Life in Not-Miami

February 9th, 2018

Every Plant Does Better in the Right Soil

I just got back from having BBQ with my dad. I have been to Sonny’s BBQ about 9,000 times since moving to Marion County in August. My dad loves to have lunch in restaurants, and Sonny’s is convenient, so we visit a lot. Personally, I would rather eat out less.

People knock Sonny’s, but it’s actually very good. There’s something about chain restaurants that makes people want to criticize. Go figure. There are some shortcomings, such as the tomato-free salad bar and the dry chicken and turkey, but the ribs are about as good as ribs get.

We were driving home, and as I usually do in such situations, I marveled at the fact that I don’t live in Miami any more. I hate Miami! I hate Miami! I hate Miami! I can’t believe I’m free! I hate that place!

I hate Miami.

My only regret is that I didn’t move even farther north and deeper into the sticks. I have always hated city and suburban life. Now I’m on 34 acres, and it’s wonderful, but I wish it were 300, and I wish I could be at least 400 miles farther north. I don’t like sand, I don’t want to see palm trees, and I want the winter to last a little longer.

It’s weird how my style has changed since I moved. Down south, I wore the Miami uniform: a T-shirt, shorts with pockets on the legs, and sneakers. Sometimes I wore flip flops. Up here, I had to make changes in order to cope with the environment. I’m the Carhartt king now. Carhartt work jeans every day. I have 3 Carhartt jackets and 4 Carhartt work shirts. I wear a baseball cap almost everywhere. I have 3 pairs of waterproof work boots with safety toes, and I wear them with wool socks. I complete my ensembles with work suspenders. You can’t clear downed trees while wearing a belt. Not if you want to be comfortable.

I wonder what people who knew me in Miami would say if they could see me. Tonight I walked into Sonny’s wearing my Carhartt jeans, suspenders, a Cummins T-shirt, and boots. I had a Kershaw knife in one pocket and a 10mm in another. I think they would assume I was trying to prove something, but I’m not. I’m just basking in the joy of being a born-again Southerner.

Today I told a friend it’s beautiful not to be surrounded by idiots all the time.

I hate Miami.

I am doing much better here. I feel better. I’m even getting stronger. I have time and energy to lift weights. My chest is ballooning out again, and not just from biscuits.

If anything happens to my dad, and it isn’t too late in my life, I’m going to check out southern Tennessee. That would be perfect. Conservative state. Hills. Trees and plants I am familiar with from living in Kentucky. Might be even better than Ocala.

Killing squirrels has magnified my joy. It gives me one more reason to love the country. Shooting on my own property, any time I wanted, was thrill enough, but now I get to do it with a purpose.

You know what I’d like? Enough land to allow me to kill squirrels with a .17 HMR without thinking about the neighbors.

My grandfather had lots of land in eastern Kentucky. I loved his farms. Some were hundreds of acres. You could stand on our land and be unable to see anyone else’s. It was a magnificent sensation. Shooting rifles was not a problem. I could have hunted with artillery shells, and no one would have known.

My grandfather left no plan for his estate, so the family’s strategy has been to sell everything. Sad. We had 300 beautiful acres beside the Red River. We had 120 acres above the Red River gorge, full of blackberries, with cliffs and creeks and springs. We had a lot of nice stuff. I’ll never see it again.

I would not tell the other grandchildren, but I was his favorite. I guess they know it already.

Some of the others got on his nerves. My mother was his favorite daughter, and I was her only son. I think my cousin Robert, who was younger than I was, would be number two. When I stayed with my grandparents, my grandfather never went to his farms without me. He would come home from court or whatever and say, “You want to go to the farm?” I always did. He was the closest thing I had to an involved dad. When my dad talks about him, he often slips and calls him “your father.”

He used to mow hay with me sitting on the fender of his Massey-Ferguson, and he taught me to drive it. Now that I think of it, he taught me how to drive cars. He always bought Chevy pickups. He showed me how to drive his 1968 truck with three on the tree. He was a circuit judge, so no one told him what to do. He let me drive all I wanted on the public roads near the farm.

That reminds me of something I did later, after I had my own car. I ran from a cop. I pulled out of a burger joint parking lot and squealed my tires. I was about half a mile from the house. A cop came out and chased me. I saw the lights, but he was too far back to be able to say I knew he was trying to pull me over. I drove up the hill into my grandfather’s driveway, turned the ignition off, and sat on the hood, waiting. The cop drove by the bottom of the hill with his lights on, and then he skulked back to the burger joint.

My mother and some relatives were eating there at the time. My mother got mad and came and got me. She made me go back and sit with the family. The cop was across the room. He sat and glared at me. Never said a word.

Gramps–I was too cool to keep calling him “Papaw” after a certain age–used to take me shooting. When he died, someone snatched the Colt Woodsman pistol we used to use. A number of things sort of vanished. He also had a Remington .22 someone ran off with. I shot rabbits with it. He would pull his car over when he saw one, and then he’d coach me while I shot it.

My grandmother gave my dad his Sweet Sixteen when he died. It’s downstairs right now. I used it on the squirrel I killed this morning.

My grandfather didn’t say “hunt.” He said “kill.” “Let’s go over there and kill some squirrels.” That’s more honest than “hunt” or “harvest.”

I remember one day he threw me in his brother’s pickup truck, and the three of us drove to the stockyard in Paintsville to buy ponies. We bought a black one and a palomino. I had no idea why. When my grandfather got an idea, he didn’t bother explaining it to anyone. I had no interest at all in horses. He brought the palomino to his house, and the kids took turns riding. I found out later that he told my mom, “It will be worth it if Steve rides it just once.” I didn’t know what to make of that. My sister was the one who screamed and cried whenever she saw a horse. I hadn’t been very grateful, because it hadn’t occurred to me that he was thinking of me when he bought the ponies.

He took me everywhere, the way you would take your favorite dog around. I didn’t always understand what was going on, and my presence usually served no purpose, but I know he enjoyed my company because I went so many places with him. Court. The farms. Cotton’s Restaurant in Stanton. Relatives’ houses. The drugstore. His car dealership.

Everywhere we went, people would gather around him. He was the Frank Sinatra of three counties. They would pull up chairs. If you went to a restaurant with him, and the table had four chairs, there was a good chance eight people would be sitting with him before you left. I thought he was the tentpole that held up the sky.

When it was time to buy the ponies, I was the one who got tossed into the pickup. I guess he could have taken one of the others, but it would have been weird.

Once he took me to his Tar Ridge farm, and we just walked, with no plan. He was about 70, and he walked me to death, up and down cliffs. He took me to the site of an old moonshine still, by a creek. He dug in the ground and pulled out old bottles the moonshiners had left. A moonshine operation is also a campsite, so they left medicine bottles and so on. I saved the bottles he gave me, but I don’t know where they are. My relatives may have them. They still have a few things I haven’t collected.

He and my grandmother taught me the names of all the trees and plants. It seemed like they knew every one. It was a strange thing to behold. They showed me things like sourwood, teaberries, various types of oaks, hemlocks (as contrasted with spruces), and huckleberries.

He used to slip me money all the time. I appreciated that. I didn’t understand how jealous people could be. One day I let a cousin know Gramps had given me fifty bucks for absolutely no reason. I thought he would think it was neat. He got so angry I thought fire was going to come out of his ears. He was furious at my grandfather.

My grandfather didn’t have the same feeling for my cousin, and I have to say that was understandable. He was my favorite cousin, but he drove adults up the wall. Serious brat issues. When it was time for his bath, he used to run through the house naked, cursing my aunt. He would hide under the bed while she jabbed him with a broom. He was the only grandchild my grandfather ever spanked. A bunch of us went to Canada in a station wagon, to fish at Jim’s Caviar Camp at Lake of the Woods, and my cousin made my grandfather so mad he pulled over and gave him a beating.

He was not always pleased with me, but he never said a really harsh word to me, and it’s impossible to imagine him putting his hands on me.

I have so many memories of him; they’re coming out now that I cast my mind back.

He took me squirrel hunting twice. He was an exceptional shot, and he expected the same of me. We only saw one squirrel between the two trips. It was a fat red squirrel by the river on his largest Powell County farm. We couldn’t get a shot at it. We gave up, and he pulled a buckeye from a nearby tree, cut the fruit off, and gave me the nut. He said I was supposed to carry it for luck. I still have it, plus one I found in his dresser drawer after he died.

I’ll tell you how good a shot he was. He was hunting deer with my dad, and he spotted a grouse in a tree. This is a fairly small bird. My grandfather was carrying a shotgun loaded with “punkin balls,” or rifled slugs. My grandfather shot from the hip and killed the grouse.

When people hunted with my grandfather, and they didn’t hit birds with every shot, he told them they were wasting shells.

I was a hell of a shot when I was a kid. One day he cut a postage-stamp-sized bit out of the bark of a tree and told me to shoot it with a .22 pistol. I shot and hit the edge of it. He walked up to it, looked at it distastefully, and said, “You missed.” On another occasion, he told me to shoot at a wire wrapped around a fence. I shot, and the hole I made was next to the wire, with no gap. Same response. I didn’t understand how well I had done. Here he was, telling me I had missed.

Maybe shooting well scored me some points with him. He never really said what he thought about my shooting. He was not a person who paid compliments. If I had snapped the wire in two, he probably would said I had shot it off center.

While he was alive, I didn’t realize I was his favorite or how much he loved me. I don’t think of myself as a person other people love. If I had understood, I would have reciprocated more. I knew he liked to take me places, but I didn’t see the significance of it.

He could not stand my sister, which means he reacted to her the way everyone else did, including other judges. She belittled him and called him by his first name. He threw her out of his house. He loved his grandchildren, but I think he had a little less interest in the girls. Maybe that was because he had four daughters and no sons. And what can you do with a girl? Not much good for hunting and fishing.

He turned my mother into a tomboy. She was the closest thing he had to a son until I showed up.

He used to “sell” his grandchildren cattle. He gave every one of us fifty dollars every Christmas, and sometimes he let us give it back to him for calves. One year I got calf number 32. On a visit to his farm at Tar Ridge, I realized 32 had died. “Oh, no,” he said, “Your calf is 42.” Number 42 was a fat, healthy Charolais/Angus cross. He was a funny grey color. My Gramps called it “blue.” I remember being disappointed when I found out blue calves were actually grey. I got paid when he sold.

My mother was crazy about him. The other three daughters didn’t seem to feel it. My mother was the oldest. He never did warm up to the second one. The third seemed to want to compete with him. The fourth was never able to hold his attention. I liked all of my aunts. At different times, each one was my favorite aunt.

He had spoiled my mother. She used to write checks on his account when she was in college. She bought clothes, sold them to her friends, and took the money. At the end of every month, he raised hell, but he never cut her off. When she got married, my grandparents bought my dad a suit, and my grandfather bought a new car for my parents. It was a grey DeSoto with an orange roof. Hideous. My grandfather realized it was ugly, so he had it painted. He had the roof painted red. Maybe not a great choice.

At the wedding, he got very emotional, which was not like him at all. He always carried a lot of money, and by the time the wedding was over, he had forced my dad to take all of it.

My parents met in law school. My dad was serious. He eventually graduated third. My mother was just there to get a car. While she was an undergraduate, my grandfather offered to get her a car if she would become a lawyer. She went and talked to the dean at the University of Kentucky, to get special permission to go to law school without a bachelor’s degree. The dean, who was not a complete fool, signed the paperwork and said, “Now go on over there and get married.” That’s exactly what she did. She got the car, married my dad, and dropped out. Unfortunately, she turned the car over in an accident involving a bus, and my grandfather sued the Greyhound bus company.

He got rich suing people. My dad was with him one day, riding in the car with an out of state guest, and the guest marveled at the poverty in Eastern Kentucky. He asked how people there made their living. My grandfather said, “Insurance companies.”

My mother was proud of him, and she probably loved him more than all of his other daughers, combined. I know she was happy he took to me so well.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about these things.

Rural life is great. People told me I would miss the city. They can’t understand why I would want to live here. It reminds me of the best times of my childhood. That’s one reason.

I wish I had been better to my grandfather. I didn’t understand him.

I guess it’s okay. I don’t think I ever offended him.

6 Responses to “Life in Not-Miami”

  1. Heather P. Says:

    Your relationship with your granddaddy sounds very much like the one I had with my mom’s dad.

  2. Mike Says:

    My wonderful wife and I spent all day Sat in the nearest “big” city sitting with her father in the hospital. This is a city I’ve worked in and around off an on for 36 years and every time I have to visit or work its a bit worse than before. Traffic and the attitude of the people continue to amaze, the immigrants, American and foreign get nastier every trip.

    I like my redneck life. Closer to God.

    So happy you made it out.

  3. Seeker Says:

    How is where you live now different from the place you used to live in Kentucky? “A ghetto with trees” I think was the description, and “I must have been insane” to have been proud of coming from there was the attitude.

    I am just wondering about the turnaround ( and if I am remembering right). Myself, I love the central, bluegrass part of West Virginia.

  4. Chris Says:

    “If anything happens to my dad, and it isn’t too late in my life, I’m going to check out southern Tennessee”–Having driven through there on the way to the Chickamauga battlefield, that part of the US would probably be right up your alley, especially the towns surrounding Arnold Air Force Base. Close enough to Chattanooga and Murfreesboro that you can make any Big City supply runs you might need to make, but you’re definitely out in

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    My maternal grandparents are the reason I’m here today. Mother had “issues,” which included many beatings. They kind of took over. My grandmother was one of the sweetest people I ever knew, and my grandfather was a cranky old coot who only spanked me one time and then went and cried. I miss them every day.

  6. Steve H. Says:

    “How is where you live now different from the place you used to live in Kentucky?”

    Eastern Kentucky has a racism problem so bad, it’s unpleasant even for white people. You get tired of having friends and relatives say nasty things about “niggers” and expecting you to join right in. Also, people there tend to have counterproductive attitudes toward anything that constitutes self-improvement. My parents had a vacation home in the mountains of southern North Carolina, and the people there were the same way.

    People in Eastern Kentucky seem to have a hard time doing things right. You drive through and see a lot of yards with abandoned school buses and junk cars in them. You see creeks full of old refrigerators. Educated people from the area like to say everyone who had any get up and go got up and went.

    Violence was a big problem in Eastern Kentucky. Everyone has a relative who killed a friend or relative over something trivial. My second cousin blew his brother apart with a rifle, shotgun, and pistol over an inheritance. Someone else I know killed his stepfather in an argument over the house his late mother had owned. My grandfather had to shoot a guy who was threatening him because he defended a schoolteacher the man was antagonizing.

    An acquaintance of my father’s, Hobart Ison, became famous for shooting a Canadian journalist who was filming on his property. If I recall correctly, a cousin of mine defended him. When he was asked why he did it, he said, “He made me mad. Now you’re making me mad.”

    My mother told me that the courthouse in her hometown, Campton, used to have a sign that said, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you here.”

    Where I live now, there are a lot of mixed families with beautiful kids. I’m sure things aren’t perfect, but the atmosphere seems much healthier. Yards are neater. Everyone isn’t on welfare. People are so nice it’s weird.

    I hope things are changing in Appalachia. I haven’t been there since 2007, I believe.

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