“He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping // then he turned around and headed home again.” That Paul Simon lyric stuck in my head as I kissed G and sauntered off for coffee and coherent humanity.

Slip Slidin’ Away,” released the year of my berf, 1975, might make a good background track to this post as it fits a few things that are going down right now.

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Not too far from Georgia, but far enough to realize you’re not in Kansas

Roam away from home
We’re up in the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee, where my uncle spent his last decade or so preaching at the Old Kingsport Presbyterian Church. It’s the oldest church in the area and, at least as I recall Uncle David relating to us, the structure itself was relocated to its current hillside location, brought up by hand and horse and hydraulic from its original location near the river a half-century ago. But that story isn’t mine to tell. Nor Uncle David’s … still, he had something to say about the church.

 

We came up for a final visit with him last month, when he was placed into hospice at the Johnson City, Tenn., VA. And it was a good one. Laughter, good spirits, wit, and his trademark slapstick delivered with a deadpan expression before blossoming into a jackass-eatin’-briars grin.

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Enough Ham for everybody (taken during our recent visit)

Yet, peppered throughout, were moments of slight confusion, reminiscent of his parents’ (my grandparents’) final years.

“Somebody should let those dogs out of that box over there,”he said, to which Marilyn replied, “David there ain’t no dogs over there.”

She was right. And he’d shrug it off, resting for a minute before we shuffled into the next topic.

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Placed by the Honor Guard

Home-going
This afternoon, we attended a graveside service for him, replete with military honors. 21-gun salute. Taps by a bugler. Folded flag. Airborne…an Army Chaplain…a Screaming Eagle, as I remember. Twice to Vietnam. Twice back to The States. Luckier than many.

His service is the last foreseeable reason for us to be here.

Going home
Tomorrow, we’ll drive back through Asheville, perhaps stopping for a meal at that Decatur-Georgia-on-steroids city tucked in the mountains of North Carolina, his sister’s (my mother’s) home state.

If we don’t stop there, there’s an old standby awaiting us further south. Through Buckner’s Gap, we’ll continue on, passing through little of note, but a lot of beautiful space. The Dillard House is a venerable establishment that offers southern food and plenty of it.

That kind of homestyle cooking might serve as a fitting final meal before we make it back home. Meat and vegetables and cornbread served in dishes with a rich history of their own. It reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking, and I’m sure he’d stopped there before. If not, he sure missed out.

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Ironically, the restaurant we ate at prior to heading to the service had on display a model train of Kingsport, circa 1950. In it was this graveside service scene. 

The home stretch
With Uncle David’s recent passing and Mom passing just four years ago, the reality of finality or maybe all things finite is, well, realer than ever.

I’m not glum. There’s some sadness, but I’m not distraught.

A friend recently shared that her relative — a mother of but 30-something — complained of a severe headache on a Friday and was gone by Sunday. My father’s passing was even more unexpected and expeditious. My mitigating response to her…hell, my approach to life…is this: love. Every damn minute.

In other words, be grateful…at least try. I figure if it all works out in the final mix, at least I believe so. And not every day or week or even month is filled to bursting with spotting rainbows, running through sprinklers, and drinking chocolate milkshakes, but that’s okay.

Sip after sip, the glass remains half full. So drink up and chin up.

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