Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Mount Rushmore of dads

Parents.  They're the best.

Sometimes you think you know them so well -- their dislikes, their... other dislikes, which things you should never tell them under any circumstance, and exactly what to say to get them to kick in a few extra bucks for groceries (vacation, shoes, etc.) without having to directly ask.

And then sometimes, it's as if they aren't your real parents at all, but rather part of some top-secret experiment.  Aliens, planted by the government and made to look like your real parents.  And you are just a pawn in their game, kept alive only to make it appear as if they are an average American family.  You know, so the Soviets won't catch on.

Here's a for-instance:  My sister called a few months ago to tell me Dad was posting pro-gun propaganda on his Facebook page.  OK, fine.  Dad and I have never been completely in agreement on politics, and a lot of people post crap like that.  So not all that odd, right?


We never had anything more than a BB gun in the house, ever, for my entire life!  I wanted to comment and say exactly that, but you know how parents get if you post all the time on their Facebook wall.  They think you're hovering.

Then a couple weeks ago, I was conversing with a lady whose husband played music with my father in the seventies.  As in, the nineteen-seventies.  I knew Dad had played music most of his life, so again, not a big shock.


She started telling me that Dad's band had a manager who booked them gigs around the area.  In her opinion, the reason they never got any bigger was they refused to play places which served alcohol.  AND, they wore matching "uniforms."  According to her, they were leisure suits -- silver jackets and green-and-white striped pants!  It sounds like they were basically the white Temptations!

How did I get to be this age and never know this about he who reared me???

Now for the latest adventure in the My Dad Is From Mars saga.  I was talking with my alleged father the other day, and he informed me he and his wife are thinking of taking another trip.

Let it be noted here that my dad, who used to complain about going anywhere farther than out to eat, has in his recent years become a veritable Kerouac.  Except without the drinking.  Or the writing.

Last year, they visited North Carolina.  The year before that, it was the Grand Canyon.  And this year?

"We're thinking of going to South Dakota."

What I thought was, "To get ready for some sort of doomsday scenario?  Is the end upon us???"

What I said was, "Oh, that'll be nice.  I've heard there's lots to do there.  Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills...."

He replied, "Yeah, and there's that mountain with the Presidents' heads."  Dad doesn't hear so well anymore.

He continued.

"And there's Sturgis, where they have the big motorcycle rallies."

Uhh..... what?

I think my feeling at that point could best be described as one of bewildered confusion.  Suffice it to say, at that moment, I was confildered.  I'm fairly certain I gave him that you-just-sprouted-a-second-head look.  And not just any second head, but one that looked like my Dad and spoke alternately with the voices of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Wink Martindale.  You know the type.

How does my dad even know about Sturgis?  And why on Earth would he think of going?  Maybe he watches Full Throttle Saloon.  Or maybe this was some sort of joke, like how he used to drive across the river pretending he was going to Huntsville (then the nearest place) to buy alcohol until I would cry and beg him to turn around.

Or maybe, just maybe, my father has a Harley I don't know about.   And chaps.  And quite possibly an "NRA" do-rag.

Oh well.  I can only hope and assume his pro-gun rhetoric will serve him well there.

Godspeed, my enigmatic longtime legal custodian.  May Charlton Heston be with you.

Oh, and you're probably gonna need a new name.  Something tough like Tex, or Maverick, or Sea Bass.

God, I hope he knows it's motorcycles, and not bicycles.  A son worries.

"You can just turn in your ring and your tie tack 'cause Coy, you are out of the Shrine! You're gonna be blackballed, Coy!  That's right.  You may have to pack your bags and leave town. What do you mean, you might join the Hells Angels?"

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thoughts of home

It's not the town where I was born.  Nor is it the town where I live now.  But it's where I've spent the most of my days.

None of my family live there anymore.  But it's still the one place I'm more likely to recognized than anywhere else.

I still think of it as home.

There, I'll always be my parents' son, or my sister's older brother.  The kid in the brown smock and pink knit, square-end tie who bagged groceries at the Piggly Wiggly.  The underachiever who frustrated more than one teacher because he cruised through high school finishing sixth in his class rather than daring to stand out by, oh I don't know, actually trying.

There's something reassuring in the knowledge that whether you go off and make it big or whether you never amount to much of anything, in your hometown you're still just you.

I had occasion to visit my hometown a few weeks ago.  The only accountant I've ever used has her office there.

A lot sure has changed in that little town.

To someone only passing through that would probably seem strange to hear.  For it's nothing you would notice at first glance.  Just a lot of little things that only someone who spent a number of years there --  who grew up there -- would see.

The four-way stop has been replaced by a traffic light.  The shopping center once home to the Winn Dixie, a Bargain Town, and the Elmore's five-and-dime now houses a different grocery store, a gym, and an H&R Block.

They've built a new courthouse out on the four-lane.  The old courthouse is just a building now.  It's three stories serving as an unintentional monument of the town square which has changed so much around it.  Thirty years ago, it was still the center of commerce.  And every Friday and Saturday night, there would be a solid line of cars -- teenagers in Trans-Ams and old pickup trucks and Novas -- cruising the square.

I remember when the "new" four-lane was first coming through.  Before it opened, you could go around the orange roadblock signs and drive on the fresh, jet-black pavement.  It's where Dad would take me to practice driving, since you didn't have to worry about traffic.  And I realized he was younger then than I am now...

They finally tore down the old Star Theatre.  It was an old-style art deco theatre with half-moon doors.  And even though it was never open as long as I can remember, seeing its ticket window and big marquee, I always liked to imagine how alive it must have been on some long ago day.  Every so often, there would be talk that somebody was going to open it back up again, but nobody ever did.  

I drove past the spot where the old lumber company used to be.  A few years ago, it burned to the ground.  I knew a fireman who died there.  The obvious void in the landscape seemed fitting for the gaping hole I know he left in the lives of his wife, and children, and grandchildren.

Somewhere around this time, it began to dawn on me how virtually every street in this town held a memory for me.  Almost every building, some significance.

The old Texaco, which is now a used car lot, is where I used to stop every evening on my way to work (under the guise of buying a snack) to see a girl who worked the counter.  She even stopped in to see me at work a couple of times, but I was too naive or unskilled to ever go any further.

That's just a few blocks from the intersection where I killed my Jeep umpteen times one night when I was learning to drive a stick.  We must have sat through at least 5 green lights, me panicking while my baby sister sat in the passenger seat telling me it was going to be OK. She loves recounting that story at family gatherings for some reason.

Just off the square, there's the Western Auto where I once bought a 10-speed.  It was all covered with dust and the tires were flat and I remember thinking they must not sell too many bikes.

Out on the four-lane, now next to the new Walmart, is the church of Christ where I had my sins washed away.  I can still remember the feeling of freedom and purity I felt that day, and the guilt I've felt so many times since.

If you head south, on the outskirts of town, there's the Baptist church which none of us attended, but we sure made good use of their outdoor basketball court.  The goals are no longer there, the church having installed an indoor gym many years ago.  The old court now serves as a parking lot for the church buses.  As I'm writing this, I just now remembered there would sometimes be an older gentleman, probably in his 70's, who would occasionally come and bring a lawn chair and watch our pickup games.  I hadn't thought of that memory in probably twenty years!

A part of me will always be bound to that little town, held fast by so many memories, people and places, a lot of them no longer there anymore.  But I can still see them, in my mind, frozen in time exactly as they were ten, fifteen, twenty-five years ago..

I smiled when I thought about the barber shop where old Mister Albert used to cut my hair.  I never saw him when he wasn't wearing dress pants and a button-down shirt.  Dad and I would both get our haircuts the same day.  I'll always remember the story about Mister Albert having a mild heart attack while cutting someone's hair.  He sat down in a chair for a couple of minutes to rest, then got up and finished the haircut before he would go to the hospital.

It feels like I could go on forever.

Not surprisingly, the accountant asked about my mom.   There, I'll always be my parents' son...  I just had to sign some papers.  We exchanged a bit of small talk and I was on my way.

A lot of times I would have taken a couple minutes to drive by our old house: an unassuming three-bedroom brick on a sleepy little street with a carport, gravel driveway, and a maple tree in the front yard.  It's the last place my parents lived together.

But on this day, I did not.

Maybe I was afraid it had changed and wouldn't be as I remembered it. Maybe I'd seen enough change for one day.

Besides, I can go back there most anytime.

All I have to do is close my eyes.

"Southbound breezes blowin' / This town ain't my home / You can slow me down / But I'm goin' / If I can turn this road I'm on / Southbound..."