Category Archives: Biographical

A September Saturday in 1991 When A Plane Crashed On Me

Below is the basic accident information.  I spent quite a while figuring this out after being unable to locate the newspaper archives or links.

sdfsdfdfsdNTSB snippet

On a Saturday back in September,1991, I skipped work for the first time while working at Cargill. My supervisor at the time had decided that I couldn’t use any time off, even though miscreants all around me were getting days off without notice. I called in “sick,” as technically I was sick of my supervisor’s nonsense. After taking a long walk, drinking a river of coffee and reading for a few hours, I went to rent some movies. I don’t know what the other movie was but I’ll never forget renting “Predator 2.” My roommate, the owner of the trailer I lived in, had went on a rare short trip with his son out of town. (That day was  a rare confluence of unusual conditions.)

I had started the movie and put on my headphones. In those days, it was high technology to wire a direct connection from the horrible tvs of the time directly to the headphones and add an extra length of wire. “Predator 2” is a very sound effect-laden movie at the beginning. I might as well have been sitting inside a marching band practice. I hadn’t been watching very long when a sound very much like a diesel 18-wheeler thundered even through my headphones. The first thought that went through my mind was that someone had decided to drive a large truck literally through the trailer park. The trailer seemed to jump a little and vibrate. I pulled the headphones off and couldn’t make sense of the sounds I was actually hearing.

I jumped up and ran the length of the trailer, opening the back door which faced West. Looking up, all I could focus on was a grey-silver jacket, supported by a billowing parachute. I looked down and to the right of the small steps off the trailer and saw a human body. It was somewhat mangled and the head had suffered the worst trauma. The window ac unit above him had heat dissipation metalwork and those ridges were full of flesh and other body matter. I honestly can’t remember how long I stood there in shock. When it registered that a plane had crashed and the pilot lay dead at my feet I’m not sure. But it is the first or second most surreal moment of my life.

It turns out that most of the plane was slightly South of my trailer, a few feet away, mostly propped up by a massive growth of shrubs and short trees. (In an unrelated twist, the spot where the plane stopped is the same location where I endured my other horrific surprise in life, years later.)

I don’t know how I would feel if I were a family member of Joseph Frasca reading this, but in some immeasurable way we were connected by the pilot’s death. Knowing now that he was returning home to his family after being honored with being one of the nation’s premier stunt pilots makes it much worse for me. He was flying back from a U.S. National Aerobatic Contest. He was 34 years old and already considered to be one of the premier pilots of his day. When I researched the incident to write this, I was deeply saddened to know that he had been so young. I hadn’t remembered that fact in any way.

Joseph Frasca was also the son of Rudy Frasca, owner of Frasca International, which builds flight simulators for places all over the world. Joseph’s life would have been one full of adventure and opportunity. Many sources refer to the plane that crashed on Arkansas way back in September, 1991 as ‘experimental.’ Most agree that if Joseph would have simply had his chute connected for safety instead of for comfort, his life would not have needlessly ended. But then I wouldn’t have learned just how common it is for planes or pieces of them to fall from the sky.

The plane falling out of the sky had a profound effect upon me. Despite being raised by tough people and having already learned about the frailty of life, I learned anew the stupidity of thinking that any aspect of life could be “safe.” It had been forced upon me to remember that dangers were constantly at my fingertips, around hidden corners, waiting to pounce like an army of gleeful gremlins. It is difficult to explain to someone else who has never experienced something so bizarrely out of tune with normal life. I used to laugh about the coincidences of playing hooky from work for the first time and being home alone – it was difficult to not make connections between total accident and blind providence.

A couple of days after the plane crash I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the cafeteria vending machines at work. Coming back from break, it struck me that the color and consistency was very similar to the dead pilot as he laid next to the trailer. Without warning, I projectile vomited in the entryway to one of the huge food coolers. (I felt bad, because I didn’t clean it up.)

Someone associated with the pilot’s insurance sent me to talk to a psychiatrist. Of course, it was more for their peace of mind than mine, even though many who knew me joked “It’s about time” when they heard the news.  But after talking to the shrink for a few minutes, I got up to go to the bathroom. I spewed another geyser of vomit all across her very clean and organized waiting area, along the wall, and even up the wall. It was terrible. The secretary/office person could not have been more surprised. She was seated just a few feet away. Her eyes were incredibly wide. I believe they had to call a professional office cleaner to come deal with my mess. It was a little strange, as I wasn’t one to normally be squeamish or think things like a plane crash would upset me. I had no other symptoms whatsoever, and my mind wasn’t consumed by thoughts of the crash.

(In yet another coincidence, it turns out that the psychiatrist I went to for that single visit was the mother of my next door neighbor not too long after. He had heard of the infamous vomiting episode and laughed when I told him I was the person responsible. I think the volume of my sickness became an anecdotal legend.)

When an insurance adjuster came to visit with me and Ray, the trailer’s owner, he told me that the pilot had not fastened his leg harness or something along that line. He had been returning to Illinois from Texas from a stunt/flying show where he had just qualified to be on the US flight team. It turned out to be common for pilots to do this. A freak mechanical issue affected the plane. It was probably a very quick fall. His body cracked the middle of the trailer when he hit. I’m surmising that he hit the trailer at a very odd angle, turned and then hit the ac unit the rear window with a great deal of force. His terror was undoubtedly real, but also probably very quick and confusing.  I don’t remember him being so young, looking back.

During my research for this post, I was surprised to find group discussions from 1991 in Illinois. Many pilots wondered why he had abandoned the plane, knowing it was headed for a populated trailer park late in the morning on a Saturday. I had remembered him being thrown out of the plane, but perhaps my memory is weak on this point? It is a point to consider what must have went through his mind as he fell to the ground, knowing that his plane was directly above many unaware people.

It turns out that the insurance company paid for the hours of work I missed, the trailer, everything around it, and even offered to pay for ongoing psychological counseling – and also would have paid for up to a year of lost wages without question had I decided the crash had fried me mentally. The adjusters and insurance companies evidently had seen it all at some point and found it to be cheaper to be generous up front. I used to think that I should have taken a year off to read and relax.

Minutes after the plane crashed, people started appearing out of nowhere. A few FBI personnel were among the first to arrive. I don’t know where they had been working, but they had to have been close. In an hour, the scene was crowded with firemen, police, and reporters and dozens of spectators. Even my Aunt Ardith made an appearance at the edge of the NTSB tape. When I called the local news station, it was difficult to convince them that I lived in the trailer in question, mostly because of my crazy name.

For a while after the plane crash, much of our side of the trailer park didn’t have cable and we couldn’t figure out why. It turns out that the plane had penetrated the ground at one point in the exact location where the main trunk line for the cable service was buried, severing the line totally. I won’t write a novel trying to describe how chaotic it was for the rest of the day.

(In another twist, the ex-girlfriend of someone I had worked with knocked on the back door very late in the day. I couldn’t figure out why she was knocking on my door. I’m sure I had a stupid, incredulous look on my face when I saw her standing there, hand raised to knock on the door again. It turns out she was somehow involved with one of the news people taking  pictures. She, of course, verified to everyone that my name really was “X.”)

When my roommate Ray came home to his trailer later, he could not have been more surprised. My reputation for pulling pranks and being crazy might have made it hard for him to initially believe my story, but the look on his face was a strange evolution of disbelief, shock and then bewilderment. It turns out that he had heard of a plane crash in Johnson on the radio and had joked about the possibility of it being in the trailer park.

Reading the pilot’s biography and looking back into the past from 24 years ago, I see what happened from a much different perspective. A great pilot died that day, probably without necessity. Years of expertise were ignored and a strange series of unexpected surprises left him without any luck to fall back on. And it changed me in some way, forever.

I used to have a biography and a picture of Joseph Frasca. His exact appearance eludes me, but the idea of how young he was is really the only important thing to hold close. Sometimes, as I see little dots floating above me, I wonder about Joseph and our crossed path all those years ago. Now that I live closer to an airport, I think of him more often. I’m pleased to know that his family is doing exceedingly well and that Joseph has an aviation scholarship in his honor.

Meanwhile, too, I know that in distinct places all over the world, those dots are falling from the sky with great frequency, disturbing the lives of those below.

11102013 What’s In a Name Part 2,345

 “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings (Music Video)

I re-wrote this, as I had several anecdotes spread around my blog posts. None of them were well-written and somehow I’m still not conveying the fun part of my name change. 

Changing my name was one of the best, most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Don’t let the overtone of grouchiness overshadow that fact. It’s like when you get a new car and everyone wants to see it – except that one mean friend or family member who wants to comment how shoddily it was built. 

When I changed my name, I wrote a letter to most of my family, letting them know, giving an explanation. I didn’t have too, of course, but I did. If they got a letter, it meant that I considered them family and close. Not being as dumb as expected, I knew that many people would decide I was crazy, resist, or ignore me. I was a weird person in general. There’s no use attempting to sugarcoat it. Normal wasn’t a word my friends would use to describe me. For most family members, my decision to change my name shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’d mentioned the desire many times during my early life.

My dad named me BobbyDean – one word. He didn’t want it split and he didn’t ask for the “Jr.” to be added to my name, as I was the second son. The hospital clerk made the changes. I was one of 2,347 “Bob / Robert” people in the family. He might as well have been following Johnny Cash’s lead and named me “Sue,” for all the confusion it caused.

Flash forward a few years. My dad died suddenly. Despite his good-natured ribbing about it, dad was okay with me changing my name. It amused him for several reasons. A couple of the family revisionists later foolishly tried to insist that he didn’t like me changing my name. It isn’t true, of course, and each time I hear anyone repeat the idiotic claim I pray for the ability to cause another person’s hair to spontaneously morph into a wombat. Dad laughed about me changing my name and told me at least twice he understood completely. About a month before his death when I visited him, he told me it wasn’t a great idea to give me his name, anyway, because no one used the right name and that there were too many Bobs, Bobbys, and Roberts in the family.

When the family put together the obituary together, they ignored me and my wishes… and those of my dad. They listed me as a “Jr,” with my birth name, both in the obituary and in the funeral arrangements. Instead of my legal name, the one on my driver’s license and birth certificate.

At the funeral, each person opened their handouts and read about my dad, a general description of his life, a list of family, etc. Except in my case, the people compiling the information decided that I wasn’t allowed to use my legal name, the one on my birth certificate, driver’s license and everything else in my life. They decided to ignore my wishes and put my birth name on everything, the name I had categorically rejected. They listed me with my birth name and “Jr.” on it, even though a few years had elapsed and they well knew it wasn’t a passing fad – and my dad’s opinion about it. So, at my own dad’s funeral, I was forced to work to ignore that my own family had given me a stupendous “F – U” middle finger with the obituary information, printed everywhere and in the newspapers.

When I returned home, my friends and co-workers were pissed at my “well-meaning family.” They couldn’t understand why family would be so demeaning to me at such a time in life. I couldn’t explain it to them, either. It was just stupid.

(Sometimes, people will say dumb things like “But you didn’t help pay for the funeral.” To which I reply: “Everyone knew dad wanted to be cremated. Are we really going to go down that road?” Does helping pay or not pay for a funeral give carte blanche to those who are paying to do and so whatever they want to?)

It was weird having people ask my name and me telling them “X” and that I was “Bobby’s son,” knowing that they wouldn’t know what the heck I was talking about if they used the obituary information.

Luckily, I was able to shrug it off at the time as a classic demonstration of stupidity, perhaps even misguided family honor. In the case of one family member, I still consider it malice, based on her words about it- and her ongoing insistence on being sanctimonious about it. I know all of us had just lost a family member and everyone gets a pass to a degree about what they say and do around such sadness and grief. But in my case, it was deliberate, not something brought about by cloudy grief. My dad died several years after I changed my name – it wasn’t the month before or even a year before.

That a couple of my family members decided to pull such a stunt reminded me of how petty and sanctimonious people will be. And to try to not let it poison my opinion of unrelated things in my life.

I’ve written before about some of my trouble with people being spiteful about my name change. The key component is whether a person is trying to acknowledge that he/she knows my name is X. I’m not belligerent about someone who forgets or who switches back and forth between “X” and my birth name. (Despite what some of the revisionists still try to claim.) I will let infrequent or occasional mentions of my old name go by without even a raised eyebrow. I’m not referring to people who knew me when I was very young and who weren’t around me afterwards.

I apologize for sounding grouchy. But imagine if random people in your life decided to call you “DonkeyBreath.” Let’s say it happened because you once had bad breath. But you fixed your teeth and fixed the problem. Fast forward 20+ years to a time where certain people still call you DonkeyBreath. Whether it is by name in an obituary, in church, on the phone, or shouted across the parking lot. Try as you might, as politely as you ask, people still call you DonkeyBreath. They do this even though they know that you still find it offensive. What kind of people are these exactly?

But I will give you a real example which demonstrates how spiteful some people can be. At church near my hometown, a family member was telling a story that involved me. She called me by my name, of course: X. My Aunt Ezra (name changed to protect the guilty) turned toward her and spitefully said “You mean Bobby!” The first family member turned toward and said “No, I mean X !” The key component of this story is that Aunt Ezra not only tried to intimidate someone in public at church, but also was showing deliberate spite about my name, decades after I changed it. Is this what you would describe as good behavior? It’s fine, though, as I practiced some spite of my own. During more than once church discussion, I’ve used my aunt’s name to talk about behavior I don’t like.For words such as “pious, sanctimonious, or hypocritical.”

(No one who knows me, works with me, or interacts with me, etc calls me anything except X.)
My birth name sounds stupid to me and to my wife. I don’t turn when people yell “Bobby” behind me. It’s alien to me. People who are in my daily life just don’t “get” why people would be stupid enough to persist in using the wrong name. To everyone except the offenders, it is immediately obvious that a factor of disrespect and rudeness is motivating people who try to call me by my birth name. When my wife and I get around family members who don’t even try to call me by name, it gets tedious and annoying very quickly. If I am not noticing it, my wife does. I appreciate her trying to ignore it and I also appreciate it when she finally has had enough and starts questioning people. It annoys her, too. We do the right thing – we never go on the attack about it. However, when enough abuse about it has piled up, we start politely pointing out the error with the name. If I choose to start disengaging and walking away, no one is going to tell me that I’m the one being rude. I’ve asked, asked again, made videos, asked again, explained and asked again. Many outsiders hear it or hear of people doing this to me and ask why I tolerate it, especially why I continue to put up with it for so many years.

“It’s not a big deal” or “You take it too personally” are both weak and rude ways to say that my feelings and right to be who I am doesn’t matter. “You shouldn’t be rude like that” is another way of attempting to mitigate other people’s rudeness at choosing to ignore my wishes. “Don’t be an ass about it” is a another idiotic method to insist that I don’t have a right to be irritated in the face of decades of this abuse. And believe me, it is abuse. The choice is yours whether to honor my right to be who I am or to engage in interpersonal warfare by convincing yourself that you are being anything less than an ass by calling me by a name that hasn’t been my name for over 2 decades. Well over 2 decades. Whatever claim my birth name once had over my life is surely long dead. Now that both my mom and dad are gone, it is more comical and depressing than ever that there are doofuses who still deliberately use the wrong name.

Several years ago, I made a video with captioned pictures, set to “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings. I sent it to several people and posted a copyright-free version to Facebook. Online, people laughed and laughed, all giving me praise for my lighthearted effort to get my point across. Many were incredulous that family members were still being so mean and thoughtless so many years after the name change. Several people went so far as to message or tell me directly that if they were in my shoes, they would disown anyone who continued to be mean to me about it, ESPECIALLY after I had put hours of work into the dvd explaining my point of view. They could tell that for many of my family members, I had asked them nicely up to 100 times. That’s beyond what anyone would claim to be reasonable. I had family screaming at me, sending angry emails or causing public rifts about it. I guess I don’t need to keep mentioning that – any family that would go so far as to publish the wrong name in another person’s obituary needs to seriously examine what kind of people they are. On those frequent occasions when my mom would get both angry and drunk, she would lash out about my name.

My wife, her sister and her mom all knew me by my birth name when I was younger. None of them had any real problem treating me like I deserved to be respected in regards to my name. Neither did my childhood best friend, several of my close cousins, all my co-workers, etc. Several of these people knew me by my birth name and had just as much claim toward difficulty toward adapting to my new name as anyone else did. But it didn’t occur to any of them to be an ass and try to be mean about it. That tells me that either some of my family members aren’t good people or just didn’t really care about me as an individual.

You have to try to respect me for who I am, even if your are convinced I’m a fool. If you want to interact with me, I meant. If you don’t like me or my name, then don’t feel obligated to pretend to – as none of us have enough time left in life to waste it on people who don’t really matter to us. Move along and have a good, rich life without me in it. You can’t claim to like or love me and still stupidly insist on calling me by the wrong name.

I only write about it because even though I now have lived over 1/2 my life as X, there are still “loved ones” in my family who still call me “Bobby.” They are getting to be rarer now, and not just due to time and age catching up. Rather, it gets old trying to defend such an indefensible attitude. They know they were wrong but can’t lash out much about it now, given that other family members will call them out on it. That wasn’t always the case.

People get a pass for a while, a year. Even 10 years. But 25? I don’t think so.

07222014Learning To Sew

One of the few things that I hold to be irrevocably sentimental to me is my grandma Nellie’s old plastic sewing box. (I’ve written before about a broken, rusty nail associated with her husband, my grandpa Willie, being the other highly sentimental thing I own.)

 (This is a picture from around the time my grandma Nellie first taught me to sew.)

I don’t remember exactly how I ended up with grandma’s old sewing box. I remember Grandma joking that I could have it when she died, but that was sometime around 1975, a 1/4 of a century before she died. (She also promised me a nifty little pocketknife.) Someone probably remembered the hours and hours that I spent sewing with grandma and the stories I used to tell about it. After grandma died, I had forgotten about it. Whoever that someone was passed along grandma’s sewing box to my mom and then my mom gave it to me. I used to remember where grandma originally acquired the sewing box, because I asked her. But so many years have elapsed and now no one remembers the story.

When I was around 4, I would sit at grandma’s feet and either watch tv, read the TV Guide, or doodle. Many times, grandma would sit in her chair and sew. She would have been around 60 then, which seemed very, very old to me back in those days. Now that I’m not more than a decade from encroaching the same milestone, it seems downright young. Grandma had trouble sometimes threading the needle, both due to her eyesight and shaking. I don’t know why she finally relented and asked me to thread a needle for her, but she did. I pricked my finger very badly a couple of times but finally managed to work the thread into the needle. Grandma could be very cautious, but she wasn’t one to worry needlessly about me hurting myself with a needle. She was the type who knew that while she didn’t want me to hurt myself, that learning to thread a needle basically required getting stuck once or twice.

Over the next few years, she taught me to sew a hem and do a few basic stitches. She also taught me to be able to sit still and concentrate on something constructive. I could sit and stitch for an hour without thinking about being bored or whether the thread was straight. I simply enjoyed it for what it was. It didn’t occur to me later that sewing was something that wasn’t supposed to be done by boys. Even with sewing, my grandpa didn’t make fun of me for it. He saw that I enjoyed it and knew that any boy learning to sew was learning something useful that would last for the rest of his life.

I’ll never forget being in Home Economics class in junior high. I was with Jason, already a sports jock. We were tasked with sewing the outline of a turtle. Without thinking, I threaded the needle and had sewn almost half the outline before realizing that other people were just getting their threads through the eye of their needles. For once, instead of being the clumsy doofus, I was the one with a skill, even if it was something as mundane as sewing. It surprised me that other people had trouble with it.

Through my life I’ve sewn pillows, shirts, curtains and even headbands. None of them were done with expertise, but all were done with a sense of purpose and fun. I can’t sew for very long without thinking of being at my grandma’s feet, sewing.

A Rusty Nail Is All I Need

As strange as it sounds, one of my most prized possessions is most of a rusty nail. Seriously.

Years ago, before it was torn down, I visited the last house my maternal grandparents lived in together. I went on the property at great risk, as it looked like it had been abandoned and infiltrated by wasps, weeds, and rain through the old metal roof and tar paper siding. Before moving to this house, they lived to the south, still off highway 39, on the opposite side, near White Cemetery. They had an outhouse at the previous house.

I have an incredible number of memories about that old “house on the hill” as I call it. It was in Rich, Arkansas; not much of a place, really, even its heyday if it ever truly had one.  It was on Highway 39, on the west side of the road. Cook Road was slightly to the south of the old house. Most of the time cotton seemed to be the crop surrounding it in every direction.

I remember when grandma and grandpa moved in. One of the first things done was to hang a porch swing on the south end of the full-length wooden slat board porch. In that day, one didn’t use complicated screw hooks – a long nail would be hammered in and bent around to hold the chain linked through it. This isn’t the safest of ways to do it, not by today’s standards. Yet I can’t remember seeing one fall when I was young. (The second thing done was to build Grandma Nellie a storm shelter. She was deathly afraid of any weather, having survived the stories of the tornado in 1909 that leveled the town of Brinkley.)

Either Uncle Raymond or Uncle Harold picked me up and held me up high toward the roof of the porch. I held the nail more or less straight while grandpa hammered it in. Once we nailed the two nails, we hung the swing and sat in it, enjoying the simple fun and relaxation of it. I spent a lot of hours on that swing with grandpa. On some level, it is partially to blame for my extreme views on simplicity and comfort. Adding 44 uses and extras to things mostly ruins them.

To this day, when it rains sometimes I can smell the dirt and cotton blowing across the porch toward grandpa and me, sitting on the porch. If weather was coming, we’d usually be listening to grandma cajole grandpa into coming into the house or getting to the storm shelter.

The only thing I was really interested in salvaging that day in the 90s was the swing nail closest to the house, the one I remember “helping” put in. Honestly, I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s the same nail, although I believe that it is. I’m humbled to think that the first swing installed at that house was balanced there almost 1/2 a century ago. I managed to extract some of the long bent nail from the upper wooden beam above the porch. Everything was caving in as I struggled to use it for footing.

Sidenote: one branch of the Pledger family was the last to live in the house. Their stuff, including pictures, were scattered all around inside. I learned later in life that my grandpa Willie supposedly had an illegitimate child with one of the Pledgers. At the time, he was working for the original Pledger patriarch at a sawmill in Clarendon. My mom didn’t know anything about her half-sister until after the half-sister died. The story is that she and mom looked a lot alike. Although I have delved fairly extensively into the Pledgers, I have avoided any direct linking to their trees or stories.

 

 

This picture is of the old house on the hill. (The aforementioned porch swing is on the left in the background.) Grandpa Willie is seated center. They are sitting on the porch steps, a series of piled railroad logs. I nailed at least 1,000 nails into those logs. These logs were one of the many reasons that I still love the smell of creosote of all kinds.

12292013 Grandma and Her Snuff

Back in the day, it wasn’t an odd thing necessarily for women to dip snuff. “Snuff” is most often thought of as the type of tobacco that you might see pro baseball players or bull riders pinch out and put between their teeth and gums, letting the flavor seep and then spit. But the kind most of us might imagine is not the kind that my grandma enjoyed. Using snuff isn’t often portrayed in television or movies, even though it was extremely common in many areas, even among the affluent of society.

The snuff that my grandma Nellie loved was the other kind, the dried, powdery type. It very much resembled cinnamon, and was the result of dried and very finely ground tobacco. Instead of sniffing it or inhaling it through her nostrils, she would put a pinch in her mouth and let is seep. She would then spit into a cup and wipe the corner of her mouth. Keep in mind that by the time I was born in 1967, grandma would have been 58 years old and didn’t have most of her original teeth. I no longer remember whether she ever sniffed it through her nose. I don’t have any memory of it.

For an interesting history lesson, you should google snuff or read a little about it on wikipedia:
Snuff Wikipedia  It is a reminder of how strange and bizarre some of our customs really are.

I admit to loving the smell of snuff. Grandma’s most-purchased brand was W E Garrett.  The taste could be very bitter. I’m not certain how much nicotine was in it, but I’m sure it was very potent.

It was made packed in small metal canisters, or in a larger drinking glass size. The drinking glass size is worth mentioning because that is exactly what many people used them for – glasses. The top of the glass was an embossed metal lid, sealed onto the glass under the paper label. Using glasses like these was pure marketing genius.

hhh(1)

Above it a decent picture of what these glasses looked like.

ggg

The small metal canisters were 2-3 inches tall and an inch or two wide. As you might imagine, these little cans were used to store coins, buttons, bugs, just about anything an adult or imaginative kid could imagine. I would often open one and just sit and smell the acrid tobacco after grandma emptied it.

Growing up, grandma always had a damp rag by her, mostly to wipe at her lips from dipping snuff.

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see that grandma has a little spittoon on her foot rest.
(She looks grouchy because she didn’t have her glasses on and she often didn’t enjoy getting her picture taken.)

04032014 X Ancestry.com Revised Ethnicity Estimate

Ancestry.com continues to revise its dna methods. I know that I should participate in other sites DNA sequencing too, but so far I haven’t done so. No extremely close relatives have popped up on their system yet, although a 3rd cousin has emerged, albeit without a corresponding family tree attached.

Although I haven’t been able to pin it down, I very much suspect that a couple of my great-grandparents might not be related to me at all genetically. At each generational level, I’ve found significant personal turmoil that usually indicates that genetics might not equal a family tree relationship. It’s not that I’m pointing fingers – they lived their lives as they had to or wanted to. I don’t like the temptation to gloss over people’s tendencies to marry more than once, have children out of wedlock, move away from one’s children and so forth. It was common in previous generations and it is still affecting our family trees today.

I’ve written before that the best way to start ancestry is to assume that perhaps most or all of what you think you know might be mistaken. It makes it easier to swallow when you have royally messed up in several ways. We are inextricably tied to our genetic markets. (A story this week involved a white supremacist attempting to establish an all-white town, only to be confronted with DNA evidence that he is significantly “black” genetically. I love this kind of story, not only because the gentleman in question got his comeuppance but also because science and genetics intervened. )

The picture above: my mom is on the right end, holding my cousin Cheryl.

The picture above: my mom is on the right end, holding my cousin Cheryl.

The picture above: my maternal grandfather on the left, my cousin Cheryl in the middle, and my great-grandmother on the right. In the back are my Uncle Melvin and cousin Barry.
The above picture: my grandmother Nellie on the far left, with her siblings.
nellie aunt betty and unknown girl

The above picture: my grandmother Nellie on the far left, my aunt Betty to her right.

(Many thanks to my cousin Cheryl who gave me many more pictures to cherish and share with family and the world.)

The above picture is Bobby Dean Terry

The above picture is Harold and Wayne Cook.

The above picture is Carolyn Terry.

 The above picture is Raymond Cook

Burial and Pallbearers For Mom

 (From September 2013)

One unusual aspect of my mom’s funeral was that the funeral home my sister used defined the utility of the word “pallbearer” literally. As the brief graveside service ended, the funeral director called upon the pallbearers to lift the casket with straps and put my mom and her casket into the dug grave. Many people were shocked or surprised by this. It caught me off guard, even though I had seen the grave the night before and as the service started: there was no platform or lifter, which seems to be almost a requirement by today’s standard.

My sister chose the funeral home that mom had found that would allow her to be buried at a greatly reduced price. It was tremendously less expensive. Up until very recently, I had thought that mom was still going to be cremated. Part of mom’s growing reluctance for cremation was a result of one of my aunts talking to her about her particular beliefs about burial and cremation. To be honest, I wanted mom to be cremated – and not only because I hate the entire concept of burial as we do it today. I kept telling my sister that since she was the one who stepped up to care for mom as she was dying of cancer, it would ultimately be her decision. I’ve written before about how appreciative I am of my sister’s recent efforts:

Before I forget, too: mom was late for her own visitation. The hearse and her body had went to the wrong place. Another admission: my wife and passed the hearse on the roadside on the way to the Lutheran church. My wife conjectured that it probably was mom in that hearse on the roadside. I stupidly said, “There are 100s of hearses in Monroe County.” This is the point where I eat a plate of crow for being absolutely, totally wrong. (It had in fact been mom’s hearse…)

Not to pour salt on anyone’s feelings, but mom had told me repeatedly that she didn’t want a viewing. She got one, though. I do not know how to say it with decorum or in good taste as there is a strong taboo against saying it – but mom looked terrible in the open casket. I’ll spare you the details and you should use your imagination. But even as I saw her hair above the rim of the coffin, I knew that it was going to be bad. I don’t blame the funeral service or my sister. Mom’s appearance in many ways was a slap-to-the-face reminder about how literal death is and how viewings can be. With a closed casket, maybe we could have been “spared” the shock of it. But why should we want to be spared? Cancer is a destroyer. Mom died a hard death and making a herculean effort to “restore” her is almost blasphemy to me. For those in attendance with beliefs in the afterlife, it should not matter, for if the body is truly just a vessel, it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether ANY restoration was done. I know I sound like an old stooge, going on about the artificial facade of most funerals. Whatever helps the family. But I can only react and comment as myself. I wish mom had been cremated and if not, that she had been buried without being exposed again to the world. But at least those parts were more honest than many I’ve witnessed. As tough-minded as I am, I think I might be haunted for a while, thinking of how startling mom’s appearance was.

5 of my sister’s 6 boys and my nephew Quinlan lowered my mom into the grave. The oldest boy had to step aside, as he almost slipped in. I tried to get over to the grave before they went sideways with the coffin but by then one of the boys had stepped hard on the edge and righted it as they lowered it into the ground. I forgot to mention that mom’s coffin didn’t have a liner or vault. Many people think that these are required for burials in Arkansas. They aren’t – nor should they be. Mom’s coffin went directly into the ground. It didn’t have a special seal or gasket, either.

I told them all that I was glad they got to participate directly with the burial. I explained to them that while I don’t believe in burial, I truly believe that burial should have nothing extra involved. It should be just the wrapped body going into the ground – and not because of the needless money involved, but rather to acknowledge that death is real, personal and meaningful in its own right. Much of our processions seem to distance us from our connection to death and the ground. Maybe the pallbearers thought I was crazy for thinking it was all a good thing – but I do – and it was.

Among other things affecting my mom’s passing was the incredible delta heat. It was 100 degrees on the day she was buried. Despite being well into September, both the heat and humidity were at record levels. Everything was baked and even the cologne and perfume applied earlier in the morning had burned into a different, strong smell from the sun.

The church service was very hot, too.  The country church didn’t have the cooling capacity for so many people, especially during record heat outside. Mom’s inside service ended around noon, just about the time the sun started to angrily beat down everything in its way.As in further punishment, my wife had to step into another room and leave me alone for most of the service, as the heat was about to kill her. Before I forget to mention it, I had a mild case of heat exhaustion the day before, on Sunday. I don’t know how close I came to serious injury but I knew afterwards that it had been a close call. I felt horrible for my wife, as I knew she was going to feel guilty for not being there with me.

Sundown the night before, my wife and I had driven the circuit out to and including Upper Cemetery in Rich, Monroe County, Arkansas. The heat was declining, but still over 90. As we drove through the cemetery to the swamp’s edge, the bugs were hitting the car with surprising force. Even as we parked and stopped, the bugs continued to hit the windows, top and doors hard enough to thud. I compare it to walking through a sheet of falling skittles. I jumped out of the car, dozens of bugs, flies, mosquitoes and dragon flies hitting me. I went over to lift the plywood off of the grave recently dug for my mom’s coffin. I wanted to linger and stare at the headstones, but the insects were starting to use me as a landing pad, even though I had only been out of the car for a few moments. I’ve always loved cemeteries and at sunset, they evolve into something magical. At Upper Cemetery at sundown, the ebbing sun hits the swamps and trees in a startling pattern. It is at that moment that I can sometimes feel the line of ancestors behind me, signalling to inhale deeply the richness of the swamp.

Memory of Drunk

Years and years ago, probably in 1975, I learned a great lesson in parenting. We lived in a trailer near old Highway 68 (now 412), on 48th street, where Denny’s, Marketplace, and several large hotels now sit.

My mom and dad had been fighting at my Uncle Buck’s house. (One of the many times…) Mom forced me and another family member into her car to drive us home, a couple of miles away. Normally, I would have spent the night there with my cousin Jimmy. Why mom insisted on forcing me to go, I’m not sure.My best guess is that she did it is because it was the last place I wanted to be – with her, especially driving.

Mom was so intoxicated that I couldn’t imagine staying in the car. Because she hadn’t been able to fight with my dad and scratch that itch she would get when she wanted to fight, she took it out on me in the car. How we got anywhere without killing someone I’m not quite sure.

At one point mom hit something on the side of the road. I don’t know if it was a mailbox, a car or five innocent children. Since I had just listened to a presentation at school, I was now familiar with the word “alcoholic.” Mom was already slapping me and pulling my hair for crying, so I didn’t feel as scared as I normally would.

I called her an alcoholic.

(Hearing grownups at school talk about the evils of drinking made me think about it in a quite different way. People I didn’t know where standing in front of me telling me clearly what I knew to be true – that alcohol could be extremely destructive. It was a revelation.)

The car went silent. Mom’s face froze in a drunken flash of anger. She jumped out of the front of the car and started screaming, opening the back door on my side and yanking me out of the car by the hair. She told my sibling to get out, too. Before mom got back in the car screaming, she tried to kick me. She was so drunk that he foot hit me in the knee instead of my face.

She got in the car and drove off, leaving my sibling and I on the side of the road. It was about 9:30 at night. A few years ago, I talked to my Aunt Ardith about it to see if she would verify any of the story. She remembered it, as mom told her 444 times about the story of the first time any of her kids called her an alcoholic.

My sibling and I had to walk home, in the dark, on busy 68.

Regardless of what anyone might otherwise wish my mom to be known for, her addiction to alcohol will be the predominant memory defining her. Mom was quite capable of being a good person; her love of drinking, however, tarnished everything in her life. She wasn’t a person who occasionally suffered the effects of drinking – drinking was a constant force in her life.

06252014 James Arthur Terry aka Uncle Buck aka Buster aka Arthur (Another Story About Names…)

Al Johnson and James Buck Terry

40th Reunion Picture (Note he used “Arthur” again the picture)

My paternal uncle James Arthur Terry was one of those people who experienced the weirdness of name issues. I always called my dad’s brother “Uncle Buck.” Even though his dad (my grandfather) was also named James Arthur Terry, no one ever put a “Junior” on my uncle’s name. At risk of offending the family revisionists, he did not understand why my birth name had been botched so badly or why my mom and dad added the “Jr.”

Throughout my Uncle Buck’s school years, he used “Arthur” as his first name, even though James was his actual first name. Below is a picture from his high school graduating class. He’s the third from the right on the very bottom.

Brinkley, Arkansas 1951 Senior Class

It wasn’t until he moved away that he started using “James” or “Jim” in any real sense, not when he had a choice.

My Uncle Buck also named my cousin Jimmy, his son with his second wife “James,” but used “Lawrence” as his middle name to avoid any issue with the “Junior” nonsense. My cousin Jimmy didn’t like the name “James” very much and preferred Jimmy. Adding even more oddness to the story, my first cousin Jimmy names his only son Noah James Terry, reversing the first and last names of his aunt’s husband James Noah.

While many people called him “Buck,” much of the Brinkley family called him “Buster” instead of “Buck” or “James.” I can’t remember why those chose yet another name over either of the most common alternatives.

James Arthur Terry and his first wife and 3 kids
James Arthur Terry and one of his favorite trucks, in Memphis, TN

DWIs – A Family Legacy

To begin this story, I would like to mention the fact that many, many years ago, a local attorney suffered serious legal repercussions for being involved in a DWI-fix scenario. Both my mom and dad were listed in the records. That should set the tone for the credibility of this post.  It wasn’t unusual when I was younger for people to be able to make a quiet arrangement with some police or prosecutors. My dad was an avid believer in taking advantage of the process.

(Sidenote: once, my Aunt Ardith found out that m uncle was cheating on her. He left the house and she called the police in anger to report him drinking and driving. She then left to find him. She got pulled over and arrested – while he didn’t get caught. Guess who was already in the drunk tank when my Aunt Ardith was put in jail? My mom. You can’t make up that kind of great, albeit possibly sad, story!)

Both my mom and dad had multiple DWIs. Not all of them became official, of course, but both were arrested many, many times each. As for my dad, he was involved in the death of a relative back in 1970. Dad totaled more than one vehicle while drinking, as did my mom. (My mom seriously hurt a few people during her drinking and driving exploits. As far as I know, she didn’t kill anyone while driving.) Both of them had their licenses suspended and/or revoked many times.

Even though it sounds like hyperbole to say it, I was in a moving vehicle while my parents were drunk dozens and dozens of times. There were accidents with me in the vehicle. Some of the notable ones include one near the edge of the swamp toward Rich, Arkansas, one near the intersection of what is now I-540 and 412, another near Blue Hole in Tontitown, another in downtown Brinkley where the dress shop now stands, one at the edge of a drainage deep along the periphery of a rice field, etc.(On that last one, dad had been driving over 100mph on a dirt road.)

As always, if a family member reads this and jumps into revisionist mode, stop and ask yourself if this how everyone remembers dad? I’ve had family members scoff at some of my stories and memories- their intent is to cast doubt on the truth or to minimize how severely my parents abused alcohol.

I don’t remember being seriously injured myself in any of the accidents, although I remember hurting my hand once, a cut on the back of my shoulder and on my head in another and feeling like I had been beaten after the one by the Blue Hole in Tontitown around the 4th of July one year.

There were many times I was forced to drive, even when I didn’t really know how, by my dad. His insistence on me driving wasn’t a recognition of his impaired ability, but rather as a way to force me to “be a man.” I wonder how often I heard that stupidity of a phrase from him growing up: “be a man.” My idea of what a man is and his are wildly different. Drunk driving certainly shouldn’t be included, especially at night.

I used to get in the car or truck with one or both of my parents and be literally scared to breathe. Like most drunks, they vastly overestimated their driving ability. There were times we drove all the way back to Brinkley with one of them drinking and driving. Sometimes, I was in the bed of the pickup on the interstate, or going through the mountains before the interstate came all the way to NWA. Family members, especially the Cook side, would object to my parents drinking and having me in the car with them, but only be forced to shut up about it.

As my mom aged, she became increasingly hostile at the system that kept taking her license. She wouldn’t acknowledge that anyone had the right to stop her from potentially killing other people on the road. There was more than one DWI in the last years of her life that almost no one knows about. When she died, she had no vehicle – but not for the reasons she offered. (After my mom had almost killed those people out by Highway 49 one night I swore off helping her get back on the road.)

I have never been pulled over under the suspicion of drinking. While I might have one simple drink and drive, I would never consider having more than one and getting behind the wheel. So embedded into me was my aversion that I simply can’t consider it as a sane act. My birthright would demand that I drive frequently after imbibing, but like most things from much of my upbringing, I recognized the idiocy of it early enough to train myself into a different way of life.

People who know me also know that as long as no one is injured, I believe there’s no reason that a person’s first and only DWI should not be completely expunged from their life it is not repeated. It is very easy for anyone to have a lapse in judgment and drive after drinking. (And most of us were hideously stupid when we were young!) My commentary refers to those who have had multiple drinking and driving issues. (Also, to be fair, a LOT of people who should have DWIs on their records were able to pull strings and avoid accountability or even being charged with it. I’ve noticed that some of these people who should have gotten DWIs tend to be the biggest jerks toward other people about their lapses.)

I don’t mean to make it sound like all my family are drunks or drive drunk. But many did.