Farewell Fayette County & Environs

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

I’m help­ing my mother move from my an­ces­tral demesne this week. I feel lit­tle sor­row re­gard­ing the move from this par­tic­u­lar home, the third of three I lived in when I lived in Fayette County; but a much deeper sense of loss re­gard­ing cer­tain other places that have sen­ti­men­tal value to me. Of course, me be­ing I, they al­most all re­volve around food.

For lunch to­day, Abraham and I stopped at J’s Dairy Inn, lo­cated in Liberty, IN. Since the pre­vail­ing wind is from the west, if you’re in Connersville and you spit, it’ll land in Union County. In ad­di­tion to be­ing the lo­ca­tion of J’s, it is also home to Whitewater Memorial State Park (the only lake I’ve ever swum across), and the pret­ti­est girls per cap­ita of any­where I’ve ever been. I used to stop in at J’s semi-reg­u­larly dur­ing my high school days, and quite reg­u­larly when I worked as sum­mer help do­ing warehousing/​teamster work for E.W. Brockman Company. When they’d place an or­der I’d ba­si­cally de­liver any and every pa­per good they’d use. The most de­li­cious greasy-spoon burg­ers, crispest crin­kle-cut fries, and most gi­gan­tic milk­shakes around. You could drive from Connersville to Liberty, eat at J’s and get back to work in just barely un­der an hour.

Dinner was from Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken. Just a reg­u­lar fast food joint. Can’t hold a can­dle to the St. Gabriel’s Fried Chicken  din­ner at the Fayette County Free Fair, but it was the best fried chicken in town oth­er­wise, and to my taste-mem­ory, no other fast food fried chicken will ever be the same. We ate our chicken din­ner at Robert’s Park, home to the afore­men­tioned fair, de­mo­li­tion der­bies, har­ness rac­ing (and il­le­gal gam­bling), clas­sic car shows, and fre­quent cross-coun­try prac­tice des­ti­na­tion. In the pre-sea­son, we’d run past the dirt track, into the woods and go swim­ming in the Whitewater River.

Tomorrow will be Kunkel’s Drive-in for lunch. Tenderloin bas­ket with heavy mus­tard and a vanilla coke. The cute girls al­ways worked at Dairy Queen, K-mart, or Kunkel’s in high school. I re­mem­ber sit­ting in the back of my dad’s van as a lit­tle kid and un­wrap­ping the smell of deep fried pork, the later taste of mus­tard crusted in the cor­ner of my mouth. Pizza King for din­ner. Holiest of holies. St. Louis-style pie. Do you prefer west­side or south­side? It mat­ters. I’m a south­side feller, the over­sized gooey choco­late chip cook­ies and table­top ar­cade games as a boy, and its liquor li­cense as an adult. I spent more time at west­side though, where the teens hung out in my day. Dairy Twist for dessert, even if Abraham doesn’t eat his din­ner. I went there every evening one sum­mer for a large cherry milk­shake, try­ing to put on some weight, and never had the con­fi­dence to ask out the girl who handed them to me night af­ter night. Didn’t put on any weight ei­ther. Fencing in col­lege fi­nally did that. Now, the fight is to keep it off. Just not this week.

I’ll still have the mem­o­ries of be­ing perched on the hill at 514 Franklin Street, over­look­ing the whole city and feel­ing like a trip-step would send me sprawl­ing onto St. Gabriel’s steeple. But I won’t be dri­ving past that house any­more. I’ll still have mem­o­ries of the house on Stoneybrook Lane, the en­tire days spent in William’s Creek, swing­ing on grape vi­nes, socks cov­ered in bur­docks, be­ing forced to strip out­side and be cold-hosed off be­fore even be­ing al­lowed near the house. But I won’t be near that creek again. I’ll still have mem­o­ries of rolling up to­ward Richmond with the boys, 45 min­utes to the near­est movie the­ater, the back­road route, Pennville to Pottershop, late night truck stop stop for the Night Owl Special: a plat­ter of bis­cuits and gravy for $2.00. Now just a 10 min­ute stretch on I-70 as I bar­rel to­ward Indianapolis.

I’ve hated on Connersville in my day. Even wrote a let­ter to the ed­i­tor once upon a time. But it’s a great place to raise a kid, and the grow­ing-up-to-hate-it-and-leav­ing is kind of nec­es­sary; if we didn’t drift away like dan­de­lion fluff, Connersville wouldn’t be Connersville. Water flows away from the spring to nour­ish other ar­eas.

My Dad Died

Saturday, 19 February 2011

My dad died awhile back, on Wednesday, 19 January 2011. He was di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer in the lat­ter half of 2010, had a lung re­moved, and then de­vel­oped an un­treat­able in­fec­tion.

Don’t smoke, peo­ple.

The Past

Here’s the thing: shame though it may be, for me, my dad died one sum­mer af­ter­noon about 17 years ago. As a 13 year-old, I jumped out of the 1970 Pontiac GTO (that I helped him re­store) on Western Avenue & 18th Street in Connersville, Indiana. He was yelling about how he was go­ing to beat the hell out of me when we got to his home. My fa­ther died dur­ing the ter­ror of those min­utes in the car, while I fever­ishly weighed the op­tions on how best to pro­tect my­self. I never drive past the ram­shackle house halfway down that block with­out re­mem­ber­ing.

At first it wasn’t like he’d died, but grew into death as the years rolled by. Throughout high school and ta­per­ing off in col­lege there were awk­ward in­stances at cross-coun­try meets, cards wish­ing me Happy Birthday & the like. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man he ap­peared to be in pub­lic (which seemed an act to me) with the man who once spent an en­tire day of vis­i­ta­tion dri­ving me around in his van and yelling at me & my mom for mak­ing his other chil­dren bas­tards in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man who said he wanted to be a part of my life with the man who fought tooth & nail to avoid con­tribut­ing to my up­bring­ing & ed­u­ca­tion.

He was eas­ier to for­get as those at­tempts at in­ter­ac­tion came fewer and far­ther be­tween. Once I started my blog, I knew he read it, he left strange, stilted com­ments from time to time, but by then it was easy to just see these as com­ing from one more stranger among the bunch. The awk­ward at­tempts to com­mu­ni­cate with me via the oc­ca­sional card, email for­wards, blog com­ments & prox­ies were the my fa­ther could do. I think he had a per­ma­nent vic­tim men­tal­ity. This al­lowed him to twist the wrongs he did to oth­ers into wrongs done unto him. There is no need to ad­mit mis­takes or ask for for­give­ness (two things I never heard or saw him do) when one is the chronic vic­tim. Repeat the spin enough and oth­ers will be­lieve it, re­peat it long enough and you’ll start to be­lieve it your­self.

In high school, one of my teach­ers (and a one­time friend of my fa­ther) had a talk with me about his aborted re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther . He con­fided in me that his one re­gret in life was that he didn’t make peace with his fa­ther when he had the chance. I wasn’t any­where near a place where I could have done that when I was given that ad­vice, but it has al­ways stuck with me. I fre­quently thought about con­tact­ing my fa­ther, but con­tin­u­ally put it off, some­times through my own re­luc­tance, but some­times that de­ci­sion was re­in­forced through the ac­tions of peo­ple close to him. I’ve re­ceived hate-filled emails through the years, most long-since deleted, but here’s a re­cent sam­ple, from a com­plete stranger:

Hey, can I be any clearer now? Do I have your at­ten­tion? I know Don has kept in touch with you and let you know what is go­ing on, but I dont know if you seem to un­der­stand the sever­ity of this sit­u­a­tion. Are you re­ally that shal­low that you are go­ing to al­low your own fa­ther, who gave you life, to go through this surgery, that he may or may NOT live through, and never let him meet his grand­son? You are a sick, pa­thetic ex­cuse for a per­son and you have no feel­ings. My kids are so hurt by this. He is their grandpa and they love him and he treats them won­der­ful and they dont judge him by mis­takes he has made in the past. I am cry­ing on a nightly ba­sis and pray­ing to God that he makes it through and you cant even reach out to him in his time of need. He is not even my fa­ther, but he has treated me like a daugther since the day we met.…..You should be ASHAMED of your­self. Every year that man has bought Christmas presents for you and they have just piled up in a closet in his and my moms house be­cause you never had the guts to show up. BEMAN ADAM and let your boy meet his grand­fa­ther. Stop run­ning. You are go­ing to re­gret this de­ci­sion for the rest of your life if he dosnt make it through the surgery. Please make peace. Your dad wants to be a fa­ther to you and ALWAYS has. Sorry your mom ru­ined that for you but your old enough to make your own de­ci­sions now. Be the adult and face him and let him know you give a damn. He loves you with all of his heart and it makes me sick the way he aches to meet his grand­son and wants to see you. You make me SICK. You so de­serve an ass beatin!!!! I wish we could have been friends or fam­ily but you re­fused to let that hap­pen and I tried to give you the benifit of the doubt over the years and keep my opin­ion of you to my­self but se­ri­ously, how do you look at your­self in the mir­ror every­day? ????

Do the right thing for your son Adam. Stop be­ing self­ish and think­ing about your­self. The world dosnt re­volved around you. Are you old enough to un­der­stand that yet???


Whenever I thought that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was a pos­si­bil­ity I would re­ceive a re­minder of the un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment I’d been de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing. I’ve never felt the need to ac­cept that neg­a­tiv­ity into my life.

Things could have been much dif­fer­ent these past 17 years if at any point in that time I had got­ten the sense from him that he had changed in any way, but that never hap­pened. In some ways, I’m still that scared 13 year-old boy when think­ing of my fa­ther, and I think my fa­ther was never able to see me as more than the scared 13 year-old boy he didn’t un­der­stand. Not only did I never get an in­di­ca­tion from him that he had changed, but bits and drib­bles of ru­mor made their way to me through a va­ri­ety of sources that con­firmed my sus­pi­cions. Once my son was born, I started hear­ing from peo­ple that he would show folks a pic­ture of Abraham and tell them “That’s as close as I’m ever go­ing to get to meet­ing him.” I think the only way he knew to get at­ten­tion from oth­ers was to ma­nip­u­late them into giv­ing him what he wanted.

For 17 years there have been things that I’ve needed to dis­cuss with my fa­ther; now I will no longer have a chance to do so. It might be cow­ardice on my part for never hav­ing at­tempted to make those tough con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen, and I think I bear a small amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity (the same re­spon­si­bil­ity any per­son has for re­solv­ing un­fin­ished busi­ness with an­other) for not hav­ing con­tacted him once I was ma­ture enough to know my own mind, but a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity lay upon him to seek amends with me. Not once in the 17 years of our es­trange­ment did he ap­proach me forth­rightly, con­tritely or non-ma­nip­u­la­tively. The ap­proaches were al­ways oblique, con­de­scend­ing, re­tarded, as if he could not no­tice the gi­ant red flag of his abuse. I don’t know, maybe he couldn’t see it. Nothing could be eas­ier than to spread blame around; the fact re­mains that the sit­u­a­tion will al­ways re­main a sad one. It’s a shame; es­pe­cially since I for­gave my fa­ther years ago. However, for­give­ness is only pro­duc­tive when it is shared with some­one who seeks it; and for­giv­ing some­one for an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship does not re­quire main­te­nance of that re­la­tion­ship. I made my peace with him, but he never gave him­self the chance to find out.

For 17 years I didn’t want the grow­ing pile of Christmas presents in his closet, I wanted my fa­ther to re­spect him­self, our re­la­tion­ship, and me enough to say that he was sorry.

A lot of buried bit­ter­ness per­co­lated to the top in this sec­tion. I’ve known about it and rec­og­nized it for years, and since I’ve done that, along with know­ing and rec­og­niz­ing other dan­ger­ous emo­tions and prob­a­bil­i­ties that are my in­her­i­tance from my dad, I’ve been able to chan­nel them into pro­duc­tive en­ergy, to­wards my­self, my son, my kith & kin. And bit­ter­ness is a pas­sive emo­tion; I bore and bear my fa­ther no ill will; I was sad­dened to hear of his can­cer and de­cline in the same way I would be sad­dened by hear­ing that news about any per­son that I know.

The Future

Because I’ve lived over half my life with­out a fa­ther, I’ve had to learn most of what it means to be a man on my own. That’s both a hin­drance and a help; a hin­drance be­cause I’ve had no con­sis­tent pres­ence to set an ex­am­ple or of­fer guid­ance, a help be­cause that very lack of pres­ence has forced me to work hard at defin­ing man­hood for my­self, and I feel that I’ve reached an un­der­stand­ing that I would have been in­ca­pable of if I hadn’t had to do the work my­self. The learn­ing process be­gan with sim­ple things, like teach­ing my­self to shave, but has ex­panded and mor­phed through­out the years into some­thing as com­plex as a phi­los­o­phy for my ac­tions & de­ci­sions as a fa­ther. There will al­ways be holes in the foun­da­tion, but that just means I need to change the metaphor for man­hood from a struc­tural one into a pro­gres­sive one; it’s a jour­ney, not a house. A jour­ney changes, a house set­tles.

Because of my father’s dis­ap­point­ment that I wasn’t the boy he wanted me to be, I’ve learned the op­po­site of his ex­am­ple: to ac­cept that what I want has noth­ing to do with what is. I’ve learned that the im­po­si­tion of will is less pow­er­ful than run­ning wa­ter. Instead of beat­ing on a wall and get­ting nowhere, flow around it and move be­yond. The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing stub­born & be­ing im­placa­ble.

I’ve been blessed to have sur­ro­gate fa­ther fig­ures through­out the years, not the least of which have been my un­cles. They have al­ways been there with the right ad­vice — right when I need it. I haven’t gone through this alone, and though I’ve done my best in this post to stick to the core and key (my fa­ther, for­give­ness, my­self) of this many-ten­ta­cled in­ter­per­sonal con­flict, there is much more that could be said. For my part, I think I’ve shared what has been most im­por­tant to me. It is nice to fi­nally lay the bur­den down.

The whole par­a­digm I’ve been talk­ing about and work­ing through is a sad and com­plex sit­u­a­tion. This story could have been about re­pen­tence, for­give­ness and heal­ing; so what I mourn most is what the last 17 years could have been if things had been dif­fer­ent. One thing I do know, my fu­ture will be dif­fer­ent; I’ve got my rea­sons and I’ve got the mo­ti­va­tion.

514 Snapshot

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Rosie & Adam circa 1986

This im­age has been on my About page for years. Before that, as ev­i­denced by the crinkly, thumb­tack-bestabbed bor­der of the pho­tograph, it was on my bul­letin board for years. It was taken at my first home, 514 Franklin Street, in Connersville, Indiana.

There’s a spe­cial place in my heart for this photo, de­spite the com­pletely in­cor­rect white-bal­ance. Rosie, my bea­gle, was my boon com­pan­ion for 10 years. I still re­mem­ber the mo­ment this was taken, the con­crete on this side porch was al­ways cold and slightly damp, I could feel it through my sock-feet, and the sand­stony grit un­der my hands. I’ve got my arm locked around Rosie so she would be forced to look at the cam­era for the photo.

There were al­ways slugs on the side­walk.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

When I was very small, the worst word I knew was “hate.” I could get smacked for us­ing it too freely or in­ap­pro­pri­ately. Later, I was taught the typ­i­cal tru­ism “if you can’t say any­thing nice, don’t say any­thing.” Once I’d processed that by be­ing re­quired to sit in a chair and think about man­ners a few times, I then be­came con­fused about the dif­fer­ence be­tween a com­ment and a com­pli­ment. I un­der­stood per­fectly well what a com­pli­ment was, but a com­ment was a co­nun­drum. Apparently a com­ment didn’t have to be com­pli­men­tary. So to my tiny bi­nary mind, this cer­tainly meant that com­ments were not some­thing that was good.

It’s tod­dler logic, like the time I asked Mom to name every­thing that be­gan with the let­ter m. Hey, Mom be­gins with m doesn’t it? She must know every­thing else that be­gins with m then.

Refection Reflection

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Since my li­brary books and Amazon or­der haven’t ar­rived yet I started reread­ing David Cooper’s Existentialism last night. I picked this up at a ta­ble in the fac­ulty build­ing at Notre Dame many years ago. This was a very cool ta­ble. Profs would drop what­ever books they no longer had a use for there for other profs [and pi­rat­i­cal stu­dents like my­self] to snatch. Unfortunately I didn’t find out about this ta­ble un­til my ju­nior year, thereby miss­ing two years of po­ten­tially awe­some li­brary build­ing.

In any case, apart from a few copies of The New Yorker whose cov­ers I cov­eted un­til I threw them out, this vol­ume is the only one I can ac­tu­ally be cer­tain came from the holy ta­ble. Coming as it did, post- my ex­is­ten­tial­ist phi­los­o­phy course, this book has served as a re­fresher since that day. Last night, the same sec­tion that al­ways catches my eye caught my eye last night in the same sec­tion. If you use Amazon’s Search Inside This Book fea­ture and go to page three you can read it for your­self and a bit more. I’ll still ex­cerpt the crit­i­cal point.

…to quote Kierkegaard again, ‘an ex­ist­ing in­di­vid­ual is al­ways in the process of be­com­ing.’ …no com­plete ac­count can be given of a hu­man be­ing with­out ref­er­ence to what he is in the process of be­com­ing. … “As Heidegger puts it, the hu­man be­ing is al­ways ‘ahead of him­self’, al­ways un­ter­wegs (“on the way”). …Unlike the stone, whose essence or na­ture is ‘given’, a person’s ex­is­tence, writes Ortega y Gasset ‘con­sists not in what it is al­ready, but what it is not yet…Existence…is the process of realizing…the as­pi­ra­tion we are.’

This is al­ways a good re­minder for me when I get frus­trated about the dif­fi­culty in re­al­iz­ing my as­pi­ra­tions. As long as I ex­ist, I’ll be in the process of be­com­ing some­thing new. Satisfaction and must arise from the jour­ney while mo­ti­va­tion must arise from the des­ti­na­tion, even if never reached. That’s al­most ex­actly the point of Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus.

My ap­pli­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing of this idea doesn’t bind fully to a pure ex­is­ten­tial­ism [which prob­a­bly doesn’t ex­ist], but it works well enough for me.

Ice Cream When You’re Sick

Monday, 15 May 2006

When I used to get sick and mom would take off a bit of work to care for me, I wouldn’t have much of an ap­petite. Often, I’d re­quest ice cream, and, not get­ting it, would be told that I’m ob­vi­ously not that sick if I want to eat ice cream. A com­pro­mise was usu­ally reached with straw­berry gelatin, which I only want when I’m sick.

Mother’s day this year was kind of a bust. I went home, but halfway through Saturday mom came down with a fever so we left the auc­tion we were at and I hauled her home and at­tempted to care for her. Now I know where my crotch­ety na­ture when I’m ill comes from. I fi­nally con­vinced her to get in bed and later in the evening she wanted some­thing to eat. What did she want to eat? Ice Cream. I gave her some.


Thursday, 16 February 2006

After my run yes­ter­day I went to Dave’s and made my­self a salad and grabbed a Braeburn ap­ple. It was what my body was crav­ing, so ap­par­ently I needed some iron [the ma­jor­ity of the leafy greens were spinach] and sundry other ruffage. It dis­ap­peared in no time. When I was work­ing over the sum­mer at Notre Dame, I used to take my lunch break and drive over to the Martin’s in Mishawaka with one of the guys on the ND cross coun­try team who lived next door to me in the ath­lete dorm. There was a very lim­ited and some­what costly DH op­tion, but the Martin’s salad bar was a nearly nev­erend­ing source of rel­a­tively cheap and fill­ing health­i­ness. Especially when I didn’t want to make tuna mac in the com­mu­nity kitchen.

Last night I also pur­chased some choco­late morsels, be­cause I re­al­ized I didn’t have any­thing to bake with. So I an­tic­i­pate cookie bak­ing in the near fu­ture.