Monday, January 28, 2008


So, I stood on a hillside overlooking a four-lane state highway and with a distant view of Interstate 40, which steeply slopes its way off Walden Ridge into and out of the Cardiff Valley that runs from Harriman to Rockwood, Tennessee, saying my last goodbyes. As I walked away from the grave, I thought of my dad saying, “When I die, I want to be buried beside the road so I can watch the traffic go by.”

I looked up and surveyed the landscape, and said, “Well dad, you can see it all from here! That was the first time I really cried over the loss of my father.

It was only a couple of months later, at least in my mind, that my mom met and married John Sweeney, a short bald headed man that was born in Scotland and raised in Ireland. John and I had a few problems in the beginning because we were both so head strong, I suppose.

I must add here that John was only my mom’s second husband. She married Bill Lindsey after John died, and Bill is the gentleman I wrote “What’s It’s like to Die” (Chapter 123) about. Since Bill died, my brother and I often refer to mom as “the black widow,” having put three gentlemen in the ground!

First off, and I apologize to any of you from New Jersey, I have yet to meet anyone from that state I like, and John was not the first. John and I went head-to-head lots of times. He knew I did not like the fact that he and mom married so soon (at least in my mind) after my dad passed away. There was also the fact that he had a heavy Scottish accent and was Catholic!

The New Jersey thing started at the University of Tennessee, which I attended between the years of 1969 and 1972. I was back from Vietnam and very pro-American, as you can imagine, and that’s a state that I have yet to out grow!

In several of my Communications classes was a very hairy guy from New Jersey, and he was a very “in your face”, knew everything, kind of guy who always started arguments in class discussions about class assigned projects. I passed a rally one day where the “hippies” of the day were sitting or lying around on the ground listening to someone speaking through a megaphone. I recognized the speaker as the guy from New Jersey. I half listened to what was being said and it did not take me twenty steps to understand that we disagreed.

This guy was one of the leaders of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) organization on the UT campus.

Most of the shouting and ranting was about the war that still raged in Southeast Asia. It burned me to the core for people to be protesting and attempting to shut down my classes as a means to show their displeasure with the United States government.

One day I stood in a large open window in Ayers Hall, across from the Administration Building, and watched this guy standing, no he was blocking, the door into the public building while screaming, what to me was communistic, or at least, anti-American slurs through his megaphone.

The crowd faced away from me, listening to him, and chanting and jumping up and down in unison to his blaring cadence. Suddenly, I noticed the Campus Police lining up downhill from the Ad Building and I grew anxious and anticipated a dramatic encounter right in front of my eyes.

I grew so angry inside that my feelings began to swell and grow into a choking lump in my throat, but I held on, and just watched the police advance. Then the crowd hushed, and someone shouted “Just shoot them all! The crowd turned and looked toward the window I was standing in and I suddenly realized that it had been me that shouted!

It came out before I even knew it and just when the crowd quieted and turned their attentions to the police effort. I had no idea that would be the instant my brain would choose to shout out its deep seated feelings!

A hot flush filled my face and I backed up into the shadows and waited to be arrested or attacked by irate protestors - neither happened.

I have met several people over the years from New Jersey and every time, while I attempt to give them benefit of the doubt, they do or say something to reinforce those college day opinions. It is just some arrogance instilled at birth there!

Meanwhile, back on the subject of John Sweeney, I suppose the Catholic part bothered me some as well.

I remember I finished the fourth grade in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. On the first day of school, mom took me by the hand and lead me into what she thought was the public school.

As we walked up a large winding staircase, with marble steps, we both began noticing the statues inset in the corners of Mother Mary and other saints. Even before we met any Nuns, mom looked at me and said, “Let’s get out of here!

I do not know, but possibly that, plus a childhood friend who cursed constantly except on Sundays, set the stage for my early mistrust of the Catholic institution. Whatever it was, I did not like the fact that my little Baptist momma was marrying a Ca-thol-ic, as my brother and I often broke it down!

As it turned out, I grew to love the old funny talking man, and had I known about my own Scottish heritage back then, I might have gotten past his immigration to New Jersey, and we may have gotten on much quicker.

Today, I have an extended family of step-brothers and sisters through this relationship. Michael, the youngest, is now the priest at the parish my mom still attends in Harriman. I call him, “My brother the Father!”

I grew to like Papa John as being part of my family, and Corey, who first dubbed him “Papa John,” also loved the old dude, and they often spent time riding around town together. Too bad I killed him with a hamburger though!

John was seriously injured years earlier by getting into 440 volts at the steel mill where he worked before the medical retirement. He survived the encounter with the extreme voltage, but it left his heart muscles weakened.

One evening, several years after marrying mom, he stuffed himself with two of my grilled burgers, and some of my wife’s potato salad and baked beans! Later that night he woke up having a heart attack.

I really felt bad about the incident and begged him to forgive me the next day. He told me, sitting on the side of the hospital bed that it was not my fault, and the doctor reinforced that by stating it was just a matter of time anyway.

I went to work the following day, thinking the best of thoughts for John, but I got a call about midday – John had had another heart attack and died.

I was always thankful I got to speak to him and discuss the hamburger incident. My mind is at ease.

However, when I tell you I make a “killer burger” believe me – it’s true!


Suldog said...

Great punch line!

(I was all set to start spouting off about how I was raised Catholic, of Irish-Scottish heritage, and I'm a nice guy, so blah blah blah, but then I did what anybody should do - I finished reading the whole piece :-) )

Mushy said...

I've matured greatly since those days Sul. Not enough to suit my wife though!

BRUNO said...

Now this post has some VARIETY, indeed---a little of everything, for every one! And NOBODY was left untouched!

And, yeah---that IS a great punch-line at the end!

And the college-scene you described just reinforces MY decision to have remained "perpetually-ignorant"---I'd never have "fit-in", regardless!

Damned-fine posting, dude!!!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

That was a great post. Loved the stuff about the SDS. I saw a bit of that in college in the early 1980s, although then it was the nuclear freeze movement, or the communist party bringing Angela Davis in to speak. She showed up with a huge fro and black leather pants on. Hot as hell. It was the Reagan era and they were squealin' like cats about everything under the sun.

And the stuff about your step father was very sweet. I can't imagine what they must have been like, to see your father replaced so soon after his death. from what we're reading here, it sounds like you worked it out. Too bad he didn't live to see you now. Fate again, stepping in.

Les Becker said...

Reminder at the BBQ: "No, I'll just have another beer, thanks..."

david mcmahon said...

Maybe I'll have a caesar salad instead!!!

Beth said...

Came over from Drowsey's. I really love your banner for this blog. Terrific job you did. Tells a story all its own.

Oh, and I love burgers, but damn, not killer ones. =)

Mushy said...

Welcome Beth...I appreciate the view.

Hammer said...

After knowing many many Vets from three wars while growing up, it always made me sick to see anti American protestors shouting their filth.

I would have supported the shoot em all doctrine.

pat houseworth said...

When my dad died in 1972 mom was only 48 and a good looking women...she had many suitors try, but as she told me on many occasions..."I was married to your dad for 27 years...., one man is enough, I've got a fair amount of money, own my own house, and I don't need to be washing underwear for some old fart"

She's still hanging in there's lessons learned.

pat houseworth said...

As far as the SDS and student protesters, fvck em'....had em' at Wright State and Ohio U....but we had 7 or 8 of us(Vietnam Vets) that hung around together...few screwed with any of us....and the Universities were scared shitless to say anything if we got out of hand...the GI Bill Students brought in too much cash.

Becky said...

Wow, you weren't kidding when you said "killer burger!" I can't imagine your poor mom having to go through losing three husbands -- that would be devastating.

Am'n2deep said...

"I'm an old school guy with a very young open mind." I like that.

I liked your post too. So very glad you did get to have that chat with Papa John about those burgers!

I couldn't help but get distracted by some of the 'sidelines'--like "ride your best horse first..."--I grew up riding horses and had a few of those mishaps. Also, I think my dad served in Vietnam at the same time, so it doesn't surprise me that we were winning...I'm just sayin' too! ;)

Buck said...

Yet another good 'un, Mushy.


That 1 Guy said...

Great post, Mushy!

Oh, and should you ever get the chance to meet Jimbo, of Parkway Rest Stop, you'll have met at least one Jersey person who rocks. Jimbo's one of the best.

Lin said...

Mushy, if I had a choice in how I was going to depart this life, it would be at the eatin' end of your grill spatula with a big 'un, rare in the center, cheddar and bacon plus all the other good stuff.