Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Return from the Great White Middle
I'm finally done blasting through the tower of babble of school work that had been piling up since everything went to hell family-style three weeks ago. After a week spent burying my 50-year-old aunt, putting my wonderful grandmother in the nursing home the day after the funeral, only to have her fall and break her hip today (which was the only reason we put her in there in the first place, so she wouldn't fall), and having my flight home delayed for several hours because of snow only to land in Austin in 30 mph winds that tossed the plane around like a ball of string slapped by a disinterested cat, I'm no longer intimidated by the middle school kids I will be teaching in a couple weeks. There are far scarier things in the world. It was an emotionally raw week back home in western Neb. (home of original member of The Eagles, Randy Meisner). A lot of ups and downs. It wasn't all misery. I went out to an abandoned ranch and shot guns with my uncles, cousin, and cousin-in-law. I hit a blue rock target dead-on the first time I've ever shot a shotgun in my life. My second shot was a complete joke, and I didn't shoot anymore after that. I went to a bonfire at my cousin's the night of the funeral and confirmed how much I like my mom's side of the family and how lucky I was to be born into such an interesting, funny, unusual group of people in such a boring, unfunny, usual town. My uncle and his late wife have a bottomless group of friends whose existence in small-town Nebraska continually surprises me. They don't seem to have regular jobs, just mysterious incomes, and can only be found at bars, weddings, funerals, my uncle's house, and isolated country roads. I never see them in town for any other reason. Most of them wear leather and/or jean jackets. I'm too lazy to give them their descriptive due, so instead I will offer a formula that helps to explain these mysterious strangers' personalities. Add the essences of the following people, fictional characters, and organizations: Charles Bukowski, Jeff Foxworthy, Timothy Leary, Jack Nicholson's character in "Easy Rider," the TV shows "Roseanne" and "The Andy Griffith Show," every member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the Sasquatch, and "The Muppet Show" band = my uncle's friends. They all have nicknames like Choffey, Orf, Buffalo Legs, Bones, Moo, Donkey Patrol, and Inspector UFO (I only made the last two up). These people are basically cosmic hippie redneck biker philosopher-poets and their lives make up a secret history of small-town existence. I meet a different one every time I go home for a non-holiday visit and hang around long enough. My uncle and Choffey exchange a large rock every seven years. Whoever has current possession of the rock adds a couple new lines to the poem they've been writing on it for many years. At the bonfire, one of these men regaled us with a Cormac McCarthy-worthy tale of drug deals gone bad, prison time served, and $25,000 buried in the countryside near where we were drinking. The way these people talk should be written down. Unintentional poetry. Orf started calling one of my uncles Dangerous Dan McGrew and said he rode into town with a "lion on his back for a coat and a bear for a horse." My newly widowed uncle said one of the saddest, truest things I've ever heard about loss of a family member without any maudlin wordiness. What my grandmother calls the "unvarnished truth." This is what he said about his second day without his wife: "I went to the bar. Had two beers. Went home. Fell asleep in a chair. Woke up and made myself a chicken pot pie. It wasn't any good."