« March 2007 | Main | May 2007 »

April 18, 2007

"I find occasion to journey to the land of my people."

Spring has arrived. With it comes all that you would expect: the flowers bloom, the wind whips brief whispers of Old Man Winter on occasion and, the surest sign of spring, my grandfather comes down with what seems to be his annual bout of congestive heart failure.

I’m not trying to mock his illness. It’s just that at this point, at the age of 88, he’s going to pull through or he won’t, there just isn’t much of an alternative. I panicked the first time, now that it’s his 7th or 8th bout of the stuff I’m a bit more comfortable with the situation. When I didn’t lose him the first time all the time that has passed since has been a bonus.

With Fabulous Babe out of the country I called Farmer Mom and Dad and asked if they would mind keeping Jack under wing for a week while I journeyed to Kentucky to check on things. The next few posts are going to be pretty much sans Jack but I think there are some things to give you a chuckle or two along the way.

It’s the first time in a while I’ve been back to Kentucky by myself. As you’ll read it was a pretty somber trip at times but there were some moments that still managed to bring some light into the darkness. If you’re looking for a soundtrack I think the Above and Beyond album “Tri-State” fits the bill for a lot of reasons.

Posted by Jim at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

"I discover that cruise control won't be an "option" next time but a requirement."

Two days.

That's what it normally takes me to drive to Kentucky. 900ish miles depending on things. The first day I have Jack in the car and the second, post drop off with the grandparents, I'm alone with my thoughts.

The first day passes pretty quickly. I divvy the drive into three parts on the way from St. Paul with the two breaks falling in Tomah, WI and Rockford, IL. I'm driving the truck and without cruise control it's a long, tedious, ankle and calf busting experience. By the end of the first day I'm ready to go back in time and slap my younger self for ever thinking cruise control was optional. Idiot!

Jack's a happy traveller. He's content to watch some DVD's, play "hide under the blanket" with me for 20 miles or so and nap on occasion. All things considered I could do far worse in the way of 2 and a half year old travelling companions. I will admit that after the 230th showing of "Monsters Inc." I am ready to pitch the DVD out the window.

By the end of the first day I find I'm ready to hit the sack pretty quickly. Jack's in bed and so is everyone else. I'm alone in bed thinking about what I am going to find when I get to Ashland and trying to fall asleep. I know I'm wrapped up when even Enya fails me. Watermark, my never miss go to sleep music, is now just more static on the line.

After a long night I wake up later than I mean to. It's not a problem per se but it is a pain due to my trying to time things and avoid traffic. Today I wrestle with the drive around Indianapolis then Lousiville and Lexington before continuing on I-64 east to Ashland. By Indianapolis my ankle is throbbing and the ibuprofen doesn't make a dent. My lunch stop at the Steak and Shake about an hour south of Indianapolis is my first chance to just let my foot sit up and rest.

The drive outside of Louisville hits a snag and I sit in a backup at an accident for an hour. Louisville is one of the few spots along the way that Verizon can actually connect with me. I talk to the Lord of the Zulak's for a while, the Astronomer as well. Both have to go and soon I'm alone with my thoughts again.

Mount Sterling comes and goes and with it a phone call to let my grandmother know where I am. The weather for both days has been either windy or rainy or some horrific combination of both. Now I am having overloaded coal trucks to contend with who feel that the weather is the perfect chance to drive at 80+ miles. Bah.

The trip takes about 3 hours longer than normal. When I finally get to Ashland's city limits the exit ramp is a mess as a construction crew is working on the ground surrounding the overpass. (This is where my father once drove my other grandparents car the fastest he has ever gone and the experience frightned him so badly he's never broken the speed limit since. 102mph I think if you're curious.)

The drive into town is uneventful. More empty buildings that are new since last year. Businesses that have opened and folded in less than 12 months. I pass other businesses that boggle the mind when you realize they've lasted over 20 years. The city limits seem more clogged than I remember. Two teenage girls in a rusted out Chevette try to talk to me at the first stop light and I just turn up the volume and smile as Above and Beyond play behind me:

"I've wrestled with angels all my life. Its always the halos and the wings that keep you blind and if I'd fought with all the strength I held inside."

A couple more lights and I make the left into the Indian Reservation. (All the streets are named after Indian tribes.) Another minute and I am parking the car on the drive and walking across wet grass and cracked pavement to knock on a door whose every creak and rattle I know intimately. As the door pushes open and the smells of the house hit me I'm home.

Posted by Jim at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2007

"I sit in the kitchen and catch up."

My grandmother and Aunt are waiting in the kitchen when I walk in the house. After greetings all around I look in on my grandfather but he is asleep in his chair in the den.

He looks frailer and weaker than last year when I saw him and despite having been released from the hospital all I can think is that it's a matter of time before he goes back. He wakes up briefly and we chat for a few minutes before he wraps himself up in television and falls asleep again.

Over the course of the next few days my grandmother gave me some photos that I asked for. In theory I'm scanning them and will return them but I think she knows that by giving them to me they're safe for both the short and long term. Among the photos is this gem of the family from the 50's:


Ok. Introductions are in order. These are my mom's parents that raised me. That's my aunt to the left and my mom to the right. My best guess is the picture is from around 1955 or 1956. My grandmother's arm around my mother's waist is a bit ironic considering the conflicts to come.

In case you're wondering those swinging glasses of my grandmother's are in the drawer in her nightstand. When she's given me grief in the past for some slight transgression I've threatened to put those on her before the viewing at her funeral which has gotten a laugh.

We sit and chat for the next two hours in the kitchen. My grandmother makes numerous attempts to foist cookies down me and I manage to resist. My aunt bugs out to her room when my great aunt Bobo comes over for her nightly tea. (More on this later.) Using this as a cue I decide to head to the hotel for the night. Goodbyes and hugs and a few minutes later I am working my way down 13th street.

Posted by Jim at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

"I find need of an old gift and manage to check in without having to kill anyone."

The hotel valet isn't standing at the entrance when I arrive so after a minute of looking around I decide to park in the lot behind the hotel and haul my bags in. The lot is poorly lit so I'm fumbling around with just the light of the trunk to really see by.

As I remove the big bag I notice I'm not alone. Two listing, slightly drunk residents have come from around the far building to the northwest notice me and are whispering. The two of them, hat guy and leather jacket man split up and as one walks towards me the other begins to curve around widely to my right. As he walks closer the one wearing the hat asks "Can you lend me some cash?" Meanwhile, his partner, leather jacket man, is still walking to my right and trying to get behind me.


If it is just a drunken request for money my reply should nip it in the bud: "I'm sorry. I can't. I have to check in."

Nope. He's still walking closer and giving the other guys looks as they are both still moving towards me and laughing. If I ever had “You’re about to get rolled” radar it’s now pegging.

Double $#@%!

In 1989 my Brother gave me a present. Knowing my appreciation for his Gerber knife collection he finally decided that giving me one of my own would spare him wear and tear on his. To this end he bought me a Gerber Mark II CS. (Poke around on the internet for a while and you can find some pictures.) When I was commuting to school and walking down some ugly streets I used to keep it in my book pack with my books. When I lived in the world’s worst neighborhood my first year in Baltimore it never left my bag. About 8 years ago I actually got serious enough to take a course on what to do with one and even went so far as to get an offhand companion. (A Mark 1 if you’re curious.) These days both knives sit out of Jack’s reach in the top of my closet. It’s only an old instinct that caused me to put them in my backpack before I left and now I find myself grabbing both as I turn with my back to the truck.

Hat guy starts to say something else as he starts to walk closer but I say, “Both of you just move on,” and hit the panic button on the car alarm at the same time. I’m standing where I can see the two of them clearly now.

They stop, look at each other, and back at me. Hat guy motions the jacket man towards me and is nodding.

“Just move on.”

The two of them are both flinching from the alarm horn and the lights. With the lights around me they can’t see what I have in my hands but both of them realize I have something. Deciding I am more trouble than I am worth they team up again they start heading to the sidewalk. When they’re far enough away I close the hatch, turn off the alarm and walk into the hotel. When I tell the woman at the desk to call the cops and explain what happened she asks me if I still want to check in. The police call goes well with full descriptions and ends with the officer saying I did the right thing. After I hang up I call it a night. The valet shows up shortly and wants to know if he can help with anything.

The next night the lights are all on in the parking lot. My Brother and Dad both also agree that I should just forgo the knives and get a gun. ("It's easier just to shoot them from 10 feet than stabbing them at 2.")

Posted by Jim at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

"I get some nice pictures of Jack's great great grandparents."

Here are some other pictures that my grandmother gave me:


These are my grandmothers parents. I'm fairly certain that this is from their courtship as they were married about a year or so after this was taken. I say this because she's not wearing a wedding ring and they married after he had been in the Army a while. (Somewhere I have this uniform he is wearing.) He was George Washington Hensley and she was Lula Bell Cumbo. They married on August 4th, 1919.


The back of this photo has a few cryptic notes. It's after they were married and the other woman is either "mom's oldest sister" or Emma Ramy who a penciled note adds is "Aunt Lula's girlfriend".

I like this photo for a lot of reasons. It's fun to see a picture of Lula, who I only knew as an elderly widow, as a vibrant young woman. (My best guess is that she was 24 or 25 when this was taken.) It's easy to forget that the elderly were once young and filled with youth and vitality.


This miniature "Our Gang" is my grandmother with her brother and sister. That's my grandmother on the left, Warren on the right and the infamous Beulah or "Bobo" in the middle. Odds are this was about 1928 or so. The short pants inflicted on Warren are nice and Bobo still sits with that expression on her face. Warren died a few years ago and I miss him a lot. He was a great guy.


The one sibling missing out of the picture above is my grandmother's baby sister, Shirley. To fix that here she is at about age 5 with Shirley Temple curls and a smile that she still has to this day. I visited Shirley for a bit last week and she's still just as delightful as ever. (Despite the onset of some serious degeneration in her eyes.)

Shirley is the only person I've ever known who was struck by lightning. (Warren used to say it explained a lot in that manner that only a brother can.) Funny how you remember this stuff. It was Shirley that was the victim of the infamous "Had a great time, here's the bill" story that I told you a while back. Shirley goes by Dee Dee so just remember that when you re-read it.

More old photos to come.

Posted by Jim at 12:36 AM | Comments (0)

*quick break from KY stuff*


Jack's school picture!

(If you squint you can spot the bruise on his forehead from the McDonald's playland two days before the picture was taken.)

Posted by Jim at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)