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Location: Kentucky, United States

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Way back

When I was a child, my parents and my paternal Grandparents lived next door to each other. There was only a driveway dividing the two houses. I lived in both homes and would freely go back and forth, spending the night wherever I chose. If I got in trouble in one house, I just moved across the driveway. Out of sight out of mind.

My Grandmother’s name was Sarah. She was the pianist at an old fashioned, tent meeting style, Holiness Pentecostal church my family attended. She never had formal lessons but learned to play by ear. It was simple music; she would alternate hands back and forth, pausing to walk the bass line through changes. What she lacked in theory she made up in volume, playing very loud, banging out chords on a monster antique upright with ivory keys. On Saturday nights, they would sing and play so loud my ears would buzz while lying on a hard slat-board pew, trying to sleep.

My Grandfathers name was Robert Lee after the civil war Robert E. Lee. Friends called him Jernal, a corruption of the word general. He was a small-scale family farmer, mostly raising crops for food. He held an eclectic assortment of jobs during his lifetime including delivering mail from the back of a slow moving mule.

All of his family was poor and tales of my Grandfather’s penny-pinching way with money are legendary. On a trip to visit my Uncle Paul in the suburbs of Washington D.C., my parents drove my Grandparents to and from the airport. Frankie, their only daughter, a flight attendant with American Airlines was able to get round trip tickets for family members free. They paid nothing for food, lodging or entertainment because they stayed with their son and his family. On the way home however, Papaw had to go to the bathroom and the only thing available was a pay toilet. My Grandfather returned home upset because he paid ten cents to get into the toilet but could not get his bowels to move.

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