in Peace to all the brave fallen of that terrible war.

Love you all and keep those feet clean!

A Tale of Two Walkways

Standard

1000px-cthulhu_rising_by_somniturne1I’m hurrying to get this down. I fear it may be the last missive I write for a long time, maybe ever. If this be my last communication to the readers I love, know I did not faint nor flag in the fight. I pressed onward, met my enemy, and conquered him, but every victory has a price and this one is no different. In my zealous prosecution of the conflict, I have angered ancient foul beings of immense power and no mercy. I broke a sacred vow nearly two decades old. Now the cold hand of panic, raw gnawing terror grips me as the focus of their wrath turns towards me in its fullest. Already my fingers stiffen, my lower back is beginning to lock up, I cannot lift my arms above my head, my legs are in such knots I dare not attempt to poop for fear I may not be able to stand up from the toilet. These eldritch abominations possess long memories and when they are trifled with, they will have blood.

I can hear you thinking, “What, dearest Feet, have you done to deserve such a black fate? What vow could be so solemn its foreswearing cost so great a price?” The answer is as simple as it is deadly . . . I have constructed a stone walkway. I swore a blood oath I would never attempt such an undertaking again, but I did and now I have enraged the Dread Gods of DIY.

To fully understand the gravity of this matter, I must take you to the time I made this ill-advised oath. It was early in the summer of 1996. Budge and I had successfully navigated two years of dating and engagement without the principal of the school where I was a teacher and Budge a student discovering our love affair and having me summarily executed . . . or at least fired. I know I have piqued your interest, but alas, tis a story for another telling, and should I survive my current entanglement, I will tell it in due time.

For now, join me in a postage-stamp-sized backyard in a gated community where Budge’s dad decided it would be a capital idea to build a patio and walkway of concrete and flagstones.  I had serious doubts about the endeavor, but I owed quite the existential debt to Dad since I’d dated his daughter for over a year without him knowing. Once he found out — Budge broke down and told HIM without first telling ME she was telling HIM — he took the whole matter in stride, as he does most things. Still, he’s a shrewd man who knows when he’s got a wriggling worm impaled on the hook and ripe for catching a fish or a favor. In this case, my brutal, Herculean labor was the favor in question.

The day before, Dad “dug out” the shape of the patio and walkway. I cast aspersions because “scratched” would have been more accurate. The entire excavation dirt pile fit in a decent sized wheelbarrow with room to spare. Dad allayed my doubts about the ability of this small quarrying to hold enough concrete to anchor the flagstones by pointing to a pile of wood-looking stuff that upon closer examination proved to be slats cut from paneling. According to Dad, we were going to build a concrete form around the dugout area by stapling the slats to strategically anchored 2×4 stakes he had driven into the ground. It seemed a sound enough plan to me . . . this was before I learned Dad had never actually built a form or POURED any concrete slabs in his life . . . and he’d picked up the notion somewhere (I still think it was Budge) that I knew how to work concrete.

Any doubts I had about the disaster potential the day presented dissipated with the very first action Dad performed that fateful morning. We were going to staple the paneling to the aforementioned stakes with ¾” heavy duty staples. For this project, Dad replaced his venerable Bostitch stapler with a Black and Decker PowerShot stapler. The new model advertised much easier stapling and I must say the PowerShot easily sank a monster staple all the way to the bone of the heel of Dad’s hand with his very first shot. Dad winced at the pain, but when he moved the staple gun, no staple was in the stake. Dad thought he’d had a misfeed so he promptly shot another staple . . . right into the same hand. Turns out, the PowerShot is ass-backwards . . . something about leverage . . . and the staple comes out the opposite end from all other stapler. When no staple appeared the second time despite the pain in his hand, Dad looked down at the stapler and saw the blood seeping around two bottomed-out staples. It took a pair of needle nose pliers, two hearty yanks, and generous application of the curse word vocabulary Dad accumulated in a 20 year Navy career to remove those staples. The dew wasn’t dry on the grass; we already had bleeding.

staplers

I’d love to say Dad’s blood sacrifice paved the way for a smooth day, but I’d be lying. After we finally managed to get the “form” secured around noon, we discovered WHY professional cement finishers can make a good living. First, the cement mixer Dad rented wouldn’t fit through the gate into the back yard so we had to mix a batch, dump said batch into a wheelbarrow, and maneuver the wheelbarrow across the driveway — slopping cement every step of the way —  and pour the remainder into the excavation. Our batches of cement followed the “Goldilocks Principle.” The first batch was too thick, the second batch was too runny, the third batch was too stiff again . . . it was about ten batches before we finally achieved “just right” status and woefully few batches duplicated it. The Sun lay low in the sky before we had the form filled with something resembling concrete. I’d have loved to call it a night, but we were committed now the concrete was poured. We had to place the flagstones before it hardened.

What we were aiming for.

What we were aiming for.

Now, the “plan” called for us to CAREFULLY place each stone in its ideal location where it would harmonize with its neighbors. That lasted MAYBE four stones. We unceremoniously plopped the rest wherever our strength gave out with a given rock. Turned out, the lack of excavation depth was a blessing. If we’d dug properly, the stones would’ve been submerged. As it was, we laid a field of icebergs . . . some jutted proudly from the grey sea; others only a hinted at what lay beneath. Past midnight we heaved the final rock into place. It wasn’t very level, it wasn’t very uniform, but Sandy (Budge’s stepmom) declared it beautiful so it WAS done. I made my vow, with Dad as witness; I’d never build another stone walkway again and I kept my it. . . until today.

What we got.

What we got.

Today, I broke my word to the DIY Dread Lords and finished MY stone walkway. My design was much simpler. I didn’t use concrete, just dug a trench 5″ deep, 3′ wide, and about 20′ long from the driveway to the front steps, lined it with landscaping fabric, poured and leveled sand on top of that, installed some plastic edging, then filled the trench with 40 bags of pea gravel and raked everything smooth as a Zen monk’s rock garden. Each bag of sand and gravel weighed 50 pounds. The last time I moved 50 pound bags of ANYTHING, I was sixteen years old working at Community Cash in Fountain Inn. The electric pallet jack ran out of juice so three of us had to unload a semi trailer truck load of dog food by hand. So, my walkway is done; my vow broken. Budge has proclaimed it “beautiful.” Now I must pay the Gods of DIY. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know I was unable to appease those black hearted monsters and have gone to my doom (or at least to bed early) broken and in pain, but with all flags flying and pea gravel in my Crocs.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

One Year Down and Life to Go

Standard

20130825_111222I don’t know how I can hurt this much and not die. I’ve asked psychiatrists, psychologists, and internalists, but none of them can give me an answer. So I go on.

A year ago this evening, Mama died. Death did what no psychotic girlfriend, no commitment-shy boyfriend, no divorce or distance could do — split up Mama and me. Despite my protestations, my howlings to the deaf heavens, and my insistence that surely some fundamental law of the universe has been violated, the world still turns; the Sun comes up and it goes down. Life goes on whether I want it to or not because, as a midwestern singer so eloquently put it thirty years and three name changes ago, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.”

The grief is mine to shoulder alone now. My beloved psychiatrist warned me people — even closest friends — generally give a person three weeks to a month of good, quality support before life intervenes. After that, it’s just you, four walls, and memories. Oh, and “firsts” lots and lots of firsts — first white carnation Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving without her, first Christmas without her, and probably the worst for me . . . my first birthday without getting a call at 6:19 AM telling me she loved me and wishing me Happy Birthday.

I swear to Buddha I will projectile vomit upon the next person — well-meaning or no — who tells me “time heals all wounds.” I’m here to say it doesn’t or if it does, a year is nowhere near enough time. While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to go back in time and cold-cock one idiotic Prussian philosopher by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche right square in his gloriously mustachioed mouth. If you don’t know, he’s the moron who penned the sadistic little phrase “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Bullpucky. Mama’s dying may not have killed me, but it damn sure hasn’t made me stronger.

I wish I could say more, but even though people have told me I am good with words, I just don’t have the vocabulary to explain the abject loneliness I feel every morning I wake up and remember Mama’s not with me (and please, if you are my friend or just want me to think of you as a decent human being, spare me the “she’s always with you in spirit” drivel. “Spirit hugs” if they even exist, are about as useless as a milk bucket under a bull.) I can’t describe the emotional crash I get every time something tremendously noteworthy – to me at least – happens and I immediately pull out my phone to call Mama and tell her . . . only to realize I’ve deleted her contact information just so I won’t do such a stupid thing.

My reality is, Mama’s dead and that’s thrown all my puzzle pieces into the air in disarray and one year later, I’m afraid I don’t have the emotional strength to even start looking for the edge pieces.

And so it goes.

Love you all, love you Mama; I still miss you.