be it ever so humble…

while my trips back to tennessee have been pretty sporadic, the one thing that always strikes me upon returning is how the whole trip usually just feels like a vivid dream. i feel a very strange, tentative connection to that town…as though it’s the set of a movie that i saw a long time ago or something of that nature.

we scrambled – literally scrambled – on friday night to get everyone where they needed to be, and to get them properly equipped for the trip. i’d talked to my brother and sister-in-law the day before we left about the funeral arrangements, but they’d taken care of pretty much everything – they set the service for a day later than they’d originally planned, a gesture to allow me time to get there for the service and the viewing.

we piled in the van and drove almost straight through…i’d gotten only three or four hours’ sleep on thursday night, so i wasn’t in the best of shape for the trip, from a sleep standpoint…and a few hours after leaving, it was starting to show. i was having a hard time staying awake, but i hung in there for the lions’ share of the trip, through PA and the brief excursions through MD and WVA, and almost the entire way through virginia before stopping for one stop for a short nap in virginia, just outside bristol. we made one other stop on the trip down, at what passes for a mall in cookeville, tennessee. we had stopped for breakfast at a burger king, and jayda had been complaining about how cold it was inside the van (in her defense, she had certainly been accustomed to much warmer temperatures on these drives, since neither of my VW vans came with air conditioning), and we were going to get her a sweatshirt to keep her warm in the AC-rich environment. the mall in cookeville takes up roughly the same amount of space delegated to the boscovs’ store at the berkshire mall here in reading, but there were roughly a dozen stores inside.

we went to JC Penney’s, since we hadn’t had any luck in the sweatshirt department, and decided on a blanket and pillows for the kids. we picked out our loot and went to the register to pay for the goods and met with some resistance with regard to what we thought our price should be. there was apparently some discrepancy, and i spent a few minutes ironing this out with the somewhat uptight, very prim-and-proper clerk, who was certain that there was some mistake, and i took her back over to the bin to show her the price as posted on the pillows, and we both walked back to the counter with the sign while she summoned over some reinforcements to investigate what the problem could possibly be…when all was said and done, we got the pillows at the price posted on the bin in the first place. when i suggested to her that it was quite possible that the little yellow bouncing ball from the wal-mart commercials might have been mucking around in the store after hours, sabotaging their pricing to screw up the competition, my otherwise funny remark was met with a quizzical stare and a short burst of silence.

ok, then.

so i paid her, she took my money, and asked if i was interested in applying for a JC Penney credit card. at that point, i told her that if she were to put my name into her machine that the place would be crawling with cops in five minutes…and she took the hint, gave me my bedding in a bag, and we split.

at that point, having been fed and now sufficiently awake, we made the rest of the drive into savannah without any real need for rest…just the usual, routine emptying of bladders every so often.

we got into town at around 2:30 or so – with just enough time to check into the hotel and shower before going to the family-only viewing at 4:00pm. my mothers’ wishes were that only the family be allowed to see her, and that her funeral be a closed-casket affair…penny had told me that during the course of the past year or so, she’d become really self-conscious of her appearance, because of the effects of some of the medication she was taking…the prednisone in and of itself had caused her to swell and gain weight, and she looked dramatically different in her last year on earth than she did her whole life – so she told penny specifically that she didn’t want her casket open for anyone other than the immediate family.

renee had told me that if i didn’t make it on time, they’d arrange something, but i didn’t even consider that an option. i called penny and told her that we wouldn’t have time to stop at her house before we went to the funeral home, because of the time, and that i had four people to shower and change before we were ready to come…she was understanding about that, and this took a load off my mind. i thought she’d be upset by the prospect of us staying in a hotel instead of with her, but i knew that there were going to be a ton of people around over the weekend, and i didn’t want to impose. i felt pretty sure that, even if she didn’t understand it right away, she’d eventually come around. thankfully, it wasn’t the problem that i thought it could potentially be.

so we devised a program – without going into particulars, it was effective in its objective of getting everyone showered and offering some degree of privacy to those out of the shower and needing to change in a single room…my one stroke of genius. we got in, showered, changed, and got out in less than an hour…and we were on our way to the funeral home.

i dropped everyone off and parked the van, and stood outside talking to my sister-in-law and my brother for a while, as various familiar looking people walked in and out of the doors…after a few minutes, though, it was pretty obvious that i’d delayed the inevitable face-to-face as long as i was going to be able to.

i walked into the room, and around the privacy wall at the door, towards the polished stainless steel casket and the woman inside…she bore a slight resemblance to my mother, but it was faint. she hadn’t just gained weight – there was a great deal of swelling from the medication, and – truth be told – she looked very little like the woman i’d known as my mother all my life. this woman’s wrinkled hands were laid, not touching, at 45 degree angles from her elbows across her stomach, her lifeless fingers looking as if they were stuck together. there were two roses in the casket, one each from jayda and dylan, sent as a gesture from their mother.

i think that the fact that her physical appearance had changed so drastically in the two years since my last visit just added to the surreality of the whole concept of my mother – my primary connection to my lineage – being dead. it just didn’t seem possible, even though i’ve known that this day was coming sooner than later for some time – it was the whole impetus for the trip that we took two years ago…to introduce the kids to their grandmother at a time when they’d be able to remember her and actually get to know her…to hear about their father from his own mother, firsthand…to ask questions and have conversations and the like. i wanted them to meet these people, get the chance to take them in of their own accord, and form their own opinions. granted, a week doesn’t really allow for that in any real sense, but i wanted them to at least be able to have some memory of who they are.

after having made that trip, i had some second thoughts about it…with regard to whether it was better for them to have gotten the opportunity to spend time with her in the shape she was in, as opposed to not having any firsthand memories of her and being able to experience her through my eyes, through the stories and the pictures…which would have been kinder, perhaps, than the image they now have of who she was – frail, with her perpetual oxygen in tow, a shell of the mother that i remember.

and now, they stood next to me again, as i stood before what remained of her in this world.

since the last trip, i had made a personal resolution to keep my composure. i hadn’t succeeded even slightly in doing so when i saw my grandmother at the nursing home during the last trip, and i’m pretty certain that seeing me that way was traumatic for the kids…and i didn’t want to put them through that again. grief is a personal thing to me, anyway, and i tend to shield myself from experiencing that in public if i can. and at that point, i felt as though i was surrounded by people who needed my strength – my sister and her family were there, my aunt betty (whom i didn’t recognize – she looked immensely healthier than she did the last time i saw her) and my cousin mitsy (whom i also didn’t recognize, save for the fact that she looks a lot like her mother) and a few other folks that i didn’t really know from my sisters’ husbands’ family and randy’s wifes’ family.

so i stood there, looking upon what was left of the woman who brought me into the world, and all i could feel was the eyes of strangers upon me – family and others alike. with the exception of the family that accompanied me to this point, most of the people in the room could count on one hand the times they’d seen me in the twenty years that had passed since i called savannah my home…and many of the ones i’d see during the next 48 hours hadn’t seen me at all in that time. my aunt nadine, wife of my grandfathers’ brother grant (known to most of the family as G.C., or “G-Buck”) was there in a wheelchair…all three of her kids were there – mark, the youngest, the middle son Ken (who was known to everybody – literally everybody – as “lard ass”…even his teachers in school), and her oldest, bud…who was accompanied by his lovely nine-month-old daughter lila (whose name i may someday steal if i ever find myself in the position to need a name for a new human being). aunt betty’s kids were represented by mitsy, my old baseball teammate (it was always me and mitsy versus randy and bobo, it seemed like), and bobo – whos’ cultivated quite a career for himself as a gospel musician…he’s actually playing the savannah bluegrass festival this july, and they’re booked solid. when we were kids, he never (to use the vernacular) “hit a lick at” music at all…he seemed to be more preoccupied with the same things that other kids his age were – buying beer and partying down by the river or drag-racing in walnut grove. he’s made quite a turnaround, though. and her daughters, susie and sherry, both came to the funeral the next day. of her nine, all that were alive managed to make it but steve – and from what i’ve heard, he’s not much longer for this world…he’s in pretty sad shape himself.

let’s see, who else…in terms of family, my grandmothers’ sisters were there – the ones who are still able to be, anyway. my grandmothers’ sisters had some of the most unusual names i’d ever heard. hell, i’m not even sure how to spell them. but then, unusual names come with the turf, where i’m from…nannie mae, effie dean, romie dee and the like – the landscape is littered with them. my old boss from my radio gig came, too…lloyd stricklin. i hardly recognized him, but he looked good. he’s working in television now, and seems content with his life…he smiles a lot. when i was in the hospital in high school with double pneumonia, he came to see me every day i was there. every day. it actually made me a little uncomfortable, because i sensed that he felt that he was to blame, somehow, for my having ended up there…as a result of my schedule. i actually remember pretending to be asleep at least once when he came to see me. i know that’s kinda messed up, but hey – i was seventeen. i am now, however, forever grateful to him.

my half-brother, jimmy, was there with his wife, alex…i knew i’d see him. jimmy (or “J.W.”, as he prefers to be called now) has always been a rock in situations like this. he looks older, as do we all, but he refuses to act it, and i love that about him. jayda said to me, after arriving home, that she thinks that my storytelling ability is hereditary, because he’s got it, too…and boy, does he ever.

it was jimmy who first told me some rather unsavory things about my dad and his past that i’d never known until i was an adult…even his way with a story couldn’t make that any easier to hear, though.

anyway, the more characters i bring into this story, the greater the temptation to digress further and further from where i stand, here…

i don’t really know where to draw the line between surreality and disbelief that i felt, as i stood there among this small group of people whom i felt i barely knew, looking down on this woman who bore a slight resemblance to my mother – i thought about how she looked the last time we’d come to visit, and how i felt so sure at the time that it would be the last time i saw her alive. i thought about that day, about how we’d gone through some of her things and she’d given things to the children and she’d given me back a drawing that my friend melody from high school had done from my graduation picture proofs…she’d been so proud of it from the day that melody gave it to her, and i knew that her gesture of giving it to me meant something. but it didn’t take that to start me thinking that this was the last time i’d see her alive. she had the disposition of someone who’d largely resigned herself to riding out the remaining time she had – when i’d chide her about continuing to smoke even as her health slipped away from her, she’d say that there wasn’t much point in quitting now, and putting herself through the process of quitting when the lion’s share of the damage had already been done.

in any event, it was plain to me, even though no one acknowledged it…we both just knew.

now, two years later, i had come home one more time to say goodbye.

there were whispers, occasionally, just within earshot and yet muffled…people who were aware of who i was that i didn’t know circling widely along the back walls of the room – one of whom was told by my sister that “she did everything she could to try to stay close to him”, or something to that extent…and i knew that was coming. expected to be confronted about it, even – but apparently no one felt like starting that particular conversation – myself, least of all. i mean, if i couldn’t make them understand who i was and where i stood on the subject while i lived there, how was i supposed to get my point across now?

naw, to hell with it. this sucks enough as it is. why scratch old wounds open now? we’re not here for that in the first place.

besides, whatever resentment that might have been directed towards the elder prodigal son in the wake of his mothers’ death was either ignored or overshadowed by the sense of sorrow in the room.

when your heart is broken, it’s either much easier or much harder to be angry – which it turns out to be is largely determined by the situation, i think.

funerals in the south often serve several functions – they’re part wake, part family reunion, and part cookout…and this one was no different, really. after i spent almost four hours talking to dozens of people that i hadn’t seen in over twenty years, we finally all agreed to reconvene at pennys’ house…that is, penny and her family, my brother randy and his wife renee, pennys’ sister-in-law and her kids, aunt betty, and a few others all went to pennys’ and stayed for several hours…the kids were tired, but they didn’t show it while they were renewing their friendship with their cousins (and cousins-in-law, et cetera). it was raining when we got into town, and it was raining when we left the funeral home, and it was still raining later that night when we left pennys’ house to return to the hotel.

we came in, wet and exhausted, at almost midnight. my original plan was that i wanted to go for a walk through town when we got back, but weather and fatigue conspired to foil that particular plan. instead, as the kids fell into bed, i turned the TV on and was greeted with a 30 year old episode of Saturday Night Live…its age given away by references to “governor” jimmy carter during the weekend update segment. buck henry was the host, and gordon lightfoot was the musical guest.

it don’t get much more 1975 than that.

i tried to stay awake long enough to watch the whole show…i don’t remember turning the tv off, but i don’t remember seeing it through to the end, either…so i must’ve fallen asleep at some point.

we had set the alarm on my cellphone for the next morning, but it never went off…luckily, we woke up in plenty of time to get ready. it was still extremely grey outside…even for savannah…but the rains from the night before had worked off most of their steam, and while there was still some drizzle, it wasn’t as threatening as i’d expected it to be. there was some irritation while we were getting ready as a result of dylans’ failure to pack socks – you’d think that someone who sleeps with their socks on more often than not would place the necessary importance on bringing them along, but no…instead, we made a mad dash for wal-mart to ensure that if anyone showed up at my mother’s funeral without socks on, they wouldn’t be part of my contingent. after a scramble into the savannah, tennessee wal-mart supercenter, we left with socks and a belt (bonus purchase) less than five minutes later. we made it to the funeral home a little later than i’d have preferred, but in plenty of time nonetheless.

when we walked in, they had her casket opened in the parlor where she’d been the day before, not having moved her into the chapel yet. i was a little surprised to see this, since penny had told me that mom had insisted that she be closed…but then maybe that was just for the service itself, i don’t know. i had given myself the impression that the viewing on saturday was for immediate family only and that she didn’t want anyone else to see her…or maybe penny, who’d told me how good she thought she looked, wanted to extend the opportunity to everyone who came to say goodbye face to face. i didn’t ask and she didn’t explain.

a very familiar looking guy named melvin came in not long after i got there and said that they’d be moving her into the chapel and the service would be starting shortly…before they closed her, i put one of my dog tags into her right hand, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. then they led the children into the chapel, with their families.

i sat down first, at the aisle end of the front row, and randy and renee sat next to me…penny and joe sat down next to them, with their children…leaving no room for wendy or the kids, who filed into the next row and sat there. fine, i thought.

let the out of towners sit somewhere else… i mean, i know it wasn’t on purpose, and i felt (after giving it some thought) that they spent the most time with her, she lived in their house, so why shouldn’t pennys’ kids share the front row? they were certainly closer to her than my kids were. and the person i can blame for that waits for me in the mirror every morning.

our family is apparently a regular customer of the man who presided over the service…he’s apparently buried several of aunt bettys’ kids, ginny kate, and any number of other members of the stricklin clan. yet i’d never met him until saturday night. he seemed to have something of a personal stake in my mothers’ funeral, and seemed to have some emotional involvement – and that was moving. i was a little put off by the way he turned the funeral into a short church service, but that’s not uncommon in my neck of the woods…i remember that one of the things that i found so moving about my grandfathers’ funeral is that they talked about him and his life – they certainly interjected a religious angle, because funerals are religious events where i come from…and i’m ok with that. but i’d given some thought on the way down to either singing something at her funeral or asking to say something, but i decided against it. one of the biggest reasons (in my head) for not doing it was that i didn’t want to come down for the funeral and be perceived as though i was putting on some kind of front by getting up and singing or saying something at the service. i couldn’t be bothered to visit any more often than i did, i thought…who would buy a gesture like that from me now? so i kept my mouth shut. but i would’ve liked for those who were there to remember her for who she was when she walked this earth…as a mother who begged, borrowed, and (for all i know, anyway) stole to give her kids what she could to keep them fed, clothed and sheltered. i thought they might want to remember her life, and not dwell on her death…although that’s really not possible under those circumstances.

they played three songs at the service…the first two were somewhat forgettable, one gospel song and an awful country song that i’d never heard before, and “in the arms of the angels” by sara mclachlan…i had put my arm around my brother early on, but there was no comforting him – he wasn’t hysterical, but he was all alone in that room full of people.

just like his big brother.

there was never any question as to where she’d be laid to rest – she was buried right next to her father, and the place where her mother will eventually be laid to rest. we drove the thirty or so miles from savannah out to walnut grove to the whites’ creek baptist church cemetery in a perpetual drizzle that continued through the graveside service, which was brief…a few words followed by a short prayer. we all went down the hill to the church, then, where they’d prepared a small spread for lunch that included a close approximation of our familys’ famous vegetable soup (which dylan became instantly hooked on – they actually gave us what was left over to bring home) and pimiento and cheese sandwiches…dylan had never eaten P&C in his life, and he actually seemed to like it. jayda wasn’t about to find out, though…she was havin’ none of it.

i got an opportunity to talk with some cousins and extended family members that i hadn’t seen since i’d left home in january of 1984 – 21 years ago. some i hadn’t seen since before that, actually…some i didn’t recognize, some looked just like they did all those years ago. but after we’d all finished eating, the rain started to subside…and i went back up the hill with the family to walk about the graveyard and give dylan and jayda a refresher tour of where the family was buried, and who was who…there were people there that i’d gone to school with who had died, cousins, aunts and uncles, eighbors…even “miss martha” goodman, the keeper of the country store where we got most of our groceries…”brother nick” white, the pastor at whites’ creek for most of my childhood and an occasional visitor at my grandparents’ house…and so on and so forth.

i stood there with my aunt betty, who walked from timmys’ grave to tracys’ grave, pulling weeds away from the headstones and talking about how she needed to go get something to keep a certain kind of weed from coming back…and thinking that no mother should have “stop by garden center to get weed killer for children’s graves” on their to-do list.

we all went back to my sisters’ house afterward and talked and laughed and ate and took pictures and talked and laughed a little while longer – our contingent stayed until everyone else was gone but penny and her family, around 10 o’clock that night. i wasn’t ready to leave. i haven’t gotten many opportunities to spend time with them as it is, and there was only one other thing that i really wanted to do that night anyway.

we left and drove back home in the darkness without saying much…we got back to the hotel at around 11pm or so, and asked the kids if they wanted to accompany us on a walk – we knew what the answer was going to be before we asked, but i wanted to give them the opportunity to come along if they wanted to. we left them almost asleep already at the hotel, changed clothes and set out from the “bridge end” of town for a walk back through the past.

we walked up main street, past the courthouse and the square – up the side of the street where the banks and the newspaper is, and up to the intersection of main street and wayne road, which used to be the home to grady qualls’ amoco station – the first place i ever bought condoms. the pizza hut was right across the road from the gas station, and freds’ department store was next to pizza hut. i don’t know if i’ve ever posted the story of fred’s department store and the week before i left for the navy and ending up in a jail cell with my uncle don…

…but it won’t be happenin’ today. sorry.

anyway, we continued all the way up wayne road to the car dealership that used to be emmett yeiser chevrolet, and we turned around right where everyone turned around when they’d cruise town on friday and saturday nights and walked back up the other side…past shaw’s motel and the hospital and the radio station and sonic drive in and city hall and the old halls’ pharmacy (not there anymore) and the row of shops on main street that used to be rexall drug, the five and dime, the ben franklin store – all now gone.

there was one house left on that side of the street, down at the end, where there used to be a row of homes…one of which my mother lived in when i was born. i had no idea whether the one left was the one or not. i couldn’t remember.

i sat there, on the steps of the building that used to be the post office, and looked back up main street…and it occured to me that although a lot of time has gone by, and a lot has changed in the twenty-plus years since i used to call this town home, it was amazing how much it still looked like it always had. i thought about how intent i’d been on staying away from this place, how i’d turned my back on this town and moved on, and had essentially pretended that the years i spent here never happened…

…and tonight, the first night that my mother spent beneath the clay dirt of whites’ creek cemetery, i thought about what all those years away from this town had cost me.

we walked back to the hotel, which was literally right next door to where i sat, and i finally drifted off to sleep after some time…checkout was at 10AM, and wendy set the alarm on her phone this time, since we knew it worked. we all awoke the next day to sunshine…the first we’d seen since we arrived in savannah. i had told my sister that i’d stop there before we left to go through some of our mothers’ belongings that they’d stored in the shed, but before that, i had one other thing i wanted to do.

david phillips, the owner of the town’s only music store…the place where i hung out as a teenager who didn’t know anything, had stopped by the funeral home on sunday morning before we got there, but i had missed him….and i intended to stop in and say hello and thank you before we left.

somehow i knew when i made the plan to go over there that my cousin would stop in, and sure enough – we were there for not more than five or ten minutes before he came in. we picked up some instruments and began playing, and we played there in the store for a good half hour or so…i started on dobro and went to mandolin after a while, deciding wisely not to try to sing anything this early in the morning – but i’d never played with david before. when i lived there, he didn’t play anything. now, he was a working musician, and this was the first time i’d ever gotten to play with him. it was great.

the store itself still looks exactly as it did twenty years ago…it’s truly a time capsule. there are very few instruments in the store that could be considered telltale signs that the hair-band era, or grunge, or hip-hop for that matter, ever existed. the rotating sheet music display contained titles like “biggest part of me” by ambrosia and “i just wanna stop” by gino vanelli…songs that i used to play on the radio as a teenage disk jockey at the radio station in town. i think that’s one of the reasons that i insist on going there every time i go back to savannah – yeah, maybe the mug and cone is gone, and maybe the water tower has razor wire around it now, and maybe both the friends i knew in town and my family itself were dwindling in numbers….but the one thing i seem to always be able to count on is being able to walk into that store and feel like i’m back home again. it’s the one thing that thomas wolfe was wrong about. he never counted on maxines’ house of music.

the time flew by, and we said our goodbyes after playing for over an hour, and we went back to pennys’ house to go through what little my mother had left in this world…a dozen or so cardboard boxes in a shed, along with a few items of jewelry and some odds and ends in the closet of the room she slept in. inside the box in the closet were pictures of jayda and dylan, including a large double-image picture of jayda that i thought i’d lost. i must have given it to her and forgotten about it. it was inside a familiar-looking black folder that contained, intact, one of my press kits from my full-timer days. she’d kept it all these years.

penny gave each of the kids several things – a pocket knife for dylan, a watch for jayda and a few odd items of jewelry…and penny asked me if we had room in the back of the van for the sewing machine.

“the sewing machine” belonged to my great-grandmother burns – my grandmother annie laura’s mother. she and her husband tom were killed in 1970 when their car stalled on the railroad tracks in the path on an oncoming train. i can still remember the night that the news reached my grandfathers’ house – it was my first real experience with death, and i had no idea why everyone was so upset. i was five, after all.

but the sewing machine – and old singer, pedal driven sewing machine – was passed down to my grandmother, who gave it to my mother, who had now given it to my daughter. it was now in the hands of the fifth generation of family (that i’m personally aware of, anyway).

i had mixed feelings about this – i was obviously happy that it was my daughter who’d be carrying it to the next generation, but i actually felt badly about it leaving the state. it seemed like it belonged there, not here…and i felt like i was doing something wrong by taking it. there was also no small amount of prodigal guilt, as well.

but it was what my mother wanted, and i wasn’t going to intervene or argue the point…especially since it didn’t really concern me – it was between my mother and my daughter….this, of course, puts the impetus on one of them to have a daughter…otherwise, i’m not sure where it’d go after that. to one of penny’s grandchildren, if they have a female.

i couldn’t wait to get in the van and start home. i had had quite enough of this whole confronting-the-reality-of-my-mothers’-death trip, and i was ready to get back in the van, head back to my official state of residence, and figure out how it was that i’d deal with this. we said our goodbyes and, with the van packed and ready to travel, headed back out highway 64 towards 13 north and interstate 40.

i didn’t talk much the first part of the trip…we did make one last stop at sonic in waynesboro before we left…i made sonic addicts out of my entire family the first time i took them all down, and they don’t miss an opportunity to go. we went at least once every day were were down there, and this would be our last opportunity.

a few hours later, we were in nashville, headed towards charlie degenharts’ place…we were entertaining thoughts of staying the night, but i really just wanted to go home. i knew the kids missed their mom, and their grandmother had landed herself in the hospital with chest pains while we were away, and they were both aware and worried about her. so we all went to a nashville sounds baseball game together and we left for the highway right afterward. i just wanted to be behind the wheel, in the dark, with the people around me sleeping as we drove through the night.

we stopped, at about 3:30am, at a rest stop just over the state line. i joined everyone else in sleep, and didn’t wake up until a little after 6am, when i tried to start the van, to no avail. apparently, we’d lost the battery during the three hours or so we’d been there, and i had to call AAA to come jump-start us. when the driver arrived to get us back on the road, he said to us that “he was surprised that we decided to sleep there, after what happened and all”…and i had to get the story out of him. turned out that a drifter had taken a family from their car there and drove them up the highway and killed all four of them a few months back.

weren’t much chance o’ fallin’ asleep after hearing about that…

we stopped at cracker barrell for breakfast a few hours later…everyone seemed incredibly cranky at that point, and it appeared to have no end in sight, but later that afternoon everyone seemed to relax a bit. jayda sat up front with me for a while, until we stopped for bathroom breaks some time later and dylan and i took over the backseat for a few rounds of galaga. jayda and wendy struck up what sounded like a healthy conversation up front that lasted for some time…i heard snippets of what was said, but the headphones worked wonders for protecting their privacy. i fell asleep some time later, and woke up as we were crossing into pennsylvania from maryland. we cruised on, unfettered, until we’d passed through harrisburg and a “check transmission” light came on the dashboard…we pulled into a rest stop and shut the van off and turned it back on again, and the error cleared…but wendy had to go to the bathroom, so i had her pull the hood and i got out to check the fluid level. when i stepped around the front of the van, there was red fluid oozing out onto the asphalt beneath the front of the van.


we evacuated everyone from the van and called the service department at the dealership, and they said they’d have it looked at as soon as it got there…so i set about calling around to see who i could convince to come pick us and our belongings up from an hour and a half from home. it was before 5pm when we stopped, and by the time we arrived home, it was after 10pm. i was extremely happy that chris hadn’t yet reclaimed her honda that she’d so graciously loaned me when the vanagon flatlined. it would be put back into service now.

that brings us pretty much up to date…a few days have passed since we arrived back home…indeed, a few days have passed since i started writing – when i began this entry, the red sox were wrapping up a sweep of the cincinnati reds. in the time since, they’ve completed a three game series with pittsburgh, and begin playing the indians tonight..and that’s with a day off thrown in there somewhere.

the latest on the van is that i’m expected to pay $2700 to replace the transmission in a vehicle that i’d owned exactly thirty days on the day it died. i haven’t made the first payment yet, and on the day that i found out they expected me to shell out all this money, i withdrew all the funds from my checking account (since they hadn’t seen fit to put the down payment check through yet). so at this point, i’m in the red to the tune of zero dollars and zero cents, save for the money i paid for the insurance differentials…if they’re gonna be that way about it, i’m resigned at this point to letting them keep it. after reading some of what i’ve read in the time since about ford’s perpetual transmission problems, i’m pretty certain that i don’t even want it back.

the funny thing about the van is that i knew, somehow…i knew that something was going to screw this up. i didn’t know what it’d be, but i was certain that somehow this whole thing would go south before i’d had it long enough to establish a sense of ownership, and of course, i was right.

this whole “give us $2700” thing developed on friday…i haven’t had much opportunity to deal with the repercussions yet, save for making a couple of phone calls and doing some internet research, but it should do nicely as a distraction from whatever grieving trip i might’ve concocted for myself otherwise, i suppose…

anyway….at this point, i feel as though i’m talking to myself, because i know that even i couldn’t read this whole thing at one sitting…it’s 8pm on monday night, the sox are supposed to be playing on ESPN2 tonight, and i’m still at work, running off DVD’s and doing the end of day reports.

i think it might be time to go home soon.

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