So, here's the story of me going out to IL after my gramps passed away. Of course I'll LJ-CUT it, am I not merciful?
So I got the phone call early that Thursday morning, knowing as soon as the phone rang why someone would be calling me that early. Sure enough, by the third or fourth call, I was awake enough to answer the phone and it was my Aunt Ruth on the other end. Time to head out into the heartland, back in time, to my family's roots. Got a bit more sleep so I wouldn't be driving off the road, and headed up to her place. Stopped by someone's place on the way up, and promptly got lost right near the Woodbury Commons. That's right, make a long trek through unfamiliar territory, and spend close to an hour lost in an area I should be familiar with by now. I'm a dumbass. Regardless, found my way, and zipped up to her place. The trees along the way were amazingly beautiful, the fall colors in full spread, slightly changing as I headed futher north and inland. The drive up through the changing colors reminded me of the trip that Dave and I made two years ago, right before my now cancelled relationship even began. He wanted to drive out to PA to get some photographs for his company, and we headed out to visit my ``sweetie''. We hung out with her, she made us tacos, and the three of us talked of relationships and things for a while until Dave and I made the two hour journey back to our place. Scant months later, the two of us were involved. Anyway, my aunt's directions were perfect, despite her living in the upper part of a building on an unmarked street in the middle of a small upstate town. It was good to see her, having not seen her since chiquib and I went to my cousin Rachel's wedding and the camping trip after that. I want to say summer of 1998? So yeah, it had been a few years. A lot of me being a shitty nephew and vanishing out of everyone's life since then. But we had a great conversation, driving all the way up to Rochester in her car. We sped through the Corning Elmira area, where I spent many holidays and even a summer or two. It was amazing to see how much development had taken place, development she talked about starting back when my cousins (older by a few years) graduated high school. It actually resembled civilization. We sped on up, talking about a wide variety of things. I updated her on my time at drewuniversity, how it is working for acadtech, and my life otherwise. Living situation, friends, SOs, etc. She talked of her work, her moving out of the house I was so familiar with, and her kids going into relationships and marriage. We talked about how different her divorce and the divorces in my past were, and how it affected all five kids (her three, my brother, and I). Her being a former social worker and psychologist, it was a really insightful conversation. By the time we introduced other people to the mix, I had a better understanding of her, her kids, my parents, and myself.
We picked up my uncle Frank and his new girlfriend Pat in Rochester. Yeah, I mentioned cybersphere to my Aunt, and wondered if I could see the physical shell from any of the roads we took. Frank was one of the last few relatives from my mom's side that I had seen, as he visited my dad's house a few times while in the middle of a divorce and doing an engineering project in Jersey. This was right before I ``ran away from home,'' so we were both in very interesting positions at that point in our lives. So here was Frank, with a new lady in his life, no longer living the nomadic engineer lifestyle. The four of us set off in two cars, and headed off to Buffalo. We picked up the cousin I was closest to in interests, Nathan, Ruth's son. As we stood in his apartment, I scanned his collection of books and computer games, finding many of my favorites. I missed Nathan. He and I are continuing the contest to see who can graduate college last, as he didn't fit any classes into his current schedule. I've got eight classes or so to go, he has two, but I think I'll still ``win'' and graduate last. Meanwhile, we've got a cousin my age who's got a graduate degree. Though my brother (8.5 years my senior, mrfantasy's age) is beating us both even with an impressive head start in the age department.
We picked up a rental van at the Buffalo airport, dropped off my aunt's car, and ventured down into PA. In the Erie area, we stopped and spent the night in a hotel. Two rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls. Nathan and I fought, each trying to give the other the cot, until he stole it from me. The next morning, as we had to make a five viewing, we had to get up at six. Uncle Frank, obviously an early riser, was fully dressed and ready to go right before the wake up call came in. Stumbling through getting ready, we got a wonderful early start and made good time. It was along this section of the voyage that I saw a fox.
A bit of a back story. Foxes are my favorite animal. One of the old English meanings for my name is fox-like. When I went through the shamanic thing, and the new-age thing, the fox was my primary power animal/totem. This was back in middle school, living with my mother. No, I never saw Marla Singer in a cave, but the fox has the trickster nature of the coyote combined with the hunt of the wolf and a supreme level of invisibility all his own. So yeah, I had a fox thing. No, never a fox thing like a furry thing. When I started adminning on CS, a couple of the admins at the time were afraid I was a furry, because of my handle and the description of my out of character diety-self:
A small canine, about two feet at the shoulder. Fluffy white and red fur springs from his body. His wet nose glints at you. On top of his grinning head, balanced between two blak-haired ears, sits a large golden crown. Gemstones set about the diameter of the crown gleam a wide spectrum of bright colors. Thick white fur protects his thick neck. White fur covers his warm chest. Kingfox is wearing a DeathTV Wristband around his wrist. A bushy red tail hangs from him, the tip a milky white. Black limbs spring from the white and red fur covering the rest of his body.
He is in excellent health.
Kingfox (OOC) is wielding eviscerators.
Kingfox notices you looking at him, and for the briefest moment the cute fuzzy fox image is replaced by a towering demon, hellfire and rage filling his red eyes, his black leathery wings beating a warm wind in your face, which quickly hits the floor.
Yeah, most of the details about fur are there to test coverage, cybernetic implant messages, and other things. The last? Well, I was tired of players always looking at me. I don't exist, I'm out of character! So why look at me and start looking at items I'm carrying? So if you look at me, it sets you out of character, and knocks you out for a bit to teach you a lesson. The last part is displayed in red, right before the player is KO'd.
Anyway, so I'm always looking for foxes. I go to areas people have seen foxes, and rarely see them. I can count the number of times I've seen foxes in the wild on one hand. So there we are, driving along the highway, when I see a fox on the side of the road. Dead. Face up, paws crossed over itself, smiling up with a demonic grin made even more twisted by the eyes being mostly rotted out. That set the mood. Uncle Frank exclaimed, "Look at the little fox!"
So we got to Potomac Illinois, the land that time forgot. Until a couple of years ago, even calling the town was a trip into history, the ancient circuits clattering away. Giving directions to the funeral home was easy, "It's on the north end of town." Only knowing that, we managed to find it, but even if we didn't know that it would only take fifteen minutes to go down every street. A slew of relatives were at my Gram's place already, it was wonderful to see them all. After catching up a bit with each other, we made our way to the viewing. Gram set up an amazing amount of photographs, illustrating her husband's long life. From his early days growing up next to outlaws (I think it was Jessie James, one of the famous ones, I know another relative on that side spent time with Billy the Kid), to his time in WWII and the Korean War, to his years as a missionary. There was the photograph of his school's swim team, there was the plot of mary-j he grew for the government in an attempt to find better ways to eradicate the crop. As hiphopatcong said, ``He was part of the problem.'' It was an amazing seeing his long, full, and active life laid out before our lives. The strong proud military man, the missionary dodging bullets and building churches in Ecuador, and the gaunt skeletal physical shell lying in sharp contrast just feet away. I resisted making too many Six Feet Under comparisons to the funeral home in Potomac.
It seemed like the entire town turned out for the viewing. The local police, the churchgoers, his students, his local friends, people from far and wide came to pay their final respects to the man. The small town funeral home was crowded with a wide range of people, from distant California relatives to the local teacher who chose the profession being influenced by his idols, my gram and gramps. It was powerful, seeing the outporing of support and love from the local community. Gram's house was full of food, packed to the brim with food, from the well wishers.
My brother managed to arrange a last-minute flight into Midway that night. We debated driving arrangements for some time, as I wanted to get him but had no vehicle. The rental van didn't have my name on it, as I was two months shy of turning 25 - the cutoff where it no longer costs hundreds to have my name added. And Uncle Frank's car? A stick, which I sadly don't know how to drive. I had been trained by a friend briefly in 1996, didn't master it, and had not attempted in the six years since. So when I started to take my driving shift Friday morning, I ended up blushing and moving to the passenger seat. Out of the five of us, I was the useless passenger. So that left me with no car to get my brother from Midway, two hours to the north of Potomac. Uncle David agreed to get him with me, and we borrowed Gram's car. As Nathan said on the car ride out, ``He's the relative I know the least about,'' a sentiment I agreed to. He's a great guy, a wonderful father, a hardworking kind cool guy, but not someone that us eastcoasters have gotten to know all that well. So the car ride up with him was interesting, talking about work, music, and life. On the last stretch to the airport, we passed a couple White Castles, I joked I should get some for my brother. It's one thing he truly misses from Jersey. There I was, waiting in the airport for the brother I had not seen since the summer I spent in San Francisco with him and his (now ex) wife. That was the summer of 1997. He had offered for me to move in with him two years later, but I was afraid of living with him while his marriage was having such a rough time. Turns out I chose wisely. After a series of conversations with Uncle David about relationships, I see a tall thin built blond with short hair coming down towards us. Of course, I had told family members to expect me with a goatee, and him with a moustache. And we both had decided to go clean-shaven before this tragedy. This was not nearly as much of a suprise as Nathan, who I had last seen with long hair and a thick long beard.... who now looks all respectable-like.
It was amazing and wonderful to see my brother. We've had an odd relationship.... We picked on each other and fought constantly. He'd lock me in the basement, make me crank call people faking a German accent asking for my father, and in general terrorize me. I certainly was no angel, picking fights with him and pushing his buttons. I'd interrupt phone calls with his many girlfriends, I'd be a pest. Seeing him after the Marines was always amazing. He was noble, strong, disciplined, selfless, yet just as brilliant as ever. While the military is not for me, he really straightened out during his time in the Corps. He'd send us clippings of him saving people during a drill emergency, or even the newspaper article about him pulling people from a wreckage the day he went to turn his uniform in as he got cut to reserve. He was a hero in many situations, yet still a hilarious prankster. I looked up to him until the age of four, when I stopped admitting it, and started doing so again at the age of ten when he was in the Corps.
Uncle David living in Chicago, we spent the night at his place. Scott and I fought for the couch, I won, he got the guest room. We ironed our shirts for the next day, I asked fashion advice, and we went to sleep. I've spent the night there two times before in my life, I believe. Every time, I had the most vivid dreams. The first one I barely remember at this point eighteen years later.. the second time it was an odd series of events. His daughter, my cousin Keri, was in a white gown.... playing a piano they don't have. A snake was attempting to attack her, and I tried to kill it. Eventually the two of us ended up killing it a few times, every time we smashed its skull the blinding sunlight streaming in through the windows became a little more bearable. Every time we killed it, that method no longer worked... as we went through pokers, boots, and a variety of household objects and medieval weapons. The snake stopped being killable, and the two of us huddled in fear in a corner of the room. I willed it to die, jumped forward, grabbed it with my hands, and tore its neck apart with my teeth, killing it for good. This time my dreams were a bit more rational, running through a series of foggy wooded valleys against a thin rocky shore. I remember feeling like the hunter, not the hunted, yet with no negative thoughts towards whatever I was chasing... only unconditional love. Various woodland creatures crossed my path, trying to delay me, but eventually turning away. I don't remember reaching my elusive quarry.
The next morning I was woken up by a furry happy energetic licking alarm clock. Uncle David's bouncy happy loving dog was very eager to wake me up, and soon we were dressed up for the funeral. We got into Potomac, and I watched my brother's reaction as we pulled in. A powerful all-emcompasing rush of memories washed over him like a tidal wave... every last tree, every room in their place, ages of memories from decades before for us. We went inside after reflecting on this, and found my mother and Bearcat there! We didn't know when and how and whether or not they were definately making it in, but there they were! It was the first time I had seen them in around six years, since they got married and moved out to Montana. My mom looked great, her hair had gone almost completely white. Bearcat had grown up quite a bit, me now being almost six years older than he was when he got involved with my mother. It was amazingly wonderful to see them... like everyone else that weekend.... and as the line that we all kept on repeating went, ``I wish it was under better circumstances.'' As Gram said, ``It's a real shame that it takes this for the family to see each other.'' True, Aunt Ruth was planning to get as many of us as possible this January for a big 60th wedding anniversary celebration. The last time I had seen many of the relatives, it was at the 50th. But unfortunately, that was not to be.
The funeral was powerful. Gram had been asked to write up a brief thing to read about his life, and ended up writing five pages... and that was trying not to be verbose. She and all four children got up and read, taking turns, describing his life. His frontier childhood, his time in the military, his amazing survival of a variety of dangerous situations (she let Scott, David, and I read a number of his letters to her from during the Korean war), his famed skills in logistics, his years as a missionary, his amazing life.... The young preacher was decent, though a couple of us commented how amusing it was that he tried to convert ``at least one of us'' during the service. He left eight grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and four kids. The grandchildren and their spouses (if any) were pallbearers, except for cousin Rachel who had a baby to take care of. Having never been a pall bearer before, it was quite an experience. Gram had debated whether or not to have the viewing be open casket, as he didn't look entirely like how he looked for all the years of his life save the last. Gram decided on an open casket anyway, and an open casket funeral as many were still arriving in the area on Saturday. We drove the short distance to the nearby graveyard, and the local American Legion performed a 21 gun salute and taps for the fallen veteran. It was a moving burial.... Just thinking about it brings up tears.
There was a reception in the basement of the church, Scott and I sat near Uncle David, Aunt Kathy, Cousin Keri, and her new husband. Nathan and I are the only two of the six grandchildren over the age of ten who have not married, three of the four doing so just over the last few years. Uncle David answered his cell phone a few more times in Spanish (the whole way up to the airport, he was answering the Nextel radio feature in Spanish to employees, and telling me amazing stories of his trips down to Mexico), and Scott and I kept on sharing about how hard it was to accept various cousins married and adult. The food was good midwest grub, with interesting dishes like a soft corn-filled corn dish between bread and pudding or the various salads. Not to mention the cases and cases of fried chicken. Dessert was also amazing, with a really great dirt pudding. Being a family that takes pictures, we assembled for a few massive group photographs, the first in ten years for me... and much longer for my brother. The last time many of our uncles/aunts had seen him, he was finishing high school. He has gotten in and out of the Corps, and in and out of marriage in the fifteen years since.
That night, Scott and I spent the night at Aunt Ruth's ex-husband's relatives after saying goodbye to Mom and Bearcat. No, it's not that odd. He's a major part of the family, and was there all weekend. Spending summers with her in the Corning-Elmira area, I split my time between her place and Uncle John's. They maintained a civil relationship (unlike every other divorce in my family... and three out of the four kids in my mom's generation are divorced, my mom twice.. and my brother once), and I stayed close with him. On the car ride at the first leg of the trip, I expressed to Aunt Ruth how proud I was of how she handled the divorce, and was always jealous that my divorces wouldn't include being civil afterwards. She explained how it messed up her children's relationships, developing fears of commitment. Anyway, Nathan and I would spend nights there, playing on his computers, and eventually BBS'ing for the first time in my life more then a decade ago. He's a great guy, and we were welcomed into his sister's place with open arms. They lived in a huge amazing massive beautiful new home on the edge of farmland with an incredible view. They were, of course, great people... and their son was quite cool. He got along amazingly well with my brother, both of them sharing a passion for wargames. We (the grandkid-level generation) played Uno and Guillotine late, until Scott and I were left there with the three residents. I did quite well that night in Guillotine, winning two of the four games. That night, Scott and I talked quietly in the room we were given quite late about things... relationships, how Aunt Ruth/Uncle John and their kids were affected by the divorce, how we were affected, how he's affected from his divorce from a few years ago. It was wonderful talking to my big brother face to face, something I had long missed.
The next day we played a bit more Guillotine and had a great lunch. Scott tried to win through an impressive collection of military heads every game that day, it seemed. Figures. And the Helfinstine cousin once removed of mine? He always wanted the head of that piss boy. After the meal, we got back to Potomac. Aunt Ruth was upset that we spent the day with her ex's family, when she was expecting us back, so there was a bit of tension. Cousin Gretchen's husband Chris, Scott, cousin Nathan, and I retreated outside. Nathan returned to the family, while I watched Chris and Scott spar for a bit and try some groundfighting. Pete (the last person in my life to see Scott until that weekend) would have been proud indeed. We talked for a bit, and I showed the two of them all the geographical locations that matter to me in an atlas. Here's Madison, where drewuniversity is. Here's where I live, here's Vineland, here's Dobbs Ferry, that lake is Lake Hopatcong, there's Hackensack, there's where my ``sweetie'' lives. Chris showed us photographs of the wedding... which I couldn't attend. The weekend of 9/15/2001... many ended up not making it, tragically. I saw pictures of my mother's second husband, Dan, who I haven't seen in years. I miss him. I found out he was diagnosed with diabetes, and had lost even more weight (he's always been a really big huge mountain man). There was a hilarious picture of Dan dipping Chris, who's a fairly good sized woodsman in his own right. I should visit New Hope one day again soon and find him.
That night we went through his garage and work room... Chris drooled over tools, Scott and I laughed at pamphlets and books. There was a book on house construction from 1962, which included measurements for rooms and furniture. One of the diagrams was ``Serving.'' It featured a woman with late 50's/early 60's short hair, holding a dish, standing next to a man sitting at a table. Wow. The place was a mix of old and new, from the oil can opener/dispenser to brand new energy-saving bulbs. Playing with the old short-wave radio, I lamented the death of numbers stations with my relatives. The two amazing finds of the exploration for me were a train set pamphlet and an A-Team lunchbox. The former was for a small model train set, with odd homoerotic themes and phallic depictions. The latter was an oddity. None of the kids were into the A-Team, none of the grandkids had that lunchbox, we had no clue why the HELL he had it. Scott, Nathan, and I laughed at it and made observations about it for a while. It currently sits in my car, I promised to scan both objects for them. I know, I still need to do so. Gram saw me wearing all black that night, and joked that I looked like the mourning widow. After I mentioned that I often wore black, she asked me if I was goth. Heh. Back in 1995 or 1996, Gram. I've gotten out of that stage.
Said goodbye to David and many of the others, and spent one last night in Illinois. The next morning we woke up early, and said our goodbyes. Frank was staying behind, he had some business left in Chi-town to take care of. So it was his girlfriend Pat, Aunt Ruth, cousin Nathan, and I in the rental van. The three possible drivers took shifts, and we made excellent time back east. Conversation was excellent, Aunt Ruth talking about my mother and her relationships with Dan and Bearcat, and how much better she seemed. She joked that Gram was probably still trying to keep things together, and won't make observations on people for a bit. Later, when she's better, she'll talk about Nathan not taking classes anymore, my mother's tattoo, my long hair, etc.
The flat bleak skyline gave way to trees and hills, as we made our way through Indiana and Ohio. Past Cleveland, we started to see real differences in elevation. After Scott was sparring with Chris, he complained about how humid it was, and how he was drowning in the abundance of air... coming from Denver. Meanwhile, Chris and I were complaining about how dry it was, and how chapped our lips were getting. So it was good to get back closer to sea level, driving through the foggy hills of Pennsylvania. Dropped Nathan off at Buffalo, and agreed to start a SMAC PBEM game. Dropped off the rental van, and then dropped off Pat in Rochester. Thought about all the MOO'ers in Buffalo and Rochester again, as I did the way out there. Wish I had more time to spend there, could have met some of them, instead of the whirlwind ripping into and out of town in the blink of an eye. So many cool people, like agentorrange who I would have loved to see again. Fuck, meeting Quinn himself would have been an honor. The man is an idol of mine, the greatest founding father of cybersphere.
Aunt Ruth and I made the last leg together... and the highway I was to take as a shortcut to her place was massively shut down. So I took a broad sweeping triangle out of my way, but got to get another great view of the Corning-Elmira area I had spent so much time in. We talked about the Horseheads Valley's history, the buildup of the area (which we also talked about on the way out), and she pointed out Corning's new corporate buildings (her ex-husband being a bigshot for them, and me visiting them often growing up... once even taking one of the Corning corporate Lears into Newark). Conversation was great, and I helped her carry things into her place after we arrived there. Moved my stuff to my car, and said my goodbye. Drove down through Binghamton (didn't say hi to daylami, it being two in the morning or whatever)... had a great drive back. Loved going down 17 and 81 at night, the sleepy little PA towns, the industrial parks south of Binghamton....
My whole time out there, my ``sweetie'', towelboy, aaronkliger, and hiphopatcong called/text messaged/left wonderful touching voicemails. I wished I had more time to talk to them while I was out there, but it seemed like I was either racing somewhere else or being sat in front of a relative I hadn't seen in over a decade who wanted to catch up. But as soon as I crossed the border into PA from NY, the cell phone came out and I started calling. They were wonderful supportive loving thoughtful friends. I'm lucky to have them in my life. Very lucky.
Sections of 380 and 80 were red. No, it wasn't Carbon county in PA... I didn't get that far west on 80. Chunks of deer everywhere on the road, more than I had seen in almost a year of taking that route daily. Once I merged onto 80 from 380, I was in a trip down memory lane... for the long period of time that my ``sweetie'' lived two hours west of me, taking 80 for a long while each way twice a week. I knew every landmark of that stretch like the back of my hand, though the vehicular landmarks had finally been towed away. Every sign, every bump, every service road, every sweeping curve about a hill brought back memories of dozens of trips back home from visiting her.
So I made it home... exhausted. Every time I talked to my bosses about going out, they kept on telling me to take as much time as I needed, but I made it to work the following afternoon to catch up on things. And that's the story of my trip out west. I bet I've lost just about all of you peeps at this point. Wow, this post is very link-free. How unlike me. *cough*cough*cough*cough*cough* So here's some random old Drew crap: GLENN ALPERIN POETRY! Pete Magyar doing a project! WMNJ under my reign of terror! Aaron's hilarious website! Drew and you! I play the Cello! I'm a fan, not an employee!
So thank you, faithful readers, for making it this far. I appriciate you letting me share my life with you, and you sharing your lives with me. And I've reached the client's limit for post length. So thanks, I love just about all of you!