Category Archives: Biographical

In Memoriam Of The Truth

 

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Deanne at her confirmation…

 

 

This post needs a preface. My last wife died suddenly over a decade ago. I was ten years older than she was. She came from a large family, one like so many others; dysfunctional and complicated. Deanne was the youngest of many siblings. Like so many of us, she made some terrible choices when she was younger. Her family mostly failed to adapt to the fact that she grew out of much of her youth. The church and religion were two separate entities in her mind. One, rooted in the practical and loving faith of her paternal grandmother in South Dakota, and the other, insistent on concealment and manipulation. Because of something that happened when she was young, Deanne’s appraisal of the church as a whole was marked by suspicion and lack of trust.

I posted this to Deanne’s ancestry records so that her truth would be preserved – and possibly outlive the revisionists who will read the words and be unable to resist lashing out against the truth I’ve shared. It’s uncomfortable hearing someone revise history or mischaracterize someone’s life. The purpose of my addition to Deanne’s posthumous biography isn’t to harm. The truth never harms unless those who hear it don’t wish to accept it.

 

Deanne Cordell was baptized in the Catholic church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Nov. 28th, 1976, when she was two days old. Much of both sides of her family were Catholic. As she often joked, “I didn’t have a say in whether I was baptized, but I have a say about going to church.” Deanne loved her paternal grandparents, especially her grandmother Jessie Gosmire Cordell. She admired her faith and the way she lived it. Deanne often talked about how much she wished that people could have an open, honest, and compassionate faith like her grandmother. As for most other people, she had an intense impatience with their hypocrisy and lack of compassion toward those in need or those making mistakes. She’d look back at their life and see all the craziness and wonder how they didn’t recognize themselves in the lives of others, even as they criticized them. It caused friction with many people in her life.

 

I have no way of knowing what she was referring to or whether it was about her own life, but she knew a girl who had experienced some kind of abuse at the hands of clergy. She said that the girl had told her mother about it and had been punished repeatedly for lying about the church. It had a substantial impact on her views about the church. I tried to circumspectly discover the identity of the girl in question over the years. “It’s not a part of my life now, so it doesn’t matter,” she’d say. I knew it mattered, though.

 

By the time Deanne was an adult, she had grown to dislike the church intensely. She was unhappy with church politics, its policies, and also the way it concerned itself more with public relations than honesty. As an adult, she only attended church when mass was part of a Catholic wedding or funeral. Otherwise, she preferred to live a secular life. A great deal of her dissatisfaction with the church was the way so many had responded to her choices in life, some of them with great anger and disapproval. She found no holiness in their attitudes.

 

Oddly enough, had she remained in South Dakota or moved back as an adult, to be nearer her grandmother, I know she would have attended church with her. Her grandmother was her connection to faith, while her own mother was the wedge that distanced her from it. Her grandmother never held religion as a weapon and certainly didn’t sharpen it at people’s expense. Deanne admired that relentlessly.

 

Before she died, she talked about how ridiculous some of her family member’s ideas regarding religion were. One in particular was regarding cremation. She was fond of pointing out that those with the strongest views about cremation seldom managed to pay for their choice before departing, leaving other family members to bicker about the issue. When my Uncle Raymond died about a month before Deanne, it allowed us to talk about her own choices. She thought her mom’s antiquated ideas about cremation and Catholicism were ridiculous. She was adamant that she wanted to be cremated and not buried or memorialized in a Catholic church or cemetery. She was equally adamant that her middle name not be used. Given that I had legally changed my name, it was one of her wishes that she eventually change hers, too, and rid herself of the name. We joked a lot about choosing an entirely different name for herself, as I had done. Given enough time, I’m certain that she would have and I think she would have chosen “D” or “DeDe” as her first name. I had made and placed hand-painted “D” letters in a couple of places in the place we lived.

 

In my commentary, I’ve held back from the overt negativity Deanne had toward the church. She struggled to come to terms with her own beliefs, as most of do. She also struggled with her mom’s attitudes about religion, as they seemed to trigger her distaste for religion like nothing else. I’d laugh and talk her down from being angry about it. It’s part of the reason I still sometimes wonder whether Deanne was the girl she knew who had the story to tell about clergy.

 

Deanne has living family who would vainly attempt to revise my recounting of her attitudes. I was closer to Deanne than any other person in her life. No one knew her as an adult as I did. I married her when she was 20 years old. She died at 31. Many thought of her as the “kid” of the large group of siblings and half-siblings. They carried their prejudices about her youth into her adulthood and often discounted her opinions about life, whereas I only began to know her when her adulthood was starting. I had no preconceptions.

 

In the last year of her life, I attended a variety of different churches, trying to find one which might be worthwhile, despite my agnosticism. Deanne wasn’t interested in joining me. She was, however, interested in what I had to say about religion and the things I learned. Much to the surprise of many of her family members, she knew a great deal more than they realized. Many were simply too busy ignorantly trying to correct her instead of listening.

 

I write this in part because a few people have remarked that she was Catholic. She most certainly was not Catholic, despite the revisionist wishful thinking of some of those who knew her. Whether it is fair or note, Deanne would have much preferred a world without the church, or organized religion at all. One thing is certain: she believed that anyone involved in a sex scandal at church should not only be exposed and punished, but anyone protecting those who did so should be doubly punished.

 

I have no agenda to hide the truth or tarnish her image. Truth is its own reward, even as it leaves a bitter taste in some mouths.

 

X Teri

 

 

 

“I Might Need It One Day”

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I recently purged a mass of digital craziness from my life. Much of it was a collection of things which reached across the span of years, some of it revolving around angry emails, voicemails, and snippets of unresolved anger. I deleted over three dozen family trees I’d done for people. (I still retain a few dozen others, though.) I have a new computer and a newly-discovered commitment to use a dumping system that allows me to toss it in a virtual closet if I don’t delete it outright.

Gone were mountains of mp3 audio and snippets from my mom and a couple of other family members. I’ve learned not to accumulate many emails either, but even so, I cleaned the drains in this respect too. It’s strange to read “I’ll slit your throat” in an email, knowing that the person was so angry that he or she didn’t stop to consider consequences. That kind of anger is buried so deeply inside a person that almost nothing can reach it. Being forged in a household requiring blood sacrifice, I can understand it. Echoes of its payment still echo in me at rare moments. It’s impossible for me to explain to some of those whose lives overlapped with my younger years that I look at that sort of behavior with a much different perspective than they do. In every case in which the person is still simmering in hate, he or she has only flourished when those around them allow it, excuse it, or fail to recognize it. I see the stain spreading around them; that sort of hate is a seeping poison which pays dividends for at least two generations.  Keeping a distance from its contamination is sometimes the only means to remain uninfected.

Having a digital history of anger somehow ensures that the infection isn’t entirely gone.

Note: it is likely that someone who was poisoned with the venom of anger when younger never left it behind. Instead, he or she learned the social trappings of concealment. Beware that you don’t wander into the invisible net.

Indeed, you might not know when you’d need such reminders from your past at some unknown future date. ‘Need’ might not the exact word, but it serves its purpose here. Why I might not need an email chain detailing a family member threatening to kill me and my rational response to it is for anyone to guess. It was, nevertheless, difficult to discard. Part of me wanted to keep it just in case similar circumstances flared up again. I could point to it and say, “See? I’m not making this stuff up.” The truth, though, is that having it won’t pull the wool off anyone’s eyes in the future, either, no more than it did having it the first time. Just as facts so often fail to matter, neither does evidence for your apparently unjustified beliefs about other people.

Part of being a minimalist is the attitude of less. If it doesn’t add to your life, subtract it and move on. Over the years I accumulated a folder of work-related detritus, too. Some of it was quite important – and probably still is. But it’s gone now as if a hurricane rolled in from the coastline and ripped it free.

Update: the draft of this post existed since at least three years ago. I didn’t publish it because I didn’t want to sanitize it. I’m publishing it now because some of the things I deleted would be useful now. It’s the excuse of every hoarder: “I might need it.” I did sanitize it, though. Very few of us are free enough to say what we want without regard to content.

It’s Personal, With Love

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This is not a Father’s Day post.

On the other hand, it is. I just found out this morning that my dad had another child. Were he still alive, he would have found out this morning, too – and I would have been the person telling him. Life is a series of kicks in the face.

All my life, I’ve resisted the revisionist tendencies of much of my family. I revolted against the idea of secrecy and shame. Each of us makes our own decisions and is responsible for the consequences. People misbehave and make terrible decisions.

For the first time, this morning, I wrote, “every person in my immediate family has struggled with the demons of alcohol, drugs, or violence.” Some of their stories weren’t mine to tell, even as the consequences boiled over and tainted my ability to live a good life. Over the last year, I learned that my brother, despite his stunning intelligence, has been a victim for much of his adult life. On the Terry side of my family, every person in my immediate family has led a double life. Many have died prematurely as a result. Just writing this paragraph might have earned a beating in the not-so-distant past. The revelation that some of us lead secret lives (or smaller lives) controlled by our lesser natures is one that seldom gets a warm embrace. We prefer to hide our shadows away from questioning eyes.

None of this is a secret. Everyone close to those family members knew, of course. That’s part of the corrosiveness of alcohol or addiction. Part of my adult fight was trying to reconcile the fact that so many people stood by on the sidelines and angrily pushed me away as I tried to be open and honest about my parents and their brutal hidden lives. It’s my story to tell because I have an equal right to share my steps.

Since I was little, I’ve joked that I must have brothers and sisters out in the world. My dad was unfaithful in every sense of the word. He had notorious affairs with several people. I knew that one day I would be able to say with certainty, “I told you so,” even as a couple of my aunts and uncles angrily told me to shut up. “You ought not to talk about that!” Equally true is the fact that my father ought not to have behaved that way. People close to me have heard me say that my genetics are an infection. I don’t say it with disrespect toward my brother and sister; it’s a fact that is sustained by the carnage of our lives.

Years ago, I started genealogy. I didn’t think it would be interesting to me, even though I love to research. It opened a world to me. I helped many people find lost loved ones, discover their birth certificates, and unlock countless mysteries. Many of those mysteries were buried – or so those involved foolishly thought. I participated in the DNA system early and with optimism. DNA is the blueprint of truth that people can’t control. It is the genie which relentlessly tells us the truth, despite what those who preceded us might have written as history. Alongside DNA, I began to discover the historical record that buttressed my claims about my past. Much of the record contained people’s accounts of crime, abuse, violence and sometimes proud moments. Several of my aunts and uncles died before I compiled a record that would make them wince.

History devours all of us incrementally.

As the unofficial family historian, I’ve never shied from directly admitting what happened behind closed doors. It’s caused some discomfort and anger.

And so…

After years of relentless diligence, it finally happened: through DNA, I discovered that I have a half-sister out in the world. This discovery just happened. It’s raw and fresh in my mind. I can’t imagine what my half-sister is experiencing. I have a million questions, of course. Luckily for her, she can use my ancestry treasures and written accounts to jump right into the lives that she wasn’t able to experience. I warned her that demons possessed my father. I’m not one to gloss over the terrain that makes people uncomfortable. I’ve given my dad a long eulogy, one punctuated by bitter truth.

Her mom was very young when she was with my dad. The liaison happened in the early 70s after my dad was in prison and had returned to Monroe County, Arkansas. He’d barely survived a DWI accident that killed my cousin. I know nothing about my new half-sister’s mother or other family. It’s probably best at this point as she comes to terms with unintentionally finding an entire family in the world.

I don’t have all the details. Part of the uncertainty is that the woman in question didn’t expect to ‘find’ relatives, much less someone like me with a full arsenal of DNA results and extensive family history for her. I don’t even know her name yet.

Ironically, I found confirmation on Father’s Day, a holiday that was no more real than a unicorn in my family. My dad died over 25 years ago. He would laugh. Whether that makes him human or a monster I’m not sure.

I am both confused and happy. Most of my glee is for my half-sister who found the road she was seeking. What she does with it is entirely her choice. That’s entirely the point of DNA and family history. None of us had a choice regarding who brought us to this world, and many of us would desperately love to be able to change those choices. It’s not our fault. Whether our parents were doctors or assassins, we are guiltless in our existence.

I wish I could grant amnesty to all those children who grow up feeling responsible for the people behind them.

For those of you who have good families, it probably seems a bit exotic to think about these situations. Many of us flee in self-protection from our family. All of us would prefer the warm embrace of people who value and love us. Unfortunately, much of the world operates on a stranger wavelength.

It’s no insult to say that my original sister and I are incompatible. I’m not one for anger, drama, and instability. It might make her angry to see this truth written out – but it is true in a way that no one can deny. As for my brother, he wisely moved away when he was younger. Over the years, our connection lessened. A few years ago, we went through an intense and disruptive episode that broke something in me. I didn’t know at the time how much he was suffering from addiction. I knew but didn’t ‘know,’ much in the way that each of us later wonders how all of us avoided connecting the painful dots.

Now that the day has come that I might have a connection to another sister, it is news that I can’t share meaningfully. Mom and dad are both dead. My sister is in exile for my sanity, and my brother is struggling merely to live another year.

You might say, “None of that is your place to say, X.” You’re wrong, though. I have earned the right.

I don’t know what, if anything, will come of my discovery of a new half-sister. I wish my brother Mike were in his right mind, though. We share a deep and incisive bond of dark humor and irony. Since he’s been at the brink of death, he has passed a lot of time with me recounting the old stories. Shared history acquires a more profound meaning when you realize that your time in it is diminishing rapidly. In the last few months, Mike has read all my family lore and stories and relished them. He knows how strongly the gravity of what we came from has affected us.

I hope that my new half-sister waits a long time to meet my original sister. While I am by no means able to claim normalcy, I’m foolishly confident that I am the best ambassador to the family.

To anyone reading this, I hope each resists the urge to ‘find’ my new half-sister. She gets the right to decide when or if she opens the door. I wish her peace regardless of her timeline.

To the new half-sister I don’t even know by name, I wish that Father’s Day were one of joy for you. I wish that life had been different for us all and that all of us could sit at a table and wonder about what might have been. Each paid the price of our common ancestor. We never stop paying.

We also never stop hoping, though, either, not if we share a common humanity.

The Poppaty Prerogative

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Pictures of people, please and thank you.

“We are who, remembering when.”

Another person recently discovered the agony of finding out that the opportunity to take pictures with their departed friend has expired forever. He has only a few photos of his times with his friend. Because he’s not proud of his appearance, his ability to drop his guard and allow spontaneous capture of his image dwindled to insignificance. Even on the last trip they shared, no pictures document their overlapping joy. His memory still thrives, to be sure, but just as the recollection of a song cannot accurately measure the depth of beauty of hearing the melody, a memory pales alongside the vivid undeniability of a picture to amplify it. It explains why we can so spontaneously burst into tears or feel the literal swell of our heart when we see the presence of people who have mattered to us.

In the specific and linear moments of our lives, we easily overlook the magic and sublime nature of being alive. As time propels us, we look back and can’t help but to focus our eyes on the apparent wonder of what we didn’t appreciate when it was another backdrop in our present moment. It’s our curse. We find it impossible to perceive the zen essence of an otherwise dull moment.

As Andy from “The Office” said, “…I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that…”

The moments which tend to echo and call our name tend to be ordinary while we’re living them.

As people begin the ritual of finding new places to experience their lives, so many choose to photograph the static locales and places in their paths. In our data-filled lives, we have so many sources to find beautiful pictures of every single place on the globe. We can virtually drive down the streets of our favorite places without leaving the computer. We can take in the detail of any painting as it hangs on the gallery wall, no matter where that wall might be. There is both truth and beauty in such pictures. To those who say, “Aha! But those aren’t real,” I would point out that memories are only real to those who lived them. Pictures remain a testament for everyone.

We are, however, a world of people. We’ll remember places more for the moods they evoke. People grant us our identity, while places serve as our stage.

We are who, remembering when, imperfectly.

Gas Station Life Lesson

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As we learned in Princess Bride, “…Ha ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!’ ”

I’ve learned some lessons in my life, most of which require a refresher from time to time. It’s not my fault. I was educated here in Arkansas, suffered more than one head trauma, and accidentally watched an episode of “Survivor,” so stupidity comes naturally to me. If someone approaches you at the pumps of a gas station, scream “Help!” immediately and without regard to the person’s intentions. No matter what. No matter what they’re wearing or how they look. Nothing good will ever come from a gas pump walk-up.

While returning from New Orleans a few weeks ago, the gas pump rule once again came up. A fortyish gentleman approached. He wore clean coveralls and claimed he was a preacher raising money for blah-blah-blah. In his right hand, he had a wad of cash, which was confusing. I politely declined. He responded with a follow-up. Since I could tell he wasn’t going to listen to reason, I told him to please move along. He called me an asshole. For a second, I was convinced he was going to tear my arm off and beat me with it. The doubtful light in his eyes had turned dark as soon as the initial “No” came out of my mouth. Luckily for me, I had finished with the pump and got inside the car in one fluid motion and started driving forward without warning, even as my wife confusedly questioned what in blazes I was doing. In my defense, at least she was inside the car, unlike that time I left her in Mississippi. Crazy Coveralls Preacher lost interest in me; his shouts in my direction dwindled.

The only time I can move with such skill and concentration is if a bag of pork rinds is nearby or someone just announced ‘free pizza’ on the intercom.

So convinced was I of this gentleman’s internal violence that if I had a gun, I would have fired a warning round into the air. It’s better to be arrested in Louisiana for shooting clouds than it is to be beaten to death with one’s own arm. That should be on a t-shirt.

As I looped around to exit, I noted that Crazy Coveralls Preacher was walking fast toward an older white male standing next to his white cargo van. The door was open and the faux preacher invaded his personal space and essentially trapped the man from escape, or even the ability to throw a punch in his own defense. I almost stopped and intervened. The only thing that stopped me was that my wife had noted that I was genuinely alarmed, a condition I’m not prone to.

I’ve had issues with nutjobs in public places. As my friends know, I’ve had trouble BEING a nutjob in public places. This was the first time in a long time that it occurred to me that violence might result from the encounter. Keep in mind that I had just vacationed in New Orleans, so exposure to con-men and charlatans wasn’t an unknown experience – and that was at the front desk of the hotel.

Talking to other people and reading stories of violent surprises in public reminded me that nasty things do happen to people and I’m not referring to the 2016 election, either. We’re in open places, assuming that daylight, other people, and cameras will dissuade the demented folks from bothering us.

If you see me at the gas station screaming like the old man in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I want you to drive your car into my vicinity as if you are re-creating scenes from the “Dukes of Hazzard.” I don’t care if you run me over in the process as long as you also run over whoever is trying to talk to me at the pumps.

You’ll get bonus points if the gas pumps explode and possibly a cut of the YouTube profits. I want to be cremated and I can think of no greater honor than by public explosion.

P.S. This also goes if you see someone is trying to sign me up for an MLM or a religion with an asterisk next to it on Wikipedia.
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X’s Humor Relativity Perspective

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This post is going to hit you over the head. It’s personal and genuine. Weirdly enough, it’s about humor. If you read it to the end, the turn it takes will probably bother you, much like a Twilight Zone episode using electric shocks as language.

More than ever, I find myself in awe with people who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for humor and appropriateness. Personally, I can’t get my foot out of my mouth long enough to start gatekeeping other people’s humor.

Eventually, everyone’s sense of humor will land them in hot water with friends, in-laws, pastors, politicians, the Girl Scouts, and strangers. You can’t control another person’s reaction. My sense of humor is darker than average. It’s a claim I make from truth rather than an idle part of my story. If someone is not addressing me or a person specifically, I interpret it differently than I do other humor.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a new rule named “Hanlon’s Disposable Razor.” It preaches that we all stop assuming we know the intent of humor, especially if from someone who generally isn’t guilty of malicious behavior – and no actual harm results from it. The term ‘actual harm’ is subject to context, as is every single human experience, so don’t start quibbling over semantics or issues unaddressed by this post.

Since then, my social media filled with examples of people failing to realize that they can’t read the minds or hearts of others. “Well, that’s not funny!” seems to be taken as a blanket justification for anger in response to something that someone finds a bit uncomfortable. Adam Sandler’s last ten movies weren’t funny, either, but plenty of people disagree. “You can’t joke about some things,” is another typical gatekeeping statement. It’s rare that the person making such a statement has a smile on his or her face when they say it. Or matching socks, now that I think about it.

I’m not advocating that we run willy-nilly over people’s feelings under the guise of humor. Quite the opposite. Likewise, 7-8 billion people surround you, all with differing takes on life. It’s impossible to avoid all possible topics of contention. Elevating all humor to the level of spiteful is a fool’s errand. As you know, nincompoops are always employed.

Mother’s Day, April Fools’ Day pranks, Avengers spoilers (as if the movie wasn’t terrible enough), euthanasia, illness, falling and breaking one’s arm: all of these can be funny in the right context. They are not amusing to the people currently embroiled in any pain associated with the topics, however. Humor is universally told from the point of view of an imaginary third person. We don’t laugh or joke with the intent of hurting anyone. Not if we’re reasonable, I mean. If we accidentally say or do something without realizing that it’s causing specific pain, it’s not a reason to lash out in righteous anger. Mistakes are going to happen. Compounding the innocent error with anger serves no one.

On two occasions since I posted my new rule, people attacked me for not showing the required gravitas to an issue or for the sin of laughing at a horrible post even as I cringed that someone had posted it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I printed a picture of that person’s face, laminated it, and taped it to a urinal at the bus station. (That last comment was humorous. FYI.)

Now, I’m going to get personal and provide an example that will erase any doubt that all of us sometimes pull back from humor that we find to be misplaced. The difference is that I avoid objections to ‘third person’ humor, generalized humor, or humor that references shared experiences. I have to be personal because it’s not only the only way I know how to write but because it strikes directly to the point I’m making.

The humor we allow ourselves and in others is a direct measure of our depth and appreciation for our error-prone lives.

It is not the content per se that brings problems; instead, it is the motivation of the person creating the humor. Most people don’t require much study. We’re stupid more than we are malignant.

There’s a popular meme of a white cat near a woman lying dead on the floor. It’s comprised of three panels, each with the cat approaching the deceased woman, meowing for attention at her side, and finally, sitting on her hip. “Your cat’s reaction to finding you dead on the floor,” or something similar usually serves as title or footnote to the pictures.

There’s a problem with the meme if you look at it from the vantage point of unintended humor. What many people don’t know is that cats tend to stay near the body of their deceased owner, exactly as pictured in the meme. Many people have their own stories relating to this tendency.

As thick-skinned as I am, if you don’t know this about me, I was in the exact situation pictured. My wife died late one Sunday night, the night before Labor Day, years ago. She lay in another room for hours before I woke up for work. Our white cat, Quito, stayed with her for most of the night. I found him with her the next morning when I went into the kitchen.

Now, imagine the pain that came from that situation.

It’s such a specific scenario that it seems unlikely that it would ever be the subject of one particular meme.

However, it is.

It’s not a general observation or bit of humor: it describes precisely one of the most significant traumas I’ve experienced in my entire life.

The meme or ones similar to it come up on my social media and the internet with a higher frequency than you’d imagine. It’s not ever going to be likely that anyone posts such content with the intent of trying to barb me.

I could, of course, lash out at people, as if they are responsible for my biography. I could casually mention my past, which would needlessly traumatize the person sharing the meme as a joke.

Alternatively, I could get a sharp jab and then move along.

In general, take the short jab and then move along. Not always, of course, because sometimes people do misbehave and troll their fellow human beings with ill intent.

But not most of the time. Move along.

If I can overlook a cat meme accidentally mocking this substantial trauma in my life, you can overlook jokes about pregnancy on April Fools’ Day, funny anecdotes about cancer, or insensitive humor scattered throughout your social media.

It is not an invalidation of your perspective or feelings for others to joke at the heart or fringes of subjects which overlap with your life’s discomforts, losses, or challenges unless it’s done with malice aforethought or callousness. I hope you don’t have many people in your life that would subject you to such behavior.

I’d rather live in a world in which I sometimes cringe at humor than to reside in one devoid of the richness of human creativity and whimsy.

I ask that you strive to assume that my humor isn’t personalized or weaponized to offend, which is a favor I’ll reciprocate. If there’s doubt, we owe it to one another to further give the benefit of goodwill unless the preponderance of evidence tells us that someone is speaking or acting out of spite.

When someone lashes out at me for a badly-timed or placed joke, I’ll repay their impatience and impoliteness with a reminder that I probably have the upper hand in this argument.

Do unto others – and I certainly do. I welcome all humor, from tripping down the stairs to jokes that would cause many to burst out in tears.

P.S. If you heard 1/50th the nonsense that goes through my head or that I say in private, your head would explode indignantly. The truth is, though, that we both know that you undoubtedly have at least a portion of my dark bent in your own head. That overlap is what gives us hope.

Also, I’m in the picture on this post three different times.

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A Saturday of Fracas

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Since the cake option wasn’t on the table, Dawn listened to me and opted to get Julia multiple culinary items of interest. I wanted to choose 15 distinct items but Dawn insisted that diabetes was an impediment to my whimsy. I almost forgot to mention we surprised Julia with a nice Chromebook laptop that I stole from Best Buy last Saturday at 12:35 p.m. I’m just kidding; I wrote that last part to determine with what attention you’re reading my post. Chromebooks are awesome devices. If Julia hates it, Darla’s cat Apollo will continue on its quest to tear it to pieces. It’s a win-win for our consumer economy. No sooner than I had started showing Julia how to use the new laptop than the cat somersaulted on top of the pristine keyboard in Julia’s lap.

Note: it is VERY important that no one notices that Julia joined us upstairs at Darla’s in her duster-gown. At any rate, you have to give her the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who can listen to me explain technology without falling into a deep, trance-like sleep is a saint.

 

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After we departed the in-law’s house, Ty decided that we should eat at Pieology, otherwise known as “The Subway of pizza.” Usually, it falls to us to bemusedly stare at Ty and his antics. As this photo clearly proves, Ty is giving his mom Dawn the ‘wtf’ face. (As Phil Dunphy says, “What the fracas.”) I’m not sure what exactly Dawn was saying at this point, as I had just reached that decision point of whether to shove the entire slice of pizza in my cavernous mouth as if it were accidental. Since I’m a multitasker, it was at that moment that I continued to snap a couple of dozen pictures in the hopes that at least one would earn me a Pulitzer prize. I had to choose between wastefulness and gluttony.

 

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I also pranked my stepson when I went to pick up his to-go box. Carrying around a permanent marker and note cards at all times has its advantages when inspiration strikes. I blurred it out because no one needs to see proof that my sense of humor is tasteless. (Observation: your imagination is probably leading you to worse conclusions than what I actually wrote).

Afterward, with horror on my face, I realized that I had inadvertently described the picture of my stepson Ty as “cute.” I’m not sure if he’s getting funnier or those repeated blows I took to the head as a youngster are finally catching up to me.

Because we enjoyed ourselves during the day, Dawn informed me that my penance was to accompany her to a Walmart market for groceries. I wisely chose to drive through MLK and the traffic snarls resulting from the behemoth graduation ceremonies nearby.

Walmart market was the perfect blow to the nether regions after a great day. Balance was restored.
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History Seldom Stays Silent

01 feb 1967 and other for dad combined

 

This post is personal. Read at your own discretion.
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I’m not quite sure what precipitated some of my revelations this week. Gears clicked and connections snapped together in so many different places. I felt like Rainman as a few things which had previously been a block for me fell away. Not only was I able to help several other people, but I also used my luck to take another stab at some of my own history.
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I found a few things which I’ll process and write about later. Some of them are dark and some are simply crazy. A few of my ancestry leads broke open, too. A couple of people are going to have to rethink who they think they are who they think they come from. I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone that while we are not our DNA, it is the tenuous and undeniable connection that belies our ancestry and heritage. I’ve made some discoveries which I’ve never shared with anyone; once told they are no longer ideas to be held, but burdens which cannot be forgotten. All of us have our internal history, the one which we know to be true – but often isn’t.
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Regarding one of my most personal finds this week, I only found them because I had helped someone find a bit of information. I wrote, “Start your inquiry in the simplest way possible.” Easy words to write but hard to live by. Starting simple is exactly like attempting to tell a story without drawing an entirely new and complex roadmap in the middle of the story as we tell it. We are so impatient for the people in our lives to get to the point and yet some of us are enraptured by the presence of a story well-told, filled with wrinkles, and the destination unclear.
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And so, in a matter of minutes, I found news articles in Indiana regarding some of my dad’s run-ins with the law. There was more than one, I discovered. I’ve been told that my dad left Arkansas because he had family in Indiana, which is true. The myth is that he had exhausted the good-ole-boy network in Monroe County, Arkansas and needed a clean break. Like in most rural Southern places, it was possible to run amok without real consequence in Monroe County, all the way to mayhem and sometimes murder. I do know that my Grandmother Terry exerted a great deal of pull in a continual attempt to keep my dad from being held accountable for the hell-raising that he always found himself in. My dad’s father James died in early 1964, and shortly before my oldest sibling was born.
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The story of all this is a massive tapestry shared by countless people. Some know more of it than others, especially the older generation, the one succumbing to death with greater urgency. Others, the younger generation, are unaware of much of the tapestry, as ideas like family honor, secrecy and shame shielded them from being aware in the first place. I’ve unevenly kept my post through the last few years, honing in on some truths. Some I’ve cemented rightfully into the record because I was able to find sources other than those affected by dubious family loyalty.
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That same misplaced loyalty to protect my dad served as an umbrella for him through much of his life. It enveloped him and encouraged many of my paternal relatives to shamefully look away as he engaged in a long series of brutally violent and alcohol-fueled crimes against his wife and children. (And society.)
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Alcoholism is one of the few diseases that infects others with an inability to see and hear clearly. Alcohol coupled with anger or violence demands a collective and permanent bout of amnesia. Once initiated, this voluntary amnesia makes everyone an accomplice.
I’m relieved that I’ve learned to place this idea in a tidy descriptive box like that because it makes it more palatable and relatable. People get really angry when they are reminded that they allowed children to be abused.
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My dad’s family silently stood by, almost always pretending to not see it, nor the symptoms of pathology that it engendered in myself, my brother and my sister. It is a miracle that we survived. It’s a greater miracle that I did not see fit to murder him while I had the chance, or that another family member didn’t light his bed on fire in the dark of night. Throughout my early life, I constantly heard, “We don’t talk about that.” Or, “Shame on you! He’s your dad.” The latter would be hurled at me through tightly-bound lips, spitting the obvious anger all over me, even as the person saying the words could see the dark purple and yellow bruises from my ankles to my neck. I can’t fathom how many children went to church with the hard wooden pews pressing against the trail of agony on their legs and back, wondering when the mercy would flow toward them.
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“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot,” is an old saying to remind us that situations are complicated and look different from the outside. It’s easy for normal people to jump to their dad’s defense, (or mine) on the pretense of biology. It’s easy for some to expect me not only to forgive, which I have done – yet for some, they also insanely demand that I not use my voice to share my experiences. It is possible to share simply because the story of our lives is interesting to us. As we tell it, we learn things anew.
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“Bobby Dean was a good man,” some would say. No, he was not.
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By any objective measure and any accounting, he was not good. In his defense, he had his shining moments, as everyone does – and I remember those with fondness. To any family member asking me to focus only on those shining moments, I remind them that not all monsters have fangs. Some of them are in the PTA and engage in all manner of horrors.
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Years ago, Dad helped organize a fish fry to help someone with medical bills. It was truly a good effort with real consequence. A family member used it angrily against me as an example to support their ignorant thesis that my dad was a good man beneath it all. I acknowledged that it was indeed a good act, but that terrible people live lives of mostly normal constancy. I then shocked and angered the family member by saying, “Is that man good if he broke a rake across my back so violently that I peed blood for a week, or beat my mom so hard with a pistol that he broke her nose? Killed someone? Went to prison for multiple crimes?” As I talked, the man’s face became crimson. “And anyone who let him do it is as guilty as he is.” He stomped away.
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As my ability to comb the past has grown, I’ve assembled a larger picture of my dad. The more I learn about his life, the more sympathy I see for his trajectory. His arc was cruelly bent at an early age and he chose not to deviate from its perpetual fall. The responsibility is his and his alone, though, just as my impatience in my own personal life has led me to some dark moments. I, however, didn’t have children; my ownership of the defective biology that flowed through my dad now dies with me. I’m being literal. Whatever dad had lurked in his DNA.
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As I do with everyone, I say that almost everything we do when young can be forgiven. Most of us are simply stupid when younger. After a certain point, it becomes an issue of either willfulness or pathology. Beating your wife and kids to the point of risking murder is a great example of this, if using half your income to buy alcohol and cigarettes isn’t. Everything must be weighed against youthful ignorance and the long totality of a person’s life. Accumulated choices and consequences allow us to characterize someone in a way that singular mistakes cannot.
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I’d also been reluctantly told that my dad was only guilty of being in the getaway car at a truck stop robbery on Highway 20 in Indiana. Based on the evidence I’ve been able to uncover, he wasn’t just “there.” What I wasn’t told, however, was that he had also committed other crimes, including burglary, while he was in Indiana. He was younger than I had been told, which had hampered my ability to accurately research. I had to indirectly ask questions, usually when people had been drinking. My head was filled with a million untruths, half-truths, misdirection.
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My dad was sentenced to prison in Indiana the month before I was born. I was the last child, the baby, and the second-born son, and through a series of accidents and misunderstandings, was branded with his name upon my birth in Brinkley, Arkansas. Some of my dad’s misfortune benefitted me, as during one long portion, I lived with my Grandma and Grandpa Cook. I’ve long suspected that Dad’s incarceration in another state might have saved my life, and most probably the life of my mother.
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As you all know, I later rejected my birth name entirely and yet credit my grandparents with the part of me that I find myself prideful of. Names don’t contain the essence of a person. My Grandpa would have never wrapped his head around my choice of name in “X,” but he would have leaned in and hugged me with his arm around me on the porch swing and laughed at my foolishness. He would have known why without being told. His eyes had seen a lot of human misery and recognized the stale indifference that often overpowered my dad. When I was young, Grandpa often said, “Don’t be afraid of things on four legs. It’s the ones on two that will get you.” In the rural area we lived, critters and creatures constantly came to visit, often stealthily and seen through the darkened screen of an open window on a blistering night. Years later, I felt as if Grandpa were talking about my dad. He rarely had words with my mom and dad, but several of the instances were warnings to stop mistreating their kids, and me in particular.
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So it came to pass that this week, on a whim,  I found the first article from Indiana in less than 2 minutes, after years of haphazard and dedicated digging. Dad started small and then went big with his nascent crime career in Indiana. I indexed the articles so that future interested parties might find the articles more easily.
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It’s worth noting that regardless of my dad’s official criminal record, he killed a cousin of mine while drinking and driving, (Which I recently found a mention of in a newspaper. Another tidbit that I literally just discovered is that my dead cousin’s father was related to the county sheriff.)
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My dad was quite the adept arsonist and managed to be involved in almost all the petty and felonious no-nos on the books, whether it involved guns, marijuana, VIN displacement, DWI, domestic violence, or assault. When the Springdale City Attorney went to prison for DWI-fixing, you can be sure that my parent’s names figured prominently in that accounting.
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Because the truth reaches places I hadn’t expected, I now know that a few other rumors I had heard in screaming and bloody episodes in the deep of night as bones gave way to furniture are probably true. Words I didn’t have context for now have meaning and their incoherence has slithered away, leaving behind a freshly-washed sidewalk for me to examine.
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I say none of this with shame; his life was his own.
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I have more than paid the price for his presence in my life. For anyone who has read my mind by reading my words over the years, you know that I’ve worked hard to extract the useful parts of my dad’s life, too. I’ve not turned my back on the whole person. A story I wrote earlier this year was read by thousands of people. It was a story of my dad as a whole, imperfect person, written through his eyes. I understand much of dad’s pathology now. I owed him a demonstration that I could see him as a human being.
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I’m not bitter, but I will confess that the sharpest lemonade is akin to water to my taste in part due to my dad.
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There have been times in which people have incredulously asked me about some of my stories. “That can’t be true!” someone will say.
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It’s true I sometimes get the details wrong, but I assure you that I try to get it right. I’m the only one out here on the limb of my family tree doing the time and attempting to share my part of the story. Not all stories are of youthful summer mornings on the porch with my Grandpa Willie.
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Where I err in detail, I strike a chord in truth.
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All these decades later, I’m amused that I get the final say. I read, I ponder, and I consider. The scarring I have is my friend, one which whispers in my ear as I put words on paper.
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Recently, I’ve been able to talk openly with someone who is familiar with the tornado of my youth. He’s shared some stories, many of them I couldn’t remember. In the past, he might have been the one to silence my family’s critics, as his family loyalty was ingrained into him in a way that it never was with me. His advancing age and experiences in the world finally gave him permission to detach and tell the overlapping stories of our youth. I thought that it would have been my cousin Jimmy, but cancer silenced him a few years ago. During a conversation last week, I could only imagine the storytelling if Jimmy were alive to join in. Here we are though, with our myths, certainties and acquired perspective, wondering how many unpleasant ripples our own choices might have made in life.
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Before parting, I’d like to mention that there’s another sinister chapter in my dad’s life, one which I don’t feel is my story to tell. It is a mirrored hall of horrors. I’ve circled its fringes with curiosity for a time; I doubt that I’ll ever claim ownership to the story. That I believe the chapter of his life is true reflects on the chasm that my dad punched and beat into me. I sometimes creep up to the bloody edge of it and recoil. It is the darkest of possible secrets. I guard it closely, knowing that those who would disagree with the assessment of dad would cringe and run if I were to shout it to them in reply their foundationless defense of a man long dead. I know that others walking in this world have their stories. Their silence is astounding to me. It is theirs to guard, though.
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Vicks Recipes For Southern Survivors

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Vicks salve was invented in 1905. The same person Frenchman who invented BenGay was ultimately responsible for creating Vicks VapoRub, as he inspired a pharmacist here in the United States to modify the recipe for BenGay.

On a personal note, I’d like to say that I l-o-v-e the smell of Vicks. I like the smell of creosote and diesel, too. None of them are good on a sandwich, an ice cream float, or on a spoon on its way to my mouth, however. As anyone who ever used Vicks in steam can attest, the aroma is inescapable and rich. If eaten or allowed to melt in one’s mouth, it manages to embed itself between teeth and the gums for several hours. If you’ve never eaten Vicks, get a slice of Dominos pizza and put an entire package of mint gum on it, and then topped with vaseline, and attempt to eat it. A slice of Dominos is bad enough, I admit.

The cobalt blue bottles were also immediately recognizable. One could clean them completely with very hot water, followed by vigorously adding soap and wiping them out.

Evidently, Vicks became a household staple thanks to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people. It’s hard to imagine the effect of such an epidemic, one which killed more people than any other in human history. We don’t hear much about it anymore. At least 7000 Arkansans died officially from the flu in 1918, a huge number, compared to the 600 who died in WWI. Because of the huge number of poor rural people in Arkansas at the time, family history and circumstantial evidence tell us that many more died from the flu. Additionally, because Arkansas was deeply affected by Jim Crow, thousands of blacks also went under the radar. It’s interesting to delve into the story of this epidemic; it’s undeniable that Arkansas lost at least twice as many people as officially reported.

Interestingly, I had heard stories that a great-grandfather of mine died from the flu in 1918. Research proved this to be erroneous, as he died in February 1918 before the first known case in the United States that year. Almost no family escaped death from the Spanish flu that year.

You can’t study the history of Vicks without factoring in the trauma of the 1918 epidemic. I found several news articles from early 1919 regarding the Vicks shortage as a result of the flu epidemic which had killed millions of people worldwide. Vicks was relatively inexpensive and easily obtained. Almost all households in the rural South had a bottle of Vicks. Most were smart enough to avoid eating it. I like to think that some ate it simply to accelerate meeting their maker.

For those of us who had ignorant ancestors who made us eat Vicks, most of this tendency is a result of misinformation and the worldwide scare of the deadly flu over 100 years ago. They didn’t mean to unsuccessfully poison us. At least, for the most part. During the epidemic, Vicks was considered to be a disinfectant if applied on or inside the nose. It’s no wonder that even level-headed people began to ingest it directly.

The world was smaller and people didn’t have access to a wider community of people. Home remedies and folksy cures tended to become ingrained in cloistered communities. This is exactly why so many of us were subjected to the stupidity of our parents telling us to eat Vicks, even if the bottle were clearly labeled “do not ingest,” or “toxic.” We can laugh at such goofiness now, despite the fact that the modern internet has brought us anti-vaxxers and other idiots clamoring for attention to spread their modern snake oil ideas.

Vicks also contains varying levels of turpentine, another old folk remedy that can be quite poisonous but was once very popular. It’s important to remember that people scoffed at the idea of germs until fairly recently, too, or believed that blood-letting and blowing smoke up one’s anus could reduce serious ailments such as hernias. (It’s where the term “blowing smoke” originated.) By the way, I’m referring to the mistaken idea that all turpentines are the same, even the ones found in hardware stores versus distilled turpentine oil.

Another point I’d like to make is that so many people could make a living in the South selling Snake Oil. Like all ridiculous claims, Snake Oil appealed to those without a proper understanding of science or medicine. Paradoxically, thanks to the internet, we now find ourselves in reversed roles: some of the stupidest health claims for completely useless products are made by those with advanced education and training.

In the same way that people say, “Riding in the back of a pickup didn’t kill me,” or “We didn’t have seatbelts back then,” people excuse away eating Vicks VapoRub with the same ridiculous claims, “Well, it didn’t kill me!” Any examination of our safety record clearly demonstrates that seatbelts made our lives much, much safer. Science easily demonstrates that ingestion of Vicks is dangerous. Convincing people that they were terribly wrong about such an obvious thing is a difficult feat. They didn’t die after all.

Were my mom still alive, she’d roll her eyes and cluck like a chicken if she heard me picking on her about this. My favorite cousin will point out that my mom learned to feed Vicks to children as a result of my Grandma. In Grandma’s defense, she was born after the turn of the last century and her world was very small, in the Arkansas Delta area around Monroe County. She loved me like no one ever did; she also had some strange ideas about the weather, driving in the dark, and eating things like Vicks. She lived to be over 90 years of age, so it’s difficult to argue with her methods. Plus, she loved bacon, and as you know, bacon is the single best medicine available.

I’m convinced that my mom enjoyed forcing people to eat Vicks. I’m only saying that because she could be quite sadistic, a fact that is a simple truth today, but one which would have resulted in my murder had it voiced in her vicinity as a kid. As I grew older, I joined my brother in reading the labels on ‘medications’ my mom was fond of. Several of them literally had poisonous logos on them. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy would have been a relief to us both as we endured our mom’s ignorance about all things medical. Mom was one of those people who would not listen to reason and her stubbornness was legendary, even among mules. For most of my childhood, my mom worked at Southwestern Bell and had excellent insurance, yet I never went to the dentist between ages 5 and 18  and only got medical treatment after trauma. “You’re breathing!” she’d say.

In 1983, the FDA decided that products such as Vicks couldn’t have more than 11% of a concentration of camphor. Camphor can be fatal to small children and studies demonstrated that it actually made most people less likely to breathe more freely. Weirdly, many people report that it allows them to sleep better.

Any discussion regarding Vicks needs to take into account the historical differences of the ingredients used compared to the modern version. I’ve read anecdotes of people who claim that the bottles once recommended ingesting small amounts. I don’t doubt these claims given the ointment’s history. I can’t find evidence of it, however.

Interestingly, Vicks labels have warned against using it under one’s nostrils for any reason, as well as ingesting it. Obviously, you should never eat it, either, or put it anywhere it can penetrate into the skin. I was surprised to learn that it can damage one’s corneas, too.

Vicks VapoRub actually confuses your brain, which makes it think that you’re breathing more easily while actually reducing your ability to breathe more freely. I think it works the same way that the internet does for modern versions of my mom.

With my new cookbook of recipes, those who survived eating Vicks when they were young can once again enjoy the undeniable taste of this treat. I recommend that you start with a PB&J&V sandwich.

Summer’s Bedrail

 

jimmy terry and x teri

 

In the summer of 1978, my family was living in City View trailer park, a place of infamy I’ve previously written about. Many residents were notorious about not maintaining their lawns. I’d go so far as to say that the word ‘lawn’ would almost be the last word a rational person would use to describe the lots assigned to each tenant. Some, however, took pride in their lots, which confused me when I was younger. In a bizarre twist, my dad usually made my brother and I trim the grass around the bottom of the metal skirt under our trailer with a butcher knife. I know – what could go wrong?

Residents would pile an amazing array of objects next to, under, and at each end of their trailers, often partially hiding the end with the heavy metal hitch on it. This tendency caused at least ten million banged shins and legs, especially playing tag, catch, or football in the yards. During the time we lived at the trailer park, I found a loaded pistol, pornographic magazines, whiskey, potato chips, and other things under the skirting of trailers.

Many of the kids living in the trailer park spent their entire day roaming the park without shoes. I was one of those barefoot savages. My feet were as hard as tire tread.

One of the endless days at the beginning of summer, I jumped down from the back door of my trailer, as steps were an invitation for someone to try to get inside. Even the front steps of most trailers were cheaply made using narrow wood planks and thin metal supports. Most trailers had terrible front steps and none at all in the back, often with both comical and horrendous consequences due to the number of people who attempt a hasty exit or entrance while under the influence of one substance or another. A smart kid knew exactly how to jump from the back door and simultaneously fling it closed again as he or she leaped out. Note: not while a parent was inside. As we all learned, slamming a door was treated by parents as seriously as murdering someone in broad daylight.

My friend Troy had told me to come over and find him. I hit the ground running and by the time I made it to the spot a few trailers away, Troy and the other miscreants took off running from me. I darted around the end of one of the trailers. The grass was at least waist high against the trailer. Because I was attempting to set a land-speed record and catch up, I ignored the danger of the grass. I jumped in the grass as I ran. My right foot landed on something hard and I felt the immediate agony of something cutting into my foot. In my childhood, I stepped on a few dozen nails, broken bottles, as well as an assortment of other things. It went in deeply. Despite my speed, I fell into the grass. I had landed on a long, old-style rusty bed rail. The upturned corner had pierced all the way into the arch of my right foot. I was surprised that it had not passed all the way through my foot and out the top.

I could barely see my foot, so I crawled out of the grass and sat on the ground, looking at the expansive and deep cut in my foot. For a few moments, it didn’t bleed. As I released my foot, the blood spurts and an intense cramp started. I survived my second head trauma a few years before, one which resulted in massive blood loss and almost 200 stitches. This didn’t seem as bad until the cramps started. As the blood pulsed out of my foot, I realized I had to get back to the trailer, so I crawled as fast as I could despite the cramps in my foot.

There is a lot I don’t remember about that day. Someone called my dad at work. Normally, this would signal the end of my life. No one called my dad, not ever, even after a decapitation. It was probably my sister who called. I don’t remember. My dad did not want to come home, even after someone exaggerated the severity of the cut by saying they thought I was dying. It didn’t sway him, however, as his parenting style could best be described as “If he dies, I had too many kids to begin with.”

I do remember that by the time I got out of the trailer, the cheap linoleum looked like a crime scene photo and the rags I had used to try to stop the bleeding were drenched.

Dad came home over an hour later, angry and blustering. He screamed at me to get in the bed of the pickup truck as he got behind the wheel. I managed to climb up, then over the tailgate. My foot registered every bump and pothole in the road between our trailer and the medical clinic over on Quandt Avenue and Young Street. Dad’s dog Duke kept me company during the trip.

I don’t remember who the doctor was who helped me but he was a rapid-fire, no-nonsense doctor. He used a large bottle with a nozzle on it to spray inside the deep cut even as a nurse used her gloved fingers to hold the wound open as far as she could. For good measure, he doused it with a huge quantity of some type of disinfectant, which set off another round of foot cramps. Dad was not in the room with me, which was a huge relief to me. He’s the type who would probably slap a surgical patient for sleeping during the procedure.

The nurse went out to find him and dad returned and stood in the doorway. I’m paraphrasing, but the doctor asked him if he wanted some other kind of treatment. Dad told him no and that the doctor should do whatever took the least amount of time. I’m certain that they were discussing cutting my foot off, given my dad’s mean streak. I figured out later that stitching it quickly might cause some long-term cramping or other risks. Dad went back out to smoke.

The doctor seemed to put an inordinate number of stitches in my foot. Despite the shots to numb my foot, I could feel most of them. He did tell me that the bed rail had almost pierced all the way through my foot. He dressed it and listed off a list of important notes that I couldn’t possibly remember. I didn’t have anything to cover my foot, so the doctor put a plastic bag over it and told me to stay off it for a couple of days and to avoid getting it dirty.

Because dad wouldn’t come back in the room, I didn’t get crutches. Fair or not, a doctor in Springdale at that time wouldn’t have been surprised by a callous father. I think it was almost normal for medical staff to witness parents treat their children like cattle.

My Dad also, of course, didn’t offer to help me as I tried to hobble out to the truck and once again climb in the back of the truck.

When we got to the trailer, dad didn’t get out. I climbed over and managed to get out without screaming. I knew a beating was coming and simply didn’t want it to happen right then. We got the blood cleaned off the trailer floor, not that it mattered. Mom and dad routinely added one another’s blood to the floor at regular intervals.

To add insult to injury, I got a celebratory beating from both my mom and dad later that day, for a confusing mixture of carelessness and the sheer inconvenience of being bothersome. They both waited until they had consumed enough liquid courage to justify a beating. It’s some consolation that their anger toward me for getting injured at least stopped them from beating each other, at least on that night.

My foot secreted a constant ooze of clear fluid tinged with blood, especially after I walked on it. Mom, with her degree in folk medicine, ignored what I told her the doctor said and forced me to sit in a scalding bathtub of baking soda with my foot submerged in the liquid. She then poured undiluted alcohol on my wound until I almost passed out. She also insisted that I not cover the wound, so that it could breathe. Given that she made me literally eat Vick’s vapor rub, I didn’t have much faith in her medical advice. I also couldn’t figure out her idea that a beating might be medically advantageous for me, either.

A couple of days later, my Aunt Ardith convinced my mom to go to the clinic and to find out what was supposed to be done. Mom only went to the clinic to ask out of fear Aunt Ardith could say “I told you so” after they amputated my leg for gangrene. Mom came back with bandages, gauze, and some ointment. Aunt Ardith asked her about the crutches after reading a few of the notes the nurse gave my mom. “He ain’t got no G-D broken leg!” she shouted. Aunt Ardith rolled her eyes. By then, I was walking around without anything covering my foot. I had popped two of the outer stitches after a cramp hit me and I tried to stand up. I think my foot was a little infected by then. Aunt Ardith prepared a foot bath for me as Mom sat and drank a beer. My aunt showed me how to prepare the foot bath and told me to keep the bandage on it and to avoid putting pressure on my foot. No more mention was made of the crutches. I am certain that Aunt Ardith is the only reason I didn’t get a massive infection in my foot.

The next weekend, my cousin Jimmy wanted desperately to go see the movie “Thank God It’s Friday,” a 70s disco comedy, if such a thing is possible. It was showing at the Springdale Malco Twin theatre, on Highway 68 near Harps grocery. As I’ve written before, Jimmy almost always got his way, which worked out in my favor. All of the movies I got to see as a kid were the result of Jimmy, Mike Hignite, or another cousin. Literally, all of them. Aunt Ardith drove us to the theater while Mom sat in the passenger seat drinking her salted beer and smoking. They dropped us off and drove away. At the window, Jimmy got a laugh out of a woman who refused to say “God” in the title of the movie. “I need four tickets to ‘Thank Goodness It’s Friday'” she said several times. Jimmy was tickled that she couldn’t say “God,” but somehow thought that the movie would be appropriate to watch instead. Like many of our memories, I have no reason that adequately explains why I can remember that tidbit, but not other more important details in my life.

We bought two tickets and as I turned to go inside, one of the very young workers at the theater told me I had to put shoes on both feet to see the movie. I couldn’t have put on a shoe if I tried, especially with the thick gauze Aunt Ardith had put on my foot before leaving the house. I wasn’t wearing a sock and we’d never imagine such a thing as a medical boot or shoe. The manager came over, looked at my foot and said, “Get out,” as if I had planned to run inside the auditorium like an angry linebacker. We also didn’t get a refund.

My cousin Jimmy was furious. We went back outside and sat on the curb outside the theater. A few minutes later, someone came from inside the theater and told us we couldn’t sit outside and had to leave. I hobbled with Jimmy down to a payphone. No one answered at his house. As is the case with most of us and the phone numbers of our youth, I’ll never forget their phone number: 751-1551. Unlike my mom and dad, my aunt and uncle lived in the same house for almost their entire adult life, with the same phone number.

We wisely decided that our moms went to the liquor store for replenishments. So, we waited. After an hour, they drove up next to the building and we got in. Aunt Ardith parked the car haphazardly behind some of the other cars and walked up to the ticket window, her Tareyton cigarette still in her hand. I’m not sure what she said, but the manager came back over and immediately regretted it. Mom sat in the passenger seat, shouting obscene and encouraging words of agreement toward Aunt Ardith. The ticket clerk handed Aunt Ardith the money Jimmy paid for the tickets. She was cussing when she got back to the car. Mom threw her Budweiser can into the parking lot and opened another from a paper bag at her feet. She had probably become concerned that she might run out of beer during the very short drive from my cousin Jimmy’s house.

Evidently, my aunt had also demanded an apology from them for forcing us to get up and leave the relative safety of the front of the theater after being turned away for not wearing two shoes. I wondered what the manager would think if he knew that both Aunt Ardith and my mom were drunk. I think the shadowy canopy near the payphone to which we had been banished was far safer than the interior of the car being controlled by two drunk women. This sort of observation would have led to a beating for me. It didn’t occur to me until much later that normal parents would have known not to send a child to the theater without shoes, even if they had a medical reason.

I didn’t see the movie “Thank God It’s Friday” for another 25 years. Compared to a massive cut in the foot, it’s not so bad.

I ended up taking out my own stitches, in the stupid hope of avoiding another beating for the necessary return trip to the doctor.

In the years afterward, I would sometimes have the strangest phantom cramps in my foot where the scar is. The scar diminished in size but would occasionally flare up when I least expected it. Once, I was foolishly ‘jogging’ with Mike Hignite and it stiffened, causing me to fling myself headfirst into the waiting mud. I ran a lot when I was young and it was invariably on my mind to be careful of my foot catching me off guard. Sometimes, it would cramp while I was driving with my foot on the gas pedal.

If I run my finger along the scar on the bottom of my right foot, I can almost imagine that summer day again.

Thank God it’s not Friday, I say.
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P.S. The picture is of Jimmy and me at Dogpatch. The bottom inset picture is another one from the same day.