Monday, July 18, 2016

German Girls and Wrestling

Alzheimer disease is a terrible thing. Confusion is typical. Uncle Howard doesn’t know where he is. He has no idea. He walks around and stares out windows and down hallways. To me, it always seems he is hoping something or someone will come along and stir his memory. “Remind me.” He seems to say. Yesterday, I asked him if he knew my name and he asked for a hint. “What number does it start with?” he asked.

He went to Iceland in the early 80’s; he can’t remember anything about that trip. He does, however, remember going to Germany and marrying a German girl. That’s great except he never went to Germany and he didn’t marry a German girl.

Susan made a great observation I had never thought of. “It’s not that he forgets, it’s just that he can’t remember.” She said. I had to get a further explanation. It’s just that all newer information won’t stick at all. The more recent experiences were just floating around a few months ago; they’ve all finally slipped away. Lately, even his oldest memories are mostly unavailable. He tends to fill in the gaps by embellishing. I think he actually recalls events which never happened. He told me he had been married six times. He was only married twice. I’ve heard this is fairly typical too. The lapses in memory are like low places in the brain and they fill up with debris. The debris connects itself to the truth and it all runs together to make a complete story. As more of the original story fades, more tales develop to take its place. Eventually, you may have a complete fabrication without a trace of the original story.

Claude Collins is suffering from Alzheimer’s and a few other ailments associated with his age. His daughter and son-in-law are friends of mine. Claude was the proprietor of Collins Jewelry in Mableton. I’ve heard he was an amazing jeweler. They say he could take apart a clock or even a small watch and make them better than new. His good friend was Wendy Bagwell of Wendy Bagwell and The Sunliters and for whom Wendy Bagwell Parkway was named. Last week, during one of Claude’s more lucid moments, he started talking about his old friend. “Virginia and I would go over to see Wendy and Melba,” He said, “Virginia and Melba would be in the kitchen and me and Wendy would go and sit on a quilt in front of the TV and watch wrestling and eat popcorn.”

Sometimes, an aging mind can be as creative as a youthful one. Uncle Howard had a scratch on his forehead a while back and I asked him what happened. “My helmet did that.” He said. At that time, he was sure he was back on an army base during the Korean conflict of the early fifties. I asked him if he’d like to go and ride around and he wouldn’t have it. “They’ll think I’ve gone AWOL.” He said.
You can never be too sure where the truth ends and the tales begin.

On Sunday, Claudia, Claude’s daughter, ran into Melba at church. “How is Claude?” She asked.
“He’s resting okay,” Claudia answered, “But I have to tell you what he said last week. He said that he and mom would come over to your house and you and mom would end up in the kitchen while he and Wendy sat on a quilt and watched wrestling and ate popcorn.”

“Oh,” exclaimed Melba, “That actually happened.”

Monday, July 4, 2016

Lessons from a Talking Rock

It was my idea to take a ride yesterday. Susan had been planning on doing some work in the basement and I was cutting grass. It was already getting hot and we’d both been under some pressure lately, I thought it would be a good idea to take a ride. I had just bought a 2008 Z71 and filled it up with gas on Saturday.

“Hey,” I said, “I like driving this truck, it’s full of gas and we need a break. Let’s go up to Talking Rock and see the land.”

Susan has a lot in The Talking Rock Creek Resort. We like to go up there and dream about building a cabin there one day. The lot is high on a hill, in a curve, on Mayfield Rd. The first time we went there, it was not really as high and it wasn’t in the curve; she was actually mistaken about the lot she had purchased. For several years, she had been going there, walking around on the wrong property.
When we got to the road that leads to the back gate, I said, “Hey, it’s about noon. You want to grab something to eat before we go back in there?” That turned out to be a good idea. We were both kind of hungry and had we not eaten first, it may have been hours before we did. We turned around there and went on in to Chatsworth. After a quick bite, we headed back to the property. This is where things started going wrong. As we pulled out onto the main drag, the truck tried to stall. The check-engine light came on. A little traction-control light came on too. Little messages started scrolling across the bottom of the cluster; “Check Stability Control”, “Engine Power Reduced”, “Don’t go up a mountain”, and several others.

I saw an Auto Zone and pulled in. I borrowed a diagnostic reader and the onboard diagnostics in the truck would not give me a code. I had seen this before; that time, it was the BCM (body control module) and if that was my problem, I knew I could reset it by disconnecting the battery and letting it sit a few minutes. I bought a couple of wrenches and took one cable off and we waited. By now, it was hot. The humidity was high and there was no breeze. We sat there and baked in the parking lot of Auto Zone for ten minutes. No big deal. I hooked the cable back up and started the truck and as I had hoped, all was well. No lights were on and it ran like new. We debated on skipping the real excursion and just heading home. “Well,” Susan said, “You know what it is now and you have the tools. Let’s just go on in and, if it does that again, you can reset it again.”
That seemed reasonable. We drove on back to the gate and swiped the card and went in. we parked near the property and started walking. It was breathtakingly hot. The leaves were dry; walking through them sounded like walking on potato chips.

Let me back up a little and tell you about the conversation we had on the way up to Chatsworth. “You know what’s bothering me?” I said, “I don’t have a lot of faith.”
I worry a lot. Anyone who knows me, knows this about me. We’ve been doing a few big projects lately, I have some big decisions to make at work and I was telling Susan how I felt as if I had to control situations. She has a totally different attitude about life’s “big deals”. She has been through her share of them. I marvel at her ability to take whatever comes without missing a beat. “How do you do that?” I asked her a while back. “Well,” she said, “When Tom was dying, I had gotten to the end of my rope. We had gone to doctors and the doctors had done all they could do. We had our daughter and it looked like her father was not going to make it. I didn’t know how I would make it. One day, I realized I couldn’t do anything else so I prayed. ‘God,’ I said, ‘you know I can’t do anything else. I give up. It’s in your hands.’ And that’s when I just felt a peace like you wouldn’t believe. It just came over me all at once and it hasn’t left me since.”

I have never been there. On the drive up to the property, I actually said, “There are some things I don’t trust God with. I can’t help it. Like building a house or working on a car; I figure God hasn’t had a lot of experience with things like that, so I feel like I have to do those things myself.”
Susan just smiled. I swear, it was as if she knew I would be taught a lesson.

Back on the mountain, we surveyed the hill, sat on a log and pretended it was our front porch. Finally, we decided to head back. We got back to the truck and sure enough, the same lights came on and it crippled its fool self again. No big deal, I could get it up to ten miles an hour. I drove to the bottom of the hill and disconnected the battery again. We waited and hooked it back up and we were off. Within a mile, we got on some slippery gravel and, as soon as the back tires spun, the traction control system tried to engage and completely freaked out. The truck stalled on a small hill and we had lots of hills to go. After about the third or fourth reset, it was apparent that we were not going to make it home in the truck. Our new goal was to get to the gate where we could get a tow. Without getting to the gate, we weren’t sure how a wrecker could get in. “Let’s head to the front gate,” Susan said, “It will be easier for a wrecker-driver to find and it will be easier to load the truck there.”

About halfway to the front gate, the old mule of a truck decided it was not going to move another foot. In The Talking Rock Creek Resort, with five thousand acres, half way is a long way. I asked Siri how far it was to the entrance and she said it was nine miles. I don’t know how hot it was at that time, but I’m pretty sure my boots began to melt as I walked up to the top of the hill to get a signal. I called my buddy with a wrecker and he headed out from Dallas. I told him we’d figure out how to get him in the gate by the time he got there. I can’t believe we actually talked about walking all the way to the gate.
A group of locals came first. They were on their ATV’s, riding through the resort and having a nice day. They all pulled over. We told them we were just waiting on the truck to reboot again and we were going to try to get to the front gate. I could tell by everyone’s expression that they doubted the truck more than I did. “You guys will burn up out here.” Seemed to be the common reaction.
They all promised to come back and check on us and then they cranked their dependable four-wheelers and sped off. I would have given anything for one of those ATV’s. When they left, the silence was numbing. There was no breeze. The birds had even stopped singing. We were on a hill, in the middle of nowhere, with no water or anything.

Susan grabbed her folding chair out of the truck and sat it under a shade tree and got as comfortable as she could. I just paced. After a few minutes, I heard a car coming. It seemed like ten minutes passed before it got to where we were. A decorated soldier pulled up in a red sedan. “You guys need some help?” He asked.

“I think we will be okay,” I said, “We have a tow truck coming and we are going to make another run for the gate in a few minutes.”

“You guys will burn up out here.” He said.

I watched his tail lights go down the hill, around the curve at the bottom and then out of sight.
We tried to move again, but this time, the truck would not budge. We needed a plan “B”.
Finally, a couple comes crawling up the hill in a newer Jeep. “Need help?” asked the driver.

“Well,” I said, “Are you guys heading to the front?”

“Yes.” They said

“I may have you open the front gate for the wrecker.”

“Let me pull you to the front gate.” Said the husband.

“No,” I said, “It’s too far and it might not be good for your Jeep.”

Tammy, the wife, reached in the console and pulled out a bottled water. “Take this.”

I got their number so I could call them whenever Brian made it in the wrecker. Alone again, we shared the water and started laughing about the situation.

“I’m sorry.” I said to Susan. “You wanted to get some things done and it was my bright idea to go riding. Now we are stuck on a desolate mountain in 100 degree weather.”

“Call me crazy,” she said, “But I think it’s fun.”

Yes, I did call her crazy.

“It will be a memory.” She said.

Another car came  over the hill and stopped. It was a lady driving alone. “Hey,” She said, “That guy that stopped earlier, the soldier, he’s with me. I am going to the house and getting water and we’ll be back. You guys will burn up out here.”

In a few minutes, the lady and the soldier did come back. They had brought several bottles of ice cold water. While we were yet thanking them for the water, a red Cadillac topped the hill. We had a traffic jam. Out stepped one of the first guys who had stopped to check on us earlier. “Hey,” he said, “Mike and I got to talking and we parked our Mules. It’s too hot out here. You two need to come with us. My place is at the front gate and it’s cool.”

After very little debate, we climbed into the back of the cool Cadillac and headed to the front gate. We went over hills and around curves for a long way. I was glad we hadn’t tried to walk it. In that heat, it would have been rough. Sure enough, David’s place was at the front gate. He and his wife, Elaina, took us into their home and insisted we sit on the bigger, more comfortable chairs. We sat there and talked for an hour. Needless to say, they were just great people.

Finally, my phone rang. Brian was at the gate. We walked down to meet him and rode with him back into the community where the truck was. On the way up there, we told him about our adventure and when we got to the truck, Brian said, “I’m surprised you guys didn’t burn up out here.”

Of course we laughed. It was a long ride back to Hiram, but the wrecker was air conditioned and we weren’t complaining.

We finally made it home after several hours. And what did Susan say? “Thank you for today. I really enjoyed that.”

I knew she was serious. It really was kind of fun. We met so many people. I didn’t mention all of the offers we had to get off that hill. Meeting David and Elaina was great.

“Don’t forget this.” Susan said.

“Forget today?”

“No,” she said, “That lesson. See, you were telling me, on the way up there, how you had to be in control. You weren’t in control on that mountain. There was nothing you could do to get us out of there. You tried. You took those wrenches and you checked everything you knew to check and you couldn’t get that truck going. We had to have a little faith to get out of that one. Other people came along and you had to let them help. God didn’t fix the truck, but he got us out of there another way. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes. You may not get the answer you want. But you’ll make it.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016


When I was a little boy, I thought it had a proper name. Everyone called it “Up Yonder” so often that I had assigned that name to it. “In Yonder” was the coldest room in our house. We had three bedrooms with “Chester Drawers” in each room, but I knew that if mom said something was in yonder in the Chester drawers, I would find it in that cold room in the corner of the house. As far as I could tell, we lived in the area of the compound known as The Holler. My bedroom was in yonder and I could see Up Yonder from there. Our house was a cinderblock house with a flat, black roof. I didn’t find that odd; I thought other houses were odd. Why didn’t everyone else live in a box, tucked into the hillside like ours?
The neighborhood didn’t have a name, but I thought it was the center of the world. I still remember going from house to house without feeling any sense of transition. The whole place was ours. Grandma lived Up Yonder and yes, that was her first name. Her last name was Coker. I didn’t know some people called her Della until I was much older. Must be a nickname. Uncle Roy lived in a trailer. His wife, Aunt Mable, lived there when she wasn’t Up Yonder with Grandma, but as to where she actually belonged, I could not tell. Like me, Mable just went from place to place and made herself at home.
Uncle Howard lived Up Yonder from time to time.
The Alexanders were family too, but I never really knew if they were cousins or what. Uncle Albert was simply Uncle Albert to me. Nobody told me he wasn’t my uncle but I wouldn’t have understood anyway. The Alexanders occupied four houses then. Granny Alexander lived in a trailer. She must have been kin to Grandma; the names were so similar.
It wasn’t that I felt I owned anything; Entitlement really never occurred to me. Ownership is so overrated when you can recall the way it feels to belong. I would grow out of the nest with my siblings. We would go our separate ways, but there was one place where we would always belong and we would go back there often and share that feeling throughout or lives.
Little by little, the neighborhood changed. Time didn’t stand still at all. Roy was the first to slip away. Weeds grew up around his trailer and one day, I came home from school and it was gone. Granny Alexander moved away to live with one of her daughters. Her trailer just disappeared too. One by one, the Alexanders moved away and there isn’t one still living in the neighborhood. Someone renovated Uncle Albert’s house. I was glad to see it get a new life. New bicycles lean on the old trees out there now.
We lost Grandma many years ago. Mable died many years later and Uncle Howard had to go to a place where he could be cared for. He is 85 now; suffering from dementia. Daddy died in 2009 but Mom still lives in The Holler.
Years ago, Daddy built an upper level onto the cinderblock house. What I thought of as our house has been nothing more than a basement for 42 years now.
Nature and neglect tried to take Grandma’s house. It was the last thing standing to remind us of the way things used to be. We’d open the unlocked back door and walk around sometimes. Pushing aside cobwebs and ignoring spiders, we’d go there and just have a look. With the reverence you might witness at one of the Stations of the Cross, we’d just walk into one of the rooms and stand in silence. It was not an old house to us. It was where we belonged. I would go there with one or even all of my siblings and I’d watch their expressions. With every visit, with every one of them, there would always be that gaze. They’d walk into a room and pause. They weren’t seeing the room, but the room had magically taken them through a wormhole and they were seeing another time. Bill could see Mable sitting in one of the old rockers. She’d be wearing a pastel, flowery sundress. Her finger would be pointing as she told an old story and she’d be laughing out loud. Myra could see Grandma Coker coming in from her garden. Jeffrey could see Uncle Howard drawing a picture; the same picture he always drew; there was always a house, a barn, a dog, a horse and an old truck. Me? I was satisfied seeing them while they saw whatever it was they saw.
We managed to repair the old house and we’ve been sharing it again. A new generation has come along and they see the old house in their own way. It may not be home to them, but it will forever be a part of their memories now. I love the old place, but I still don’t feel as if I own it. I don’t want to feel that way. I still feel as if I belong whenever I am there. It’s home.

Imagine my surprise when, as a young boy, I’d hear a preacher talking about how wonderful it is Up Yonder. I had no idea that Grandma’s house was so well known; and it seemed to be the place where everybody wanted to be. I get it now.

I wonder if someone from the younger generation will walk through that unlocked back door one day. I wonder if they’ll push aside cobwebs, stand at one of the stations and remember me. I hope so. I’ll be there, just like the old hymn says, “When the roll is called Up Yonder, I’ll be there.”

Here is Home Again by Elton John.