So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
I was unsure if I’d go to college. I pondered why I accepted the army college fund, still without thoughts, and turned north on I-110, towards the airport, and tucked my body low to reduce air drag and flew over downtown and soon pondered nothing because I was focused on driving as fast as I could go safely. I was tucked against the fuselage and craning my neck up to see the road and lost track of time, but about 10 minutes later I automatically slowed as I approached the airport exit that took me to Granny’s house. I stopped at the red light and panted, surprised that my heartbeat was so fast and that I had been breathing shallowly. I realized I was automatically driving towards Granny’s and Grandma Foster’s, and the light changed to green and I chose to go the opposite direction simply to feel I was in control.
I didn’t remember ever having gone that way, yet the sparsely populated buildings and trees felt familiar. I followed the winding road a few miles and came upon an intersection with a giant, magnificent stately oak tree across from a convenience store and I stopped at the red light and realized where I was. The light changed and I crept forward, mesmerized, recalling moments there in waves of memories that coalesced into one thought: PawPaw.
A mile later I saw the old house and the gate leading to the fishing pond, and I turned into the gravel driveway and carefully navigated my two wheels between wheel ruts and wobbly rocks and stopped in front of the carport and turned off the motorcycle and removed my helmet and stared, simultaneously unsure how I had found the house and surprised that I hadn’t been there in ten years. It had been so easy, and was only a few miles from Granny and Grandma Foster.
The kitchen door opened and MawMaw stepped out and I felt the sensation of having smelled hairspray and chocolate chip cookies. She stared at me for only a brief moment and then smiled broadly and exclaimed, “Jason! Oh my god! It’s you!”
In my mind’s ear, I heard her call me for some shugga’, but I sat on my motorcycle, overwhelmed but the surreal nature of seeing MawMaw after Big Daddy’s funeral. She hurried towards me and that woke me up and I climbed off the motorcycle and kicked the kickstand and met MawMaw in an embrace. She didn’t give me any shugga’, but she squeezed met tightly and I held her and ten years hadn’t passed and I was a six year old boy arriving home.
“Look at you!” she exclaimed, and she stood back and looked me up and down and smiled. She still smelled of hairspray. Something was missing; I didn’t hear crickets.
She asked me inside as if no time had passed, and as we walked through the door I noticed that PawPaw’s cricket cage was gone, but I was still so surprised at the day that I waited to see what else was different before asking questions. MawMaw kept talking about how much I had grown and how happy she was to see me and how much she missed me, and I listened with part of my mind and looked around with another. Not much had changed, and I was surprised at how many details I recognized and how I knew where things would be. I knew where to find the bathroom and television, and which window looked to the back yard, past the big gate to the small barn and fish pond.
MawMaw kept talking and guided me to the hallway, and my surprise continued to build. I never knew she was related to the Lamars! MawMaw must have been a millionaire, and for the first time I saw the old house for as small and run down as it was; I don’t know why.
MawMaw was born Dorris Shakelton of the Lamar family. According to Wikipedia:
Lamar Advertising is an outdoor advertising company which operates billboards, logo signs, and transit displays in the United States and Canada. The company was founded in 1902 by Charles W. Lamar and J.M. Coe, and is headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The company has over 200 locations in the United States and Canada. They have reportedly more than 325,000 displays across the USA.
I never knew, but back then I wouldn’t have known the Lamar family, anyway. I knew then that she must have been rich; though that was not a fact, and today I don’t know any more. But, I know that if you’re driving down the interstate and see one of 325,000 advertisements, that’s probably a sign that connects you to this story, especially if you see an eighteen wheeler trucking by.
She had photos and newsarticles of me, too, and more than the single photo of her with the Lamars. I saw framed photos of me clipped from the newspaper and hung in their hallway. Many Recent ones, like a few wrestling articles from the previous two years that mentioned my name, and a full color weekend edition from shortly after Uncle Bob died, shared with Dr. Z and highlighting how I volunteered to perform weekly at Our Lady of the Lake children’s ward; I had performed there while staying with Uncle Bob in the critical care ward, and I had developed my own version of David Copperfield’s Project Magic to help kids rehabilitate injured hands and wrists and to distract themselves for a few hours. Other clippings spanned ten years and went all the way back to my Brown Deer art, and several were mistakenly my cousin, Jason Partin, and his football and academic achievements. I smiled slightly, realizing that combined he and I looked pretty impressive on MawMaw’s wall.
At that point, enough surprise was gone that I could start chatting with MawMaw, and I learned that she and PawPaw had divorced recently, but they had followed me all of my life. I felt confused, not quite realizing how my ten year old belief that they didn’t want me had created deep seeded beliefs that were being challenged then, and I was uneasy by the feeling of neurons in my brain detaching from old assumptions and reaching for new connections to form with the new information. I became quiet again, and MawMaw chatted away cheerfully and pulled out a scrapbook of court reports and petitions dating back to when PawPaw first picked me up at daycare and continuing for years after I returned to Wendy, seeking to adopt me. They had loved me and had wanted me and had fought for me, but Wendy had lied to me and I lost PawPaw and now he wasn’t there and I was leaving Louisiana. I grew upset as neurons locked onto the anger and resentment of loosing rather than the joy and gratitude of finding, and I said I had to leave.
MawMaw asked if I’d like to speak with PawPaw, and she pulled the phone off its wall hanger and called him at his home. He had moved back to Mississippi, to the forest near Woodville, so it was a long distance call and took a few moments to connect. She spoke briefly and handed me the phone.
“Hey d’er, Lil’ Buddy!” I heard.
I said something about missing him and being surprised he wasn’t there, and he said, “Everyone deserves to be happy. MawMaw weren’t, so I told her to put on her walkin’ shoes!” He said it cheerfully and with love, like PawPaw would, and I know now he meant that everyone should be happy and that conventions, traditions, beliefs, and desires don’t lead to happiness but action does, and he and MawMaw did what they had to do to each be happy, but at that time my neurons had already begun the process of attaching anger and resentment to that day, and somehow I heard something that validated Wendy’s statements years ago, that PawPaw would walk away from me just like everyone walked away from her. Somehow, I was becoming more resentful of Wendy and of PawPaw rather than celebrating finding him again, and I had to leave. I don’t recall what I said, but he said to get his phone number from MawMaw and I hung up and was as polite as PawPaw had installed in me but didn’t get anyone’s phone number and left MawMaw’s and accelerated onto I-10 and flew away. I can’t forget that day, because it was the last time I saw MawMaw and the last words I heard from PawPaw, and they are forever a part of me.
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