Tag Archives: Alabama

The armies of life

It’s nearly Labor Day and the dragonflies are back, zipping over the deck against a bright blue sky. Somewhere south in the Gulf of Mexico is a storm that might (1) give us some rain and wind, (2) miss us altogether, or (3) come ashore as a full-on hurricane that would send us running for the hills.

This kind of uncertainty isn’t fun, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for the life my wife and I have been leading for months now. Fifteen years after moving from Washington, DC to Atlanta, we decided to move again: to sell our house in the Atlanta burbs, buy a smaller one in Birmingham, Alabama, my wife’s hometown, and divide our time between there and the Florida panhandle where we are now.

Sounds like a snap, right? Seniors embracing change like youngsters, living life to the fullest,  being mobile and flexible, and all those other well-known ‘Murican buzzwords (sorry, I mean “values”).

Let me be very clear: I’m not complaining. I know we’re lucky we can manage this financially, and a lot of people would love to have our problems. But this much change takes effort, will, creative thinking, optimism, and plenty of energy, both physical and emotional. And we’re 15 years older than last time. It’s tough.

We started by clearing out our house and giving away many things we’d no longer need. Then we staged the house for sale, making it look like a model home where no one actually lived. I missed my big, comfy recliner in the den, which we turned into a Potemkin dining room. Then we moved out – which, due to mistakes and neglect by the people we hired to assist us, turned into a horrible last-minute scramble. We felt like we were being evicted from our longtime, much-loved home.

Next came the trying process of searching in a different city for a house that retains the good qualities of the old one – location, location, location, trees in the yard, and a living room suited for music. We found a place but are far from settled.

The new home and new city are good things. They’re things we wanted. Why does it all feel so hard, like perpetual PTSD?

A phrase keeps running through my mind, from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” his elegy for Lincoln: “The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d, And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d, And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.”

I don’t know how much weight we’ve lifted, how many miles we’ve driven, or how many hotels we’ve slept in, usually badly. It’s not over. I still sometimes think I just can’t do this for one more day. It’s still tough.

What’s kept us going and will get us through to the end is each other. If you have any sense, you don’t go swimming in the ocean alone or head into the desert without loads of water, so you don’t attempt something physically and psychically earthshaking without a strong partner.

For 16 years and counting, we’ve been together until death do us part. Backaches, U-Haul trucks, hot and cold running contractors, and Matterhorns of boxes will not us part. Our possessions are scattered across three states, and our emotions at any given time are less predictable than that storm, but our hearts are still as one.

There’ll be a house with music and friends again. It’s not even officially ours yet but it already has love.

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Front yard burial part deux

Some of you alert readers might recall that a couple of weeks ago I brought you the story of a man from Alabama who attracted a bit of a stir by burying his wife in his front yard. As part of my solemn duty to keep my friends fully informed, I now have an update. Granted, this affair doesn’t hit the TV news trifecta: unless you live in the town where it happened, it’s not local, the story’s not exactly late-breaking, and you really wouldn’t say it’s “live.”

But I digress. The word is that the late Mrs. Davis has now been removed from the yard. Her husband says cremation is next, but as a red-blooded Internet busybody, I of course have a better idea! According to the AP, when Mr. Davis went to court to argue this thing, he wore a houndstooth hat. This puts him in that vast and noble group of folks who could be described as “not Auburn fans.”

So what better resting place than the end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Hey, it worked for Jimmy Hoffa in Jersey.

Six feet under and ten feet from the porch

As folks of my age and shelf life get a bit older, a lot of us are probably trying to get various worldly ducks in a row and straighten out things like wills. In any such discussion, there’s the delicate matter of what to do with the actual remains, ye olde corpus of delicti, and where said corpi should reside while the spirit is off gallivanting in heaven, hell, paradise, purgatory, or maybe just Cleveland.

Well, somebody next door in Alabama has come up with an interesting solution: burying his late wife in the front yard. That’s right, friends. Buried. His. Wife. In. His. Front. Yard. This, says he, was her wish. Not the back forty or even the back yard. The front.

Ah, the South. Can you think of any other place on earth where this might ever possibly, conceivably happen? William Faulkner, of course, laid down the Southern philosophy on such matters for all time when he wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Now, it’s “The dead may be past but I still have to water ‘em once a week, and sometimes throw on a little Weed and Feed.”

I guess he’s saving money on flowers and gas (no driving to an actual cemetery). But I sure feel sorry for the man’s neighbors, especially if they’re the superstitious type and didn’t get along too well with the deceased. Does everybody whistle when they walk past?

And just imagine trying to sell your home, having a buyer all ready to sign, and then they innocently ask, “Oh, what is that charming display in that yard?” The city attorney and the town council must be thinking right about now, “I’ll bet even John Boehner never has to put up with anything like this.” Oh, there’s one heck of a reality show in here somewhere!

My own preferences in this area will stay private, but it’s safe to say I will not be spending eternity under the crepe myrtles of Dunwoody. In fact, I don’t want to be under anything. I belong to the John Prine school of funeral planning:

Please don’t bury me
Down in that cold cold ground
No, I’d rather have ‘em cut me up
And pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane
And the blind can have my eyes
And the deaf can take both of my ears
If they don’t mind the size

Period present

I wish I could take my mother to see the new movie about Lincoln.  I’ll never forget the night when we watched the segment of Ken Burns’ “Civil War” that included the Gettysburg Address, and the version Sam Waterston read was somehow different than the one she knew.  When it was over, she looked at me and asked, “Did you notice the changes?”  All I could do was say “no” and feel slightly abashed, because through all my education I never studied the address in any depth, let alone memorized it like she did, growing up in Springfield, Illinois.

My closest encounter with the speech was in 1988, when I was assigned to cover the 125th anniversary of its delivery for the Voice of America.  I drove up from Washington to Gettysburg on a Saturday in November and stood in the freezing rain, worrying about whether my tape recorder was working, while a Lincoln re-enactor recited the address.  I didn’t say this in my story because it never would’ve gotten past the editors, but the whole thing seemed a bit cheesy, playing right into the tourist-trap side of the town.  Still, just looking at the battlefield and knowing what happened there – right here in the USA – was sobering.  So was Vicksburg, which I visited a few years later, looking for the grave of a relative who turned out to be one of the many unknowns.

What I keep thinking about now is how close we still are to those times.  My mother was born in 1914, just over half a century after Lincoln left Springfield for Washington.  Growing up in his city, in the early 20th century, she lived just down the block from a former slave.  Is it any wonder that when she was nearly 80, she remembered every single word of that speech?  Or that my wife’s Alabama-born grandfather, reminiscing on a recording made in the 1960s, would talk about how his grandfather died at First Bull Run?  That’s not many generations.  We know these people.

My mother’s gone now but I’ll think of her and Clark Swan and a lot of other folks when I see “Lincoln,” which absolutely is no period piece. It might not even be too late to learn the address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.