Monday, April 18, 2011

Kudzu Ate My Grandpa's Car

My  father’s father (we called him Pappy) had a Ford Model T.  I have a picture of him in his driving cap and gaiters,  standing next to it,  grinning as if he owned the world. Several years later, tragedy struck.  Kudzu ate my grandpa’s car.
For those of you not fortunate enough to have come from Old Southern Roots, kudzu is a Vine From Hell.  It has pretty purple flowers and amusing hairy seed pods that stick to your clothes.  But don’t let that fool you. This stuff is insidious.  They say it grows as you watch. It’s been documented at over a foot per day, which is pretty darn fast for a plant. It spirals up trees, it swallows up fences,  it wraps itself around anything that will stand still.  It snakes along the levees looking for victims. And one summer, it came after Pappy’s Model T.
My grandpa was a wholesale grocer in a tiny little town called Belzoni, Mississippi. (I remember it as some houses with screened-in porches, a Piggly Wiggly, seven churches and a gas station.) This was during the Great Depression, so there wasn’t a whole lot of money floating around then.   Pappy counted himself lucky to have any job – never mind a  really good job. He worked very hard to keep that good job, too. Legend has it  that  one day, as my grandfather was making his usual rounds, something went wrong with the car.  It just kind of stopped, right there beside the levee, and refused to start again.
Of course this all happened before there were cell phones. This was before you could call AAA.  This was during a time when you had to have a dime in your pocket and a pay phone to use it in. And suffice to say there weren’t a whole lot of phone booths in a town that consisted of a few houses with screened-in porches, a Piggly-Wiggly, seven churches and a gas station.   So the car sat there for a while.  I don’t know how long, precisely, because the story changed with every telling.* In any case, by the time Pappy came back with a mechanic, the car was gone.
Now, a car is an awfully big thing to lose, and since it wasn’t running, the chances that someone would steal it were pretty slim. Never mind the fact that in a town that small, everybody knew everybody right down to their dog’s dead grandmother, and the sight of someone other than Pappy messing with his car would hit the gossip circuit pretty fast.
Pappy and the mechanic poked around, wondering if they had come looking in the wrong spot, when they saw something sticking out of a tangled pile of kudzu vines. (Here’s the part where I remind you that in those days, you started your car by turning a crank.) And right there,  sure enough, was the crank on the front of the Model T.  Those vines had crawled in, out, over and through that car until all you could see was just the little crank peeking out.
Needless to say, when the kudzu eats a whole car, that is what we call an E-Vent. Everybody had to come out of their screened-in porches to watch Pappy and the mechanic cut the Model T loose from the kudzu vines.
They say history repeats itself, and I  have proof. 
When I was little, my dad used to tell me about the time the kudzu ate my grandpa’s car. Now a trumpet vine has eaten my house.
But that’s a story for another day.
*Or it could be that my dad made the whole thing up to keep me quiet on long car rides.  But that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, would it?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

All the Dreams are Brown

"All the dreams are brown / And the sky is gray"
   ----"California Dreamin'," The Mamas and the Papas, 1965

That's what my eight-year-old ears heard, anyway.  Granted, these are the same ears that, four years later, would swear they heard this from Shocking Blue: "I'm your penis /  I'm on fire," but that is neither her nor there.

Some of you know me, and some of you don't.  And those that do, know that the last couple of years have been pretty stinkin' dreadful.   If you know me, you also know that I am not a pessimist, nor do I like to play the victim.  I can find a good lesson or a happy thought even in the middle of really ugly circumstances.  I have great faith in the workings of the universe, even if The Grand Purpose Of It All  sometimes escapes me (and often really pisses me off.)  That said, I will repeat. The last couple of years sucked, and I hated  them, and I am very glad they are gone.

In May of 2009, my dad was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at the age of 85.  It was really no surprise, because the man smoked like a chimney for 45 years. It wasn't a surprise, but it was a shock.  The next ten months were a dizzying blur of schedules, chemo, radiation, appointment after appointment. Sometime during that process, my dad became not my dad. Somewhere along the line, my dad became a disease. I hated that. My dad was energetic, driven, always up for a challenge.  I had always hoped that whatever carried him off would be swift and merciful.  For all of you who have known cancer, you know that it seldom works like that.  After six hard months, I hated that my dad's life had become a series of ineffectual treatments. I hated that no one would say the "T" word. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops: "TERMINAL! IT'S FUCKING TERMINAL! WHY IS NOBODY SAYING IT?"  Nobody wants to hear that word, and I can see their point. Saying it closes the door to miracles. The "T" word never got said, at least not out loud. Something inside me still wonders if I slammed the door on a miracle, but I don't think so. The cancer went to the brain, then the kidneys, then the spine. My dad never stopped fighting the thing, and I kept my mouth shut as we continued with the schedule of appointments.  In the end it wasn't cancer but kidney failure that officially claimed his body.  So, officially, I guess he won.  Take that, cancer.

Several months later, cancer came after my mother. This one was treatable.  My mom is still here and doing fine, but I don't think she is happy.  To tell you the truth, I don't think my mother has ever been happy -- not really.  She's a brilliant person, educated, beautiful and well-read. But for my mom, there are two states of being:  Secure and not. Everything she has ever done has been safe and careful and planned far in advance. Unlike my dad, I don't think the woman has ever taken a joyful risk or a leap of faith in all her 84 years of life, and that scares me.   Do you know why it scares me?  Because I have discovered that I am  JUST.  LIKE.  HER.

I have taught the same thing, in the same school, for nearly 25 years.  Twenty-five years! I remember always wanting to be a teacher, and I certainly enjoy it.  But what I don't remember is deciding to take the road to Safe And Secure and staying there for a quarter of a century.  That's half my life!  I should be content. I have a good job that I love, something lots of people don't have these days. The kids, the parents, the principal, and the climate of the school where I work are the best you can get.  So why do I feel like my classroom gets smaller and smaller every day? Why does it feel like each day squeezes tighter and tighter until I want to scream bad words out the window of my car?  I hear my mom say, "Don't rock the boat."  I hear my dad saying, "What fun is a boat if it never leaves the dock?"

So. It's two years later, and my life does not suck.  But I have realized I am more like my mom than my dad, and that does suck.

Do I want to do the same thing in the same place for the next quarter of a century? No.  There, I said it.  NO.  Does it scare the bejeebies out of me?  Yes.

The point is, my third-grade self was correct.  My dreams are brown. And this blog is about finding ways to make them green again.

P.S:  Does anyone have any spare bejeebies I can have? You know, just in case?