Interstellar Adventures

July 19, 2008

Flashback

Filed under: Blast from the Past,Interstellar Casa,It's Me, Lass — by InterstellarLass @ 9:12 pm

So, my mom is moving soon, and all four of us kids still have stuff at her house. I went over today to help throw old stuff away, and find anything remaining that might be mine. I didn’t find much, but what I did find put me in the Way Back Machine.

When I was a wee Lass, I read voraciously. Seriously. I read all the time. Nick doesn’t believe me, because nowadays, if I read a book a year, it’s a miracle. It’s not that I don’t like to read anymore, but time is precious and my attention span has withered. But when I was a girl, I would read 3 or 4 books a week, depending on how long they were.

So today, when I opened a box and found these, I jumped up and down like a little kid at Christmas and yelled “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”. For reals y’all.

The Sunfire Romance series. Distributed by Scholastic books, written by four or five of the same authors, and all about as formulaic as you can get. Young girl in historical time period falls in love with two guys, has to figure out which one is the right one for her. And I fell for them hook, line and sinker. Sad, pathetic, but I.LOVED.THEM. (No, I will not give back my Bachelor’s in English with a Concentration in British Literature, thankyouverymuch.)

I have several favorites. Kathleen, Caroline, Joanna, Roxanne. Some of the girls were like my best friends. They were all smart, stood up for themselves, and made their way in the world. All of the books have dog-eared covers, creased spines, and were read more than once. I thought I had them all, but it seems I stopped at book 27. I will be buying the last five in the series. Also, I am missing book 4. I know I had it, but I wonder if it fell out of the box at some point on the way home. I will have to look in the car tomorrow.

I found some other nostalgia today too, like a pair of my pointe shoes from my ballet days, and a few photos – like one of me and my first boyfriend. I also scored a box of vinyl albums that my step-dad didn’t take when he and my mom divorced. Lots of Willie Nelson, some Led Zepplin, Bee Gees, Elton John, etc. Nick like those best.

Our unpacking is coming along. Last week one of Nick’s friends (and some of his friends) came over to help us move some big stuff around that we didn’t figure out what to do with until after the movers were long gone. There are still a few boxes, and the kids’ rooms need LOTS of work. The rest is just organizing stuff that isn’t used everyday, so of course that will go on for some time to come.

Nick is just back from Target, with lots of picture frames for pictures we need to hang, and a new turntable (Zed has one on his stereo in his room, but that’s upstairs and it’s old and doesn’t work well) so we can listen to the vinyl.

Anyone else come across something lately from the way back yesteryears?

January 7, 2008

Bittersweet Surprises

Filed under: Blast from the Past,Family & Friends — by InterstellarLass @ 10:14 pm

I spent several days over my Christmas break combing through the Ancestry.com archives, researching family lines on what seemed like every branch of the tree. On my mom’s side of the family, my great-grandmother had done much geneology work before the technology age. My grandparents have her white leather-bound book somewhere in their stash.

On my dad’s side of the family, I didn’t know much except for my great-grandparents names. And I managed to make it at least 7 generations back on a couple of lines.

I knew that my uncle had been working on rescuing a scrapbook from my great-grandmother, and so after I completed a fair bit of work, I put together a tree for him and emailed it to him last night. But did I ever receive a surprise today! My uncle sent me a CD in the mail, chock full of pictures of my grandaddy from just after Christmas, along with photos of him as a baby, his family, and lots and lots of WWII memorabilia. I knew that my grandaddy had captured a few Nazi soldiers as POWs, but evidently he sent some souveniers home, including a pair of German field glasses, some medals, and what appears to be a wallet/pouch of some kind. The letters of an Army Infantryman are fairly amusing. Complaints about weather, food, an infected toe and all kinds of stuff. Evidently, my grandaddy planned to flatten the German mountains after the war so he never had to climb over them again!

Also included were some photos of my grandaddy and my cousins.  But then I found IT. The Video. And boy did I ever get a good laugh. My grandaddy sat in the back yard, watching my cousins play on the jungle gym that’s been there for well over 30 years at least, probably longer. The youngest cousin that was there is 8, and the oldest there is in his twenties. And they played side by side for a good while. Then the oldest cousin and his brother-in-law started in with some wrestling (that’s rasslin’ for you northern folks). The part that made me laugh the most though is when the two of them stopped shortly into the bout to remove their knife sheaths from their belts, lest someone get stabbed in the tussle. Told y’all I’m ‘highbrow Hillbilly’. Two of my uncles also made special appearances on camera, being silly for a few moments between my cousins flipping like gymnasts on the monkey bars.

Between the old photos and the digital video, I had laugher, tears, smiles and sighs. Some of the memories I spoke of before were there in the photos of pages of my grandaddy’s US Army sponsored walking tour of Europe and in the letters home to his mom, usually signed, I love you mommie, Bub. He traded her Singer sewing needles, procured from who knows where, for packages of cookies and handkerchiefs. He missed a battle where many men in his unit were killed or wounded because he was laid up in the field hospital with an infected toe.

I especially love the photos of my grandaddy with his sister. Their dad died when they were toddlers, and the two of them were very close growing up. All of the pictures of the two of them together in my Nana’s (their mom) scrapbook show them with their arms around one another. I have to beg and bribe my kids to hug like that.

With all that my uncle sent, I now have quite a bit more to update in my family tree.

 

December 17, 2007

If I could turn back Time

Filed under: Blast from the Past,Family & Friends,It's Me, Lass — by InterstellarLass @ 10:45 am

I’d hope that I could be as hot as Cher in her little floss-tape fish-net outfit thingy. Just a little humor to get you started you know.

My cousin graduated from college this weekend. So, I had planned to go to her party down in Houston, and at the same time visit my grandaddy, whom I haven’t seen in too, too long. I knew he wasn’t in good condition mentally, but I knew if I didn’t go see him, and he passed away, I would regret it forever. I know, because I experienced the same thing with my great-grandmother eight years ago.

My plans, however, were slightly delayed. Saturday morning Elle came banging on our bedroom door at about 7:30. “Pop fell and I think he’s hurt.” she said, calmly. Nick, not so calmly, bolted out of bed, and ran out to his dad. I, still confused, took longer to react. But by the time I got out there, Nick was pacing, Pop was sitting on the floor like a dazed toddler, telling us not to touch his right arm. After a few, we managed to haul him up off the floor, not without inflicting some pain, unintentionally, and deposited him in his recliner. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to safely get him into the car to go to the hospital. Which, by the way, he did not want to go to. “It’ll wait till Monday.” and then “Give me an hour.” No Pop, I don’t think so. I can be more stubborn than you. We finally called the non-emergency police line, hoping for just an easy ambulance transport. They still sent the ambulance and fire brigade, lights blazing, to our house.

Fortunately, we were the early accident of the day and the ER wasn’t crowded at all. We were there less than 2 hours I think. X-rays confirmed Pop has a 2 cm fracture of his humerus. So for now he’s slinged and on hydrocodone until we take him to the ortho tomorrow. He will probably have to have surgery to pin it, and I’m actually very concerned about an 87 year old man going under anesthesia.

After getting the kids settled to their dads, and Nick and Pop settled at home, my sister and I headed south for the weekend. Saturday was largely unremarkable, the graduation party rather awkward, and my grandmother blowing my bloodpressure through the stratosphere. I won’t talk about that.

Seeing my grandaddy on Sunday was hard. It’d been about two years since I’d seen him. My own fault for not making the time. I knew from reports by my uncle that grandaddy’s mind was going. I’d hoped that it wasn’t as far gone as he turned out to be. I’m fairly certain he doesn’t have Alzheimers. I’m 90% certain he recognized my sister and I, but he never called us by our names. We were just ‘two pretty girls’. In his living room, there is a collage of pictures of all the grandchildren. He saw me looking at it and said ‘Those are all my grandchildren.’ I told him, ‘I know, and I might be one of those grandchildren.’ He said, ‘Yes, I know you are.’ And later, I looked, as I have many, many times in my life, at his right index finger. When he was about 5, his house caught fire. His finger was burned, and they used a strip of skin from his chest to repair the burned skin. Amusingly, when he got hair on his chest, he got hair on his finger also. When I touched his finger, he looked at it and said ‘When I was a small boy, there was an accident, and they had to fix my finger.’

We visited with him for about two hours. And except for the specifics I mentioned, the rest of the conversation was dominated by admiring the ‘two pretty girls’ that came to see him, wanting to take us down to Luby’s to show us off, and wanting to go to Luby’s because that’s where they call him ‘Hungry Henry’. He repeated this about every 15 minutes. And then, when he knew we were leaving, he kept repeating how he was going to cry and cry when we left because he doesn’t have pretty girls come see him that often.

I managed to hold it together while I was there. I don’t know how. My heart was in my throat the entire time I was there. I was choking on it as I tried to come to terms with the fact that my grandaddy’s stories are gone. He had a story for everything. He was able to experience so much in his life that it would be impossible to write it all down. He was an engineer in the early days of computers, technology and oil exploration. He has visited every country that ever produced a drop of oil. And he’s probably the one that helped them find it all. From the early 50’s to the late 80’s he traveled the world. He spoke 4 different languages fluently, and many others marginally. He was in China when I was born. Even back in the 90’s, he was still being contacted as a special contractor and traveled back and forth to Canada, consulting on their shale oil projects.

And now, he is a small, frail old man. He can’t buckle his own belt. My uncle said he’s lucky to remember to put on pants. And underwear. Last week he caught him wearing two pair of pants and no underwear. His hair is wild because he won’t let my uncle comb it. He now wears a beard because he can’t shave himself anymore. He watches TV all day, sitting in his worn leather recliner in the living room. He used to read constantly in his office, sitting in his worn leather recliner. He is still sweet. Still smiling. His voice has the same timber that it used to. He still seems to have a sense of humor. But the gregarious, social, outgoing, bubbly man that he was is gone.

And the same is true for Pop. Something so simple as going out to get the paper, and he now seems so small and helpless, sitting with his arm slung across his body, eating peanut butter crackers and drinking tea, propped up in his electric recliner. He used to be a master welder, carrying acetylene tanks up towers and building missile launchers.

We think we have all the Time in the world. But Time is not fair. It is cruel and hard and a thief. Both Pop and my grandaddy were men of a different era. They were strong, brilliant, capable. It pains me to see them wither away. Fortunately, Nick has the memories of his dad. And I have the memories of my grandaddy. I hope I can write them all down before Time takes them from me. I’d better start now, before Time catches up with me too.

May 24, 2007

I hear Tatooine is nice this time of year

Filed under: Blast from the Past,It's Me, Lass — by InterstellarLass @ 9:48 am

Once Upon a Time in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, I was two and a half. Why my grandfather thought it was a good idea for a two and a half year old to see Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, I don’t know. But thus began my love affair with Star Wars. I of course had a crush on Han Solo! And I wanted my own Chewie. And who doesn’t love R2D2. He’s the perfect sidekick. A bit smart-alecky for a droid, but way better than the high-strung C3PO.

May 25, 1977 – May 25, 2007: 30 Years of Star wars. While I could have done without Jar-Jar (personally, I’d jettison him from my star ship without a second thought) and the pod racing, I enjoyed most of Episodes I-III, if just from a point of nostalgia. But IV-VI, those were the ones where dreams were made. Classic themes of good vs. evil, father vs. son, acending to destiny, fighting for freedom. And all in the land of stars and space ships.

So, tomorrow, set your DVRs and TiVos. Cinemax is screening all 6 films. History Channel has a documentary. Get to your local post office and pick up your commemorative stamps, mousepads, travel mugs, and t-shirts. Personally, I’ll be reading The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (my Mother’s Day gift) on the plane to El Paso. I’ve got my nerd on, and I’m not afraid to use it!

May the force be with you!

February 7, 2007

All My Cars

Filed under: Adventures,Blast from the Past,It's Me, Lass — by InterstellarLass @ 2:36 pm

I was just reading up over at Kill The Goat, and Jay was describing her car “troubles”, and it made me think of one of my old cars. And then I thought about all the cars I’ve driven. Actually not that many really. But a couple of them were doozies.

Car 1: Mom’s mini-van. Yes, the vehicle I drove during the majority of my ‘formative’ years of driving. When not using one of the driving school’s cars, I was in the mom-mobile. I even helped her drive it from Texas to Cape Cod the year I was 15. We surprised my great-grandmother on her 80th birthday. Note to self: Do not surprise 80 year old women. Fondest memory: On the way home after taking my driving test with the Texas DPS Officer, I had to slam on the brakes to avoid a red light runner (him not me). As I did, my dad’s handgun came sliding out from under the front seat. He always carried it on road trips, and we’d just returned from Thanksgiving in Houston. Would not have been good had that happened with the DPS Officer in the car.

Car 2: The Chevy Cavalier. I don’t even remember what year it was. Early 80’s most likely. My dad bought it from the impounded cars auto auction. He bought it for $300 and then sold a guy a pair of shoes for $2 that he found in the trunk. Grand total for the first Hottiemobile: $298. Grand total of repairs that dad poured into it over the next 10 months before it finally died it’s own slow, sputtering death: $$$$. Fondest memory: During heavy rains, I would have to lift my feet off the floorboard while going through puddles to avoid getting wet feet. Rust.

Car 3: Dad’s Mazda RX7. This wasn’t a bad deal at all. 5-speed manual Turbo engine. Candy apple red. I was hot stuff. It was ‘on loan’ to me because my dad had bought a truck exactly at the same time Car 2 died. But my mom didn’t want to ‘go out’ in a truck, so my parents still used the Mazda on dates. Fondest memory: My friend Reagan and I picked up quite a few guys while driving this car.

Car 4: 80’s something Honda Civic. My 2nd and last manual car. I actually like driving a manual transmission. Hmmm. Wonder why… This was the first car I bought with my own money. Cost about $1,500 if I recall. Money spent repairing this car: $$$$. At one point I killed it by forgetting to change the oil, oh, ever. Then the engine block siezed. A guy friend from high school repaired it for me with a rebuilt engine block. Fondest memory: I could only use the air conditioning while driving on the freeway. In traffic and city streets it would overheat. In Texas, this is not a good thing.

Car 5: Dad’s truck. The one he bought when I got to drive Car 3. He’d bought a Suburban at the same time Car 4 died. Convenient timing. My sister and I had to share possession of this vehicle, except I got dibs because I was going to school in Denton, and I had Zed by then. Fondest memory: Well, not so fond really. I got robbed at gunpoint shortly after getting out of the truck. Rock on.

Car 6: My first VW. I bought this one for $6000 using a tax refund check as my down payment. God Bless the Earned Income Credit. I actually really loved this car. It was a ’91 VW Jetta. It had some interesting quirks, such as you could listen to the radio while the car was all the way off. Fondest memory: When the heater core went out and I almost cried thinking about the money I didn’t have to get it fixed, then finding out it was under lifetime factory warranty and getting it fixed for less than $10.

Car 7: A Toyota Camry. My Ex talked me into leasing this car. I was happy with the car iteself. Rode very well and was very dependable. But I think it was cursed. I think I got into four total accidents in this car. Only one was my fault though, and that was at a really bad intersection on a rainy night. Fondest memory: Turning it back into the lease company.

Car 8: My current car. Another VW Jetta. I had this car delivered to me, sight unseen, by the lease company. I didn’t want to lease again, but the Ex wouldn’t fork over any extra cash to buy one outright. He was convinced leasing was the cheapest way to go and he liked the idea of it. I should have known better when he decided against leasing both his trucks that he drove when we were married.  Fondest memory: Driving to El Paso with Nick. We had a cooler and picnic basket in the back, and made good time. I’ll be even more excited though when I can turn this one in in the next few months.

Car 9: TBD. I’d like a mid-sized SUV that gets good mileage and has good leg room. We’ll have to see how the numbers work out when I turn in the Jetta. I may end up having to lease again.

What was your favorite car that you’ve ever driven? Fondest car memory?

September 17, 2006

Show & Tell

Filed under: Blast from the Past — by InterstellarLass @ 8:00 pm

Last year I wrote about the various mission trips I went on when I was in high school. This weekend I was looking for a picture for MommaK and her bad hair contest, and I found these! These are from the summer of 1991, and they were taken at the home we worked on during our church mission trip. This was Chavies, Kentucky. If you click through to read about all the work we did, you’ll have to scroll down the page to get to Chavies. If you didn’t read it before, I hope you do now.

Maybe you couldn’t imagine the poverty from my description. Maybe you can’t imagine that people live like this in America. But they do. If you look at the house, imagine a mountainside coming down to meet the house on the left side. And then, on the right side of the house, see how the 2nd car is leaning right? That’s because the mountainside dropped off again to the right. The right side of the house was on stilts.

  

              

The picture in front of KMart was taken in Hazard, KY. It was the town closest to Chavies that had a laundromat and fast-food restaurants. I couldn’t figure out why we took a picture here, until I remembered that our group leaders names were Kaye and Mart, hence we were Team KayeMart.

July 13, 2006

Have You Been Drinking Tonight?

Filed under: Blast from the Past — by InterstellarLass @ 9:09 am

Back when I was a younger Lass, during college, I had transferred to a different University after my Freshman year. A friend I worked with was returning to school, and she knew I wanted to leave the school I was attending. She needed a roommate, and the University she was attending was a good school. So, we moved.

The three times I went to the campus, my roommate drove, and all three visits were during the day. So, the first time I drove on the campus, I had no idea where I was going. Plus it was at night. I was looking for the dorm of a friend, and after circling the area many times, I was thoroughly lost. I cut through a parking lot to get back to the street I was just on. Then the flashing lights came on behind me.

Crap. What did I do? I pulled over and the campus police officer pulled in behind me. I provided him with my license and registration, and he informed me I’d gone the wrong way down a one-way street. I explained to him that I wasn’t familiar with the campus, and I didn’t see the one-way sign on the street I had turned down.

Officer: Have you had anything to drink tonight?
Lass: No officer, I haven’t.
Officer: Are you sure you haven’t been drinking tonight?
Lass: No officer, I haven’t. I’m not of age to drink.

He studies my license, returns to his patrol car, and runs my plates. I’m totally confused about why he’s asking me if I’ve been drinking. The officer then returns to my window.

Officer: Well Lass, your plates came back clear. But, I’m going to ask you again, and I want you to be honest with me. Have you had anything to drink tonight?
Lass: No Sir, no I haven’t.
Officer: Well, then what are those cans there in your back seat?

I went still, then turned around to see four Keystone tall-boys on the floorboard of my back seat. Shit.

Lass: Sir, earlier this evening, my roommate, her boyfriend, and I went to Billy Bob’s. I drove and my roommate and her boyfriend sat in the back. He was drinking those beers. I asked him to remove them when he got out, but I didn’t realize he hadn’t.
Officer: Please step out of the car, young lady.

Crap Crappity Crap Crap. I immediately saw the vision of my death before my eyes…after my parents came to bail me out of jail. I would be in such deep shit.

The officer proceeded to give me the battery of field sobriety tests. My knees were shaking, my hands were trembling, and I was sweating bullets. I was so scared. I hadn’t had anything to drink!

Fortunately I passed the tests. The officer put me back in my car and gave me directions to where I was going. Then he told me I needed to pay extra attention to the street signs on the campus, because there were many one-way streets.

My friend’s dorm was just around the corner. I parked and found her door. She and some other friends were inside laughing. I asked what they were laughing about. They said they had just seen some poor kid get pulled over by the campus police and tested for drunk driving.

Um. That was me.

They looked at me and then they laughed harder.

July 7, 2006

Did you know?

Filed under: Blast from the Past — by InterstellarLass @ 10:03 am

I don’t think I’ve ever told you, but I used to be a dancer. And not that kind that collects dollar bills in the g-strings. Nope, I real, honest to goodness, classically trained ballet dancer. Would you have guessed?

I started taking lessons when I was five. My grandfather took me to see my first ballet. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m fairly certain it was either Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. I remember the dress that my grandparents bought me. It was cream colored, and the material was so soft. I had cream tights and shoes to go with it.

I watched the entire ballet, entranced by the dance and the music. At intermission I told my grandparents I want to learn how to do that.

In my first recital, I was a bear. We had little gold tutus with a brown fuzzy oval trimmed in gold sequins in the middle of our tummies. We had headbands with little fuzzy bear-ears. The whole dance school was doing a fairy-tale theme, with the oldest students doing a Hansel and Gretel excerpt. Out of all the little girls in my class, I was the only one who remembered the steps for our piece of the show. I guess everyone else got stage fright. But I was there, front and center, ready for the show. I guided the other girls through the dance moves, moved them around on the stage where they were supposed to go, and I was the only one who managed to exit the stage at the right time. I had to go back out for the rest of the girls.

Then, I got up to a bit of mischief. During the Hansel and Gretel performance, I snuck out on stage behind the scenery. I hid behind the witch’s oven, and when the witch peered into the oven, I yelled “Boo!”. I think I scared the poor girl that was dancing the part of the witch. Then I scurried off the stage.

I continued to take ballet through high school. My last two years of dancing, I added in jazz, tap and modern dance classes. I wasn’t the best…I was the tallest, I had the biggest feet, and I was the only one with hips and boobs.

I knew I had no career in dance. I had known it for a long time. But I continued with the lessons because I loved it. I love to dance. I hear music and my toes start to tap. Get me out on the dance floor and you probably won’t get to see me again until the DJ goes home.

How about you? Won’t you share a secret with me?

August 16, 2005

Mission Trip, Part II

Filed under: Blast from the Past — by InterstellarLass @ 8:18 am

A continuation of my Mission Trip Tales. I would have to say these were probably the best two years in my memory. Every trip was worth it, but, as the first was my ‘indoctrination’ to Mission Trip, and the second one of the most moving and eye-opening experiences of my life, these two stick out in my mind.

9th Grade Mission Trip: San Marcos, TX
I was so excited to go work for an entire week. Well, 5 days. The mission work-week was Monday-Friday. Our youth leader would find some local organization in the city we chose (or we were ‘chosen’ for) that could help with the coordination of 100+ volunteers, supplies, lodging, etc. and knew where the work was needed. That year it was the Southside Community Center in San Marcos.

Yep. You read right. 100+ volunteers. Ours was a large youth group. We had a lot of active members, and other not-so-active members. Some kids were ‘forced’ into service by their parents (builds character). Not me. I jumped at the chance and was always ready to work to pay for my mission trip privilege. It wasn’t cheap sending us all to wherever we needed to go, and we would work garage sales, pancake breakfasts, fish fry’s, concession stands at Cowboy games, car washes, whatever. Yes, not only did I give up one week per summer, I spent an entire year working toward it.

We packed up into a bunch of 15 passenger vans and made the drive down to San Marcos. Once we got there, we divided up into ‘families’. These were our work-crews and worship groups. We would stick with the same group of people for the entire week, working together and bonding. The leaders divided kids up so as to put them with other youth and leaders that they maybe didn’t know so well.

This first year, I learned how to do roofing. My group was to replace the entire roof on a house. So, we grabbed some shovels, climbed a ladder, and started by stripping the entire roof of shingles. Once we’d cleared off all the shingles and tar paper, we pulled off the rotting roof deck. Down to the attic studs. We cut replacement boards, hauling them up and down the ladder, and nailed them in place. One nail at a time, with a hammer. Yeah, I got good at driving a nail.

After we’d replaced the decking, we laid down new tar paper. Now, remember, this is San Marcos, TX, in June. Looking back at the weather data from when I think we took this trip, the high daily temps were 97, 99, 100, 100, 93. We were on a roof. With no shade. Laying black tar paper. What was I wearing for shoes? Well, this was 1989, so of course, I was wearing Keds. Yes, my shoes melted and stuck to the roof. I also almost passed out and fell off the roof. But, I didn’t, as so am still here to torture you. We stapled down the tar paper, laying down little silver aluminum disks to protect the paper from tearing when we whacked the stapler down.

Tar paper done, we started shingling the roof. We carried the bundles of shingles up the ladder. I remember these being really, really heavy. We laid our starter strip, measured out the rows, snapped our chalk-lines, staggered the tabs on the next rows, and the next thing you knew, we had shingled a roof. One nail at a time. Yep, even did the ridge cap.

In fact, we finished the roof in four days time, so we were able to help finish the roof on another house.

Five days of hard, sweaty, manual labor. And I loved every swing of the hammer.

10th Grade Mission Trip: Chavies, KY

This year, we went to Chavies, KY, and worked in conjunction with the Appalachia Service Project. This was probably the most profound year for me, as I saw sights that I would never imagined I would see in our country.

We stayed in an old school building in one of the smallest towns I’ve ever been in. They had a post office, a gas station, a small market, and that’s all I can remember. One of those places that if you blinked, you would miss it. Literally. Don’t believe me? Click the link on Chavies above, and then zoom all the way in on MapQuest. Yeah. I think I counted 10 streets.

The people that lived in this community were coal miners. They were the poorest of the poor. The uneducated. The ‘backwoods’ folk. Their children were dirty and hungry. Their bikes ran on the rims, as there were no tires to be had. There was no food in the kitchen. The house was heated by a coal-burning stove. The coal was stacked in a pile in the front of the house. There was no yard. Only dirt and the side of a hill. The house had three rooms. The main room, with the only light-bulb in the house. The bedroom that slept the entire family. The kitchen, with a sink that had no running water. A hose snaked into the kitchen window. The hose was hooked to a series of hoses that wound half-way up the side of the mountain to the only source of running water. This is how they did their dishes. The floor was bare wood, knotted and dusty. The walls were bare sheetrock, with no insulation. Walking out the back steps, you encountered their bathtub. With a firm layer of dirt indicating that the bath had not been used in some time. Continuing to walk down the path from the back of the house, you came to the old outhouse. You had to walk past this to get to the new outhouse.

The first thing we did was fix the pitch of the roof. We tore out the ceiling and re-braced the studs, headers and joists, replacing sections that were too rotted to be simply braced. We also replaced their chimney flue. How their house had not burned down the previous winter we don’t know. We then insulated their walls. Even with long sleeves and baby powder, I itched for the rest of the week from the fiberglass insulation. We sheet rocked the walls and ceiling, even staying late on the second to last day to make sure the job was done. You see, the building inspector came around, just as we were finishing early. During his inspection, he realized that someone had given us the wrong nails. So, we had to carefully remove the sheetrock from the ceiling and put it back up with larger, bracketed sheetrock nails. We also dug a trench around the side of the house. You see, it was built on the side of a mountain. One side of the house was on stilts to keep it level. We braced these too. But on the mountain side of the house, water runoff was rotting the wood siding. They needed an irrigation trench. It was to be two feet wide and three feet deep according to the building inspector. I dug most of this out myself with a pick-axe and shovel. One of my friends carried the dirt to the other side of the house in a bucket. This went around the new bracings.

The homeowners were old for mountain people. The husband had a beard that ran half-way down his chest, white and grey and grizzled, with a red streak down the center. Dyed by tobacco juice. He and his wife were mostly raising their granddaughter, aged about two, fathered by their 18 year old son, their youngest. In those five days, I feel that I did more good than I’ve done in any five days before or since.

Why places like this exist in our country, I don’t know.

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