So right, the trip to 'Bama. I wish I had some hugely entertaining, HereBe-esque narrative to relate, but there's no real story here. Just a series of musings and observations, images and memories.
It was nice to be someplace warm and sunny for a few days, even if it was the deep south where people's IQs match the number of their few remaining tobacco-stained teeth and the confederate flag is proudly flown with the american flag at the county sherrif's office (it's a federal offence, but the federal judges down there are the same inbred rednecks, so it don't matter much). Ah, the South, where the six-packs are empty, the Walmarts are full, and fame is achieved by having the biggest hog or the highest meringue at the county fair.
I stepped out of the car and was impaled by a powerfully familiar smell. When I closed my eyes, I thought I was back in Mimizan, Bordeaux, France. I'll never forget the smell of that town, but I never expected to encounter it again. I was sure that the warm weather and nearby ocean were playing tricks on my brain and conjuring the smell from the similarity of the surroundings. I ignored it, but the smell haunted me for two days until I asked my great uncle Les if there was a paper mill nearby. He said there was, about 4 miles away. Well, that explained it. My parents were astounded that I could identify the odour; they couldn't even detect it. But after inhaling that smell to the bottom of my lungs during a week's worth of seat trials, scrimages, and 2K pieces, I couldn't forget it if I tried. And I don't know that I'd want to. Foul as that smell is, it has so many fond memories attached to it that I welcomed the reminder (see Jan 5 blog, "Highs and Lows" item 10 under "highs").
Uncle Les was impressed, too. Uncle Les is a great guy. He and his wife, Pat (my Grampa's sister) are probably the coolest relatives I've got. They retired to 'Bama 'bout 15 years ago to take advantage of the cheap real estate and the balmy clime. When they settled, Foley was a one-horse town where the local doctor was also the sherif, the postmaster, and the editor of the newspaper. But cheap land only 10 miles from the Gulf of Mexico doesn't stay empty long, and now it's a monument to consumerism and suburban sprawl. With two Walmarts. That's alright, though. It keeps Uncle Les busy. His hobby is writing liberal letters to the Voice of the People column in the local newspaper. Since their mission statement promises a balanced representation of the issues, and since Uncle Les is the only person who writes in expressing liberal opinions, all his letters get published. He chuckles a lot and pulls quarters out from behind my ear while jovially commenting that "these rednecks they got down here aren't too quick." Then he goes and writes a letter in support of gay marriage. It's amazing the KKK don't have him on their top 10 wanted list.
Aunt Pat's sweet, too. She makes lemon pies with mile-high meringue and shows me old albums with photos of Grampa and Uncle Les in WWII. And if you give her a beer or two, she'll smile demurely from the back of the room like everyone's granmaw, then occassionally whisper hilariously scathing remarks about anyone not in earshot. And she's always dead right.
We visited Grampa in the hospital a few times a day until they let us take him home on monday. Where Unlce Les has the "never give up, never surrender" mentality of being a displaced yankee in the South, Grampa is more of the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" vein. He sits on the porch of his trailer in a rocking chair smokin' and spittin' like a proper redneck. He's even lost most of his teeth, just to add to the effect. But he's a neat old fart who isn't afraid of anything, still does all his own home repairs, and talks about his second wife in the same loving, affectionate tone he uses when talking about the cat.
His wife. My step-granmaw. An alcoholic, hillbilly armcandy from the hills o' Georgia with all the common sense of a rain-drowned turkey. She's well-intentioned and mostly harmless (provided she isn't driving anywhere), but cosmically annoying.
Last and least are Uncle George (Grampaw's baby brother) and Aunt Lorene. We don't see them often, on account of the last time we saw them (at Granmaw's funeral) Aunt Lorene spent the entire dinner lecturing mom on the evils of papistry (I should mention at this point that Uncle George is a Baptist minister and my mom is Catholic). It wasn't pretty. Ironically, they live up here in Michigan. I say ironic because no one in my family lives in an environment with like-minded people. Liberal Les lives in the deepest of the deep south, and Bible-banging George dwells in a blue state. Go figure.
So we took Pat and Les to dinner a few times, ate us some heapin' plies o' BBQ shrimp, walked along the coast and were awed by the damage from hurrican Ivan last fall, I went for a 4-mile jog down the beach and listened to "charriots of fire" on my ipod, did some bird-watching, ate some more shrimp, and wandered the antique malls. Mom and I spent the weekend talking in unison half the time and dad's eyes got sore from rolling them so much. They toddled around the airports holding hands and looking like the adorable, middle-aged lovebirds they are. I bought a lovely, antique Wedgwood dinner plate decorated with butterflies, but I didn't find a wedding gift for Marley. I got no sleep in the hotel, but I didn't get sick on the planes, so I suppose it's a wash. All-in-all, an OK trip.