My grandfather loved guns. He had a magnificent collection, including a dazzling array of pistols, shotguns, and rifles, some very old and exotic. These he kept locked in a gun cabinet that was strictly off limits not just to children, but to anyone. Most days, he wore a pistol strapped to his side just like Wyatt Earp, though his was more likely to be used to shoot a copperhead or water moccasin than some rounder in a saloon.
My life is starting to even out. And while I’m happy about this, a peaceful, comfortable life doesn’t offer as much column fodder as a melancholy, tragic one.
Five years ago, my mom found out she had breast cancer. Then a year after that, when she was in remission, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. It was complications from multiple myeloma that ultimately took her life.
“I’m absolutely starving,” my wife says, digging through her purse for something as I walk into the kitchen, clearing my throat to get her attention. “Wow, don’t YOU look nice!”
I do feel pretty spiffy. I am wearing my new brown pants and a striped blue shirt. My belt and my shoes match. My hair is combed and sprayed, though it is really not so much “hair” as the suggestion of hair, a few brave and resilient strands that remind me on darker days of crabgrass growing in the crack of a sidewalk. She finds this preferable to the way I used to wear my hair, which is not at all — in those lonely days before she came into my life, I shaved my head, fancying that I looked more like Yul Brynner or Mister Clean than Uncle Fester.
I have a tattoo on the inside of my right wrist that says, “Everything ahead of me.” I got it at a time when I felt so bogged down in an ever-present mire, life felt like quick sand. From my mom’s death to a marital separation, it was one traumatic thing after another.
The only way I could get through a day was to think of a happier, more optimistic future. Seeing the words printed on my body was a constant reminder.
One of Zeb Smathers’ earliest memories is sitting in the cereal aisle of his grandfather’s downtown Canton grocery store, which wasn’t open on Sundays and didn’t sell booze.
“When the movie Ghostbusters came out there was a Ghostbusters cereal and I remember pleading with granddad,” Smathers said. “Mom would never allow us sugary cereal.”
Except for the year our daughter, Kayden, got the flu and we had to make the best of spending Christmas at home with one of our youngsters battling a fever of 102, our kids are accustomed to hitting the road pretty early on Christmas Day. Ordinarily, they have no more than a couple of hours to marvel over their presents from Santa before they have to strap in and nestle in the backseat of the car for a long winter’s nap of three hours or so, about the time in takes to get to my hometown of Sparta.
Once the roads became sketchy, I became familiar with the territory.
My dad called the other day and said he had a fun Christmas surprise for my boys. Knowing my dad this “surprise” could have been anything. This is the man who gave my older son a fake zippo lighter when he was 2 years old. When you popped open the top, it said, “Get ‘er done.”
“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing. As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
— Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)
The day of my stepfather’s celebration of life service was a brisk, sunny Saturday morning, as good a day as any to celebrate life. We got up before daylight, made coffee, put on our nice clothes, packed the car, and hit the road for the three-hour drive up to Sparta, where we would meet the rest of the family before all the people started showing up to hug us or shake our hands as we stood in a long line to greet them.