January 2. Following our much appreciated respite from the road at The Honey Comb Inn, owned and operated by my sister The Queen Bee in the outskirts of the thriving metropolis of Pittsboro, North Carolina, we attached the big ass truck to the monster and rolled out of town toward Wilmington. Knightsmama and I have half-baked dreams of spending my twilight years in the Tar Heel state. We love the Carolina beaches, and I believe I still have the chance to fulfill my destiny as a beach bum. We love our friends Todd and Meg Hoke, who uprooted themselves from Austin several years ago and planted themselves in Hendersonville. And we love my sister and brother-in-law, their sons and daughters, and sons-in-laws, and great nieces.
|Major Dude and Queen Bee|
Actually, at this moment, there is only one great niece in the region, but within a week or two, we will welcome the second. My niece Elizabeth Pedraza is, as we used to say, “with child,” and as my father might have said, “ready to pop.” She has decided to name her daughter “Birdie.” It is an old-fashioned name, quite popular at the turn of the century. In our family, the name appears in two generations. My grandmother Birdie Louise Adams was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, living there between 1901-1921. She married Forrest Bedford Jamison, of Franklin, as a teenager, gave birth to one son, Forrest, Jr., and on October 8, 1921, died following the birth of my mother, Birdie Louise Jamison. My sisters and I have kept alive several of the Grant-Jamison names, but “Birdie” never seemed appropriate for Gen X or Y or Z. We kept the names “Elizabeth,” “Louise,” and William in several generations. I even dared attach my very old-fashioned “Lyman” to a son as a middle name. Captain Crunch, being the youngest of my parents’ grandchildren, inherited a name I was afraid our side of the family might forget, “Jamison,” and was the first to be named ‘Mack” after Knightsmama’s daddy. Then Liz decided to rescue “Birdie.” I admit, when she told us over the holidays, I teared up. My mother, her grandmother, died almost 44 years ago at the young age of forty-seven years. She left a large and deep hole in our lives. Birdie Pedraza will help fill it.
So we made our way to Wilmington for a couple of nights mostly to get a feel for it. Could it be our future home? The darn problem was that we arrived in a rain storm; then our converter blew, crashing the monster’s electrical system, which meant we spent a chilly night in the belly of the beast. Friday morning, Knightsmama and I did the adult thing: we cried and pleaded with a RV repair company, and by noon, there was light and heat, just in time for the temperature to plunge into the twenties. Still we explored the town a little, roaming to downtown, the community college, the university, the beach and a coffee shop. Because it is a new year and I need to deal with the tire around the belly, I passed Front Street Brewery with averted eyes. By the time darkness fell, Wilmington was still on the list of possible futures.
June 4. By 9:30 in the morning, Waller Grant was rumbling out of town. The plan was to head south to Charleston, South Carolina, for three days, then down to Savannah for the same amount of time, all to taste a little Southern Aristocracy, then, for some down home Southern hospitality, to veer over to central Georgia and visit the homeland of the Wallers, from whence Mackdaddy, Knightsmama’s father, emerged decades ago. Mackdaddy himself had recently driven through this territory. He and his girlfriend had joined us at The Honey Comb Inn for four days wrapped around Christmas. They had made their way to Charleston, then to Georgia to visit his family, and finally back to Texas where they had arrived the day before. Word is they stopped for a little gambling in Bossier City where Mackdaddy drove away a full forty dollars richer.
As Knightsmama occasionally does as we leave one city for another, she telephoned Mackdaddy to keep the maps and calendars up to date. This morning he was feeling a bit out of sorts. His eye hurt and he had a headache coming on. Other than that, his day was starting. I listened in, but kept the monster pointed south. When Knightsmama hung up (you know we don’t do that literally anymore), I could tell she was troubled.
“He didn’t sound quite himself,” she said.
The miles slowly passed under us.
Within an hour, she was on the telephone again, following her instincts, checking in with other members of the family, who also keep tabs on their eighty-one year old patriarch. Piece by piece information drifted in.
Knightsmama’s sister-in-law had talked with him either before or after she had. It’s hard to determine an exact timeline.
He says this is the worse headache he has ever had.
He thinks he might have seen blood when he threw-up.
The vision in his right eye is blurry.
The sister-in-law, who lives two hours away, has called Mackdaddy’s girlfriend.
Mackdaddy’s girlfriend is on the way to his house. She is about twenty minutes away.
Mackdaddy’s girlfriend has called the neighbors to check on him.
These are the same neighbors who had found Knightsmama’s mother on the floor of the den eighteen months ago.
We were still driving down the highway wondering what it is we should be doing. How serious are things? Why isn’t anyone calling us and telling us what is happening? Dr. J. and Captain Crunch sat in the backseat listening to their mother. I turned around a little and saw the Captain was focusing intently, too intently, on his Kindle and the Mindcraft world he has been living in for the past few months. I asked if everyone is okay? Both nodded in a way that told me they didn’t want to go further into this.
“Look, it is early. We don’t know what’s happening. We are still waiting for more information.” A couple more calls and we learned a little more. It was past noon at this point, and we were still working our way to Charleston.
Mackdaddy’s girlfriend, who once was a nurse, believes it was a stroke. She called the ambulance before she had left her house.
When the neighbors arrived, Mackdaddy was very pale, and was sweating a great deal on his forehead
When EMS arrived, they gave him some tests. He seemed confused. He couldn’t hold up his right arm as long he did the left.
The EMS have taken him. They are going to the Wills Point Airport.
The Care Flight helicopter was somewhere nearby and will meet EMS at the Airport to fly him to Tyler, the regional hospital.
There seems to be some disagreement if Mother Francis in Tyler is the best hospital. Someone—who, the girlfriend? the neighbors?—recommend Parkland in Dallas.
Mother Francis has a special ICU ward for stroke victims. It’s the closest.
The girlfriend rode with him to the airport.
At the airport, Mackdaddy tells his girlfriend that he is ready to return home.
The girlfriend is riding in the helicopter with Mackdaddy.
Correction, the girlfriend is not riding in the helicopter.
The oldest son and his wife are driving from Euless to Tyler.
We do not know what his condition is.
And we kept driving south. The frustration built. Will we ever get to Charleston? The panic crept closer. Knightsmama remained brave. Occasionally, she let some tears come. “Is he going to die?”
|Mackdaddy enjoys day a park in Pittsboro|
A stroke is exactly what Mackdaddy has been afraid of all his life. Well, that is not exactly true. He probably never thought much about strokes. At eighty-one he is stronger than most fifty-year olds. He has his land that he has been fencing, himself. He has his cattle. A second house to remodel. He is active with Lions Club and the Methodist Church. He still has his insurance business. The man doesn’t slow down. He has never had high blood pressure or any heart or circulation issues. So stroke wasn’t on his mind. What he is afraid of is being incapacitated, unable to take care of himself, of being dependent upon others. He wants anything except being beridden, incoherent. To live life straight, no detours, until the end.
“Look,” I said, “At the next highway, I can turn the monster to the right, and we can drive straight through to Tyler. Just tell me.”
“Let’s keep going. We really don’t know what is happening. Remember those times with my mother and she turned out to be okay and went home the next day.”
What we are beginning to envision, of course, is the termination of our adventure across America. If we turned the monster west, there is no coming back. We will miss the five weeks we had planned for our trip through the south, Charleston, Savannah, Milledgeville and Flannery O’Connor, Saint Augustine, Miami, Key West, Hemingway and Zora Neale Hurston, etc. etc. etc. I would not be able to drink whiskey at Hank Williams’ grave as instructed by Todd Hoke.
By three o’clock, we had arrived in Charleston. We already had reservations for James Island County Park. Knightsmama suggested, “Let’s go to the campground. Park the trailer. And take a few minutes to think about things.”
The nice lady on Knightsmama’s telephone directed us perfectly to the front gate. Then we needed to drive for a while to arrive at the office and camp store. Welcoming us were a series of holiday displays of lights and fanciful creatures each tagged with the corporate or non-profit sponsor. Wishing us “Happy Holiday,” “Seasons Greetings,” “Merry Christmas,” “Peace on Earth” were the kind folks at Crews Chevrolet and Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union, as well as those at La Ti Da Catering, Boss Disaster Restoration, and EatThisCharleston.com. How nice of them. Charleston’s Holiday Festival of Lights is one of the highlights of the city’s year, featuring 700 displays and two million lights. Too bad we were catching the ruins of the celebration, which ended on New Year’s Eve.
At the office, we explained our situation to a very kind lady, who did her best to remain composed while Knightsmama and I explained our situation. A parent in Texas was very ill. We didn’t know how ill. We were going to keep our reservation, but we would pay just for tonight. We were pulling in, mainly to have a place to settle, make some phone calls, think, take some deep breaths. We had some friends in town we were planning on spending time with. We would call them. Could we please have a pull-through, if available? You have wi-fi, correct?
We found our pad, number 43, a pretty spot with a tree and picnic table, just the right distance from the bathrooms, pulled in, but didn’t disconnect the trailer from the truck. We merely hooked up the electrical and water, and extended the living room slide. Knightsmama and I plopped ourselves at the kitchen table, while the boys kept themselves busy outside with a football. At some point, the Captain scooted up the tree.
|Mackdaddy, Lucy, Captain C, and Dr. J.|
First, we called Rick and Melissa, friends from Austin, who had moved to Charleston within the past couple of years. Rick and Melissa are an exceedingly mature couple, whom we met several years back when we were involved with a foster and adoption agency. They had fostered a son about the Captain’s age, while we had fostered a wonderful and joyous baby girl. Eventually, they adopted their son, while even after 18 months of caring for our little girl, that option remained unavailable. She returned to her birth family. On our side, it is a story of love and broken hearts. Still, we hope everyone continues to find love, happiness, and safety. We arranged for Melissa to meet us at our campsite and take us out for coffee and chai as we worked our way to a plan.
Then Knightsmama reinitiated her round of telephone calls back home. Mackdaddy is now in ICU at Mother Francis.
Mackdaddy’s girl friend, his two sons and their wives have arrived at the hospital.
The doctor’s had seen him.
Yes, he had had a stroke. Confirmed.
It was a cerebral hemorrhage.
We learned that there are two types of strokes.
One is ischemic. This means a clot blocks blood to the brain.
The second is a hemorrhage. This means a vessel ruptures and begins to bleed.
At this moment, he is not conscious.
The doctors have been asking if they should schedule surgery. Surgery would include opening the skull to ascertain if the bleeding can be stopped.
The results of surgery could be that his life is saved, but he would most likely never live independently again.
In other words, if surgery is approved, Mackdaddy will face the kind of life he has always feared.
Mackdaddy’s oldest son is not authorizing surgery. We are in DNR territory.
Everyone is certain that this is what his wishes would be.
His girlfriend confirms that she and Mackdaddy just had the discussion three days prior after they had left Georgia, where they visited his sister in a nursing home.
Mackdaddy didn’t think he would be able to shoot himself to avoid such a life. He didn’t know what he would do.
Everyone in Tyler agrees that Knightsmama needs to get to Texas as soon as possible.
While she was on the telephone, Knightsmama and I both pulled out our computers, attached ourselves to the internets, and attempted to locate flights that night out of Charleston to either Love Field or Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Over and over, we discovered flights that were “unavailable.” We were creeping up to 5:00, and then I located a flight for $209 one way out of Charleston to DFW at 7:05. With one stop in Cleveland, I think, it would arrive slightly before midnight. We could get Melissa to drive Knightsmama to the airport. Renting a car in DFW, she could get to Tyler by 2:00 in the morning or so. The boys and I would spend the night in Charleston and hit the road in the morning and do our best at driving through, but it probably would take us two days. We could find a Wal-Mart to boondock in. No luck, however. By the time we got on the website again to book the flight, it was no longer available. What the hell!
When Melissa arrived at the campsite, darkness had descended in Charleston. But with a telephone call and few directions, she found us. She suggested that we call the airlines, and tell them our story. She had had a similar situation once, and Delta had been very kind. Knightsmama tried, but couldn’t find a way past the automated voice. Anyway, we had already made our plan. We would depart Charleston tonight, head up 29 to Columbia, catch 20 and ride it all the way to Texas. With luck we would make it to Tyler by mid-afternoon. Even if Knightsmama took a morning flight, she wouldn’t arrive much earlier.
Although it seemed like dawdling in a time when determination was called for, the next two hours in Charleston proved to be essential preparation for the next eighteen hours. Melissa loaded her SUV with the Waller Grants and drove us to a Starbucks for early evening caffeine and conversation. Rick met us there with his son, who occupied a corner with the Captain to compare Mindcraft notes. Such moments rate very high on my list because it means I don’t have to listen Captain Crunches’ latest discoveries and creations. Knightsmama grabbed her usual Chai-Tea-Latte-No-Water-Non-Fat. After thirty minutes of general catching up, letting Rick and Melissa tell us about their new life in Charleston, Knightsmama persuaded Melissa and Dr. J to head over to the Harris Teeter to buy provisions for our sixteen hour straight through: sandwiches, pizza slices, sesame sticks, pretzels, hippie M&M’s, Blue Sky Sodas, and fake Oreos. Rick and I got to talk about all sorts of things: baseball, growing up in St. Louis, his coaching, teaching, and books. A lot of talk about books, what I have been reading (Wolfe’s Look, Homeward Angel, and Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner), what he has been reading (the middle books of Proust’s Remembrance). We talked about Catcher and Gatsby. He mentioned McCarthy’s Suttree, and I remembered seeing the name on a building in Knoxville. We also talked about what our boys read, and there was no denying the pride both of us felt that we had raised boys who were friends with books.
By the time our wives returned, and we all made it back to the campground, I felt like some heavy weight had been lifted. I could see Knightsmama felt the same way. It was a mere ninety minutes free from the ropes of what-ifs and what-nows. “Thank you, so much. You can have no idea how helpful it was, after six hours in the car, just to be thinking and talking about something different.” The previous blog is about the kindness and generosity of our friends and how enriched our trip is because of them. Rick and Melissa are examples.
At 8:00 p.m. we had the monster back on the road. By 4:00 p.m. the following day we had made it to Tyler State Park and landed the monster. We overcame a few delays, like missing a exit or two while getting diesel outside Charleston, like a two-hour delay watching a bus burn and halting traffic the entire time, like the innumerable times, it seemed, we had to stop for more diesel. When one averages 10 miles a gallon and one is traveling over a thousand miles, one does have to stop fairly often. For the first time in five months, we drove further than one tank of gas in a day, and also for the first time, we all shared driving duties. Until now, only I had driven the truck with monster attached. This time, I got us almost to Columbia, Dr. J. delivered us to Georgia, I got us to through Atlanta before dawn, Knightsmama made it into Mississippi, and so on. Usually two of us remained awake, one to keep the driver company. I slept right through Birmingham, the town where I was born. By the time we were crossing Louisiana, I was frazzled and could not withhold expressing my disgust of the state’s road system.
Somewhere in Mississippi, Knightsmama began calling again for updates. Over the night, Mackdaddy had stabilized.
At this point, no one expected things to get worse.
His girlfriend reported that his sleeping had been sporadic, and he often seemed agitated.
He was on medicine to keep his blood pressure down.
It had been very high. No one seemed to know the exact numbers but it was 200 something over 100 something.
Now it was 138 over 60.
He is having trouble remembering people’s names.
The morning CAT scan revealed that most likely the bleeding had stopped, and the “bruise” inside the brain was not growing.
Prognosis was cautious but hopeful.
It has been a week since we made the straight through from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Tyler, Texas. Mackdaddy has been moved from ICU to a “regular room” in Mother Francis. In a day or two, he will be transferred to a rehab hospital. His recovery has been quick and positive. He has use of both sides of his body. He has walked. He speaks, if sometimes he can’t locate the correct word. He exhibits his formidable, droll sense of humor. We prepare ourselves by saying we don’t expect him to be the Energizer Bunny when he is released from rehab, but who knows what will happen. Knightsmama spends most of her time at the hospital. The boys and I have settled into Mackdaddy’s house and keep the cows and dogs fed. We are trying to find a routine, with difficulty. Our guess, right now, is that we will be here for some time. Right now, our guess, is that that Waller Grant has taken a gigantic and time-consuming detour. Who knows if we will find our way back to the main road?
Soundtrack. Ferlin Husky “Detour.”