Category Archives: My Grandparents

Papa and the Braves Redux

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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!

Metamorphosis of Matronly Mean Girls

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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

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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

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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!

Life is a Circle, but not like Disney

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Nothing prepared me to be bitten multiple times by my grandmother.

kelloggwomanWhen I entered this world, I had four living grandparents AND four living great-grandparents. Granny Matt (short for Mattie) and Papa Hurley passed before I developed memories of them, but family members have told me both loved me tremendously. It’s not good to grow up with six doting grandparents; it’s not so much the danger of being spoiled rotten — which I was — so much as such excess love doesn’t prepare a person for what a terrible place the world is.

Papa Wham passed in 1995 — the first person so close to me to die. I was attending a wake for a student who’d been killed in a car wreck when my brand new cell phone rang. The first cell phone call I ever received was to let me know Papa Wham was gone.

Little Papa Hughes, my maternal great-grandfather, died on New Year’s Day 1997. He was a tiny man with a heart entirely too large for his slight frame. He was also a bit of “a character” and I have stories on top of stories about him.

Big Granny Hughes, whom Mama (and pretty much everyone) called Maggie-Valmer went Home in February 2001. I call it a testament to her life that it took three preachers — including me — to do her life justice.

After losing those three wells of my adoration, the next few years were quiet. Then Papa John died October 17, 2006. I didn’t grieve Papa’s death for 18 months because Mama was in such a terrible state I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose her as well. I can say from personal, painful experience it is dangerous to one’s mental health to suppress a terrible grief because once Mama came somewhat out of the fog, I had the nervous breakdown that ultimately cost me my job, my second career, and almost my sanity.

I came out of my breakdown just in time to lose Granny Wham on February 5, 2008. As much as I adored Granny Wham and as much as I know she loved me, her passing was easier to take. After Papa died and she became unable to care for herself or be left alone, we had no choice but to place her in a facility. My Aunt Cathy wore ruts in I-385 between Fountain Inn and Laurens going to see her mama; Uncle Larry stopped by on his way to and from the Roadway terminal in Columbia every time he had a trip; and I tried to see her at least once a week, but she missed being home tending her family. Still, miserable though she was, she soldiered on three years at Martha Franks Retirement Home.  A week before she passed I went to see her; she told me, “Mama {her mama} came to see me last night.” I knew it wouldn’t be long. Now Granny Wham is waiting on the other side of those Gates of Pearl (with Papa Wham nearby and most likely seated on a golden bench talking baseball with St. Peter).

So Granny Ima (for Imogene) is all I have left. She’s under hospice care at NHC nursing home in Clinton. I go to see her at 10:00 AM every Tuesday, and I leave a sliver of my heart each time I turn from her bed to come home. Ima has dementia. She knows who I am, who Rob is, and who my Aunt Pearl is, but she can’t say our names. All she can say clearly is “yep” and “nope.” I took Mama to see her twice a week as long as she was able, then once a week, then once every two weeks . . . then I took her when she could rally the strength, but one thing never changed — Granny always said, “My baby girl’ whenever Mama asked her who she (Mama) was. I haven’t told Ima that Mama is gone. I tell her the truth — Wannie (her name for Mama) can’t get up anymore to see her, but she loves her very much. Every time I tell her, Granny nods.

Unfortunately, though, Granny’s mind is riddled with holes and she’s lost control of her emotions (especially her temper) just as she’s lost her language. She can’t stand being poked and prodded and she seems to see everything as being poked and prodded. She has a hissy fit whenever she gets a bath — or what passes for a bath when you’re bedridden. I gave my signed permission today for the nursing staff to stop sticking her fingers twice a day for blood sugar samples to control her diabetes. Dr. Blackstone told me years ago diabetes wasn’t what was going to kill Granny. I told the head of nursing today, there are worse ways to die than diabetic coma.

Granny saves a special rage for anyone who tries to clean her hands and especially her fingernails. She cannot abide having her hands or nails messed with, which wouldn’t be so bad, but Granny’s mind wanders now and she will not stop digging in her disposable briefs. Maybe she itches, maybe it’s something else, but whatever the cause, she can’t tell us. I’m not going to be graphic, but you can draw your conclusions as to the state of her nails. Mama cried every time she saw Granny’s nails, but the staff can only do so much because Granny is “combative” which is nicely saying she gets pissed off when you touch her too much.

However, as family, I am not bound by the facility’s rules against restraints, and her nails and hands were so hideous today that I held my precious grandmother while two nurses cleaned and trimmed her nails. I linked my fingers in hers like we used to do crossing the street. She fought but her strength was no match for mine, just as mine was no match for hers long ago when I had to have childhood shots. As I cupped her arthritic fingers gently as I could so as to not hurt her, the tears ran down my face just as they ran down hers long ago. Then I knew with perfect clarity what a parent means when he says, “This is hurting me more than it hurts you.” At one point, she managed to get my hand near her mouth so she bit me. It seemed to make her feel better, so I just left my arm where she could gnaw on it at will — a small bruise or two (she has no teeth) are a small price to pay for her hands to be clean. After we finished, a nurse brought her a strawberry nutrition shake and the nurses were forgiven . . . her look told me I was not, even though next Tuesday she won’t remember a thing. I sat with her a while longer, then kissed her cheek, placed today’s sliver on her pillow, and turned to come home.

The old proverb, “Once a man; twice a child” is painful to see in someone you love.Freshly pressed

Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

Papa and the Braves

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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!

Why I Still Believe: Reason 2

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Granny Wham on her last Christmas with us.

Granny Wham on her last Christmas with us.

Granny Wham started teaching Sunday School when she was 18 and only quit over 50 years later because a stroke left her too weak to stand long enough to deliver the weekly lesson. She started teaching Sunday School at Dials United Methodist Church down Highway 101 where she grew up, but the bulk of her teaching years were given to Beulah Baptist Church in Greenpond. By the time I was born, the Sunday School Committee honored her by naming a class after her. “The Martha Wham Bible Class” exists to this day unless it’s changed and no one told me.

Her teaching Sunday School, however, doesn’t force me to still believe the truth of Christianity even in my darkest times. Not her teaching, not the beautiful hymns she used to sing with the choir, not the way she taught me personally about what Jesus expected of me. None of that. What is burned in my mind and scribed on my heart from a childhood spent at her knee is her faith.

Granny Wham had the purest faith of any Christian — man or woman, adult or child, clergy or laity — I’ve ever known. She believed the Bible was the Word of God. It was black (and some red) words on white pages and gray didn’t enter the equation. Granny’s faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ was a rock solid, steel strong backbone for her whole life.

Granny didn’t develop her faith living some cupcake life on easy street. Of The Greatest Generation who came of age during the Great Depression, she worked in the house with her sister — my great-Aunt Mary — and in the fields with her two half-brothers, Uncle Gordon and Uncle Henry. When old enough, she worked in the sweatshop conditions of a textile mill for a time. Her childhood and youth weren’t easy, but her faith endured those hard early years.

Her faith endured watching those brothers go off to war, one to the Army and one to the shipyards. During that awful war she started exchanging letters with a nice young man from a nearby community. That nice (and handsome) young soldier eventually became Papa Wham and her faith and prayers helped bring him and all her loved ones home safely.

Her faith would not forsake her when Papa Wham came in to her hospital room late on a cold night in January 1948, gently took her by the hand and told her their precious infant child — a little girl she never got to hold — had passed away. I’ve lived to see the death of a child rip marriages to shreds and reduce the strongest faith to agnosticism, but it did not overcome Granny. She grieved, and in some very powerful ways, Aunt Judy’s death would mark Granny — and through her, all of us — for the rest of her life, but as the writer said of Job, “Through all this, [s]he never lost her integrity, nor blamed God foolishly.”

Granny’s faith endured some of worst trials through her other two children. Daddy especially was singled out for her unceasing prayers when he was sent to Vietnam for 13 months to fight. I’ve heard how drawn and pale and haggard Granny looked over those months of waiting, never knowing if the knock on the door would reveal an Army officer and a chaplain with the awful news so many mothers received in those terrible years. It wasn’t to be though, and Granny’s faith was rewarded with Daddy’s safe return.

The latter half of Granny’s life gave a multitude of trials. Mama and Daddy’s divorce was a crushing blow to Granny’s heart because is was bitter torture for her to see her family torn. Later, when my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s had to endure some growing pains in their early years, Granny prayed hard for them too. When Aunt Cathy was so very sick through two extremely difficult pregnancies, Granny stood by constantly to help and to pray. Of all Granny endured, however, one night nearly 20 years ago stands clearest testament to her trust in her Lord.

It was December 1995; Papa had passed away in July on the day after Granny suffered a stroke. For months she had battled to talk clearly and to walk unaided, but worst of all after 49 years — just 6 months shy of 50 — Granny was alone. This night, we’d eaten at Daddy and Teresa’s. I was on the couch with Budge and Granny watching The Trip to Bountiful which reminded me so much of what Granny had endured I was teary-eyed before the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” began to play.

I thought Granny might have dozed off until I heard a voice — not the strong alto that sang to me, read to me, and prayed for me all of my childhood and beyond — a thin voice, a tremulous voice, but for all that, a perfectly clear voice singing softly, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation; purchase of God. Born of His spirit; washing in His blood. This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.” Laid low by a stroke, no longer independent, and bereft of the love of her life, Granny Wham still sang her praises to the One who had never forsaken her, Blessed Assurance truly was her story and her song.

Granny is gone  now. I wish she’d been peacefully at the home she and Papa built together, but in her last years, she required more care than we could give her. She was never happy in the nursing home, but her love of us kept her here until she missed Papa more than she needed to stay and “look after us.” So, with Aunt Cathy gently holding her hand she slipped away to join the loves of her life — Papa Wham and Jesus Christ, and that is why she is a powerful reason I still believe.

PurchasePurchasing – Purchasing refers to a business or organization attempting for acquiring goods or services to accomplish the goals of the enterprise.

An Emotional Sucker Punch Put Me on the Canvas

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Thursday coming will be Thanksgiving and the “official start” of the Holiday Season. Of course, nearly half the stores around here had Christmas decorations out before Halloween, so I’m not so certain about how “official” the start is anymore.

Since I love to eat and love my family, the holiday season has always been a coveted and special time of the year for me because it involves a great deal of both. The holidays have also been precious to me over the years because I was raised with an eye towards keeping sight of the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving — to give thanks for all we have — and Christmas — the birth of our Savior. The holidays held meaning beyond turkey, trees, and tinsel ever since I can remember and as unbelievable as it may sound, I once came desperately close to chucking it all and throwing my lot in with the rest of the commercial and material world because I very nearly renounced my faith in God and Christ and became an atheist. Very, very nearly.

The event leading directly to the train wreck of faith I experienced was the death of my maternal grandfather in October 2006. I’ve written about Papa John’s death before, but I’ve never admitted in my writing just how profoundly his death crushed me on a spiritual and emotional level. Nothing else I’ve ever faced, or am likely to face — including Mama’s impending departure from this life — hit me as hard and affected me as deeply in a core area, THE core area, of my life.

I haven’t always been a Christian, but I’ve always been a believer in Christ. Mama took me to church willingly or by force until I was 12 years old and she said I could decide for myself. Granny and Papa Wham took me to church every Wednesday night and many Sunday mornings when I was young and stayed with them on the weekends from time to time. Christ, the Bible, and Church were the warp of my life and I no more doubted the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible than I doubted the air I breathed.

Quite literally, “Mama ‘n Them” said God said it and they believed it, so I believed it as well. Completely and without question. As I got older, I read a little bit more and studied a little bit more on my own and hashed out some reasons on my own why I believed what I did.

Still, I never put in a lot of thought about my faith or what I believed in. I just took it as a matter of course. Growing up in a small Southern town didn’t really present me with a great many attacks on my beliefs and even when I was challenged by some “Godless” professors at Clemson and later USC, I just laughed them off. I was a de facto associate pastor at the church where Budge and I were married and I was the one many people called and referred others to with hard questions about theology and faith. I was happily and blissfully going along with my Christian life secure in my beliefs and certain beyond doubt God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.

Then in October 2006, when I was 35, Papa John fell and had to go to the hospital. Seventeen days later, he was dead and when I conducted his funeral in a driving rainstorm the next day, I left my world insofar as what I believed in and the faith I had unquestioningly carried with me from childhood in a hole in the red Carolina mud with him. When I walked away from Papa’s grave, I walked away confused, in more pain than I thought I could bear, and believing in nothing anymore. I’ve mentioned before how much of a hammer blow getting fired from Woodmont and Greenville County Schools had been to me, but that entire event was an emotional scratch compared to the effect Papa’s death had on me.

Here’s where some explanation is due but you aren’t going to get all you need to understand why I reacted so badly mainly because I don’t know how to explain it to anyone but my wife, my therapist, and a tiny handful of people I still call friends. Even if I told the entire story from beginning to end, it still wouldn’t make sense to any of you and worse, you might take the opportunity to think less of and even make a disparaging comment about Papa John and if you did, I’d hate you for the rest of my life. So what broke me? Long story short, Papa John wasn’t supposed to die crippled in a coma the way he did. Oh, he was mortal. I knew that and I’m not stupid. Papa, like all of us, was destined to die, but not the way he did. I hope that’s enough, but just know that’s leaving out 99 and 44/100th% of the story.

I didn’t darken a church door for over a year. For several years before Papa’s death, cracks had been forming between me and my former church and they now became canyons and ended up being hammer blows of their own. Worst of all for my mind though, I started asking questions. I’d always tested and examined every dimension of my life in miniscule detail, but not my faith. Now I did. Once I started asking questions, the gates fell down as questions led to even more questions and the more the questions multiplied, the more the answers disappeared. The more the answers disappeared, the more the doubts grew.

For someone like me for whom faith was the same as oxygen, I was dying. I could have picked up a red hot horseshoe and it may have made a more visible scar, but it wouldn’t have been anymore painful. I couldn’t tell anyone though, because I didn’t want to drag someone down with me. During this entire time, Budge was the only one who knew how bad I was struggling. I had to stay strong for Mama, because for six months after Papa John’s death, I thought we were probably going to lose her also since she was grieving to the point of starvation.

Days dragged in to weeks and weeks turned to months and I was no better off than I’d been standing by Papa’s open grave. It was at that lowest point I figured I would be better off turning my back on everything I had believed in all my life than it was to try to force myself to hold on to what no longer made any sense to me.  At that moment, I was very nearly an atheist and that condition would last for longer than I like to admit.

Come back later and I’ll explain how I ended up still believing today.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Rest In Peace, Mr. DuPree . . . and thank you.

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Seventy years ago today, the Empire of Japan launched a successful sneak attack on the US Naval Station at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Most of us know the bare facts of the attack. Most of us have heard of the USS Arizona and how she blew up at anchor from a well-placed bomb. Slightly over 2,400 servicemen and civilians were killed that day and the moment FDR had waited for — and some say helped orchestrate through intentional inaction — had arrived, America was entering World War II. We were over two years late to the party, but once we got the blood out of our eyes from Pearl Harbor, we made a big entrance.

As a young boy, I sat on a Coca-Cola crate in the back room of the Napa Auto Parts store where Papa Wham was the sole employee and listened as a group of older men lounging around on similar crates played checkers, told fish tales, and exchanged updates about their lives. These were members of America’s “Greatest Generation” who had grown up during the REAL Great Depression and who had marched off to battle in World War II. If I were quiet enough — difficult for me even then — so that the men forgot I was listening, I could get quite an education on some topics.

If, in between customers, Papa came back to the gathering ; however, to hear Mr. John regaling the crowd with a memory of a certain “ladies’ home” he once visited in France right after “The War,” Papa would clear his throat and the men would remember my presence and Mr. John, red-faced, would probably ask me if I would go across the street and get him a Coke and some crackers, which I was always glad to do. I was rather older and Mr. John had already answered the final muster before it occurred to me that I was being kindly “gotten rid of.”  One of the men who frequented those back room gatherings, though he seldom stayed very long, was Mr. Andrew Dupree — universally known, for reasons unknown to me — as “Gump.” To me, he was Mr. Gump, unless Granny Wham were around, in which case, Papa had instructed me to say, “Mr. Dupree.”

The men who gathered in Papa’s back room often reminisced about their service during the war. If the story was deemed mostly harmless, I would be allowed to stay and listen. Most often, however, I would be asked to go on a Coke and crackers run. One time, however, Papa was asked to let me stay for the story and that is why I heard Mr. Dupree’s eyewitness recollection of December 7, 1941.

Gump was a young sailor in the navy stationed at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese attacked.

Papa Wham had placed his hand on my shoulder as soon as Gump said, “Today’s ‘boom-boom’ day, boys” in his usual low, sad voice, “been a long time now.” The hand on my shoulder was my cue to go to the cash drawer, get a fiver and go to Alverson’s Drug Store for Cokes. This time though, Gump looked at Papa and I remember him saying, “Frank, let Shannon stay if you would. We’re getting old and someone needs to remember this.” I remember Papa nodded slowly then sat down on the crate next to me and whispered in my ear, “Don’t tell your grandmother, okay?” I nodded and turned to hear Gump tell this story.

Please remember I was 8 years old at most and my memory is very good, but not perfect.

It was Sunday, as you all know, and I was on my way to chapel walking along the shore next to Battleship Row. Mother had worried that I would take up a bad lifestyle in the navy and made me promise her to always go to church whenever I could. We had all heard rumors about a possible attack, but that’s all we figured they were. I was just glad to be in Hawaii. None of us figured we’d stay out of the war forever, but we all thought when it got started for us, it’d be over in Europe.

So I had left the barracks about ten minutes before when I heard the first planes. I didn’t even look up because planes were always coming and going from the airfields around the islands. The first explosion knocked me over and that’s when the screaming and yelling started. I rolled over and looked up and saw the meatballs on the planes. The klaxon was sounding general quarters for the entire island. I wasn’t assigned to a ship because I hadn’t been there long enough. A marine sergeant grabbed my arm and pointed towards an AA machine gun. He and I jumped in with a couple other guys and started shooting at anything we could.

I was scared shitless and was looking around everywhere. That’s when I saw some torpedo planes making runs at the battleships. You could see the fish in the water headed towards the ships. Everywhere up and down the harbor crews were trying to get the ships moving and trying to fight back at the same time. Didn’t do much good though. One of the torpedo planes strafed us after he made his run. We all ducked down but one guy took one of those bullets square in the chest. He exploded all over the rest of us. I had blood and pieces on me. Two of the other guys had some cuts from shrapnel. I just froze, but that old sergeant started slapping all of us around — we were a bunch of kids and God only knows how long he’d been in service — and yelling at us to get with it. He pushed the dead guy over to the side and got us all back up manning the gun.

That’s when the entire world seemed to blow up and go silent at the same time. We all flew against the sides of the dugout and it kind of stunned us all, even the sergeant. When I stood up, I saw a big ball of fire where one of the ships had been. I found out later it was the Arizona. I couldn’t hear. I put my hand to my ear and came away with blood. Found out later my eardrums had blown out from the shockwave.

The attack seemed to last forever. Planes were everywhere, bullets were everywhere. I saw several guys get shot down by strafers when they tried to run across the parade grounds. We couldn’t breathe from all the smoke and oil in the air. You couldn’t believe the smell. The smell was ungodly. Burning diesel oil, hot metal, burning skin. The burning skin was the worst. If you’ve ever singed your arm hair, multiply that about a million times.

We stayed hunkered down in that dugout and shot back until we ran out of ammo. Once it was all over, the sergeant told us — we could hear just a little by then — to get back to our units. I got back to the barracks and it was still in one piece. We had muster to see who was still with us and who wasn’t accounted for. We were kinda lucky and kinda not.

Once things started getting better organized, I was sent out with about six other guys in a small motor boat to search the harbor waters for survivors. We found a few, but mostly, we found parts. The whole time we still had that smell hanging over the water. I think didn’t sleep or eat for two days. Just went around trying to put out fires, help find people, stuff like that . . . it was bad, fellas. It was real bad.

Gump’s voice caught a bit and Papa told me to “go get Gump a Coke.” I could hear the story of parts and gore, but Papa would spare Gump the indignity of a child seeing him shed tears. It was okay for the other men to watch, I guess. They had stories too. They understood.

Mr. Dupree served with distinction in the Pacific Theater. I wish I could say his horror at Pearl Harbor was the worst thing to happen in his life, but that would be a lie. Gump’s life was filled with horror and tragedy even after he came home. When Papa and Granny built their home on Weathers Circle, Mr. and Mrs. Dupree lived across the street from them in a small, tidy white house. They had a son, Jack, who was about my daddy’s age, and had just had a baby. One of the neighborhood whispers was that Mrs. Dupree was “nervous” which was code back then for any mental illness from mild depression to schizophrenia.

One night, Papa answered a frantic knock on the door to find Gump standing in his nightclothes covered in blood. He said Gump told him — rather calmly — to please call an ambulance, that his wife had “hurt herself.” As it turned out, his wife had taken a pistol and killed the baby in the crib, shot Jack where he lay in his bed, then shot Gump before putting the gun to her own head. I think she left a note saying she “wanted them all to be together forever” or something like that.

Gump survived; so did Jack. I can’t imagine the psychological scars they both carried. By the time I knew him, Gump lived in a small mobile home in a grove of trees off McCarter Road between Fountain Inn and Greenpond. Jack had moved away by then. I don’t know if Gump had any grandchildren. I just know he loved fishing. He fished every day except Sunday. Rain or cold didn’t stop him. Looking back, I imagine that’s the way he coped with all he had been through.

Mr. Dupree died May 7, 1983. I am certain of the date because it’s also my little brother Nick’s birthdate. Papa and Granny went to the funeral before they came to the hospital.  He dearly loved my mama; it upset him as much as it did Papa and Granny Wham when Mama and Daddy divorced. I know Gump never really got over the war or his wife’s suicide because the last December 7th before he died, he gave Mama a new purse with a letter in it. I’ve never read it, but it begins “Dear Lawana, Today is ‘boom-boom’ day.”

Mama said Gump was explaining some more things. That’s all she said.

Love y’all. Remember those who have fallen.

Verbal Brutality — A Still Life in Words

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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.