Friday December 23 2011


Waking up around 1 p.m.

Scrambled Eggs. Cinnamon Bagel with Butter. Instant Cinnamon Swirl Oatmeal. Orange Juice.

My dad and I watch the perils of lions hunting for buffalo on TV.

“The eternal dance of Africa.”

We drive to Greenville to visit some other family members, my great-aunt Susan and Dolores. Susan lives in a mobile home right across the way from where my grandma used to live before she passed away.

We sit around drinking Coffee and snacking on Fudge Cookies. Looking through old photos that Susan has collected in a shoebox. All of them find a favorable resemblance between her son, Bob and me. I’m shown a yearbook photo of him, clad in the classic 60’s black framed glasses similar to the ones I currently wear.

Dolores: “You even have his mannerisms, too.”

It’s so amazing to see all these frozen shots in time from a generation past. Photographic. Black and white. I notice how much the young and beautiful Susan in these pictures looks just like the actress Tina Majorino, popular in movies like Andre, Waterworld, and Napoleon Dynamite.


On the hour-long trip back to Goldsboro. I listen to my dad up in the front tell stories of his struggling hardships growing up after his dad and mother split up. I never met my dad’s dad. He died before I was even born (1981).

Dad: “He drank hisself to death.”


My dad starts to recall his upbringing and memories...

Dad: “Christmas time used to I was saying earlier we always came to Greenville. We went to my granddaddy Smith’s and stay a night or two there then we go to my other grandmother’s. Then we go back to grandma Smith’s cause they had the farm. My uncles and them would always have firecrackers and we’d shoot firecrackers. We used to have a good time. And my dad and all them they’d always go out to the barn. ‘Ey...ey...c’mon’ They always go out to the porch...they’d be sneaking around like no one knew what they were doin’.”

Me: “What were they doing?”

Dad: “Drinking whiskey. And down at the back of the barn they’d go down there and they stay down there all day long drinkin’. ‘Les’ get a lil snort’ Used to have a lot of fun. My uncle Bill. He’s dead now. He was always an entrepreneur. He always had a little store and he was selling bootlegged whiskey. He’d get at different houses and drop off a pint of whiskey. I used to go with him in town once in a while. One time I told him, I said...I had this big light, ‘Let’s put this light on top of the car like we the police.’ Went over to this black people’s house and ain’t nobody come out! [Haha] This one black guy. His name was Robert Lewis. He loved my daddy. He’d be down at that farm all the time.”


Remembering my grandma’s deathbed...

Dad: “That’s something I won’t never forget. Whenever we took her off the machine. We were all in there. And as soon as they unplugged it, in about a minute...I was holding her hand and you could see the color just changed...I think she knew she was gonna die. One day I come over there she said, ‘Son, I wanna go to the house.’ You know, the trailer. I said ‘Okay.’ I went and picked her up. I had to carry her. Went to the trailer. Sat down in her recliner. In about five minutes she said, ‘I’m ready to go.’”

Me: “It’s good she had the opportunity to have that realization. Not just go like that. To resolve everything in her life. I think that’s the way everyone should be able to die...”

Dad: “A lot of people do. They notice. I guess it’s something that maybe God your spirit. You kind of know it’s your time.”

Me: “Your body is on a time clock and it knows when it’s time.”


Recounting his upbringing and early childhood...

Dad: “We had a nice...I mean like a Leave It To Beaver type family. We had a nice home. My daddy he had his own business. He had the jewelry store. We were living a good life for that time. He was talented in watch repair. I mean he could fix anybody’s watch. If you couldn’t get it fixed you’d take it to him, he’d fix it. He used to make jewelry...”


Cell phone rings and interrupts the story.


Dad: “We grew up in a house in Columbia. Like I said, I was in seventh or eighth grade [when his mom and dad split up]. From that point on I really didn’t have anywhere to live. I stayed with my uncle JW. He had a little utility room. I slept on a little cot. I didn’t have a room or anything. Then one year I stayed with a friend of mine. He had a house in Columbia...a big house. He let me stay up top of the house...”

Me: “What about grandma. Why didn’t you stay with her?”

Dad: “She couldn’t afford for me to stay. We didn’t hardly have any food. Judy [his sister] and I, we’d come home for lunch, and her and I split a sandwich for lunch...I didn’t have any clothes or money. I went to school. I didn’t have anything to buy lunch for school. At that time lunch was like a quarter. And I had to borrow a quarter every day to eat lunch.”


Dad: “Before my mom and dad actually split up my dad wanted to move to Asheboro. He went up there and got a job at a jewelry store. He would work up there during the weekend. He wanted mother and all us to move to Asheboro and start over, start a new life. And my mother didn’t want to. She didn’t want to move to Asheboro. Sometimes I think maybe if we had moved there we might of all still been together. I don’t know...”


Dad: “Columbia was a town...there was nothing to do there but party and drink. It was just a bad environment cause there was nothing to do there. Her friends would always get together and party. My mother she done traveled everywhere. She went to Canada. She did a lot. And my dad did very well at his business.”

Me: “It’s interesting...just that one choice to not go up there.”

Dad: “I always thought that maybe if we had moved...”

Me: “It could have changed everything. I mean who knows, I might not even be here.”

Dad: “You’re right...”


Dad: “At those times things were different. The town of Columbia was like a little thriving little town. They had the main street. They had the stores. There was a drug store there that everybody hung out at. We had a movie theater there. Maybe 8, 900 people lived in this town. At that time when you were younger things were bigger. We always found things to do. In front of the theater there was a gas station. Everybody hung out there. We all went up there and they’d park their car and we’d all sit there and talk in front of the theater. We’d ride around the block. At that time that was what we did. That was our life you know. We were right there on the water. You know, everybody’d go to the beach. We usually every year, we’d go to Nags Head and vacation for a week. Go fishin’. Uncle JW he lived with us. We had a two-story house. At that time we had no air condition. You’d sleep with your front door open. We kept little puppy dogs. I used to love our little dogs...little collies. Somebody poisoned one of them. The other one his name was Skippy, Skippy and Trixie was their names. Trixie got struck by lightening one day...”


Then recapping my childhood memories at the house in Dudley, North Carolina that my dad used to live at and I used to spend summers there.

Dad: “Yeah we had a good time there.”


Dad: “Remember that day you set the woods on fire?”

Me: “Yeah I remember that. The fire marshal came out.”


Dad: “Y’all camped out over there in them woods.”

Me: “Yeah. We’d make clubhouses. Remember that one time I ran into Trey? Had to get stitches.”


Dad: “A lot of people never go anywhere. My granddaddy, he never left the farm. He didn’t go anywhere. If he went somewhere he had to be home at dark. I have a lot of good memories from out there on the farm. They’d take me out there every summer and drop me off. I used to cry. I was homesick. I’d sit on that porch with my granddaddy and I’d look at the road. I say, ‘Somebody’s comin’! Somebody’s comin’!’ My grandmother she was the sweetest lady. She loved all of her children. I don’t care what they did, if they did something wrong. My daddy he was bad to the bone. She’d say, ‘James, you know he loves you, son.’ I said, ‘Gradmamma, he don’t love us.’ ‘Yes he does’ ‘No he don’t.’ I said, ‘Look at him. All he does is drink. He don’t never help momma take care of us.’ Every time I’d go see him, he would cry. He’d be drunk. It was such a waste of life cause he was so talented. He had a good business. He was well known. He was really gifted at what he did.”


Dad: “He used to drive. Him and a friend they’d go bullfroggin’. Catching bullfrogs. Big ole’ frogs in the ponds. You eat them. The frog legs. You fry em’ like you would chicken. They were good! I used to go get em’. Me and my cousin Joey. Him and I go bullfroggin’ sometimes. We’d put the boat in the pond. Springtime. After it rained. Lots of bullfrogs. You’d see em’. You put the light in their eyes. You’d always have to be careful for snakes. We’d get a whole sack full of frogs. Clean em’. Fry them things up. We’d have a pole with a gig on it with 3 points. Shine the light on em’ and it blinds em’. Then you gig em’. That used to be a popular thing.”


Dad: “Uncle JW. He’s a very interesting person. He has a lot of stories to tell you. About how he’d make money and a lot of stuff about his childhood too. He has a lot antique stuff. Stuff from his mother and all that. Stuff from the Civil War. You know they had slaves.”


Dad: “The people on my dad’s side were like entrepreneurs. Like they were always successful.”


These are the kinds of stories I’ve been waiting to hear...

Upon arrival we head over to my dad’s neighbor’s place a few houses down the street. They’re having a Christmas party. Lots of food and random people I don’t know. Small talk and forced laughs, but not too unnatural...just finding a way to adapt to the older upper middle class crowd.

Eating Chicken Wings. Veggies. Fruit. Chicken Salad Sandwiches. Sweet Tea.

Erika, his beautiful wife from Honduras walks out of the room. And I ask my dad, “Are you happy with her?”

Dad: “Yeah. She’s a good girl. I believe you should bless people when you’ve been blessed.”

Power napping in the Christmas room that’s decked out with a picture-perfect Christmas tree, fake flowers, and niceties that match everything you would find from a photo in Southern Living magazine.


Before I take off for Virginia Beach my dad tells me when I go to England that I should ask someone on the street where I can “spend a penny”. He won’t tell me what it means.

Driving the three hour or so trip the night...blasting music.

Using the $30 gift card for McDonald’s that my dad and Erika gave me in a Christmas card to get French Fries as a snack.

Talking with my mom on the phone for the rest of the way home. Working through our respective life struggles...


Me: “I have eight or ten arms flailing around reaching in all directions. I just don’t have time to take two of them and give one person all this attention.”

Back in my humble abode...

Settling in my bedroom.

Eating a bowl of Cheerios with Brown Sugar and Milk.

Sleep 4:42 a.m.

[i] My granddad James Smith.
[ii] My great-aunt Susan with her mobile home and Pomeranian.

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