Category Archives: Monroe County

Lost In Time 2.0

I’m not planning on dying. I penciled it in for 2034.

I’m planning on living.

It makes some people skittish when they observe a loved one or friend “suddenly” giving things away. Don’t be alarmed unless you turn your head as you read this and see someone wearing a unitard behind you. Unitards are universally recognized as sinister, much like the side-eye you get when you’ve annoyed someone just a tad past their irritation point.

I’ve never given away as deeply as this time. That’s true.

From ‘the nail’ to the hand-written Ecclesiastes, a Xmas ornament from my dad’s death, Grandma’s thimble, Grandma’s sewing box, a few special coffee cups, a lot of my artwork (I use the word liberally there), all but basically three of my books, and a slew of other things that had immense sentimental value. There were several practical things that were also beautiful that I rehomed and surprised people with.

The unique nail I attempted to send to my sister still hasn’t surfaced. It may never materialize. It’s easy to feel upset about it, given that it was my most special possession. To remind myself, I think about all the people in the world every day who lose everything – or the people most valuable to them. A nail is insignificant in comparison to such loss and absence. Erika gave me a really old unique nail from her house in Pennsylvania, a weird nail whose story is unknown. There’s a comfort in that, too. It sparks my imagination. That nail has borne witness to many decades, been held by strange fingers, and somehow found its way to me.

When I was mailing my Grandma’s old sewing box, it struck me that my nephew’s daughter is the great-great-granddaughter of Grandma Nellie. That boggles my mind, even though I have a decade+ of ancestry and genealogy experience.

My last remaining aunt isn’t doing well. She took over the mantle of matriarch many years ago, whether she wanted it or not. I love imagining that when she was about five, that she knew a couple of people still living who were born around 1837. All those intervening people had lives, homes, families, and keepsakes. Almost all of them have vanished through the waves of all those decades. No one alive really has living memories of them any longer. They are footnotes, pictures (if we’re lucky), and placeholders in our family trees.

One of the only ways I can appreciate this life is to share the things I hold most precious with other people. I wish I had millions of dollars to share. Some might pay off their houses, some might buy a new car, and some might even take that long-awaited trip to Poland. I hope my nephew appreciates my grandma’s sewing box. That box spans literal generations. I like to think I was just the custodian for it. Each time I took it out to sew, I couldn’t help but think of my Grandma patiently teaching me to thread a needle and do a stitch. Or of Grandpa telling her to stop harping on me about using a thimble. He was a tough man and knew I’d learn very quickly after a few sharp sticks with Grandma’s needles.

I know I’m different from most people. In many ways, I’m envious of people who have a treasure trove of things from their childhood. Birthday cards, letters, pictures, keepsakes, boxes and boxes of things they both love and dread. There is joy in looking through those things, no matter how nostalgic they might make you. People forget that I do very much appreciate the difference between having things for no reason and having them to revisit old moments and people. That some people still have those things has led to me reviving memories of my life that I didn’t recall. Sometimes, they opened new doors into my memories. I hope everyone with such a trove lets them breathe and takes them out from time to time.

Recently, Erika had to leave a mountain of her youth in her old house in Pennsylvania. A lot of it was taken from her without her consent during one of her cleanup trips. The people involved deserve some bad karma. One of the delights that emerged from it? The new owners of her childhood home have been sending her boxes and boxes of surprises left behind. They don’t have to do that. I’m sure they are fascinated by the range of things they’ve found. It’s been quite the treat to watch Erika opening boxes without knowing the depth and breadth of the things being returned to her. All could have been lost forever. Thanks to a good soul, she’s getting them back in waves and increments. It’s a bit of great karma to hopefully wash away the residue of the bad karma from before.

In my case, due to tornados, domestic violence, and burned-down houses, there was no way for me to have much from my childhood. Would I prefer to have a closet of such things? Yes! I don’t want anyone reading this to think differently. Almost all the pictures I have come from people sharing theirs. Just the privilege of sorting and reliving such things would be a cathartic experience for me. I’m a little jealous of everyone who has such an opportunity.

I love wild, colorful things. Not necessarily to possess them. It would be easy for me to fill my apartment with such things. To the rafters. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by beauty? The cliché response to this is that we are all surrounded by such beauty, both outside in the world around us, and inside the people we include in our intimate circles.

It’s still weird to me to be poor but yet still feel rich and lucky most of the time.

I’m still breathing, after all.

Take a moment and ensure that no unitard-wearing weirdo is in the room with you. Then, pause to think about whether all the things you own make you happy. If they do, you’re way ahead of the game. Likewise, if something you own and love would enrich someone else’s life, consider giving it away.

It’s all going somewhere.

Someday.

The picture is of two of my aunts. Because of the resolution, I couldn’t enhance it or color it as it deserved.

PS Since I can’t write a post like this without repeating my favorite mantra: if you have pictures of friends and loved ones, share them while you’re breathing. Pictures are the best thing in the world, comparable even to the sensation you get when you feel happy and satisfied.

Love, X
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You Want Personal? A Rusty Nail Is All I Need 2.0

Before reading this post, you should read the original post from 2014, at least on this website.:

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My favorite cousin and a friend conspired to make me this etch-a-sketch rendition of my grandparent’s porch. It was a beautiful and creative piece of work, one which I loved. Such personalized gifts are rare indeed in this life.

It was destroyed in a fit of anger. Not by me, of course. That I would dare to write about it might trigger a couple of people. It’s my tarnished truth to share.

The strange thing is this: I’m different than most people. A memory of a thing is just as precious as the ‘thing’ itself. The destruction of this beautiful gift only amplified the memory. That someone let anger gain so much control of them is unfortunate; they were possessed by the demon of a lesser god. I didn’t feel anger when I saw that someone had destroyed it. I felt only disappointment. It’s a reminder that anger is relative and that its justification is a sign of a larger problem. No matter what someone has done, it is very hard for me to imagine letting myself destroy something so personal and precious to spite another person. Or let someone else do so. Even if I deserved it or – or even if they do. Anger is the worst filter for reason. It justifies everything in its wake. It is one of the slippery slopes of life. I watched as my parents and a few other family members allowed that to consume them.

Regardless, the loss of this reminded me that everything is transitory. We don’t really own anything, no matter how many decades we clutch them close. It will also be lost, destroyed, or left behind when we depart this world.

All of it.

No eternal monuments can or ever will be erected because the Earth itself is limited by the laws of physics.

I still have the picture of the shadow box and etch-a-sketch.

Until recently, after a couple of near losses, I still had the rusty nail. It grew to become my most prized keepsake and possession.

Now, I have a picture of it.

I have passed it along to someone who might appreciate the depth of my giving it away. I placed it inside a collectible silver cigarette case, one which was salvaged and saved from the wreckage and the remains of another life. A cigarette case in itself has meaning to the person who is receiving the nail.

I did the same with my hand-transcribed copy of Ecclesiastes and a couple of other of my remaining treasures.

I don’t plan on departing soon. That itself is part of the lesson. I will one day, perhaps tomorrow. All the things that I find to be precious will be treasured no more. None of my precious things were valuable per se. Their worth only exists because I see it and experience it.

I’m passing along the rusty nail to my sister Marsha. She’s had a rough life. Even if she doesn’t treasure the nail and its anchor into my memory the same way that I did and do, I will release it into the world for it to find new appreciation or not.

I have this picture of the nail, one I will treasure. It’s not the nail. But the nail itself wasn’t the experience I shared when grandpa and my uncles put the porch swing up.

I hope she understands that it truly represents everything in myself that I find to be worthy.

Grandpa was an incredibly hard man when he was younger. I didn’t know him when he was full of piss and vinegar. And alcohol and violence.

It’s just a nail.

It will soon be in the hands of my sister Marsha.

I’m just a man.

But everything is so much more than the simple sum of us.

I don’t want to preach the idea of minimalism and appreciation for moments and people and fail to live it.

It’s all an illusion. Things are not us.

We need each other more than we will ever need a house filled with gadgets and keepsakes.

Love, X

P.S. My wife who died, Deanne, years ago while I was working one Saturday, she decided to clean. Though the nail was in a special box, she threw it away. I had to empty the dumpster for an entire apartment complex to find it. That too became part of the long story of “the nail.”

Arrogance Of Circumstances

It is true my apartment, absent my presence and decorations, has the ambiance of a Yugoslavian prison camp.

However, I don’t remember riches being a prerequisite
for great ideas. My grandma Nellie had very little education and never a lot of money. Yet some of the wisest words and kindest gestures of affection came from her and spoke to my heart and mind. It’s true she often threatened to box my jaws or get a switch after me. Unlike others in my life, she didn’t do so unless it was one of those rare occasions I wasn’t listening to her. It was an amazing example and juxtaposition to experience her brand of loving discipline in comparison to my mercurial and unpredictably violent parents. Grandma was always poor. But the place and home I hold dearest in my heart throughout my entire life was a shotgun house built with tar paper and tin roof.

To discount someone or insult them based on the condition of their living space is to negate any possibility of being open to learning from any source. To do so is to inadvertently reveal an understandable but also snobby attitude. I’m living proof that profound things can come from the dumbest person. Besides, if you don’t have someone like me to roll your eyes at, it is tantamount to being iron-deficient.

My place is better for my presence. Weirder, too. Improved, though, simply because I don’t believe that one’s current living situation is necessarily a reflection of their personality or character. It’s true I sometimes forget this and catch myself making presumptions about those who live in such places.

Any of us can lose everything at any moment. Or have to start over.

Given that I’m poor, it’s a good thing that I live so much in my own head.

Love, X

PS The picture wasn’t originally in color. It’s of my maternal grandparents. They aren’t happy in this picture. Though I don’t trust my memory, I believe it was taken at the house near White Cemetery, the one that preceded the happy place that I recall with love and fondness…
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and if i am not

i am the prince of tides in my secret corners
imperfect yet unbound words, feeble purple prose, naive expression

i am the boy with muddy sun-browned bare feet
in the expansive tree looking below

the boy who loved his grandma and grandpa without limit
yet spent so much time in the small yet limitless world surrounding their modest tarpaper and tin roof house

i am the man who is not his missteps, his past, or his obstacles

i am known by a singular letter, born of a rejected name, burned by the pitiful and pointless ashes of anger and addiction

i have amassed twenty thousand two hundred and sixteen days of life

each of them begins anew, though i find myself waking to the next almost without edit

i can speak in a foreign tongue, stand amongst strangers without fear, walk further than most, and yet still discover i am where i started

i am not gossamer, invisible, or silent, though all sometimes would be better servants than my nature

and if i am not, who am i

i am

love, X
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Good Morning Mofos

A special message for today, written on a 2′ x 3′ container lid.

Yes, the word “mofo” still amuses me.

As I amused myself with this sign, I listened to my downstairs neighbor rage and scream for several minutes. I went out to the landing and stairs and recorded a little bit of it. I hope he is not screaming at his very young daughter again. That kind of behavior at 4 a.m. signals that he is out of control. It wouldn’t be better to listen to it at 2 p.m. but it somehow is much worse at this hour. He’s the one some of us call “Shirtless Guy,” because he goes shirtless when all evidence clearly indicates that he should not, at least from the standpoint of “things people want to see.”

I hear the train whistle in the distance. It will soon approach, roaring past. As loud as it is, it’s one of the things that is endearing about living in this area. As for the volume, it’s no louder than my mom, whose voice cut could through the apocalypse. Trains connect me to my childhood past, parts that are worth remembering. My grandpa used to tell me stories about jumping trains, even as my grandma Nellie would holler at him: “Woolie, stop telling him those stories!” I wish grandpa had lived a few more years to tell me stories I could remember. As for the train tracks, if you touch the rails, you’re connected to 140,000+ miles of them across the United States. I love that idea.

The train horn grows loud.

The day grows near.

The neighbor is silent.

Good morning, mofos. I wish you could experience how it makes me feel to recall sitting on the wooden porch swing next to grandpa.

Love, X
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Bobby Dean

He’s been gone 28 years today. He died at 3:33 in the morning. I was awake at that time this morning and took my first drink of coffee as I watched the minute click over. Nothing noteworthy happened unless you factor in the gratitude that I felt for still being here.

He violently tried to mold me into the man he thought he was. In doing so, he achieved the opposite result. And I’m grateful. His legacy is one of addiction, fists, and one of the wildest senses of humor I’ve ever experienced. He was in prison in Pendleton, Indiana, when he was in his 20s, and accumulated countless DUIs, fights, arrests, and violent confrontations. He also found his humanity from time to time and helped other people. I remind myself of those times as often as I can because they were just as much a part of him as the times he lashed out.

I think back to his funeral, with Jimmy and Mike sitting near me. Both of them are gone now. Both of them, unfortunately, absorbed much of the Terry inclination for self-destruction. Though I couldn’t apply the realization properly, I recognized at a young age that I was susceptible to much of the same sort of demons that possessed so many of my family. I learned to dance around them.

I was Bobby Dean’s accidental namesake. Not too many years before he died, I killed off that part of me, both in name and spirit.

It probably saved my life. Walking around with the people close to me calling me X was a constant reminder that I could choose my own way. While I have stumbled with the best of them, I’ve managed to keep my sanity all these years.

But through the arc of time, I still feel stirrings of Bobby Dean inside of me. Some of that is hard steel. Some of it is limitless humor. He taught me to take hard, unexpected punches and to swallow the blood, even if I did so through tears. At 54, things look entirely different to me. I don’t judge him as harshly as I once did. Being human has taught me that although I will never eclipse the stupidity and violence of some of my dad’s actions, I have that part of Bobby Dean inside of me. It is strangely comforting, even as I strive to be his opposite.

Were he alive, I would love to sit and have a coffee with him while he smoked a camel. And to talk to him about the sister I didn’t know I had. As reprehensible as the behavior was that led to her creation, it’s hard to fault the universe for the result. She’s a kind human being and proof that Bobby Dean could contribute to the creation of a stellar human being. If we met again, I don’t know whether we would hug or trade punches. Or both. But I do know that I would be overwhelmed. I can now see him as a person apart from being my dad. There was so much I could have learned from him; he was a mechanic, electrician, tiler, carpenter, painter, welder, gunsmith, outdoorsman, and farmer. If only he had acquired the skills to be loving, his life would have been ideal.

He, of course, hasn’t changed. He made his choices and left his footprints. He had his chance and walked the Earth. My understanding of him has changed. He would laugh at me and tell me to put my boots on and go out and get the punch in the face. He would also call me his favorite curse word: _ _ _ _ s u c k e r. Then offer me one of those horrible peppermint Brach candies that he loved.

Out of all the lessons I learned from him, one he didn’t even know he was teaching, is that we all need people and love. To find a way to get past what we’ve done and who we think we are. If we’re alive, we can use the steel and even the heartache to turn away from the things that make us lesser.

To Bobby Dean. Dad. Troubled human being.

Love, X
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P.S. Below are more pictures, some of which I amateurishly colorized. All of the images used in this post were originally in black and white.

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Dad in 1963. He was about 19.

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Dad standing on a horse, of course.

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Dad with Goldie, somewhere around 1974-75. He was 31, which blows my mind to consider.

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My sister Marsha, brother Mike, me. Seeing it in color changes everything.

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Me as a toddler. The picture looks strikingly different in color!

Evenfall’s Arrival

Though I start by talking about a movie, these words aren’t really about the movie. Most of the things that strike a chord in us are really about recognizing something magical or true in ourselves as if we’re hearing an old truth in a new way.

“Arrival” is already a thought-provoking movie about language, time, and destiny. I loved that the main character was seeing her own bitter future and lived it anyway.

Last night, I watched “Arrival” again, this time in Spanish. I intended to spend just a few minutes immersed in it. Instead, I watched a movie that initially fascinated me in its approach to language. Ingesting it in Spanish lit my curiosity zone on fire. Before I knew it, the film was over. I curled up with my bear Azon as my cat Güino laid next to my hip, an unusual place for him. Dreams hit me like an avalanche.

All of the evenfall (another word I love) and the penumbra of the night held me captive, my dreams bursting in Spanish. In one of the best parts, my Grandma Nellie and I sat in her house on Shumard Street in Brinkley, both of us speaking only Spanish. She’d scoff at the idea of her ever speaking another tongue. But our conversation was about life and love and a little bit about salt pork and bacon for breakfast. (She was one to concern herself that no one was starving in her house – or so full we could barely walk to the front door, for that matter.) Though I knew I was dreaming, my heart sang as I sat with her. She died in 2000, at 91. It’s been a while since I dreamed about her or heard her voice so expressively in my head. Though she would have never done so in life, she asked me to drive her to Monroe to see the old haunts. As we drove, my dream shifted to early morning. As we neared Rich and Monroe, I noticed that we’d moved in time, too, traveling through an odd mix of several decades. Monroe was once again a bustling place, with farmers and passersby everywhere. We stopped at the Mercantile, once a hub of life in the small community. “I’m going to get out here if you don’t mind. I need to visit. Call me when you get home!” she said, always one to insist that we let her know we’d arrived at home alive. “If I’m dead on the roadside, how will I call you?” I asked her. It was an old joke that I loved telling her.

When Grandma exited the car and shut the door, I woke up. A few tears pooled in my eyes. It was 12:15 a.m. I felt like I’d lived a year in the dream. Güino was still next to me, his body heat oddly comforting.

This morning, I wandered around the apartment, my brain still in a slight fog, listening to my internal voice whisper to me in Spanish.

Even though I did so inexpertly, I attempted to colorize a picture of her and my Aunt Betty. I love that it’s not complete; it’s an evocative mix of black and white and color. I let my imperfections have the last word. But Grandma’s face is revived, so many decades later. The picture was probably taken 60 or 70 years ago. For a moment, last night, time became a bridge, and I walked across it.

I feel like a little bit of me is still back there in the imaginary place where time and geography became fluid.

Love, X

One-Way To August 1973

I sat on the steps of the porch, feeling the boards against my back. I was barefoot and wearing cutoff shorts, the official uniform of Southern boys. The porch was a stack of large railroad ties. Each section had at least two hundred nails driven in it. If the summer sun were shining on them, the nails became unbearably hot against your legs. The narrow highway was about thirty feet away, its tan hue rendered black in the early morning. No car was parked in the driveway because my grandparents didn’t drive, a fact that still surprises me. Later in the day, Aunt Betty or Aunt Marylou would come, and we would go to the store, probably to the Mercantile in Monroe. Grandma would let me pick out one of the cheap toys hanging on a rickety metal carousel. In a few minutes, one of the robins that preferred the protection of the cedar tree by the ditch would begin to call.

The days of the summer of 1973 filled with Watergate, and one of my favorite books, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” was a best-seller. Both of these facts might as well have been part of another world, one only remotely attached to Monroe County. I came back for the summer. My parents had precipitously decided to move to Northwest Arkansas the year before. I skipped kindergarten and went to first grade. Coming back to be with Grandma and Grandpa probably saved my life that summer. I didn’t know until I was over fifty years old that my Dad fled his hometown because he had another secret, one which was unacceptable to many people in that part of the state. He could kill someone and pay no price, but he couldn’t escape the pressure of violating an unwritten social norm. Mom and Dad spent many of their nights beating one another into reality. I was a couple of hundred miles away that summer before the interstate crept into Springdale. Because school used to start later, I had about three weeks to enjoy the summer. Three weeks at that age might as well have been a year. And time in the rural areas of the South slowed to a pace that most modern people couldn’t accept easily.

Because it was early August, Grandpa would come outside sooner than usual. He might cut a plug of tobacco but would probably wait until after breakfast. Grandma’s Saturday menu invariably included sausage or salt pork and toast with butter. Years later, I thought it strange that everyone didn’t have extra biscuits or toast leftover in a pan on the stove or table.

Sitting on the porch, I knew that just a few minutes separated night and day for everyone in the house. All the windows were up because the night was hot and dense. Being outside, I could hear the fans whisper against sheets and mosquitoes. As the day lengthened, I knew Grandma would be in the living room, asking herself what time she could seal up the small area, turn on the window air conditioner, and feel the chill of a small victory against hot summers. Much of my day would be spent digging in the ditch along the road or sitting on the floor near Grandma, cradling an infinite glass of Coke and crushed ice Grandma often made for me, using a hammer and hand towel. It’s a recipe you won’t find on The Food Network. It’ll never taste the same anyway because its alchemy includes water from old ground and love from one’s Grandma.

I knew I wasn’t there again, even as I smelled the dark earth of the surrounding fields fade from me. Monroe County receded and dissipated, leaving me to awaken in 2021, imagining August 3rd, 1973.

In a minute, I’ll get up, peer through the blinds at the backyard, and wonder about the intervening forty-eight years. I’ll make a strong pot of coffee, and as I take the first sip from my green Pyrite cup, I will invoke the misty morning I left behind.

I don’t dream of my summers before Grandpa died with much frequency anymore. When I do, though, I find it takes me a few minutes to shake away the idea that some part of me still sits on the edge of the porch.

Nostalgia has its benefits.

And its price.

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1972 Understood

Meeting my sister answered so many questions. Not all of them, though. Expecting complete answers at any stage of your life is a denial of the fact that as we change, the same answers can ring hollow or fail to give us satisfaction. We often don’t understand our motives or what led us to those choices, even regarding our own lives. Usually, the simple answer is “nothing.” You might be comforted by realizing such a thing. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that our lives might be a game of pinball, with our choices volleying us across an almost random field. Careful observation of other people’s lives tends to reinforce it, though.

Isn’t it strange that we stridently ask and demand explanations and answers from those who preceded us, even though we well know that there may not be a reason that falls blithely to our hearts?

When we’re young, we falsely believe that the adults and people in our lives somehow have a magic formula for safety and love. Growing up exposes us to the harsh alchemy of people being people, making mistakes, and quite often winging it. In my case, I should stop surprising myself with revelations. At this point, almost any combination of things may be valid. It took me until I was 52 – and in the face of constant argument – to find out that my Dad not only had fathered another child but that he had done so with a girl much younger than he and from a different background. For those of you who understand my hometown’s circumstances, this alone gives ample berth to find credibility in any rumor or suspicion.

It might explain why Dad decided to move everyone to Springdale and Northwest Arkansas for a new life. After he went to Indiana and ended up in prison, he returned to Monroe County to stay. Whether he would farm, be a mechanic, or work one of several other jobs available, he made it clear he was back to stay.

Now, thanks to DNA and an ongoing decision to keep looking, I’ve changed the narrative of how I came to live in this part of the state. Much of my adult life revolves around terrible misbehavior on the part of my Dad. Knowing that I live here due to it changes nothing. Yet, it does make me think about the spiderweb of cause and effect.

In the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to Northwest Arkansas. It was probably August, not long before school started.

I am convinced that we moved in 1972 primarily because my missing sister was born in May of that year.

If I heard rumors of her when I was younger, they would have been snippets of angry revelation from my Mom or others, probably during a drunken tirade. I did hear hypothetical insinuations, but I don’t recall concrete accusations. Such a truth would have certainly caused a homicide between my Mom and Dad. I have to admit the possibility, though. The existence of my new sister in itself proves that we are all unreliable witnesses to our lives. I used that concept of ‘unreliable witness’ on one of my first blog posts about genealogy. We will never have all the facts of our lives coherently arranged. We can’t trust our memories, much less those around us, who actively conceal and camouflage their lives for one reason or another.

I lived most of my life suspecting that my new sister was out there in the world. She lived most of her life without the answers that could have given her the ability to understand herself better. It wasn’t her choice, but she paid the price and consequences of not knowing. I hate that for her.

I don’t know how life would have looked had Dad been honest with everyone about having another child. He died in 1993, another lifetime ago. My sister was around 21, and I was about 26. His shame or inability to acknowledge his indiscretion robbed other people of a fuller life. I can’t understand how a man who beat his wife and children, went to prison, and killed someone in a DWI accident would have difficulty saying he had another daughter. This is doubly true after his Mom died on May 21st, 1983. My sister turned eleven years old the next day.

I wish.

I wish that people could be open to the complexity of their lives.

Were it my choice, all of y’all who know me well also know that I am no fan of concealment. We’ve done it, said it, and lived it, precisely in the same way that my Dad and others did before we came along. In the future, our descendants will whisper, pry, and discover. You may as well give the painful answers now if you find yourself in any way in the role of a secret keeper.

Somewhere, there is another me, looking for answers and wishing that my sister didn’t have to spend so many years without her truth being exposed.

I wish.

I wish. For me, for you, for us all.

Let’s all shine the lights in whatever direction they are needed.

Drunk Grapes

One of my favorite people wrote this story…

Hello Americans!

If you listened to the radio much between 1976 and 2009, at some point, you no doubt heard Paul Harvey’s distinct voice say those words. It was his way of kicking off his segment covering news of the day, personal commentary, and possibly a tidbit of some sort to make your life easier. His syndicated program was heard by millions of Americans every weekday for decades, and he had credibility and influence with his listeners.

How much credibility and influence he had became apparent when I saw him get three teetotalers to consume what I’ll call drunk grapes. To be clear, these folks believed—hands down without a doubt—alcohol is not to be consumed in any form unless you’re taking communion at church. No sip of wine with dinner; no beer while watching a ballgame. One tiny sip of inexpensive communion wine once a month was the only allowable type and amount of alcohol.

On a trip to my hometown in the mid-90s,I pulled into the driveway at my parents’ house one Sunday—-late morning. The folks were still at church, so I headed next door to my grandma’s house.

There I noticed but didn’t think much about, a mason jar on her kitchen table filled with clear liquid and globs of shriveled golden raisins.

Later, in my parents’ home, the same type of jar filled with clear liquid and raisins sat perched on top of the refrigerator. Neither of these jars had been in place the month before during my visit, so I had to ask.

Turns out, that week on his radio show, Mr. Harvey had touted a new remedy for relieving the pain of arthritis. In fact, the recipe might even be the answer to several ailments.

The recipe was simple: Pour a box of golden raisins into a large glass jar and fill it with gin. Let the raisins soak in the gin at room temperature for a week. After that, eat ten raisins each day. In about two weeks, your various pains should be significantly relieved – if not completely cured.

While it sounded a bit odd to me, stranger miracles have happened, so I made a mental note to check back during the next visit home.

First, though, I had to ask how this all came together…

Getting raisins was easy enough; Mom simply added them to that week’s grocery list. But how on earth did these three non-drinkers get the gin?! Mamma didn’t drive, so that option was out. Dad himself wasn’t an option because he wasn’t a fan of the unknown and going into a liquor store alone was far beyond the boundaries of the comfort zone he liked to inhabit. It was, as usual, up to Mom to do the heavy lifting or, in this oddest of cases, picking up the spirits.

One of the small town’s numerous liquor stores was situated on the route my mother took to and from work daily, so it seemed the logical choice. But my mother did not relish the possibility of being seen parking at and walking into such an establishment. A plan eventually was finalized. Mom would watch the pattern of occupancy at the package store, and Dad would drive her there during a day in the week with less auto and foot traffic. He would park at the side of the store in hopes they were less likely to be seen by people they knew (even though the side parking offered two directions from which to be seen just as the front did). Mom would go in to purchase the gin.

The chosen day came, and nerves tingled as Dad eased the large, white car alongside the building being careful not to block the drive-up window.

Mom gets out and purposefully, but quickly, marches to the door. An old-fashioned bell clangs as she pushes the wooden door open and steps inside to an expanse of potent potables.

The clerk behind the well-worn counter looks up to see an unfamiliar face and asks if he can help her find something.

She hesitates briefly but knows it is useless to look for it herself – she will never find what they need if she doesn’t have help. Yes, she says in a voice that fakes confidence in what she is doing. Yes, I need some gin.

Stepping around the end of the counter, the clerk throws a wrench in her business. What kind of gin, he asks. Kind? Her mind freezes for a second. There are different kinds of gin? She throws the wrench back. The kind that’s good for soaking raisins. Her firm answer implies “of course” at the end of her sentence, but she knows as the last word comes out how ridiculous it sounds. It is the clerk’s turn to be surprised. Mom can’t help but smile a half-smile at the situation. The clerk laughs and says “Well, let’s see what we have. You say it’s for soakin’ raisins, right?” Mom laughs and answers “That’s right!” before she adds that Paul Harvey said gin-soaked raisins are a cure—or at least a help—for arthritis pain and several other ailments, and they think it’s worth a try.

By now, they are standing before a selection of gins with a variety of prices. As with many things in life, Mom figures you get what you pay for, so she skips the cheapest and the clerk helps her pick a middle of the road gin. They return to the counter where the clerk totals the purchase, bags the gin, and accepts the cash Mom slides across the counter. Mom thanks him and turns to leave as he waves and wishes her luck with her raisins.

She closes the door behind her and notices the bell’s muffled jangle. She thinks that wasn’t so bad. She rounds the corner and notices Dad scrunching low in the seat looking furtively in every direction.

She marches to the car clutching her once in a lifetime purchase, grabs the handle, and hops into the passenger seat. Simultaneously, she says that didn’t take too long as Dad grumbles what took so long; he thinks someone they know saw him.

The engine roars to life, and Dad pulls as quickly as possible onto the street and drives home the back way.

And now the gin and golden raisins are hanging out together in glass jars waiting to be medical miracles.

A month later, I arrive home for another visit. The mason jar at my grandmother’s is gone. I ask if the raisin and gin “medicine” had worked to banish her aches and pains.

“Not sure bout that,” she said, “but it was really a dose!” The emphasis on “dose” was so heavy, I couldn’t help but laugh before saying it was too bad the taste wasn’t what she had hoped for.

At that point, I decided not to even ask my parents about their treatment as I could already imagine their reactions. The thought of the entire situation, all these years later, still makes me laugh and the line “it was really a dose” has become a fun and regular phrase in my vocabulary.

It’s apparently true after all. Sometimes, the cure really is worse than what ails you.

And, in the words of Paul Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story… good day!”

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