Great Granny passed away. This meant driving to Parsons TN (map) (yes, that’s the whole thing.) Living in the South you tend to forget why people make jokes about the South. We do not hear our own accents and most of the jokes seem dated upon old stereo types because surely we are not that backwards! At least that is what I thought. Since our life has taken us down a path of being sequestered within our own house, I had forgotten what it was like out there. After loading everyone in the van with the misfiring engine (I thought it was a bad spark plug but had someone talk me out of changing the plugs..turns out it was a bad spark plug) and praying that we could drive across Tennessee and back, we hit the Interstate. It wasn’t long before we saw a flag pole towering over the trees to the right side of the Interstate flying the Confederate flag (debate with wife over its racial symbolism versus Southern pride/Southern heritage/historic symbolism ensues) then a couple of miles later to the left of the Interstate an aluminum, giant cross (I mean like 60 feet tall or better See the cross on I-75 by the adult bookstore and a cross in TX.). This thing could have doubled nicely as a water tower. Near Nashville we had a friendly store owner’s sign reminding people to "Thank a veteran — in English!"
Now Friday morning I awoke to find green writing on my forehead. I really need to quit falling asleep before my wife. As we packed I noticed the box that our "supplies" are in had moved from its hiding spot to the headboard so obviously the wife was prepared in case by some bizarre circumstance we ended up with a hotel room to ourselves.
We hit the first welcome center to grab a map and I was struck by Tennessee again. I had my phone in hand but couldn’t bring myself to take a picture. I should have! For walking out of the crowded welcome center was a man in overalls and nothing else. Granted, I think he had shoes but the baggy overalls with no shirt did not hide the fact that he wore nothing underneath them. This was textbook hillbilly.
We had a relatively pleasant trip to Parsons. I found that the van performed better at higher speeds…like 145 kmh. Once in Parsons we located the hotel and found out that Uncle Danny had lost the keys to his rental car but that’s a different story. Our family takes 4 rooms of the hotel. There appear to be no other guests. A quick count of the beds leaves some hopeful optimism that perchance Cathy and I will have a room to ourselves! The children tend to like to disperse themselves amongst the relatives they rarely see. Cathy asks if I came prepared since she left me clues like the writing on my forehead and the box on the headboard. With mouth agape, I explained I thought the box meant she’d taken care of things. Does Parsons have a drugstore?!
Hunger overtook our crowd. Let’s go to the fish restaurant where Granny and Granddaddy had their wedding reception! "It’s down to the traffic light and take a left. Has a big sign shaped like a fish." That’s right. "the traffic light" Our hungry mob takes off as we dilly dally a bit longer. After getting everyone buckled we follow the directions. Down to the traffic light and left. We immediately lose signal on the cell phones. Fewer dropped calls! Drive. Drive. Drive. Scratch head. Drive. Drive. Ah! Buildings. Drive. Drive. Bar. Drive. Bar. Hey look! It’s Patrick Swayze! Drive and finally! The restaurant with the big fish sign…and no lights on…and no cars in the parking lot…and no cell phone reception. We debate heading back to town to make a phone call for directions but decide to drive another mile and, sure enough, we locate the other restaurant with the big sign in the shape of a fish.
Our crew, which consisted of our Cathy, myself, Tommy, Sarah, Noah, Amy, Evan, Uncle Danny, Uncle Matt, Aunt Carmen, cousin Gabriel, cousin Abby, cousin Elizabeth, Granny and Granddaddy converge on the restaurant. We enter and the building goes silent as everyone stares. The waitress’ mouth hangs open as a single dish crashes to the floor. We blink and the noise of chatter and utensils clinking to plates return. I head to the restroom. Now, you know it’s gonna be good eats when on your way to the restroom you spot a Haynes manual on one of the patrons tables, the plumbing is run outside the walls, and the towel dispenser in the bathroom is cloth.
The menu reads "fried _____" You name it and they’d fry it. I had the seafood platter and later the nice lady at the hotel desk explained to me "that seafood platter is too big for one person! It could feed two." The seafood platter was fried catfish, fried oysters, fried clams, fried shrimp, fried something I couldn’t identify, fried frog legs (caught fresh out back), hush puppies (that’s fried bread for those that don’t know), my choice of french fries or baked potato (I order the baked potato but requested it fried), and two boiled shrimp just to prove they had something other than a deep fryer in the kitchen.
After dinner we head back to the hotel and I figure I’ll head out to the drug store; however, Fred’s Pharmacy and Dollar Store is ominously dark. Closed! Well, at least Food Giant appears open. Ironically, Food Giant appears to sell only food. Not looking good for the visiting team. Eventually I chance upon the feminine hygiene aisle and at the tampon section I see KY Jelly! That’s promising. Looking up and down the aisle I just am not finding any prophylactics. I start to realize that perhaps KY has some other use which probably has to do with shoving cotton in a dry place. As I am about to give up hope, I notice a bottle of KY personal warming lubricant. Now surely a "warming lubricant" has but one use! Still no condoms. Apparently some ladies prefer their tampons warm.
I consider giving up but decide to have to have some fun. I turn to the two teenage boys mopping the floor in the back of the store. "Do you guys sell condoms?" They stare at each other for a moment then say, "if we did, they’d be on aisle 11." (that’s the feminine hygiene aisle) Then one boy’s face lights up and he whispers, as if I should know better, "dude, BP. On the corner." He is right. I should have known better.
At the gas station, I purchase my 3 pack of wishful thinking and, to make some utility of the trip, purchase some STP gas treatment. For good measure, I throw in a scratch-off lottery ticket since one way or another I’d like to get lucky tonight. In the end, the condoms were unopened, the van still misfired, and the lottery ticket was a loser. However, I do return to the station before it closes for the night for beverages.
I returned to the hotel room and later that night Cathy was overcome with the sickness Evan had earlier in the week. So in the morning I head over to Fred’s Pharmacy and Dollar Store to get some Pepto-Bismol (if there is only one link you click today..make it this one!). Since this is a pharmacy I take a half a moment to look for condoms (out of curiosity). I see none! But they do sell Astroglide near the tampons. This town must have a bad case of vaginal dryness and teen pregnancies. I guess no prevention makes a big city out of a small town.
Breakfast time! Cathy rolls over in agony so we leave her in the hotel room callously failing to hang the "do not disturb" sign on the door so the cleaning staff trying to make their 11:30am deadline repeatedly open the door hoping to annoy Cathy out of the room. Meanwhile the rest of us have a salt lick disguised as country fried ham, bacon, sausage, pork patties, mystery meat, eggs and other artery clogging goodness for breakfast. It was delightful! I sorta lie to the family and tell them "Cathy is putting herself together."
We retrieve Cathy then head over to the funeral home and Cathy’s mother tries to assess who looks better..Cathy or Great Granny. Great Granny wins and various family members try to slip Cathy Tums. For the next hour and a half or so we play "herd the cats" with anyone under 3 feet tall while family and friends catch up and tell some great stories.
On Sunday, Amy visited Great Granny. On Wednesday, Amy was in the car when we drove Great Granny’s sitter from the hospital back to the nursing home. Amy cheerfully announces, "That’s Great Granny’s house!" That night Great Granny passes away. Friday Amy and I talk about Great Granny petting Lucy in Heaven. Saturday I held Amy as she looked at Great Granny lying peacefully in her coffin and bravely told her goodbye and that she loved her. My eyes watered for Amy then and as I type this. Tommy handled himself well but I could see him struggling with his emotions. Sarah always keeps things locked in and deserved awards for babysitting ALL the children without complaint. Secretly she is probably thankful to not have to visit the nursing home anymore. Noah was hard to read; he could be stoic and mature or he could have missed the boat. Evan was just on an adventure.
Small towns people are friendly! And there is a properness to everything. A small town Southerner can make you feel like you are family, like you have known the person you are talking to for years, and like you have been living in the town your whole life. You are welcome! We were treated fabulously. After all, most of the people around us were kin or long friends of someone in the immediate family.
The pallbearers were called to a meeting. Having only been to two funerals my whole life and having never been a pallbearer I was looking forward to this meeting as I had been told the instructions would be forthcoming. I was tasked with gathering up the 5 other pallbearers. I knew two. After letting three know about our meeting, I stepped into the funeral home director’s office and the two I could not find were there with the funeral director having carefree, grinning conversation which quickly wrapped up with my entrance and instead turned to the business of being friendly. Best I can figure everybody in Parsons holds two jobs. For instance, the preacher is also a farmer. The funeral director beyond any shadow of a doubt is also the auctioneer. With utmost seriousness and sternness the instructions were something like this:
It went without saying that no one had questions and we absolutely did not follow the plan for five minutes prior to the service the family had already seated and the pallbearers were sent to the chapel where the prayer was performed instead of the viewing room.
Great Granny was honored very well at the chapel service. She was loved. The preacher gave a wonderful tribute. We celebrated her life rather than mourning her death. Her mother passed when Maedelle was 10 years old so she helped raise her siblings yet still managed to put herself through school and college at the University of Tennessee. But Cathy says all that better than I possibly could in her tribute posts and stories (none of which mention vaginal dryness): This is a part of life too, Spending the weekend with family (live and otherwise), Trees and Fields, You know you’re in the rural south when…, Even worse than a poop story, Random scattered thoughts, Small small world, Children and funerals, and Finally, the cemetery.
After the chapel service we drove slowly to the cemetery with the van threatening to sputter to a halt. That would have been embarrassing! The pallbearers lugged Great Granny to her final resting place (if you’ve never done it, coffins are heavy!) and awkwardly decided where to put their buttoners (lapel flower). Half went to Granny and half went to Great Granny. After the graveside service we played in the cemetery then hit the road. But that’s another story.