My Last Grandmother

July, 1999

i am sitting in a small hotel room near columbia, louisiana just a mile from the ouachita river bridge on highway 165. we buried my grandmother today. i have been dreading this weekend for a week.

my wife paged me, just as i was teeing up for the 15th hole on eagles watch at the innisbrook resort last sunday afternoon. and so i watched the final round of the british open with the rest of my pals at the clubhouse in an extraordinary state. all week, i dodged in an out of clarity and finally crashed on thursday morning. i couldn't figure out whether or not to compartmentalize. i had responsibilities, i had arrangements.

this was my last grandmother. technically speaking, she is my wife's maternal grandmother. but i have issues with the term 'in-law'. i have family, that's all. and so i have met dozens of cousins down here among the soy, cotton and corn. i have gravel in my pocket from the brownsville baptist church cemetary. i have weeds in my socks from the growth over house of o.g. williams, the departed's departed husband. i have advantix pictures of the tumbled down corrogated steel roof. i have to fly home tomorrow and see my own children, and then i have a seminar to present on tuesday in the silicon valley.

one word pops into my haggard head at this moment. it is 'assimilation'. on thursday i will be building a system in denver. the following week i will be in class all week, and then it's off to puerto rico for sales club - rainforest horse trails and casino nite. sometime in the middle of august i'm going to assimilate all of this. right now, i am just rolling around in neutral. i have no more grandmothers left. time is running out.

i only met her a few short years ago. it was my job to see if i could find an attorney to get her son fred another trial. it was a job i walked into as the man who married her oldest granddaughter. a dream of rescue i was completely unable to fulfill. but uncle fred, a man whose confusion and determination evoke tons of embarrassing hope, finally spoke today in an idiot savant rant of immense spiritual dimensions. rocking forward and back wild-eyed and garrulous he stuttered and flew through psalms, corinthians, blessings & promises. his face bore the burdens of two arduous convictions, that of god's salvation and that of first degree murder. his words teetered and rambled, and at every pause we were painfully reminded of both, and yet it was clear that poor uncle fred didn't possess the mind to fully explain and accept the reality of either. yet there he stood in front of all of us, just behind grandmother's casket, in denim and shackles, raising his voice in agitated song unable to lift his hancuffed hands above his head in praise. a belt of chain with a master padlock in his beltloops kept his leather bible zip case within reach. on his way back to the first pew, ambling like a penguin, arms locked to his sides, he dropped the bible.

god exists somewhere in tortured minds, perhaps everywhere. grandmother's grave was dug by 7 convicted men in baggy orange pants. according to the green led display in the cadillac deville provided by avis, it was 110 degrees outside. i didn't have any black pants and wore navy chinos. a dirt track leads to parcel #10 behind the church which will be auctioned off by sealed bid in september 1999. reverend hall said "cast me not off, in my old age". he looked like cab calloway. the tent and supplies for the interment were removed from the cemetary by a sport utility hearse. the guards from the louisiana department of corrections loosened uncle fred's hands and shared barbecue ribs with the family for 90 minutes after the service. i sat in the back of the chruch with paul who told me about the mill, the oil field, the high school, the mandatory sentencing laws, the sonic, the mc donalds, the kfc, the population is 1800. there are 7 old folks remaining. two months after aunt annie bought her home, they built the housing projects around the corner. i didn't see any white people all day, except for the men fixing the roof on this hotel. they put concrete slabs over the gravesites.

james said that coon tastes great barbecued but only get the freshest roadkill. make sure the bones aren't too smashed up, or you waste your time - just like taking buckshot out of a squirrel. erica enters famu business this fall. she has more trophies in the living room than i could count. adolph left his teeth in a papertowel. bryan is from flint; he took the road through st. louis and saved 5 hours on the trip. nobody can decide who it falls to to take lee, the family thief, back home. he is looking dangerously thin, but nobody wants to talk about it. j.d. can't believe that george from lagos, nigeria can't take the heat, they don't have air conditioning over there? "i have air conditioning in my car and in my house, i never turn it off". howard doesn't want any crown royal, thank you. ed has two horses back from the vet to be wormed. he says the price of goats have gone up to a rediculous $70 a head - almost as much as cattle. ida says there are 200 some odd acres split between herself and her siblings, she's going to make sure it stays in the family and not cleared. she likes to hunt deer. uncle floydell pumped my arm once again, he didn't recognize me in the tanktop and ball cap.

the ribs are the bomb. grape pop. black eyed peas. okra. potato salad. baked beans. spaghetti, fried chicken, baked chicken,stuffing, broccolli, dump cake, sock it to me cake, orange pinnaple buntd cake, ham, lite beer from miller, redpop, muffins, biscuits. no corn. no monkey bread. no greens.

i'm here at the hotel on the pretense that i had work to do. everybody else went to see erica's fashion show.  i'm in no mood to do any work. i'm surprised that i was able to write this. i don't know what to think right now. i just want to get it out. observe and articulate, observe and articulate.

i only touched her forehead. i wanted to kiss her. i knew she would be cold. i didn't want a cold kiss. i don't think i could have handled a cold kiss. not from my last grandmother.

if i turn on the television to cnn, they'll still be yapping about kennedy. thank god for espn. i'm waiting for all these knuckleheads who spam me with jokes to get some kennedy jokes over to my inbox. i need some more ammo. this american prince shit really gets on my last nerve. even cuomo on charlie rose couldn't resist. death is just fucking death. it makes everybody feel miserable and frail. somedays when i want to rage, i remember that i have children and therefore hold back. nobody can afford death. it's a good thing that it's always a surprise. it's too logical and powerful a force to plan. back in the memphis airport layover bathroom stall, i composed a eulogy, then realized i had not been asked to speak. it's just as well - there's no way i could match uncle fred. he was really the star today, out of angola for a day with his school-aged grandchildren, taking panorama pictures with a dozen black people dressed in black. the mad sermon was the electrifying moment. and in his manchild's smiles, his awkward 'jesus loves you' hugs, his armed entourage, there was the proper surfeit of madness appropriate for my mourning weekend in northern louisiana.

but i guess i haven't embraced the madness totally. accepting a cold kiss, that would have put me over the top. there's where my heart is, at last. my last grandmother will have always been warm to me. i can sleep with that.