thomas wolfe and selective hindsight

“…and down in the canyon, the smoke starts to rise
it rides on the wind ’til it reaches your eyes
when faced with the past, the strongest man cries….”

“souvenirs”, dan fogelberg

“you can’t go home again.” thomas wolfe

“you may ask yourself….how did i get here?” david byrne, “life during wartime”

i guess that, if enough time passes, you can allow yourself to forget just about anything. or, if forget isn’t the appropriate word, perhaps “gloss over”. i think that i’m past glossing over where i’m from, or who my family is – that’s all pretty clear, even given the distance involved. but, given that distance, it’s easy to ignore it, because i don’t have to look it in the eye on a regular basis.

and, the truth is, i don’t have a problem with who they are or where i’m from or any of that, in principle. because, after all – if they’re ok with it, then who am i not to be? at some point, i decided that the life i wanted to lead needed a few more options than hanging out in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly with my buddies and their pickup trucks and waiting to meet up with whoever was going down to the river to drink and shoot at beer cans with our shotguns, and my hometown didn’t offer much more than that, for me.

now, i don’t know what any of this has to do with music or songwriting, but here it is nonetheless…

my family consists (in my eyes) of my mom, my grandmother, and my brother and sister. I have a half brother whom i like a great deal, but i don’t really get to see him enough for him to be a factor, and that’s a shame…but anyway –

my mother has been ill for quite some time…she has had some pretty intense brushes with mortality in the past couple of years, and has to have constant, perpetual oxygen and breathing treatments…but, of course, none of this has deterred her from her multi-pack a day smoking habit. her attitude is, essentially, that the damage is done and that there’s no point quitting now. her health was really the primary reason for the visit to begin with…my kids have heard all my stories about growing up there, about my family and such, and i thought that it was time that they met these people and saw the places that i had told them about.

dylan proved to be the most appreciative of the opportunity. jayda had a passing interest in most of this at best, but dylan made every stop, asked questions, met everyone…jayda didn’t bother to take her headphones off for a lot of the “sightseeing” portions of the trip, and didn’t get out of the car for a lot of it, either. she said she didn’t feel well on sunday morning, but she couldn’t be bothered for most of the trip. i don’t fault her or take it personally…i guess i feel that if i’d made more of an effort to involve my family in her life, she’d feel differently, but i think it was basically no big deal to her. dylan asked specifically to go to certain places and walked through the graveyards with me…came in and met my first music store mentor, david phillips from the world renowned maxines’ house of music on florence road in savannah. they both loved the food at sonic, which was just as i remembered it…the water tower at north elementary school had a new coat of paint and a barbed wire capped hurricane fence around it. freds department store was replaced with an entrance to a new strip mall across from the courthouse. cherry’s truck stop was gone, as was the last of the dilapidated houses that we had lived in out in walnut grove. martha goodmans’ store was the one thing that remained largely as it was when i was a child…the same gas pumps are still there and everything. miss martha is gone, but the store is still there.

sunday morning, we drove out to the house that my grandfather built, where i was largely raised as a child, but no one seemed that interested, and the occupants were home, so i felt like i was imposing not only on the kids, but on them as well, so we turned around and left. i wasn’t really ready for that anyway.

then we did the graveyard tour. after all, that’s where damn near everyone is nowadays anyway.

i won’t get into all those stories…the cousin whose throat was cut at the wheel of his own car, the cousin who hanged himself, the stillborn babies, the decapitations in car accidents…the list is pretty harrowing, believe me…but most of them reside in one of two cemeteries, so it was an easy tour. i took pictures of the cemetery at big ivy – it’s in the same sad-assed shape as it was when i was a child. it looks like what you would picture a slave graveyard in the 1800’s…a few legitimate headstones, but lots of glorified rocks and pieces of slate with makeshift carvings depicting who rests there…yet another indicator of the stark poverty that hovers over the area.

i also made a point of taking the kids to see their great grandmother.

i had been warned to the point of overkill as to what i should expect – she didn’t talk to anyone, she didn’t know anyone, etc., and i thought i understood all that…i think that what i expected was a frail shell of a woman staring at the ceiling, completely oblivious to what was going on around her, but i wanted the kids to get an opportunity to see her nonetheless. i mean, i don’t know what that motivation was about, save to at least create that opportunity for them.

when we got there, though, she was in the tv lounge with some of the other residents, and she was awake – penny went to where she was sitting and began (in her typical impatient way) to try to get her to talk to her…and she wasn’t what i expected. she looked conscious to me. she didn’t speak – in fact, she looked as though her mouth hadn’t opened in weeks…like it was sewn shut or something. but she looked directly at me and made eye contact and didn’t look away, and i felt like i knew that she knew who i was. so i took her hand and said to her that if she knew who i was, then she should squeeze my hand…but she let go of my hand and reached up and touched my face and then reached down for my hand again. i had to get up from the chair then and try to keep the kids from seeing my face – i think there were equal measures of feeling small in the face of death and guilt due to not having brought my kids down to get to know her when she was lucid and able to talk to them…

i sat there with her for a while, i had the kids come over and showed them to her and told her who they were and how they were doing and then when i left, dylan came over to me and gave me a huge hug and we both started crying then.

i’d do it again, though.

i remember going to see my father’s mother in a nursing home when i was smaller than dylan, and her asking me “not to let them take her to that cold, dark place”, begging me to keep them from putting her in that cold, dark place…and it just broke me. i couldn’t go back to see her, and it was the last time i saw her alive. but i had memories of who she was when she was still my grandma. given that choice, i’d have kept them away, but it was that or nothing, for them.

i did see david phillips, and i took dylan and wendy to WKWX where i used to work and introduced them to the folks there, and we went to the dairy queen and to the sonic a few times…i think we pretty much got in the whole “savannah experience”. oh, i also took the kids to pickwick and took a picture of them standing by the water like the one of them i have on my desk…it’s always been one of my favorites.

i’ll probably update this page with links to some of the pictures we took on the trip, but i wanted to get the gist of the trip down while it’s fresh on my mind…and i’m sure there’s more once i’ve gotten some much needed sleep in my own bed….

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